Honor 9 Lite Review: The Most Exquisite Budget Smartphone

The Honor 9 Lite is a budget offering from the Huawei Sub-brand that boasts a dual camera setup at both the front and the rear. With a mirror finish and unique colour options, it is surely a marvellous device to look at. Will these be enough for this affordable smartphone to survive in this already flooded market space? Read ahead to find out.

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Honor 9 Lite review cover image

The launch of Honor 9 Lite came as a bit of a surprise among all the other budget-centric devices the Huawei sub-brand released around the same time. These other smartphones include the Honor 9i, the Honor 7X and the Honor View 10, all of which released across a span of roughly four months. As the name suggests, The Honor 9 Lite is a slightly cut down version of the Honor 9i and happens to share many similarities with the Honor 7X.

There are two variants of the Honor 9 Lite: one with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage, and the other with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. I have been using the 3GB RAM + 32 GB memory variant of this device for over a week to figure out how this mobile phone fares up with the other contenders in this segment of the market.

Honor 9 Lite review: Design and Build Quality

This phone does not feel like a budget phone. Currently being offered for Rs. 10,999, the Honor 9 Lite is a remarkable piece of beauty, especially for its price. The Sapphire Blue variant that I used has a unique tint to it that just catches the eye. The colour changes ever so slightly in different lighting conditions, something very similar to what happens in the HTC U11. And in the same way, the mirror back of the Honor 9 Lite is a total fingerprint magnet. The back glass did end up with tiny scuffs as well. Honor decided to include a protective case which does help to combat this issue but takes away from the phone’s charm.

The distinct blue colour surrounds the entire body of the phone, other than the display of course. The aluminium frame sandwiched between the front and back glass has an ever so slight ridge that helps with the grip without intruding on the phone’s seamless build. This 7.5mm-thick aluminium frame is covered in glossy paint that makes it easy to mistake for plastic. Other than the slight camera bump at the rear, everything sits flush with the glass slab-like body. We also find the fingerprint scanner at the rear along with the “Honor” moniker printed at the bottom.

At the front, the Honor 9 Lite sports a 5.65-inch display with an 18:9 aspect ratio that Honor calls FullView. This seems to now have become the industry standard. The dual front-facing cameras rest at the top just beside the top speaker. Another Honor logo sits at the bottom chin of the device. The phone is undeniably gorgeous to look at, while also feeling quite sturdy even with its light weight (pun intended). 

Honor 9 Lite review: Display

Underneath the 2.5D curved glass that covers the entire front of the device, we get a 5.65-inch IPS LCD panel that certainly gets the job done. Its 2160 x 1080 full HD+ resolution with its 18:9 aspect ratio performed remarkably well. Even with the black borders covering the edges of the display, most of the front is dominated by this screen while also being easy to operate in this form-factor. The display did not have any issues performing in bright sunlight thanks to its 570nits of luminescence.

Having an 18:9 aspect ratio screen does mean that not all apps will properly be able to take advantage of it. However, the Honor 9 Lite does give you the option to try and stretch applications in full screen which did not have the native support to do so. This feature worked out most of the time. Just like many other displays of this resolution, you can stretch standard videos to fit the entire display, which cuts out some parts from the top and bottom. The display itself is very vibrant and reproduced colours pretty well.

Honor 9 Lite review: Hardware and Performance

The Honor 9 Lite is powered by the same quad-core HiSilicon Kirin 659 that comes equipped with the Honor 7X and Honor 9i – although these cost considerably more than the Honor 9 Lite. This processor with its 3GB of RAM isn’t the worst combination I have seen on other budget smartphones. I did experience a few stutters and lags now and then, but the overall performance of the device was on par with other smartphones of this price bracket.

The power and volume buttons placed on the right have a great feel to them. Even though they are placed so close together, I did not experience any issues with accidentally hitting the wrong button. The bottom firing speaker performed very averagely as you would expect with any smartphone in this price range. While many Indian users might not consider this as a total deal-breaker, it is worth mentioning that this device does not come with NFC.

You get a snappy fingerprint scanner at the back that can also be set up to perform a few other functions. You can swipe on it to bring down the notification panel, and a double tap will clear any notifications you have. You can swipe through images in your gallery and even take pictures from the camera app by long pressing the fingerprint scanner, but I found the resulting images to be quite shaky.

Along with the fingerprint scanner, the phone even offers face unlock using the front camera. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it performed even in difficult conditions. Other than exceptionally dark situations, the phone was able to scan my face correctly most of the time. While setting it up, Honor does throw a disclaimer at you letting you know that face unlock is not as secure as the other security features you can use.

Honor 9 Lite review: Software

The phone comes loaded with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box along with EMUI 8.0 skin. Honor’s custom skin took some getting used to. It is a bit on the heavy side and distracts from the simplicity that most Android purists prefer. With that said, the EMUI skin does come loaded with features and tweaks that I did get accustomed to eventually. By default, the phone offers a homepage UI similar to that of an iOS device but does allow you to switch to an app drawer layout. Another thing I had to get used to was the preinstalled SwiftKey keyboard that comes with the EMUI. Honor does not give you the option of switching back to default Android keyboard.

Saying that the Honor UI comes with bloatware is an understatement. In fact, the amount of bloatware that comes preinstalled on this device takes up almost half of the phone’s 32GB of storage. These include custom apps such as Weather, Health, Honor Community, and Mirror, while others comprise of social media apps and a few games. Luckily, you do get the ability to uninstall many of these apps. The phone support microSD card expandability up to 256GB using the hybrid SIM slot. This might be an issue for those who intend to use two SIM cards as you cannot use SIM 2 and the microSD card at the same time. 

The custom EMUI 8.0 skin that comes with this phone is slightly less feature-packed when compared to the same UI that comes on the Honor View 10. There are a couple of features missing such as text translation from live images and live identification of objects when using the camera. Other than these few missing features, you are still guaranteed to get lost in the settings when finding all the possible tweaks you can do. The only issue I have is that these settings are hidden a little too well and would have preferred if they were a bit easier to find.

I personally found the ‘double-tap to wake’ feature very useful. The Themes app offers the ability to greatly customise the UI with various fonts and icons. So even with the few performance issues and bloatware (removable to an extent), there are enough tweaking options that you could truly personalise the device any way you like. 

Honor 9 Lite review: Camera

The camera was an aspect I was looking forward to checking out. Having the same 13MP + 2MP camera setup at both the front and back are said to allow hardware-level bokeh effects along with motion gestures. This hardware solution – in theory – should perform better than the software post-processing most phones opt for, which usually turns out to be a hit or miss.

On the Honor 9 Lite, I was able to get some very decent shots in ideal lighting conditions. The camera is quick and will capture accurate enough images without too much distortion. When the screen is off, double-clicking on the volume down button will capture an “Ultra Snapshot” from the rear camera to ensure you don’t miss out on crucial moments. The bokeh effect mildly blurs out the background and the wide aperture mode lets you manually control the blurring effect while taking the photo. The latter also lets you change the focus point and blur intensity after the fact. You need to be careful with setting the blur as the edge detection has issues and you can easily overblur the wrong subject.

During low light and indoor situations, the camera experienced further issues. Significant noise and blur appeared in most low-light shots. The phone does come with a ‘night shot’ option, but that requires the phone to stay absolute motionless for a few seconds. You will most likely need to invest in a tripod stand to fully take advantage of that feature. Also, HDR needs to be manually toggled each time you need it.

The front dual camera setup also offers most of the same features like the rear camera. It lets you take very detailed shots but again requires there to be enough light. You can take good portrait shots, but that is after you tap the screen to turn on the bokeh and then set the desired beauty level. Even though this uses hardware instead of software, the edges around faces can be missed at times, and some blurriness does bleed over. Considering the camera quality other smartphones offer in this price range, the Honor 9 Lite’s cameras perform quite well for casual photographers. 

Honor 9 Lite review: Battery Life

The 3,000 mAh battery on the Honor 9 Lite performed pretty well in our testing. It was able to maintain 6 hours of screen on time with almost 34 hours of standby. Average use will allow you to squeeze the phone’s battery over two days, while a bit more heavy usage might require you to top up the battery overnight. Charging is done via micro USB. I would have liked to see even budget phones come out with USB Type-C in 2018 but this isn’t a deal breaker for me. Overall, the battery will give you satisfactory results in daily use. You can even push it further using the regular, and even the “ultra” battery saver mode along with many other optimisations this phone will allow.

Honor 9 Lite review: Verdict

While the EMUI 8.0 might not be perfect, having Android 8.0 Oreo ensures significant longevity for this device. The dual cameras might not be perfect either, but the images captured are still quite consistent and far more favourable compared to some of its competition. With all things considered, the Honor 9 Lite offers a remarkable package. The Sapphire Blue is one of the best colours to have landed on a smartphone. Rs.10,999 for the base variant gets you a remarkable piece of eye candy that is sure to turn a few heads. 

I would not recommend going for the higher storage variant which costs Rs. 14,999 as I don’t expect any significant benefit to be gained with the additional 1GB of RAM. Also, if more storage is something that you absolutely need, then getting a microSD card would be a considerably cheaper alternative.

Honor 9 Lite

Rs. 10,999
8.7

Design & Build

9.5/10

Display

9.0/10

Camera

7.5/10

Software

9.0/10

Performance

7.0/10

Battery Life

9.0/10

Value For Money

10.0/10

What Is Good?

  • Amazing design and build quality.
  • Face unlock works most of the time.
  • Quad Cameras perform well in bright conditions.
  • Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box.
  • EMUI 8.0 has nifty customisation options.
  • Vibrant display.
  • Decent battery life.
  • Value for money.

What Is Bad?

  • Low-light camera performance is poor.
  • MicroUSB charging instead of USB Type-C
  • Stutters and lags from time to time.