Honor 9X Pro review: An affordable large-screen handset with a major drawback

honor-9x-pro-header.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.9 Very good

Pros

  • Solid industrial design with glass front and back
  • Large 6.59-inch notch-free screen
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • No Google Mobile Services
  • No IP rating for dust/water resistance
  • No wireless or fast charging

The Honor 9X Pro is the first Honor handset we've seen without Google Mobile Services installed. This is due to the US decision not to trade with certain companies, including Huawei -- and therefore also Honor. It means that familiar Google apps such as Chrome, YouTube, Google Maps and GMail are absent, as is the Google Play Store. Huawei has come up with its own Huawei Mobile Services alternative, which includes an app store, and that's used here. How much does the change affect this handset, which will retail for €249 (~£200)?

The Honor 9X Pro updates the earlier Honor 9X, which I reviewed towards the end of last year. That phone, retailing at £249 (inc. VAT), had some nice features, including a high-resolution 6.59-inch screen and a pop-up selfie camera. Those features are present on the Honor 9X Pro, which can be viewed as a moderate upgrade to the 9X -- albeit one that's testing the waters without Google Mobile Services.

honor-9x-pro-main.jpg

The 6.59-inch Honor 9X Pro is built around the Kirin 810 chipset with 6GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage (expandable via MicroSD). It has a triple rear camera array and a pop-up selfie camera, and is powered by a 4,000mAh battery.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The 9X Pro's chassis lacks the bright blue reflective backplate of the 9X model, instead featuring a pink to purple gradation for its (slippery) glass back. There is still a chevron patterning on the back when the light hits, but the whole setup is less 'in your face' than before. Blue is becoming a little passé for handset backplates, and while the colour scheme here is hardly original it is, at least, not blue.

honor-9x-pro-fingerprint-reader.jpg

The fingerprint reader is built into the flattened, stippled power button on the right-hand side.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet  

There's a protruding lozenge on the back housing the triple camera array, but, in contrast to the 9X model, there's no fingerprint scanner to be seen here. That's because the fingerprint reader on the 9X Pro is integrated into the power button, which is flattened off and indented to make it easy to find by touch. Some people prefer the scanner located here while others find it awkward, so try before you buy to see how well it suits you.

On the bottom edge there's a USB-C port and a 3.5mm headset jack. The speaker grille is also here. Audio goes pretty loud, and I was happy streaming radio while I worked at about 50% volume, but the quality leaves a bit to be desired: bass tones are minimal, giving a rather tinny sound. Still, it's fine for talk radio and podcasts.

This isn't the smallest or lightest handset around, at 77.3mm wide, 163.5mm deep and 8.8mm thick, and 202g. But you do get a large 6.59-inch screen that sits in impressively narrow bezels, offering, says Honor, a 92% screen-to-body ratio. 

Top ZDNET Reviews

There is no in-screen camera notch because the front-facing camera sits in a caddy on the top edge and pops up when you switch the camera app into selfie mode. There is a short wait while the camera appears, and a drop protection system that retracts the camera automatically if the handset slips from your grip.

The display is an IPS LCD and so lacks the vibrancy that AMOLED typically offers. But the resolution of 2,340 by 1,080 pixels (391ppi) makes for clear, sharp viewing. I was happy reading web pages, emails and ebooks, and the Eye Comfort blue light filter can be set to kick in on a timed schedule or switched on and off manually as needed.

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

The Honor 9X Pro is powered by Huawei's Kirin 810 chipset with 6GB of RAM. That's a nice upgrade on the Kirin 710/4GB combo in the Honor 9X. Unfortunately I wasn't able to run Geekbench 5 to assess the processor's performance thanks to the absence of the Google Play store. I didn't notice any performance issues during testing though. There is 256GB of internal storage -- double the maximum available on the 9X -- with 243.6GB free after the OS and preinstalled apps have taken their share. You can add further storage if you're prepared to sacrifice the second SIM slot for a MicroSD card. 

The 4,000mAh battery also defied benchmarking since I was unable to install my usual test software. Instead I set the handset to keep the screen on permanently, used it during the daytime and left it awake and with its screen on when it was not in direct use. Under these conditions the battery depleted from 100% to 17% in 14 hours, indicating that a full day's use is a viable prospect for many people.

The camera array here is identical to that in the Honor 9X. The main triple camera array comprises a 48MP sensor with an f/1.8 wide-angle lens, an 8MP sensor with an f/2.4 super-wide-angle (120°) lens and a 2MP depth-sensing camera with an f/2.4 lens. The front facing pop-up 16MP-f/2.2 camera also matches the Honor 9X. My testing suggests similar performance too, with perfectly usable images generated during daytime shooting, but slightly variable performance at night -- especially when direct light levels are low.

honor-9x-pro-screenshots.jpg

Left: Pre-installed apps on the Honor 9X Pro -- note the absence of Google apps. Right: on-screen warning after you drop the handset with the pop-up selfie camera extended.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Honor 9X Pro runs on Android 9 (Pie) with EMUI 9.1. What really matters here, though, is the absence of Google Mobile Services and presence instead of Huawei Mobile Services. This means there is no Chrome, no YouTube, no Gmail, no Google Docs, no Google Maps, and no Google Play Store.

How much this matters to you will depend on how much you're invested in the Google ecosystem. If you're a big user of Google Docs and like to edit on the move, or you synchronise browsing data across devices, or use Google Photos, you'll likely find the absence of Google's services very irritating. As for Huawei's app store, it didn't have many of the apps I use regularly. Honor told ZDNet that it's working on the app store constantly, and that it's an ongoing exercise to build a comprehensive library.

Conclusions 

The Honor 9X Pro is a well built handset whose glass back, while slippery, is attractive, and whose side-mounted fingerprint scanner will please some people and disappoint others. The pop-up selfie camera makes for an uninterrupted screen, which is impressively large and readable. There is plenty of internal storage, good battery life and a capable Kirin 810 chipset. At around £200 this handset has many plus points. 

But there's an elephant in the room -- or rather, not in the room -- in the form of Google Mobile Services, which presents Honor (and Huawei) with an app-availability problem. It's early days on that, and it remains to be seen how the buying public will respond.

RECENT AND RELATED CONTENT

Honor 9X, hands on: Budget big-screen smartphone with pop-up front camera

Honor MagicWatch 2 review: Solid on health and fitness, but light elsewhere

Huawei's challenge: Sell its new Mate lineup outside of China without Google services?

The 10 best smartphones of 2020: 5G powers the top contender

The best cheap phones you can buy in 2020: Flagship features for any budget

Read more reviews

Top ZDNET Reviews