Honor has tried to stay relevant in a market that is seeing extremely competitive and disruptive phones at breakneck speed. Brands like Xiaomi, Realme and even Samsung off late have been setting a benchmark for what a smartphone can offer without paying a lot of money. Honor has consistently delivered attractive phones over the years, and the X series has been successful for the company by offering a combination of good looks, decent hardware at attractive prices. After the popular Honor 8X last year, the company is back with the Honor 9X.
The Honor 9X was launched in China in mid-2019 and it only landed in India earlier this month. The company did not reveal the reason behind the delay, but the Honor 9X has been launched in India with a price starting Rs 13,999. The smartphone touts a notch-less LCD display, a 48MP triple camera setup and Kirin 710F SoC, among other things. But are these features enough to help the Honor 9X compete against the likes of Realme 5 Pro (review), Redmi Note 8 Pro (review), Vivo Z1 Pro (review)?
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The Honor 9X’s pop-up camera, notchless display and shimmering design are all attractive features on a sub-Rs 15,000 smartphone. The only problem is that we have seen plenty of other phones offer similar features and so much more last year. The Honor 9X looks and feels like a 2019 smartphone, and that’s a problem in 2020.
Design and display
Starting off with the design, the Honor 9X is a fairly large phone to hold. It won’t be easy navigating the screen and reaching the top and edges of the display with one hand. The device is also pretty heavy at 196 grams despite its plastic construction. The 3D curved rear panel does make it easier to hold. The back comes in two finishes – Midnight Black and Sapphire Blue. I’ve checked out both the colour options and can safely say they’re both fingerprint magnets, especially the black model. The Sapphire Blue option offers a unique finish with an X-shaped pattern that shimmers under light.
The Honor 9X gets a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, which is well located and easy to reach. It’s not the fastest fingerprint sensor around, but it gets the job done. Unfortunately, there is no facial recognition feature. I feel Honor decided against adding the option given the time it takes for the pop-up camera to rise up.
Yes, the Honor 9X is the company’s first smartphone to come with a pop-up camera that pops out from the top of the frame. The top of the frame is also where you’ll see a hybrid SIM tray that can hold either two SIM cards or a SIM and microSD card. Around the frame, you will also see the power button and volume controls on the right side. The bottom of the frame gets a speaker grille, Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Coming to the front, the Honor 9X gets a fairly big 6.59-inch LCD FullView display. This screen has no notch or punch-hole cutout thanks to the pop-up camera mechanism. So you’re getting a largely distraction-free viewing experience. With FHD+ (1080×2340) resolution and a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, the Honor 9X promises to offer a good experience while watching movies and playing games.
The screen offers good sharpness and punchy colours. The Honor 9X comes with Widevine L1 support and should stream content in HD resolution on compatible apps like Netflix and Prime Video. Overall, my experience while watching videos on the Honor 9X was decent thanks to the large all-screen display and crisp 1080p resolution.
The Honor 9X gets a triple camera setup on the back, which includes a 48MP Sony IMX582 primary camera, an 8MP ultra wide-angle lens and a 2MP depth sensor. The pop-up mechanism houses a 16MP selfie camera. The cameras on the Honor 9X are decent, but we’ve seen better camera phones in this price segment. You can take some crisp and colourful photos using the 48MP main camera in daylight. The sensor uses pixel binning to produce bright and sharp 12MP photos. There’s an AI option that can quickly be enabled to detect a scene you’re looking at so that the camera can boost saturation and make colours pop. The artificially enhanced colours can look a bit too much at times, especially when capturing flowers or scenery.
The camera app gets a dedicated night mode, which I was quite pleased with. In tricky low-light conditions, the long-exposure mode can balance out the exposure, improve clarity and reduce noise. In most scenarios, night mode on the Honor 9X gets the job done.
The camera app also includes a Portrait mode, Aperture, Pro mode, slow-mo, light painting, HDR, and so on. It’s a fairly busy and cluttered camera app, so it can take a while to get used to it. In order to use the wide-angle lens, you will need to pinch the viewfinder or drag the zoom scroller on the side. The top left side of the camera app also has the HiVision option that uses AI to identify objects around you for shopping, text for translating and food to offer calorie count.
The 16MP front camera tends to over-sharpen selfies in daylight. While colours look natural, facial features can look soft when zooming in. Overall, the cameras on the Honor 9X are decent, but you can find more versatile options under Rs 15,000 in phones like the Realme 5 Pro (Review) and Redmi Note 8 Pro.
Performance and software
This is one area where a lot of potential Honor 9X buyers will likely be concerned about. The Honor 9X is powered by a mid-range Kirin 710F chipset. This is paired with up to 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. The processor is slightly dated as it was introduced back in mid-2018. Since then, we have seen more powerful smartphones launch under Rs 15,000 such as the Realme XT with Snapdragon 712 SoC and Redmi Note 8 Pro with Helio G90T SoC. Compared to these powerhouses, the Honor 9X does feel sluggish, especially while playing games.
The Kirin 710 still works well enough for general browsing and day-to-day usage that involves messaging and social media browsing. Apps open and load fast enough, the scrolling experience was smooth while browsing apps like Instagram and Facebook, and the chipset is also power efficient as it is built on a 12nm process. Battery drain is minimal even while playing long sessions of PUBG or Call of Duty Mobile. My experience while gaming, however, has been underwhelming. Fast-paced racing games like Asphalt 9 would sometimes stutter, while games like PUBG and Call of Duty Mobile would lag quite a bit at high graphics settings. The Honor 9X antennas do a good job at latching on to the Wi-Fi to keep a stable connection, but it is worth noting that the smartphone does not support 5Ghz Wi-Fi, so the bandwidth that you will get to work with is limited.
The Honor 9X runs EMUI 9.1 based on Android 9 Pie, which will again bother some people who were expecting Android 10 out of the box. That being said, you will be happy to know that the phone comes with Google apps and services, as well as access to Google Play Store. Honor has also confirmed that the Honor 9X will get updated to Android 10, but the timeline is still unclear.
EMUI 9 feels smooth and responsive. It’s not as snappy to open apps as you would find on smartphones running ColorOS or OxygenOS, for example. The Huawei-made OS gives you the option to enable the app drawer in Settings. It also comes with enhanced battery saving options, lock screen magazine, Digital Balance which is essentially a version of Digital Wellbeing, which gives you an overview of how much time you’ve spent on apps; and gesture navigation. EMUI also comes with its fair share of preloaded apps like Helo, Booking.com, Wego, Opera News and even Netflix. With timely software updates being rather uncertain at the moment, EMUI may not be as attractive as Samsung’s One UI or the newly-minted Realme UI that offer a cleaner UI and get frequent updates.
Lastly, the Honor 9X houses a respectable 4,000mAh battery. You can expect a day-long battery life out of the box thanks to the power-efficient Kirin 710F chipset and an optimised EMUI software with effective battery-saving options. Even with intensive usage which involved watching videos on YouTube, playing a few sessions of PUBG and CoD, and social media browsing through the day, the Honor 9X managed to last a full day with ease. In the PCMark battery drain test, the Honor 9X managed to last roughly 12 hours.
The Honor 9X comes with a 10W charger with the box, which takes roughly two hours to charge the device from zero to 100 percent. In comparison, the more affordable Realme 5 Pro supports 20W VOOC fast charging that can juice up the device in about an hour. For Rs 1,000 extra, you can go for the Redmi Note 8 Pro that offers a larger 4,500mAh battery and 18W fast charging support.
The Honor 9X feels like its a few months too late in India. No doubt it is a decent upgrade over the Honor 8X, with some admirable features such as a pop-up camera that allows for a full-screen display and a respectable battery life. But problems like a dated Kirin 710F SoC is unavoidable. The Kirin 710F chipset pales in comparison to the processors powering the likes of the Realme XT, Vivo Z1 Pro and Redmi Note 8 Pro in this price segment. The Honor 9X is not a gaming phone, but if gaming is not high on your priority list then smartphone works quite well for day-to-day usage.
The Honor 9X has a good day-long battery life and decent cameras for those looking for a simple camera phone. While there are some good features, you may want to wait a bit before buying the Honor 9X considering we are about to see the launch of some exciting new affordable mid-range phones in the coming months from brands like Realme, POCO, Xiaomi and Samsung.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Full-screen display
- All-day battery life
- Dated processor
- Ships with Android 9
- Average cameras