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November 8, 2017

Honor 9i review

by John_A

Honor has launched some pretty good phones in the last year or so. Slowly but surely it’s been establishing a foothold in markets like India. The company has also not shied away from adopting, or even being early on, trends like dual cameras.

With the Honor 9i, the company is now delivering on this year’s new trends. Like most other 2017 releases, the 9i has a taller display with an  18:9 aspect ratio. It combines that with dual cameras on both the front and back — a rare combination that works for both photography enthusiasts as well as selfie lovers.

The Honor 9i aims to offer more for less, and the list of features, as well as the specifications sheet, is not off the mark. But does it succeed in doing so and manage to bring together a compelling device? You’ll find out in our Honor 9i review.

Design

While Honor prefers to talk more about the camera setup and the display on the Honor 9i, I think the design is one of the highlights of the smartphone. As has been the case with most recent Honor devices – exceptional design makes this phone stand out from the crowd.

The metal unibody design of the Honor 9i looks premium and its solid construction inspires confidence in the build quality. The quality of materials is top notch as well.

The camera module on the back protrudes a little but has a metal rim around it to protect from scratches. This is actually an aberration for Honor/Huawei devices, which have been promoted with a ‘flat-back dual camera’ as a marketing pitch in the past. Many of those were in higher price segments, though.

The metal unibody design of the Honor 9i looks premium and its solid construction inspires confidence in the build quality.

The phone’s matte finish and curved edges make it very comfortable to hold. The 18:9 aspect ratio display and slimmer bezels around it mean that the 5.9-inch display on the device is easy to grip in one hand. It’s roughly the same size as most smartphones in the market with a 5.5-inch display.

Like we’ve seen in a few other devices with taller stances, you might need to stretch your fingers to reach the volume rocker on the edge or the fingerprint sensor at the back. It really depends on how and where you hold the phone. If you’ve got small hands, you might need to shift your grip often to move around so you might want to consider a case if you’re at all clumsy.

For me, and many others, the first glance at the phone is more important than the specifications sheet and the Honor 9i fares well here, with an impressive aluminum chassis and stylish design.

Display

The Honor 9i is the company’s first smartphone with a Full HD+ (2,160 x 1,080) display with 18:9 aspect ratio. The IPS LCD also looks beautiful especially with little bezels around it. There’s a high 83 percent screen-to-body ratio – impressive for a smartphone at this price point.

The display is incredibly sharp, and the color saturation is pretty good. It’s not perfect because brightness is a tad disappointing outdoors which affects sunlight viewing. But the contrast ratio is impressive and viewing angles are great too.

The tall display on the Honor 9i is one of the defining features of the device, and the company does a good job here. It looks great at first glance, but I would’ve liked a little more vividness.

Performance

The Honor 9i is powered by the octa-core Kirin 659 SoC, and packs in 4 GB of RAM. The Kirin 659, which debuts in India with the Honor 9i, is made using the 16nm manufacturing process by HiSilicon, a Chinese semiconductor company fully owned by Huawei. The phone’s got 64 GB of internal storage, which can also be expanded up to 128 GB using a microSD card.

The performance of the Honor 9i is on par with the competition. For everyday tasks, the phone runs smoothly. Once you start gaming, the chinks in its armor start to appear though. There is occasional lag and random stuttering. It’s not too bad and a lot of casual users won’t notice it, but if gaming is a critical aspect of your phone usage, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.

The phone doesn’t get hot in day-to-day activity although it does get warm when gaming for a while. It’s never too hot or uncomfortable, though.

The 3,340 mAh battery on the Honor 9i provides a day’s worth of battery life. It’s good enough, but nothing special. The battery drain is quite noticeable during processor-intensive tasks like gaming, so you might want to be careful on your way back from work in the evening. When you’re not pushing the processor though, the phone manages power well.

Overall, the performance on the Honor 9i is good enough, but not groundbreaking by any measure.

Hardware

The Honor 9i includes a hybrid tray which can take two nano-SIMs, or you can swap the second SIM for a microSD card. Most people don’t prefer a hybrid setup, but 64 GB would be good enough storage for most users and this isn’t a showstopper.

Unfortunately, the Honor 9i does not support fast charging, nor does it sport a Type-C port. Even for a smartphone in its price segment, microUSB looks dated.

Camera

The highlight of the Honor 9i is the dual camera setup at the back as well as on the front. There’s a 16 MP rear camera and a 13 MP front camera, both of which are paired with 2 MP secondary cameras to capture depth information. This allows you to take photos with a depth of field effect, or bokeh, as well as portraits. There’s an LED flash at the back and a soft selfie flash on the front.

The highlight of the Honor 9i is the dual camera setup at the back as well as on the front.

In good lighting conditions, the rear camera combination produces nice photos. The details are good and color saturation is perfect. While the f/2.2 aperture on the primary lens doesn’t look good on paper for low light, the photos come out just fine with quite a good color reproduction and not much noise.

That said, the camera on the back of the Honor 9i is inconsistent and often errs in color reproduction and sometimes the photos lack details.

The front camera fares better than most smartphones in this price range. The photos come out sharp, and with a good amount of detail.

The dual camera setup allows you to take bokeh images, and in most cases, the background and foreground separation by the 2 MP secondary camera is good – even in low light. However, the software-driven blurring is pretty obvious. The front camera too offers the ability to click selfies with a bokeh effect and surprisingly does a great job at it.

The beautification mode is quite strong and clears the skin completely, but it looks unnatural and photos are clearly not you.

Software

The Honor 9i runs the company’s proprietary skin EMUI 5.1 out of the box. Based on Android 7.0 Nougat, EMUI is quite a departure from stock Android or other Android skins but it doesn’t take much time to get used to. With EMUI 5 earlier this year, Huawei introduced the ability to choose between the default UI without an app drawer or pick one with an app drawer.

To make the user experience comfortable on a large display, EMUI offers a single-hand mode that shrinks the display down to one corner of the screen. A lot of apps aren’t ready for an 18:9 display yet and run with a black bar at the bottom, or you can scale them to fit the screen. For a lot of apps and games, it works out just fine.

EMUI is a very well-thought out and functional Android customization layer.

The phone comes with a lot of pre-loaded apps and tools that Huawei could’ve done without, like the Mirror or Torch app. Some of these cannot be uninstalled, only disabled.

EMUI is a very well-thought out and functional Android customization layer. Unlike its earlier iterations, it feels fluid and offers quite a few nifty features to improve the user experience. However, like with all software experiences, it is a matter of individual preference.

Specifications

Operating System EMUI 5.1
Android 7.0 Nougat
Display 5.9-inch IPS
Full HD+ (2160 x 1080) resolution
18:9 aspect ratio
409 ppi
Processor 2.36GHz Octa-Core Kirin 659
RAM 4 GB
Internal Storage 64 GB
Expandable up to 128 GB with microSD card
Rear Camera 16 MP + 2 MP dual camera
Dual Tone LED Flash
Front Camera 13 MP + 2 MP dual camera
Soft LED Flash
Battery 3,340 mAh
Dimensions 156.2 x 75.2 x 7.5 mm
Weight 164g

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

The Honor 9i has a lot going for it, it but isn’t without a few shortcomings.

The Honor 9i strikes a nice balance between features and cost while going all-in on current trends. It’s got a full vision display with 18:9 aspect ratio, dual cameras, and a striking chassis.

It is not perfect though. The performance is good enough for the daily grind, but it could’ve been better. Same goes for battery life. The marquee feature – its dual cameras – are pretty good, but don’t take your breath away.

Yet, at ₹17,999 ($277) in India, the Honor 9i is a fine package and a good option on the table for a sub-₹20,000 smartphone. It offers enough bang for the buck and is one of the better-looking devices out there.

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