Review: Honor 9 has the looks and power
By Chong Jinn Xiung December 11, 2017
- A beautiful phone that packs solid specs inside
- Flagships need to watch their backs as the Honor 9 skirts very close to their territory
HONOR has been on a roll this year with some pretty solid offerings. First there was the Honor 8 Pro that came with flagship specs but a mid-range price point. This time around we managed to get our hands on an Honor 9. While the Honor 9 is not available via official channels in Malaysia, you can still find it on sale online.
Admittedly, the Honor 9 has some pretty heavy competition on the market both from the top-end and bottom-end of the market. Sitting nicely in the middle again, one has to wonder if thunder will indeed strike in the same place for Honor?
Let’s get this out of the way first. The Honor 9 is a very gorgeous phone and has this experimental feel to it. It is anything but business as usual with this phone as the Honor 9 seems to deliberately seek to break the rules set by its predecessor, like an angsty teen.
Instead of a matte metal back, Honor decided to slap on glass on both the front and rear of the phone.
The rear of the phone really stands out as it is probably one of the shiniest looking phones we have tested this year. The highly glossed back is attractive and makes it stands out when laid next to other phones.
As nice as it is to look, the one drawback to the all glass surface is that it is very slippery to hold, so be sure to put it in a casing the moment you get it out of the box.
Flipping it around the front panel isn’t quite as exciting or attractive as the rear. The screen is a modest 5.15-inch in size, which isn’t very big by today’s standards but it makes the phone very manageable to hold with just one hand.
The main compromise that Honor made to keep cost low is by using a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display though it is not half bad all things considered.
But the one thing to note is that the fingerprint sensor is now located on the front, instead of the rear where Honor usually places it on their phones.
The fingerprint sensor also doubles as the main navigation key for the phone. Just like the Huawei P10, you can choose to use the sensor as a single navigation key, pressing long to take it home while short presses denote back and a swipe to left to bring up recent apps.
Materials aside, the Honor 9’s build quality is top notch with a high-quality finish that is either glass or metal, save for the small plastic antenna cut-outs in the metal. The rear panel has a noticeable curved glass back that makes it very comfortable to hold and gives it a very premium look much like certain flagship smartphones though on the rear.
You get a variety of colours to pick ranging from blue, silver and grey.
When it comes down to performance the Honor 9 is not kidding around as it comes with flagship specs but at a reasonable price. Powering the device is a top end Kirin 960 processor, 4GB of RAM and roomy 64GB of internal storage, which is of course expandable with a microSD card.
All-in-all, very respectable specs to ship in a mid-range device and the benchmark results aren’t too shabby either. We have tested the Kirin 960 before on the Honor 8 Pro, so the results aren’t too surprising though there are a few differences.
The Honor 9 seems to score better on its Antutu, PCMark and Geekbench 4 results with marginally higher results. The one area is falls short is its graphics which scored considerably lower with a difference is the graphical performance which has a stark difference of over 600 points, denoting weaker graphically capabilities.
Still in real world conditions, there wasn’t much to complain about the Honor 9’s performance. Switching between apps was fast and it didn’t have any problems performing most everyday tasks with multiple apps open.
When it comes to gaming, games like Massive Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game Arena of Valor ran smoothly without any hint of slowdown.
For something more graphically intensive we tried the zombie survival game Into the Dead 2, unfortunately the benchmark scores rang true as the Honor 9 struggled with dropped some frames during some cutscenes. We had to tone the graphics down to ‘medium’ in order for it to run smoothly.
It should come to no surprise that the Honor 9 runs on Emotion UI (EMUI) 5.1 on top of Android 7.0. EMUI for the most part has matured over the years. There are more options to customise it like being able to include an app drawer.
But there are still a few annoying aspects of it like the fact that the Honor 9 comes preinstalled with a lot of apps such as HiGame, Health, HiCare, a duplicate email client, music, notepad and whole host of tools right out of the box. Once you discount all the preinstalled apps you really have 40GB of storage.
The Honor 9 comes with a 3,200mAh non-removable battery that offers rather average battery performance. It all really depends on the mix of activities that you put the phone through.
Regular messaging, web browsing and Facebook checking should leave the Honor 9 with enough battery to last a 12- to 13-hour work day. However, more intensive tasks like 3D gaming is likely to sap the phone dry in a couple of hours.
However, it is a good thing that the Honor 9 supports fast charging so it can get back up to a 50% charge within 45 minutes or so.
As far as photo quality goes the Honor 9 carries some high expectations given that Honor’s camera tech is generally good. With a dual sensor setup made up by a 20-Megapixel monochrome and 12-Megapixel RGB sensor, the Honor 9 promises to give you better photos with the combination of the two cameras.
That sounds fine on paper but in real world scenarios, the Honor 9 is a standout camera to have when capturing photos out in broad daylight. The inclusion of HDR and Panorama modes is nothing surprising but the ability to do lossless two times zoom and adding “bokeh” effect is something that we have come to expect from a phone made in 2017.
Night time photography isn’t great to be honest. It is not to say that the images very too grainy or noisy but the camera just wasn’t able to capture enough light resulting in many photos to appear dark and underexposed.
This contrast in performance between day and night also applies for video recording too. On the bright side you get up to 4K resolution video recording and the Electronic Image Stabilisation (EIS), for full HD videos mind you, helps keeps videos looking steady even without a stabiliser.
Not forgetting selfie lovers, the front 8-MEgapixel camera is a solid shooter that not only snaps photos with a fancy beautification mode but also adds a “bokeh” mode to blur the background.
Bringing things to a close, the Honor 9 proves that once again Honor can pack a phone with good specs at a reasonable price. Regardless how you look at it, this is a phone that has the ability to perform just as well as a 2017 flagship model but at the fraction of the price.
So, you get good performance, pretty decent dual cameras, an attractive reflective design and an IR blaster too to control your various home appliances. The only major flaw we see in the Honor 9 is the glass display is extremely slippery and is prone to slipping out of your hands or down an uneven surface.
Also, we could have done with less pre-installed software as it is a shame that the 64GB of internal storage is a lot less than we expected. It is not a deal breaker and the minor inconvenience of uninstalling apps is tedious but not impossible.
Finally, when it comes down to price, because the phone does not have a recommended retail price we had to refer to Lazada Malaysia to gauge its price range which ran from RM1,600 up to RM2,200. Considering if you are to go with the lower price that is a pretty good deal for a sub RM2,000 phone.