It sometimes feels like HTC’s Android-based smartphone line up is one that is in constant danger of being overshadowed by Samsung’s brand success.
Although nobody doubts the quality of the handsets produced by HTC, history has shown the Taiwanese manufacturer doesn’t always hit the mark with marketing resulting in consumers not gravitating to the brand like they used to.
Appropriately, HTC’s latest mid-tier offering, the HTC One X9 doesn’t look like it’ll buck that trend. It’s a solid enough product that performs admirably under most conditions. However, it lacks the sense of identity or flair needed to leverage that performance into something more.
HTC Originally launched exclusively for Asian markets in late 2015, HTC have recently rolled the One X9 out to Australian outlets. We spent a week working with the device to see how it fared.
All in all, it offered up a good user experience but didn’t really do enough to sell itself over its competitors. It leaves a good impression but lacks staying-power.
Design-wise, the X9 looks a little on the chunky side at first glance. Thankfully, the full-metal frame does a good job of alleviating this somewhat.
The device is reasonably scratch resistant and smooth to the touch. When cradled in your hands, the X9 feels lighter than it should – though not necessarily to its benefit..
While I never felt it was too big to hold the X9 in my hands, the height of the device sometimes proved difficult to balance especially when typing on it. Put simply: your mileage may vary when it comes to the dimensions of the X9. I found it a little too tall.
While the vibrations made when using the keyboard made for a responsive experience, the volume buttons on the sides of the device were frustrating to use.
They felt a little too finicky and I often found myself pressing them a second time to be sure.
Conversely, the dedicated home and navigation buttons are a little too sensitive and I often found myself accidentally closing applications with annoying frequency.
If there’s any highlight to the design here, it’s the dual front-facing BoomSound speakers.
Listening to music or watching something on Netflix through them sounds markedly better than most other mid-tier phones. There’s a crispness to the way it sounds and you can customize the speakers specifically for either audio or video use. That said, the use case for this feature still seems a little uncertain.
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If you’re on the go, I’m not entirely sure why you’d opt to listen this way instead of through headphones. Similarly, if you’re at home in the office I’m not sure why you’d watch something on the X9 instead of on a TV, computer or tablet.
In addition, stuff like video streaming resulted in the device’s metal shell getting a too little warm for comfort.
The X9 runs on Android 6.0.0 (nicknamed ‘Marshmallow’) and is powered by a MediaTek Helio X10 octa-core chip and crisp 3GB of RAM. These specs coalesce into a device is one that runs well.
On paper the X9 seems powerful for a mid-tier phone but in practice it’s not always great at showing it. There’s a slight clunkiness to navigating between applications and the home screen though the Full-HD 1080?1920 pixel screen keeps things looking reasonably sharp.
The X9 is hardly a showcase for how great the Android experience can be, but it falls nicely within the average experience of most mid-tier handsets.
For those who have skipped the last few major Android OS updates: the two big features here are ‘Now on Tap’ and ‘Doze’.
The former lets you jump into a web search for images, video or info about something based on screenshot taken of the display in a single button press. It’s a neat feature that takes some forethought to get the most out of.
Meanwhile, Doze tracks when your phone has been left inactive for an extended period of time and dials down the number of processes running in the background accordingly.
With battery standards becoming a more a contentious area for handsets, it’s a feature sure to win the X9 some supporters. The resulting improvements to battery life left me with 12-13 hours of frequent use and over triple that when it came to infrequent use.
The X9’s Android architecture also comes bundled with HTC Sense, with a few cool features and applications specific to the manufacturer. The cream of the crop here is BlinkFeed – which allows you to bundle your news and social media updates into a single feed that’s accessible in a single swipe.
The X9 boasts 32GB of on-board hard drive space with room for expansions of up to 2 terabytes through SD cards. As someone particularly frugal when it comes to hard-drive space this felt a little excessive but it’s better to have too much space than too little.
When it comes to the X9’s two cameras (a 5 megapixel one on the front and the 13 megapixel one on the rear), the results are a little mixed.
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Exterior image shot without HDR enabled on HTC One X9
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Exterior image shot with HDR enabled on HTC One X9
You can expect some reasonably good quality images from the X9’s main camera. However, you’ll want to turn on HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode for the best results. As you’ll see below, there’s a pretty noticeable difference.Unfortunately, the main camera’s performance deteriorates somewhat in low-light spaces and interior settings. Photos taken here bring with them a disappointing graininess without HDR enabled (and a general glossiness when it is).
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Interior image shot without HDR enabled on HTC One X9
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Interior image shot with HDR enabled on HTC One X9
On a more positive note, the X9 also features a RAW capture mode for photography enthusiasts. This mode enables you to customize camera settings like white balance, exposure and ISO. It’s not going to be for everyone but it’s a nice inclusion – even if it’s unlikely to replace your DCLR any time soon.
On its own merits, the X9 holds up pretty well. However, comparisons to its competitors leave it wanting. The device’s camera is outmatched by LG and Motorola and if form-factor is what you’re looking for, Apple or Samsung offer up plenty of robust devices that are likely to be a better fit.
Even among other mid-tier phones, the X9 feels like less of a game changer and more of a stopgap that ticks all the boxes a budget phone needs to tick. If you’re looking to upgrade yourself to mid-tier Android handset that isn’t too pricey, the X9 feels like a relatively safe bet. Just don’t expect it to blow you away.
The HTC One X9 is available on plans through Vodafone and outright at various retailers for between $600 and $700.