Huawei Honor 9 review

You’ll never feel blue with the beautiful Honor 9 in your hand

A beautiful blue bargain, the Honor 9 embarrasses the competition with its cool camera and flashy design.
A beautiful blue bargain, the Honor 9 embarrasses the competition with its cool camera and flashy design.
A beautiful blue bargain, the Honor 9 embarrasses the competition with its cool camera and flashy design.

Highs

  • Beautiful design
  • Superb camera
  • Fast processor
  • Compact body

Lows

  • No U.S. 4G LTE bands
  • No water resistance
  • Slippery

Everyone loves a bargain, and the Honor 9 smartphone is exactly that. It does everything phones costing $150 more can do, while looking as good, if not better than most. The Honor 9 is Honor outdoing OnePlus, a company that’s a master in offering an affordable phone with high-end specifications. In our Honor 9 review, we explain how it manages this feat.

Before we dive in, you should know that Honor is a subsidiary of Huawei, a major Chinese smartphone manufacturer with high-end phones such as the Huawei P10, as well as the highly-anticipated Huawei Mate 10.

Beautiful glass design

It’s the wonderfully crafted 3D glass rear that defines the Honor 9’s look. Created using 15 layers of glass, a thermal bending process, and intricate nano textures in a mold that’s replaced every 500 uses; the glassy, reflective panel captures light in a gloriously eye-catching way you’ll never get bored of seeing. Yes, it attracts fingerprints in the same way it catches light, and it’s sure to smash if you drop it on a hard surface. But it doesn’t matter — it’s beautiful.

The 7.5mm thick body holds a 5.1-inch screen, and weighs 155 grams, making it compact and comfortable to hold in one hand. The fingerprint sensor is below the screen, and it’s the worst part of the design as you have to shift the phone’s position to use it — not good with a slippery phone. We would have preferred a rear sensor. On the back are two camera lenses, which are flush with the Gorilla Glass 3 panel, just like on the Honor 9’s close cousin, the Huawei P10. It’s neat and attractive.

It’s the wonderfully crafted 3D glass rear cover that defines the Honor 9’s look.

A 3.5mm headphone jack is on the phone’s base, along with a speaker and the USB Type-C charging port. On the side is the sleep/wake key and volume controls. It’s here that you see the differences between the Honor 9 and more expensive devices. The OnePlus 5 and the Huawei P10 have textured sleep/wake keys to make them easier to find without looking; but it’s smooth on the Honor 9. Not a big deal, but the differences are there. It’s also slightly heavier and thicker than the P10, but not by margins you’d really notice.

The Honor 9 is phone design done right, except for one thing. It has a mind of its own, and will for seemingly no reason slide off even the flattest, most level surfaces. Please, put the Honor 9 in a case, otherwise its slippery nature will see it crash to the floor when you least expect it.

A camera you’ll want to use

The Honor 9 has a dual-lens camera similar in ability to the one on Huawei phones and the Nokia 8, with a 12-megapixel color lens and a 20-megapixel monochrome lens. Used together they create detailed images, letting you access 2x optical zoom for close up shots, and they can produce a blurred background for portraits (like on the iPhone 8 Plus). The difference between the Honor 9 and the Huawei P10 is the lack of Leica lenses and camera tuning.

We like the Huawei P10’s camera, and feel the same about the Honor 9. It’s a camera you’ll want to use, and it takes fabulous pictures. The interface is fast, the shutter release acts instantly, and the software suite for editing is comprehensive and easy to use. Slide in the menu tray from the side and there are various modes to select, including a manual mode, panorama, HDR, night shot, light painting, and our personal favourite: Monochrome.

A great camera, with a coherent interface, and sensibly thought out features.

If all you’ve used are monochrome filters, then the dedicated monochrome lens will be a revelation. The detail it reproduces is stunning, adding mood and drama to otherwise normal pictures. The wide aperture mode to blur out backgrounds is also effective, and the focal point can be changed after you’ve taken the picture. It’s good at recognizing edges, and isolating what you want to focus on from the background, but not perfect. The images it creates are great for sharing online.

Portrait mode, used for taking great pictures of people, is excellent. It goes a step beyond a beauty mode by adding a bokeh effect to pictures of people, enhancing them with a beauty effect. It operates on both the front and the rear camera, so it’s perfect for selfie fans. The Beauty mode can look a little weird though, as it really changes the way you look, from smoothing out skin to brightening and enlarging eyes.

Put all these things together, and you’ve got a camera you want to use. The Honor 9 encourages you to go out and experiment with photography. This is a great camera, with a coherent interface, and sensibly thought out features. Downsides? There’s no optical image stabilization, which makes low-light shots look poor unless you use a tripod.

Performance, software, and battery

Inside the Honor 9 is a Kirin 960 octa-core processor with 4GB of RAM, which is the same setup as the Huawei P10. The operating system is Android 7.0 Nougat with Huawei’s EMUI 5.1 interface over the top. Huawei shares certain technology with Honor, such as the processor and software, but as we mentioned earlier Honor is a subsidiary of Huawei, and it should be treated as a separate company targeting younger, tech-savvy buyers.

The EMUI 5.1 interface is different to stock Android. You can add an app drawer, but it’s disabled as standard, there are alterations to app icons and the notification shade, plus a few tweaks to the settings menu. A selection of pre-installed apps are there, but can be deleted. It’s way better than it used to be, and Huawei has made a concerted effort to speed things up, not just in the amount of taps it takes to reach a function, but also in the way the operating system optimizes itself over time. In other words, it’ll remain speedy even after many months of use.

Running several benchmark apps, these are the scores the Honor 9 achieved.

  • Geekbench 4: 1,873 single-core, 6,713 multi-core.
  • AnTuTu 3D: 149,200.
  • 3DMark Slingshot Extreme: 2,780

They are comparable to the Huawei P10, unsurprisingly, but below the OnePlus 5. However, we never experienced any annoying slow down in normal, everyday operation. The Honor 9 is fast enough for most.

The battery has a 3,200mAh capacity and supports fast charging, adding 40-percent in just 30 minutes. To get this performance, you will have to use the included Honor charger. We found the battery to be easily enough to last a day, but not enough to last two. You’ll have to charge the Honor 9 daily if you want it to last continuously.

The 5.1-inch LCD screen has a 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution. It’s bright, sharp, and videos look excellent. The standard speaker is good too, and we enjoyed watching several TV show episodes on the phone, despite its small size. Don’t be put off by the Honor 9 not having a higher resolution, it wouldn’t make much difference on a screen this size.

Price, warranty, and availability

The Honor 8 preceded the Honor 9 and was well-received in the U.S., but at the time of writing, Honor hasn’t announced the Honor 9 officially in North America. It’s sold in the U.K. and elsewhere in the world. It’s priced at 380 British pounds, which is about $500. Although it’s possible to buy imported models from Amazon, you’ll have to make do with 3G data speeds in the U.S., on GSM networks from AT&T and T-Mobile.

Buy an Honor 9 in the U.K. through the official Vmall online store or Amazon, and the company gives a two-year warranty on the handset, six months for the battery and charger, and three months for the earphones. It’s a repair-or-replace service, and requires the device to visit a Huawei service center.

Our Take

Why pay more for a flagship cameraphone, when the Honor 9 takes pictures just as well, sometimes even better, for less? That’s before seeing the great looking screen, and swooning over the stunning design. Give it an official U.S. release, and we’ll be very happy indeed.

Is there a better alternative?

There are several alternatives to the Honor 9 worth considering. The newly announced Motorola Moto X4 has a dual-lens camera, a slick design, almost standard Android and some features the Honor 9 doesn’t have, like water resistance and Amazon Alexa. It’s $400 in the U.S., and 350 British pounds, slightly undercutting the Honor 9.

The OnePlus 5 shouldn’t be dismissed either, and remains a bargain buy at 450 British pounds, or $480. If these are too expensive, we also like the less powerful LG Q6, with its wide 18:9 aspect ratio screen, that sells for 250 British pounds in the U.K. The Moto G5 Plus is less than $300, and is a great — if ugly — Android phone.

There is plenty of competition for the Honor 9, so don’t rush into a decision

How long will it last?

The Honor 9 isn’t especially durable. It doesn’t have water resistance, and the body is made from glass. It will be very easy to break if you don’t treat it with respect. We highly recommend putting it in a case.

Honor and Huawei aren’t very fast with software updates. Our Honor 9 is running Android 7.0 with EMUI 5.1 and the May 2017 Android security update installed. There is no indication when, or if, the Honor 9 will receive Android 8.0, the next major version of EMUI, or a new Android security patch. The only way to be sure to get Android updates is to buy a Google Pixel 2 for $550) but it starts at almost twice the price of the Honor 9.

Should you buy it?

Yes, but only if you’re in the U.K. or Europe. Also, buy the blue version seen here, or the limited edition robin egg blue model, if you can find one. We don’t recommend importing one to the U.S., due to it only supporting 3G data speeds. The Honor 9 is as good as devices that cost a lot more money, with the added bonus of being really good-looking, and pleasurable to use. If only Honor would release a proper version for the U.S.