Honor launched the Honor 7X and Honor View 10 in December, and just when the two devices started to trickle into stores in various markets across the globe, we saw the company launch another mid-range smartphone, its first in 2018, the Honor 9 Lite. Honor is clearly not in any mood to take a break (or let us take one!).
The highlight of the Honor 9 Lite is that it packs quad cameras, like we first saw on the Honor 9i, but the first thing you’d notice about the device is its refined glass design with mirror-like effect at the back.
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The premium design and well-rounded specifications sheet is a compelling proposition, but does the Honor 9 Lite manage to stand out in the crowded budget and mid-range segment? I spent over a week with the smartphone, so here’s my comprehensive Honor 9 Lite review.
It’s very likely you’ll be impressed by the Honor 9 Lite design at the first glance. It bears close resemblance to the iPhone 8 Plus with the mirror-like glass finish at the back, as well as the Honor 8 that was launched in 2016, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
The Honor 9 Lite feels more premium than any other metal unibody phone in its price segment and stands out in a crowd. The build quality is impressive with elegant finishing, and the minimalist finesse is evident. The only downside is that it sports a plastic frame instead of metal – a trade-off to keep costs down. The volume and power buttons too are plastic, but they do have a nice tactile feel to them.
With a 5.65-inch display in a 6-inch body and around 7.6 mm thickness, the Honor 9 Lite is quite compact and fits well in the hand – although one-hand operation with the tall display is still a stretch. At 149 grams, it’s also easy on the wrist.
The glossy back with 2.5D curved glass is highly reflective and is almost mirror-like – good enough to check your hair before you go into a meeting. Amongst the three color variants on offer – Sapphire Blue, Glacier Grey, and Midnight Black – the blue one is the most striking, while the grey one is almost a perfect mirror.
With rounded sides and curved glass on front and back, the Honor 9 Lite offers a very comfortable grip. Of course, like all glass devices, it can be incredibly slippery and tends to attract a lot of smudges. But a simple wipe restores the shine – a small compromise for an otherwise slick looking smartphone.
Apart from dual cameras, the other trend that went mainstream in 2017 was 18:9 displays and by the end of the year, it was almost a forgone conclusion to have a taller display and minimum bezels.
The Honor 9 Lite packs in a 5.65-inch IPS LCD with 18:9 aspect ratio and a Full HD+ resolution that gives it a high pixel density of 428 ppi. The resolution can be dialed down to 720p to save battery if you so prefer. The display is vibrant, and offers sharp text and pretty good color reproduction, although the viewing angles are limited.
The Honor 9 Lite is powered by the same chipset that we saw on the Honor 9i and Honor 7X – the HiSilicon Kirin 659 – although the other two devices are priced higher. There are two variants – one with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage and the other one with 4 GB and 64 GB.
In regular usage, the performance of the phone is commendable. While EMUI, Honor’s proprietary layer over Android, is not the lightest skin around, the Honor 9 Lite breezes through anything thrown at it. At most times, there’s around 2 GB of available RAM, which makes me believe that for a lot of casual users the base variant with 3 GB RAM would be just fine.
It offers a smooth multitasking experience and most games run just fine. However, some graphics-intensive game titles go a little choppy and also cause the upper portion of the device to get a bit warm.
The Honor 9 Lite comes with a 3,000 mAh battery and supports the company’s fast charging technology, dubbed Super Charge. With the bundled 10W charger, the device takes a little over two hours for a full charge. The battery life though is just average. At the end of your work day with just moderate usage, you’ll have to scamper to find a charger. I’d really hope a future software update improves battery optimizations to stretch the battery life a little.
The Honor 9 Lite sports a microUSB port instead of USB Type-C. Although not a showstopper, it’s a slightly bewildering choice in a 2018 smartphone. It does have a 3.5mm headphone jack, too, and comes with in-ear earbuds in the package.
The SIM tray uses a hybrid setup and can either accept two nano SIMs or one SIM and one microSD card, up to 256 GB.
The Honor 9 Lite packs in a dual camera setup up on both the front and the rear. There’s a 13 MP lens for the heavy lifting along with a 2 MP lens for capturing depth information (yes, those bokeh shots are a go). The 2 MP camera also helps improve low-light performance, like one expects on a dual camera smartphone.
In good lighting, the Honor 9 Lite manages to capture some pretty good shots occasionally. At other times, the colors are dull, and you’ll see mild noise when you zoom into the photos. That said, it always captures enough detail. The rear cameras support PDAF, and the autofocus is quick. The selfies turn out to be pretty good as well, surprisingly.
In low light conditions though, like other phones in the segment, the Honor 9 Lite struggles. It takes few extra seconds to focus, and the there’s a hint of blur in all shots.
The camera offers a Wide Aperture and a Portrait mode to take advantage of the depth of field captured by the secondary lens. The edge detection is a bit hit or miss and you can’t adjust the level of blur. For a smartphone in this price segment, you shouldn’t expect amazing bokeh shots like your iPhone or Pixel toting friends share on your Facebook timeline. The dual cameras on the Honor 9 Lite aim to take the premium feature to the masses and succeed in doing so. It just cannot match the performance of higher prices models for obvious reasons.
The Honor 9 Lite offers 1080p video recording which, in the absence of any electronic stabilization, produces shaky videos without much detail.
Overall, the Honor 9 Lite does a pretty good job for a casual photographer. It’s not exceptional and the dual cameras don’t work out as well as one would like, but in most cases, it does not disappoint.
Big props to Honor for launching the Honor 9 Lite with Android 8.0 Oreo right out of the box even when other smartphones launched in January 2018 continue to come with Android Nougat (bah!).
Of course, there’s the EMUI 8.0 layer on top of it, which is an awkward successor to EMUI 5.1. The company has chosen to fast forward the version number of Emotion UI to align it with Android version numbers, which makes good sense.
There’s also the usual bunch of bloatware that we keep seeing on Honor devices. There are a few pre-installed trial games, some apps that link to Honor support and community forums, and the company’s own music and video players.
EMUI 8.0 runs fairly well on this hardware, and while not as snappy or fluid as stock Android, it does offer more functional options which you may like, and has some added intuitive features.
|Operating System||Android 8.0 Oreo with EMUI 8.0|
|Display||5.65-inch Full HD+ (2160 x 1440) IPS|
18:9 aspect ratio
|Processor||HiSilicon Kirin 659 processor, clocked at up to 2.36GHz|
Expandable up to 256 GB with microSD card
|Front Camera||13 MP + 2MP with LED flash|
F2.0 wide aperture
|Rear Camera||13 MP + 2MP with LED flash |
|Battery||3,000 mAh |
Smart Power 5.0
Pricing and final thoughts
The Honor 9 Lite is an affordable mid-range smartphone that covers all the bases – stunning design, latest Android version, front and rear dual cameras, and an 18:9 display. That alone makes it a well-rounded package.
The Honor 9 Lite could be a stunning all-rounder, but while it checks all the boxes, it does not dazzle.
For casual smartphone users who’d like a stunning looking device, the Honor 9 Lite base variant at ₹10,999 in India (~$171) is a nice pick in the sub-$200 price-point. But if you like to stretch your smartphone, the Honor 9 Lite is not without its shortcomings. Also, at ₹14,999 (~$234), the higher spec’d variant charges quite a premium for the extra bit of RAM and storage. So much so that you might want to look at other options on the shelves – we’ve complied a list of the best cheap phones here, including the Moto G5 Plus, Nokia 6, or even the LG Q6.
For a direct comparison, the slightly older Honor 7X is a hardware carbon-copy, with 4GB of RAM (only), and at a similar price point (₹12,999/$199.99). The main difference is that it trades the good looks of the 9 Lite for a sturdier body, and runs Nougat, but Huawei has promised it will be updated to Android Oreo in the next quarter.