I've only recently started riding some of the newer modern HTs and it makes me wonder what is taking these brands so long to adopt better geometry for these "entry level" bikes. We've had a really diverse series of geometry categories for FS bikes for years (xc, trail, enduro, dh, am, etc), yet it seems like geo for hardtails has traditionally been....XC and Chromag, if you weren't going custom.
Now, it seems brands are adopting better, more balanced, thoughtful geometry in their hardtails and the result from what I've ridden tells me that outside of outright speed and tracking in really rough terrain, a lack of rear suspension in HTs wasn't the "problem" with them, it was the crap geometry from 10 years ago. I think is great for the industry, and I hope that a lot of the 'budget' hardtails from big brands like Trek and Specialized will start to take notes from Kona and others, it'll do the industry a lot of good for beginners to have more balanced, capable bikes that they are comfortable on.
The ESD was tempting for me when I was building a new SS, but I have a bit of local loyalty to REEB and am waiting on my now fifth REEB frame to arrive this week, so I'll have a HT again. I find riding these bikes tends to help me engage with the experience more than my Enduro does, which is refreshing given all we've experienced in the last year.
As an aside, can I tell you how refreshing it is to hear experienced riders talk about features that are "not everytime"? I feel like in the mtb media, especially reviewers from a competing site, there is a certain level of hubris and a lack of recognition that not everyone does everything all the time. It's always really refreshing to hear experienced riders talk about how they aren't up for everything all the time and make that choice, it's one of the reasons I value content from you folks more than any other site on the interwebs, even if the scale of this in BC is more significant than in our part of the world. It feels less like I'm reading a review by someone who thinks they are superman and more by someone I just had a beer with.