The HONOR 9A was announced back in April this year, as the ultimate budget offering from the company. Before we get into anything, it is worth noting that this phone costs €149.90 / £129.99. In some markets, you even get the HONOR Band 5 with your purchase. All of that makes this phone extremely affordable. That is worth noting as we go through this review, as you can’t expect flagship-level features out of a phone that costs so little.
That being said, the HONOR 9A is nothing to scoff at. If you want a budget phone to purchase for your kid, or as a secondary device, this phone has proven to be quite capable. Another thing to note, though, is that it doesn’t come with Google services. That may be a problem for some, though we’ll get more into that later in the review, when we hit the software portion. That being said, let’s get going, shall we.
The HONOR 9A is a nice-looking phone, especially considering its price
The HONOR 9A is a nice-looking phone, no doubt about that. That is especially true considering its price point. That being said, you’d be hard-pressed to notice this phone is made out of plastic just by looking at it. It sure looks like there’s glass on the back, and that it has a metal side, but it doesn’t. There’s plastic on the back, plastic around the phone, and glass on the front. The bezels are not that thick at all, they’re quite thin, in fact. The bottom bezel is thicker than the rest, though.
The device has a fingerprint scanner on the back, which works fairly well, while it has a teardrop notch on the front. That notch is also quite small, and if you ask me, a much better choice than display holes that have become popular. It is really non-obtrusive, in fact. The phone includes a camera module in the top-left corner of its back. The power / lock, volume up, and volume down buttons are placed on the right.
The phone is not exactly light, though. It weighs 185 grams, which is lighter than most flagships, but still not that light, especially considering the plastic build. This phone does have some heft to it, and many people will appreciate that. In terms of size, it’ll be about right for most people, it is 159mm tall, 74.1mm wide, and 9mm thick. It is really comfortable to hold, it’s not too large, and not small either. All in all, I enjoyed carrying it during the review period.
The display is not exactly the sharpest around, plus it’s a bit washed out as well
The HONOR 9A’s display is not the sharpest, but it’ll be good enough for most people. The device features a 6.3-inch 1600 x 720 display, so it’s essentially an HD+ panel. It’s an IPS LCD display, and it gets bright enough outside, even though I’ve used far better ones. Once again, this is a budget phone, keep that in mind.
This display tends to lean on the cooler side, but that’s something you can change in the settings. Temperature controls are available in the ‘Display’ settings, along with the Eye Comfort mode, Dark mode, eBook mode, and some additional settings. You can, of course, increase and decrease fonts, and so on.
This is a flat display, which was to be expected. That’s a good thing, actually, well, at least it will be for most people. What is worth noting, though, is that this display does not have a curved glass on top of it. As a result, the edges may be a bit weird to your finger, if you’ve used a more expensive device recently.
Colors on this display are okay, though they’re nowhere as vivid as on an OLED panel. Blacks are also not as black as they’d be on an OLED panel, or even on a high-end LCD display. Viewing angles are good, though, very good. The resolution could also be higher, as I did notice the lack of sharpness, but that’s not something regular users will be bothered by it.
Its chip is not exactly powerful, but this phone offers really good performance
What about the performance? Well, the best thing I can say is that it’s okay. Don’t expect this phone to navigate through the menus without a stutter, or to be extremely quick when it comes to jumping between apps, opening apps, games, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly a slow phone, I’ve seen way slower, but it’s not exactly on the level of flagships either, which is understandable. It will get the job done, but it will take a bit longer than a lot more expensive phones, and it may stutter a little bit.
That is not surprising considering that the MediaTek MT6762R aka Helio P22 SoC is included in here. That is the budget processor from MediaTek, and not even close to the company’s best offerings. That chip is backed by 3GB of RAM, while the phone also offers 64GB of expandable storage. Gaming is not exactly a great experience on the HONOR 9A, at least when it comes to CPU / GPU-intensive titles. Games that are not as graphically-demanding run perfectly fine, though, without an issue.
Is this a phone for someone who wants a really fast phone, no, not really. As already mentioned, you will notice stutters here, quite often. The phone will get the job done, and won’t heavily lag, but you’ll notice stutters. That is when you should remember how much it costs, any other chip would have increased its price, basically.
The fingerprint scanner is not the fastest around
The HONOR 9A includes a capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back. That unit works well, but it’s not the fastest around. That is to be expected considering this phone’s price tag. It will serve you well, though. It is quite accurate, though it takes a bit of time to unlock. It’s not slow by any means, but once again, don’t expect flagship-grade performance here, at least not in terms of speed.
Don’t count on Google services here, that includes the Play Store
The HONOR 9A does come with Android 10 out of the box. The thing is, it does not include Google services. Due to the US ban, and everything related to it, Huawei is not allowed to pre-install Google services on its phones, and that includes HONOR, which is technically a separate company, but still owned by Huawei. That being said, the HONOR 9A comes with Huawei’s very own services pack. Android 10 is still pre-installed, as is Magic UI 3.1.
The experience is exactly what you’d expect out of a Huawei / HONOR phone, similar to those that still have Google services. The only difference is, you don’t have access to Google services, and that includes the Google Play Store. The Huawei AppGallery is a replacement for the Play Store, and it grew quite a bit, but it’s still lacking some apps. If you cannot find an app on the AppGallery, however, you can always get it via the Petal Search that Huawei is offering.
That being said, if you don’t like EMUI, you won’t like Magic UI either, as it’s basically rebranded EMUI. If you do, you’ll be right at home here. Magic UI is packed with features, so you won’t lack those, while EMUI / Magic UI are much better than they were before. You do get access to full dark mode here, along with a ton of other options. Do note that it’s a bit different than stock Android, though, that’s for sure.
It offers astounding battery life
Is the battery life good? No, it’s not… it’s great! This phone packs in a huge 5,000mAh battery. Considering its display resolution and a processor that is not power-hungry, well… I’ve expected great battery life. I did not expect it to be this great, though. This phone will easily last for two days for people who are not power users, no problem. The first day I used the phone as my daily driver the battery percentage dropped so slow, I thought something’s wrong.
So, let’s take one charge cycle as an example. That was in the middle of my use cycle, a couple of days after I initially started using the phone. I took it off the charger in the morning, and at the end of my day (12:53 AM), the phone still had 70-percent of battery charge left. Some of you may instantly assume that I didn’t use it much, and that it simply sat there. Well, I used it quite a bit, it had 6 hours and 17 minutes of screen on time, from my usage. The vast majority of flagship smartphones are dead at that point. Well, this handset still had 70-percent of battery charge left, that is just amazing.
As you can see in the screenshots below, I used it for a wide range of things. I did use Viber, typed up some SMS messages, watched a ton of YouTube videos (via browser, as this phone doesn’t have access to Google apps), browsed various websites, used the navigation for a bit, took a number of photos and filmed some videos as well, and so on. I even played a game or two for a bit. And after all that, the phone still stood strong. By the way, auto brightness was enabled.
Now, in terms of the second day (gallery below). Based on the first day battery life, it was easy to assume that I’d get through the second day without a problem. That’s exactly what happened. My usage was similar, though I used the display for an even longer period of time the second day. At 12:10 AM in the morning, before I went to bed, the phone showed 13 hours and 11 minutes of screen on time. At that point, its battery percentage was at 27-percent.
I tested this battery for about a week and a half, so I got in several battery charges in there. The results were similar. You can easily get two days of battery life, even with heavy use. Some people may even be able to squeeze out there, which is remarkable. The device does not support fast charging, though, so don’t count on that. Considering its battery longevity, that’s not really necessary.
There’s much to be desired in terms of camera performance
What about the camera quality? Well, phones at this price point usually don’t have good cameras, and the HONOR 9A is not an exception. These cameras are usable, for sure, but they’re not good. Let’s start with well-lit environments. If you take a look at the samples provided in the gallery below, you’ll notice quite a few issues. Even though the phone can provide its best pics in well-lit environments, the dynamic range is not the best. Colors tend to look way oversaturated, and the white balance is also off. The phone also tends to blow out highlights in images.
You can, however, capture some really nice shots if the sun is not directly involved, and the scene is well-lit, though, as shown in the samples below. In these cameras samples, the colors are much closer to real-life, and the pics actually turned out well. Do note that there was plenty of natural light in most of those pictures.
Low light is where this camera completely falls apart, though. That is to be expected for phones in this price range, though. The HONOR 9A does not come with a dedicated night mode, unfortunately. That mode would have helped at least a little bit. I’ve taken a number of pictures inside and outside, during nighttime, with very little light available. You can see some samples down below. A lot of detail goes away in such images, while they have a lot of noise. They also turn out way too dark. This camera is not meant to be taking night photos, so if that’s important to you, keep that in mind.
PIctures from the front-facing camera are a bit washed out, but they’re okay overall. I usually don’t have high expectations for front-facing cameras, so to see a somewhat decent camera on the front on such a budget phone is… well, good. All in all, the HONOR 9A is not a camera smartphone, and this is one of the main parts of the device where HONOR had to cut costs.
The HONOR 9A has a single speaker, and that speaker is good enough
The HONOR 9A comes with a single speaker, which is located at the bottom. I’m just glad it’s not included on the back of the device, as it still is on many phones that belong in this price range. That single speaker gets plenty loud, to be quite honest. I was a bit surprised it gets that loud, though the clarity is not the best. It is a little bit muffled, but not the extent I’ve expected. I’ve seen so many speakers that are worse than this, and I’ve expected it to be a lot worse. It is not, though, it’s perfectly usable, and not something that should prevent you from getting this phone.
What about audio through the headphones? Well, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. You can get passable output via a solid pair of headphones, just don’t expect it to be great. Manage your expectations, and you’ll be perfectly fine. Mids are really good here, though lows and highs are not the best. Still, if I don’t nitpick, the audio output is perfectly fine, and not something you should worry about.
If you consider its price tag, the HONOR 9A is actually not bad
So, is this phone worth €150, which is how much it costs in a number of European countries? Well, yes, as long as you don’t mind the fact it doesn’t have Google services on it. The phone offers amazing battery life, its audio is not bad, and the build quality is solid. The phone also looks really nice, and as long as you don’t need blazing fast performance, and great cameras… this is a solid option.