This is not the first time I find myself in a situation where, a short time after testing a Huawei smartphone, I get another device very similar to it, but with Honor brand. The order may be different, but the essence, I think, is understandable. This time, I first got acquainted with Huawei P smart Pro, and then Honor 9X. In this review, I will talk about the update to the once-popular Honor 8X, and about the difference between the two seemingly identical smartphones.
By the way, in some countries there is a second, Premiuim-version of Honor 9X smartphone, but most places get only one, with three cameras, 4 GB of RAM, and without NFC. This is the version we’ll be discussing.
Honor 9X occupies the niche between Honor 10i and Honor 20 and the price proves it. The recommended cost of a smartphone in some markets is $301, but from December 20 to January 5 you can get a discount. Maybe you’ll get lucky.
The smartphone comes in a small cardboard box, along with a power adapter (10 W power), a USB/Type-C cable, a SIM card eject tool, and a set of documentation.
The cover is not provided in commercial versions. Also, a protective film was glued onto the device from the box, but my sample had it scratched and worn, so I removed it.
Design, materials and build quality
The front panel of the smartphone is as concise as possible. This is a screen (no notches) and bezels. It is difficult to call them thin, the “thickest” place is from below, the side ones are decent, and the indentation in the upper part is slightly larger than the side ones. But they do not cause any discomfort.
But on the back Honor 9X is interesting. But not to everyone, of course. The camera block is located in the most classic way - from above in the left corner. But the pattern is not standard. The back reflects the light, it is refracted and formed in the form of the letter “X”, which stretches over the entire cover. This "X" is made in a pixel style. The effects depend on the light sources.
It looks good. Finally we get something other than a gradient, which we’ve seen tons of times already. But you should understand that this is true only for the blue colors of the case - Sapphire Blue. If you want a more rigorous design option, there’s also Midnight Black. In my opinion, it looks boring. Nevertheless, someone will dig its classic unpretentiousness.
But what really underwent simplification is the materials. Honor 8X had a glass cover and a metal frame. In 9X, everything is made of plastic, which is a little frustrating. But taking into account the price tag, it’s understandable. There are more expensive examples, with the same basic materials.
The build quality is wonderful: nothing creaks or crunches, and the smartphone feels tight. The oleophobic coating is present in front. The frame is glossy, but not very slippery. The body also collects prints well.
Other features include a rubberized seal on the SIM. This is somewhat unusual to see in a smartphone with a pop-up camera. Naturally, this does not mean that the smartphone has full moisture protection. But additional means of protection against dust and splashes is always a plus.
Regarding the elements, or rather, their location and appearance, there are a minimum of changes. On the top we have conversational speaker. Below are light and proximity sensors. Unfortunately, no notification LED had been added.
On the right side there are two traditional buttons - power and the volume key, paired. There’s nothing on the left.
At the bottom there is a 3.5 mm audio jack, a microphone, USB Type-C and multimedia speaker. On top is a unit with a retractable camera, an additional microphone and a hybrid slot for two nanoSIM, one of which can be replaced with a microSD memory card.
At the back are a block with cameras, a round platform for a fingerprint scanner, a logo and other service markings, which are almost invisible.
Honor 9X ergonomics
The dimensions of Honor 9X are large enough to make it comfortable to use with one hand. You still will have to change your grip from time to time, and sometimes resort to a two-handed mode of use. With a case size of 163.5 × 77.3 × 8.8 mm, the device weighs 196.8 grams.
The controls can be found at the comfortable height. As I already noted, the it is not very slippery and the smartphone as a whole does not slip out of hand. You’ll have to put up only with the size. Although this can be justified by the large screen size.
Honor 9X Display
What has not changed at all is the display: it’s large, 6.59" with the same LTPS-matrix and Full HD+ resolution (2340 × 1080 pixels). The aspect ratio is 19.5:9, the pixel density is 391 ppi.
There are no complaints about the display as a whole. It is solid for a smartphone of this level, with natural color rendition. The brightness margin is not impressive, but in most cases it will be enough for comfortable operation on the street. Naturally, not in direct sunlight on a summer day.
Viewing angles are normal. There is an inherent in LTPS-matrix loss of contrast at a diagonal angle. The definition is also sufficient: the font and small objects in applications look crisp.
Two color modes are available in the settings: normal and bright. The color temperature can be adjusted both with the help of a circle and with ready-made presets (warm, cold, normal).
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In addition, the eye protection mode is available, and you can force full-screen display for applications.
Honor 9X Performance
First, it is worth noting that the global and Chinese versions of Honor 9X differ in terms of hardware, and the blame for this is the well-known situation with US sanctions. Google cannot certify Huawei's new hardware platform. Therefore, in Honor 9X for the European market, Kirin 710F chipset is installed, instead of the Kirin 810, which is available in the Chinese version.
Well, with Kirin 710F we are already very, very familiar. This is a 12-nm platform, which includes 8 cores: 4 Cortex-A73 cores with a maximum clock frequency of 2.2 GHz and 4 Cortex-A53 cores with a clock frequency of up to 1.7 GHz with a Mali-G51 MP4 graphics chip.
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The amount of RAM in the official Honor 9X is 4 GB. For comparison, P smart Pro has 6 GB. Of course, the more RAM, the better and no one argues with that. But at the same time, I can’t say that with this mid-range platform there is an urgent need for 6 GB. Yes, the other models might hold more running apps in memory, but that’s not critical. The difference in price is worth considering.
There’s also 128 GB in storage, and 112.90 GB of storage is free to use. If necessary, you can increase the storage capacity by installing a microSD card instead of a second SIM card.
The shell is responsive and smooth, applications open quickly, a smartphone almost does not think about it when performing a task. I did not see any critical slowdowns of the interface, but don’t expect flagship performance – it’s still a mid-ranger. It was not possible to test games with FPS measurement due to the specifics of the software, but approximate numbers can be found in the review of Huawei P smart Pro.
Nothing has changed with the games. All of them should run with no problems. True, not on maximum graphics and stable fps. Call of Duty Mobile is generally doing well (although the graphics can only be low), PUBG is fine as well. Let me remind you about the existence of performance mode which helps with heavier games. And also about support for proprietary GPU Turbo technology. If the game is optimized for it, it is better to add it to the Games Center and run from there.
Honor 9X cameras
There are three cameras in Honor 9X. There’s the main 48 MP wide-angle module, with an f/1.8 aperture, 1/2.0" sensor size, 0.8 μm pixels, 27 mm focal length and PDAF autofocus. The second lens is ultra-wide, with a resolution of 8 MP, f/2.4 aperture and EGF 13 mm, and the third is an auxiliary depth sensor - 2 megapixels, f/2.4.
For this price tag, the quality of the pictures is not bad. Not the best in its class, but still. It works okay in the afternoon on the street or in a room with a good level of lighting. In any case, there’s nothing special about color rendering and details. In conditions of insufficient lighting, you have to hold the camera in one place, because it needs more time to focus.
In the evening or where there is not enough light, it makes sense to resort to shooting at night. If you can and shoot some kind of static scene, then you should install the smartphone on a tripod or use the emphasis to take the highest quality photo. Below is an example of automatic and night modes.
The ultra-wide module has noticeably lower detail, which is especially noticeable in scenes where there is not much light. Typical situation for modules with a wide angle. Therefore, I recommend using it only in good conditions. There is no focusing system here either, just a fixed distance. It’s hard to make pictures of objects up close.
Honor 9X's bokeh effect is pretty normal. Although not without errors in terms of a clear separation of the background from the main object. Artificial intelligence, of course, is also here and is applied quite accurately, without overdoing it.
The maximum video resolution is 1080p - this is a limitation of the platform, which does not support shooting in 4K. There is a choice between 30 and 60 FPS for the main module, and ultra-wide can only shot at 30 fps. As a result, the quality of recording videos aren’t excellent, it is average, but at least there’s electronic stabilization.
The selfie camera is retractable: with a resolution of 16 megapixels, aperture f/2.2, a 1/3" sensor, 1.0µm pixels and a 26 mm focal length. On the whole, it’s pretty ordinary, I didn’t really like the details and the noise that appears even in seemingly good lighting conditions.
The camera application has many different modes and effects: aperture, night, portrait, pro, panorama, light, HDR, live photo and so on.
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The fingerprint scanner in Honor 9X is located on the back side and it is made in the best traditions of the company. Fast and stable is exactly what you expect from this method. Additional functionality is also here: camera control, answering a call, turning off the alarm, opening the notification panel and viewing photos in the gallery, using gestures on the sensor.
At the same time, face unlocking is not supported. Why? Because of the pop-up camera. Although competitors with a similar design still allow the use of this camera mechanism for unlocking. But Honor decided otherwise.
Honor 9X battery life
The smartphone has a 4000 mAh battery, which is enough to operate the device mercilessly all day. If you use it sparingly, it can last for 1.5-2 days without recharging. I reached 7 hours of screen operation with 33-35 hours of total smartphone activity on a single charge. The result is quite good for a battery of this capacity and a screen of this size. The battery test in PCMark failed to start.
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But I still managed to record charging speed of the smartphone using a standard charger and cable. It’s not fast:
00:00 — 12%
00:30 — 38%
01:00 — 65%
01:30 — 90%
01:55 — 100%
Sound and communication
The earpiece speaker is used when talking to somebody, while the multimedia speaker plays in mono format. Not too loud, but okay quality, if you watch, for example, video in a quiet environment at medium or high (not maximum) volume level. Wired headphones can be connected in a standard way, the sound is quite normal if you adjust the sound with the built-in equalizer and Histen effects.
With wireless headsets, everything is complicated, because I have the same complaints about my own smartphone as my Huawei counterpart. The thing is, the behavior of Honor 9X is unpredictable with different headphones. I tested the device with Tronsmart Spunky Pro and RHA MA650 Wireless. In the first case, everything is kinda bad. When you speak to someone, the sound is earsplitting and music is even worse? The second set of headphones offers very small margin of volume, in order to listen to something at home you need to twist it more than half.
The situation with wireless modules is a little better with Huawei. But just a little bit - Honor 9X supports 5 GHz Wi-Fi band (Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac module). The remaining modules have not changed - Bluetooth 4.2 (LE, A2DP) and GPS (A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS). Yes, in 9X we sell there is no NFC module, which is... offensive, of course. I don’t understand why this happens, because I don’t remember when I last met a smartphone of this brand without NFC. Flagship 20 and 20 Pro, 10i and 10 Lite, budget Honor 8A – all of them have NFC.
Firmware and software
At this point, everything is familiar and understandable - the EMUI 9.1 shell in the implementation of Magic UI, based on Android 9. There are no problems with Google services. We already talked a lot about the ninth version of EMUI. A shell with its own characteristics, three ways of system navigation, various gestures to call Google Assistant, activate the screen, or turn off sounds.
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Honor 9X as a whole I find a little more interesting than P smart Pro. First off, it's just cheaper. Secondly, it supports 5 GHz Wi-Fi. What is inferior is the smaller amount of RAM and a plastic backplate. In isolation from the “brother”, 9X is also not bad, and the only thing it lacks is an NFC module.
There is a large screen without notches, good battery life, a sufficient amount of memory. Therefore, if you do not require contactless payments, the device might suit you fine. Especially during the current holiday season, when it is sold at a good discount.