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Honor 9X Review – One (Strictly) For The Fans

I have mixed feelings about the Honor 9X right from the beginning. On one hand, it looks like a fairly decent midrange phone that incorporates some of the popular smartphone trends of 2018/2019. On the other however, I think it might have come at an unfortunate time.

The Honor 9X is, of course, the natural follow-up to last year’s Honor 8X. With 10 million units shipped globally and being one of Honor’s most popular smartphone, the latter certainly leaves a big shoe for the former to fill. Going by specs-by-specs alone, the Honor 9X is a marked upgrade from its predecessor in a number of ways – it completely kills the notch or any hole-punch cutout by going the selfie pop-up way, it adds a third camera and improves on the main shooter, it has got a slightly bigger battery, and…that’s pretty much all about it. 

The bigger issue here is that the Honor 9X arrives at a time where smartphones with similarly affordable price tags are pushing four cameras at the back and packing even more megapixels than ever. The pop-up selfie method is also nothing new and is now a pretty common sight. But I digress. We’ll get back to this later on. First let’s focus on the phone on hand.

It goes without saying that the Honor 9X comes to our shore in the midst of the active US ban on Huawei. The good news here is that this phone isn’t affected, which means it has all the Google apps and services to function normally like any Android phones. Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps as well as the Play Store are all here and safe. Of course, it all runs under EMUI, which remains a bloated and heavy skin with a large number of non-stock apps.

Design-wise, the Honor 9X sports an all-new X pattern on the back, which reminds a lot of the Honor View20’s unique V pattern. I like what Honor is doing here as it gives these phones a distinct identity in the sea of cookie-cutter smartphones. It looks pretty striking – on paper at least. Unfortunately the Midnight Black color option on the review unit we have here doesn’t feature the X pattern at all, so if you want the cool factor, get the Sapphire Blue one.

The front display – now devoid of black bars or holes – looks much cleaner as a result. It is a 6.59-inch display and the device feels huge and tall on the hand, but not to the point of being too unwieldy. The 1080p display looks okay but it isn’t too bright, which might be a problem if you are always out and about under the sun.

The Honor 9X’s body and frame is mostly made out of plastic and while it maintains a solid build, don’t expect it to feel as premium as smartphones built out of metal and glass. In terms of physical hardware, the device is pretty old-school but in a positive way – it has a rear fingerprint sensor and a headphone jack. It cannot boast of having the latest in under-display fingerprint scanner tech but in spite of that, its physical fingerprint scanner is a very good one and unlocks the phone fast. While the Honor 8X holds on to the legacy microUSB, the Honor 9X finally makes the switch to USB-C, which is always a good thing.

Those looking for a performance jump will be disappointed as the Honor 9X doesn’t offer too much of an upgrade in the chipset department over its predecessor. Its Kirin 710F chipset will offer a generally decent performance which is fit for a midrange smartphone. For everyday usage that includes Internet browsing and social media use, it will be more than enough. If you intend to use it for some heavy gaming though, take note that it will not be able to deliver maximum performance as you would have liked. On games like PUBG Mobile and Call Of Duty Mobile, the phone defaults to medium and low graphics respectively. Its 4,000mAh battery sure does provide plenty of juice to last through the day, but it is a pity that it only charges at 10W with no fast-charging tech available.

The Honor 9X’s triple camera array consists of a 48MP main shooter, a 8MP ultra-wide lens and a 2MP depth sensor. Nothing too crazy here but also nothing to really shout about. It produces good-looking images with a lot of light but looks a bit muted in some cases and lacks the color punchiness that grabs attentions. The quality inevitably drops in low-light settings but the Night mode helps to make things look better to a certain degree. You’ll also be able to take bokeh images as well as portrait shots of faces. A Pro mode exists for those who want more manual controls over things like autofocus, exposure level and auto white balance. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and you’ll be the final judges.

A 16MP front camera lives on a motorised unit that juts out from the top of the device whenever you go into selfie mode. In a live demonstration, I have witnessed just how strong and durable the pop-up is as it was saddled with a 15kg dumbbell (and lived to tell the tale) so there shouldn’t be any concerns regarding its durability. The pop-up will also quickly retracts itself automatically when the phone senses a fall.

The Honor 9X certainly makes a good case for an upgrade for those rocking the Honor 8X with plenty of improvements to be pleased about. To recap, it has got a better, distraction-free display, better camera package, a bigger battery and USB-C. And with everything Google still intact, you can go out and get it without any worries.

However, the biggest setback for the Honor 9X shows itself when we look at the sea of other offerings from different smartphone manufacturers. Nothing about it really stands out from the crowd. It doesn’t help that its RM999 price tag puts it right in the middle of a very competitive midrange market. You can shell out RM100 more and practically get a quad-camera phone with 64MP camera and a bigger battery that also supports fast charging. Honor Malaysia has also just recently cut the price of the flagship, Kirin 980-powered Honor 20 to RM1,399 which makes it a more attractive buy now. Against this backdrop, it becomes harder to recommend the Honor 9X to people looking for the best bang for their ringgit.

All in all, an unfavorable price tag and the lack of any standout features among its peers hamper what is otherwise a solid midrange offering from Honor.

The Honor 9X hit store shelves in Malaysia beginning November 28.

 

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