Phone

Nearly bezel-less screen a treat for gamers

The Honor 9X comes with the full suite of Google mobile apps and services, despite being launched here only last month.

As the budget sub-brand of Huawei, Honor is affected by the United States trade ban on the Chinese firm.

To get around the ban, the 9X appears to be based on the Huawei P Smart Z smartphone, which was announced before the ban.

Given that the US ban remains in place, the 9X could well be the last Honor phone to support Google apps for some time.

The Honor 9X is a mid-range phone with an all-screen design without a front selfie camera notch or a hole-punch camera. Instead, it uses a motorised pop-up selfie camera that automatically retracts if the phone is dropped.

Its nearly bezel-less look is rare for a mid-range phone - because of this, watching videos and playing mobile games is a treat on the large 6.59-inch display.

For the best visuals, it may be necessary to get rid of the preapplied screen protector, which is easily smudged by fingerprints.

Like many phones nowadays, the Honor 9X has a curved glass back that is also very prone to fingerprints.

While my black review set looks sedate and nondescript, the blue version has a gradient design featuring a large 'X' that is too loud for me.

Its rear fingerprint sensor is well placed and easy to locate by touch. It works quickly and accurately.

There is a slight camera bump from the triple rear camera system, which consists of a 48 megapixel (MP) main camera, an 8MP ultra-wide camera and a 2MP depth camera.

  • FOR

    • Large screen without a camera notch

    • Decent cameras for its price

  • AGAINST

    • Occasional lag

    • Battery stamina shorter than expected for video playback

    • Lacks fast charging and near-field communication

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $329

    PROCESSOR: HiSilicon Kirin 710F (Quad-core 2.2GHz, quad-core 1.7GHz)

    DISPLAY: 6.59-inch IPS LCD, 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 391 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: EMUI 9.1 (Android 9)

    MEMORY: 128GB (microSD expandable up to 512GB), 6GB RAM

    REAR CAMERAS: 48MP (f/1.8), 8MP ultra-wide (f/2.4, 120-degree), 2MP depth (f/2.4)

    FRONT CAMERA: 16MP (f/2.2)

    BATTERY: 4,000mAh

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3.5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 3.5/5

    OVERALL: 3.5/5

This 48MP camera uses pixelbinning to produce 12MP photos that are reasonably sharp and detailed in good lighting conditions.

Colours look mostly accurate compared with the actual scene, but those hoping for a punchier look will be disappointed.

In fact, the ultra-wide camera - while producing less detailed and noisier images - seems to take photos with more vibrant colours.

Like other Huawei and Honor phones, the 9X comes with an artificial intelligence (AI) photography feature that uses AI to recognise typical scenes and adjust the camera settings and processing accordingly.

For instance, this AI camera will detect low-light conditions and switch to a night photography mode.

But this software-based mode is distinct from a dedicated night mode that is selected in the app and uses a four-second long exposure to take low-light photos.

Frankly, the difference between the two night modes seems minimal for most night scenes. While the long-exposure night mode works better to produce slightly more detail in extreme low-light conditions, the AI night mode does not require the phone to be held in one place for four seconds.

Overall, the 9X's rear cameras are decent for a mid-range phone. They will even do a passable job in low light - colours are mostly true to life, but the photos look smeared when zoomed in.

While I did not expect wireless charging and water resistance from a mid-range model, I was disappointed that the 9X lacks near-field communication (NFC) for mobile payments.

The 9X's mid-range Kirin 710F processor generally offers smooth performance and runs relatively cool. But it does drop the ball now and then, resulting in slight delays.

 
 

Apps, too, are not the quickest to load. Graphically demanding games may also not run at the highest possible graphical settings. For instance, it scored 318 for the single-core test in Geekbench 5, compared with 496 for its rival Redmi Note 8 Pro. The 9X also lagged behind its competitor in Geekbench's multi-core test.

The phone runs on Huawei's EMUI interface, which is based on Android 9. Expect pre-loaded system apps such as Huawei's own browser, calculator, clock and app store. But at least there are no banner advertisements in these apps, unlike phones from some other brands.

 
 

With a 4,000mAh battery, the 9X comfortably lasts throughout a typical work day for me. However, it was not as power-efficient at video playback. In a video-loop test at maximum screen brightness, the 9X lasted around nine hours, which is shorter than expected. It also lacks a fast-charging feature, unlike some of its competitors.

At $329, the 9X matches the starting price of Xiaomi's Redmi Note 8 Pro, but the latter has a 64MP camera, NFC and fast charging.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2020, with the headline 'Nearly bezel-less screen a treat for gamers'. Print Edition | Subscribe