Great camera performance
IR blaster is a nice addition
microSD card expansion
Glass back can be slippery
No toughened glass to protect the display
Can be a fingerprint magnet
When you look at the specifications of the Honor 9 it sounds remarkably like the Huawei Mate 9 or the P10, but with an official starting price of €449 in Europe you are getting a lot of phone for a lot less than most other high-end phones.
You don’t get the Leica branding on the lens, but you do get a dual camera setup with hybrid zoom and the same sleek design language from the Honor 8. With such a good pedigree, can the Honor 9 live up to expectations? Let’s find out in my full Honor 9 review.
The Honor 9 looks very similar to the Honor 8 and that is a good thing! The design makes the phone look much more high-end than its price bracket and it has an overall premium feel to it.
The dual glass panel design isn’t unique in that we have seen it on other phones by other OEMS, but Honor’s version is great and the rear panel has an interesting light-refracting composition which enables some enthralling reflective patterns. Honor have achieved this with nano textures carved into the glass by photo etching.
The front and rear 3D glass panels curve down to meet with the sandblasted metal frame. Holding the phone is easy if you are gripping it on the frame, however if you are relying more on the back panel, or have it placed on a smooth surface, then it can be a bit slippery. There is a plastic bumper/case included in the box for those who would like to add an extra layer of protection.
Below the display is the home button/fingerprint reader and two navigation keys. Tapping the fingerprint reader is the same as physically pressing a tactile home button on other devices. The navigation keys are marked by two small dots and they can be configured in the software to match your preferred orientation (see more below).
The power and volume buttons can both be found on the right edge of the phone, while there is an IR blaster at the top of the device which can be used to control TVs and other household appliances.
The SIM/microSD tray is on the left and on the bottom edge you have the single speaker grill, the USB Type-C port for charging the 3,200 mAh battery, and the 3.5mm headphone jack.
The Honor 9 comes with a Full HD 5.15-inch display, meaning that the 1,920×1,080 resolution yields a very decent 428 pixels per inch. According to my testing the display is capable of 454 nits of brightness, which means that the display is plenty bright enough for indoor use and it is very usable outdoors. However at sub 500 nits I was concerned that it could struggle in strong bright direct sunlight. However, under the Display settings there is an “Increase readability under sunlight” option which implies that this device supports Assertive Display. This means that the device is able to use real time tone mapping to boost the viewability in bright light without having to increase the brightness. To find out more see my article what is assertive display and watch the video review to see it in action.
You can also change the color temperature of the display in the Settings menu to be a little warmer or cooler to better suit your tastes, but for me the default settings were good enough.
The only downside to the whole display setup on the Honor 9 is that it isn’t protected by any toughened glass; you will need to get a Huawei P10 or a Mate 9 for that!
Overall the display is crisp and punchy and while it isn’t as good as the Mate 9 and the P10, it is excellent for this price point.
Hardware and performance
The Honor 9 features an in-house Kirin 960 SoC. It is the same SoC used in the Huawei Mate 9 and the Huawei P10. It is an octa-core CPU configuration with four Cortex-A73 cores, clocked at 2.4 GHz and four Cortex-A73 cores clocked at 1.8 GHz. The chip also features a Mali-G71 MP8 GPU.
The primary model comes with 64 GB of storage and 4 GB of RAM, however my test model was the 6 GB of RAM variant. There is also a model with 128GB of internal storage. Most of the models have dual-SIM support, however the second SIM holder on the tray is also used for the microSD card. If you do use the device in dual-SIM mode then note that the second SIM is limited to 2G and 3G only.
In terms of the benchmarks, the Honor 9 scored 1868 on Geekbench’s single-core test and 6392 for the multi-core test. As you would expect, these scores are on par with the Mate 9 and the P10. For AnTuTu, the P9 scored 142406, while in Epic Citadel, the device manages 59.0 frames per second in Ultra High Quality mode.
In terms of overall raw performance the Honor 9 is fast and ranks well against other flagship devices.
The fingerprint reader on the Honor 9 is very good., but to be honest I have come to expect nothing less from a Huawei designed device. The big change from the Honor 8 is that now the fingerprint reader is on the front, on a capacitive key very similar in style to that of the Huawei P10. You can wake the device using the fingerprint reader just by placing your finger on the home button. It will wake and unlock the device in one swift move.
As far as audio is concerned, there are a couple of optional 3D audio sound profiles for when you’re listening to music through headphones. You can choose the type of headphones you’re using and set the audio to near, front or wide to replicate the effect of listening to music through traditional headphones, in a home theater or at a concert hall.
The Honor 9 features a single speaker on the bottom edge, next to the USB Type-C port. The speaker is quite loud and the sound is reasonable considering it isn’t a front facing speaker. According to Honor this because of the audio fine-tuning by Grammy Award winning sound engineer Rainer Mailler, however that is hard to prove or disprove! While the speaker can get very loud, the best audio reproduction is achieved not by maxing out the volume, but rather by dialing it back a notch or two.
The Honor 9 has a 3,200 mAh non-removable battery which should see you through the whole day. For mixed actives like surfing the web, watching video and playing 3D games you will get about 5 hours of screen on time. For single, less taxing tasks like just web browsing or just watching video that number can be pushed up to 8 hours. However if you play a lot of 3D games then the screen-on time will drop to under 4 hours.
If you do find yourself running low on battery and unable to recharge then there are two battery power saving modes available. The first limits background app activity, disables email auto-sync and reduces the visual effects to save power. The “Ultra power saving mode” is more drastic and basically turns your device into a feature phone where you can make and receive calls, plus send text messages.
When it comes to battery charging, the Honor 9 supports 2A fast charging. To go from 4% to 100% takes 1 hour, 54 minutes with the final 32 minutes accounting for the last 10% (from 90% to 100%). To get to 50% (from 4%) takes around 45 minutes.
The Honor 9 runs Android 7.0 out of the box, complete with Huawei’s Emotion UI 5.1. The biggest gripe that people seemed to have with EMUI was its lack of an app drawer, however that should no longer be an issue as Huawei now includes the ability to change the home screen to include an app drawer!
For those of you unfamiliar with EMUI, the general look-and-feel is different to stock Android with Huawei’s own launcher and a redesigned settings page. However, besides the UI changes there are lots of additional features that you don’t get with stock Android including motion gestures, a floating dock, voice control, a one-handed mode and Huawei’s own take on the “do not disturb” mode.
Under motion control you can enable motions like “flip to mute” and “raise to ear” to answer calls. There is also the familiar Knuckle gestures which allow you to take a screenshot by double tapping the screen with your knuckle, or drawing a letter to open an app while the screen is off. You can also use your knuckle to draw a line across the screen to enter split-screen mode. All of these gestures can be disabled if you find they misfire.
Although the Honor 9 uses capacitive navigation keys, Honor has added the ability to customize the order of the navigation buttons. By default the back button is on the left and the recent apps is on the right. However this can be reversed. You can also enable single key navigation similar to that found on the Huawei P10. In this mode, tapping the fingerprint reader is the same as “return”, touch & hold is “home”, you can swipe across the sensor for “recent tasks” and swipe up to the right of the fingerprint reader to activate Google Assistant.
The two dots which mark the position of the navigation keys can also be configured to turn off after 5 seconds or to remain on until the screen goes off.
One of the key features on the Honor 9 is the camera. It is a dual sensor setup, with a 20 MP monochrome lens and a 12 MP RGB lens. The idea behind the dual lenses is the ability to deliver better light sensitivity, with the monochrome sensor promising an increase in light capture over regular sensors. 12 MP images are produced by default but there is the option to bump the resolution up to 20 MP. I guess this must involve some form of up-scaling of the 12 MP RGB data combined with the full resolution data from the monochrome sensor.
Apart from the more standard modes like HDR and Panorama there are lots of camera modes available including a full manual mode (which offers greater control over ISO, exposure and shutter speed) and a special shallow depth-of-field mode. When using the shallow depth-of-field mode you get the added ability of being able to refocus pictures post-capture. From within the gallery you can enter the refocusing mode and change which object is in focus as well as the the depth-of-field, i.e. how far away (in terms of depth) another object needs to be before it goes out of focus.
Other modes include night shot – for better night time shots requiring a tripod – time-lapse, slow-mo, and watermark. Huawei has also included the light painting mode, which is also found on the P10 and Mate 9. With it you can capture light trails created by things like moving cars, or the stars in the sky. The effect can be really cool, but does require very steady hands, or a tripod mount, to get the shot to look the way you might want it.
When in PRO mode you also get some extra options on the settings page, namely the ability to save images in both RAW and JPEG formats, plus an option to enable/disable the AF auxiliary light feature (which basically shines the flash LED like a torch while focusing in low-light conditions). Other features include a 3D creator which scans in someone’s face and creates an avatar, plus shooting in monochrome.
The Honor 9 can record video in 4K and includes Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) for 1080p video. It encodes 4K video in H.265, which should help reduce the size of the resulting video files.
The 8 MP front-facing camera is also solid enough, and should make selfie junkies happy. You will find the standard beautification mode available, plus a bokeh mode which automatically blurs the background. The latter works by using face detection and then blurring anything outside of the subject’s general area.
Here are some sample photos to help you judge the camera for yourself:
I also took a number of monochrome images (one of the modes in the camera app) which use the monochrome sensor:
1920 x 1080 resolution
|Processor||64-bit octa-core (4 x 2.4 GHz A73+ 4 x 1.8 GHz A53) Hisilicon Kirin 960|
|RAM||4GB to 6GB|
|MicroSD||Yes, up to 256GB|
|Cameras||Rear: Dual-Camera with 20 MP monochrome lens and a 12 MP RGB lens.|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4G/5G|
Type-C USB 2.0
|Software||Android 7.0 Nougat|
|Dimensions and weight||147.3 mm x 70.9 mm x 7.45 mm|
The Honor 9 officially starts at €449 in Europe, but there are lots of offers out there and for £379 or €429 where you can get the 64 GB Honor 9 and a Honor Band 3 fitness tracker together. However, no matter what you pay you will be getting a phone packing pretty high-end specs – essentially the same as those found in Huawei’s other 2017 flagship devices but for a lot less money!
The Honor 9 certainly ticks a lot of the right boxes: great performance, dual cameras, sleek design, and an IR blaster! The only downsides are the lack of toughened glass over the display and the slippery nature of the build materials.
The software offers some good extra features and the ability to enable an app drawer should help EMUI find greater acceptance in the West. Overall I would say if you are looking for a high-end device but you can’t quite afford the price of the Huawei P10 or the Mate 9, then you should certainly think seriously about getting an Honor 9.