Honor 9X Pro review: jumping into the cold water

Update: Final review!
Honor 9X Pro review: jumping into the cold water

The Honor 9X Pro looks similar to some of its predecessors and siblings of the Honor and Huawei brands. New are modernized equipment and especially the 7nm chipset with more AI and graphics performance. In addition to brisk work and gaming speeds, the affordable smartphone also takes good photos thanks to its triple camera. Unfortunately, the software is not yet in a competitive condition.

Rating

Good

  • Great, bezel-less display
  • Long battery life
  • Strong computing power
  • Good cameras

Bad

  • Google services incompletely replaced
  • Poor notification system
  • Graphical errors
  • Beta feeling

Honor 9X Pro release date and price

The Honor 9X Pro has been available in select European markets since March 2020 at an MSRP of €249 (around $270). For that price, you'll get the version with 6GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage.

No headphones for the existing 3.5mm connection were included in our press sample. The included USB-C charger only delivers ten watts. So far, the 9X Pro is only available in purple.

Almost identical from the outside to the 9X

The design of the Honor 9X Pro is confusingly similar to that of the Honor 9X. Only the fingerprint sensor distinguished the devices: the Honor 9X Pro carries it on the side in the power button; on the normal 9X it is on the back. Honor calls the mirror-smooth glass on the front and back '3D Dual Curved Glass'. In addition to a color gradient, the violet pattern also creates a cross-shaped reflection. It's a real eye-catcher.

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Skillful grinding creates a dazzling reflection on the back of the 9X Pro. / © NextPit

At 6.6 inches, the 9X Pro is undoubtedly a fairly large smartphone. The weight of 206 grams contributes to this impression. In addition, the smooth surface constantly threatens to slip out of your hand. A protective cover or at least a rubberized, transparent case would have been nice, but at least I can still see that lovely pattern on the back.

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The fingerprint sensor on the Honor 9X Pro is located on the right side in the power button. / © NextPit

While there is no IP certification (protection against water and dust), Honor provides details of its quality tests on the product page. Unfortunately, it does not indicate to what extent the device is protected against bumps or scratches. In the event of a problem, experience has shown that fast and inexpensive support is available either on-site in one of the service centers or by post.

No upgrades in terms of the display

The display is a 6-59-inch IPS-LCD that Honor is calling its FullView Display thanks to a screen-to-body ratio of 92 percent. The resolution comes in at 2340 x 1080 (391ppi). This is essentially the exact same display we saw on the Honor 9X from the end of 2019. At the time, our Editor Julius said that it has strong colors, good viewing angles and also convinces with its brightness, and all of this is still true today.

So not much to see in terms of what's new with the display then. I am still a fan of pop-up cameras though purely for the fact that they give you a proper, notch-free front panel. In my opinion, this is an area of the smartphone that didn't really need upgrading.

Where's the Google Play Store?

Also at the time of testing (April 2020), the Honor 9X Pro still runs EMUI 9.1 based on Android 9. At the presentation event in February, it was said that the device would later be delivered with Android 10. However, the EMUI 10 update has not yet been delivered on our press sample at the release of this article. But this would not have solved the software's biggest shortcoming.

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AppGallery und search (previously exclusive to the  Huawei P40) should replace the Google Play Store one day. / © NextPit

On this, as on all other really new Honor devices (and also Huawei devices) we no longer find Google services. Honor wants to solve the problem with Huawei's AppGallery. But in practice, most of you won't find your favorite apps there.

In practice, most of you will use the Phone Clone tool to move your apps from the old phone to the Honor 9X. So you can continue to use your old apps and their settings on the new smartphone. However, this does not always work. It is so prone to errors that this is not a long-term solution.

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The good potential of the Honor 9X Pro shatters with the missing Google Play Store. / © NextPit

In short, this means that the notification system in apps, which is often based on Google's Firebase, does not work, so that the apps either crash when starting or never notify you of new messages, emails, etc. The aggressive energy management then kills the background processes that wanted to maintain an alternative notification system. There is a suspicious silence with an Honor 9X Pro, because you just missed everything

In the medium term, you have to add Play Store alternatives or use the AppGallery. In the long term, you have to say goodbye to the Play Store and your in-app purchases made there, because these will probably no longer work on the Honor smartphone - not officially.

If you are heavily dependent on Google services for work or personal reasons, there are a number of alternatives. You can still use Gmail, Google Maps, Hangouts, Meet, Google Calendar, and Co. We will explain how to do this in a separate article.

The Kirin 810 is a 7nm SoC for tight budgets

Performance is one of the main areas Honor has focused on here. The new chipset is the in-house HiSilicon Kirin 810. The manufacturing process shrinks from 12nm to 7nm; catching up with top chips like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, Apple A13 Bionic, and HiSilicon Kirin 990.

Huawei gives the Kirin 810 a clearly bored GPU; specifically a modified Mali G52. Thanks to the liquid cooling system, extensive gaming sessions with the Honor 9X Pro are no problem. In the gaming benchmark tests, we broke the 3,000 mark for the 'medium' setting in the Vulkan benchmark test, but we had some image errors.

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Graphical errors tarnish good benchmark performance. / © Basemark, AndroidPIT

Graphical errors also occurred after the release of the Huawei Mate 10, after the manufacturer tripled the graphics performance from one chip generation to the next. The manufacturer fixed the problems at that time within a few weeks with an update. In the case of the Honor 9X Pro, I expect a similar quick response from Honor's mother, Huawei.

In view of this, I am refraining from an extensive series of benchmarks for the time being.

Honor 9X Pro audio

No headphones were included in our press sample of the Honor 9X Pro . You can continue to use your previous pair, because a headphone jack is available. The only case speaker is also on the bottom edge. It is a little too weak for hands-free calling if you also sauté onions on the side.

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Headphone jack, check. Stereo sound: no check. / © NextPit

Despite obviously two existing microphones, recordings are only recorded in mono. Wind noises are not filtered out, which is annoying when making calls. The volume of the ear speaker is just sufficient enough for making calls outdoors.

Same camera hardware, new software

The camera remains unchanged in terms of hardware from the Honor 9X to the Honor 9X Pro. That means you are getting the following setup:

  • 48 MP Main Camera, f/1.8, 1/2 inch CMOS sensor, 4-in-1 Light Fusion (effective1.6μm pixels), AIS, Super Night mode, AI Video Stabilization
  • 8 MP super-wide-angle, f/2.4, 120° ultra-wide-angle, supports Distortion Correction
  • 2 MP Depth Assist Camera, f/2.4, Bokeh effect

On the front, you'll get a 16-megapixel sensor via the pop-up camera. It's f/2.2 and uses what Honor is calling 3D Portrait Lighting.

In our test, the images appear washed out or noisy throughout. Really sharp snapshots can only be taken in daylight. But even then there is a lack of detail and luminosity of the colors. Honor will probably also address these weaknesses successively in updates, but will never be able to completely fix them.

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The camera trio of the Honor 9X has been taken over. / © NextPit

Whilst the hardware remains consistent with the previous generation, the Kirin 810 AI Chipset uses the fourth generation in-house ISP to improve pixel throughput and uses the latest AWB algorithm. It also integrates a DE module and RAW domain noise reduction (NR) to improve image processing. These new AI algorithms should help with removing hand jitters, for example, among other things. Honor says it has increased the ISO capacity from 25600 on the 9X to 102400 on the 9X Pro.

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The extendable selfie cam is also known from the Honor 9X. / © NextPit

Again, I will not make a final judgment before the update to EMUI 10. But it seems to me that Xiaomi has more to offer in this price range.

A 4,000mAh battery without frills

The battery of the Honor 9X Pro is a 4,000 mAh cell . Since almost no app is running in the background due to the aggressive energy management and the lack of Google services, the smartphone has excellent battery life. This comes at the expense of notifications, which either land much too late or not at all.

The 9X Pro lasts for almost two days before it needs to be recharged with the lame 10 watts via the USB-C connector. During this time, the battery is switched on for seven hours. Competing devices like the Samsung Galaxy M30s are a bit better.

Honor 9X Pro technical specifications

Dimensions: 163.1 x 77.2 x 8.8 mm
Weight: 206 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
User interface: Huawei EMUI
RAM: 6 GB
Internal storage: 256 GB
Removable storage: microSD
Connectivity: HSPA, LTE, Bluetooth 4.2

Final verdict

The question you have to ask yourself is: can the Honor 9X Pro provide enough arguments to make up for the lack of Google services? Because Honor and Huawei now need convincing arguments to make the transition appealing to users. Our press sample for this review of the Honor 9X Pro gives us no inkling of anything good to come.

In the price region around €250, there are interesting competitors who do not require their customers to switch and offer similar advantages. Unless a miracle happens regarding AppGallery or possible Google support, it could be a tough fight for the brand.

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