You’d be forgiven for not knowing much about Honor, or the Honor 9X Pro. This Chinese smartphone manufacturer is a subsidiary of Huawei, a much more well known brand in the western world, but Honor itself has been cranking out some fantastic handsets in the past few years. This latest effort, the Honor 9X Pro, has a lot going for it, but does it do enough to enter into the best smartphones conversation?
Packing a powerful 'flagship-level' Kirin 810 chipset and 6GB of RAM, the Honor 9X Pro has some tasty hardware under the hood, along with a liquid cooling system that is designed to keep the handset cool during extended gaming sessions. As a result, Honor are pushing the 9X Pro heavily as the gamers smartphone of choice. Throw in a surprisingly good camera, stylish design, and great screen and the Honor 9X Pro is starting to look like a winner. So what’s the catch?
Well there’s one major problem and it’s not really Honor’s fault - it’s the lack of Google Mobile Services which has come as a result of Huawei’s ongoing difficulties with the US government. But is this enough to sink the Honor 9X Pro?
Honor 9X Pro review: Design and styling
- Available in Midnight Black or Phantom Purple.
- Premium design and feel.
Anyone familiar with the previous model, the Honor 9X from last year will likely be wondering if Honor has pulled a fast one on them here, as the Honor 9X Pro looks almost identical to its predecessor. But looks can be deceiving and there are a few key differences. For one thing, the back of the device now has a glass cover, replacing the plastic shell that last year’s model had. This helps the Honor 9X Pro to feel like a better quality product in your hand.
The Honor 9X Pro comes in two colors: Midnight Black and Phantom Purple. Black is, well black. Classic. Timeless. The choice for the serious professional. But we’re massive fans of the trippy Phantom Purple color, which has a sci-fi looking holographic color changing effect as you change your viewing angle of the phone. It’s far out, man.
At 6.4 x 3 x 0.35-inches, the Honor is a fairly standard sized handset - we’d overlaid our OnePlus 8 and it’s almost identical in size. Beyond that, the design is fairly standard with the exception of the pop-up selfie camera, which is still the coolest thing we’ve ever seen.
Honor 9X Pro review: Screen and audio
- 6.6-inch FHD+ LCD display.
- Small bezels make for excellent viewing experience.
The screen on the Honor 9X Pro is a 6.6-inch FHD+ LCD display. At this price, it might be foolish to expect an OLED screen, unless sacrifices were made elsewhere, but there are some budget smartphones out there that have managed it. And when the Honor 9X Pro is touting itself as a gaming phone, where you’ll be staring at the screen for hours, we’d have liked to have seen an OLED display.
With that said, it might only be an LCD screen, but it’s a good LCD screen. Colors pop, there’s no issues with brightness or refresh rates. Videos and games looked great and played great on the Honor 9X Pro. The FullView screen has an impressive 92% screen to body ratio thanks to the tiny screen bezels, which makes it ideal for watching movies and playing games on.
Sadly, here we hit our first stumbling block for the 9X Pro when testing this because the world’s most popular game at the moment, Fortnite, currently isn’t supported by the Honor 9X Pro. Selling a gaming phone that can’t play Fortnite is like making a TV that can’t show Netflix. Utterly pointless.
In fact, the selection of games that are available is actually severely limited by the lack of Google Play Store support on the Honor 9X Pro, which we’ll get too later. Video games consoles are made or broken by their game libraries and that works for gaming phones too.
Honor 9X Pro review: Battery
- Good battery life.
- No fast or wireless charging.
On the power front, the Honor 9X Pro has a 4000mAh battery which Honor describes as an all-day battery. We found that to be an accurate description and during our testing we didn’t have any issues with the Honor 9X Pro running out of juice during the day.
Charging is done via the typical USB-C cable, though there’s no fast charging so you’re going to want to put it on charge overnight to make sure it’s fully powered in the morning.
Honor 9X Pro review: Camera
- Triple lens rear camera.
- Pop-up selfie camera.
The Honor 9X Pro has the exact same camera setup as its predecessor, the 9X. The rear camera has a triple lens system with the star of the show being the 48MP main camera, which is backed up by an 8MP ultra-wide lens and a 2MP depth sensor. The front facing camera is a 16MP pop-up camera, which we frankly will never get tired off.
This camera set-up isn’t likely to go toe-to-toe with the big hitters like the Samsung Galaxy S20, but this is an incredible camera system for such a cheap phone. For reference, the newly released iPhone SE only has a single 12MP rear camera and it costs a minimum of $399, around the same as the expected price of the Honor 9X Pro.
Honor 9X Pro review: Software and assistant features
- No Google Mobile Services.
- Lack of apps is a killer.
As a subsidiary of Huawei, Honor is currently experiencing the same issues with the US government as its parent company, which means no access to the suite of Google apps that we’ve come to expect and rely on with Android phones. So no Google Play Store, no YouTube app, no nothing. The Honor 9X Pro is still running on Android 10 though, so the UI will still make sense to anyone coming in from another Android smartphone, like the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus or Google Pixel 4 XL.
Unfortunately, this lack of access to the Google Play Store really is an enormous nail in the coffin for the Honor 9X Pro, at least here in the US. No matter how good the rest of the phone is, it’s almost impossible to recommend picking one up when you won’t have access to things like Netflix, Spotify, and Instagram.
If you’re tech savvy and willing to take the risk, you can install the Google Play Store and other Google services yourself manually, but neither Google nor Honor recommends this.
Honor 9X Pro review: Security
With a smartphone as cheap and powerful as this, you'd expect that Honor would skimp on the enhanced security features that you typically find in high-end smartphones, but that isn't the case here. Sure, there's is no facial recognition unlocking, but there is a side-mounted fingerprint scanner that doubles up as the unlock button. It's an excellent position for a fingerprint sensor and we found it never failed to read our reviewers fingerprint (and never let anyone else unlock it).
While it doesn’t have access to Google Mobile Services, the Honor 9X Pro is running on Android 10 and as such, it has all the in-built security features that come with the operating system.
Honor 9X Pro review: Price
- ... but you'll need to import one.
Since the Honor 9X Pro hasn’t officially launched in the US yet (and honestly, we’re not sure it ever will given Huawei and the government’s ongoing battle), your best bet is going to be importing one. You can pick up an Honor 9X Pro in Europe (France, Germany, Netherlands, or Italy) for €250, which is around $270. You’ll probably end up closer to $300 once you account for import fees though, which is still rather cheap. It’s about to launch in the UK too, but we doubt the exchange rate will be any more favorable there.
Should you buy the Honor 9X Pro review?
It’s really tough to recommend picking up an Honor 9X Pro at the moment, which is a huge shame because there’s a lot to like about it. It’s a gorgeous phone with a premium build quality and feel. The hardware under the hood has a decent amount of power and the camera is surprisingly great for a budget smartphone that isn’t focusing on photography.
Sadly, the lack of Google Mobile Services and access to the Google Play Store is a killer mark against, especially for a gaming smartphone. No Fortnite, no Minecraft, no buy.