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Honor 9X review: a solid mid-ranger with a few snags

Honor launched the 9X series in July 2019 in China, with a fullscreen display and elevating selfie camera as its USPs. The Chinese variants of the 9X and 9X Pro smartphones featured a side-mounted fingerprint scanner with dual and triple camera setups, respectively. After a short absence in the Indian market, Honor has now launched the global variant of the Honor 9X in India. The global version borrows the triple cameras from the Honor 9X Pro, and ships with a conventional rear mounted fingerprint sensor. I have been using the smartphone for over a week now, and here’s how I feel about the latest launch from the Huawei sub-brand.

Design and display

Honor’s X-series smartphones have been trendsetters when it comes to design. From attractive gradient hues to dual-tone finishes, every single X-series smartphone of the past has been a stunner, and the 9X is no different. The glossy back panel on the Honor 9X is crafted from polycarbonate but feels like glass because of a glossy surface and 197g weight. The smartphone is also pretty chunky with the thickness being 8.8mm.

Honor is offering the 9X in two colourways – Sapphire Blue and Midnight Black. I have the latter with me, and it looks staid yet sophisticated. However, the glossy surface is a fingerprint magnet and gets smudged very easily. During my stint with the Honor 9X, I had the bundled protective case on the phone at all times. I personally would have preferred the Sapphire Blue variant, which gets a Dynamic X design that reflects a glimmering pearl X pattern when light hits it at an angle. This is similar to the design we have already seen on the Honor V20 series.

On the topic of the back panel, the 9X is extremely ergonomic thanks to the curved back panel and even weight distribution. That’s why, despite weighing close to 200g, I was able to use it for longer hours while binge-watching YouTube and Netflix without any wrist fatigue. Additionally, watching videos on the Honor 9X is an enjoyable experience thanks to the absence of a notch. The 6.59-inch FullView Display flaunts full HD+ screen resolution and an impressive screen-to-body ratio of 91 percent. Honor has equipped the screen with a TÜV Rheinland-certified blue light filter and Widevine L1 certification. I was impressed by the colour production and sharpness on the IPS LCD display, and the L1 certification meant I could enjoy my favourite shows in high resolution. On the flip side, I feel that the brightness could have been on the higher side.

There is a circular fingerprint scanner on the back, which is as fast and accurate as we expect capacitive biometrics module to be. There’s no face unlock feature, which I personally prefer as far as elevating selfie camera phones goes. On the topic of the elevating selfie camera, it comes with a built-in drop detection system, but this is pretty slow, so you might still end up damaging the module if you drop the phone from a shorter height.

The triple camera module on the back is situated on the top left corner on the back along with an LED flash. You’ll find the volume rocker and power button on the right side, while the left has been left bare. The top edge houses the elevating selfie camera, along with a single noise-cancelling mic and an ejectable SIM card tray. At the bottom, there is 3.5mm audio jack, noise-cancelling mic, USB Type-C port and speaker grille.

Cameras

The triple camera setup on the back panel comprises of a 48MP f/1.8 snapper, accompanied by an 8MP f/2.4 sensor with an ultra-wide-angle lens, and a 2MP f/2.4 depth sensor. As for selfies and video calls, the square elevating module houses a 16MP shooter with f/2.2 aperture.  The camera app is standard EMUI affair with modes like night, portrait, pro, slow motion, light painting, time-lapse and more. There is also AI-based scene recognition, AIS Super Night Mode and AI Video Stabilisation. Honor has also equipped the selfie camera with 3D portrait lighting feature, which we have seen in Apple’s iPhones.

The primary camera uses 4-in-1 pixel binning technology to achieve impressive results at 12MP resolution. If you wish to capture full-resolution 48MP shots, you will have to do so from the settings. In ideal daylight lighting conditions, the primary shooter captures pictures with punchy colours and impressive details. However, I noticed that in very bright conditions, the camera fails to handle the dynamic range and some pictures turned out overexposed. The ultra wide-angle lens does its job, but there’s visible distortion around the corners and the camera fails to capture sufficient details. The 2MP depth sensor, on the other hand, does a good job of detecting edges and produces impressive portrait shots.

I tried all modes in the camera app from Professional to Timelapse, and I found myself enjoying the camera experience on the Honor 9x. The cherry on the cake is the powerful AI-backed scene recognition, which was accurately able to recognise the frame and tweak camera settings to capture the best possible image. I was particularly impressed by the AIS Super Night Mode, which was able to capture a well-exposed image in dark conditions without compromising much on details. Honor has also included nifty features like the ability to change shutter speed in night mode, various settings in the light painting mode like start trail, light graffiti, traffic trails, etc. As for video, the camera is capable of shooting in 720p at 30fps, 1080p at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps. Unfortunately, there’s no 4K video recording support. And also, HDR is just a mode which can be turned on from within settings menu and there’s no Auto HDR option.

As for selfies, the 16MP elevating camera does a decent job. The portrait mode leaves something to be desired, with visible soft edges and occasional overexposed images. The 3D portrait lighting effects are good, but work better when you have distant lights in the background. Also, for portrait mode, you have to turn on the blur setting, as it’s set to none by default.

Performance, software and battery

The Honor 9X features the HiSilicon Kirin 710F SoC at its core. While I received the top-end 6GB RAM and 128GB storage variant, the phone is also available in a 4GB + 64GB option. My review unit offered around 110GB of storage out of the box, which can be expanded up to 512GB using the dedicated microSD card slot. In day to day usage, with heavy multitasking and social media browsing, I didn’t find the Honor 9X breaking a sweat. The phone handled whatever I threw at it like a champ.

When it comes to gaming, PUBG started in medium graphics mode by default on the phone. The gameplay was pretty smooth in the medium graphics settings, which led me to push the phone to its limits and play in high graphics. In the the latter, PUBG was playable as well, but not as smooth. Therefore, if you don’t mind notching the visuals down a bit, your best bet would be to stick to medium settings. Call of Duty: Mobile and other low requirement games run smoothly on the Honor 9X as well.

In terms of software, you get the proprietary EMUI 9.1 garnished on top of Android 9 Pie. It’s the standard EMUI affair with some third-party apps, but these can be removed. Huawei providing the option to go with either the standard layout of having all icons on the homescreen, or switch to an app drawer for a cleaner setup. Other features include gesture navigation, Digital Balance (Huawei’s take on Google’s Digital Wellbeing), Smart Assistance and more. Unfortunately, a system-wide dark mode is missing. Honor has confirmed that the 9X will get the Android 10 update, which is good news for potential buyers.

As for the battery, the 4,000mAh unit on the smartphone easily lasts a day on a single charge. Honor claims that the 9X can offer up to 13 hours of video playback. In my stint with the smartphone, I had over 20 percent battery still left at the end of the day. Unfortunately, the device misses out on fast charging which is an increasingly common feature on mid-range phones.

The competition

The Honor 9X goes up against several stalwarts in the Indian smartphone market. The Redmi Note 8 Pro (first impressions) with a powerful MediaTek Helio G90T SoC, 64MP quad-camera module and a bigger 4,500mAh battery is the top contender for the new launch. Then there’s the Realme XT (review), which comes with the capable Snapdragon 712 chipset and 64MP quad-camera setup on the back. The Vivo Z1 Pro (first impressions) with its 32-megapixel selfie camera, 5,000mAh battery and a punch-hole display is also a tough competitor for the Honor 9X.

Bottomline

The Honor 9X is the most affordable phone with an elevating selfie camera, a title that was earlier reserved for its cousin, the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 (first impressions). While these features might tip the scales in favour of the 9X, users looking for longevity in terms of software updates might be tempted to look elsewhere. This is because of the uncertainty surrounding Huawei’s US ban, which might affect future Android updates for the phone.

Pricebaba’s rating: 8 / 10

What works:

  • Fullscreen display
  • Good primary cameras
  • Stylish design

What doesn’t:

  • Wide-angle camera is not up to the mark
  • No fast charging
  • Runs Android 9 out of the box

Photos by Raj Rout

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