I have always had a soft spot for HTC. The company produced the first Android handset, which was my entry into the wonderful world of smartphones and a great piece of hardware in its own right. More recently, I was impressed with the HTC 10, their current flagship and a real return to form that puts them in a great position to go against any other top contender.
On the other hand, I've never been impressed with HTC's mid-range offerings. Phones in the $300 to $400 bracket need compelling hardware or software to stand out, particularly against older flagships that so often occupy these price points. I've rarely seen a phone from HTC -- or any other manufacturer for that matter -- that meets this criteria.
The One X9 is a classic example of a mid-range handset. It has marginally better hardware than budget offerings - a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a MediaTek Helio X10 SoC, 32 GB of storage, a 13-megapixel camera with OIS, and a metal build - but it just doesn't do enough for the price. It's not a terrible phone, but it's simply too expensive.
HTC has used premium materials throughout the One X9, which I've now come to expect of a mid-range handset, but the result is a tad cluttered and lacks the sleekness seen in other HTC designs.
The design looks busy. On the back there are antenna lines and an odd plastic panel for the camera that doesn't cohere well with the metal rear. This brushed aluminium back wraps around the edges similar to a unibody design, but this is marred by a thin, shiny plastic rim. The two speakers on the front panel aren't integrated into the design well and stand out in a bad way.
I really dislike obvious misaligned elements, and the HTC One X9 has several of those. On the right hand side, which is where you'll find the power and volume buttons, the nano-SIM slot cover isn't aligned with the buttons it sits beside. On the front, the camera, sensor array, and HTC logo are all different heights which leads to a jarring look.
I don't expect every smartphone to be as well designed as the best high-end devices, but I do want to see at least some attention to detail in a mid-range product. HTC hasn't shown this here, which leads to a sloppy design.
There are some positive aspects though. The lightly brushed aluminium back panel looks good in isolation, and it's far better than any plastic design. Unfortunately, HTC has coated the metal so it doesn't have the same great texture as other metal bodies. Perhaps this is to protect the body to a greater extent.
I like the inclusion of stereo front facing speakers, in spite of how they look. There is no better way to enjoy multimedia content and games on a smartphone than with speakers that point towards your ears. The speaker quality is above average, and the peak volume is good, too, so HTC has managed to pack in a decent audio experience here.
The One X9 includes a 5.5-inch display in a reasonably comfortable design, although one-handed usability is somewhat compromised as you'd expect. At 8mm thin and 170 grams, the phone feels dense in your hands however bezels to the side of the display are a respectable size that keeps the large display within reach.
Below the display is a row of capacitive navigation buttons in the correct order with the correct Android functions. This keeps the display free of on-screen buttons for maximum screen real estate. Along the bottom edge of the phone is a micro-USB port for data transfers and charging, and on top a 3.5mm headphone jack. Perhaps the one thing missing from the One X9 is a fingerprint scanner, which we're starting to see in mid-range handsets.
There are two slots on the One X9 on opposite sides. The smaller one on the right is for the nano-SIM, and the larger on the left is for the microSD card. Both are slots covered by flaps rather than trays; I prefer trays as they are less fragile, though it's not a significant issue.