Review: Honor 9X smartphone claims design X-Factor

posted on Tuesday, 12th November 2019 by Steve May

Technology  Industrial design  Smartphone 


The‌ ‌Honor‌ ‌9X‌ ‌is‌ ‌a well-specified, ‌upper-budget ‌smartphone‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌fast-moving‌ ‌Chinese‌ ‌handset‌ ‌maker.‌ ‌Combining ‌a‌ step-up ‌camera‌ ‌with‌ ‌the kind of snazzy ‌design‌ ‌we’ve‌ ‌come‌ ‌to‌ ‌expect‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌brand,‌ it would doubtless attract attention, even without the Huawei backstory.

Honor,‌ ‌in‌ ‌case‌ ‌you‌ ‌hadn’t‌ ‌realised‌, ‌is‌ ‌part‌ ‌of‌ the same ‌technology‌ ‌family,‌ ‌‌singled‌ ‌out‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌Trump‌ ‌administration‌ ‌for‌ ‌punitive‌ ‌treatment. The company was placed on the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List via executive order, ‌ostensibly‌ ‌on‌ ‌security‌ ‌issues‌ ‌related‌ ‌to‌ ‌its‌ ‌5G‌ ‌infrastructure business.
The‌ ‌result‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌precarious‌ situation‌ ‌for‌ ‌both‌ ‌brands ‌when‌ ‌it‌ ‌comes‌ ‌to‌ ‌access‌ing ‌the‌ ‌Android‌ ‌smart‌ ‌platform,‌ ‌and‌ ‌Google‌ ‌Play‌ ‌store.‌ ‌
Honor‌ ‌(and‌ ‌Huawei)‌ ‌are‌ ‌handling‌ ‌this‌ ‌awkward ‌situation‌ ‌the‌ best ‌way‌ ‌they‌ ‌can,‌ ‌by‌ ‌keeping‌ ‌calm‌ ‌and‌ ‌carrying‌ ‌on.‌
Dynamic X Chassis

Pop Up Camera

Honor wants to position its smartphones at the centre of a sophisticated connected network. It’s Hilink ecosystem includes headphones, intelligent car interfaces, smart TVs and smart watches, and straddles home entertainment, well being, outdoor recreation and smart home sectors. It’s opened up its SDK to other manufacturers to encourage integration.

The strategy appears to be working. Honor has reported a 44 per cent growth in international sales, year-on-year, and it’s sold 15 million 8X models. That smartphone was also an iF design winner, making this technology upstart a force to be reckoned with when it comes to industrial design.

The company touts itself as youth-centric (“we’re targeting 18-35 year olds” it told Inside ID)  and that goes some way to informing its design language. It proclaims its design ethos is inspired by light, colour and pattern, which manifests here with a reflective geometric diamond cut chassis.

"The company touts itself as youth-centric and that goes some way to informing its design language"

The 9X is available in stealth black or Sapphire Blue. Our review sample was the latter, and it does look rather fetching. The Dynamic X Design on the curved back plastic panel catches the light nicely, occasionally glinting with a dramatic ‘X’ etching (Simon Cowell would doubtless be chuffed).

The phone is just 8.8mm thin, but actually feels quite substantial in the hand. Fingerprint sensors tend to move around between models, depending on fashion; here it’s on the back panel.

As part of the design process, Honor goes to considerable lengths to ensure reliability. This includes a regime involving 200,000 power button presses, 800,000 touch screen durability tests, and 50,000 volume adjustments.

The screen is stressed with a 25kg load 2000 times, and tested to withstand a maximum load of 70kg - which should mean it’ll survive the occasional accidental back pocket recline.


Camera 2

The notchless display is striking, but in line with the price point. A large 6.59-inches, it’s an FHD+ 2340 x 1080 resolution LCD that appears bright and colour rich. Honor actually admits it tunes saturation and colour balance to suit its younger buying demographic, which explains the candy colour fidelity. If it all gets too much, there’s also a blue-light Eye Comfort mode.

Thanks to the camera implementation, the screen to body ratio is high, at 91 per cent. The Enhanced Dynamic Range display is powered by Honor’s proprietary HiAce algorithm.

"Honor actually admits it tunes saturation and colour balance to suit its younger buying demographic, which explains the candy colour fidelity"

The triple lens camera assembly comprises a 2MP Depth Assist f/2.8 camera, for bokeh effects; a 48MP main camera with a wide f/1.8 aperture and AIS Super Night shooting mode, and an 8MP super wide angle f/2.4 camera.

Low light performance was a much criticized limitation on the 8X and Honor has done a good job improving matters here.

The main camera uses a ½-inch sensor, which is actually the same as that found in the brand’s View 20 and Honor 20 Pro premium models.  

The super wide offers an impressive 120 degree field of view (great for landscapes and architectural photography), with auto HDR exposure. It’s probably the most satisfying element of this smartphone’s photographic arsenal.

Back Panel

Curved Chass

There are no notches in the full view display, because the 16MP selfie camera pops up when required. You might think a mechanical pop-up mechanism would be vulnerable to mishaps, but Honor has implemented Intelligent Fall protection, which retracts the camera when detected, as well as Downward Pressure detection, which mitigates against external pressure when pushed. There’s also everyday dust and splash protection.

Is a pop-up camera a good design choice? Probably not. There’s something inelegant about the execution.

The 9X runs Android 9 (aka Pie), with EMUI 9.1, and there’s the promise of Android 10 to come. So any fears that it might suffer Google withdrawl appear unfounded.

As you might expect, this smartphone isn’t 5G enabled (Honor has only just shown its first 5G model in China, the Honor V30, ), however it does sport an AI signal enhancer which it claims improves 4G signal reception by up to 50 per cent in real time. We had no problems out and about.

Beneath the hood there’s 4GB of LDPPR4X RAM and 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage. For better casual gaming, it utilises a Kirin 710f GPU Turbo 3.0 chipset.

"Hats off to Honor for simplifying Bluetooth headphone pairing by instigating a simple USB physical connection."

The on-board 4000 mAh battery proves good enough for a day’s average use. Old school headphone users will be pleased to see a 3.5mm headphone jack, although given that the headphone market has shifted wholesale to wireless, this isn’t quite the draw it might once have been.

Hats off though to Honor for simplifying Bluetooth headphone pairing, by instigating a simple USB physical connection hookup for the initial partnering.

We say
The 9X is a welcome upgrade on the popular 8X, making this a credible alternative to other upper budget and mid-range offerings from the likes of Oppo and Motorola. To a certain extent, the brand is being forced to tread water in order to keep Google OS on life support, but it continues to score with its snazzy approach to design.

The HONOR 9X is available now, sim-free for £250. The 9X is available at Carphone Warehouse from £15/month with an upfront cost of £10.

Steve May

Inside ID Editor Steve May is a freelance lifestyle and technology journalist, who also writes for Ideal Home, the i, T3, Home Cinema CHoice, TechRadar and Trusted Reviews.

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