Honor 9 Review: A Better Contender to the OnePlus 5?

When we think about choosing the best hardware for a reasonable price, not many phones come to our mind. Even then if I ask you about your first choice, chances are high that OnePlus 5 would hit your temporal lobe before any other name.

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I was a vivid user of the same for almost a couple of months before unboxing the new Honor 9 that arrived at our office a few weeks ago. From the moment I laid my hands on it, it was love at first sight.

If you ask me, Honor 9 is truly a work of art and it's tough not to fall for it. Also, when you look at the comparison between the prices and the specifications, the Honor 9 can very well contend the OnePlus 5.

So, it's time to find out whether my fondness for the Honor 9 was just a case of infatuation or there was any genuine reason behind my bias. Let's figure it out in our review of the Honor 9.

Design

I have been drooling over the design of the Honor 9. I could very well relate the Honor 9 to Samsung's Galaxy S7, thanks to the same glass finish and the fingerprint sensor, which also doubles up as the home button.

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The rear glass panel, however, gets smudged easily and is way too slippery. Just a few degrees and little less friction are enough for gravity to cause damage to the new phone. But if you can somehow manage to stay alert, you will love the craftsmanship of this device from Huawei.

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What's more, the rear camera blends in beautifully with the back panel and you don't see any bulge like the OnePlus 5, which needs a case to hide its extra layer of metal.

The Honor 9 sports a 5.15-inch FHD Display. This is what I liked the most about this device as it made one-handed use a cakewalk. 

The volume rockers and power buttons are placed to the right, making it easier to reach them with one hand. Moreover, the buttons are tactile and register feedback quite well.

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Investing in a good case for this phone would be a wise decision. If you ask me, the transparent case that comes packed with the box is too simple to complement the look of the Honor 9.

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You also get a USB Type-C charging port, speaker grills, and a 3.5-mm audio port at the bottom.

What I feel that Huawei has missed out on its 2017 flagship phone is water resistance. A drop – be it on land or water – will land you straight in the service center.

Display

The Honor 9 comes with a 5.15-inch Full HD display with 428 pixels per inch (PPI). It's great to use inside the house with good viewing angles. The screen legibility is also decent, if not great.

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For me, the default color temperature settings worked. But if you want to go for a warmer or a cooler look, it can be tweaked in Settings.

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A huge drawback of the Honor 9 is that the display is not backed by any protection like the Gorilla Glass. A phone, which sets you back by $450, should at least come with a decent protective layer.

Power and Performance 

Next, let's take a peek at the hardware and see what makes the Honor 9 a good contender against the OnePlus 5.

Unlike the OnePlus 5, you wouldn't get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 in the Honor 9. But you will be treated to the home-brewed Kirin 960 and let me assure you that it's no less than its competitor.

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With the processor clocking at 2.2 GHz, the device pulled off a score of 130K on the Antutu Benchmark tool and 1.8K and 6.3K in Geekbench single and multi-core tests, respectively.

The Honor 9 could take on anything I threw at it. Be it high-end games or heavy multitasking — there were absolutely no hiccups.

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For our tests, we used the 6GB RAM variant with 128GB of onboard storage but you can also opt for the 4GB/64 GB option. If you're worried about storage, an external card will do the trick as the phone allows you to expand the memory up to 256GB.

In a nutshell, my time with the Honor 9 was fluid with almost no issues at all. Even when I compared it to the Samsung Galaxy S8 (Exynos), which I had used for almost 2 weeks, I can say that the experience on the Honor 9 was a tad better. 

Software 

If you have used any phone made by Honor, you must be knowing that they run EMUI – the custom Honor UI. 

The EMUI 5.1 sits on top of Android 7.0, which undoubtedly makes the Honor 9 a feature-rich phone. But if you are someone who loves the stock Android UI, you might miss it here. 

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The MIUI users are going to feel at home with the springboard-like launcher and additional features in almost every segment. What's more, there are some innovative features, including the knuckle gestures.

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Knock twice on the phone to take a screenshot and thrice to start screen recording. An innovative way to capture screenshots and a much-needed relief from the regular power button+volume key combo.

At the end of the day, EMUI is not as minimalistic as stock Android. But what makes it tick is that it isn't slow and sluggish. It just that you won't have to download additional apps for dual apps or even screencasting – the OS can take care it. So, bye-bye third-party apps.

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Music buffs are going to love the built-in HiSten 3D audio system. What made it great is that I could fine-tune the audio, while listening to it through any headphones or earphones, thanks to the 3.5 mm jack that's still there. 

No phone is not perfect and this one is no exception. The audio output via speaker is just like any other phone — nothing extraordinary.

In a nutshell, the EMUI 5.1 does have its own set of hits and misses. Only the Android 8 update will be able to show us what more Honor has offered with this already feature-rich interface.

Camera

Dual camera setups are the trending feature this year and the Honor 9 also packs the same. The back camera has two lenses. The primary lens packs a 12-megapixel RGB sensor with 1.25-micron pixel and an aperture level of f2.2 while the secondary lens comes with a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor.

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As you might know, the monochrome lens captures the finer details and more light with the 1.1-micron pixel.

The focus point can be moved and the blur value adjusted after the picture is captured.

The dual camera captures admirable portrait mode shots. What's interesting is that the focus point can be moved and the blur value adjusted after the picture is captured, like the Galaxy Note8. The OnePlus 5 lacks this feature. 

Besides, the color reproduction is good and images are sharp on this phone. However, at times, you might find the images a bit over-saturated, the result of a failed attempt to make the image rich in color.

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Thanks to the monochrome lens, the black-and-white photos come out great. But the low-light photos, especially the ones taken at night, are a hit and miss. The f2.2 aperture might pose the problem here.

While the monochrome lens complements the primary lens for more light, it's the software side-processing that takes a hit when you compare it to the f1.7 aperture level of the Samsung Galaxy S8

Here are some photos shot with the Honor 9 under different light conditions, along with a quick comparison with the OnePlus 5. 

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The Honor 9 can also record video in 4K but the EIS (electronic image stabilization) is restricted to 1080p videos only. However, the 4K videos are encoded in the H.265 format that saves a lot of space.

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The 8-megapixel front camera is also decent with all the beauty mode and portrait effect but it's more of a miss than a hit because the portrait mode is achieved through software processing. Also, there's no selfie flash. 

Battery

Honor 9 comes with a non-removable Li-Po 3,200-mAh battery unit. This is one domain, in which the device really struggles. The battery fails to last for an entire day even when it's fully charged.

The battery fails to last an entire day even when it's fully charged.

It required me to give it a second round of charging at around 6 PM to last the entire night. It was a typical day of usage, which included media consumption, social media browsing, and reading documents. 

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You do get a quick charge adapter with a power output rating of 9V at 2A, which charges the device rather quickly. However, it's no match for the dash charger you get with the OnePlus devices.

So yes, a little bit of extra battery juice would have made a significant difference.

Great for Its Price

To conclude, I would say that Honor 9 is a great bargain for $469.99 (approximately Rs 30,500).

You get a premium design, a dual-camera setup, a feature-rich EMUI, and not to forget the IR blaster that now feels like a luxury on devices (are you listening, Samsung?).

If you're looking for a phone for Rs 30,000, the Honor 9 is a safe bet. At the same time, if you can spare some more money, the OnePlus 5T would be your best bet.

Namrata Gogoi

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