Honor 9 Review: A Perfect Blend Of Style, Features, & Price

July 26, 2017 - Written By Justin Diaz

The Honor 9 is a great smartphone that has some pretty top-tier specs without the top-tier price.

While Honor may have just recently started making a name for themselves in the U.S., they have been doing so with pretty good success for the devices that are available to buy in the country, which has no doubt helped them become a little more well-known to its target market, which are generally those in the younger crowd who are accustomed to buying their stuff online, as this is the only place you’ll be able to order an Honor device; online. That being said, the Honor 9 is not one of those phones as it isn’t officially available in the U.S., and it may never be. We were able to spend around the last week with it, to get an idea of how it performs in everyday use, and how it stacks up. Similar in ways to the Huawei P10, the Honor 9 has the same software version installed and the same version of Huawei’s EMUI, though it comes with some notable differences which has allowed Honor to bring the price down to a more mid-range level, thus giving consumers a slightly cheaper option if they like devices such as the P10 but don’t want to pay that price. Let’s take a closer look at the Honor 9, which is Honor’s latest offering as well as its most recent flagship phone.

Specs

This may be more of a mid-range smartphone, but that doesn’t mean the Honor 9 isn’t a decent device capable of handling whatever you throw at it, nor does it mean that you won’t be happy with the hardware that Honor has used. It comes with a 5.15-inch Full HD screen on board that quite honestly, looks better than Full HD. It felt crisp and sharp no matter what I was looking at and this was a rather enjoyable aspect. Beyond the display, the Honor 9 has dual rear cameras, sporting one 12-megapixel RGB sensor and one 20-megapixel monochrome sensor, just like what you’ll find in the Huawei P10. These two cameras are also accompanied by a dual-tone LED flash as well as laser autofocus. On the front, the phone has an 8-megapixel sensor for selfies and video chat. It’s got a home button/fingerprint sensor on the front sitting just below the screen’s bottom bezel.

Though somewhat unexpected, the Honor 9 also has an IR sensor on the top of the phone allowing it to be used as a universal remote. If you always find yourself searching for your standard TV remote, this will come in handy. On the inside, the Honor 9 is working with Huawei’s own in-house Kirin 960 octa-core CPU alongside the Mali G71 octa-core GPU for the graphics processing. That setup is paired with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage internally, though the Honor 9 is also offered in a variant that only has 4GB of RAM, as well as the highest tier option, which still has 6GB of RAM but also has 128GB of storage internally instead of 64GB. As stated the model we were working with is the 6GB/64GB model. If the model you choose doesn’t end up having enough storage for your needs, all three variants support expandable storage through microSD cards. The Honor 9 supports USB Type-C for charging and data transfer, but it still offers the 3.5mm audio port for plugging in headphones, so if you prefer this for when listening to music or other audio, rest assured you can use the headphones you already own. Battery wise, the Honor 9 has a battery with a capacity of 3,200mAh, and with the optimizations of EMUI’s latest version (v5.1) plus Android 7.0 Nougat, the battery should last quite a while.

In The Box

Normally you won’t get a lot of extras inside the box with phones coming from bigger brands, and while Honor isn’t exactly the biggest brand out there, it comes from Huawei as it’s Huawei’s sub-brand, which made it all the more surprising (a nice surprise mind you) to find more than just the phone and charger inside. Upon opening the box, you’ll have the phone which slides out from the side (or the top depending on you hold the box) and a second box can be found inside the main packaging which contains the charging cable, the wall adapter, the SIM ejector tool, and a clear plastic shell case, and the quick start guide.

Hardware & Design

Huawei, and by the same token, Honor, knows how to design smartphones. The Honor 9 is the latest and greatest example of the craftsmanship and design skill that can be put on display. Using a mixture of metal and glass (metal for the frame, 3D curved glass for the backing of the phone) the Honor 9 is an extremely stylish phone that any user should be proud to have if aesthetics are an important factor in choosing a mobile device. The Honor 9 uses 2.5D curved glass for the display, so you get these ever so subtle yet still noticeable (if you look hard enough) curved edges for the screen, which push right up against the edges of the frame that carry chamfered edges. There are even chamfered edges on the volume up and down and power buttons, which was a nice small attention to detail that didn’t need to be used here, but Honor did it anyway. It’s elements like these that should really stand out. In addition to the subtle curves on the screen, the back of the device has a more pronounced curve to it at the edges from top to bottom which sort of helps it contour to your hand, and this makes it more comfortable to hold.

Save for the frame, the Honor 9 has a mirror-like finish on the front top and bottom bezels as well as the entire back, and while this makes the phone a fingerprint magnet to no end, it looks really good, and the fingerprints are easy enough to wipe off if they drive you crazy. Alternatively, you could keep the fingerprints off the back of the phone entirely by just slapping on that clear plastic shell which also adds a little bit of protection. On the front of the device, the left and right bezels are almost non-existent, though the top and bottom bezels are pretty noticeable. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it is worth pointing out. That said, the bottom bezel is where you’ll find the home button/fingerprint sensor, as well as two capacitive buttons (which are hidden until you press them or interact with another part of the phone, and even then they only show up as two small dots) for the back and recents menus. Up top you’ll find the front camera, earpiece, and ambient light sensors. On the bottom of the frame is where you’ll find the audio port, speaker, and charging port, while up top is where Honor chose to place the mic, as well as an IR sensor. The left side of the frame holds the SIM card tray, mind you this is a dual SIM phone so inside this tray can either be two SIM cards, or one SIM card and a microSD card. On the right side of the frame you have the power button as well as the volume up and down button. Finally, flipping the phone over onto its face will reveal the dual rear cameras placed in the top left corner, sitting right next to the dual-tone LED flash and the laser autofocus sensor. Overall, this is a very well-designed smartphone and one that was definitely easy on the eyes and then some.

Display

This might only be a Full HD display on offer but as stated above it really doesn’t look like just a Full HD display. I found the screen to be surprisingly sharp and vivid with great color reproduction that you don’t find on all screens of this resolution, and Honor did it for less than some phones which come with a Full HD screen and that makes it all the more impressive. Viewing angles were also really good with it being easy to see in direct sunlight without having to tilt the display too much one way or the other just to avoid glare. Though admittedly there was more glare than you might see on some phones as the display is rather glossy. That is also likely part of why it looks so good at Full HD.

The phone offers a native blue light filter called Eye Comfort which can be accessed straight from the quick settings menu by dragging down the notification shade. While these sorts of features are much more common in phones these days, it’s still nice to see them as it makes for easier reading in darker situations, mostly at night when I would tend to use the phone either in bed before I go to sleep or just with the lights more dim when reading or browsing. As to be expected, the Honor 9 comes with a grade-A digitzier, so there were absolutely no problems with the phone recognizing my presses and the phone was always very responsive. Since this is using Huawei’s EMUI software on top of Android 7.0 Nougat, there are quite a few display options and adjustment features, not the least of which is the ability to change the color temperature if you want the color to be a little more cool or warm, depending on your tastes and preferences. You can stick to using the default if you like, or change the temperature how you see fit. Cold and warm are both pre-defined settings, but there is also a giant spectrum circle right above those pre-defined settings where you can drag the cursor to where you want, and that will allow you to set the color temperature to just how you like it, giving you a little more control. In addition to that option and the Eye Comfort feature, there is also an option to set a screen saver, and the ability to change the font for the system. These aren’t exactly uncommon, but they are nice to have as not all phones allows for this customization. What this all comes down to is Honor having used a great panel for the screen, and producing some great software features to enhance things to each user’s personal tastes.

Performance

This phone is packed with an octa-core processor, but not just any octa-core, Huawei’s Kirin 960, which probably the best CPU coming out of Huawei’s factory. This is paired with 6GB of RAM (on the model we received) which makes for a seriously beefy smartphone setup in the computing department, and this easily shined through when using the phone for everything from multitasking to playing mobile games. Not once did I experience any lag or stuttering and this speaks to the quality of Huawei’s processor used here, as well as the ability to optimize the hardware with the software and create just a really smooth experience. Even mundane and simple things like sliding down the notification shade or flipping between screens felt like butter and there’s something to be said for that.

While not all users are going to be playing mobile games on their phones, those that will can rest easy as the Honor 9 is more than equipped to handle games here, from easy going casual titles to those which come with some really high-quality 3D visuals. During the few hours or so of gaming that I used the phone for it never really got uncomfortably warm or hot to the touch. That isn’t to say that the phone didn’t warm up at all, but just not to a point where it made the phone hard to hold. This was great because like metal, glass is a material that can heat up rather easily under intense stress from the tasks that are being performed, but the Honor 9 both literally and figuratively kept its cool for the most part. In short, no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s browsing through multiple social media accounts while listening to music and downloading app updates, to playing the most graphically intense games that Google Play has to offer, the Honor 9 won’t buckle under pressure, at least not in our experience, and it’s important to remember that this is the 6GB RAM model, so we can’t really speak to the performance of the variation that comes with 4GB of RAM instead.

Battery Life

Battery life was pretty good on this device and while not the longest-lasting phone we’ve ever tested, considering the powerful specs inside it lasted quite a while. On average I was able to get about six or a little more than six hours of screen on time with it, while generally taking it through the entire day and having about 45-50 percent battery left before plugging it in at night. When running the phone through PCMark’s battery test, the phone came out with a rating of about 7 hours and 33 minutes of battery life before needing a charge, which is really quite good. The battery is definitely not going to be a disappointment here, and even if you do run a little lower than you might have expected on some days, you can simply turn on the battery saving features and extend that battery life to ensure the phone doesn’t die on you when you might need it most.

Fingerprint Sensor

As fingerprint sensors go, the one used on the Honor 9 is pretty top notch. It wasn’t without its flaws, as it did have some trouble recognizing my fingerprint in the very beginning, but this quickly melted away and for whatever reason it now no longer has any issues. Not only does it recognize my fingerprint every single time, it unlocks quickly, so it’s accurate, and fast, for an enjoyable experience, which means you won’t have to worry about missing out on that really awesome picture opportunity or find information in time should you be coming up on an area where you might lose service. Overall, Honor had really good execution with the fingerprint sensor and because the device uses NFC as well, you can use the sensor for unlocking the device and for authorizing mobile payments.

Phone Calls & Network

The Honor 9 isn’t a phone which is sold in the U.S., not officially, though you might be able to find it via some third-party resellers. That being said, the Honor 9 is not technically rated for use with U.S. networks, but it does support a wide range of different network frequencies, and I was able to get it to work with my Project Fi SIM card for a short period of time, though it did eventually lose signal and would never reconnect. While it was connected though it was connected to a T-Mobile tower, and during that brief connection period the streaming quality of music was good, and my voice as I was told sounded pretty clear during calls. As for the supported network frequencies, you can view those listed below, and since it supports GSM networks and comes unlocked, you should be able to use it with networks like T-Mobile and AT&T without issue, though you may not always get the best LTE coverage everywhere since it isn’t specifically designed for the U.S. market.

2G: 850/900/1800/1900
3G: 850/900/1900/2100
4G LTE: B1(2100), B3(1800), B5(850), B7(2600), B8(900), B20(800), B38(2600), B40(2300), and B41(2500)

Benchmarks

Knowing that the Honor 9 was a mid-range device and that Honor tends to bring a level of quality to their products, since it is essentially Huawei, we were expecting some pretty decent scores in the benchmark tests in addition to getting great real-world performance, and the Honor 9 certainly didn’t disappoint here. While not the most powerful phone on the market and there are definitely a fair number of phones which scored higher, it held its own easily. As we normally do, we ran the Honor 9 through the same benchmark tests as every other phone, which are Geekbench 4, AnTuTu, and for graphics, 3DMark. If you’re interested, you can check out the benchmark scores in the gallery of images below.

Sound

While the Honor 9 doesn’t really feel lacking in most areas, the sound quality of the audio is one area where it doesn’t excel as much as it does in most categories. It’s not terrible sound by any means and really, the audio is pretty decent, but it’s certainly hampered by the use of a single speaker as opposed to dual stereo speakers. Unfortunately the placement of the speaker when holding the phone in landscape mode with the fingerprint sensor facing your right hand, puts the speaker at the top edge, which makes it a lot easier to cover up and muffle the sound that comes out of it, because of this I found myself wanting to always play games or watch videos with headphones connected or plugged in. For those who aren’t as concerned with having the absolute best audio experience on a smartphone, the Honor 9 definitely won’t be disappointing, and overall Honor has done an ok job in this department. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been improved, but the end result is not a deal breaker by any means.

Software

Since this is coming from Honor it sports Huawei’s EMUI and since it’s new, it has the latest version, which is EMUI 5.1. This is built on top of Android 7.0 Nougat which comes with all the Nougat goodies like improved doze mode for better battery life, and this is only improved when taking into account EMUI’s own battery saving features. You also get things like multi-window for opening two apps on the screen at once. Plus, because its EMUI you can expect tons of nifty software features that are aimed at enhancing the experience. One such feature that I stumbled upon is the ability to search your installed apps by swipe gesture. When on the home screen, if you have the Google Search bar widget placed on the screen you can drag down on it with a swipe gesture and this will bring up a search screen that allows you to search installed apps. This sort of feature can be found in third-party launchers like Nova, but it’s not something which is present in stock Android, and if you install a lot of apps this is no doubt something which you’ll want to use more often as it can make finding the apps you want a lot easier and a lot faster, allowing you to avoid having to scroll through your app drawer to find the apps which you don’t have shortcuts for on the home screen.

Many of if not all the software features of the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus are here, like the quick access buttons that can be interacted with from the lock screen. If you wake the display, you’ll notice the time and date in the bottom left corner, and if you swipe up from that bottom edge it brings up some quick access shortcuts to things like the calculator, the flash light, and the alarm clock among other things. This was a favorite feature of ours on the P10 and it just adds another element to using the device efficiently as you can keep the shortcuts on the main home screen to a minimum while still accessing some of these others from the lock screen. This is all the better because these shortcuts are initially hidden until you swipe up, so things don’t appear cluttered.

Another feature present in the Honor 9 that you can find in more than likely any Huawei or Honor device that’s running on the latest version of EMUI are the slew of different gestures and other enhanced features, which can all be found under the Smart Assistance sub menu of the Settings. Here you’ll find options like the floating dock, which as the name suggests applies a floating dock icon onto the home screen which sits above all other apps at the top layer. This is essentially yet another way to access certain apps and features quickly. There is also a one-handed UI, which isn’t extensive, but does allow you to enable a mini screen view and a shifting keyboard that will push the letters off to one side and condense them so it’s easier to type with one hand. For people like myself this was extremely useful. I am often holding my own daily use phone, the Pixel, which is about the same size, in one hand so it was nice to have a feature that was native to the software on the Honor 9 that condenses things to a smaller portion of the display to make it easier to interact with and reach all the letters on the keyboard comfortably. Typing with this turned on is quite a bit easier.

Other notable software features like the gestures are great too, and although some or maybe even many users may not be used to gestures, they’re really a god send and make using any Android phone a more convenient and intuitive experience. All of these are located under the Motion Controls sub menu, and inside you can find options like flipping the phone over to mute it, which is really an indispensable feature if you don’t want to fiddle with the volume key, and of course there are also letters you can draw on the lock screen to unlock the phone and immediately launch designated apps, something which is actually pretty common across many Chinese brand smartphones. Overall, the software is extremely packed and although it won’t to be everyone’s tastes, EMUI is really one of my personal favorites when it comes to OEM-developed user interface software, not just because it looks great, but also because it’s just really darn useful and easy to use.

Camera

Smartphone cameras can be a fickle thing. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re not so great. With the Honor 9, the camera fits into the former category. It’s certainly not the best smartphone camera out there, but it is really good, not only housing tons of different options to enhance your photos through different modes, effects and more, but it also just puts out some really good quality images and because it features the dual camera design it comes with the monochrome sensor on the back like the Huawei P10. For the most part, the images that come out of the Honor 9 are pretty good, and better than most devices that will come out on the market at the price range as what Honor is asking here, which is about $485, though that pricing is based on conversion rates as the phone isn’t actually sold in the U.S. That said, there were times where some of the colors felt a little bit washed out but this wasn’t common for me personally. Most times images came out with decent color reproduction. The shutter is quick and quick to go back to a ready position so it was easy to take shots in quick succession without fear of missing a perfect shot at just the right moment, something which can be a common concern with most smartphones, save for most of the ones in the top-tier range which tend to cost hundreds more.

Camera quality aside, the software on the Honor 9 is an enjoyable experience with loads of customization and options. For modes, you have the standard photo mode which is likely how most people will use the camera, but those who are a little more adventurous or are used to tweaking their photos will likely find the Pro Mode more at home as there is lots of user-control here, from ISO to Exposure compensation and so on. There is also a Pro Video Mode with a few of these controls as well. In addition to the Pro Photo Mode and Pro Video Mode you’ll also find the Monochrome Mode, HDR, 3D Creator, Night Shot, Panorama, Light Painting, Time Lapse, and Slow-mo all under the Modes menu, which you can access from the camera UI by swiping inward from the left side of the screen. From the standard camera UI interface there is also an option to enable the camera’s wide aperture which is perfect if you’re trying to fit more light into a shot, something which might be useful in lower light situations. There is also a button for enabling portrait mode and for moving pictures, which is what you would turn on if you’re shooting things like sports events or other moving objects. The camera is definitely full of promise and from our initial use it performs pretty well. There were no major complaints here, which is to say that for the price of the phone, Honor has done a pretty good job at delivering a good quality smartphone camera that most users would be more than happy with.

The Good

Beautiful screen that looks and feels better than Full HD

Gorgeous design with stunning attention to detail even on small things, like chamfered edges on the buttons

Really good battery life

Fast and accurate fingerprint sensor

Buttery smooth performance during multitasking and gaming

Great quality build

Great camera with lots of options and features, plus good quality images

Dual rear camera sensors

3.5mm audio port

USB Type-C

NFC

Should work with US networks

Lots of software features

The Bad

Sound could have been better, as the single speaker made it less enjoyable for videos and games

Doesn’t seem to have full U.S. network compatibility, though it does appear to work

Not officially available in the U.S., for now at least

Wrap Up

When you get right down to it, Honor and Huawei have done a bangup job with the Honor 9 and have delivered another really great phone, and because it’s part of the Honor brand you get some of or most of the excellent features of Huawei’s latest, more high-end products, such as the Huawei P10, without the cost of those phones, making this a really good value for any smartphone user. Throw in a really beautiful design with a premium-feeling build quality, and you have a recipe for success.

Should you buy the Honor 9?

There really aren’t many reasons not to. If you want a phone with a great camera, the Honor 9 has it. If you want a phone that performs really well and in some cases outperforms other devices in its class, the Honor 9 has that too. It’s packed full of hardware and software features that don’t feel unneeded or too gimmicky, and it all comes together at a really good price point, though the cost factor might be a bit different for U.S. consumers since it isn’t officially sold here as a U.S. model, which means you might pay a little more to have it imported. Nevertheless, the Honor 9 is a great smartphone that has some pretty top-tier specs without the top-tier price. Overall there are no complaints on our end and this is a phone we would recommend to pretty much anyone, including power users. If you’re in the market for a top-notch phone but don’t exactly want to spend a whole lot, consider the Honor 9, you won’t regret it.

Buy The Honor 9