HONOR 9

Computer Shopper - - REVIEWS -

£389 • From www.ama­zon.co.uk

VERDICT

This sleek mid-ranger is a fine al­ter­na­tive to over­priced flag­ships, even with some flaws

THE HONOR 9 joins the mid-range smart­phone mar­ket at an in­trigu­ing time. With OnePlus rais­ing its prices, Google aban­don­ing the mid­dle ground en­tirely and al­most ev­ery other man­u­fac­turer seem­ingly adding £50 to £100 to the prices of their phones, there’s a big £350-£400 gap to be filled. Honor, which is no stranger to the rea­son­ably priced smart­phone sec­tor, has help­fully stepped in over the past year or so to fill that void.

Last year’s ex­cel­lent Honor 8 laid the ground­work, but the Honor 9 takes things a stage fur­ther, of­fer­ing de­sign stan­dards pre­vi­ously un­heard of in the sub-£400 smart­phone mar­ket. With most other man­u­fac­tur­ers seem­ingly leav­ing Honor to it, you could for­give the Chi­nese man­u­fac­turer for leav­ing things un­changed. How­ever, it’s been hard at work im­prov­ing the de­sign, the in­ter­nals and, in fact, most other as­pects of the Honor 8.

HONOR AMONG PHONES

The Honor 9 costs £389, which puts it in the same price bracket as the mod­u­lar Mo­torola Moto Z2 Play (Shop­per 357). Also, in terms of com­pe­ti­tion, there’s the OnePlus 5 (Shop­per 356), which at £450 is £60 more ex­pen­sive but re­mains the bench­mark smart­phone at this sort of price. There’s also the Huawei P10 (Shop­per 354), which of­fers com­pa­ra­ble spec­i­fi­ca­tions and a sim­i­lar dual-cam­era setup to the Honor 9, but costs around £40 to £50 more, de­pend­ing on where you buy.

Luck­ily for this par­tic­u­lar hand­set, the Honor 9 is in a class of its own when it comes to the aes­thet­ics. In­deed, its flat glass front, 3D curved glass at the rear and tex­tured, coloured un­der­lay be­neath is rem­i­nis­cent of the much more ex­pen­sive Sam­sung Gal­axy fam­ily, es­pe­cially the 2016 Gal­axy S7.

It comes in blue or sil­ver, both of which look far more glitzy and glam­orous than the OnePlus 5, with its more func­tional mat­tbe­come metal fin­ish. It really does look like some­thing you’ve paid twice the price for, and the 5.15in screen size means that it slips into a pocket far more eas­ily than most of the mon­ster flag­ships around at the mo­ment. As you’d ex­pect from a mod­ern smart­phone, it’s slim (7.5mm front to back), but it feels quite heavy for its size at 155g.

As for the prac­ti­cal­i­ties, they’re as you’d ex­pect from any as­pir­ing high-qual­ity hand­set. The front, clad in silky smooth, easy-to-clean and scratch-re­sis­tant Go­rilla Glass 3, is dom­i­nated by the phone’s IPS LCD dis­play. The vol­ume and power keys sit on the right edge of the phone, a com­bined mi­croSD (up to 256GB) and nano-SIM tray is ac­cessed from the left edge, there’s an in­frared trans­ceiver on the top, as well as a 3.5mm head­phone jack and USB Type-C charger socket on the base.

HEAD­ING HOME

Take a quick look at the rear and you’ll see a slightly dif­fer­ent lay­out to last year’s Honor 8. In the top-left cor­ner is a pair of cam­eras, ac­com­pa­nied by a dual-LED flash unit and an in­frared sen­sor for ‘laser-as­sisted’ aut­o­fo­cus – no change there – but there’s no fin­ger­print reader; that’s moved to the front and sits be­tween the phone’s in­vis­i­ble ca­pac­i­tive Back and Re­cent apps but­tons.

It’s a prac­ti­cal de­sign, with the only con­spic­u­ously miss­ing fea­ture be­ing du­s­tand wa­ter-re­sis­tance. You could ar­gue about the new po­si­tion of the fin­ger­print reader, which has shifted from the back panel to in­te­grated with a Home but­ton on the front: some peo­ple will hate the move, some will love it, but there’s noth­ing in­her­ently prob­lem­atic about it, and it works per­fectly, un­lock­ing the phone in a frac­tion of a sec­ond from cold.

MIR­ROR MATCH

From the out­side, the Honor 9 is a very dif­fer­ent phone from its cousin, the Huawei P10, but look at the spec­i­fi­ca­tions in de­tail and you’d strug­gle to pick out a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­en­tia­tor.

The Honor 9 has the same HiSil­i­con Kirin 960 chipset, is avail­able with 4GB or 6GB or RAM, and runs the same soft­ware ver­sion (An­droid 7.0 with the EMUI 5.1 skin) as the P10. It even has the same 3,200mAh bat­tery, so we ex­pected bench­mark re­sults and gen­eral longevity to be about the same.

Sure enough, its Geek­bench 4 sin­gle-core and mul­ti­core re­sults of 1,862 and 6,502 are ex­tremely close to the P10’s re­spec­tive re­sults of 1,940 and 6,299. Cu­ri­ously, how­ever, the Huawei hand­set is markedly bet­ter in games, reach­ing 47fps in the GFXBench Man­hat­tan off­screen test, while the Honor 9 could only man­age 29fps.

It’s also worth not­ing that the OnePlus 5 per­forms bet­ter than both, scor­ing 1,944 in the Geek­bench sin­gle-core test, 6,698 in the mul­ti­core test and 59fps in the Man­hat­tan off­screen test. The Honor 9 also doesn’t feel quite as slick as the OnePlus 5 in every­day use – in par­tic­u­lar, there’s a small de­lay be­tween tap­ping keys on the on­screen key­board and the phone’s vi­bra­tion mo­tor re­spond­ing, and there is the odd slow­down here and there across the Honor 9’s UI.

The phone’s 3,200mAh bat­tery is fine, but not at the top of the scale. Af­ter a week of use, the GSAM bat­tery mon­i­tor was re­port­ing an av­er­age of around 20 hours be­tween charges. That’s about OnePlus 3 ter­ri­tory – nowhere near the 26 hours-plus of the lat­est OnePlus 5, but it will get you through a day of mod­er­ate use. In our video run­down test, it lagged even fur­ther be­hind, last­ing 11h 36m, com­pared with 20h 40m from the OnePlus 5 and 13h 12m from the Huawei P10.

GLARE TAC­TICS

Dis­play qual­ity isn’t great, either. It uses a 1,920x1,080 res­o­lu­tion IPS panel, and in its de­fence, con­trast is up to scratch – im­ages have plenty of pop, while max­i­mum bright­ness hits a re­spectable 484cd/m2. How­ever, colour bal­ance and ac­cu­racy are a bit of an is­sue, with red, green and cyan tones look­ing over­sat­u­rated, and there’s a ten­dency to bleach out the light­est grey tones as well.

That’s per­haps not the big­gest prob­lem, though. What could prove to be more ir­ri­tat­ing is that the screen’s po­lar­is­ing layer, which oth­er­wise does a good job of re­duc­ing glare in sunny con­di­tions, is ar­ranged ver­ti­cally. This means if you’re wear­ing po­lar­is­ing sun­glasses, the screen blacks out com­pletely.

The Honor 9’s dual-cam­era setup on the back is, like the in­ter­nal com­po­nents, es­sen­tially the same as the Huawei P10, ex­cept with­out the Le­ica brand­ing. This means you get a 20-megapixel monochrome sen­sor plus a 12-megapixel RGB sen­sor, and these work in tan­dem to pro­duce crisp shots that also look good in low light. The idea is that the 20-megapixel sen­sor cap­tures the de­tail while the 12-megapixel sen­sor adds colour in­for­ma­tion.

What you don’t get are top-level spec­i­fi­ca­tions. The aper­ture is a fairly dim f/2.2, and there’s no op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion, so colour pho­to­graphs cap­tured in low light aren’t quite as clean or de­tailed as they are on the OnePlus 5. The same goes for out­door shots, which even in 20-megapixel mode, aren’t as packed with de­tail as they are on the OnePlus 5, nor as colour rich.

The phone is ca­pa­ble of shoot­ing up to 4K res­o­lu­tions, but sta­bil­i­sa­tion isn’t par­tic­u­larly smooth and cer­tainly not as good as it is on the Google Pixel XL.

NINE THE WISER

When the OnePlus 5 ap­peared, it was hands down the best mid-range smart­phone ever made. It still is, just, but it now has some pretty strong com­pe­ti­tion, es­pe­cially with the Honor 9.

It’s a very close run thing. The Honor 9 looks bet­ter than the OnePlus 5, has ex­pand­able stor­age and is con­sid­er­ably cheaper. The OnePlus 5, on the other hand, is faster, has far bet­ter bat­tery life and a su­pe­rior cam­era.

For most folk look­ing to pick up a smart­phone around the £400 mark, we’d still rec­om­mend stretch­ing to the OnePlus 5 for those rea­sons, or al­ter­na­tively go with the Moto Z2 Play for its su­pe­rior bat­tery life. How­ever, if you pick the Honor 9 for its slick looks and low price, it’s not a de­ci­sion that will weigh heav­ily on your mind.

Jonathan Bray

The Honor 9 is in a class of its own when it comes to aes­thet­ics. Its flat glass front, 3D curved glass at the rear and tex­tured un­der­lay is rem­i­nis­cent of the much more ex­pen­sive Sam­sung Gal­axy fam­ily

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