HTC One X9 review (hands-on): Is this the best smartphone at MWC you'll never be able to buy?


The HTC One M9 was one of the big announcements at MWC last year, but this year HTC has chosen not to do a big glitzy press conference. Instead, it has quietly announced a small handful of mid-range Desire phones, plus the HTC One X9, which can best be described as an almost-flagship – a larger sibling for the One M9, but one that sits just below it in HTC’s range.

Technically, the HTC One X9 it isn’t brand-spanking new – it’s been out in China for a few weeks now – and it’s unclear yet if the phone is coming to the UK. That would be a shame, however, because I think the HTC One X9 could fill a gap for the company.

HTC One X9 review: Design

Design-wise, the One X9 bears more than a passing resemblance to the HTC One A9, which itself is a doppelganger of Apple’s current iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. It has a metal unibody design, just like the One A9, and it’s also flat-backed, making it great for tapping out texts and emails when laid flat on a table or desk.

The finish is smooth under the finger and catches the light attractively, glittering very slightly when you tilt it, and it feels well put together. A brief look around the edges sees more hints of the A9’s design, with a similar ridged power button on the right-hand side.

It isn’t, however, as attractive as the A9. The first difference you’ll notice between the two – apart from the phone’s larger 5.5in display – is that the design isn’t quite as clean. HTC has brought back capacitive buttons for the back, home and recent apps functions, while most phones these days opt for soft keys and it gives the phone a slightly fussy look.

The screen is also flanked by a pair of awkward-looking, front-facing Boomsound speakers, and on the rear, the 13-megapixel camera and tiny dual-LED flash unit is contained within an ugly inset, glossy plastic strip, which spans the full width of the device.

HTC must have been going for the Nexus 6P look here, but I’m not convinced of the merits of this design choice. It looks a little cheap, and not nearly as neat as the One A9’s camera, which is dead centre and blends seamlessly with the rear of the phone.

Still, the HTC One X9 is nothing if not practical. There are two flaps – one on the left edge, one on the right – which cover two SIM card slots and a microSD slot for adding up to 2TB of extra storage. You get Gorilla Glass on the front, although there’s no waterproofing.

 

HTC One X9 review: Specifications and key features

The biggest departure from the A9, however, is the screen technology it uses. Instead of a contrast-packed OLED panel, the HTC One X9 employs Super LCD technology, a derivative of IPS exclusive to HTC. It’s the same technology as used in the M9, though, and it’s perfectly decent here – or at least as far as I could tell under the intense lights of the show floor.

The resolution is 1080p, which is perfectly good. Even on as large a screen as this, you’re not going to be able to see any pixels unless you peer very close, or use a magnifying glass. And the rear camera isn’t too bad, either. It’s a 13-megapixel shooter, which has an aperture of f/2 and optical image stabilisation, and although there was no mention of hybrid autofocus, the camera can shoot 4K video. HTC’s Pro photo mode makes a return, putting settings such as ISO, white balance and shutter speed at the user’s control.

Elsewhere, the HTC One X9 also has 32GB of internal storage, 2G of RAM and a 3,000mAh battery, but the most contentious part of the whole package will likely be the phone’s processor. It’s a MediaTek Helio X10 – an octa-core, 64-bit chip.

This is not a chip I’ve seen in a phone before, but it seems capable enough on paper. It runs at speeds of up to 2.2GHz, is one of MediaTek’s “Hero” chipsets, and on the demo phone on HTC’s stand at MWC 2016, the phone felt perfectly smooth and responsive. That’s not the only measure of a smartphone’s performance, of course, so let’s hope it lives up to its billing in the benchmarks and battery tests because it’s quite a step for a manufacturer HTC’s size to move away from Qualcomm for such a major model.

Finally, as software goes, the HTC One X9 runs Android Marshmallow – not that you’d know it because, as usual, it’s completely obscured by HTC’s Sense Android skin. I think it’s time HTC moved away from Sense, which is looking increasingly anachronistic as time wears on. Indeed, with stock Android so good these days, it’s a wonder that any smartphone manufacturer opts for its own skin. The time is right HTC: step away from your launcher.

HTC One X9 review: Early verdict

The HTC One X9 is a smartphone of unknowns right now, and that makes it impossible to deliver even an early verdict. It might not arrive in the UK at all, we don’t really know how the MediaTek chip will perform under load or how long the battery will last in real-world conditions. Neither do we know how much it will cost, although HTC would be mad to set the price any higher than the HTC One A9 or M9.

Overall, then, it’s a middle-of-the-road phone that will live or die by its price. If HTC can get that right, fans of the HTC One M9 and A9 who are desperate for a handset with a larger screen might want to keep their eyes peeled.

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