Huawei already had a decent budget phone in the Honor 7X, which was deemed to be the default competitor with the Xiaomi ‘s Redmi 5 Plus — a Redmi Note 5 in disguise — but with the launch of the Honor 9 Lite, they have taken the already fierce competition with Xiaomi to a next level in this segment.
The Honor 9 Lite is a fantastic phone — you don’t need more than one look at the phone to get that — that competes with the Xiaomi Redmi 5 Plus and the company’s own Honor 7X? But as striking as it is on the outside, does it pack enough punch on the inside too to make it your next purchase?
This is our Honor 9 Lite review.
In a nutshell
The Honor 9 Lite packs a decent hardware under a very, very beautiful body, one that is hard to not love. It is the only device that is actually a bit smaller and uses the goodness of bezel-less display panel to give you a very attractive and easy to use experience, while also performing pretty well. The imaging department is where things are left a little wanting, but that too is almost nitpicking because, for this price, it’s easily the best value for money phone in the range, if not all smartphones.
- Splendid design
- Very good display
- Android Oreo
- Small form factory, easy one-hand use
- Performs well
- Nice front camera
- Face unlock coming soon
- Rear camera could be better
- EMUI 8.0 UI is not very pleasing
Do I even need to tell you the obvious, how gorgeous the Honor 9 Lite is? The one parameter where the Honor 9 Lite is simply excellent is the design. The novel color choice in blue-ish green, coupled with a reflective glass back and metal rim, is simply jaw-dropping to look at. One glance and you’re impressed — as simple as that.
Sure, the Honor 9 Lite is more prone to damage from falls because of the glass back, so unless that’s a concern for you, the device is just too good to resist as far as aesthetics go. A full ten-on-ten in our books.
The looks apart, the placement of the volume rocker and power button on the right, fingerprint sensor at the back which also houses the Honor logo (near-bottom) and dual camera lens (top right), is just right. Anybody trying to pick up flaw here is simply wasting his time.
The Honor 9 Lite features a HiSilicon Kirin 659 octa-core processor, a Mali-T830 MP2 GPU, and runs on Android 8.0 topped with Huawei own take on the custom skins, EMUI 8.0. What that combo of hardware and software gives you is an experience that’s pretty solid, and smooth, even though not the fastest which is okay for a device in this range. That Honor 9 Lite does everything asked for in the day-to-day use effortlessly, which is in itself a great compliment.
Mind you, even a Samsung flagship like the Galaxy S8 can run into lags, so that’s not a huge deal when the phone sometimes lags a little because for the most part it carries out functions and jumps between the apps and games without batting an eye. Try the double tap on Recents key to switch between apps, and you won’t be disappointed. We’re not talking Pixel-like instant jump between the two apps, that’s simply not possible for this buddy, but it does that fast and smooth enough to not leave anything to complain of.
Taking a quick snap is where the phone is truly tested, though. When you have to pick out device quickly to capture an image as fast as you can, well, the camera app does open up quickly and snaps the photos and videos in an instant once you hit the button. When you click on the thumbnail though, while it would load up gallery app all fine to show you your recent captures, it does that with a slight lag. That’s where you sometimes notice the budget-range processor stop and catch a breath. Again, scrolling through gallery remains instant, but when you hit the back button to reach camera viewfinder again, there is a very small delay in that, too. None of that is destroying your experience with the device though, far from it actually, because there is still no amount of jerk in this operation and a small lag this can happen to even some of the much more costlier phones. It doesn’t kill the experience at all, but it’s no longer the same buttery UI experience you had settled for already. Anyway, kudos to the Huawei’s Honor team for achieving such a good performance on the Honor 9 Lite.
Oh BTW, I should tell you that I am doing all of this with 70+ more apps installed on my phone, in addition to the pre-installed apps, which yes, does put a great deal of pressure on the device. With more apps running in the background, the things do get harder than usual on the devices I test. Which also means that the performance and battery life should be easily, even if marginally, better for you if you have lesser no. of apps installed than mine. Also, I am putting a 3GB model of the Honor 9 Lite through all of this, quite intentionally, so that the results are not biased by that extra 1GB RAM available with the pricier option. Which is why I think you don’t need to go for the 4GB model of the Honor 9 Lite for the sake of performance, although it would be only better because more RAM means the device can store a lot more info in its cache, thus opening up recent apps a lot faster.
The Android Oreo features are available here. To try the picture-in-picture mode, fire up the Maps app, and start a trip, and then press the Home button. You will see the Maps app fold itself into a much smaller window that is floatable on the screen. There is also Autofill, which can be noticed when logging into an app.
Huawei EMUI 8.0 offers a ton of features, too, and they are quite impressive. Just hop into settings and try out each and every option of the device. You would be amazed to find a plethora of options here. I am a fan of stock UI, BTW, and the EMUI kills the mood for me, to be frank, but it’s far better now compared to it ever was, especially on EMUI 4.0. It’s still more colorful than to my liking, but there is nothing you could do, and the physical appearance is enough to make me easily forget about the software side of it.
Truth be told — the IPS LCD display on the Honor 9 Lite exceeds our expectations. For under $200, you get a cool bezel-less 18:9 panel that measures 5.65-inches diagonally, features an FHD+ res (2160 x 1080 pixels), and also produces just the right colors. So, it’s a great display, indeed. That said, if you are a fan of AMOLED panel, you just won’t find that saturated-color-taste here. It’s more like a real-world feel here than the punchier one, and I am liking it a lot, just like I have always loved it on the HTC and Nexus devices of the past.
You can also tune the color production of the Honor 9 Lite’s display to some effect under Settings, by adjusting the color temperature, but while that changes the display’s hue a bit, it’s a far cry from display saturation you can achieve on AMOLED panels. It’s worth noting here then, that for now, if you want an AMOLED bezel-less display on your phone you would have to cough up about $499 for that, as you get that only with Galaxy A8 Plus and OnePlus 5T.
In this range, the bezel-less display is on offer on the Xiaomi Redmi 5 Plus, Honor 7X, Honor 9i, and Vivo V7 Plus, but I find the Honor 9 Lite’s display as the best in the segment. It’s not only the color production that appeases me here, but the viewing angles are also pretty good, while above all, the display’s touch is perfect, too. Having used the Honor 7X and Honor 9i for a while, I can say the 9 Lite’s touch is far better than those two Honor sets that preceded it. In short, this phone reminds me of Honor 8, again and again, and that’s the best thing I can say about it (although the color production of the last year’s Honor 8 is visibly better because it sports an LTPS IPS LCD panel).
Well, there are four cameras on the Honor 9 Lite. So, what gives? Well, first of all, please know that the no. of cameras doesn’t have to do anything with the quality of the pics. Also, it’s the sensor’s quality — than the count — that matters the most, and here, you have an average sensor at the rear which means you get decent ordinary imaging out of the Honor 9 Lite. The front cameras are pretty well, though, if not great.
Overall, the rear camera on the Honor 9 Lite is good enough. It’s not excellent, but it’s not bad either. Compared to the competition, both the Redmi 5 Plus and Honor 7X produced slightly better pics. In the daylight, the 9 Lite’s camera is impressive, but when shooting indoors, it produces slightly whitish images. Same for the low-light imaging.
Huawei is giving you a truck-load of gimmicky features in the camera app that includes bokeh effect and beauty mode (both are part of portrait mode), but they are okay — they can’t fill in for a better sensor, and it’s also wrong to ask a lot for a phone that doesn’t break your bank.
I did try the bokeh effect. The dual cameras on the front did the job alright, but not very impressive, which is exactly what I anticipated too. But yes, unless you want your selfies to be perfect, which can cost a lot, it’s surely better having the bokeh effect than not.
Check out our camera samples of the Honor 9 Lite below.
The Honor 9 Lite packs in a 3,000 mAh battery, which is good enough to easily last you a day without needing to juice it up during the day. It’s not much compared to the 4,000 mAh tank you find in the Redmi 5 Plus, but it would do the job alright nevertheless.
I installed over 70 apps on my Honor 9 Lite, and my work is such that I obviously have more background intensive apps in my app portfolio than what I think a regular user would have on an average, which means it’s harder for me to get the device last longer on a single charge than most of the users. Case in point, if it’s doing well enough for me to last a day, it should definitely last a day for you, too.
Frankly, I am happy that Huawei didn’t put in a larger battery than this because the 3,000 mAh battery is also one of the reasons — apart from a glass back — why the Honor 9 Lite is a lot lighter than other phones in the range. The extra weight of, let’s say a 4,000 mAh battery would have destroyed the experience and confidence the lighter-cum-smaller profile of the 9 Lite brings to you. If you ever used a Nexus 5, chances are more than not that you loved that device, and for you, I’d say think of the 9 Lite as a super-stylish Nexus 5 by Huawei, running EMUI 8.0 (ugh, give me stock OS on this anytime!).
The fingerprint sensor on the Honor 9 Lite is very fast. It’s positioned perfectly, too.
The rear glass back serves as an excellent mirror too, thus useful many a times, but it’s also a fingerprint magnet. Huawei gives you a free transparent case with the 9 Lite, and it’s pretty fantastic — frosted, transparent, plastic cover, which doesn’t subdue the beauty of the device. Huawei has chosen to cut out the whole area where the buttons reside to give you easy access to the volume rocker and power buttons even with the case on.
The power and volume buttons are easy to press, tactile, make a little click sound when pressed, feel solid too, so there is nothing really to not like here, although I prefer the even less noisy buttons Xiaomi puts in place.
The Honor 9 Lite is an excellent phone without a doubt. Simply put, until the price is mentioned, people would only think of it as a premium phone — in fact, it can give a run for money to even the costliest of smartphones on the planet in design. The Honor 9 Lite is an able device that runs smoothly, features kind-of latest Android OS in 8.0 Oreo, and even though its camera isn’t that great, it’s good enough to keep you happy.
That it looks that good, is damn lightweight, and gives you a nice 5.65-inch bezel-less display in a body of a 5.2-inch phone, is just amazing. Unless you are searching for a phone with two-day battery life, and don’t mind it being the old chubby in design, you shall look at Redmi 5 Plus, which also offers you a slightly better camera too. But you lose a lot — the design is one big factor, one that fires up the first impression of the onlookers, which is where the Honor 9 Lite is a master.
Actually, in case you are discarding the Honor 9 Lite, do let us know what is making you do that?