htc one a9 front The HTC One A9. Antonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

Yes, it looks like an iPhone.

But if you look beneath the surface, you can tell that HTC's newest phone, the One A9, is totally unique.

The first of HTC's "A" series, the One A9 falls under the "sub-premium" category, where the materials and design are as premium as premium gets, but the specs aren't necessarily cutting edge. It also means the phone is less expensive than $650+ premium smartphones as a result.

The HTC One A9 starts at a $399 promotional price for the unlocked model, but will go up to $499 starting November 7. That's quite a bargain considering all you get.

Look and feel

Yes, the One A9 might look like an iPhone at first glance. Yet, the more I use it, the more I see a phone that's decidedly HTC. In fact, I'd say it looks even better than the iPhone.

It exudes pure class and refinement, more so than any of the competitors in its class like the new Moto X.

HTC's signature subtly-brushed texture on the One A9's aluminum back is similar to its other phone, the One M9, and it gives it more character than the iPhone's plain aluminum back. None of the other smartphones in the sub-premium category can boast an all-metal design, either.

htc one a9 back At first glance, you might confuse this for an iPhone. Antonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

The One A9 also has bead-blasted sides, where tiny beads polish the metal for a smoother, shinier texture than the back. The sides are less rounded and slightly more rectangular than the iPhone's, too, which looks classier.

htc one a9 side bead blasted It has textured edges. Antonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

The One A9 also feels amazing. It's like a solid block of phone with no hollowness at all. I can't remember a phone that was built this well.

How well does it work?

It doesn't have the fastest or most powerful specs, but most of us honestly don't need the top components available for most of our needs.

It does, however, have an incredibly fast and reliable fingerprint reader that equals the fingerprint reader on the iPhone 6S. Some people actually complained that the iPhone's fingerprint reader was too fast because it didn't let them see their notifications on the lock screen.

Generally, performance isn't as quick as Google's new Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, but it's certainly not slow, either. I can open, close, and switch between apps without a hitch, which is more than can be said about the spotty performance on the Samsung Galaxy S6, which boasts ultra-premium specs and a price tag to match.

The camera takes pictures with accurate colors and exposure, which is great for people who like to add filters in apps like Instagram. It also takes pictures in RAW format, which means photos aren't compressed into the usual JPEG format that most phones take pictures in.

Overall, it's a good camera, but it's not as sharp as the cameras on the Nexus phones.htc one a9 camera photoAntonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

Android

The One A9 runs the latest version of Google's operating system, Android 6.0, also called Marshmallow. And that's great because it gets all of Google's latest features in Android, like Now on Tap, which lets you search and discover more about whatever you're seeing on the screen by simply pressing the home button for a few seconds.

Thankfully, HTC has heard one of the loudest complaints from many Android users. It claims that it will roll out Android updates to the unlocked model of the One A9 within 15 days of Google releasing them. That's huge. Normally, it can take months for a third-party Android phone to receive updates, if it ever received them at all. It meant that people would rarely get the latest features from Google, and more importantly, they wouldn't get the latest security updates to protect themselves from malicious attacks, like the recent Stagefright vulnerability that could take over your phone.

Running on top of Android is HTC Sense, the company's own software layer, or "skin." It's the most tolerable of all the third-party skins, especially since the notification menu is nearly identical to the one in the pure Android version on Nexus phones. It also looks more mature and sophisticated than some of the other skins from other phones like Samsung and LG, which can be overly colorful and cluttered.

htc one a9 notification shade HTC's changes to Android are minimal. Antonio Villas-Boas/Tech Insider

Still, nothing beats pure Android, which you get on the Nexus smartphones.

Make sure to get the unlocked model if you plan on buying this phone, as you won't get the horrible bloatware apps from your carrier.

Is it worthy?

Certainly.

The HTC One A9 is a great phone that looks and feels like a million bucks. If you're looking for a smartphone with a 5-inch screen that looks and feels fantastic and works well for under $400, it's hard to do better than the HTC One A9.

Some smartphones, like the Nexus 5X and Motorola Moto X Pure are less expensive, and they have better cameras while running pure Android. But they don't come close when it comes to looks and feel.