It’s been some time since Honor launched its first smartphone for 2020 for the Indian market in the form of the Honor 9X. The phone succeeds the Honor 8X from 2018 — which, if you recall, saw its official launch happen back in October 2018. The Honor 9X offers a nominal update over its predecessor in the form of a slightly better processor (Kirin 710F instead of Kirin 710), higher-resolution cameras, a flashier front-facing camera in the form of a pop-up mechanism to name a few. With a base price of Rs 13,999 for the base version, and the higher-priced top variant retailing for Rs 16,999, the Honor 9X finds itself competing against the several ‘in-demand’ handsets ranging from the Redmi Note 8 Series from Xiaomi, the Realme 5 and Realme X series from, well, Realme, and Samsung’s refreshed A-series and M-series phones. Needless to say, Honor has its task cut out in the budget segment.
Having used the Honor 9X as my daily driver for over two weeks, here’s what I think about the handset.
Looks, Design, Build
The Honor 9X – as the case is with Honor/Huawei devices – is a good-looking phone. Offered in two color options in India Sapphire Blue and Midnight Black, we found the Blue variant the better looking one. As evident from the images above, this was also the variant we received for review. Honor was among the first brands to launch phones with glossy, stylish rear panels — a trend that the company continues to follow with its newer handsets. In this instance, the rear panel of the phone shows an “X” pattern when light falls in it. The effect is cool to look at and is a welcome change from the sea of gradient patterns that handsets feature nowadays. Note that you get this finish only on the Blue variant. The Black variant seems to have been designed for people who prefer something less flashy.
The Honor 9X is a solidly built device. Even though the body is made of plastic, the glossy finish does help it look premium. The downside to this is the fact that the rear panel attracts fingerprints and smudges with relative ease. You do, however, get a basic case in the box, which can be used to protect the phone from these minor annoyances. The triple camera array on the rear panel is vertically stacked and also gets an LED flash. Apart from these, you get a fingerprint scanner and an Honor logo on the back panel.
At the bottom, the phone gets a USB Type-C port, a 3.5mm audio jack, a microphone, and the speaker grille. The left side is completely devoid of buttons, and the right side is where you get the power button and the volume control keys. At the top, the phone gets the pop-up front-facing camera as well as the SIM card tray, which is a proper triple tray that can take in two SIM cards and one microSD card at the same time.
The Honor 9X features a 6.69-inch FHD+ display without a notch, thanks to the pop-up front-facing camera. While there is no mention of the more famous glass protection standards, Honor does claim that the Honor 9X comes with their own form of protection. The display used is of the TFT LCD type. Viewing angles aren’t great, and you will see a slight shift in colors when you hold the phone at an angle. With the competition now offering AMOLED panels on handsets in this price range, it is about time Honor also starts looking into this aspect of their budget smartphones. On the positive side, the display is certified by TÜV Rheinland for reducing blue light exposure.
Hardware, Performance, Battery Life
The Honor 9X is powered by Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin 710F chipset, which in 2020 has started to show its age. It would have been better if Honor had opted for the newer Kirin 810 series SoC on the phone, especially when the company uses these newer chipsets on the Chinese variant of the same phone. What this leads to is that the overall performance of the Honor 9X does not see a significant jump over its predecessor — the Honor 8X, which came powered by the Kirin 710 SoC. The phone is offered in two versions a base variant with 4GB of RAM and a higher-priced variant with 6GB of RAM with both these variants featuring 128GB of storage. It is also pertinent to note how similar the Honor 9X is to the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019, which even shares its model number with the former.
The Honor 9X – even with the slightly older hardware – performs well in daily tasks. The phone is adept at handling the most common tasks you throw at it. With the 6GB version, there is enough RAM to multitask with ease. Where the Honor 9X does struggle is when you try to play graphics-intensive games. Playing games like PUBG and Call of Duty: Mobile was possible, but the overall experience remained choppy even with the default graphics settings preset to medium and low, respectively. While it was acceptable for a budget handset to not excel at gaming until a few years ago, that no longer is the case today.
The Honor 9X is a large phone and is big enough to house a 4,000 mAh battery. Unfortunately, the phone does not support fast charging and ships with a 10W charger in the box. While the battery itself lasts quite long, almost all of Honor 9X’s competition now offers fast charging support. The phone will easily last you more than a day, even with heavy usage.
The Honor 9X gets quite a competent camera setup consisting of triple cameras at the rear, and a pop-up front-facing camera. The primary rear-facing camera uses a 48MP sensor with an f/1.8 lens. The second camera at the rear gets an 8MP sensor with an ultra-wide-angle lens. The third camera at the back is a 2MP depth sensor. The front-facing camera is housed inside the pop-up mechanism and houses a 16MP sensor inside.
Budget smartphones nowadays are pretty good at capturing images in good lighting conditions, and the Honor 9X is no exception. The primary 48MP sensor outputs 12MP pixel-binned images with excellent dynamic range. Where it falls short, however, is when it comes to details. The photos, however, are good enough to be shared on social media and WhatsApp. You also get the option to capture images at the full 48MP resolution. The camera app is pretty comprehensive with features and also boasts of Huawei’s AI Photography features, which automatically identifies the lighting conditions and adjusts the image output accordingly. The AI, however, tends to oversaturate colors, and while you might get good-looking images, the color accuracy does suffer. On the flip side, with the AI turned off, some images looked bland and devoid of their natural vibrancy.
Ultra Wide Angle Camera
Low light performance using the primary camera is decent, but the overall quality improves a lot when you invoke the dedicated night mode. Honor and Huawei devices have always been great with their dedicated low light modes, and we still think their implementation is among the best in the near 15-17k price range.
The 120-degree wide-angle camera is best suited for daytime shots and helps capture dramatic wide-angled shots. The fish eye effect while present isn’t as dramatic as I have seen on some other phones. Low light shots using the wide-angle camera lack details and has a lot of noise. The Honor 9X is quite a capable performer when it comes to portrait shots using the rear camera. This is where the 2MP depth sensor is used.
Moving on to the front, the 16MP front-facing pop-up camera is also a decent performer. Selfies captured using this camera comes with good details. In the portrait mode, we noticed some issues with edge detection. The phone also comes loaded with AI beautification features.
The Honor 9X ran EMUI 9.1, which was based on Android 9 Pie. It is interesting to note that on this device, Honor does not use the ‘Magic UI’ name for the software. The company also recently started issuing the official update to Android 10. The UI is quite easy to use and, in the default mode, lacks an app drawer. You can change the settings to invoke the new ‘swipe up’ gesture to get to the app drawer screen. While remaining easy to use, EMUI 9.1 is still not as flashy as what the competition has on offer, but the eventual upgrade to EMUI 10 has helped spruce up things.
There is no denying that the Honor 9X is a decent phone. It offers good performance, has a large display, and looks good as well. However, that alone is no longer enough for brands to convince the ever demanding Indian consumer. Players like Xiaomi, Realme, and other BBK-owned brands like OPPO and Vivo have much shorter launch cycles and refresh their product lineup at a much faster rate than Honor, which effectively makes the Honor 9X with its relatively older hardware look outdated. Many of these handsets also offer objectively better performance as far as gaming is concerned. Where the Honor 9X scores, though is the design, the no-nonsense software, the great night mode, and the excellent battery life. In case you are the kind who can overlook the performance bit, the Honor 9X still makes for a good buy.
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