To get those specs out of the way, there’s a 64 GB version with 4 or 6 GB of RAM (depending on your region) and a 128 GB version with 6 GB of RAM. Both are powered by the Kirin 960 chipset with Mali-G71 MP8 GPU and run Android 7.0 out of the box. Both have microSD expansion but no water resistance rating, and a 3,200 mAh battery that misses out on Huawei’s Supercharger tech. There’s also USB Type-C, NFC, and an IR blaster.
The Honor 9 doesn’t claim to be revolutionary, but it does aim to deliver a top-notch experience for a very affordable price. And it certainly seems to achieve that goal. We’ll reserve our final judgements for the full review, but after a bit of hands on time with the Honor 9 things certainly look promising.
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The build quality is typically excellent, with a strong resemblance to last year’s Honor 8, albeit with a front-facing fingerprint scanner. While some folks will lament the fingerprint scanner’s migration to the front of the phone, it’s lightning quick and reliable no matter where it is. There are capacitive buttons on either side of the ceramic home button, and while you can switch their order, there’s no option for on-screen buttons like on the OnePlus 5 or the Honor 8 for that matter.
Also unlike the Honor 8, the Honor 9 now curves gently at the edges on the back, making it a little more grippable, although the glass back is just as prone to collecting fingerprints as ever. While the UK will be getting the sapphire blue color pictured here, there’s also a black version and a gray version available if you don’t think you can pull this color off. The main color is echoed in the sandblasted metal frame as well as on the front, but no matter which color you get, the 15-layer optical coating on the back is an eyeful.
Up front there’s a 5.15-inch 1080p IPS LCD display, a slightly smaller panel than last year’s model. In some ways 5.5-inches and above, QHD and above, and AMOLED everything have become the norm, but Honor imagines a different future where smartphones screens remain smaller and less pixel dense. Full HD is still perfectly fine for a lot of folks, and the Honor 9’s LCD is still easily viewable outdoors and is nice and saturated with good contrast and viewing angles.
The downside of Honor not chasing fads is that the Honor 9 has roughly the same footprint as the Galaxy S8 but comes with a much worse screen-to-body ratio. The Honor 9 has the same big bezels above and below the screen you’d remember from last year, and I get the feeling Honor is in no hurry to chase the Univisium standard or go bezelless. Nevertheless, it supports an impressive 96 percent of the color gamut.
If the Honor 9’s display is a little too small for you, you can always check out the Honor 8 Pro, which has basically the same specs sheet as the Honor 9, but comes in a metal housing with a larger 5.7-inch display. If you want to add even more features to that mix, and don’t mind paying a little more again, then consider the Huawei P10 or even the Mate 9.
The Honor 9’s software is spectacularly unremarkable. Unremarkable in that it’s the same EMUI 5.1 we’ve seen on all the phones I just mentioned, but spectacular because it’s super fast, fluid, feature-packed and heavily customizable. The Honor 9 still comes with no app drawer by default, but it only takes a second to add one if you want it.
Honor 9 buyers are also in a for a few software treats. You’ll get six months’ exclusive access to Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and the Honor 9 apparently has a 10-percent faster touch response while gaming. There’s also a Google Play package worth up to $18 for Honor 9 owners which includes the exclusive Honor crystal in Transformers: Forged to Fight.
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 for a close up, full-frontal or more immersive audio experience.
The Honor 9’s audio has been tuned by a famous sound engineer and promises all sorts of musical magic like virtual surround sound which we’ll evaluate in our full review. For now I can say the bottom-firing speaker gets plenty loud, although I wouldn’t recommend maxing it out if you actually like music.
Moving onto the camera, there’s a lot of promise here. The Honor 9 bumps its monochrome sensor up to 20 MP, affording the 2x hybrid zoom we also saw on the Huawei P10, and even more detailed photos. The 12 MP RGB sensor adds color information, but you can also use the monochrome sensor alone for high-quality B&W images. In full daylight you’ll get very nice photos, but that is true of practically all phones these days.
There’s also: live photos; Night Shot Mode, which you’ll only want to use on a tripod; a synthetic Bokeh portrait mode, which misses as often as it hits; light painting; 4K video compression that produces 50 percent smaller file sizes; and a full manual mode.
But the absence of OIS means your 4K footage will be pretty shaky and you’ll need steady hands for nice low-light shots using either f/2.2 aperture lens.
Pixel-binning technology produces pretty good low-light photos, but there’s still plenty of noise visible with lots of detail lost even at dusk. We’ll bring you much more detailed thoughts on the camera in the full review, but we can already see that the Honor 9 does well, but not spectacularly.
While the 8 MP front-facing camera works fine, the beauty mode is a little aggressive and you’re probably better off taking your chances with the rear camera or just turning it off. Take a look at some of the sample photos I took and see what you think.
With the Honor 9, the company has once again pulled out an affordable smartphone that hits all the right spots: audio, performance, style, camera and software. While you can absolutely find better experiences on other phones, you’d likely have to pay a couple of hundred dollars more for it.
With the Honor 9, the company has once again pulled out an affordable smartphone that hits all the right spots
As I mentioned at the outset, the Honor 9 is a no frills smartphone, delivering a solid baseline across the board at a price point that most can manage. It doesn’t add anything brand new to the mix, just improves on a winning formula from years past, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.