“The Honor 9i is the world’s first smartphone to ship with four cameras”
2017 has arguably been one of the most innovative years for smartphone design. From squeezable edges on HTC’s U11 (review) to the dual-display toting Meizu Pro 7, manufacturers have been moving towards design utopia. Just when we thought that smartphone manufacturers have run out of party tricks to surprise us, out came Honor with the 9i (first impressions) – a smartphone which ships with this year’s bezel-less screen design trend and adds a dual-camera setup on both the back as well as the front to the mix. What’s even better is that the smartphone isn’t a high-end flagship, but a reasonably priced mid-ranger. On paper, the 9i is too enticing to refuse, but is it all talk, no trousers? Stay with me to find out.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||1080 x 2160 pixels|
|CPU||Quad core, 2.36 GHz + Quad core, 1.7 GHz, HiSilicon Kirin|
|Internal memory||64 GB|
|External memory||Up to 128 GB|
|Capacity||3340 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable|
|Primary camera||16 MP|
|Secondary camera||13 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 7.0 Nougat|
Design and Display
Bezel-less designs on smartphones don’t really raise eybrows anymore and we’ve already seen plenty of devices ship with minimal bezels. However, smartphone manufacturers often cut corners with the display’s resolution to reduce costs. To Honor’s credit, the 9i looks and feels amazing and the 5.9-inch FHD+ display is nothing short of stunning. But before we jump into my experience with the display, allow me to talk a little more about the handset’s design. As I mentioned earlier, the Honor 9i packs a massive 5.9-inch display, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the smartphone is a phablet. On the contrary, the smartphone’s size is comparable to most 5.5-inchers in the market, a feat made possible by trimming down the top and the bottom bezels and adopting the 18:9 aspect ratio. The build quality of the Honor 9i is impeccable too, which is evident the second you pick up the smartphone. The 9i employs metal in its construction and has been crafted with industrial precision. The device flaunts a curvy back which makes it comfortable to hold and the sides merge into the display seamlessly as well.
Now on to the things I disliked about the handset’s design. Despite its slim bezels, the Honor 9i isn’t ideal for one-handed usage. The smartphone is slippery and I almost dropped it while trying to reach for the notification panel. In the company’s defence, there are some software tweaks which will help you navigate your way around better on the 9i which I’ll talk more about in the software section. Furthermore, the smartphone’s rear camera protrudes outwards, which feels intrusive to the otherwise seamless design. With that said, the camera bump doesn’t make the smartphone wobble when placed flat on a table and therefore, it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for most.
There’s a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor which has been positioned really well and works great. The sensor is snappy and accurate, though I noticed that there was a minor delay between the sensor registering my fingerprint and the screen unlocking.
As I mentioned before, the Honor 9i packs a 5.9-inch FHD+ display which gives the smartphone a screen resolution of 1,080 x 2,160 pixels. Thanks to its near bezel-less design, consuming media on the 9i is an incredible experience. The texts and images appear crisp and the slim bezels mean that you spend more time looking at the panel and not the borders. The colour reproduction is a bit off, but the viewing angles are great. The only downside of the display panel is that it doesn’t get too bright and therefore, you’ll have to squint your eyes under broad daylight.
Smartphone photography has advanced exponentially in terms of quality over the years. With sharper lenses, smartphones have been able to click brilliant stills in diverse scenarios. One of the biggest trends which was seen last year was that of portrait (or bokeh) shots which blurred the background of a subject to add more depth to the image. Now, to simulate depth, a smartphone was required to ship with two cameras at the back. While it’s certainly not a pre-requisite and a single camera could click in portrait mode via some software tweaks, the mode was primarily limited to devices which shipped with a dual-camera setup at the back. Well, the Honor 9i comes with not two, but four cameras. That’s right, the smartphone gets a dual-camera setup on both the front as well as the back, paving way for bokeh selfies as well as stills. In terms of specifications, the smartphone gets a pair of 16MP and 2MP sensors at the back. For selfies, you’ll be smiling into a pair of 13MP and 2MP sensors – so far, so good. But do the specs translate well into the day-to-day performance as well? Before we dissect the smartphone’s camera prowess, let’s take a closer look at the camera UI.
Despite running a custom skin, the camera UI of the Honor 9i is fairly minimalistic. Once you load up the camera app, you’ll be greeted with the shutter button at the bottom flanked by a quick-access toggle to access the gallery on the left, and a toggle to switch to video mode on the right. Up top, you’ll get the controls for the flash, live picture mode (which captures moments prior to clicking the shutter button and can be accessed via a long press on the image) along with a portrait mode. You can swipe right on the viewfinder to access more shooting modes such as HDR, a pro photo mode as well as night shot.
Now, as far as the overall camera performance is concerned, I must say, Honor did a fine job with the 9i. The daylight performance is outstanding in the segment and the camera manages to capture a good amount of details in broad daylight. The colour reproduction is a bit off, however, the images are pleasing to the eye. The built-in HDR mode does a decent job of bringing out details from both, the dark as well as the bright spots of the image. The smartphone is capable of shooting really good macro shots too, and the shutter and focus speed of the 9i are blazing fast as well. The Bokeh mode works well, however, fails to differentiate the subject from the background at times, resulting in soft edges around the subject. Unfortunately, lowlight performance is nothing to write home about and even with the use of the included flash, the images turn out fairly noisy.
As far as the performance of the front-facing shooter is concerned, the camera will be able to crunch out some incredible images under well-lit scenarios. Since the smartphone ships with two cameras up front as well, you’ll be able to click selfies in Bokeh mode too. As you can see from the sample images I’ve posted, the camera manages to blur out the background in selfies exceptionally well, which is great. However, as was the case with the primary camera, the lowlight performance of the selfie-duo is not outstanding. That said, you won’t have to look for a well-lit spot at night if you want to click decent selfies as the smartphone also features a dedicated LED flash module for the front camera.
Software and performance
Much like Samsung and Apple, Honor also has its own processor line which the company calls HiSilicon Kirin chips. If you’re even remotely familiar with mobile benchmarking applications, then you might have noticed that Kirin processors often trail Qualcomm counterparts in terms of benchmark scores. The reason behind this is that the GPU onboard the Kirin SoCs often runs on lower GFlops when compared to an equivalent Qualcomm processor. With that said, I would like to state upfront that the Kirin processors are no slouch and there’s little-to-no difference in the day-to-day performance of comparable Qualcomm and HiSilicon chips. Moreover, since the hardware has been designed by Honor itself, it should gel well with the software and crunch out solid performance and battery life as well. But does it?
Underneath its metallic chassis, the Honor 9i is powered by a Kirin 659 octa-core processor which works with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. The chip is based on the big.Little architecture which couples power-saving (Little) cores with performance (big) cores to keep a balance between performance and battery efficiency. Tech jargon aside, the Honor 9i is solid performer but it’s not without faults. For starters, while the smartphone opens apps fairly quickly, the transition feels abrupt when you close the application or jump into another one. Moreover, I noticed a slight stutter while navigating through the UI as well, though it only occurred once or twice over the course of my review period. Other than that, I have no complaints with the Honor 9i’s day-to-day performance. Being the intensive user that I am, the smartphone was constantly on its toes, but still managed to juggle between all my social media applications with ease.
Turn the page over to gaming and you’ll get a different result. While the smartphone is more than capable of playing casual games such as Clash Royale, graphically intensive titles like Asphalt 8 take a heavy toll on smartphone’s performance. So much so, that you will not get playable frame rates if you play the game on high settings, which could be a huge red flag if you consider yourself to be a hardcore mobile gamer. That said, the smartphone manages thermals really well, which can be accredited to the battery-efficient Kirin processor.
As far as the battery life of the smartphone is concerned, the 3,340mAh unit on the Honor 9i will easily last you a single day even if you’re pushing the smartphone to its limits. The only complaint I have here is that the smartphone is still utilising a microUSB port, which means that you’ll have to deal with slow charging and data-transfer speeds. Moreover, the device doesn’t support fast charging either, which is a huge downer considering the size of the battery.
The Honor 9i boots Android Nougat and runs the company’s EMUI skin on top. Personally, I am not a huge fan of brands telling me how Android should look and feel. However, the custom skin onboard the 9i does come with a bunch of interesting features which betters the overall user experience. For starters, you can use the fingerprint sensor to perform a myriad of tasks besides just unlocking your smartphone. One of the gestures I used the most was swiping down to bring up the notifications pane. As I mentioned previously, the 9i isn’t one-hand friendly and therefore, having the option to swipe down on the fingerprint sensor rather than awkwardly reaching the top with your fingers to pull down the notification’s tab is a godsend. You’ll get some other frills attached to a custom skin as well, such as an app-cloning mode, which will allow you to run two instances of applications like WhatsApp or Facebook simultaneously. With that said, the Honor 9i ships with a ton of bloatware, most of which cannot be uninstalled and therefore, you’ll have less storage from the get-go when compared to say, a smartphone running stock Android.
Poor execution and lackluster efforts often overshadow good ideas. While we’ve already seen plenty of smartphones both, in the affordable as well as the high-end parade the bezel-less design, only a handful of manufacturers have been able to execute the design with spit and polish. Moreover, despite featuring four cameras and a near-bezel less display, the Honor 9i has been aggressively priced at Rs 17,999, the reason being that the affordable segment is one of the most competitive segments in the Indian market. Now, the Honor 9i isn’t the fastest smartphone in this segment and if you crave stock Android more than anything than you should probably stick to the Moto G5s Plus (review) or the Xiaomi Mi A1 (review). However, if you want a taste of the 18:9 aspect ratio without going bankrupt and don’t want to compromise on the display’s quality, then the Honor 9i is probably your best bet. Credit where credit’s due, Honor has managed to cut costs without cutting corners and for that reason, the 9i is a good device, provided you don’t game too much.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Great display
- Solid build quality
- Good camera setup
- Average performance
- No USB Type-C port