There’s no let up in the smartphone market and Honor has yet another new handset to tempt those looking for a stylish phone at an affordable price. Here we take a close look at the Honor 9 Lite in our full review.
Honor’s range can get a little confusing especially when you include Huawei, the firm’s parent company, devices into the mix.
So the Honor 9 Lite sounds like a cut-down version of the excellent Honor 9 and while it is to some extent, it’s also a sort of mini or light edition of the Honor View 10 because of its 18:9 screen.
However, the device is closest – almost identical in fact – to the Huawei P Smart which has just launched on Vodafone. Honor’s version, though, will be a great way of picking up the same phone on a contract-free basis. A new contender in the cheap phone market is the HTC Desire 12+.
Honor 9 Lite: Price and availability
Honor is known for making attractive phones with decent specs for a fraction of the price compared to rivals. The official price for the 9 Lite is £199 which makes it fit into the budget range of the market. It has since been reduced to £169.
For Black Friday 2018, you can get the phone for just £129 until 24 December.
Honor 9 Lite: Design and build
There’s no design overhaul when it comes to the Honor 9 Lite. It does indeed look like the Honor 9, one of our favourite mid-range phones ever, so uses the now familiar combination of glass and aluminium.
Honor’s current range of phones are very glossy and eye-catching thanks to the glass front and rear covers and the signature blue colour. The ‘mirror-like’ finish – on the blue and grey models – might be attractive in photos but quickly gets grubby with fingerprints and the like.
In design it actually looks like a successor to the Honor 9 due to a move to an 18:9 screen which is all the rage these days. That’s why it also looks similar to the Honor View 10 which is bigger.
That said, Honor has moved the fingerprint scanner to the back instead of squeezing it in below the display. This is pretty usual for an 18:9 smartphone and the sensor is neatly placed in the middle and away from the cameras.
There is a camera bump but it’s very small and doesn’t cause the phone to rock when placed on a flat surface.
The new screen means the Honor 9 Lite is a little taller than the regular model. It’s marginally thicker at 7.6mm but it’s actually lighter by 6g at 149g. In the UK, the Honor 9 Lite is available in Sapphire blue, Midnight black and Glacier grey.
Overall, the Honor 9 Lite is easily one of the nicest phones around in terms of design and build at under £200. It certainly doesn’t feel like a budget device, but can it offer enough when it comes to specs and performance?
Honor 9 Lite: Specs and features
As mentioned already, the Honor 9 Lite is something of a combination of existing phones. Offering the kind of things you would expect at the mid-range level at the least.
Much is similar to the regular Honor 9 but the even cheaper newbie has the same 18:9 style screen available on the View 10.
That screen is 5.65in so it sits between the 9 and View 10 in terms of size. It’s a big screen considering the physical size of the handset. The resolution slightly higher than the 9 at Full HD+ 2160×1080 to accommodate the 18:9 aspect ratio and retain the 428ppi pixel density.
Overall the IPS screen is very nice offering decent brightness, an ‘eye comfort’ mode and the softer colours of an LCD panel. We’re very impressed for a phone at under £200.
Processor, memory and storage
It’s no surprise that the Honor 9 Lite has a lower grade processor than its compadres, with a Kirin 659 – as used in the Honor 7X – instead of the flagship level 960 or 970. It’s still an octa-core chip with decent speeds
Other spec cuts are expected but getting 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage is perfectly acceptable and enough for most people buying a phone in this range. And there’s always the microSD card slot if you need to add more storage – up to 256GB more.
As you can see in our benchmark results it outpaces key rivals like the Moto G5 in Geekbench but the Nokia 5 offers better graphics performance thanks to its lower resolution screen.
Overall we’ve found the performance to be smooth in general usage but it’s not flawless. The main issue is that the camera can take a while to load, and we’ve even found the app menu to lag sometimes.
Using a memory card will take up the second SIM slot but this won’t bother most users. The Honor 9 Lite features LTE connectivity, NFC, 11b/g/n Wi-Fi and GPS.
It doesn’t have the more modern reversible USB-C port but does have the more and more elusive headphone jack.
The fingerprint scanner on the back works well and can be used for various things other than unlocking the phone. These include taking photos, answering calls, stopping alarms, browsing photos and pulling the notification panel down – you just need to go switch them on in the settings.
Apart from having a ‘FullView’ display, Honor is really selling the 9 Lite on the basis that it has no less than four cameras. You’ll find a combination of 13- and 2Mp camera on the front and back.
Each pair works together to provide what’s commonly known as a portrait mode, where the 13Mp sensor captures the detail while the low resolution sensor is there for depth effect. Although the rear cameras are the same, they feature HDR and phase detection auto focus.
Once again, the Honor 9 Lite is impressive here if not perfect. Aside from the camera taking a while to load and the autofocus taking a while to lock on, the results are generally good from both rear and front.
As you might expect from a budget phone, low light performance isn’t anything special but as you can see below the HDR mode works well for landscape and the portrait mode does a decent job – just remember to turn on the bokeh effect to blur the background.
It’s understandable there’s nothing like wireless charging here and even no USB-C. There’s a 3,000mAh battery which is about average for a mid-range phone but more than usual for the budget category. Some fast charging would be nice but perhaps that’s too much to ask at this price.
Honor promises a whole day of usage and that’s what we’ve found during our testing. Even being out and about relying on the 9 Lite for Google Maps and more wasn’t enough for it to conk out before bedtime.
Honor 9 Lite: Software and apps
It’s great to see that the Honor 9 Lite comes with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box. That’s the latest version which many of last year’s phones, even the Galaxy S8, haven’t been updated to yet.
Honor adds Huawei’s EMUI 8.0 on-top which used to be a big issue but the overlay has been improved over time.
These days it’s closer to stock, simpler and easier to use. You get the Google Now panel a swipe away from the homescreen, gorgeous lockscreen images that change every time you unlock and the option to customise the phone with Themes.
There are still issues though and on the downside, there are a few too many pre-installed apps including no less than six games and by default there’s no app draw. Luckily you can easily switch it on in the settings.
You can do things like double tap to wake the screen but they’re switched off by default. As is the app draw/menu so you’ll be presented with an iOS-style layout at first. not everyone will like SwiftKey either, but you can easily install a different keyboard if you like.
Overall then, it’s not a perfect software experience but it’s much better than previously and most issues can be rectified with some customisation.