Yesterday was Huawei’s summer showcase in New York City, a
chance for the company to bring not just their latest devices stateside, but
their mission statement as well. Huawei’s slogan “make it possible” speaks not
only to the consumer but also to the company itself. Just a few short weeks
ago, it was named the 88th most valuable company on Forbes top 100
list, and now it seems Huawei is poised to creep up from behind and begin to steal
market share from the biggest names in the industry. Their high-performing
chipset sub-brand, HiSilicon, continues to produce capable and high-powered SoC’s,
and in turn, more mainstream attention, just as their Honor line of affordable
flagships has. Honor’s tagline “be courageous” may not speak as clearly to the U.S.
market as it does to itself – selling a flagship phone for about $480 is still
pretty courageous these days – but should it? We had some hands-on time with
the latest Honor flagship, the Honor 9; join us as we begin to ascertain the answer
to this question, as well as Huawei’s take on the matter.
The Honor 8, although not ground-breaking in its design, is
a premium-looking device with a blue color option that helps it stand out a
bit. This year, the Honor 9 makes some tasteful tweaks to this aesthetic. Huawei
has added a second layer of glass to the back, as well as curving the back
panel so it rests in the palm nicely, a-la the form of the Galaxy S7. The
second glass panel should help some with durability, but is mostly for
aesthetic purposes, adding another refractive layer which creates a very nice, deep,
pool-like reflection on the mirror backing, much like that of the HTC U11. The distinctive
blue color also makes a return, which also looks quite stunning with the new
back. The fingerprint scanner has now moved to the front in the form of a
clickable home button covered in sapphire glass, and despite the bump in size from
12 MP to 20 MP for one of the two cameras, there’s still no resultant bump on
the phones backing. Overall, the Honor 9 encompasses a somewhat familiar but
nonetheless eye-catching and beautiful design.
Our first impressions of the screen were quite good.
Compared to the Honor 8, the display of the 9 has a slightly warmer tone to it,
which is nice, despite having seemingly the same resolution and screen
technology. 1920 x 1080 px still serves this 5.15-inch screen well, showing
good depth and color range in our time with the device. Tools to tweak the
colors are still available too, in the form of three preset modes (default,
warm, and cold) as well a palette to shift the colors on.
UI and Performance
EMUI makes its return in the form of EMUI 5.1, showing a
familiar and clean interface as well as snappy and prompt performance.
Navigating the UI was a smooth affair, showing no signs of stutter or lag throughout
our use. Of course, we’ll need to spend more time with the device in various situations,
but suffice it to say, we were certainly pleased with its initial showing. Upgrading
from the Kirin 950 to the newer 960 has helped an already responsive phone to remain
competitive with the some of the world’s most popular flagships. How competitive
remains to be seen, but it seems the Honor series is making the proper incremental
improvements to raise its status as a contender to these phones.
The Honor 9 comes in two configurations: 64GB storage with 4
gigs of RAM or 128GB storage paired with 6 gigs of RAM – still no word of a US
launch for either. One notable drawback however is the use of eMMC storage,
which we confirmed with the company. Of course, eMMC is a cheaper storage
solution to implement, but the use of UFS 2.0 could double the speed in most
scenarios, and UFS 2.1 could nearly quadruple it. More on this, as well as
Huawei’s configuration mishap in the P10, can be found in our article
on the matter. We didn’t necessarily expect UFS 2.1 in the Honor 9, nor did
we feel its absence, but it would be quite a feat for Huawei to make its
absence a complete non-factor. Of course, we’ll have to wait until review time
to properly analyze this.
On the subject of performance, the company indicates that
they will be looking to the newest Kirin processors, as well as later
iterations of EMUI to make “a huge difference in performance.”
The Honor 9 is a fine device - one we hope to see hit U.S. shores soon. Does it have a groundbreaking new design? No. Is it a good looking phone with a premium look? Yes. Selling for less than $500, the Honor 9 seems to be a great option for those who want a decent flagship without paying the premium flagship price. Who said inexpensive phones had to look cheap? With regards to performance, we're quite satisfied, as we were with the Honor 8. The Kirin 960 is a capable processor, likely to age well. Of course, we'll have to see how this holds up in deeper testing. Huawei has big hopes to give the top dogs a run for their money. For now, we’ll have to take them at face-value, and our time
with their products has us siding with Forbes; Huawei does know how to create
To follow Honor's progress, make sure to check out their Honor Beta Test Facebook page for updates and information on how to become a beta tester!