HTC One A9: The right size and the right specs -- but can it succeed?

HTC's new flagship Android phone has good specs and a reasonable price -- and a formidable set of competitors.

htc one a9 hero image stretched

What with Samsung introducing its latest smartphones, Motorola coming out with the new Moto X and Moto G, and Google's Nexus 5X and 6P on the horizon, HTC has a lot of catching up to do. Its HTC One M9, which shipped last April, got excellent reviews, but despite that, the company's stock took a nosedive in August that did not bode well for its future.

In an attempt to retain some good word of mouth -- and offer a more marketable smartphone -- HTC introduced its new One A9 today. The phone strongly resembles an iPhone 6S, with its slim, rectangular form factor, rounded corners and a fingerprint scanner below the screen that also acts as a Home button. (And in its streamed introduction today, the company directly put the One A9 up against the iPhone.) But this is a fully Android device.

The One A9's specs are promising but not unusual. They include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 Octa-core processor; 3GB of storage with an SD card slot for an additional 32GB; a 13-megapixel rear camera that includes optical image stabilization; and a front camera that includes HTC's UltraPixel sensor, which the company says captures more light than most smartphone cameras. It supports Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 (good for folks in a hurry) and offers Dolby audio (if you have a headset that supports it).

Despite HTC's recent history, there's a possibility that the One A9 may do well, even against some of the more high-profile Android phones currently being introduced. For one thing, it's a reasonable size -- it has a 5-in. Full HD AMOLED display, rather than the oversized screens that many of the flagship brands are pushing, such as the 5.7-in. Moto X and Galaxy Note 5 smartphones. In other words, if you're looking for a phone that will fit into your pocket and be reasonably useful one-handed, this is a more likely fit. (Google's new Nexus 5X, with a 5.2-in. display, is a compromise between the two.)

The One A9 will also ship with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, one of the first outside of the Nexus phones to do so. And, in a smart move that will please Android fans, it's reined back on its use of its Sense overlay, retaining a few features such as its BlinkFeed news-reading panel and the ability for users to create their own UI themes.

But the thing that will really tell for HTC's latest flagship phone is its availability and its price. The One A9 will be available at a variety of carriers, but there will also be an unlocked version (both SIM and bootloader) available on the HTC website. According to HTC, the unlocked phone will have less extra software than the subsidized version and the company promises that it will provide Android upgrades within 15 days of release.

Currently, the unlocked devices will be compatible with the AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint networks; an upcoming software update will make it compatible with Verizon's network as well.

The HTC One A9 can be pre-ordered for, according to the company, a limited-time price of $400. That's a fairly competitive price -- assuming that the company sticks to it. Certainly, it's a lot better than the $649 that Apple is asking for its iPhone 6S or the starting price of $700 that the Galaxy Note 5 is going for, and it's the same price as the new Moto X.

However, if that price rises once the phone ships, it's possible that the new HTC One A9, with all its advantages, may be lost again among a very strong competition.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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