The Honor 9 Lite is priced at Rs 10,999.
The phone runs on EMUI 8.0 based on Android Oreo.
The device has dual-camera setups at both the front and the back.
While we in India may not have noticed, Chinese smartphone maker Huawei grew to become the second largest smartphone maker in the world on global device sales. And while it may not seem like it, Huawei has a strong presence in India. Apart from extensive operations in the business-to-business side of things, the company also maintains a presence in the consumer space through its Huawei and Honor brands.
Although the Huawei brand isn’t quite as active in the smartphone space, the Honor brand definitely is. With frequent product launches, competitive prices and good smartphones, Honor is making a mark in various price segments, from the budget space to the ‘flagship killer’ space. Honor’s latest launch in India is the Rs 10,999 Honor 9 Lite, which comes close on the heels of the Rs 29,999 Honor View10. The new smartphone has a couple of evident things going for it, including dual-camera setups at both the front and back, as well as a glass-based build that makes the phone look fantastic. We review the Honor 9 Lite, and here’s what we think.
It’s like a mirror
What appeals to me the most about the Honor 9 Lite is the way it looks. At just 7.6mm thick, it’s a slim smartphone with a strong focus on design. The device has 2.5D curved glass at the front and back, which is notably different from the all-metal devices that we’re used to seeing in this price segment. What I definitely didn’t like about the phone is its plastic frame. It takes away from the otherwise excellent build quality, and will also make the phone a little less durable. This is of particular concern when you consider that the rest of the phone is glass. Drop it, and it’s likely to do some damage to the device.
The Honor 9 Lite is available in three color options – Black, Blue and Grey. They all look fantastic, but the Grey and Blue variants stand out for their own reasons. The Blue variant has a particularly catchy color that will attract looks from far away, while the Grey variant is almost a perfect mirror if lighting conditions are good enough. It sets the phone apart from most of what you’d find at a similar price, and some might even think it almost succeeds in looking like an Apple iPhone 8 Plus from certain angles, thanks to the slightly bulging dual-camera setup.
The front of the Honor 9 Lite also sticks to the color at the back, although there’s very little non-screen space to put that color in. The phone has a 5.65-inch full-HD+ screen with an 18:9 aspect ratio, leaving just thin slivers of room all around. The bottom just about manages to fit in the Honor logo, while the top has the earpiece, proximity sensor, notification light and dual-camera setup. It’s a fairly standard look on the whole, with nothing to complain about at the front. The screen itself is decent, maintaining sharpness and brightness without any issues.
Capable mid-range specifications
With a solid set of specifications for the price, the Honor 9 Lite has what it takes to convince buyers of good value. With either 3GB or 4GB RAM, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, hybrid dual-SIM connectivity and the HiSilicon Kirin 659 SoC, the phone is a solid mid-range performer. During our time with the device, I had no issues or complaints, with the phone proving to be a reliable daily driver.
The Kirin 659 SoC has been developed by Huawei subsidiary HiSilicon, and is fabricated on the 16nm FitFET+ process. It’s considered on par with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC, and the Honor 9 Lite does indeed perform at the same levels. Although the Qualcomm chipset does in my opinion offer slightly better battery life, the Honor 9 Lite isn’t far behind. With a 3,000mAh battery under the hood, the phone will get through a day on a charge, and takes a little over two hours to charge using the bundled 10W charger. This is a bit disappointing, and a fast charger would have been a good addition to the package.
Dual-camera setups aren’t new, but it isn’t often that you see two sets of it on a phone. Although the Huawei Mate 10 Lite and Honor 9i were the first devices from the company to have two dual-camera setups, the Honor 9 Lite brings it back at a stronger price point, which gives it a distinct advantage here.
Dual-camera setups come in many configurations, with different manufacturers using the tech for different implementations. You can have wide-angle photography, monochrome + RGB for better light and detail capture, lossless zoom and depth-sensing for DSLR-like bokeh effects in your pictures. In the case of the Honor 9 Lite, just the depth-sensing abilities are made available by the two dual-camera setups. This means that whether you’re taking a picture of someone or a selfie, you will be able to take depth-of-field pictures that highlight the subject and blur out the background.
(Camera samples shot on the Honor 9 Lite)
Let’s start with that then – the Honor 9 Lite takes portrait shots, and rather good ones at that. However, the software algorithms that process portrait shots are unlike what you’ll see on most other smartphones, and is naturally similar to that of the Honor View10 which uses the same software and interface. It’s tricky in that even if you have portrait mode and bokeh effect on, it won’t necessarily take the picture.
We found that unless the subject is looking at the camera, the phone doesn’t trigger the portrait mode at all. This means that pictures have to be properly composed and patiently put together to get it to work. This includes a steady hand to avoid blurs, as well as waiting just a moment longer to let the phone capture all of the information after you’ve hit the shutter button. If you get everything right, though, the results are great for a phone in this price range. The depth-of-field sensor does its job and captures the foreground cleanly. This is the case with both the front and rear camera setups, both of which use 13-megapixel plus 2-megapixel cameras. The front camera has fixed focus, which is tuned for selfies.
(Camera samples shot on the Honor 9 Lite)
When it comes to everything else, the camera is a bit disappointing. Regular photos taken using the rear camera are average at best, with a lack of real detail, brightness and composure. Although the images look good on the small screen of the phone itself, a closer look on a PC reveals grain, dullness and a general lack of pop. The pictures aren’t bad; they just aren’t very good either. In roughly this price range, you’ll get better photography from the slightly more expensive Xiaomi Mi A1, which uses its dual-camera setup more effectively and delivers on everyday photography better.
(Camera samples shot on the Honor 9 Lite)
‘Light’ EMUI 8.0
The Honor 9 Lite is the second smartphone from Huawei in India to run on Emotion UI (EMUI) 8.0, which is the company’s latest iteration of its Android-based user interface. While the previous version was EMUI 5.1, Huawei has skipped a couple of numbers in between to bring the version number in line with the Android version that it is based upon. The company will follow a similar strategy going forward, and for now EMUI 8.0 effectively means that the smartphone is running on Android 8.0. This makes the Honor 9 Lite one of the few smartphones in the mid-range segment to be running the latest version of Android, with many manufacturers still stuck on Android Nougat.
However, EMUI 8.0 in its full glory also needs the right chipset to power it – that is the HiSilicon Kirin 970 that can be found on the Honor View10. Since the Honor 9 Lite and many of Huawei’s other phones use chipsets such as the Kirin 659, the company’s software development team have also configured a ‘light’ version of EMUI 8.0 for these phones. It doesn’t quite have all the fancy features that are present on the View10; the artificial intelligence-based features are skipped here, as is the AR-style translator that uses the camera app. However, other features including smart split screen and dynamic fonts are present.
The former builds on Android Oreo’s native split-spreen, by letting you quickly load notifications in split screen mode as they come, without interrupting what you’re already doing. Dynamic fonts allows the system to change font colors and styling on the fly based on the background; a light background would have a dark font and vice versa. And of course, considering that EMUI 8.0 is based on Android Oreo, you get all of the native benefits of the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system.
Priced at Rs 10,999 (Rs 14,999 for the 4GB RAM/64GB storage version), the Honor 9 Lite has a lot going for it. The stunning looks and dual-camera setups on both sides stand out, but there’s also decent software, a good screen and decent specifications that make the phone a worthwhile option to consider in the mid-range segment. While the plastic frame, average camera performance with regular photography, standard battery life and slow charging are definite drawbacks, on the whole the Honor 9 Lite is a satisfyingly good smartphone, particularly considering that it’s significantly more affordable than similarly positioned competition.
While there’s a lot to justify it, competition in the mid-range space is as hot as ever. The Xiaomi Mi A1, Moto X4 and Huawei’s own Honor 9i give the phone a tough fight, although the Honor 9 Lite does have the distinct advantage of being priced incredibly well. It’s an impressive device that hits many right notes, and is definitely worth a look if you want a good-looking phone and the ability to take neat portrait shots, without having to spend too much money. The phone goes on sale on January 21, exclusively on Flipkart.