Honor 9i first impressions: A compelling camera-oriented smartphone that offers a bit more than its competition

By Shomik Sen Bhattacharjee

Huawei’s online retail brand Honor is back in the Indian market to shake up the mid-range smartphone segment yet again. Having teased a camera-oriented smartphone over the past week on its Twitter handle, Honor India launched a fresh variant of the Honor 9, named Honor 9i.

The Huawei Honor 9i

Having made a stir in July with the Honor 8 Pro, Honor decided to pack the 9i with a four-lens camera setup, boasting of a first in any smartphone. While the camera performance of the phone is yet to be put through its paces, it should give the recently launched Xiaomi A1 and Vivo V7+ a good fight, at least on paper given its tag of Rs 17,999.

Setting the camera aside, the Honor 9i is also Huawei and Honor’s first attempt at introducing the FullView display technology, which gives it a taller 18:9 aspect ratio. This isn’t a first for a smartphone company but this does make the Honor 9i feel much more of a 2017 smartphone compared to the Honor 8 Pro.

Build and Design

The Honor 9i does come in a metal chassis with rounded edges which make the rather tall device look sleek while managing to feel sturdy and durable. The phone is 156.2 mm tall, with a width of 75.2 mm and thickness of 7.5 mm. With a 3,340 mAh battery housed inside, the phone also weighs in at 164 grams, which in no way makes the phone feel uncomfortable, given the size.

The Huawei Honor 9i is the company's first smartphone to feature a 18:9 display in India

The rounded edges of the phone also help with the grip, though the device was in no way comfortable enough for one-hand use (I do have smaller hands). Turn over the device and the discretely coloured antenna bands run across the top and bottom of the phone without attracting too many eyeballs.

At 7.5 mm the Honor 9i is quite slim considering how much it packs in.

Below the bands we have the dual-lens camera module which does have a small but a noticeable bump.

The metal back catches fingerprints easily.

The fingerprint scanner sits right below the camera module on the Honor 9i with its placement being right in the middle. The Graphite black colour variant we have with us does attract a lot of fingerprints. Towards the bottom of the phone we have a single firing speaker and surprisingly enough, the now dated, microUSB charging port.

Apart from Graphite black colour variant, the 9i is also made available in a Prestige Gold and a signature Aurora Blue variant, staying true to its Honor 9 branding.

Display

Honor did not any cut corners with the 5.9-inch FHD+ display on the Honor 9i, coming in at a resolution of 2160 x 1080p. The 18:9 aspect ratio of the screen helps Huawei achieve what it claims to be a 83 percent screen-to-body ratio, which does come a long way in achieving an immersive viewing experience.

The display is vibrant, but is not bright enough outdoors

The taller display lets Honor cram the display into a chassis meant for a smaller 5.5-inch device. However, brightness levels did seem a little disappointing as the display seemed to struggle under bright outdoor conditions. Sunlight legibility hence does seem like a problem with the display on the Honor 9i straight off, though we will have to test it further to arrive at a conclusion.

Chipset, RAM and Storage

The Honor 9i features Huawei’s proprietary HiSilicon Kirin 659 octa-core chipset, a first on any device by Huawei. The Kirin 659 comes with four Cortex A53 cores clocked at 2.36 GHz while the other four A53 cores clocked lower at 1.7 GHz. Huawei did mention that the processor is optimised for better battery life under regular usage scenarios during the launch which we’ll be eager to test during our review.

The Honor 9i comes in a single 4 GB RAM variant with 64 GB of on-board storage. The storage is expandable and will support microSD cards of up to 128 GB.

Operating System

The phone runs Honor’s EMUI 5.1 atop Android Nougat 7.1. While it does take some time to adjust to Honor’s Emotion UI for someone coming from a stock Android, it does replicate the OS found on a bunch of other UI interfaces, including Xiaomi’s MIUI. EMUI otherwise did not stutter in my short time with the phone though again, we would require to test the phone for longer.

The EMUI 5.1 skinning is typically Huawei

Honor did not mention about future Android updates but the Android Security patch of the Honor 9i is that of September.

Camera

The camera department is where Honor has really worked on to be able to provide a unique selling point. While quite a few smartphone brands have started including a dual-camera as a primary rear-facing setup, Honor decided to go ahead and offer a dual-lens setup on the back, as well as on the front.

This smartphone comes with four cameras!

The Honor 9i has a 13 MP front camera along with a 2 MP lens unit to help provide ‘bokeh’ mode, for selfies. The rear camera on the other hand has a 16 MP primary camera, assisted by another 2 MP to be able to add up to as many as 15 separate shooting modes. The camera UI in itself might take a little getting used to since it is very feature heavy but once that is out of the way, clicking pictures are simple on the Honor 9i.

Honor has also gone on and thrown in an LED soft flash on the front to offer soft lighting studio effects to users.

Battery and connectivity

The Honor 9i comes with a 3,340 mAh battery unit which sound like just about enough to power a device with a 5.9-inch display. Huawei haven’t mentioned about a fast charging feature either to juice up quickly. The Kirin 659 is supposed to help amply with better battery life as claimed by Huawei but we need to test the device to gather how it fares under heavy usage.

The microUSB port feels a bit out of place for 2017

In terms of connectivity, we get the usual support for 4G+, 4G, 3G and 2G bands. There Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n (2.5/5G Wi-Fi), GPS/AGPS, GLONASS, Wi-Fi Direct, microUSB v2.0, dual SIM slots and USB OTG support. All the regular sensors including gyroscope, digital compass and an accelerometer are also present.

Conclusion

Huawei has marketed the Honor 9i as a camera-oriented device and far as initial impressions go, the camera setup sounds promising on paper. At a price of Rs 17,999 the Honor 9i would directly take on the likes of the Xiaomi Mi A1 and the Moto G5S Plus and even higher priced handsets life the Vivo V7+. Huawei has thrown in a new chipset as well to make sure the device compels regular users as well.

Overall, the device does seem promising as an overall package but we will need to test it out extensively to see how it fares against the competition. For now, the rather aggressive price for the device surely make it a prime contender in the under-Rs 20,000 price bracket, but we suggest you wait for our full review, before you click on the buy button.