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

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Honor handset releases just keep coming. It was only in July that I reviewed the 6.26-inch Honor 20, which sits in the mid-range price bracket at £399.99 (inc. VAT), but now we have the 6.59-inch Honor 9X, which is substantially more affordable at £249.99, but offers a range of rather eye-catching features. It's an update to last year's 6.5-inch Honor 8X.

There is a lot to like with the Honor 9X. The key disappointment is probably the camera, and performance is on the average side too. That said, there's plenty here if you're looking for a budget smartphone -- especially if you're a fan of pop-up front cameras.

Honor does its usual trick of designing a shiny, blingy backplate for this handset. The matte finish fingerprint sensor and slightly raised camera lozenge are both surrounded by a sparkly, shimmering finish that delivers a refracting effect when it catches the light. This kind of finish is an Honor staple, and while it won't suit every taste, it's certainly eye-catching. Honor provides a transparent bumper that removes the slipperiness, along with the light refracting nature of the backplate.

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The 6.59-inch Honor 9X runs on a Kirin 710 chipset with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, expandable via MicroSD if you don't need the second SIM slot. It has three cameras at the back (48MP, 8MP and 2MP), along with a fingerprint reader. NFC is not supported.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The 6.59-inch screen occupies almost all of the front of the handset. There is no notch or hole-punch for the camera, so the 2,340 x 1,080 pixels are all there to display content without a break. While the TFT LCD screen lacks the punch of OLED, image quality is perfectly acceptable. Honor's usual Eye Comfort blue light filter is here, and this can be set to kick in on a schedule or enabled as required. A big screen means a big phone measuring 163.5mm by 77.3mm by 8.8mm, which I couldn't reach across one handed, and had trouble fitting into smaller pockets. This is the perennial trade-off for a larger screen.

There is a 3.5mm headset jack on the bottom of the phone, along with a USB-C port for charging and a single speaker grille.The top of the chassis houses a caddy for two SIMs or one SIM and a MicroSD card. It's often irritating to have to sacrifice a second SIM for extra storage, but in this case there is 128GB of internal storage of which just 9GB was consumed by Android 9 and the EMUI overlay, so many users may not need to add more via MicroSD.

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Costs have been saved by using a Kirin 710 processor with 4GB of RAM. This is far from a cutting edge CPU, as reflected in the benchmarks -- three-pass average Geekbench 5 scores of 1310 (multi core) and 323 (single core). For comparison, see the Geekbench Android Benchmark Chart. Still, everyday performance was smooth, and provided you don't intend to run demanding games then this handset should perform well enough.

There is a big plus on the battery life front, with the 4000mAh battery lasting for 15 hours 5 minutes in the PC Mark rundown test. Anecdotally I had no trouble getting through a day running my customary 'knowledge worker' mix of workloads.

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The 16MP front camera slides up when needed, and retracts automatically if the handset is dropped.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

I mentioned the pop-up front camera. This has a 16MP sensor, and selfies look fine. It can be irritating waiting for the front camera to slide up, and it's not suitable for face login (indeed, that's not offered as an option here). The auto-retraction when the handset is dropped functioned flawlessly for me on testing.

There are three cameras at the back: a 48MP sensor with an f/1.8 wide-angle lens; an 8MP sensor with an f/2.4 ultra-wide-angle lens; and a 2MP depth-sensing camera with an f/2.4 lens. Photos are clear and sharp enough, and certainly if your main aim is to create records for sharing socially then this camera arrangement is fine. The exception is night mode, which I found to be disappointing.

For the price, the Honor 9X is a very decent handset. Good battery life, a large notch-free screen, plenty of internal storage, acceptable cameras (if you don't mind waiting for the pop-up and don't need high-quality night-shooting), and a distinctive chassis. It's certainly one to shortlist if your budget tops out at around £300.

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