Honor 9 review: Yep, this is the bargain of the decade

Looking for an affordable flagship smartphone? Honor has you covered

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For

  • Brilliant price
  • Premium in every way
  • Solid software

Against

  • UI still not 100-percent
  • Low light camera performance

Unveiled last month in Berlin, the Honor 9 is the successor to the Honor 8. Obviously. 

Like that device, which helped establish Honor as a serious disruptor amongst Android manufacturers, the 9 is a highly competent smartphone, with the most up-to-date version of Android, with all the trappings of a premium flagship. Oh, at half the price of many of its rivals.

Also on board this time around: a refined design, 3D glass, improved camera, and software which doesn't make you pull your hair out.

We've been using the Honor 9 for a couple of weeks now - this is our official verdict. 

But first, we're going to let you into a little secret. A secret that Huawei and Honor don't want you to know. This isn't really an Honor 9, it's a Huawei P10 in Millennial's clothing.

That's no bad thing, the P10 is a brilliant phone, and Honor owned by Huawei, so there's not been any corporate espionage.

You've got the same screen, specs, camera setup and software. But the Honor 9 costs £379 and the Huawei P10 costs £569. 

That makes the Honor and absolute steal.

Design

In a world where all smartphones look the same, the Honor 9 is actually quite refreshing. Especially in blue. 

It's not the thinnest phone available, and it doesn't have a bezel-less front, but it's pretty distinctive, (not in an ugly way), it actually looks great.

Not only does it look great, it feels great as well. It's reassuringly solid, and doesn't seem overly slippery.

One of the largest differences over the previous generation is the placement of the home button-cum-fingerprint sensor - it's now on the front. It's a particularly fast and accurate fingerprint sensor, too.

One thing to note about the design is that it's not water resistant - we think a flagship needs to be in 2017, although, perhaps considering the price, we can forgive Honor on this one.

While the screen doesn't look much on paper, it's actually quite pleasing to look at. The 5.1-inch screen is really bright and colourful, with a Full HD resolution. 

That gives a pixel density of 428 ppi, so while it's not as sharp as the QuadHD or 4K displays of some of its rivals, you really don't notice it. 

The size of the display makes it comfortable to use with one hand, which is a big positive point.

Camera

The camera is unquestionably the key feature of the Honor 9, so that's what I'll concentrate on first.

We expect the Honor 9 packs the same dual camera hardware as the Huawei P10, but crucially, the Honor isn't Leica branded. Thankfully, the lack of that branding doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

It's set up to take both 12MP colour and 20MP monochrome images – there's a sensor for each – and to apply 'bokeh' effects to your images, so the subject is in crisp focus, while the background is tastefully blurred.

The camera is a excellent performer in decent light. It takes crisp and detailed images with a attractive colour balance. It's reliable and quick as well, which is a major bonus for smartphone cameras.

The Honor 9's low light performance is pretty decent as well, a million times better than any of its similarly priced rivals.

It can't quite compare with the highest performers out there, such as the Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S8, but most of the time you'll be happy with the images the Honor 9 will take.

The good news it that the Honor 9 comes running Android 7 Nougat, the latest and greatest version of Google's mobile OS. 

Also good news is that Honor's 'skin' for Android – Emotion UI – is also, in its current state, much less of a barrier to your enjoyment of the phone. In fact, we thing it really suits the 9, much more than any Huawei or Honor phone before it. It's less ugly than in times past, but we'd still prefer raw Android. Luckily, it's just a few taps in the Play Store away. 

Honor has ditched the onscreen navigation buttons and built gestures into the capacitive home button. Simply tap the little pill to go back, and swipe right to bring up multitasking. We think this is a great little innovation, as it frees up more screen space that would otherwise be taken up with software navigation buttons. 

Of course, if you don't like this feature you can revert to the traditional nav in the settings, or use the hidden captive touch buttons under the screen.

Everything on the Honor 9 feels pleasingly zippy, from the fingerprint sensor to opening apps. 

Price

One thing very much in the favour of Honor's flagship series of phones is they are VERY affordable, in this case, almost half the cost of Apple and Samsung's efforts. And Google's too, if the Pixel is any guide. 

You can bag the Honor for just £379.99. That's crazy cheap, considering the near-identical Huawei P10 is £569, the Google Pixel is £599, iPhone 7 £579, and Samsung Galaxy S8 £689. 

This is a no-brainer, surely?

Verdict

At that price, the Honor really is an absolute steal. It's a great smartphone with high-end specs and a premium design.

There are a lot of neat touches, too, we especially like the single navigation key, and the dual camera is capable of taking some striking images. 

The Honor 9 is 100% solid in every key respect, although, it may lack that little bit of innovation which makes a phone a true Android flagship. Still, we really can't fault it at the price.

Specs

Display: 5.1” full HD, 2.5D glass, Corning Gorilla Glass 5 
Size: 147.3 x 70.9 x 7.5 mm
Weight: 155 g
Colours: Blue, Black, White, Grey 
CPU: Kirin 960  (64-bit),  Octa-core
Memory: 4GB 
Storage: 64GB 
Front Camera: 8MP, F/1.9 
Rear Camera: 20MP monochrome & 12MP RGB, F/2.2, OIS 
Battery: 3,200 mAh