Honor 9 Lite review: looks good and makes you look good

Rating: 7/10

Yay: 

  • Great 18:9 display
  • Superb selfie cameras
  • Android Oreo out of the box
  • Affordable

Nay:

  • Portrait mode could have been better
  • Battery life needs work

Review in short:

The recently launched Honor 9 Lite is the newest contender in the Rs 15,000 price range. It goes up against formidable competition like the Xiaomi Mi A1 and the Moto G5s Plus. However, the 9 Lite has a few tricks up its sleeve in the form of a nearly bezel-less 18:9 display and four cameras. It is by far the best looking phone in this price range but the rear cameras are bested by the Mi A1s rear shooters. However, if you are a selfie hound, the 9 Lite impresses with great front cameras. Overall, you cannot go wrong with the Honor 9 Lite, but it is only an additional choice and not an outright winner in the under Rs 15,000 category.

Full review:

The under Rs 15,000 price segment is probably the most hotly-contested one, at least as far as smartphones are concerned. From the venerable Moto G5s Plus to the new darling of the masses the Xiaomi Mi A1, there are good phones aplenty in this price category. Now, it looks like Honor wants to disrupt the space with its new offering – the Honor 9 Lite. Interestingly, the 9 Lite succeeds the Honor 7X, which was launched only in the fag end of 2017. 

However for its asking price of Rs 10,999 (only during the flash sales), the Honor 9 Lite offers way more than it should ideally. I mean, you get four cameras, two on the front and two on the rear, a nearly bezel-less display, and a competitive SoC. At least on paper, the Honor 9 Lite looks like a winner by default. But since our forefathers have taught us “don’t judge a phone by its specs,” I decided put the phone to the test in real-world scenarios. So is the 9 Lite worth dipping into your savings fund? Read on to find out. 

Honor 9 Lite design: the most gorgeous phone in this price range

It doesn’t happen often that I place a phone on the table and at least four people stop in their tracks and to take a look at it. Undoubtedly, the Honor 9 Lite is a head-turner. I especially love the unique blue colour of the phone. The glass-infused body with its 2.5D curved design, on both the rear and the front, makes the Honor 9 Lite look super premium. It looks like a piece of expensive jewellery more than a smartphone. And as is the case with jewellery, you will have to handle the Honor 9 Lite with care too.

Unfortunately though, the mirror-finish glass back attracts a lot of smudges but that’s the case with all phones sporting a glass body. On the flipside, since Honor uses a 5.65-inch display with an aspect ratio of 18:9 and trimmed bezels all around, the ergonomics of the phone are just great. Also, the fingerprint sensor placed on the rear, below the camera module, offers easy access.

honor 9 lite back

In order to cut costs and keep the phone light, Honor has decided to use plastic in the railing instead of metal. Although, that’s not really a bad thing and I don’t see a reason to complain. And like I mentioned, the phone does justice to its name – Honor 9 Lite – by actually being light. At 149g, the Honor 9 Lite is one of the lightest phones around. And combined with its overall size and rounded edges, the phone is easy to hold and use with one hand. Oh and lest I forget, the power button and the volume rocker are pretty tactile and offer a satisfying click sound when pressed. Additionally, you also get a Hybrid-SIM tray, which means that you will have to sacrifice one SIM card in case you want to add extra storage space with a microSD card. 

I can say without an iota of a doubt that the Honor 9 Lite is the best-looking smartphone under Rs 20,000. 

Honor 9 Lite display: top-notch

The Honor 9 Lite follows trend of tall smartphone displays with an 18:9 aspect ratio. This 5.65-inch IPS LCD display offers a resolution of 1080 x 2160p. In my time with the phone, I found the display quality to be top-notch. From the accurate touch response to the impressive brightness levels, the Honor 9 Lite’s display impresses through and through. 

In my time with the phone I noticed that the software’s auto-brightness setting works really well and detected the ambient light around me pretty accurately. Moreover, the viewing angles are rather good too with absolutely no discolouration happening at any angle. 

Honor 9 Lite software: the sweet taste of Oreo

Honor’s homegrown EMUI skin on top of Android has generally polarised user opinion. Some like it, some hate it. That said, we can say one thing with certainty that EMUI has evolved into a rather feature-rich OS with some speed improvements across the board. Interestingly, the Honor 9 Lite runs on EMUI 8 on top of Android Oreo. Allow me to break down my thoughts on the same. 

  

Stuff I liked

  • The fact that you can do a universal search across the phone, just like Apple’s iOS, by merely swiping down on the home screen.
  • Swiping down on the fingerprint scanner to pull down the notifications. Or, swiping left and right to browse images in the stock Gallery app. 
  • The App Twin mode which allows you to run two instances of the same app. The only downside is that, currently, it supports only a few third-party apps like Facebook and WhatsApp. 
  • The default Phone app gives you access to your Notes and Calendar during a call, which is a neat addition. 

Stuff that can be improved

  • Duplication of apps. For eg, there are two apps to view photos – Gallery and Google Photos. Similarly, you also get Honor’s own music app and Google Play Music bundled by default.
  • Additionally, there are so many third-party apps that your phone feels cluttered the moment you switch it on. Thankfully, most of these apps can be deleted. 

All in all, despite being a fan of stock Android, Honor 9 Lite’s EMUI experience was still very satisfying. After tinkering around a bit, I managed to delete a few apps and clean up the home screens to my liking. You can do the same.

Honor 9 Lite camera: takes two to Portrait

The Honor 9 Lite’s USP is that it comes with four cameras: two cameras on the rear (13MP+2MP setup), and two cameras on the front (13MP+2MP setup). Honor uses the dual cameras for Portrait shots with an enhanced background blur. Before I talk about the camera quality, lets talk about the default app. 

                Click for full resolution images

The Camera app on the Honor 9 Lite is choc-a-bloc with features. From an extensive Manual mode to Light Painting, Honor believes in giving control to the end user which is a great thing. In fact, Honor also provides a Pro Video mode! That’s actually unheard of in a phone that’s priced under Rs 20,000.

                Click for full resolution images

As far as the image quality is concerned, the 9 Lite can capture some good looking daylight shots with slightly over-saturated colours, quite like a Samsung smartphone. The dynamic range on offer is good but in our extensive camera comparison with the Xiaomi Mi A1 we found that the Mi A1 offered more details across the breadth of the image, especially in wide shots. What I liked about the camera is that it can focus fairly fast and shoot images quickly too.

                Click for full resolution images

As far as the Portrait mode on the rear cameras are concerned, it is no patch on the Mi A1’s camera. Edge detection is a hit or a miss, and the colour accuracy is off too. That said, if you are not too picky, it might work for you. As far as low light shots are concerned, the camera struggles with detail retention. This doesn’t come as a surprise because most phones in this price range are really strapped for a good sensor. You have to consider costs too right? That said, there is a special night mode that can shoot a good shot provided you can hold the camera steady. 

                Click for full resolution images

The biggest win for the Honor 9 Lite has to be its selfie cameras that can shoot some impressive looking self-portraits. Moreover, thanks to secondary camera, you can also shoot create some software-induced background blur. 

The camera app also offers a lot of cool shooting modes. One of my favourites is the Night Mode. Using the Night Mode, you can capture some decent looking night shots by keeping the phone steady. 

Now, the camera can also shoot 1080p videos. However, the quality of my sample videos were pretty average, so there is not much to actually talk about it. Moreover, the lack of any kind of image stabilisation – software or hardware – means that you get shaky videos.

Honor 9 Lite performance: the Kirin 965 is no slouch

Internally, the 9 Lite comes with Honor’s homegrown Kirin 965 SoC and in two RAM/ROM combinations: 3GB of RAM/ 32GB of ROM and 4GB of RAM/64GB of ROM. Now, this chipset is definitely no slouch as it managed to throw up an AnTuTu score of 60383, which is as good as the Snapdragon 625 toting Mi A1. 

I am not a big fan of synthetic benchmarks and prefer using daily usage as my criteria for judging a phone’s capabilities. In that regard also, the 9 Lite doesn’t really disappoint. There were a few occasional hangups here and there but in most scenarios the 9 Lite sails through and through. Gaming is also a fairly enjoyable experience. Asphalt 8 ran without any hiccups albeit with slightly downgraded graphics. Although, less graphically intensive games like Streets of Rage and Retro Shooting played like a charm on the phone. 

Let it be known that I am slightly peeved at the single firing speaker at the bottom. It sounds pretty thin and tinny. Furthermore, the phone’s internal DAC struggled to drive my 1More Triple Driver properly. This means that the sound quality through earphones was pretty average too. Oh, and you don’t get earphones bundled in the box. The Mi A1 is still the undisputed champ as far as sound quality goes. On the other hand, the audio quality through the earpiece is top notch. I actually expected Honor to deliver with good call quality and the company did not disappoint.  

What about the battery? Well, the Honor 9 Lite’s 3000mAh battery didn’t live up to my expectations. It barely lasts an entire day on a single charge. I got an average screen on-time of around 3 hours and 30 minutes on heavy usage. You might need a power bank on you at all times. 

Should you buy the Honor 9 Lite?

If you are looking for a smartphone under Rs 15,000, then the Honor 9 Lite is actually a great option. The phone has an impressive design, a great display, a good selfie camera, and a dependable chipset. What’s not to like? Although, you have to note the fact that the Honor 7X with 4GB of RAM and 32gigs of internal storage is available for a good Rs 2,000 cheaper than the Honor 9 Lite’s variant with 4gigs of RAM. This means that Honor is evidently flooding the market with more options for the user than he or she can handle. But, when is that ever a bad thing? Yay for more choices. 

Now, if we have to compare the Honor 9 Lite directly with the Xiaomi Mi A1, the latter is a marginally better pick for providing a stock Android experience and better rear cameras. However, the Mi A1 doesn’t come with a futuristic bezel-less display or a great selfie camera. Therefore, the ball is in your court. Are you someone who prefers the ease of stock Android, or do you like to buck the trend and buy a good-looking smartphone instead? You tell us. 

Let us know in the comments section below what you think of the Honor 9 Lite.

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?