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Honor 9X Pro Review: A noble attempt

honor 9x pro review back hand
Honor 9X Pro Review: A noble attempt
MSRP $300.00
“The Honor 9X Pro is good value, but it has some major downsides, including a confusing software situation.”
Pros
  • Solid performance
  • Big screen
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Decent camera with plenty of features
Cons
  • Out-of-date software
  • Limited app availability
  • Slow battery charging

For just $300, you can buy the Honor 9X Pro smartphone, which undercuts value phones like the Google Pixel 3a and the Apple iPhone SE 2020. But is it worth saving some money to buy the Honor 9X Pro instead? Honor is known for trendy designs and specs that surpass the competition, traits the 9X Pro certainly offers — but sadly, the phone’s software lets it down.

Design

The Honor 9X Pro is a big smartphone. It’s just a few millimeters shy of being as massive as the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, and although it weighs 20 grams less than Samsung’s monster — 202 grams versus 222 grams — it feels heavier and bulkier in your hand. The sides are not as neatly rounded, and it generally feels thicker and wider than the measurements suggest.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

While the Honor 9X has a plastic back, the Honor 9X Pro has a glass rear panel with a new X design imprinted on it. The pixel art look of the 9X has been replaced by a more mature design that uses a blue and purple gradient effect to showcase the X. It looks excellent, especially out in the sun. Yes, it’s showy, but it does stand out. You won’t mistake the Honor 9X Pro for any other phone.

There’s a triple-lens camera in the top-left corner, set inside a module that is smaller than many competitors. On the side of the phone is a large fingerprint sensor inside the power button.  This is much appreciated. While not as future-forward as an in-display fingerprint sensor, it’s considerably faster and more reliable than in-display readers available on phones in this price range. I’ll take convenience over the illusion of owning a more expensive device any day.

The fingerprint sensor and the color are definite reasons to look closely at the Honor 9X Pro. However, its overall size and weight are off-putting. It’ll appeal only to people who want a very, very big phone.

Display quality

This brings us to the reason for the phone’s large dimensions — it has a 6.59-inch screen. It’s a whopper (particularly for a budget device), but the resolution is modest at 2340 x 1080 pixels, and it seems to be the same panel fitted to the regular Honor 9X. It’s an LCD screen, like on the Moto G Stylus, and not an OLED panel, something you can find on Samsung’s Galaxy A51. Will you notice the difference? Yes. The colors aren’t as vibrant or natural, and the viewing are angles not as wide. However, it’s still attractive enough given the phone’s low price.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The screen is flat, with no curved edges to soften the appearance or minimize reflections. I found getting the right viewing angle quite difficult on the Honor 9X Pro, and it’s not that bright when out in direct sunlight, either.

Still, for most everyday uses, the Honor 9X Pro’s screen is good — especially for text, social media, reading news, and messaging with friends. There’s no notch or hole-punch selfie camera to distract you either, as the selfie camera is hidden inside a motorized pop-up module on top of the phone.

Unfortunately, like the Honor 9X, the 16-megapixel pop-up camera is sluggish. It takes a beat or two longer than I’d want when it’s coming up out of the body, and then makes a disconcerting “click” which you can feel through the body of the phone. That’s not what I expect from the usually excellent Honor build quality. The slow speed also means Honor hasn’t bothered with a face unlock option on the 9X Pro.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Honor 9X Pro lacks the most sophisticated screen technology, as well as the gentle curves that make more expensive phones look so modern. Still, it’s fine for normal, everyday use.

Camera quality

The triple-lens camera on the back is comprised of a 48-megapixel f/1.8 main camera, an f/2/4 8-megapixel wide-angle camera, and a 2-megapixel depth-sensing camera. Sound familiar? It’s exactly the same as the camera fitted to the Honor 9X, which was released in mid-2019. It seems Honor has tuned the software, and it doesn’t oversaturate every image in quite the same way, although it can still do so on bright and sunny days.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I don’t mind a vibrant, saturated photo, and understand many people like to share this kind of image; but even for me, some of the Honor 9X Pro’s shots went overboard. The camera can take wide-angle images and at 2x zoom, but without any kind of telephoto lens, these shots are digitally cropped. Even so, the zoomed photos are quite good, showing enough detail without much loss. This is likely due to Honor’s use of Huawei’s excellent artificial intelligence camera technology.

The edge detection and focusing using portrait and aperture mode is much less successful, and the camera doesn’t excel when it gets close to subjects, producing in out-of-focus photos when you’re trying to blur the background. It even misjudged the edges on relatively simple shapes when using aperture mode. Night mode brightens images effectively, but the shots do lack life and detail.

Selfies are acceptable without being outstanding. Honor sets the beauty mode at a midlevel as standard, so watch out for some skin smoothing, especially when using the portrait mode. You’ll not want to do this often anyway, as edge recognition isn’t good. I do like some of the special modes though, including the Splash mode that removes all but one color, plus the excellent photo-editing tool in the Gallery app.

Taking photos with the Honor 9X Pro is very similar to doing so on the Honor 9X, an older phone that’s cheaper to buy, which doesn’t feel like a good thing. Those photos are shareable and the camera’s fun to use, but not worth spending more on.

Software

The news isn’t good on the software front. My review Honor 9X Pro has Android 9 installed with Huawei’s EMUI 9.1 over the top, and November 2019’s Android security patch. This is a step backward for Honor, as not only does the 9X Pro not have Honor’s own MagicUI over Android, but the basic build of Android is completely out of date. The Honor 9X Pro does not come with Google Mobile Services or the Google Play Store, either.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Huawei App Gallery, and alternative third-party app stores like the Amazon App Store, are your sources for apps. The situation is the same here as it is on the Huawei P40 Pro and the Huawei Mate Xs folding smartphone, and I’ve gone into detail in a separate article about what it means to not have Google Play installed.

The App Gallery is improving, and Huawei is confident it will be much better soon. However, while handy new apps like Here WeGo maps have arrived, it’s still sparsely stocked. Migrating away from Google isn’t as much of a challenge as you may fear, but the problem comes when you want to install apps that aren’t available from official sources. Banking apps, for example, are missing entirely. There’s no mobile payment system either, and of course, no official Google apps.

You will lean on the browser more. I installed Firefox and synced my Google Chrome data across for ease of use, and from there it’s easy to access the web versions of YouTube, mobile banking, and services like Uber. However, the experience is not as fluid or as reliable as an app.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

EMUI 9.1 may be outdated now, but essential features like gesture controls are still included, and they work really well on the 9X Pro’s big screen. I miss features like an always-on screen and a dark mode, however, which are included on many other Honor, Huawei, and competing phones.

The pain of learning how to get new apps makes swapping to the Honor 9X Pro from a phone with Google Services a more complex and time-consuming task than we would like, while the old software and out-of-date security update will be an unwelcome obstacle for buyers.

Performance and battery

Inside the Honor 9X Pro is a Kirin 810 octa-core processor with 6GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage space. My review phone has NFC as well, although there is no support for Google Pay. I ran two benchmark apps for comparison’s sake, but these were installed outside the App Gallery, so they may not provide accurate results.

3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 2,517 (Vulkan)

Geekbench 5: 580 Single Core/1,843 Multi Core

This is better than the Samsung Galaxy A51 and the Google Pixel 3a, but of course can’t come close to the OnePlus 8 with its Snapdragon 865 chipset. The Honor 9X Pro always felt fast enough, including when playing games. Asphalt 9: Legends is available through the App Gallery, and the racing game plays really well on the Honor 9X Pro. I didn’t see any performance issues, and enjoyed playing it immensely. The sound is delivered from a single downward-firing speaker, which is loud enough to irritate those around you when you’re gaming or watching movies, but lacks much bass or detail.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The battery has a 4,000mAh capacity and is very long-lasting — I found it kept going in moderate use for two days without issue. This is a good thing, as the phone does not have fast charging, making do with a 10W USB Type-C charger. You’ll want to charge overnight, as it takes at least 2 hours to reach a full charge from empty. Yes, the Honor 9X Pro is a budget phone, but Honor and Huawei have one of the best fast-charging systems available, and it’s a real shame not to see it here to add more value.

Price, warranty, and availability

The Honor 9X Pro is available to buy in the U.K. through Honor’s own online store for 250 British pounds, or around $305 U.S., and is also in various European countries, the Middle East, and in Asia. Anyone interested in the Honor 9X Pro in the U.S. will have to buy one through an importer. In the U.K., the phone has a two-year warranty against defects, with six months coverage on the battery and charger.

Our take

For the price, the Honor 9X Pro is good value with great performance, a decent camera, a big screen, and a long-lasting battery. However, slow battery charging, a bulky shape, and app availability let it down. Although this is a situation Honor can’t solve very quickly, it really should do something about the out-of-date software.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. If you can stretch your budget to $400, we recommend buying the iPhone SE 2020, which is one of our top cheap smartphone picks. Performance is great, the software will be kept up to date for years, and the style and build quality are superb. The $400 Google Pixel 3a is also a great phone, but it’s getting old, and a Pixel 4a is on the horizon. You may also want to look at the $400 Samsung Galaxy A51 and the older Motorola Moto G7. If you’re stuck on owning an Honor phone, the cheaper Honor 9X is very similar to the 9X Pro.

How long will it last?

The Honor 9X Pro is not a durable phone, and it does not have water resistance, so if you want it to last, you should put it in a case for protection. The level of performance and size of the screen both mean the phone will be suitable for use for a couple of years, during which time Huawei is certain increase the number of apps in its App Gallery.

The out-of-date software is a warning sign, and indicates you shouldn’t expect many updates in the future. This means the phone may be susceptible to security issues, and won’t benefit from features introduced in future versions of EMUI or Android.

Should you buy it?

No. The Honor 9X Pro is a fine phone, but the software — both in terms of app availability and updates — is not.

Editors' Recommendations

Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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