Huawei’s Honor brand is slowly but surely capturing the Indian smartphone market. And if the last couple of months have been any indication, the Chinese smartphone brand is going super aggressive with its phone release cycle.
The Honor 9 Lite, the fourth phone released in the last two months, brings a premium looking handset at an impressive Rs 10,999 price point (for the 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage). The higher end variant (4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage) which I reviewed comes for Rs 14,999. But 90 percent of people I asked to guess the price of the Honor 9 Lite, put it over Rs 20,000. That’s just how gorgeous the phone looks.
Just like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 had become the only phone being suggested under Rs 15,000 till a year back, this time around if you have a budget of Rs 10,000, I'd suggest to just add in Rs 1,000 extra and go for the Honor 9 Lite. There is nothing close from competition to beat the value proposition being offered by the Honor 9 Lite. With the beautiful design, respectable specs, four cameras, an 18:9 aspect ratio Full HD+ display, Android Oreo out of the box and more, the Honor 9 Lite has a lot going for it, making it immune to competition in this price range.
So let’s get straight into the review.
Build and Design: 7.5/10
The Honor 9 Lite borrows a lot of design elements from its siblings. This 5.65-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio, 2.5D curved display sporting phone has thin bezels on the right and left-hand sides. The Honor branding is noticed on the thin lower bezel. The top portion houses the dual cameras beside the tiny speaker section and the proximity sensor. The Honor 9 Lite comes with 2.5D glass on both the front and the back, separated by a plastic frame. It measures around 7.6 mm thick.
Turn the phone around and you notice some finesse, as compared to the Honor 9i, 7X and even the View 10. The camera bump that was prominently noticeable in all the other three phones isn’t very pronounced (although it does rise by just a millimetre from the plane of the rear side) on the Honor 9 Lite. The circular fingerprint sensor is at the top-centre portion and its matte finish makes it stand out in the glossy surroundings.
The glossy back stands out. For all practical purposes, it resembles a mirror as it is highly reflective. While I loved the Sapphire Blue colour variant as compared to the black and silver colour variants, the blue colour tends to attract a lot of smudges. These are easy to get rid of, unlike those on the metal back of the Honor 7X, but it can be annoying to constantly see smudges during your daily usage. The smudges are neatly masked on the silver backed Honor 9 Lite. So if you want to go for the Sapphire Blue version, keep a microfibre cloth handy at all times.
The phone has a plastic frame with rounded edges, which gives it a sufficiently good grip. The use of plastic is understandable, and honestly, it does not really take away from how good the Honor 9 Lite looks. While the volume rocker and power/standby button are located on the right-hand side, the hybrid dual SIM card tray is on the left-hand side. The bottom edge hosts the 3.5 mm audio jack, a microUSB charging port and data transfer port and the speaker grille section. The phone fits quite well in the hand, although one-handed operation will be challenging. At 149 g it is quite light to hold.
Overall, the Honor 9 Lite is quite a good-looking phone.
Honor has been releasing phones quite frequently of late and it is difficult to keep up with which phone has what specifications. But thanks to the naming convention, you can at least separate out the chipset it’s housing. So the Honor 9 Lite, much like the Honor 9i before it, houses the 16 nm HiSilicon Kirin 659 chipset. It has a four Cortex A53 cores clocked at 2.36 GHz and another four Cortex A53 cores clocked at 1.7 GHz for the low-power tasks. On the graphics front, you have a Mali T830 MP2 GPU.
Our review unit comes with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage, out of which around 53.6 GB is usable. There is a 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage version of the same available as well. On the connectivity front, you get a hybrid dual-SIM slot, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS with A-GPS and no infrared or radio.
On the camera front, you get two pairs of dual cameras. There is a 13 MP + 2 MP camera setup on both the front and back, where the 13 MP sensor is the primary sensor to capture image data, whereas the 2 MP sensor captures the depth information.
Honor 9 Lite comes with a 5.65-inch 18:9 aspect ratio display with a FullHD+ resolution of 1,080x2,160 pixels. This is an IPS LCD panel which offers great viewing angles and it does get quite bright. You can adjust the display settings to make it look more warm or cold. In fact, Honor gives you the complete colour wheel at your disposal to make this choice, I stuck to the default mode. You can also set the ‘Eye Comfort’ mode to cut out the blue light and can schedule it closer to sleeping time to reduce the fatigue on the eyes.
Overall the display is great, although I did face issues with pixellation of text in the Chrome browser for a couple of days after using the device. The issue has since been resolved, as the text appears sharp on the Chrome browser. Outside the Chrome browser, the text pixellation wasn’t visible anywhere else.
You must also note that since this is an 18:9 aspect ratio display, a lot of the Android apps may not have been optimised for it, so Honor offers a mode to switch to full-screen mode, which may come with some artefacts. Movie viewing experience on this display was great and apart from the dark scenes where the display turned into a reflective surface, there wasn’t much to complain.
The Honor 9 Lite comes bundled with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box with Huawei’s Emotion UI or EMUI 8.0 skin atop it. Huawei has decided to change the naming convention of the skin in order for it to be mimicking the Android OS version number. So from EMUI 5.1 we have come to EMUI 8.0.
This is one of the few phones at this price which comes with Android Oreo out of the box and one which comes with its own skinning. Double thumbs up to Honor 9 Lite for that. EMUI 8.0 is a refined version of the EMUI 5.1. You get the 1 December security patch. The EMUI is packed to the gills with features.
The first impressive part is that you can switch from the default home-pages-only layout to the one with an app drawer. This is a thoughtful addition. The response of the user interface is smooth on most occasions. Yes, there were animations freezes and slow switching between apps every once in a while. The bloatware on Honor 9 Lite comes in the form of a lot of custom apps such as Weather, HiCare, Mirror, Honor Community, Backup and more. Thankfully, you can uninstall some of them. It also comes preinstalled with Messenger, Instagram, Facebook, among others.
Digging deeper into settings, you will come across a lot of interesting features. Smart Assistance, for instance, lets you adjust the navigation bar settings, even add a fourth icon which is a shortcut for notifications. Then there are features such as Flip to mute, three finger screenshot (this is a personal favourite), double touch to wake up the phone display.
Even with the fingerprint sensor, you can allot a lot more functions over and above just using it to unlock the phone. For instance, you can answer a call, stop an alarm, take a photo or video by just touching the sensor. I would avoid taking a photo using the fingerprint sensor, as the phone tends to shake when doing that. The smart way to use the split screen mode is interesting. For instance, if you are watching a movie in a full-screen mode, and you get a WhatsApp message, then the notification will have a double rectangle icon, which will split the screen smartly.
However, one major difference is that unlike its elder sibling, the Honor View 10, the Honor 9 Lite houses the Kirin 659 chipset. Due to this, some functionalities of the EMUI 8.0 are curtailed. So in a way, this OS skin is an EMIU 8.0 Lite, if you may. So functions like translating text from live images, live object identification in the camera mode and other features aren’t seen on the 9 Lite.
Overall, the EMUI 8.0 (lite) is still quite feature-rich and offers plenty of ways to customise the way your phone looks. The only hope is that the skin keeps up with all the OS updates coming from the Android OS.
Honor 9 Lite comes with the HiSilicon Kirin 659 chipset which was seen earlier on the Honor 7X and the Honor 9i. Performance is not too different from what we observed with the other two phones. The benchmark numbers are also in line with the other phones. One thing we did notice though was that the Honor 9 Lite gets sufficiently warm when playing heavy games such as Asphalt 8 and the likes. It does not get exceptionally hot to a point that it shuts down randomly, but it’s an issue for sure.
In my day to day usage, there were some animation slowdowns when switching between apps and a minor niggle here or there. But nothing that was noticeably slowing down the phone. Call quality was clear and the earpiece speaker is loud. The bundled speaker is loud, and there is only a minor distortion at the highest volumes. If you are in a quiet room, you can listen to the audio, although it is tad bit tinny in its sound profile. The fingerprint scanner is quick to respond, although if your fingers are even mildly wet it will not work.
Honor 9 Lite comes with a pair of 13 MP + 2 MP camera setup on either side of the phone. The 13 MP camera is the main sensor capturing the image data whereas the 2 MP sensor captures the depth information. The user interface of the camera on the Honor 9 Lite is similar to the one seen on its other siblings released in the recent past. I like that there are options such as Pro mode included in case someone wants to move beyond the auto settings.
Camera output in daylight and outdoor situations was quite good. The camera managed to capture details and colours well, although shadow regions didn't have enough details. Shooting the sleeping cats for instance in the album above was fun as I was surprised with the details the camera was able to capture. The wide-aperture mode also lets you adjust the focus after the act. Colours appear neutral, not too punchy, which is good. Focusing is generally quick in daylight. I did find the portrait mode to be a hit and miss, as it ended up blurring unwanted details at times. The front camera is impressive as well in well-lit situations, but I would disable the Beauty mode as it adds an unrealistic smoothening effect to your skin. Some may prefer that, but I like looking my age.
But indoors or in low lit situations, all bets are off. In most situations, I found the camera to be lacking. Details are lost, focus is hunting, and the images just have an overall waxy feeling to them. While the images appear fine on the phone, a little more pixel peeping shows off the noise in all its glory. But then, at this price point, it’s not like the competition has anything better to offer. If you are buying a phone in this budget, expecting stellar low light photography performance is a bit much. Having said that, the Honor 9 Lite does offer a night mode, which can be put to use if you have a tripod or are willing to invest in one.
The Honor 9 Lite is capable of shooting Full HD videos at 30 fps and they are quite average. The front-facing cameras are able to capture immense detail during daylight and could be a great companion if your want to travel blog or are a big Instagram Stories or Snapchat user.
The Honor 9 Lite comes with a 3,000 mAh Li-Polymer battery which is non-removable. It supports Super Charge technology, which is Huawei’s fast-charging tech. But it comes with a microUSB 2.0 charging and data transfer port. This decision seems a bit odd in 2018 when USB Type-C should be mainstream. But I think this isn’t really a deal-breaker. Maybe I am just expecting a bit too much from the Honor 9 Lite, as it has delivered well so far.
In terms of daily usage, the phone easily lasted me a full work day and some more. A full charge at 7 am would carry me through till 9 pm at night, after which I would have to put the phone on charge. The daily usage includes three emails on sync, a constantly buzzing Telegram, WhatsApp and Slack accounts, 20-25 photographs on an average per day, 5-10 videos, a couple of hours of streaming music and videos and around 30 mins of gaming. On a heavy usage day, such as when live tweeting from an event, I would need to charge it within 5-6 hours. Charging from 0-100 percent takes close to two hours.
As is seen in the chart above, the phone battery life is pretty impressive on regular work days. I also tried the PC Mark for Android battery test, but it has been crashing for some reason. The actual screenshot will be put up once the issue is resolved.
Verdict and Price in India
Huawei certainly has a winner on its hands with the Honor 9 Lite. Yes, there are some shortcomings such as poor camera performance in low-lit conditions, app optimisations among others, but show me a phone that does not have any flaws. The starting price of Rs 10,999 (for the 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage) for a handset that looks this lovely is itself enough for a lot of consumers to pick up this phone. It will certainly give some tough competition to its own sibling, the Honor 7X.
It does overcome the shortcomings with a quad-camera setup, Android Oreo and a good looking 18:9 aspect ratio display. If you have a budget of Rs 10,000, just add in an extra Rs 1,000 and get the Honor 9 Lite. Even under Rs 15,000 bracket, the Honor 9 Lite really does offer many compelling reasons to go for it. Unless of course, you want a stock Android option. In that case, the Xiaomi Mi A1 or the Moto G5S Plus are the phones to go for. You may also want to wait it out for the update to the Redmi Note 4 if you are looking at the Rs 15,000 budget, as the launch of the Redmi Note 5 is imminent. The options have never been this good looking for consumers who are looking at budget devices.