Honor 9

It may be the brand’s latest handset, but the Honor 9 is a familiar phone in many ways. It’s much the same as what both Honor and Huawei have been making for the last few years, and the updates here are minimal – but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great phone.

Honor has slowly but surely been improving its design, spec and the way everything works together in its phones over the last couple of years, and it feels like the Honor 9 is the culmination of that effort.

There isn’t a big headline feature here. The phone doesn’t obliterate the competition when it comes to photography, it doesn’t have an entirely different looking screen like the Galaxy S8 or the Xperia XZ Premium, and it doesn’t have squeezy edges like the HTC U11.

Rather, the Honor 9 is a reliable device that offers most of what the flagship competition does, and does everything just as well, but costs a good bit less.

Honor 9 price and release date

  • The Honor 9 isn't coming to the US or Australia – instead it's just in the UK
  • Costs £379.99 (around $ 485 / AU$ 640) SIM-free
  • Deals in the UK start at £20 a month

Price is one of the main reasons you should take a look at the Honor 9 over other flagship phones. Unlike parent company Huawei with its latest phone, the P10, Honor has managed to keep the price low on its newest device – in fact it’s up to half the price of flagships from the likes of Samsung and Apple.

If you live in the UK you’ll be able to buy the Honor 9 for £379.99 (around $ 485 / AU$ 640) SIM-free. There’s no US or Australia release date for the phone yet, and it’s not clear if or when the company will be bringing the Honor 9 to either market.

The Huawei P10 didn’t release in the US either, and that was a major disappointment for fans of the brand there, but it did eventually come to Australia, so the Honor 9 may follow suit. If you do live in the US or Australia you may be able to import the device, but we’d recommend checking to ensure it’ll be compatible with your network.

In the UK you’ll also be able to buy the phone on Three as a network exclusive, if you don’t want to stump up the £379.99 right away. Deals at the time of launch cost from £20 a month.

Design

  • Interesting shiny glass design that stands out
  • Fingerprint sensor on the front of the phone, below the screen
  • Three color choices available with blue, silver and black on offer

From the rear the Honor 9 looks different to any other phone on the market, and during our time with it we found a lot of people getting excited about the way it looks.

The Honor 9 has a glass body with a shiny finish. It’s reflective, but not like a mirror; instead it diffracts light at various angles to create a great effect that catches the eye immediately.

At a time when many phones struggle to stand out, this is a major selling point.

The front of the phone is much less thrilling, but there’s a fingerprint sensor at the bottom of the display which works particularly well. That’s a major change for the Honor brand, as it usually includes the sensor on the back, but it’s generally easier to use when it’s below the screen, and we found it comfortable to reach with your thumb when you’re holding the phone.

Built into the body of the phone either on side of the fingerprint sensor are the back and multitasking keys, but you can also turn these off and use swipe gestures across the fingerprint sensor for those functions.

We found both options to work well, though once you’ve gotten used to the swipe gestures that’s much more fun to play around with than tapping the buttons.

This is an easy-to-hold phone; it’s not a large device, and it has curved edges on the back that allow it to sit comfortably in the palm of your hand. It’s similar to the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge on the rear, as it feels like it’s moulded to the shape of your hand.

The Honor 9 comes in at 147.3 x 70.9 x 7.45mm and only weighs 155g, which means it’s easy to slip into your pocket and not worry about feeling weighed down by your phone, as you might with a phablet.

The camera sensors on the rear of the phone sit flush with the body, so there’s no camera protrusion, which is something many people really dislike on a lot of modern smartphones.

Color choices are limited to Glacier Grey, Midnight Black or Sapphire Blue, which is the version we had for this review. We prefer the blue version, as it’s a bold color without harking back the primary colors of the Nokia Windows Phone devices, although you may want to go for something a little more restrained.

All in all, the design of the Honor 9 feels more premium than the brand’s previous flagships. It’s not a metal unibody device, though, so you won’t get that level of premium feel, but it does offer something no other device on the market does right now – a bold design that you might just love.

Display

  • 5.15-inch screen means the phone sits easily in the hand
  • Full HD panel, but better optimized than the screen on the Honor 8

Another way in which the Honor 9 differs from the flagship competition is that it features a smaller screen. When most rivals are upping the screen size to just below six inches, the Honor 9 features a 5.15-inch display with a 1080p resolution.

That’s one of the ways Honor has made this a phone that sits easily in your hand, and it’s a Full HD panel that offers a high resolution. Some will be disappointed it doesn’t have a QHD resolution, but sticking with Full HD contributes to better battery life. 

The screen is much brighter than the panel that was included on the Honor 8. It’s also much better at reproducing colors, and you’ll really notice that if you ever get the chance to compare the two phones side by side. The screen on the Honor 9 looks much warmer and much more natural than the blue hue of the older device.

If you appreciate a smaller display, and you’re not on the hunt for a super-high-resolution screen, the Honor 9 should be perfectly suitable.

Interface and reliability 

  • Running Android 7 software with Emotion UI 5.1 on top
  • Lots of customization options available throughout Honor's software

The Honor 9 is running Android 7 Nougat software, with Huawei’s own Emotion UI 5.1 running on top of it.

It’s not the most attractive-looking overlay on Android – the icons look a little dated, although you can always dive into the Themes app to try a different look – but it offers some useful features that a lot of other Android phones don’t come with, and you may find you prefer it to stock Android.

For example, Honor has included a detailed Settings list to give you a lot of options for customizing your phone. The drop-down on the home screen displays a variety of options, and you can even switch out the ones you don’t want.

There’s Eye Comfort mode, which dims the blue light emitted by your display for a more comfortable reading experience. It should help with eye strain, and having this as an easy-to-reach option makes it easy to turn on and off as needed.

Honor still has a problem with bloatware on its devices though, as there’s a variety of apps you may not want on your phone already installed here –, there’s TripAdvisor, Booking.com and eBay among others, as well as seven games.

Those games are all from Gameloft, and we didn’t find ourselves gripped with the urge to play any of them during our time using the phone. You can delete them, but it’s irritating that such things are taking up much-needed space on your phone.

Music, movies and gaming

  • Honor has kept the 3.5mm headphone jack and single speaker
  • Gaming is a smooth experience with a top-of-the-range processor

Huzzah! Honor has kept the headphone jack for its latest release, despite a lot of rumors suggesting the 3.5mm legacy tech would be dropped for the Honor 9.

That means you can listen to wired headsets by plugging in on the bottom edge of the device. You can also use Bluetooth headsets, and we found both those and wired options to sound good with the phone.

The Honor 9 doesn’t offer the best audio on an Android phone, but it does just enough, and you won’t be disappointed if you use this device for listening to music or podcasts.

Honor has included only one speaker driver on the phone, and this also sits on the bottom edge, so you may find it a little too easy to cover the speaker when you’re holding the phone to watch video or a movie.

When it comes to watching video, you may also find the phone’s screen is a little too small for your tastes. If you’ve owned a larger phone in the past you won’t like this experience and if you spend a lot of time watching movies and other video you may want to consider spending extra – in fact, a lot extra – for the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8 Plus, which pack beautiful displays.

If you’re just going to be watching the odd clip though you won’t be too disappointed with the 5.15-inch display here.

You can happily fill the phone with videos and films, as there’s either 64GB or 128GB of storage onboard, depending on which version of the phone you purchase.

There’s a dedicated Videos app that will play your clips easily too, or you can download another service such as Netflix or use the pre-installed Google Play Movies or YouTube. Audio as well is pretty good,  – although as mentioned it can be easy to cover the speaker driver.

Gaming on the Honor 9 is a great experience thanks to this being one of the most powerful phones on the market right now. Graphically, games look fantastic with smooth gameplay throughout our testing.

It’s also easy to hold this device in two hands, so you’ll be able to use it comfortably for gaming, and easily use your thumb on the screen while being able to read any instructions. We found gaming to be a reliable experience across the board

Benchmarks and performance

  • Packs Huawei's latest HiSilicon Kirin 960 chipset
  • Comes with 4GB of RAM and comes with fantastic benchmark results

Performance on the Honor 9 is at the top end of the range, with the only competition coming from the Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8 Plus and the OnePlus 5.

We didn’t find the phone stuttered or slowed down at any stage, and that’s likely thanks to the new and improved HiSilicon Kirin 960 system-on-a-chip that’s made by Huawei.

That chip was included on both the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus, but the Honor 9 is beating those phones in benchmarking tests, and that may be down to the 6GB of RAM onboard – there is a 4GB of RAM version of the phone as well, but we’ve yet to test that device.

The Honor 9 achieved an average result of 6633 in our Geekbench 4 testing, which puts it  just behind the OnePlus 5, which scored 6716, and effectively tied with the Exynos chip-powered Galaxy S8, which managed an average score of 6630.

That’s an impressive jump in performance, considering the Honor 8 only scored 5207, and shows how much the new chipset from Huawei is capable of achieving.

If you’re looking for a top-of-the-range powerhouse of a phone, the Honor may not be it, but it manages to keep pace with the very best, and won’t disappoint you when gaming or doing intensive tasks on your phone.

Battery life

  • Slightly larger battery than the Honor 8 with a 3,200mAh cell
  • Drains battery quite fast if you're using it on full brightness

The Honor 9 features a slightly larger battery than the Honor 8, with a 3,200mAh cell upgraded from the 3,000mAh cell on last year’s device.

Combined with a more power-efficient chipset we found battery life on the Honor 9 to be better than average.

It’s not revolutionary, but it will last you a full day with ease, and we generally found ourselves with around 10% left when we put the phone on charge at night.

Playing audio over Bluetooth in particular took a lot of battery compared to other phones, plus if you’re planning to use your Honor 9 on full brightness, be warned – we found that drained the battery quickly too, so you’ll be better off using the auto brightness mode.

During our battery test where we run a 90 minute video clip at full brightness the Honor 9 did surprisingly poorly dropping 17% of its battery, but that's improved upon the Honor 8 that lost 20%.

There isn’t any innovative charging technology here, but there is Honor’s fast charging, so you’ll be able to charge your phone from zero to 100% in around two hours.

Sadly Honor hasn’t opted for wireless charging on the Honor 9, and that’s something that could have easily been implemented here, given the glass back.

Camera

  • Dual-lens camera on the back that allows for interesting wide aperture shots
  • It includes a 20MP black and white sensor and 12MP color sensor

On the rear of the Honor 9 sits the dual-lens rear camera, which features a 20MP sensor working in tandem with a 12MP shooter.

The 20MP sensor is monochrome – which means it only shoots in black and white – while the 12MP sensor is RGB, so takes color images. The phone can take photos using both sensors, and combine the images.

The 20MP black and white sensor is used to capture more detail in your images, and this is a system Honor has used on the Honor 8 and various Huawei phones too.

During our time with the Honor 9 we found it could take some fantastic images. Images appeared bright and sharp. You can also shoot purely in black and white within the settings, but you won’t get the benefit of both lenses when you do that.

The dual-lens setup also allows for a variety of other modes such as wide aperture mode, which allows you to shoot an object in the foreground and make the background super blurry.

It allows you to create some very artful images, especially when you’re taking selfies and want to focus on the subject in the foreground. A big benefit of the wide aperture mode is it allows you to shoot and then edit the photos afterward, which a lot of other phones offering similar features won’t allow you to do.

Unlike the Huawei P10, however, the Honor 9 doesn’t come with optical image stabilization, which means you’re less likely to get great low-light shots, and you may struggle a little when shooting video.

It’s a bit of a pain if you like to shoot a lot of video, but then you’re saving a lot of money by buying the Honor 9 here.

For video you can shoot in anything up to 4K, but we found it to be a stuttery affair – so if you’re hoping to shoot some professional-looking video with the Honor 9 you’ll want to buy a tripod as well to stop that shaky feeling.

As well as all the extra modes you’d expect, Honor has included a fun section called 3D Creator, which allows you to make emoticon versions of your friends by shooting around their face.

You can then dress them up, make them dance and do a variety of different options, and it’s fun to play around with.

Another cool mode you can try out on the Honor 9 is 3D Panorama, which enables you to spin around and take a photo that you can then scroll around on your phone.

Camera samples

Verdict

The Honor 9 is not an innovative handset, and it won’t offer you much you haven’t seen on a smartphone before.

However, Honor has managed to create an all-around great handset that offers everything you’d like in a phone in an attractive, easy-to-use and top-of-the-range package.

But the highlight feature is still that it’s around half the price of some of the major flagship phones, and it’s hard to find a reason not to recommend the Honor 9 if you’d like a cheaper alternative to some of the big names.

Who’s this for?

If you’re looking for an attractive flagship phone but you’re not overly concerned with rocking a big-name handset, the Honor 9 will be the perfect device for you.

It’s hard to recommend this product to true Honor fans who already own an Honor 8 or 8 Pro as the innovation here is rather limited, but if you own an older Honor product, such as an Honor 7, this could be the perfect time to upgrade your phone.

Should you buy it?

The Honor 7 offers a lot of features that expensive flagships like the Huawei P10 or Samsung Galaxy S8 offer, so if you don’t want to spend that money and are happy to miss out on a few bells and whistles you should go for the Honor 9.

You may want to hold on the Honor 10 if you already own a recent Honor product, but if you want all of the features listed throughout this review in an easy-to-use package then the Honor 9 will be perfect for your next phone.

First reviewed July 2017

Competition

Here are the phones you may prefer over the Honor 9…

OnePlus 5

At the time of writing this review, the OnePlus 5 is one of our favorite phones in the world, and it’s one of the best options for an affordable flagship phone.

We cited it for a great camera, awesome design and phenomenal performance, and if you’re happy to spend a little extra over the price of the Honor 9 then it’s a great option.

There’s an 8GB of RAM version of this phone, and it also packs a dual 16MP sensor rear camera that offers similar features to the Honor 9’s setup.

Read our OnePlus 5 review

Huawei P10

There are a lot of similarities between the Huawei P10 and the Honor 9, but one of these phones is much more expensive than the other – and it’s not the Honor 9.

The metal design and optical image stabilization in the camera are the big differences between these two devices, but if you’re not looking for either of those features you can save some cash by sticking with the Honor.

Before you decide on the Honor though, be sure to check out the P10, to see if you think those extra features are worth the extra money.

Read our Huawei P10 review

Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)

The Galaxy A5 (2017) is its top mid-range handset from Samsung. We gave it four stars in our review, and it may be a better fit for you than the Honor 9. 

It costs a bit less than the Honor 9, but still packs an octa-core processor, an AMOLED display and a water-resistant design. It also has a similar design to the flagship Samsung phones too, so it’s an affordable way to get that look.

You’ll be restricted to 32GB of storage and you don’t get a a dual-lens camera, with Samsung instead opting for a conventional 16MP rear shooter, but it may still be a good option for your next phone.

Read our Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) review 

TechRadar – Technology Reviews

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