Huawei-owned Honor has been around since around 2013, making relatively brilliant budget-friendly and mid-range smartphones but its latest device, the China-only Honor 9x Pro, may still require some introduction.
Both also operate on Huawei's Android 9 Pie-based EMUI 9.1.1, driven by a 4,000mAh capacity battery. Simultaneously, key differences in memory and storage mean that the Honor 9x Pro is a far cry from its more widely-available sibling.
Now, there are obviously some flaws with this device that have earned it a lower rating. The price point for the Honor 9x Pro should be the first indicator that will be the case. Huawei's well-publicized troubles follow closely behind that.
But objectively speaking, with consideration for pricing and its intended sales region, there's only one conclusion that can be reached about the Honor 9x Pro. Despite some flaws mostly caused by a lack of Google services and limited availability, the Honor 9x Pro is a respectable device for CNY 2,199 – roughly $314.
The Honor 9x Pro feels and looks much more premium than it is
Aesthetically, this phone stands apart from the competition partly because it comes in two genuinely opposing styles. Those include an almost matte black variant and a purple configuration like the one focused on for my review. The company designed the black configuration to showcase a slight that alters depending on the lighting. However, that variant stays mostly understated.
The purple configuration is much more flashy but it manages to accomplish that with finesse while avoiding being gaudy.
The right-hand side of the device maintains a brighter fuschia tone while the right-hand side and edge are darker. An "X"-shaped gradient accents the back panel that flashes brightly along its lines. The placement, scale, and intensity of that vary substantially depending on angle and light.
As shown in the snapshots here, the effect can be eye-catching while all but disappearing under dimmer conditions or at steeper angles.
In-hand, the Honor 9x Pro exudes a premium feel with no sharp edges and a smooth texture. The rear panel isn't slippery either and that's a good thing. Slippery back panels have become almost a plague in glass-backed devices in the mid-range. Where that's a problem, it's more likely a user will accidentally break the device either by dropping it or placing it on an uneven surface — resulting in a fall. There shouldn't be any such problems with the Honor 9x Pro.
Setting aside the fact that Honor doesn't list an IP rating for water or dust resistance, the phone itself feels exceptionally well made. All of the ports fit snugly without wiggle and click satisfactorily into place. The buttons are similarly 'clicky' and responsive.
Honor also engineered the forward-facing slide-up camera to show almost zero movements when jostled. That's a good thing since it is somewhat slow to activate or tuck itself in. It requires a significant amount of force to press the mechanism into the frame too but there's no audible complaint from the handset when it finally does.
Water protection is most likely present to a certain degree to prevent damage from splashing but it's probably better not to risk it.
That extends to its display too with one minor exception
The Honor 9x Pro ships packed with a display set at a Full HD+ resolution that's increasingly common in terms of the price bracket. But Honor also includes a setting that allows the display to lower to an HD+ resolution automatically to save battery. That's far less common, as is the smoothness with which the display automatically adjusts brightness.
On that front, the screen is clear and bright enough that it can be used indoors turned almost all the way down. Only the brightest sunlight causes the setting to turn all the way up and the transition is almost seamless. Interactions with the panel follow suit with a single exception we'll get to momentarily. The screen's sensitivity and responsiveness feel almost perfectly in line with a flagship experience.
That's made all the better by the fact that there are only minimal bezels surrounding the panel and no cut-outs or punch holes to interrupt viewing. All of the expected adjustments for text blue-light reduction, and displaying apps without annoying empty spaces or bars are present and accounted for.
But Honor went above and beyond the standard budget-friendly experience here too.
Color modes and adjustments are a long-running feature in many Android phones. Those work on the Honor 9x Pro as expected, for the most part. They allow users to set their 'temperature' or how vivid everything looks and are included on the Honor 9x Pro. Of course, 'warm' temperatures reduce blues while 'cool' temperatures enhance them. Turning on vivid mode makes colors pop rather than leaning toward "natural."
With that said, Honor took that further to allow users complete control over the color that the display shifts toward. It includes a color picker that essentially shifts things toward any color the user chooses. That means users can set their display to match more exactly with what they find comfortable. Honor made the controls available in both Vivid and Normal mode too.
So, this screen doesn't just interact well and without issues. It also stops just short of including a dark mode, letting users find the best tonal shift for their eyes on an individual basis — although dark mode will undoubtedly be added over the top of that later on with Android 10.
The sole caveat I could find with the display is that the stock keyboard just doesn't work well with English. It displays properly but touches aren't accurate. The problem didn't exist in after-market keyboards so it's something Honor will need to fix with an update.
Honor did opt for an LCD panel. So the deepest blacks are dark but not quite as dark as with the pixels turned off in an AMOLED screen. Some flagships also ship with LCD displays and this one doesn't perform any worse than those typically do. So it isn't entirely unexpected.
Performance is very nearly at the flagship level for Honor 9x Pro
The Honor 9x Pro is a lower-mid-range smartphone. It's not really intended to be a true powerhouse. But its use of a relatively high-end chip — for a budget phone — makes it feel like one anyway. Because that's a Huawei-built octa-core Kirin 810 SoC, that's particularly true when it comes to performance.
AI and related software, such as the built-in optimizer manages quite a lot of this phone. Huawei-owned HiSilicon chipset geared the chipset heavily in that direction. So, while not every app can be guaranteed to run flawlessly, the apps I did test performed better than might be expected. That held true regardless of whether I was booting up a relatively intensive game or editing photos taken with the device.
For example, intensive racing titles and shooters loaded without any perceptible latency. Whether booting up a level or running through one, the Honor 9x Pro didn't stutter or hang. In photo editing, even where things were somewhat slower than an $800+ device, the process was smooth.
The phone didn't heat up at all during that use either, even during charging. As a result, I never felt like I even approached the limits of what the phone is capable of.
The same sentiments trickle through day-to-day use and interactions with the phone too. Not only do apps launch quickly and run smoothly. The Honor 9x Pro just doesn't seem to lag at all. Multitasking didn't present any issues either.
With regard to the camera software, interactions with Honor's device felt instantaneous. Interactions with the fingerprint hardware did too.
For the price, despite the lack of Google's Play Services or apps, this phone just keeps performing at what feels like a peak level without any indication that it's not a premium handset.
The camera is loaded with features and only hints at the low price tag
As with every other aspect of this phone, the camera is not perfect. It shows a tendency to over-sharpen images, to begin with, driven by AI-powered image processing. But that's a double-edged sword. The sharpening doesn't happen every time. But in very close-up shots it actually helps to bring out subtle details that otherwise aren't as noticeable.
One example of that, shown in the linked Flickr gallery below, can be seen in an up-close snapshot of a laptop. In that image, the camera brings forward damage and grooves in the laptop's aluminum surface. It shows that in a much clearer contrast than what's normally seen with the naked eye.
A similar effect can be seen in other camera modes and shooting circumstances. In fact, the Honor 9x Pro consistently brought out more details than I expected throughout my review. And the benefits of that often out-weighed the infrequent issues caused by oversharpening.
The feature proves especially useful where "macro" shots might need to be cropped. And that's because this device can't seem to shoot a clear image at closer than four or five inches.
For another example, night mode is not capable of shooting the night-time sky, that just turns out blurry. But it does a great job of handling backlighting in low-light circumstances, as long as the user has a steady hand.
There are a lot of features here as well. Those go a long way to make up for how differently that mode works here, especially since most people aren't shooting nighttime photos. One such feature is called "line painting."
Line painting takes sources of light in low-lit or dark environments and snaps mini clips of that light, tracing out its movement across the darkness. For comparison, the closest thing may be found in the residual effect seen when tracing out shapes with a sparkler. Or the light-line effect seen in professional snapshots of night-time traffic.
It can do the same with rushing water. There, it creates smooth blurs to show the motion as opposed to clearly snapping the individual droplets.
I wasn't in a position to take any great shots with that mode during my test due chiefly to my location not allowing for the proper circumstances. But what tests I did perform showed that to be consistent and accurate. It's a neat and unique feature to have in place of a night mode that can shoot in near-total darkness.
Color accuracy and camera speed are great with the Honor 9x Pro too.
Better still, the software includes all of the modern features expected with only a few brand-specific exceptions. All of that is laid out in a way that's intuitive and easy to use. The only minor exception there is the 48-megapixel and 48-megapixel Ultra Clarity modes — the latter of which is represented in our Flickr gallery. Honor tucks those in the settings menu.
Even with consideration for the negative points laid out over in the "bad" review, the Honor 9x Pro does take relatively great pictures.Honor 9x Pro Picture Samples - Flickr
Battery life is beyond acceptable, if not brilliant
The battery life seen throughout my test of the Honor 9x Pro was consistent and great for my usage. But it's always important to note that my results aren't going to be typical. That's because there aren't any readily available tests to replicate real-world use.
I conducted my test at around 75-percent in terms of screen brightness. I maintained volume, whether over headphones or speakers, at around the same level. Both of those factors tend to weigh heavily on battery capacity. Screen brightness is typically the more impactful of the two.
Moreover, as is discussed over in the negative review, I wasn't able to use my standard preferred applications for testing.
Google apps just aren't available here. So video and music use happened via YouTube in the Honor 9x Pro's built-in browser. I also used Spotify for music listening. In the former case, using a browser is going to be more intensive. That's on the basis that multiple additional tabs are going to be using the battery in addition to on-screen media. The browser additionally allowed higher resolutions to be used when playing back video content.
With all of that said, the battery life here was much better than expected under the circumstances. The Honor 9x Pro managed 25 hours and 11 minutes, despite those factors. The device was also looking for service over the entire course of my review. No less than 16 hours and 26 minutes of that were "standby time" with this device. That includes light-to-moderate web browsing, messaging, and short phone calls.
I split up screen-on time between YouTube at 4 hours and 42 minutes, approximately an hour of gaming, and a half-hour of camera use. I used music streaming services for 2 hours and 33 minutes. Around 30 minutes of the listening time was spent with the screen active.
That equates to around 6 hours and 42 minutes of screen-on time but well over 8 hours of actual moderate-to-heavy use. Users should witness a not-insignificant improvement to those figures in this handset's intended sales region too.
Charging took just under 1 hour and 45 minutes and 40-minutes to 50-percent charged. So things were fairly average there.
Honor 9x Pro is a worthy entry for its market
As highlighted by this review and its negative counterpart, the Honor 9x Pro is not a perfect device. It struggles to live up to its branding and preceding reputation across a number of categories.
Where it really matters though, this is a gadget that's going to be well worth its cost.
Honor has packed this device with a point-and-shoot ready camera that goes well beyond its namesake, just for starters. It has also managed to keep its interface easy to use, in spite of loading that up with features. The company included extra features on top of that which more than offset most of that component's shortcomings.
Those features and smooth interactions remain consistent with Google, despite not having access to the search giant's apps or services.
Reaching further still, the hardware behind the comparatively brilliant display is more than capable of keeping up. That should meet the overwhelming majority of users' needs. The HiSilicon chipset delivers power more akin to a top Snapdragon SoC than a mid-range chip. So it performs its tasks without so much as a whimper and generates no unwanted extra heat.
The battery included by Honor should be able to easily deliver a full day of use on a single charge. It won't take forever to rebuild that capacity either after that's drained. The Honor 9x Pro does all of that and it does it while looking better than a significant number of its competitors.
It is fair to say that the Honor 9x Pro didn't live up to my expectations for an Honor device in the price bracket. But most of my trouble came as a result of lacking apps and connectivity as well as a language barrier. So if those aspects of a smartphone outlined here are what matters, and you happen to live in China, this device is a much easier recommendation.