Released in the UK last week, the Honor 9X Pro is an absolutely stunning phone.
It’s powered by an octa-core processor, has a gorgeous 6.59″ display, packs in a 4,000 mAH battery, a beautiful glass design, 48MP triple camera, 6GB RAM, 256GB built-in storage, and even a liquid cooling system for crying out loud. It’s even more impressive when you consider its price: just £250. That’s an insane amount of phone for such a low price.
The Honor 9X Pro’s specs rival flagship handsets at more than 3x its price, and to hold it in your hand it feels like a truly premium handset. Available in two colours – Midnight Black and Phantom Purple – it’s stylish either way, but the two-toned purple really is eye-catching. You’ll want to put a case on it straight away though; the phone’s all-glass exterior gives it a real premium, weighty finish, but it also means it’s extra fragile. Thankfully, Honor has thought of that: a flexible clear case is included in the box.
The phone’s screen is another sight to behold. With no buttons to speak of and no front-facing camera taking up real estate (the selfie camera pops up!), the entire front of the phone is all screen. Measuring a whopping 6.59″, it feels huge despite the handset being no bigger than a standard-sized phone. In fact, in terms of dimensions it’s almost exactly the same size as my Pixel 3A XL – but its screen is 0.6 inches bigger. That doesn’t sound like much, but on a handset it makes a huge difference.
The picture is crystal clear too. Its resolution is 2340 x 1080, which is less than the the likes of Samsung’s S20 flagship (which is 1440p), but on a screen this size you can hardly tell the difference. It makes viewing content a real pleasure; colours are vibrant, images are sharp. It’s a wonderful screen to play games on, too.
The camera works diligently in bright or low light. The f/1.8 aperture on the rear camera array means you get some wonderful natural bokeh and depth of field effects without needing to rely on post processing filters. The night mode isn’t as impressive as the leading phones – but for a fraction of the price, the Honor 9X Pro does a good enough job. The Super Wide Angle camera is very useful too when capturing landscape scenes (or simply wanting to take in more of a room). There is a zoom option too, but beyond 2x, images lose their clarity and a lot of noise is introduced. Still, it’s nice to have those features at your fingertips.
As mentioned, the selfie camera is pop-up. Switch your camera to front-facing, and it pops up automatically from the top of your phone. Switch back to rear camera, and it lowers back into the handset. It’s a very nifty gimmick, but it’s also a very good front camera, too. It has 16MP compared to the rear camera’s 48MP, but it still takes sharp, clear images. Plus, you’ll never grow old of seeing it pop in and out.
For how excellent the Honor 9X Pro is however, there’s one glaring problem: it doesn’t have Google Services. The lack of Google Services and Google Play Store means the amount of content available is severely limited. Honor is a company under Huawei’s umbrella and as such, is subject to the same trade restrictions the U.S. placed on the company last year. Older handsets – such as the Honor 20 Pro we reviewed last year – can continue using Google Services, but since the 9X Pro is a new handset, it’s reliant on Honor’s proprietary EMUI OS.
EMUI is based on Android, so to use it feels very familiar. It’s only once you start trying to download the apps you rely on that you’ll realise the phone’s limitations. YouTube? Not available. Netflix? Not available. WhatsApp? Not available. Facebook? Not available. Maps? Not available. Gmail? Not available.
It’s a huge problem, and there’s no way around it. Some of those services can be accessed from the phone’s browser, of course, such as Facebook and YouTube, but it’s not as seamless or as easy as loading up an app. Some apps may be side-loaded which might allow you to use them – transferring data from my Pixel to the Honor 9X Pro brought over all my installed apps, even ones that aren’t available on the Honor’s proprietary ‘AppGallery’ – but it was no guarantee they’d work. Trying to load up the app I use to control my smart thermostat simply granted me an error. “This app requires Google Play Services to function”, it said. It wasn’t alone. Numerous apps need access to Google’s behind-the-scenes services to function properly; simply getting the executable on your handset isn’t enough.
The Huawei AppGallery, which comes on both Huawei and Honor handsets, is woefully limited. You’ll find some recognisable leading apps on there, such as Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok, but it seems what it’s missing is greater than what it has. Honor is marketing this as a great phone for gaming – its processor and RAM specifications means it’s ideal. It also features Honors’ GPU Turbo technology, which enhances the power that games can draw out of the phone. Coupled with that fantastic display, gaming on the Honor 9X Pro really is a delight. The problem? There’s very few decent games available in the AppGallery.
There are a few big names – Fortnite, World of Tanks Blitz and Asphalt 9 Legends – but much of the store is taken up by knock-off games. Searching AppGallery’s recommended ‘action games’, you’ll find ‘Squad Free Fire Unknown Battleground’ and ‘Call of Sniper WW2’ near the top of the list. In role-playing games, the fifth recommendation is ‘Grand Gangster Theft Town’, with a logo ripped off of GTA. Further down is the Minecraft-looking ‘MultiCraft’.
It doesn’t paint a very good picture for the state of Huawei and Honor without the reliance on Google. EMUI has a lot of work to do to be able to stand on its own two feet. It’s possible that the U.S. trade sanctions may get reversed, but whether that will see the Honor 9X Pro getting updated to include Google Services is unclear. It’s also unlikely to happen. It’s a real shame that a handset as lovely as this can feel so useless without access to a huge swathe of apps.
If you like the idea of being untethered from Google’s grasp, however, or you aren’t bothered about using many apps, then the Honor 9X Pro is a handset worth considering. For £250, it really is the best value hardware on the market. It’s just severely hampered by its lack of Google Services, and that’s something that most average users will struggle to work around.