A 5.9-inch display with an 18:9 aspect ratio. A dual-camera setup at the front and back. Premium looking design. And a nearly-budget price tag. When you see a phone like that, it is fair to be impressed, mostly because it tries to offer more for less. While that part is true for the Honor 9i, there is more than what meets the eye. I spent over a week using the new Honor 9i as my primary device, and here’s our full review.
My first impressions of the Honor 9i, which I received on the day of the launch last week, was fairly good. The smartphone looks good, has an impressive set of cameras and a large screen. All of this had me believe that the device could well enough threaten the reign of the some of the leading devices of 2017. However, my review of the device, didn’t entirely imitate my first impressions. Therefore, because my time with the device was divided in the good and bad of what it offers, that’s how I am going to go ahead with this review, listing the pros and cons of the Honor 9i.
A large display, with just the right colors
To begin with, the first thing that catches your attention when you look at an Honor 9i is its display. It features a 5.9-inch Full HD+ display with 18:9 aspect ratio, a 2.5D curved glass, 83 percent screen-to-body ratio, and it is Honor’s first smartphone with the larger 18:9 screen that is currently in vogue. Also contributing to its large screen are the narrow bezels on the sides of the screen, with narrow non-screen space at the top and bottom.
The display is incredibly sharp with a resolution of 2160×1080 pixels. The brightness of the display gets a little too much sometimes, but for that it has an eye comfort mode, which the company introduced with the Honor 8 Pro. This essentially adjusts the blue light tint of the display, when you use the device on full brightness. Other than that, the colors in the display are pretty accurate, and the sharpness is just right. I found that the display produces good white and black levels, there’s no fading or bluish-black tint. Contrast between colors is impressive too.
The ambient light sensor of the Honor 9i works well as well. Personally, I get very easily irked when a phone gets the optimum brightness level wrong. But this one almost always gets the brightness level right depending on the ambient light conditions I’m in.
Further, despite the large screen the usability of the Honor 9i isn’t hampered. The display of the device has a full screen fit or a centre-fit view; you can select either as per your comfort. I found the full screen fit most comfortable. Naturally a 5.9-inch large screen isn’t the easiest to hold and use in one hand, but surprisingly, the Honor 9i’s UI caters to people with tiny hands like mine too. Though ideally I would want to type with both hands (that’s the case with any smartphone), but the option for one-hand usability remains quite open with this one.
The good parts of the Honor 9i camera
Now this is one feature which is both a pro and a con on this device. Let me discuss the pros first. The Honor 9i sports two dual-camera setups – one at the front and one at the back. At the front is a combination of a 13-megapixel sensor and a 2-megapixel one with selfie flash and bokeh mode. More features include 120-degree lighting angle and gesture activated selfies. At the rear there’s a setup of a 16-megapixel and a 2-megapixel camera.
For starters, I was impressed by the device’s flash photography at night. I compared Honor 9i’s shots taken inside a dark club to those on my iPhone 6S, and the Honor 9i was the clear winner. The flash is strong, and hits the subject just right. The pictures at night are bright and nicely composed. Day shots as well are crisp, with colors that are captured well. Morning photography will not disappoint you either. Even the front camera for that matter, is impressive both with and without the flash. Macro photography is a lot sharper with the Honor 9i because of its bokeh mode.
Like I mentioned, I used the Honor 9i as my primary device for over a week. Which meant that social media apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Messenger, were running at all times. Also active were my work apps such as Gmail and Slack. I was using Android Auto frequently as well. The Gaana app played for at least an hour every day. And I was playing Asphalt Xtreme for testing, but not every day.
With all of those apps running, the Honor 9i gave me a backup of about 12 hours, which is decent since the phone was being used heavily. Each morning I would start using the device at about 6:00AM, and I would be down to 5 percent by around 7:30PM. I also noticed that after 5 percent, the fall in the device’s battery is dramatic. You barely have another 15 minutes before the battery dies completely. Naturally, low use would keep the phone going on standby for much longer, but higher screen time tends to sap the energy out of the phone quickly.
The Honor 9i, especially with its Rs 17,999 price tag, has a bunch of features that one would only expect out of a premium device. Now, while the device impresses at some places with these features, it feels like it is becoming too big for its shoes, if I may say so. My experience with the device was decent overall, but I also saw a fair share of issues with the device.
Performs well but isn’t free of lags
The overall performance of the Honor 9i did not exactly disappoint me. In fact, running it on the benchmark test, it performed well, with a score of 62,173 on Antutu, which is comparable to the performance of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 that powers the popular Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, and the Moto G5s Plus. However, it wasn’t entirely free of issues either.
Like I mentioned before, using the Honor 9i as my primary device meant, all my social media accounts were almost always active. I have parallel conversations on Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp with my friends sometimes, and such instances happened while I was using the Honor 9i. And that’s when I noticed that a frequent back and forth between these apps slowed down the device. My Snapchat and Instagram app crashed a number of times. For that matter, there was this peculiar issue that I faced with my Snapchat that I could receive and view videos on my app, but when I sent it out, they only saw a frozen image with the audio playing in the background.
Also, a few days into using the Honor 9i, I gathered that the notifications were being delayed. I ensured that the background data was switched on, so that wasn’t causing the lag. But a couple of times I noticed that my app notifications came a minute or two late. And I wouldn’t blame this on my internet connection, because I have been using the same Wi-Fi every day when using my iPhone, and so does my family for their phones, and such an issue has never been faced.
Glitches in the UI
Another problem I faced was in the device’s UI. While most of it is smooth and interactive, the pull down control panel has a glitch. You’ll know that pulling the drawer down once reveals the basics such as Wi-Fi, data, vibration, auto-rotate etc shortcuts in the first row, followed by options like airplane mode, torch, and screenshot in the second row. Below these sit the notifications. On occasions, when I pulled the drawer down to switch the torch on, it would get stuck just at the first row. I removed all notifications, if that was causing it to get stuck that way, but that didn’t help. I had to lock and unlock a few times, to be able to use it they way it should.
The bad bits of the Honor 9i camera
Moving to the camera of the device, it has bunch of good qualities and they are deniable. But this is where we think the phone gets too big for its shoes. It features two dual-camera setup, but it feels like it didn’t do it well. To begin with the front camera, it has a 13-megapixel and 2-megapixel sensor, and the highlight is the bokeh effect that it offers. The non-portrait mode is great however, while pictures taken with the bokeh on look artificial and definitely not good. The “beauty mode” is so strong on the front camera, that it just clears the skin out, and does not look natural. That is not good photography, and establishes false beauty standards.
Further, while the rear camera does great with flash, the night shots are a bit hazy when taken without flash. The blacks are a bit grey-ish, and if you zoom a night shot even a bit, the pixels look broken and noisy. I have shared a few pictures I took with this phone above and below, and you will know what I mean when you see how this phone’s camera has its own pros and cons.
Gathering my thoughts, the phone is good on the whole, but it is not free of the little problems which can be irksome for many. Personally, other than the notification delay, I had no significant problems with the Honor 9i. Though Rs 17,999 for a smartphone with a full view and four cameras sounds like value for money, it may make sense to consider the Xiaomi Mi A1 or Moto G5s Plus as well, which are available for a little less than the Honor 9i. While these phones don’t have the 18:9 screen, there are other ways where these phones are a bit better. However, if screen is important to you, the Honor 9i will make for a good smartphone at under Rs 20,000.