£389 • From www.amazon.co.uk
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.
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.
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.
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.
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