- Compact, lightweight design
- Dual SIM
- Dual-lens cameras front and back
- 18:9 aspect ratio screen
- Camera image quality could be better
- No fast charging
- No water resistance
As Huawei's budget brand, Honor handsets are well known for offering good value for money. With the Honor 9 Lite the 'good value' theme is raised a notch, thanks to an 18:9 aspect ratio 5.65-inch screen and no fewer than four cameras.
Judging by its name, you might expect the Honor 9 Lite to be a trimmed-down version of the Honor 9, but there are some significant variances that suggest the new handset is a step sideways rather than a step down.
The Honor 9's 5.15-inch 1,080-by-1,920 (16:9) screen is trumped here by a bigger, taller 5.65-inch 1,080-by-2,160 (18:9) display. There are also dual cameras front and back, whereas the Honor 9 only has dual rear cameras. At the time of writing the Honor 9 is selling for £349 (inc. VAT) direct from Honor, so the Honor 9 Lite's £199.99 looks very appealing.
The Honor 9 Lite comes in blue and grey. Both colours use the same metal and glass chassis combination as the Honor 9, and I had the same problems here as with the earlier handset. The glass back is just too slippery to hold securely, and it collects fingerprints far too readily. There's also a bit of a lip where the back meets the metal edges of the phone, which feels a little uncomfortable in the hand.
Still, the almost bezel-free screen makes the Honor 9 Lite relatively compact and lightweight at 71.9mm wide by 151mm deep by 7.6mm thick and 149g. As 18:9 phones go, this is a tidy design.
The power connector is old-fashioned Micro-USB rather than USB-C, and there's a traditional 3.5mm headset jack on the bottom edge too. Unlike with most flagship smartphones, there's no IP rating for dust and water resistance.
To help accommodate the tall screen and keep the overall size down, the fingerprint sensor is on the back of the device, which is a good thing. Hitting a touch button beneath the screen is much less comfortable than finding one on the back of the chassis, especially when you're working one-handed.
The sensor can be used for a number of things in addition to login: touch and hold to answer a call, take a photo or shoot a video and silence an alarm; sweep down on the sensor to display the notification panel; double touch to clear notifications and slide up to close the panel; and sweep left and right to move through photos.
The extra pixels of depth provided by the 18:9 format are useful, and the screen's 428ppi pixel density makes even small text eminently readable. The panel also delivers plenty of brightness for outdoor reading. There's an 'eye comfort' mode that reduces blue light, which can be set to kick in and out at scheduled times, or be toggled manually. A slider lets you set the precise colour temperature.
The Honor 9 Lite will accommodate two SIMs, although the second SIM must be sacrificed if you want to augment the 32GB of internal storage with a MicroSD card. Out of the box, my review handset had 22.78GB free. The octa-core Huawei Kirin 659 processor with 3GB of RAM is no flagship offering, but performance is perfectly acceptable (3698 on multi-core Geekbench 4, 12418 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited).
The Honor 9 Lite runs Android 8.0 (Oreo) overlain with the Huawei/Honor EMUI 8.0 skin. One of the most obvious features of EMUI is that it puts all apps on a home screen rather than in a drawer: if you prefer the latter, the settings are easily tweaked.
The most irritating thing about the Honor 9 Lite is the sheer amount of pre-installed software, including six games, Instagram, Ebay, Booking.com, an odd little app called Mirror that displays your mugshot inside a frame, and a digital compass. None of these apps are irritating in themselves, but installing them should be a matter of user choice.
Both the front and rear cameras are dual 13-megapixel/2-megapixel affairs. The low-resolution cameras are all about providing the depth information needed for the now-popular bokeh effect that blurs a subject's background artistically. It works quite nicely, and is especially effective for selfies.
Features like light painting, time lapse and filters add a little fun to photography. Overall, though, the cameras aren't as effective as those on top-end handsets: the HDR feature is OK but not outstanding, while low-light photos can be very dark.
There's enough audio punch from the handset's single speaker to deliver a reasonably good gaming and listening experience, and it's nice to see an FM radio on-board. This used to be a standard smartphone feature, but has almost disappeared in recent years.
The Honor 9 Lite is powered by a 3,000mAh battery, which it's claimed will keep the handset going for 86 hours of offline music listening or 13 hours offline video watching. During the review period I managed a day's usage without issue, but there's no fast-charge support, so it'll take a while to get a near-empty battery up to full charge.
The 5.65-inch Honor 9 Lite is a nicely designed handset with an attractive 18:9 screen that performs well. But it isn't perfect: Honor talks up the two dual-lens cameras, but in fact there are low light issues and the secondary 2-megapixel cameras have limited functionality. Water resistance and fast-charging support are also absent from the feature list.
Even so, the Honor 9 Lite sets a new high bar for the £200 price point, making it the affordable Android handset to beat.
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