Huawei is on a smartphone announcement spree. After launching the Honor 9i , Honor 7X and the Honor View 10 within a span of a month, one would assume the brand would take some time out — and maybe give us poor journalists a break. But no, they just had to go and launch another smartphone.
That new phone is the Honor 9 Lite, which is all set to release in India next week, 17 January to be precise. Stoical journalists that we are, we went ahead and attended the launch event to give you the low down on the new phone.
The Honor 9 Lite is quite the looker. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant
The price of the Honor 9 Lite will be announced at the official launch event on 17 January, and after going through the features on offer and the specifications, it would be safe to assume that the phone would be priced under Rs 20,000.
Until then, here are our first impressions of only the second Honor phone so far that sports quad-cameras.
Build and Design
The Honor 9 Lite borrows a lot of design elements from its siblings. This 5.65-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio, 2.5D curved display sporting phone has thin bezels on the right and left-hand sides. The Honor branding is noticed on the thin lower bezel. The top portion houses the dual cameras beside the tiny speaker section and the proximity sensor. The Honor 9 Lite comes with 2.5D glass on both the front and the back, separated by an aluminium frame. It measures around 7.6 mm thick.
The phone borrows many design elements from its siblings. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant
Turn the phone around and you notice some finesse, as compared to the Honor 9i , 7X and even the View 10. The camera bump that was prominently noticeable in all the other three phones isn’t very pronounced (although it does rise by just a millimetre from the plane of the rear side) on the Honor 9 Lite. The circular fingerprint sensor is at the top-centre portion and its matte finish makes is stand out in the glossy surroundings.
The glossy back stands out. For all practical purposes, it resembles a mirror as it is highly reflective. While I loved the Sapphire Blue colour variant as compared to the black and silver colour variants, the blue colour tends to attract a lot of smudges. These are easy to get rid of, unlike those on the metal back of the Honor 7X , but it can be annoying to constantly see smudges during your daily usage. The smudges are neatly masked on the silver backed Honor 9 Lite.
The good news is that the headphone jack is still here. The bad news is that there’s no USB-C. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant
The phone has an aluminium frame with rounded edges, which gives it a sufficiently good grip. While the volume rocker and power/standby button is located on the right-hand side, the SIM card tray is on the left-hand side. The bottom edge hosts the 3.5 mm audio jack, a microUSB charging and data transfer port and the speaker grille section. The phone fits quite well in the hand, although one-handed operation will be challenging. At 149 g it is quite light to hold.
Overall, the Honor 9 Lite is a good-looking phone.
While Honor has clearly taken dual-camera phones to heart (which might soon become quad-camera phones), it also appears to have embraced 18:9 displays. The last three phones we saw from Honor sported 18:9 aspect ratio display and the trend continues with the Honor 9 Lite. You get a 5.65-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio display with a resolution of 1080×2160 pixels, which gives pixel density of 428 PPI.
The 18:9 display is quite good. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant
The panel is an IPS LCD and in the limited time I spent with it, I found the display to be quite decent. It can get quite bright, has good colour reproduction and has no noticeable colour shift when viewed from extreme angles. The text was sharp, and I noticed no pixellation.
Chipset, RAM, Storage, Connectivity
Just like the Honor 9i and Honor 7X before it, the Honor 9 Lite also houses the HiSilicon Kirin 659 chipset which has an octa-core processor. It has a four Cortex A53 cores clocked at 2.36 GHz and another four Cortex A53 cores clocked at 1.7 GHz for the low-power tasks. On the graphics front, you have a Mali T830 MP2 GPU.
Our review unit comes with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage, out of which around 53.6 GB is usable. There is a 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage version of the same available as well.
On the connectivity front, you get a hybrid dual-SIM slot, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS with A-GPS and no infrared or radio.
OS and Software
One good thing about the Honor 9 Lite is that it comes with Android Oreo 8.0 out of the box. Of course, the Android OS gets a skinning treatment and comes with Huawei’s Emotion UI version 8.0 (EMUI 8.0). Huawei has fast-forwarded the version number of the EMUI from 5.1 to 8.0 to keep the EMUI version number the same as the Android version number, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
This is one of the few phones that will come with Android Oreo out of the box, albeit with some EMUI skinning. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant
It must be noted that the Kirin 970 sporting Huawei View 10 has the full version of EMUI 8.0, which takes complete advantage of the chip’s neural network processing unit (NPU) to carry a lot of on-device machine learning tasks.
The Honor 9 Lite, which sports the Kirin 659 chipset, gets a light version of the EMUI 8.0, which does not have all the features that would be seen on the Kirin 970 chipset-supported phones . That said, the focus on on-device machine learning continues with the Honor 9 Lite, according to Huawei.
We have done a detailed analysis of EMUI 8.0 in our Honor View 10 review , so you can read up on that. We will attempt to enumerate the differences between OS variations in our upcoming review of the 9 Lite. Off the bat, I noticed that in the camera section, the object recognition feature wasn’t present.
The phone uses an unusual dual-camera layout where one low-res camera is dedicated to capturing depth information. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant
The Honor 9 Lite continues the quad-camera tradition started by the Honor 9i . You get a 13 MP + 2 MP setup for the front camera as well as the rear camera. The 13 MP camera is the one which does the heavy lifting, whereas the 2 MP sensor is meant for capturing depth information, thereby helping you get that much-vaunted bokeh effect with ease. The aperture mode lets you adjust the depth before as well as after capturing the photograph. Both the front and rear camera pairs are capable of shooting FullHD videos at 30 fps.
Unlike Huawei’s most recent phones, the camera bump on the 9 Lite isn’t so prominent. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant
The user interface of the camera is quite straightforward. Swiping right brings up multiple modes such as Pro Photo, HDR, Panorama, Light painting among others. Swiping left brings up the settings menu. While trying out the camera indoors, I found the images to be a bit grainy. Outdoor daylight photos turned out well. But I will be doing a thorough testing of the camera during my review.
The Honor 9 Lite comes with a 3,000 mAh Li-Polymer battery which is non-removable. It supports Super Charge technology, which is Huawei’s fast-charging tech. But it comes with a microUSB 2.0 charging and data transfer port. This decision seems a bit odd in 2018 when USB Type-C should be mainstream.
Huawei has started 2018 with an interesting looking device, which seems to pack in all the features one expects from a mid-range Android. The four cameras, wonderful look and feel, an 18:9 aspect ratio display and Android Oreo 8.0 out of the box, are compelling features that are desirable for any Android smartphone buyer in 2018. A lot of this will boil down to the price point, however.
Anything over Rs 20,000 would be too difficult to justify, as the Honor 9i is Rs 17,999 right now. The sub-Rs 20,000 price segment is a fiercely competitive one, and if it falls into that bracket, the Honor 9 Lite has got what it takes to survive and thrive there.