Honor’s had a rough last two quarters in India because of the Huawei ban in the US, but the company’s definitely started 2020 on a high, launching its first smartphone in over half a year – the Honor 9X. The smartphone which has been priced starting at INR 13,999 succeeds the Honor 8X from last year and follows, pretty much, the same principles that made its predecessor the go-to budget phablet for a good number of people in 2019.
What principles are we really talking about? Well, affordable pricing, reasonable specs, a large display, and eye-catching design. Honor’s also taken the time to fix some of the wrongdoings with the 8X, and sprinkled in a selection of its best technologies into the phone too.
The Honor 9X includes a number of proprietary features like a built-in dynamic range boosting software, GPU Turbo 3.0 gaming optimizations, and an “AI Signal Enhancer” to switch to the best WiFi or 4G antenna for a strong connection.
That said, its got its shortcomings too, some of which competitors will be scoffing at. Given the fact that Honor 9X goes straight up against the likes of the Redmi Note 8 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy A50 and the Realme X, the phone will have to spruce up a surprise a two to really shake up the market.
Having fiddled around with the phone for a couple of hours, here why I’m not completely sold on Honor’s latest bid, yet.
A design that’s more than just striking
The Honor 9X is sure to bedazzle you at first glance. The Sapphire Blue finish combined with Honor’s trademark reflective geometric tiles produces a look that reminds me of a lot of the Chevron like reflections on the Honor View 20. This year’s pattern is arranged in a staggered X shape, which is a little gaudy for my tastes, but Honor’s consistently been bold about their choices and I can definitely see a lot of people liking this design.
The Midnight Black colour option is much more subdued, verging on boring by comparison. Both colour variants feature a plastic back cover, a choice that lowers the feel and quality of the device. But this isn’t an unexpected trade-off at this price. The 9X is still pretty much a big phone though, to the point that though with smaller hands might even struggle to grip the phone properly.
There’s a familiar fingerprint sensor on the back that works well. The bottom of the phone houses a headphone jack (yay!) along with the phone’s single speaker and a much-awaited inclusion of a USB-C port. Despite the port upgrade, the phone doesn’t sport any fast-charging technology, which is a real bummer.
On the front, Honor’s opted to remove the notch altogether, for a tried and tested pop-up selfie camera approach. The pop-up module includes fall and downward pressure detection too, which should protect it from accidental drops. Its also worth noting that at INR 13,999, the Honor 9X is now officially the most affordable smartphone with a pop-up camera.
Plenty of display real estate for the Netflix addict
A large 6.59-inch LCD display offers a 2,340 x 1,080 (Full HD+) resolution that’s seemingly sharp enough for text and big enough for gaming and video consumption. Since its still LCD, colors aren’t the punchiest, but overall quality appears really good for an affordable smartphone. The lack of a notch also maximizes the real estate on offer here.
I’m yet to use the phone as my daily driver so I’m unsure at the moment about battery drain and other things like sunlight legibility, but I’ll definitely touch on those in my in-depth review.
Triple cameras that offer a lot of promise
The Honor 9X isn’t the first Honor phone to boast a 48MP camera. This feature will be familiar to Honor View 20 and Honor 20 Pro owners. However, the 9X doesn’t carry over the same Sony IMX586 sensor.
Honor is actually sourcing the sensor from multiple vendors. The company claims to vet quality across suppliers, although we’re likely looking at slightly different results depending on the exact model you get.
The primary sensor aside, the Honor 9X also gets a wide-angle 8MP, and a 2MP depth sensor to assist that software-based blurred background bokeh in portrait mode. Honor and Huawei have always backed their AI prowess and even though this is a budget phone, Honor claims that the 9X can outperform the likes of the Redmi Note 8 Pro and the Realme X when it comes to nighttime photography.
I shot a few images under well-lit hotel conditions and was pleasantly surprised by the photos. I will have to take a lot more photos and videos to call it an out-and-out winner, but initial impressions have been rather good. The same also applies to the 16MP pop-up shooter.
Mediocre hardware with okay-ish software
The Honor 9X uses the Kirin 710F paired with 6GB of RAM and the now well-known GPU Turbo. General use is perfectly fine, there are no real signs of chugging when you’re using the phone for everyday tasks, the camera launches and takes photos quickly and the optional gesture navigation is fluid and snappy.
I haven’t tried gaming heavily on it yet though, something gamers would eagerly want me to test out. Another aspect which I ill definitely touch upon in the full review.
Folks at the company won’t tell me, but I have a hunch that Honor was prompted by the US ban to stick to last year’s internals, in order to retain Google Mobile Service certification. There’s also 64/128GB included storage and up to 512GB more via the microSD card slot. 4/6GB of RAM is also on offer.
As for software, the Honor 9X ships with EMUI 9.1 onboard, which is based on Android 9 Pie. I know what you’re probably thinking, but hold up. Anyone concerned that the Honor 9X may not feature Google services can rest easy. Since it was further along in the development cycle and launched several months ago in China, the Honor 9X has the full Google suite installed out of the box. So you can buy one safe in the knowledge it has everything you want it to have, and there are no backdoor workarounds you need to employ. In terms of experience, everything is pretty much as you’d expect from EMUI – complete with full navigation gesture support and a bunch of customization options to boot.
Big 4,000mAh battery but no fast-charging
The sheer size of the battery unit is a cut above the average in this price bracket and the combination of a low power processor and a large 4,000mAh battery should see you through a full day of heavy use, with ease, or at least so Honor claims. I’ve used the phone far too little to comment on this, but I doubt getting through the day should be any trouble, even with the large display.
That said, the omission of any fast charging on the Honor 9X is a bit of a head-scratcher.