The budget Honor 9 Lite was first announced in December for the Chinese market before making its way over to India last month. This week, Honor announced that the device is now available in several Western European markets. With a €229 price point, HiSilicon Kirin 659 SoC, 5.65″ 18:9 FullView display, and Android Oreo, some of you may be wondering if this smartphone is worth the purchase. To evaluate that claim, I’m going to be doing a full review of this device in the coming weeks, but I wanted to give my initial hands-on impression before I really dive into the nitty-gritty details.
Disclaimer: Honor sent XDA this device for review purposes. The opinions in this article are our own.
The model I was sent was the Midnight Black color. It sports some impressive specifications for a device retailing at €229, with initial impressions showing the device can punch above its own weight. It, of course, has its shortcomings, but that’s to be expected given it is not a flagship level device. Combining mid-range specifications with some key high-end components can provide an excellent experience, rivaling that of phones well above its own price.
I would consider myself a typical phone user, with a lot of Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and media consumption and I have long stood by the fact that I use my phone in place of a laptop. As a result, when I switched over to using a more mid-range device as my daily driver, (instead of my OnePlus 3, where my 6 GBs of RAM is put to good use) I wasn’t sure what to expect. Generally speaking, I considered my heavy usage to require a heavy duty phone, but to my surprise, the Honor 9 Lite seemingly handled it just fine.
For those who need a refresher of the Honor 9 Lite’s specs, it houses a HiSilicon Kirin 659 SoC clocked at 2.39GHz on the 4 big cores and 1.7GHz on the 4 small cores, paired with 3GBs of RAM and 32GBs of storage with microSD card support. The display is an 18:9 2160×1080 5.65″ LCD, meaning the phone itself isn’t as wide as most other mid-range offerings from other manufacturers. This particular aspect ratio is also interesting to see here, given that 18:9 is rarely ever present on devices below flagship offerings from the likes of OnePlus and Samsung.
The battery is 3,000 mAh and charged up via micro USB. There is no quick charging here, and it’s disappointing to see a lack of USB-C. On the bright side, we also have a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and even more surprisingly quad cameras are present. The back camera consists of dual 13MP+2MP cameras for depth perception, and even more surprising is that the front cameras are made up of the same configuration. There is also a rear mounted fingerprint sensor, which has a number of uses in the system to do things like taking photos.
It launched with Android Oreo, meaning that Project Treble support is here. The Honor 9 Lite has sold very well in the Chinese and Indian markets for a list of reasons, and its killer specifications with its low price are included in that list.
Build Quality of the Honor 9 Lite
Right off the bat, the build quality of the device is what impressed me the most. It doesn’t feel like it’s a mid-range device. The glass front and back are beautiful (but slippery), and the front of the device is nearly entirely screen. An interesting touch is that the sides of the device are made up of plastic, so it’s not an entirely glass unibody. The power button and volume rockers are sturdy, and the microUSB connector feels a lot tougher than most I’ve ever used.
The device feels premium, and it certainly doesn’t look cheap either. From the look of the device to the feel, right down to the haptic feedback, you get everything you paid for and more. On the haptic feedback note, it is very reminiscent of the time I got to spend with an iPhone, and that’s a very, very good thing. Apple is the top dog when it comes to haptic feedback and vibration motors, and Honor has absolutely nailed it with this phone.
Performance of the Honor 9 Lite
While an in-depth review of the device will come later, complete with benchmarks and a more in-depth look at the performance of the phone, initial impressions are that it’s good, but not perfect. I had a number of frustrations. The device runs with some stutter occasionally, but nothing unexpected from a mid-range device. When installing or updating applications, I was faced with some lag that seemed over-the-top for the actual processing that was taking place on the device. It usually subsided a few seconds after, but device freeze-ups did happen and even a SystemUI crash happened at one point.
It’s something to keep in mind and something that likely won’t be a deal-breaker for many users. Other than that, I was thoroughly impressed by the device performance at such a low price point. The fingerprint scanner is quick, applications launch fast and the user interface is fluid. It’s important to note as well that a number of games come pre-installed, including Asphalt, Spider-Man, Dragon Mania, Puzzle Pets, and Assassin’s Creed.
I’ve been testing a number of games and apps since receiving the device, and I’m thoroughly impressed with its performance.
What I liked the most about gaming on the Honor 9 Lite was its capability in games like Minecraft, which can be both CPU and GPU intensive. For those unfamiliar, when you create a new Minecraft world it has to generate a whole new terrain for the player, so when creating a new world it generates terrain with the CPU and also has to draw models on the screen using the GPU. I was impressed at how little the device slowed down, and maxing out the graphics options in Minecraft was still very playable despite how taxing it is on a device. Other features that are taxing on some devices like Picture in Picture mode worked fine with YouTube, along with Facebook and Instagram giving me a surprisingly smooth experience given I wasn’t sure what to expect from a mid-range phone.
There is one disappointing aspect with the device, at least in my initial impressions, which may come as a surprise to some and may even be a dealbreaker for others.
Camera, Audio, and Video performance on the Honor 9 Lite
I’m not too sure how much of this is down to software and how much of it is down to hardware, but the camera experience on the Honor 9 Lite hasn’t been too great in my initial experience. There are a number of problems with the camera ranging from performance to picture quality. While I was impressed by the overall performance of the device, the camera left me wanting more. It was pretty laggy at times, and launching took up to 6 seconds for me on occasion.
I don’t know how much of this is caused by the software, but I’ll be trying to see if I can find a cause. I’ve included some camera samples below if you would like to get an idea, but there will be more again (including testing of portrait mode and bokeh) in the full review. What I also found interesting is that anything using the Camera2 API does not seem to suffer from lag issues. Snapchat suffers the same problems as the stock camera application whenever the camera is on, while Open Camera with Camera2 API is much more usable than the stock camera. I will be testing if this is actually because of the Camera2 API, or if there’s something else going on.
Photos are grainy and lacking in colour even in well-lit areas, but that may change in other scenarios when I can test it fully.
I will be comparing the Honor 9 Lite’s camera with the OnePlus 3 in my full review, where both cameras are in the exact same landscape taking photos at the same time to fully showcase the differences. Overall the camera is my biggest disappointment with the phone, but hopefully, a lot of its woes can be fixed with software. If Honor was not touting the camera as a main feature of the device, then we could give them a pass on it given that this is a mid-range device, which usually has a fair few compromises. I will say though, the front cameras have the exact same setup and while I don’t think I would deem them adequate as main shooters, I can say that for a selfie camera they do a good job.
As for video and audio, I haven’t got a proper chance to test either yet. Initial impressions of video performance tell a similar story as the camera, however, audio tells a different story entirely. While the bottom firing speaker isn’t great, the audio quality from the 3.5mm headphone jack is pretty decent. It gets about as loud as my OnePlus 3 (which had a fairly booming audio output for the price) and the quality is crisp too. Even more surprising is that the microphone is actually great, which is not something I expected from this device. I will be covering it properly in the full review of the device, along with a video or two of the phone’s camera and audio being tested in a concert setting.
The camera as a whole seems to be hampered by some software hiccups, as previously I had found it was taking 30 seconds at times to launch the camera and take a photo, with the likes of Snapchat being entirely unusable too. After a factory reset, the bulk of the problems I had faced with the camera had disappeared even after reinstalling all of my applications again. I’ll be paying close attention to see if the issues pop back up again.
Battery Life and Charging Speed of the Honor 9 Lite
This almost impressed me more than the performance of the device, which is saying a lot. While yes, it houses a 3,000 mAh battery, the device also benefits hugely from the included power efficient Kirin 659 SoC. With some heavy usage, I’ve achieved a very high screen on time and standby which do not even come close to any other phone I’ve owned, take a look below.
From the same usage on the OnePlus 3, I am often faced with around 3 hours to 3 and a half hours of screen on time due to my heavy usage. I often browse the internet and use Snapchat, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram which would all be considered heavy phone usage, yet the Honor 9 Lite lasted for an impressively long time. Also having two SIM cards tends to drain the battery, as both are constantly searching for a network.
I’ll have had a lot more time with the device and how it fares with my day to day usage by the time my full review is out, so we’ll see if this changes at all. It’s important to note that battery life is also not objective, and while I haven’t had a lot of time with the phone just yet, these battery statistics are indicative of an overall good battery life.
In the charging department, however, you’ll be waiting about two and a half hours to reach all the way up to 100% from a drained battery, due to the lack of fast charging. I’m using the included charger here, which is rated at 2A. It’s disappointing, but the long battery life nearly makes up for it especially when charging from the lower percentages is somewhat quick.
EMUI on the Honor 9 Lite
The Honor 9 Lite also launches with the EMUI (Emotion UI) custom Android skin. It’s a pretty heavy skin in terms of modifications, but I actually like it. None of the additional features feels forced (sans the “optimizers”) and I quite liked the range of customization options. EMUI comes equipped with a theme engine that I didn’t know existed, and I quite like it despite how simple it is. It can’t make a huge amount of system-wide changes, so it’s not as if it’s an absolute game changer—it’s just nice to have. It mainly focuses on the lock-screen and device wallpaper.
But that’s not all from EMUI either. One feature which I absolutely love are the included fingerprint gestures. I would have loved to be able to configure them myself, but the included swipe down and swipe up for the notification bar are brilliant. The ability to add our own gestures would have been brilliant, especially as most conventional fingerprint gestures apps (that use accessibility services) don’t work. Still, it’s a nice addition to have and I can only commend Honor for adding it.
Other features Honor include as part of EMUI are “Twin Apps”, Ultra Power saving mode, and app lock. Twin apps let you have two versions of the same app on the phone to log into two separate accounts, ultra power saving mode reduces you to only using 6 apps with a heavy CPU underclock and reduced feature set, and app lock lets you lock applications behind a fingerprint lock.
Of course, EMUI 8.0 includes all of the expected Android Oreo features such as picture-in-picture mode, notification channels, Autofill apps, and more, so you’ll have access to all of the latest Android goodies while also having the features that EMUI adds on top.
I’m a big fan of this device, and I’m looking forward to conducting my full review over the next few weeks. It looks promising, and despite some missteps along the way, the Honor 9 Lite looks to be on its way to carving its name into the list of best mid-range Android phones released to date. Stay tuned for our full review, where we’ll be testing a lot more things, and a lot more in-depth too.
Rojenx is a leading concept artist who work appears in games and publications
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