Huawei Honor 9 Review – An Honorable Mention

I recently reviewed the Huawei P10, and while it’s Huawei’s flagship phone, there’s another high-end/flagship phone by Huawei, which was released in June 2017. Huawei has always been known for their low-cost phones with excellent value for money. However, more recently, Huawei has branched out into designing more premium phones, like the Huawei P10, Huawei Mate 9 Pro, and now the Honor 9. It’s rather odd to have so many flagship phones (like the Huawei Mate 9 Pro), and it makes for a very convoluted product lineup, but alas, Huawei has released yet another flagship. The Huawei Honor 9 is the successor to the excellent Huawei Honor 8. With 6GB of RAM and a 20MP camera, let’s see how good the Huawei Honor 9 really is.

Design

Much like the HTC U11, the Huawei Honor 9 employs an all-glass design on the back and front. Holding it all together is the metal frame around all edges of the device, color matched to the glass. The whole design is reminiscent of the HTC U11, with its dazzling blue color and glass exterior. However, the Huawei Honor 9 doesn’t have the curve around the back, opting instead for a uniform thickness. It does give the impression that it’s a little thick, but isn’t painfully noticeable. Like many of today’s phones, it’s slippery to hold, since it’s made from glass and metal, both of which are extremely slippery, especially when wet. On the back of the phone are the dual cameras, flash, and IR blaster.

Unlike a few of Huawei’s older phones, the fingerprint scanner is on the front. Personally, it’s much easier to use on the front, since I come from an iPhone 6s. On the front of the device are the averagely sized full HD 5.15″ display and front-facing camera. On the bottom is the fingerprint scanner, which, unlike the Huawei P10’s, also acts as a home button. Like all phones with a home button, it’s flanked by the back button and the app switcher button. They can be swapped in the settings. Sadly, the Huawei Honor 9 doesn’t have a radical bezel-less design, and the screen to body ratio is only ~70%. Compare this with the Samsung Galaxy S8, and it’s clear why this phone is a lot more affordable than the latest line of true Android flagships.

Even Huawei’s other flagships don’t bezel-less displays, something which is becoming the norm with Android flagships. The tradeoff here is that while the display isn’t as large as I’d like it to be, it’s much easier to use with one hand, at just 5.15 inches diagonally. Overall the Huawei Honor 9 is a good looking phone, but it isn’t radical or adventurous in design. You can buy the Huawei Honor 9 in Black, Glacier Gray, and Blue. Blue is the standout color, but I usually stick with the more conservative choices.


Build Quality

As you can imagine, with these materials, build quality is stellar. There’s no creaking or any noises whatsoever, and it feels like a fully baked phone. Where I’d be worried is durability, as the mere metal frame won’t do much to protect the fragile glass (on the front AND back!). If you do end up smashing both sides of the phone, you may be looking at a very expensive repair.

Display

The Huawei Honor 9 has a pretty small 5.15″ display, which takes up 70% of the device. While it’s a small size, it also means that the Huawei Honor 9 is very easy to use with one hand, something that can’t be said about many of the latest Android flagship phones (I’m looking at you, Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus). Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S8 and OnePlus Five, the Huawei Honor 9 has a IPS LCD, as opposed to an AMOLED display. I’m personally not a fan of AMOLED displays, since there’s the problem of burn-in and the ridiculously oversaturated image quality. I’m glad that Huawei has stuck with IPS display technology, since I find that it’s both accurate and bright enough.

Being a 5.15″ display, it isn’t especially large, so Huawei hasn’t felt the need to cram a 4k display into it. That’s a smart move, since a 4k display would drastically decrease battery life, while not increasing the real detail of the display by any noticeable margin. It may make a little difference when using the Huawei Honor 9 as a VR headset, but other than that, 428PPI is more than enough for a mobile phone. Colors are vivid and accurate, viewing angles are wide, and it’s also relatively bright, but all three of these things are outshone by AMOLED displays. Still I’m not a fan of AMOLED displays because of their longevity, so I’m glad it’s an IPS display. Overall, the display on the Huawei Honor 9 is nothing to write home about, but it’s still a decent display.

Features

Like many Android flagship phones, the Huawei Honor 9 features a dual camera. It’s becoming standard issue, but while many phones have it, not many nail the software as much as Apple does, with its iPhone 7 Plus. The Huawei Honor 9 has a similar feature to the iPhone in that it can shoot videos and images simultaneously and synchronise them to create a live photo. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to view it on other phones other than Huawei phones, but it works well, just like live photos on and iPhone. Since the battery is rather large at 3200mAh, it also supports fast charging, at 5V/2A. Keep in mind you’ll need to be using Huawei’s special power brick, but it does charge the phone relatively fast. Huawei claims you can get it to charge from 0-40% in just half an hour, which is rather impressive.

Fast charging is also becoming standard issue on Android phones, but it’s a major area where a lot of Android phones have the upper hand compared to iPhones. The iPhone 7 Plus takes an astonishingly long time to charge when compared to the Huawei Honor 9, even though it has a similarly sized battery. It’s a nice feature to have, and it’s also insanely useful for times where you need to charge in a pinch. Overall, the Huawei Honor 9 doesn’t have too many special features, but it’s barebones feature set help to lower the overall cost for the consumer.

Hardware

Much like the other Huawei Phones, the Huawei Honor 9 forgoes the Snapdragon system on chips for the HiSilicone SoCs. They’re designed and manufactured by Huawei for their own devices, much like Samsung and their Exynos line of SoCs. The Hisilicon Kirin 960 has been used across all of Huawei’s premium phones, including the P10. It’s a fairly old chip, released in October 2016, but it’s still doing ok for it’s age. It’s not as powerful as any of the top-tier of the Snapdragon lineup (821,835), and it’s leagues away from the lightning fast Exynos chips from Samsung (the ones used in the Samsung Galaxy S8). Still, it’s a relatively decent chip for a high-midrange phone.

The Kirin 960 in the Huawei Honor 9 is coupled with an ample 6GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage, but it also comes in a 4GB RAM variant and a 128GB flash storage variant. While 6GB of RAM isn’t as much as the OnePlus 5 has, it is on par with the “special” version of the Samsung Galaxy S8, a super fast phone. This 6GB of RAM is a very comfortable amount of RAM and should keep it quick and fluid for a long while to come. As mentioned above, the Huawei Honor 9 has a 3200mAh battery, and has fast charging capabilities. It charges through reversible USB Type – C, which is quickly becoming the norm for all new phones.

SIM Variants and Expandability

The Huawei Honor 9 comes in both single and dual-SIM variants, and the dual SIM version can use an inactive SIM slot as a micro SD card slot. While it’s never ideal to have storage split between internal storage and an SD card, it’s a nice addition. The compatibility for the external micro SD card on the dual SIM version goes up to a whopping 256GB, so if you buy the 128GB internal storage variant, you could have 384GB of total storage. It’s great that a lot of Chinese phones with dual SIM options are allowing consumer expandability, a trend which is fast dying in the western world. My recommendation for the Huawei Honor 9 would be to buy the Dual SIM 6GB/64GB version, as it maximises both cost efficiency and also allows for expandability. 6GB of RAM will also keep your phone quick for a few years.

Connectivity

The Huawei Honor 9 comes with all of the radios and connectivity options you’d expect from an Android phone. It also has an infrared beacon so that you can control your TV from your phone – no extra apps needed. This is a feature I first tried out on the Samsung Galaxy S5, and it’s very useful.

Performance

Like I’ve mentioned in my other reviews, the Kirin 960 chip on the Huawei Honor 9 and Huawei P10 can’t compete with the latest chips from SnapDragon, namely, the Snapdragon 821 and 835 regarding GFX performance. Even so, the Kirin 960 is a solid performer, and on the Huawei Honor 9, performance is flawless. It’s still ahead of the curve when comparing OS VS SoC, but it’s not as futureproof as the chips found on the Samsung Galaxy S8 or OnePlus 5. At around $400, it’s not so much of a big deal, since it’s more of a low-flagship device than a true flagship.

Everyday tasks are a breeze, and there’s no stuttering or slowdowns whatsoever throughout the OS. 3D games and other performance intensive tasks are no problem for the Huawei Honor 9. It’s really only just benchmarks which show the difference between this phone and the more expensive flagships. Even then, the Kirin 960 excels in raw computing power, outshining the 821. It’s Achilles heel is it’s GPU performance, where it trails behind a lot of the other SoC’s. The Huawei Honor 9 is fast now, but after a few years, it may start to show it’s age.

Camera

The Cameras on the Huawei Honor 9 are outstanding for the price. Photos taken on the dual lens rear camera are natural and sharp, and they don’t look too saturated. The front camera is also good, but it’s not the main focus of the phone. The main focus is the dual rear cameras, and the advantages that the dual lens system brings. One of the most interesting features of the dual lens camera is the fact that it can simulate a DSLR-like bokeh effect, which keeps the subject in focus while artificially making the background blurred. This mode is called “wide aperture mode”. The Huawei Honor 9 does a pretty good job of the blur, but gradual blurs don’t work as well. Low light photos, even with the dual lens camera system, look grainy and underexposed. It’s unfortunate, since the dual lens system is meant to improve low light performance.

Camera – Video

The Huawei Honor 9 can take good videos too. It can record in both 1080p@60fps and 2160p@30fps, but turning on either of those modes stops image stabilisation, and there’s no optical stabilisation on the Honor 9. I’d like for a phone manufacturer to make a phone capable of shooting 4k60fps video, but that technology just isn’t there right now. Still, the video quality on the Huawei Honor 9 is good, and you’re given a lot of manual control over the video too.

Operating System

The Huawei Honor 9, like all Huawei phones, runs a skinned version of Android OS. It’s called emotion OS, and I don’t like it much, but it features a simplified design and no app drawer. It’s popular for it’s simplicity, but it’s design doesn’t speak to me much. I much prefer the look of stock Android, and while you can’t quite achieve that, you can alleviate the symptoms of emotion OS by downloading Google Now launcher. It won’t change the built-in apps or even the settings page, but at least the home screen will be similar to stock Android.

Battery Life

With a 3200mAh battery and a 5.15″ screen, I expected the Huawei Honor 9 to have a very long battery life. However, it’s not quite as good as I’d hoped. It’s still good, but it only lasts around a day for me. If you’re a light user, you may be able to squeeze in 1.5-2 days out of it, but it’s definitely not an endurance phone. A lot of larger phones, even with 4k displays can outlast the Huawei Honor 9. It’s still a lot better than my personal iPhone 6s, which dies within 12 hours, so it’s not terrible.

Wrap-Up

The Huawei Honor 9 is a solid low-flagship phone, with powerful specs and a low price tag at $400. It’s build quality is excellent, and design looks appealing. It’s only drawbacks are it’s OS, Low light shots, battery life, and graphics performance. If you want a good looking, decently fast phone with average battery life and a low price tag, it’s a great phone, but if you want crazy endurance and/or the absolute bleeding edge in performance, you might want to consider the OnePlus 5. Overall, the Huawei Honor 9 is a great phone, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for value for money.