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Honor 9X tested: a Huawei P Smart Z in sheep's clothing

Honor 9X tested: a Huawei P Smart Z in sheep's clothing

Honor has launched the 9X, a relatively inexpensive smartphone that doesn't promise a performance miracle but comes with Google services. This should not have to be mentioned in itself, but due to the sanctions against its parent company Huawei, it is a considerable win for Honor. How did Huawei do it and what how does the smartphone perform? Here's our full review.

Rating

Good

  • Good LCD display
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Uninterruptible display

Bad

  • Very large
  • Camera only tidy
  • No quick charging

A middle class price tag

The Honor 9X is now available in the colors "Sapphire Blue" and "Midnight Black". The price of the smartphone is €299.90. So it is much cheaper than the current flagships but more expensive than some competing smartphones from the Chinese competition, like Xiaomi. For this price, there is 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. The storage can be expanded via microSD card.

 

It's a big smartphone

We had both the blue and the black versions of the Honor 9X in the editorial office. It is clear that the light reflections on the back of the blue version are more eye-catching and very chic. In black, the smartphone has a classic character. In general, there is nothing wrong with the build-quality with glass on the front and back, and yet it also does not make an extremely high-quality impression. Just normal for a mid-range device. The disadvantage on the back is that it magically attracts fingerprints and is almost constantly covered with them.

AndroidPIT Honor 9X Fingerprint Sensor
The fingerprint sensor at Honor 9X is well placed / © AndroidPIT

However, the screen is conspicuous. It's a whole 6.59 inches in size and completely without a notch or hole punched out of the display. There is a pop-up camera for this, which can be extended from the top left for selfies if necessary. The bezels around the display are also narrow. I like that.

The camera is located on the back and a fingerprint sensor is in the middle. It is well placed and can be easily reached even with smaller hands. The power button is located on the right-hand side and the volume rocker is located above it. Personally, I prefer to have the volume control and the power button on opposite sides, but of course that's a matter of taste.

AndroidPIT Honor 9X Outdoor
The Honor 9X is a pretty big smartphone / © AndroidPIT

The loudspeaker is located on the underside, but there is also a headphone jack, which should please many users. There is a USB-C port in between. This is a welcome innovation compared to its predecessor. Honor had installed a micro-USB connection here before. Upstairs you will find the SIM tray. Either two SIM cards fit in or one SIM card together with a micro SD card. The maximum size for expanded storage is 512 GB.

Only an LCD display, but a good one

The display is 6.59 inches and as mentioned without any interruption. The resolution is 2,340 x 1,080 pixels and the aspect ratio is 19.5:9. That gives 391 pixels per inch (ppi). In this price range, Honor uses an LCD display. Even if it is "only" an LCD, it looks really good. It has strong colors, good viewing angles and also convinces with its brightness.

AndroidPIT Honor 9X Handheld
The Honor 9X offers only one LCD display, but it looks good / © AndroidPIT

What one thinks of this screen size is, of course, individual. The screen's clearly too big for me. Not because I like to stare at small displays, but because such a large screen is also associated with a certain operational awkwardness.

But anyone who plans to consume a lot of multimedia content on this display will be happy with it. Because it's a good size for watching movies on the go. Especially because nothing interrupts the picture here. In itself, the smartphone would therefore also be ideally suited for gamers too. Here only the performance gets in the way, but more on that later.

A new Honor smartphone with Google apps

The Honor 9X comes with Google services. That's usually not worth an extra mention. But in this case, it's a real peculiarity due to the US sanctions on Honor's parent company, Huawei, which can no longer use licensed Android. So the Google-certified Android, on which all Google services are available, is a win for Honor. First and foremost, of course, the Google Play Store is there to download apps. Huawei has long had an alternative App Store ready, but it is not as well-stocked as the Play Store.

Why dis this possible with 9X, and not possible with the Huawei Mate 30 Pro? Huawei fans might already have noticed when looking at the spec sheet that the Honor 9X is reminiscent of a certain Huawei smartphone. This is a slightly modified version of the Huawei P Smart Z.

AndroidPIT Honor 9X Selfie Camera
The front camera extends on-demand with the Honor 9X / © AndroidPIT

In fact, the two smartphones are almost identical not only in terms of equipment. Here even the same model number (STK-LX1) is used. Since the Huawei P Smart Z has of course already been certified by Google, this also applies to this device - and the Google services have also landed on this smartphone. A clever trick.

The other special feature of the Honor 9X is the pop-up camera. We have already seen them on some smartphones and I remain skeptical. Of course, Huawei and Honor assure that the mechanism has been extensively tested. Also, I haven't seen a broken pop-up camera on any of my colleagues' phones yet. But having mechanical parts on a device that you carry in your trouser or jacket pocket all the time and that can slip out of your hand, makes you feel uncomfortable.

AndroidPIT honor 9x pattern
The X on the back of the blue Honor 9X / © AndroidPIT

It is clear that thanks to the pop-up camera a lot of screen is available. Since I'm not a selfie fan, it's a good option. The camera is there, but if you don't use it, you basically have a smartphone without a front camera and I like that. However, if you want the large, uninterruptible screen and constantly take selfies, you should be warned: the pop-up camera takes a little time to move out. Of course, this is bearable, but annoying when using the front camera all the time. Presumably also for this reason, Honor has refrained from facial recognition unlocking here. No one would want to unlock a smartphone at this speed.

Android 9 and EMUI 9

The Honor 9X runs Android 9 with Huawei's interface EMUI 9. You don't have to like it, but it is easy to use. Honor installs a little superfluous software here, such as another browser. On the other hand, it is nice to see that apps like Facebook or Booking.com were not preinstalled on our test device.

Generally, there are no surprises with the software. Those who know EMUI will quickly find their way around. EMUI 10 based on Android 10 should also appear on the 9X. However, it remains to be seen when the final version will be available.

honor 9x emui
The Honor 9X comes with all Google services - thanks to the identical model number with the Huawei P Smart Z / © Scrennshot: AndroidPIT

Inside a P Smart Z

The smartphone is powered by the HiSilicon Kirin 710F with eight cores, a slightly modified version of the Kirin 710, which is used in many Huawei and Honor models, such as the P30 Lite. But also - as you have already guessed - in the Huawei P Smart Z.

In fact, the Honor 9X does not surprise here. Everything ran smoothly in everyday life, the benchmark results are similar to those of other mid-range smartphones. Sure, this is not a smartphone for gamers who want to play very demanding games. At least not if they want to use the full resolution. However, most games run smoothly with optimized settings. A few pre-installed apps crashed on me a few times and I couldn't figure out why.

Honor 9X benchmarks comparison

  Honor 9X Huawei P Smart Z Realme X2
3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme ES 3.1 890 824 2356
3D Mark Sling Shot Volcano 932

1361

2221
3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.0 1150 840 3358
3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited ES 2.0 16463 16361 36312
Geekbench 5 (Single / Multi) 322 / 1348 - 540 / 1716
PassMark Memory 11875 11725 25511
PassMark Disk 58355 53257 61347

Standard audio experience

The sound of the Honor 9X is good when making phone calls. The sound when watching videos or similar is nothing special. There are definitely smartphones with clearer and louder sound. On the other hand, I recommend watching movies on your smartphone with headphones anyway, or listening to music like that. And there's good news, because the Honor 9X has a headphone jack. So if you don't like Bluetooth headphones, you can plug them in with a classic cable.

AndroidPIT Honor 9X Ports
Headphone jack, USB-C, and speaker at Honor 9X / © AndroidPIT

More cameras than the P Smart Z

One of the differences to the Huawei P Smart Z is the modified camera. On the back there are three cameras. You will find the following:

  • 48-megapixel main sensor, f/1.8, with AI support
  • 8-megapixels super wide-angle, 120-degree field of view, f/2.4
  • 2-megapixel, depth information, f/2.4
AndroidPIT Honor 9X Camera
Compared to the Huawei P Smart Z, the camera has changed a bit / © AndroidPIT

The front camera has 16 megapixels (f/2.2). As usual with Honor and Huawei, there is support in the camera app for artificial intelligence. This mode can be switched on and off with a simple tap on the AI logo at the top.

Similar to the Honor View 20, the main sensor also combines several pixels into one. The standard resolution of your photos is therefore 12 megapixels. However, you can manually switch to 48 megapixels. The night mode is also known from Honor View 20. It works by taking different shots and combining them. That means you need a steady hand! Then it works fine. If you zoom into the images taken in this way, however, details are often muddy.

AndroidPIT honor 9x pop up cam
The selfie camera of the Honor 9X / © AndroidPIT

Overall, the Honor 9X delivers decent photos, but is of course behind devices like the Huawei P30 Pro. Especially in good lighting conditions, the photos are quite good. It's a pity, however, that there is sometimes a clear difference between the main camera and the wide-angle camera. The former offers quite natural colors, but when using the wide-angle the colors change and quickly look too saturated.

honor 9x test picture
The Honor 9X has a wide-angle camera / © AndroidPIT

The AI functions are sufficiently known from other Huawei and Honor models. Above all, this involves scene recognition and corresponding image optimization. In autumn Berlin, our test model therefore mainly chose the scene "Autumn leaves" and "Overcast sky". Will "snow" be added soon?

A large battery

The battery in the Honor 9X is 4,000 mAh. We also know this from the Huawei P Smart Z. What we also know is that the smartphone comes with a 10-watt charger. This is a bit disappointing with such a battery, because a more powerful fast charging technology would have looked good on this rather large battery. So expect to have to hang your smartphone on the cable for a good two hours for a full charge. At least this now works via USB-C.

The battery is large enough to easily carry the Honor 9X for over a day. On the other hand, it doesn't seem as if the software is as aggressively optimized here as with some other models. So you shouldn't expect any miraculous performance from Honor 9X, after one and a half days moderate use it will die.

Honor 9X technical specifications

Dimensions: 163.5 x 77.3 x 8.8 mm
Weight: 196 g
Battery size: 4000 mAh
Screen size: 6.59 in
Display technology: LCD
Screen: 2340 x 1080 pixels (391 ppi)
Front camera: 16 megapixels
Rear camera: 48 megapixels
Android version: 9 - Pie
RAM: 6 GB
4 GB
Internal storage: 128 GB
64 GB
Removable storage: microSD
Chipset: HiSilicon Kirin 710

Good, but with really strong competition

The Honor 9X is a good mid-range smartphone, but there are few surprises. This applies to many current smartphones, but here you have to bear in mind: you are actually holding a Huawei P Smart Z with a polished camera in your hand!

Is a big screen important to you and can you be happy with a pop-up camera or do you even prefer it? Then take a look at the Honor 9X. On the other hand, there is competition in the middle class that can more than match this smartphone The Realme X2 costs just as much, looks similar, has a notch, but an AMOLED display, more memory and a similarly equipped camera. On the other hand, the Honor 9X does not have it so easy.

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