The Hisense A9 phone came out early last year, but the company has upgraded a few of the internals and software. The RAM has been upgraded to 8GB of RAM and 256 GB of internal storage. The last generation only had two RAM options, 4GB or 6GB; storage was capped out at 128 GB. If you are in the market for an E INK smartphone running a modern version of Android, this has flagship specs. If you live in North America or Europe, it supports many languages, including English.
The A9 series are the only phones on the market with the latest generation Carta 1200 e-paper display. This gives users upgraded performance across the board. Navigation, app performance and reading experience are better on the Pro than most other dedicated ebook readers.
The A9 Pro features a 6.1-inch E Ink display with a resolution of 824×1648 with 300 PPI. It has an impressive 84% screen-to-body ratio. The screen is flush with the bezel and protected by a glass layer. The phone’s colour scheme is black, and the backplate is also black. However, it has a glitter sand texture, which makes it a joy to touch and hold. There is a rear-facing camera with a slight bump on the screen. It is 13 MP and LED flash, and it can record at 1920×1080. The front-facing camera is 5MP and has a resolution of 2592×1944. Any E INK devices rarely have cameras, and these are mighty impressive. There are volume rockers on the right side, an E INK button on the left and a power button on the top. You can read and use the A9 during the night, thanks to the front-lit display and colour temperature system. There is a total of 27 white and amber LED lights.
A Snapdragon 662 octa-core 2.0 GHz with Adreno 610 GPU is underneath the hood. If you are a big fan of high-quality sound, the A9. Pro utilizes the ES9318 chip, allowing HiFi quality sound output while having integrated support for the LDAC, AAC, SBC, and APTX Bluetooth audio codecs. This makes the new A9 great for listening to audiobooks and HIFI music from Tidal and Apple Music. You will want to plug in wired headphones via the 3.4mm headphone jack for the best sound possible. There is also a tiny speaker on the bottom and also a microphone. A grill is on the top, so you can hear it in HD.
The A9 Pro has 8GB of RAM and 256 GB of internal storage. If this is not enough storage, a dual SIM card tray is capable of housing 128GB of storage. There is a USB-C port for transferring data and also charging. A 4,000 mAh battery powers it. You can keep your phone secure with the face unlock, fingerprint sensor or a passcode. The dimensions are 159.00 x 79.50 x 7.80 mm, weighing 183 g.
If you use the A9 Pro as your daily driver, it does support many 4G bands in North America and Europe. It is compatible with AT&T, T-Mobile, Rogers and Orange. It supports several bands and does not support 5G.
2G: GSM B2/B3/B5/B8,850/900/1800/1900
3G: WCDMA B1/B2/B5/B8,TD-SCDMA B34/B39
4G: LTE FDD B1/B3/B5/B7/B8,TD LTE B38/B39/B40/B41/B34
Hisense is the only consistent brand globally that releases pocket-friendly E INK products. The company is going beyond smartphones and releasing many E INK devices with different functionality. I greatly enjoy the Hisense Touch HIFI Music and the HI reader. The A9 Pro is a fully featured flagship Android 11 smartphone. The Hisense A9 is the best on the market and can easily be your primary phone.
The Hisense A9 runs Google Android 11, a very modern OS for e-paper phones. This OS provides a myriad of security features that are updated automatically by Google. Hisense also pushes its updates, introducing new features and addressing bugs and stability. This is a typical Android phone. You can do everything you usually would on any other phone; the big exception is that it runs E INK and has many optimization features devoted to this type of display. For example, you can take screenshots not by pressing a combination of buttons but by dragging three fingers down from the top of the screen to the bottom.
Let’s talk about what this phone does that is unique that most other Android phones don’t have. It comes with four refresh modes, similar to the Onyx Boox line of e-readers. The normal one is the transparent mode, which gives you nice-looking app icons, text, and PDF image clarity; it also has a balanced mode, similar to the A2 mode, degrades image quality and slightly increases performance. The two extra modes are the Smooth and Speed modes, which makes playing videos or light gaming a real possibility.
Hisense has a launcher that replaces the default vanilla Android experience. There is a default widget that shows the time and date, but you can install anything else you want via apps, such as a weather widget. The WIFI symbol and time are in the top right corner, and the top left is where your notifications are. If you drag your finger down from the top center of the screen downwards, there are a bunch of customization settings. You can turn auto rotate on/off, flashlight, WIFI network, data connection, ringer on/off, establish a hotspot, engage in power saver mode, take a screenshot, location and engage Bluetooth for wireless accessories, such as headphones. This screen is also where you can adjust the front-lit display. This phone has white LED lights on the bottom of the screen and project light upwards, evenly illuminating the screen and not shining in your eyes. Scrolling your page to the left gives you a unique Hisense experience. There are all sorts of RSS news publications you can subscribe to, giving you a breakdown of how many hours you have been using the phone daily, weekly or monthly. There is a bunch of micro-widgets that provide other information.
One of the best things this phone does is give you the option to assign different speed modes on an app-by-app basis automatically. For example, you should have YouTube or the internet browser on Speed Mode, so navigation and watching videos can be a thing. The e-reading app should be transparent when it starts so that you can read at high resolution.
If you want greater control over the E INK experience, Hisense has you covered. There is an anti-aliasing option to make fonts razor-sharp and not blurry. There is a contrast mode to make the differences between black and white more pronounced. There are various battery saving modes, such as the standard power saving and Super power saving modes. You can get around two weeks of usage in super power saving mode, as it shuts down many background processes.
The only downside of this phone is that it needs to be certified by Google, so you will not get Google Play, and any app that requires Google Play Framework will not work correctly. This sucks for significant apps. The Hisense App Store has all sorts of apps available, but since this phone is primarily marketed in China, most apps are in Chinese. On the positive side, the system language can be set to English and hundreds of other languages. You can download alternative app stores or sideload your apps if installing apps is essential. I recommend the Amazon App Store if your country supports it; it doesn’t work in Canada. The Samsung Galaxy Store is also a viable alternative; else, you can check out the Good e-Reader App Store. It is essential to download an app market instead of sideloading apps. This is because Android apps frequently stop working when a new version comes out, and it is hard to find a new version to sideload, whereas an app market will automatically keep them updated. It is possible to install the open-source Gapps alternative to Google Play, we will be filming a future video on how to do this, but you can visit the site here. All you need to do to get started is select ARM64, Android 10 and the Super package, which includes all Google apps. There is a detailed instruction guide for Hisense Phones HERE, but it is very technical.
Hisense A9 Pro$479.99
- 8 GB of RAM
- 256 GB of Storage, with SD Card Support
- Battery lasts weeks
- E INK is easy on the eyes
- Supports many Cellular Bands in the US and Caada
- Have to sideload apps
- Have to sideload in books/music/podcasts
- Hard to try before you buy
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.