The Honor 9X, launched last year, was a decent budget phone touting middling specs that made it good enough for day to day use. Its all-screen display and a pop-up camera gave it a modern edge over rival affordable phones and it was Honor’s last smartphone to come with Google Mobile Services.
Honor’s decision to follow the 9X with a Pro variant at their alternate MWC 2020 event was a bit of a surprise. The 9X Pro is a meager upgrade over the original 9X. There’s a new chipset on board this time along with a side-mounted fingerprint scanner. But the phone is more or less similar to the 9X with one big exception.
The 9X Pro comes with the Huawei App Gallery pre-installed, replacing the Google Play Store. It’s the first Honor store to rely on Huawei Mobile Services. Our experience with Huawei phones sans Google have been tepid at best and we’re interested to see if that continues with the latest phone from Honor.
Pricing and Availability
The Honor 9X will be available across the Middle East sometime in March 2020 on Honor’s official website and selected retailers. Pricing is set to be revealed at a later date, though it’s most likely to be close to the launch price of the Honor 9X at AED 999.
The model we have for review is a Phantom Purple with 256GB on built-in storage and 6GB of RAM, which isn’t bad for a phone around the AED 1,000 price point.
Design and Display
From the ‘X’ 3D gradient pattern on the rear to the notch-less display on the front and pop-up camera on the top, the X Pro looks almost identical to the 9X. But there are some subtle differences like a matte finish along the sides, giving the phone a distinct touch and an all glass back instead of the plastic finish on the 9X..
On the rear there’s a triple lens setup with a modest bump. The fingerprint scanner has moved to the side underneath a pair of tactile volume buttons and doubles as a power button. The scanner’s convenient location makes quick work of unlocking the phone while preventing accidental input.
The top houses the phone’s hybrid SIM tray and one of the phone’s coolest features: a pop-up selfie camera that rolls out when the front-facing snapper is engaged. It takes a couple of seconds to wheel out, meaning no impromptu selfies but feels durable and sturdy enough to last a good while.
Over on the bottom, there’s a single downward firing mono speaker grille that emits painfully adequate audio leaving you to rely on earphones and bluetooth accessories. Next to the speaker is a USB-C port, which is always nice to see on a budget phone, though there’s no quick charging option. Finally, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack for all your wired headphone needs.
The display on the front is a 6.6-inch IPS LCD panel with Full HD+ resolution. While it’s not as vibrant as an OLED panel available on other similarly priced budget phones, it’s got great results for an LCD panel. Colors are rich, details are sharp along with decent contrast and viewing angles making watching videos and playing games a great experience.
Camera and battery life
The Honor 9X Pro’s triple camera setup is the same as the 9X and initial results are more or less similar to the 9X. The main shooter is a 48MP sensor along with an 8MP ultra-wide lens followed by a 2MP depth sensor. And the selfie snapper packs in a 16MP lens.
Usually, camera setups on Honor phones are decent as they take their cues from Huawei, but this isn’t the case with the Honor 9X Pro, which struggles with color. The main 48MP lens takes bright and detailed shots and overall images looked good albeit slightly washed out. Using the ultra-wide shooter yields varying results where images have better color reproduction but are distorted at the edges.
For portrait shots, the 2MP depth sensor kicks in creating decent bokeh effects with accurate edge detection. And the software has a few features baked in to improve your photos like a dedicated night mode and AI assist that helps enhance colors and exposure.
Selfies also heavily rely on software tweaking to cover up mediocre results. Images look paler, washed out and over processed than they need to be. There are a range of effects for you to play around with, but we’d suggest turning AI off for more images and tweaking them later manually in the Gallery app.
Battery wise, the 9X Pro packs in a sizable 4,000mAh capacity, which is enough to easily last you a day without reaching for the charger. In fact, if you’re a light user you can even eke out a couple of days of use with recharging.
The main drawback here is the lack of quick charging despite the presence of USB-C. While some Honor phones come equipped with fast-charging tech, the 9X Pro and the charging brick that comes with it are in no hurry to get the battery to full. In our preliminary tests, we saw that it took the phone a little over two hours to charge from empty to full.
The Honor 9X packs a Kirin 810 under the hood, an upgrade from the Kirin 710F on the 9X. We did notice a slight uptake in performance especially in the Camera app where the main lens was quick to auto-focus and AI processing was quicker in general. Multi-tasking was also more fluid and smoother with lags or stutters breaking the experience.
The 9X Pro runs EMUI 10 based on Android 10 out of the box. If you’ve used a Huawei phone in the past year, then you’ll feel right at home. EMUI 10 carries over several Android 10 features with its own aesthetic and navigation tweaks. It utilizes Huawei Mobiles Services in place of Google meaning you’ll have to rely on Huawei’s budding App Gallery to obtain third party apps.
As it stands, the Huawei App Gallery is next to useless outside of China and is missing a plethora of apps that most Android users have come to rely on. If you do decide to pick up the 9X Pro keep in mind your experience will be severely limited unless things change in the future.
The Honor 9X Pro is a small but marked improvement over the 9X. The new chipset gives performance a little boost and the side-mounted fingerprint scanner is a handy way to unlock the phone. Other than that, it’s a decent budget phone that won’t blow your mind in any way with its average camera and middling performance, but it’ll work perfectly well for daily use, given you keep your expectations in check.
The lack of Google Mobile Services is something that will disaffect most Android users. Huawei’s App Gallery as it stands is a feeble replacement to Google’s Play Store and hinders the 9X’s usability. If you can live without Google, then the Honor 9X has enough on board to make it a compelling budget phone