Huawei’s US trade ban has loomed large over every recent product launch from the Chinese giant, but its youth-oriented sub-brand, Honor, has so far managed to swerve any major consequences thanks to a clever workaround. That changes with the Honor 9X Pro — the first phone from Honor to launch globally without Google services.
Can the budget X series overcome its software struggles? Find out in Android Authority’s Honor 9X Pro review.
Honor 9X Pro review: The big picture
The Honor 9X Pro is an upgraded version of the Honor 9X, which launched globally in October 2019. This successor arrives in Europe just five months later and Honor has managed to cram in some welcome hardware and design tweaks despite its still-modest £249 (~$311) price tag.
With a triple-camera setup and a pop-up selfie shooter, impressive internals, and a flashy design, the Honor 9X Pro has all the hallmarks of another budget hit for Honor. However, with rival Chinese brands like Realme and Xiaomi muscling into Honor’s territory in Europe, the competition is hotter than ever in the sub-€300 sector.
Does the Honor 9X Pro do enough to emerge on top?
Honor 9X Pro vs Honor 9X: What’s the difference?
The Honor 9X Pro sports a glass back rather than the plastic rear found on the regular 9X. At this price point, it’d be fine if Honor had stuck with plastic, but it does ensure the phone has a more premium feel. The 9X Pro is 10g heavier overall, though the subtle curves on the back mean it’s still comfortable to hold. It is, however, a very slippery customer. There’s a rubber case in the box and I suggest you use it.
In spite of the shift to glass, the Honor 9X Pro retains the distinctive “X” pattern on the back if you opt for the Phantom Purple colorway. It’s a little ostentatious for me, but if you want your phone to stand out from the crowd you may love it.
Another significant change applies to the fingerprint sensor. Instead of opting for an in-display sensor, the Honor 9X Pro has a right-sided power button that doubles as a fingerprint reader. I’ve praised Honor’s side-mounted sensors before (see: the Honor 20) and the 9X Pro’s is just as rapid and accurate. It’s not flashy, and if you’re left-handed it’ll be a pain to reach, but it’s far more reliable than the in-display solutions used in the low-end segment.
Honor 9X (left) vs Honor 9X Pro (right)
For other changes you have to look on the inside. Aside from the long-overdue addition of NFC support, the most notable change is the upgraded processor. The original Honor 9X was gimped for its European launch with Honor swapping out the Kirin 810 SoC that powered the Chinese model for the lesser Kirin 710F chipset. Honor remedies this and offers the Kirin 810, complete with its two Cortex A76 cores and improved Mali GPU, for all markets.
This is the phone the Honor 9X should’ve been in the first place.
The result is a smoother experience and superior gaming performance. Processor-intensive 3D games like Asphalt 9 run without hiccups. Plus, if you’re the kind of person who likes comparing benchmarks, you’ll see much larger numbers across all tests compared to the regular 9X.
The 9X Pro comes with 256GB storage as standard. More storage is always welcome, and you have the option to expand it by a further 512GB with a microSD card. The European version only comes with 6GB RAM compared to the Chinese model’s 8GB. Unless you’re pushing the phone to its limits, however, this shouldn’t be an issue.
All in all, the Honor 9X Pro is the definition of an iterative update, but it fixes all the hardware gripes leveled at the Honor 9X. With the price remaining the same as the regular model the improvements ensure there’s no reason to consider seeking out the older model … right?
What is the Honor 9X Pro like to use?
Here’s the rub: the Honor 9X Pro just isn’t an enjoyable daily driver.
The 9X and 9X Pro series had been pegged for a mid-March update to Android 10 and Magic 3.0 — Honor’s own take on EMUI. However, as of June, my unit is still stuck on a core version of Android that first launched almost two years ago. To make matters worse, it’s also still on the November 2019 security patch. That’s seven months of missing security updates. Yikes.
If waiting a few extra weeks or months for the latest OS update was my only major software complaint, then this wouldn’t be such an issue; there are plenty of budget phones running aging software. The problem is, those budget phones have YouTube. And Gmail. And Drive. And … you get the picture.
Huawei’s investment in its HMS ecosystem is beginning to show, but its App Gallery is not the Play Store. Aside from the missing Google apps, there’s also no Facebook, Spotify, WhatsApp, PayPal, Netflix, Twitter — the list goes on. In their place are copycat apps and direct download links that boot you out to APK-hosting websites.
There are workarounds like using Phone Clone to bring apps over from an older device or Huawei’s smart Petal Search app that finds approved apps on APK sites for you. Unfortunately, some of these apps require GMS to work properly (or at all). Netflix is a great example of an app that technically works, but will only run in sub-HD resolution due to the lack of Widevine support.
Even if you’re tech-savvy — as Honor expects its target market to be — the app experience simply isn’t up to par. Could I survive without these apps? Yes, but the reality is I don’t have to with almost any other Android phone.
Is the camera any good?
The Honor 9X Pro has the exact same triple camera setup as its predecessor, so if you’ve read our Honor 9X review you already know the answer: it’s okay.
The main shooter is a 48MP sensor that takes pixel-binned 12MP shots. You can shoot in full resolution, though both the regular 48MP and the 48MP AI-assisted results aren’t detailed enough to justify the increase in image file size.
The Honor 9X Pro camera performs adequately in everyday use and even manages to produce decent snaps in low light via night mode. Toggling on AI adds a little more punch to shots, but suffers from aggressive oversharpening and muddied detail upon closer inspection.
The other two lenses are an ultra wide-angle shooter and a depth sensor. Portrait shots are helped by the depth sensor, but the edge detection can be hit and miss. The ultra-wide, meanwhile, is quite poor. Images are soft and smudgy, and dynamic range hits rock bottom.
Finally, the pop-up selfie camera has impressive color accuracy but also has a habit of washing out skin tones and smoothing any blemishes. This could be seen as a positive if you like beautified selfies, but I personally don’t like looking like a mannequin.
On the video side, the Honor 9X Pro supports up to 1080p at 60fps, though the electronic image stabilization only kicks in when capturing at 30fps. The capture quality lacks real detail, but it’s acceptable considering the price of the phone.
You can check out a bunch of uncompressed Honor 9X Pro sample shots here.
What do I like about the Honor 9X Pro?
Solid display: The 6.59-inch Full HD+ display is another carryover from the standard 9X and it’s still decent. It’s an LCD so colors are a bit muted, but generally it’s crisp and it benefits from the lack of a punch-hole or notch.
All the right ports: A USB-C port and a headphone jack? You’re spoiling me, Honor.
All-day battery life: The Honor 9X Pro’s 4,000mAh battery will easily take you through a whole day and sometimes a little bit extra.
What do I dislike about it?
Painfully slow charging: Even in this price bracket, 10W charging is well below standard. It takes around two hours to get the phone from zero to 100%.
Tinny speaker: The Honor 9X Pro has a single speaker on the bottom edge. You can easily muffle this with your finger, and the audio quality is subpar even at medium volume.
Honor 9X Pro specs
|Honor 9X Pro|
|Display||6.59-inch, 19.5:9, 2340 x 1080p, LCD display|
|Processor||HiSilicon Kirin 810|
|MicroSD||Yes, up to 512GB|
|Battery||4000mAh with 10W charging|
|Camera||Main: 48MP, f/1.8, 0.8µm, PDAF|
Ultra-wide-angle: 8MP, f/2.4
Depth sensor: 2MP, f/2.4
Front: 16MP, f/2.2, 1.0µm
|Fingerprint sensor||Yes (side-mounted)|
|3.5mm headphone port||Yes|
|Software||Android 9.0 Pie (EMUI 9.1.1)|
|Connectivity||Dual 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 ac (2.4GHz + 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.2 LE, GPS + GLONASS, NFC, USB-C 2.0|
|Dimensions and weight||163.1 × 77.2 × 8.8mm, 206g|
|Colors||Midnight Black, Phantom Purple|
Honor 9X Pro review: Should you buy it?
Discounting the middling camera performance, it’s hard to complain too much with the Honor 9X Pro as an overall hardware package. It’s the phone the Honor 9X should’ve been in the first place.
Unfortunately, just like the recent batch of Huawei phones, it’s incredibly hard to recommend the Honor 9X Pro in its current state.
With so many commonplace apps either missing or not officially supported in the App Gallery, it frequently felt like I was fighting the phone just to perform the basic tasks I’d expect from any smartphone. Even some of the positives, such as the addition of NFC, are hamstrung by the software issues. What good is NFC when you can’t get Google Pay? (to be fair, some banks do provide their own payment apps in the AppGallery).
There are plenty of alternatives to the Honor 9X Pro out there ... and they all have Google apps.
The lack of Google services is a fatal flaw from which the Honor 9X Pro can’t recover. Even if there were no decent alternatives available, the Honor 9X Pro still wouldn’t get a pass; the fact that there are plenty just compounds the issue.
So far the Honor 9X Pro has launched in the UK, some of Western Europe, and several MEA countries. In most of those regions you can get the Realme X2 with 30W fast charging, an impressive quad camera, and an AMOLED display for around £50 extra. The equally impressive Realme 6 Pro is also available for the same £249 asking price.
Other contenders include the Samsung Galaxy A51, which can be found for under £299 on sale. Motorola’s lower-end phones, such as the Moto G8 Plus and Motorola One Vision, are also worth a look if you value clean software at the cost of processing power. Check out our best phones under £300 list for more options, or our best phones under £500 guide if you’re tempted to spend a little more.
The Honor 9X Pro is compelling as far as hardware is concerned. However, the lack of Google services makes it a tough sell. And it’s not like the phone has unique features or high-end capabilities to make up for the hassle, like the Huawei P40 Pro does.
That’s all for our Honor 9X Pro review. What do you think of Honor’s budget phone? Let us know in the comments.