At a price of just CNY 2,199 – roughly $314 — the Honor 9x Pro can't be expected to be perfect for every potential buyer and my review of the device proves as much. The Huawei subsidiary also intended this device to be solely for the Chinese market. So I tempered my expectations on that front as well. The ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and the OEM's home country didn't help for this Huawei-built device either.
In fact, most of the problems I found during my review, particularly as that pertains to the 'bad' review of the Honor 9x Pro, came back to a lack of access to my usual apps. Language barriers presented a significant problem too but the problems I discovered actually went beyond those quirks. Not being able to easily install Google's experiences was not the only let-down.
Minor issues — relative to the device's cost — with the cameras, audio, and design compound the problem.
Now, I have tested other Honor-branded smartphones before. The Honor 9x Pro is not the first. So, I was excited to receive the gadget. I looked forward to walking away impressed by what could be accomplished in its budget device, even without Google apps. For the most part, I was impressed. But there are just too many issues to overcome for me to award it a position among the best budget mid-rangers around though.
As it turns out, all of the issues with this device are going to be well worth digging into.
Without Google, Honor 9x Pro feels like its all bloatware
To call the Honor 9x Pro feature-rich in terms of software would be an understatement. This company ships it with every manner of applications already installed. That includes Chinese staples ranging from the Weibo social network to Baidu and even VMall, which acts as a virtual shopping center as its name implies. But therein also lies a serious issue. This phone is absolutely all but bogged down by pre-installed experiences.
That's setting aside that I actually couldn't use the overwhelming majority of them because I don't read or speak the company's home language.
The company did have some foresight on both fronts. For starters, an update was received during my review that the core apps were presented in English when I set that as the system language. That didn't fix the system displaying alerts and notifications in Chinese but was a serious improvement nonetheless.
Almost all of the apps can also be completely uninstalled. The system layout is still very much Android at its core.
Most of the pre-installed apps are useful too. Honor 9x Pro includes a "Themes" application, allowing for Samsung-levels of customization. Those even apply a bit faster here. A mobile Wallet, Health tracking, customer care, and device optimization, as well as the standard notes, email, mapping, and game center apps, are part of the package.
Apps of that type are indispensable here. And the fact that Huawei has effectively replicated all of Google's services for the Chinese market is no mean feat. It's laudable.
The elephant in the room is that Google apps — barring one or two that didn't require Google Play Services — aren't allowed. As somebody heavily invested in Google's apps and who doesn't speak the language, all of that effort felt wasted. I found the phone nearly unusable for day to day activity.
Connectivity feels as limited as availability, even if it does work great some places
Throughout this review, one of the aspects of the Honor 9x Pro that was exceedingly difficult to test thoroughly was this phone's connectivity. That's chiefly because this is a China-only device and that meant no bands were really accessible in the U.S., likely via software-based restrictions.
The company built in an app from Huawei called SkyTone. Presumably, the intention is to enable service out-of-country, allowing businessmen and tourists alike to use the phone internationally. The Honor 9x Pro offered up a 2-hour trial for use in the U.S., working via a virtual SIM card — or eSIM. 50MB of data usage was part of that and I should have been more than able to fully test connections with that.
Problematically, I was never able to attain a connection within that time span. So I couldn't test texting, phone calls, and data. NFC wasn't present either and was thus out of the question.
Quite aside from that, Honor includes "Private DNS," "VPN," and the ability to "Project" the display of the Honor 9x Pro. It includes Huawei Share and Bluetooth 5.0 as other 'connectivity' related options. I only tested the latter of those features — Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac.
Bluetooth connections are solid with the Honor 9x Pro and I never noticed any cut-out across at least a dozen Bluetooth devices and accessories. Wi-Fi was similarly strong, allowing for some phone calls to be made over IP. In those cases, the audio coming through and outgoing were both solid. No anomalies to speak of were present.
So, theoretically, connectivity should be brilliant. But it isn't possible to recommend the Honor 9x Pro outside of China at all. There's a very good chance the device simply won't work as a mobile phone. That's especially true in regions where the company has been outright banned or restricted.
Why is speaker audio so bad for Honor 9x Pro?
Throughout my review of the Honor 9x Pro, I only listened to audio direct from its built-in speakers one time. That's unusual for me since I generally tend to prefer avoiding the hassle of Bluetooth headphones or plugging into the 3.5mm jack when I play games or watch videos. The audio here was just too tinny for comfort.
In fact, my first thought was that I must have received a defective unit or that it must be the audio source I was using. YouTube from the web isn't necessarily going to provide the best audio experience. But even switching to Spotify didn't improve matters and neither did switching the genre of music I was listening too.
In fairness, there is no distortion in the audio even at full volume. The speakers are loud and ringtones sound great.
Regardless, the bass here has fled the scene and the mids hide behind the treble and highs, becoming utterly muddy in more complex compositions. Bluetooth fixes that entirely and connections on that front are strong. But audio on that front could best be described as "average."
Juxtaposed with that, audio through the 3.5mm headphone jack is spectacular. Not only does the typical default mix avoid relying too heavily on thumping bass — an all too common problem with audio devices. Everything about the listening experience is also completely customizable. If I wanted headphone audio to deliver headshaking boom in a bass-heavy song, I could make it do that.
The customizability is a double-edged sword too, though. Digging into deep settings is a complex process. The maze-like array of settings covers everything from age-based to device-based fine-tuning and 3D spatial audio adjustments. So it's a very good feature to have.
Bearing that in mind, it's extensiveness is actually a caveat for those who aren't quite so dedicated. I spent 20 minutes finalizing where I wanted audio. The time it took improved over the course of my review. But I still found myself making adjustments almost constantly, knowing I'd eventually land on the "perfect" sound.
Don't count on the front camera for unlocking and that's not the only issue with the snappers here
I was able to include the overwhelming majority of my thoughts on the Honor 9x Pro cameras over in my positive review. That speaks volumes for a phone that only just finds itself out of the budget category in terms of pricing. However, there are one or two discrepancies worth noting here too. The biggest problem is the front camera.
Now, the forward-facing 16-megapixel f/2.2 aperture selfie camera found here does perform well, when accessed. Honor packed that up with a ton of features, including all of the AI-driven AR stickers and other modes you'd expect to find. After all, it's parent company is well-known for its camera prowess. The issue arose when I tried to use the camera to unlock my phone.
Summarily the front-facing camera is slow. That's not in terms of shutter speed or in software either. The company also made sure this camera is sturdy and slips back in smoothly when it senses too much force on it. But it takes a long time to extend and activate, rendering it utterly useless for unlocking.
In terms of the primary camera, I also noticed that even after a software update the bokeh effect is far grainier than I'd have liked. That's as opposed to a smooth blur of background objects. Zooming in to the full — digitally-enabled — 20x level also results in a mass of artifacts. I can only describe pixelation at that level as "horrible."
A similar effect happens in low-light conditions, albeit to a lesser degree, even with night mode turned on.
Night mode, simultaneously, does a terrible job of capturing the night sky. I made an attempt to take a shot of that, and of a full moon, as is possible with the increasingly popular camera feature in modern devices. The result, even with a tripod, was a mass of blobby bright spots in a sky of obvious artifacts. In fact, artifacts were uncommon any time lighting was highly-varied, especially with strong backlighting.
Side-mounted fingerprint scanning is going to be somewhat divisive
The sole problem with the fingerprint scanner on the Honor 9x Pro is going to be its placement. The debate can rage about whether or not the capacitive technology used here is truly secure. There are drawbacks and advantages to every variant. What buyers typically care about seems to be how fast and accurate the sensors are and that is a complete non-issue for this device. It checks both boxes readily.
With that said, the scanner sits on the side of the device, incorporated into the power button. That meant it was easy for me to just pick up the gadget and have it log me in but also lent to accidentally failed logins. If an appendage other than the registered touched the scanner while picking it up, it responded to that as an attempted log-in.
There is an easy way to circumvent that in settings with the Honor 9x Pro. Honor offers options to have the fingerprint reader only become active when the power button is clicked. That only applies when it comes to unlocking the device. I still found it far too easy to accidentally activate the component when picking up the device.
I was able to further circumvented issues on that front by registering other fingers. Specifically, I registered fingers that might touch the sensor while picking up the device. That certainly improves the situation by quite a bit but is not ideal.
Regardless, fingerprint readers are among those features that users tend to have strong opinions about. For example, Samsung introduced its in-display ultrasonic reader for the Galaxy S10 series. That proved a challenge for some users due to quirks resulting from how new it is and incompatibility with many screen protectors.
Those types of issues aren't present here and the reader is almost certainly going to be the preferred security method. Not many companies have implemented a side-mounted version of the hardware. So most users are simply accustomed to having the scanner on the back or front.
Is this phone ultimately worth the cost?
For a substantial portion of the issues present on this device, there are ways around the drawbacks. At least, that's true as far as connectivity, app installations, and similar attributes are concerned. But those aren't really methods that are easy to get put in place. More importantly, this is a review of how the Honor 9x Pro works and is to use right out-of-the-box. And things just aren't great on that front.
As I noted above, Honor quickly became one of my favorite brands of smartphones from the first time I was able to try one out. The honor 9x Pro really doesn't live up to what I had expected from the brand.
Even at the lower end of the mid-range price spectrum for Android smartphones, there are a lot of issues.
Audio doesn't sound great from this phone's speakers. The camera has plenty of relatively minor flaws. Google is completely absent and there seems to be a lot of bloatware.
Those are areas where it would be a good idea to look elsewhere.
For those users who will only be listening to audio from their device — setting aside ringtones — over wired headphones or who don't primarily use their phone as a camera, things swing back in favor of Honor. In those cases, the Honor 9x Pro is going to be easy to recommend. But that's tempered by the fact that this will really only be viable in those circumstances in a single region.
Where this smartphone does perform well, it's a brilliant device. Honor put a lot of work into making the 9x Pro both beautiful and high-quality on build quality. It feels great to hold, isn't too slippery, and it's not slow by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it's processor is nearly on par with Qualcomm flagship processors based on the various comparison's on the web and it feels that fast in real-world use.
It effectively fell short of what I'd expected from Honor at this asking price but will be great for those who are chiefly unaffected by the caveats laid out here.