Honor 9 - A Different Kind of Android

I've been in the Android ecosystem since the HTC Desire. From there I had a HTC Desire Z, Sony Xperia Z, Honor 7 Plus, HTC Desire X, OnePlus 2, and now I'm on to the Honor 9.

It's fair to say that I was pretty happy with the OnePlus 2, and if the OnePlus 5 were more... shall we say, "competitively priced", my upgrade choice would have been a no-brainer. That's not to say it was perfect by any means; the OnePlus 2's low price tag meant spotty Bluetooth, a complete lack of NFC functionality, and a battery life that was a little sub-par compared to some of the other options on the market. Add to that a few frankly weird bugs relating to random reboots that caused me to miss alarms more than once. But all in all, I was happy with my choice.

But as we've established, financially speaking the OnePlus 5 was not an option at the time, and I'm nothing if not impatient. This was somewhat aided by the fact that I was still contractually paying for either the Honor 7 or the HTC Desire X, as that had broken early on in my contract due to a random act of stupid on my part, so when the moment to upgrade came I jumped at the chance.

Now, I wasn't trying to match the specs of the OnePlus 5 per-se. I knew that would be a tough nut to crack. So I focused instead on simply not inadvertently downgrading from the OnePlus 2. Honestly, I can't remember what the other choices were, although I do remember that the Lenovo P2 would have been in the running for its gargantuan battery life alone if it were available on contract (and in hindsight, if the other specs held up to scrutiny).

The Honor 9 has a few things worth noting when putting it up against other phones in its weight class. If the Honor 7 Plus could be compared to the Sony Xperia series of phones in design, the Honor 9 is closer to the Samsung Galaxy Edge line. It's sleek, smooth, and a genuinely pretty phone. It's worth noting that unlike the OnePlus and others, it doesn't come with a sneakily built in screen protector so you'll need to pick up your own, but let's face it, most cases come packaged with a couple anyway. If I have a complaint about the body of the phone, it's that the Honor 9 is a little too smooth. Without a case it's a bit on the slippy side and can't safely be placed on uneven surfaces without going for a slide. From experience, I can say this can be bad for the health of your phone. That said, it strikes me as a durable little phone and though I haven't had need to find out the hard way I expect it can take a fair few knocks before showing signs of wear and tear.

At the cost of a slightly smaller screen, the phone is lighter than a lot of phones out at the moment. However you certainly don't lose any fidelity on the display, and being a standard LCD screen it's seriously bright when required. So you end up with a brilliantly clear screen that fits comfortably in your hand without needing to stretch to reach the corners. Naturally there are battery implications for having your phone's brightness up high enough to set fire to small animals, but it is nice to be able to read the screen comfortably in direct sunlight.

In terms of sound, both media and call variety, there's little negative to say. Sounds are crisp and with just enough bass that's not at all tinny. As is standard you can knock your headphone volume up beyond the recommended maximum to get some unnecessarily loud noises to drown out the world around you, assuming tinnitus is something you desperately need in your future. The only very minor niggle with regards to the sound on the device is that the media speaker is on the bottom-right of the device, which when playing games in landscape mode is exactly where I rest my hand. As I say, a minor thing.

Storage space, processor speed, and RAM are all fairly standard at this point, but for the record those are 64gb, 8 x 1.8Ghz, and 4GB respectively. It's worth pointing out these specs are more or less the same as the OnePlus 2, but I find in practice the hardware is better optimised on the Honor than on the older OnePlus. Battery life is great, and without constantly jumping on high demand games I can get a day and a half without breaking a sweat. And for the days that I am insistent on playing games, the Honor 9's Fast Charge gets me back up to 50% from near 0 inside of 20 minutes. The camera is spectacular. The dual lens and image stabilisation make for some great pictures, even if I leave all my settings on automatic like some kind of heathen. Connectivity is great across the board, and in terms of security, the fingerprint tracker on the home button is easily the most accurate I've used on a phone to date. Not once in four months have I needed to repeat a scan.

The EMUI OS is likely where the detractors will start to raise voices, and I'm not completely out of that camp myself. EMUI 5.1 runs on top of Android 7.0, which doesn't cause any noticeable performance drops, but does cause a small amount of feature annoyance. Irritatingly, by default, the Back and Task Manager buttons are, from my point of view at least, the wrong way around (left and right respectively). And to further confuse, you all remember the app drawer? The hallmark of Android phones since the early days of Cupcake and Donut? Well by default, it's gone. If you don't want apps available on a screen, you need to drop it in a folder. This means that all of those system apps that you not only never use, but do not want and cannot remove, well those are on your screen, or relegated forever to a folder marked "Other" sitting in the bottom-right hand corner of your right-most screen.

Now it's not all doom and gloom where the OS is concerned. EMUI most definitely has the principles of Android at heart with its design, and while it does force you into some truly questionable decisions, you can restore the app drawer and the correct button layout if you so choose. Much as I hate to admit it, at some point Stockholm syndrome took hold, and I decided to leave these settings as Huawei intended. As a final note, I'd like to say I hate SwiftKey as a keyboard solution, which EMUI has installed by default. Half the time it replaces when it shouldn't, and the rest of the time it ignores obvious corrections. Sometimes it autocorrects to the highlighted option when hitting space, and sometimes it doesn't. There's no rhyme or reason behind it. I swapped back to the standard Google keyboard and I couldn't have been happier to do so as years of learned autocorrects fell back into place. EMUI can be great, but you need to make it your own first, or you'll be dealing with a somewhat serious learning curve.

I'm not really one for putting a number to a piece of tech, as whether it's good or not has a lot to do with your own personal experience with the device. That said, I for one am exceptionally happy with it. The Honor 9 has its quirks, but I'd be lost and confused without it.

Amazon product link: Honor 9