The HONOR 9X Pro: Decent Hardware for the Price, If You Can Live Without GMS
For the uninitiated, HONOR is the younger, cooler sibling of HUAWEI - yes, the same HUAWEI that lost the support of GMS (Google Mobile Services) when a certain orange-hued president babyraged and declared HUAWEI a security threat.
The HONOR 9X Pro suffered the same fate as its older sibling, but thankfully, it is also the first HONOR phone to ship with HUAWEI's workaround to the problem: the HUAWEI AppGallery.
But before we dive into that, let's take a look at the hardware on offer.
An upgraded exterior
Unlike its predecessor, the 9X Pro features a sexy glass back that instantly adds a more premium texture and heft to the device. The back features the eponymous 'X' design, and it comes in a gorgeous iridescent Phantom Purple colour; there is also a Midnight Black option for those who prefer a less ostentatious design, though it doesn't appear to be available in Malaysia at the moment.
On the rear, you'll find a triple-camera bump that's low-profile enough to not get caught on your jeans pocket or handbag.
Sitting comfortably at thumb-height is the power button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. The sensor is impressively speedy, and is perfectly positioned so your thumb will find it effortlessly, every time. Can't say the same for lefties, but hey, the world has never been fair to minorities, eh?
A small volume rocker sits above the power button - it feels clicky and responsive, though like my imaginary one-night-stands, I wish it would have been slightly longer instead.
At the bottom, you'll find the hole we all secretly desire - the 3.5mm jack. The USB-C port and a small speaker grille is located here as well.
Unmarred display, mediocre sound
On the front, you'll find a 6.59" IPS-LCD panel packing a 2340 x 1080 resolution. Display quality is respectable, with decent brightness, contrast, and viewing angles - but don't expect it to go toe-to-toe with more expensive OLED screens any time soon.
The pop-up camera makes a return, allowing for a viewing experience unmarred by a punch-hole camera or thicc bezels. Although operation is a little slow, the pop-up camera seems sturdy enough and is reportedly able to retract automatically when it detects a drop, much like a turtle sensing danger (though I didn't dare to attempt such shenanigans with a loan unit).
Sound-wise, it is pretty disappointing, with only one speaker on audio duty; as mentioned previously, it is located at the bottom of phone, making it easily covered by a poorly-placed palm or pinkie finger. Even when not obstructed, the audio it emits is hollow-sounding, especially at high volumes; this makes us even more thankful that we have an 3.5mm jack to plug some better-sounding cans into.
Admirable performance, with a battery that lasts
The HONOR 9X Pro is powered by a 7nm Kirin 810 chipset, along with 6GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. If you need more space to store your collection dodgy videos, you'll be pleased to find that it supports expandable storage up to 512GB.
It also performs well during gaming, maintaining a comfortable level of warmth even after long gaming sessions. Graphics are crisp and smooth when playing games like Asphalt 9, while performance is stable with little to no problems.
Battery-wise, it's impressive, lasting more than a day with casual use (no gaming) before you'll have to top it up via the USB-C charging port. Understandably, it doesn't support wireless charging - it's under RM1k lah, apa lagi lu mao. However, it does not support fast charging, which is inexplicable considering it labels itself as a 'pro' variant of a smartphone.
It takes about 30 minutes to charge it up to a third of its capacity, and almost 2 hours to top it up to full. Thankfully, the phone's long battery life compensates for this, so I can still forgive the omission although it certainly isn't ideal.
Decent back camera, doll-like selfies
The 9X Pro comes with 3 back cameras:
48MP main camera
8MP super-wide-angle camera
2MP depth assist camera
Taking basic photos at is decent enough in most lighting situations, be it daylight, indoor, or under dim lighting.
Please pardon the following photo samples as I'm trapped inside due to the MCO, so I'm just working with whatever view I can get (even if the view is of a hideous orange house with a shit-stained window in the foreground.)
1.0x (original) vs 0.6x (wide-angle)
As you can see, at 1.0x the picture is clear and bright with balanced contrast. The wide-angle shot works well to capture more in the image (duh) but loses detail and becomes muddier around fine edges (check out the bushes in the bottom right).
Various zoom levels
Clarity of zoomed-in pictures are okay to a certain extent, but start to look more and more like oil paintings the further you go. It's serviceable, but it's no P30 pro, that's for sure.
Normal vs night mode
Pictures taken in dimly-lit settings are decent, albeit lacking fine detail. The entire room in the picture above was lit by one upwards-facing desk light and a single strand of fairy lights.
Turning on night mode brightened up the picture rather artificially and brought out lots of details (even what appears to be dandruff on my Switch screen). Perhaps it would work better with outdoor city shots, which I am unfortunately unable to obtain due to the aforementioned MCO and hideous orange house obscuring my view.
The front cam is amazing for vain-pots who like to have flawless skin and bright Bambi eyes in their selfies, but less so for those who prefer more natural looking portraits.
As mentioned previously, switching to selfie mode requires a short wait due to the pop-up mechanism. It's not a huge deal, but may be annoying for impatient individuals.
Software and OS
Ah, the make-or-break point of this device. As you all are aware by now (unless you didn't read the title or introduuction of this article), the HONOR 9X Pro comes with one glaring omission: the Google Play store, or rather, Google Mobile Services as a whole.
In its place, you'll find the HUAWEI AppGallery. While it's a good effort by HUAWEI to replicate the Google PlayStore, it most certainly is NOT the PlayStore.
The first thing you'll miss are popularly-used apps like Facebook and WhatsApp. However, the HUAWEI AppGallery does link you to the official website where you can download an apk to install it separately, so that works.
Some other apps or games such as PUBG Mobile are unavailable on the AppGallery altogether, leaving you to wade through a bunch of clones and irrelevant results before realising you'll just have to source your own apk file via web browser instead,
Unpalatable as it may be, it is still possible to get a vast majority of your favourite apps onboard after jumping through a few hoops.
In terms of OS, it's running EMUI 9.1 based on Android 9, which is rather disappointing since Android 10 was released over 6 months ago. However, it is still clean and fluid despite being outdated. Hopefully, it will receive an update to Android 10 soon.
The HONOR 9X Pro is a decent device in a very awkward position. While it offers amazing battery life, a beautiful edge-to-edge display, and a massive 256GB of onboard storage making it perfect for both gaming or regular use, the lack of GMS might be a turn-off for those who are heavily reliant on the Google ecosystem.
However, for a mere RM999, you'd be hard-pressed to find a device that can match the performance of the 9X Pro. Also, the HUAWEI AppGallery is still in its early days, so we can expect more updates and quality-of-life features rolling out in the future.