Honor has had a pretty good run since it launched it’s X series, whilst the 5X wasn’t the best received, the 6X through 8X have been some great sellers for the company, so does the 9X live up to that pretty high bar? Unfortunately not, and mainly due to one big reason, the Trump and Huawei ban. Since being put on the entity list, American companies, namely Google, Cannot work with Huawei without retaliation from the US government, so the Actual Honor 9X, released in China earlier this year, could not be certified in time to run Google apps due to the newer uncertified chipset (companies also get platforms certified not just devices) so they had to scramble through the parts in to get something that looks like the 9X, but isn’t really the 9X.
- Large Screen
- Great Battery Life
- Decent Performance
- Chassis is a downgrade from last year
- Cameras are just okay
- Slow charger
- No NFC
- Older Processor
Disclaimer: Honor provided us with this 9X sample for review, but they have no bearing on the outcome of this review and no company has been financially compensated for their time. This 9X was used for 10 days in the south-east of the UK on the Three UK network on build 220.127.116.11 (C431E1R1P1) the nit received not system OTAs in our testing.
- 6.59” IPS LCD Touchscreen
- 2340x1080p Resolution
- 19.5:9 aspect ratio
- HiSilicon Kirin 710F SoC
- 4x Cortex A73 @2.2Ghz
- 4x Cortex A53 @1.7Ghz
- Mali G51 MP4 GPU
- 4GB LPDDR4X RAM
- 128GB UFS2.1 Storage
- MicroSD card up to 512GB
- 4000mAh Battery
- 5v2a Charging
- 3.5mm Audio jack
- 48MP main camera
- Sony IMX586
- F1.8 aperture
- 1/ 2.0” sensor size
- 0.8µm pixel size
- 8MP Ultrawide Camera
- Likely an Omnivision OV8856
- F2.4 aperture
- 13mm equivalent focal length
- 120 degrees FoV
- 2MP Depth sensing camera.
- F2.4 Aperture
- 16MP front facing camera
- motorised , pop up
For a more comprehensive look, head on over to GSMArena here
This is where the not so great things start. Whilst Aesthetically the Honor 9X is pretty, this Honor 9X, an STK-LX1 model, doesn’t feel pretty. The Aluminium chassis’s of the Honor 7X and 8X, and even the Aluminium backs of the 5X and 6X are gone here, the metal frame replaced with glossy plastic, the glass rear panel replaced with a plastic panel here as well. Now this isn’t the end of the world, we know plastic phones can feel good, look no further than the Nokia N9/Lumia 800, those devices where chunks of polycarbonate but felt just as premium as other all-metal phones of the time, but this isn’t premium plastic, this is glossy, lightweight and smudgy plastic, a real shame coming from the absolute units that where the Honor 7X and 8X.
Moving on from the serious downgrade in materials, let’s look at the phone itself, aesthetically it’s a stunner, a near all-screen face with just a smidgen of a chin for you to put your finger. Up top there is a nice small slit in between the glass screen and the plastic frame and you see the earpiece, this is nice and solid and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. What you don’t see is the front-facing camera, and that is this phones party trick, gone is the relatively-wide-by-modern-standards notch from the 8X and now we have a pop-up motorised selfie camera here, it is offset in the top left and it is a cool trick, it’s a bit slow to open but isn’t the end of the world, and it does have a fall detection so the camera module does retract if it detects it is in freefall, though in my testing (on my bed with pillows) the retraction does not seem to be as fast as other devices like the OnePlus 7 Pro or the Oppo Reno.
Along the right-hand edge, we have the power and volume button, both plastic as well. The left-hand rail is empty and devoid of any features or perforations The bottom is pretty busy with the USB-C port, speaker grilles, the main microphone and ever endangered 3.5mm audio jack. Lastly on the top of the phone we have the nanoSIM and MicroSD tray, the secondary microphone used for noise-cancelling and lastly the opening for the motorised front-facing camera.
Now we get to the rear, in the top left, we have the camera cluster, a single pill shape with the 3 cut-outs internally, as well as the laser-assisted autofocus module. Below this pill-shaped protrusion we have the LED flash, and next to this the circular fingerprint reader. Whilst I’m usually fine with rear-mounted scanners, the placement for this one felt off to me like it was a smidgen too high on the rear of the phone, and also it is noticeably slower than other devices, even some in-screen fingerprint readers. Down the bottom is the new and refreshed Honor Logo, a nice step up from the older one.
Much like the Honor View 20, the 9X has an under panel holographic texture effect, as this is an X series phone this is unsurprisingly an X shape. Little voxels that appear under the panel. Unfortunately, this is rather subtle, I’m not sure if this is intentional from Honor, or due to the plastic instead of glass the light effect is reduced, but it is a fair bit more subtle than I’d like.
Overall, the design isn’t the problem here, materials are. The screen is nice, but aside from the removal of the notch, it is not a quality upgrade to the 8X, or even the 7X in some areas, it is bright enough, it’s colourful enough, but nothing is outstanding about it, and I know I keep saying it but the chassis material downgrade overall ruins the in-hand feel of a cool looking phone.
Software-wise, the 9X isn’t all that interesting, it’s a Standard Android 9 build with EMUI 9.1, yes, EMUI, not MagicUI. During our pre-brief Honor said to us that it wants to keep MagicUI for its flagship phones, so the View series and the numbered series (such as the Honor 20 Pro) everything else gets to keep the EMUI name, though to be honest, not many changes between the two, so it is mostly a symbolic change.
So what does Android 9 and EMUI 9.1 look like? Well, just like it has for the last year or so. It’s a lot more restrained than previous versions of EMUI. due to this being an LCD the white elements of the UI are more prevalent, so the notification shade is white with a teal-ish blue highlight, it’s not Stock, that’s for sure, but it is enjoyable and has it is own design language that Huawei and Honor have been honing over the last few years.
There are still a few issues with EMUI that I’d love to see fixed, much like the insistence of keeping the default apps there just in case something could break, the warning is inflammatory and almost scaremongering, let me not forget that most of the issues I have are with the stock apps, things like the launcher crashing or the gallery locking up and forcing a restart.
But one of the reasons this phone uses the processor it does is that this platform is certified for Google Apps, meaning that, unlike the Mate 30 Pro, or the Asian Honor 9X with the Kirin 810, this Honor 9X does have full Google Applications and Google Mobile Services. Will this get Android 10 and EMUI 10? I sure as hell hope so, but we do not know what the situation with Huawei and the Entity List is after this extension runs out in mid-November, so we have to wait and see.
Last year, the Sony IMX586 was brand new and reserved for high-end phones, now we have it in lower-end phones that likely cost half what the View20 did at launch, how’s that for the democratization of technology. It’s also has a somewhat decent 8MP ultrawide camera and an utterly useless 2MP sensor for depth information.
So, has the IMX586 suddenly become crap over the last year? Nope, it’s still great, even if the ISP (Image signal processor) in the Kirin 710F is worse than that on the Kirin 980. Shots from the main camera are nice and crisp with mostly accurate colour with good detail in the shadows even without HDR mode on. Powering up the AI mode does the signature Honor AI mode of “TURN EVERY DIAL UP TO 11!!!!” where everything, specifically, saturation is amped up and makes certain things (Landscapes, Flowers etc) look stunning, but it is far from accurate. The AI mode also does do pretty good recognition of animals if you want to take that #Caturday post or you just need to post you perfect pooch on the Facebook group you’re part of.
Now, that Ultrawide camera. I much prefer Ultrawide to Zooms, especially in this case, wherein the main camera can do a digital crop in such an effective way that a 2x zoom can be achieved without a significant loss of detail. But this Ultrawide is just fine. The 8MP sensor itself has enough resolution especially when paired with the main 12MP output of the main camera (read about why your 48mp camera takes 12mp shots here) but this camera isn’t particularly well matched to the first. Switching between the two is a pretty jarring swap, and whilst not everything needs to be as well-matched as the iPhone 11 Pro’s (though that’d be nice) a bit more consistency here would not go unnoticed.
I refuse to even talk about the 2MP depth-sensing camera as whatever data it provides to the portrait mode is so inconsequential that It is useless. The Portrait mode here is much worse than the software only Faux-keh that Google does, and Google even open-sourced that code! Huawei could get it running on the Kirin 710 if it felt like it, that way you can drop the crappy depth camera that takes both physical cost and a space cost in the device. A seriously useless sensor.
Lastly, the front camera. If we take out the gimmicky motorised function, this is an okay front camera. There is enough detail, but colours don’t look amazing, and because this is a tall phone anyway, and the camera is even higher than that, It’s very obvious when you’re looking at yourself in the viewfinder instead of the lens as you’re meant to, it is the inverse of a nose cam, it’s a forehead cam. Do I think the pop-up camera is a gimmick? Sort of, but that doesn’t mean it is bad, I showed people the front of the phone and asked what was missing, most people didn’t even notice there wasn’t a visible camera and thought it was super cool that it popped up. It’s not majorly slower than others, but it is noticeably slower. Fore safety features it’ll stop you opening it if you try to open and close it too many times consecutively. If it detects the phone is in free fall it will retract the camera to do as little damage as possible to itself, and if when the camera is open and you press on the camera popup it will retract itself as to not damage the leadscrew inside, so a far few precautions are in place.
Unfortunately, we weren’t told how many opens and closes this is rated for, but if any other devices to go by we are talking in the hundreds of thousands of actuations, or, Literally years of use, so not likely to be a worry.
This, as with most all Huawei and Honor phones in recent memory, is not even something to worry about. The 4000mAh cell that Honor put in here is a champ, and the Kirin 710F sips juice, the 1080p screen is a piece of cake for the Mali G51 GPU to push so that doesn’t really make a dent either, so 2 days in this is easy, the only time I killed it in one day was the first day I got it, because I was setting it up from scratch on mobile data, in the centre of London whilst using GPS to navigate back to the underground station, oh and It started at 60%.
The downside to this is that it only chargers at a measly 5v2a, or 10W, it does do so over USB-C, which is a godsend and much better than the MicroUSB on the 8X, but 10w is almost insane at this point. I’m not asking for full Huawei Supercharge, but USB Power Delivery or USB-PD starts at 15w, 50% faster than this, and that’s the base spec for it, having this phone cap out at 10w is a real shame, even if you’re likely to only charge it overnight, when you do need to top up in the middle of the day, it sucks hard.
Despite my moaning throughout the review about the Kirin 710F being in this phone, the 710 is not a bad chip, and it is not even that old, but when compared to the successor, the Kirin 810, it is not even a contest, the 810 wins every time, but the 710 still has the Cortex A73 cores and has them clocked over 2.2Ghz, it is still made on a modern 12nm FinFET process, it’s not as if we’re still using 8 A53s on 16nm or even 28nm, the Kirin 710 is good, but the 810 is much better, made worse by the “real” Honor 9X having the 810.
In everyday use, I had a hard time tripping the Honor 9X up, aside from Camera where it started to struggle, swiping around Android 9, watching YouTube videos, scrolling through Instagram and Twitter, they were fine, feeds loaded quickly, scrolling was fluid enough that I never really worried, until I picked up a faster phone like my P30, whose Kirin 980 chip is much closer to the 810 than the 710 and I noticed how much more “tight” it felt. The Honor 9X and Kirin 710 provide a decent experience in 90% of things you’ll do, heck I’ll even upgrade that to a good to a great experience, but I don’t know how well this will age.
Strangely, this is the first Honor phone in a long time where I didn’t have a great mobile signal or data connection. I was having a hard time in central London finding a 4G signal on my Carrier of choice Three UK, and even when coming back home to Hastings, in places I know I get 4G signal, the Honor 9X would stick to H+ for most of the time, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the 4G signal indicator in that status bar.
Once I’ve gotten signal, speeds where also a bit meh, much lower than they usually were with other phones, even non-Huawei ones. I’m not quite sure why, potentially because this is a pre-release device and the radio software hasn’t been finalised yet, but this is the first Huawei/Honor phone in recent memory that I’ve had signal issues with, and that’s a new one for me.
Lastly, the 9X doesn’t have NFC. That might not bother you, but it bothers me, it’s becoming a table-stakes feature here just like USB-C is, and I don’t like OEMs chopping and changing it on certain models, every phone sold above £100 should have Both USB-C and NFC at this point, no exceptions In my book.
So, should you buy it? Honestly, I don’t think you should. If you’ve got an Honor 8X definitely not, and if you’ve got an Honor 7X and are still fine with the performance, I’d keep that a bit longer too. The Honor 9X doesn’t feel like enough of an upgrade in enough areas to recommend it. What makes it worse is that we do not have a price point for this phone nor do we have a release date, which makes it even harder to recommend when devices like the Realme 5 Pro exist, it’s not perfect, it still doesn’t have NFC, but for £199 you get a 5v4a fast charger in box, nearly the same camera setup with an extra macro camera, and the same resolution screen in a smaller size so the screen is sharper. The Honor 9X has to cost less than that to really be worth it in my opinion, and I don’t think it can.