Saturday 7 July 2018

Honor 9

Many thanks to +Clove Technology for this blue review unit. It's running with a Kirin 960 chipset, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage and Android Nougat 7.0 with May 2017 Google Security Update.

The Honor 8 was a cracking device, and now Huawei's daughter has pushed out an update to that, imaginatively nominated the Honor 9. For 'tis the way! It looks pretty similar in many ways except that Honor have 'done an HTC' and made the beautifully aluminium and glass clad casing shine like polished jewellery. Some may say bling. It's not quite a mirror on the back like the HTC U11 but it's certainly very reflective and super-shiny. It needs a case as it's going to slide off any surface!

The main obvious and physical difference, however, is that the fingerprint sensor has been shifted from the back to the front. I was always a great fan of the FPS being on the back. Much more convenient when getting the device out of the pocket for the index-finger. But the more that time goes on and the more time I spend with devices with the scanner on the front, particularly the Moto devices, the more time I seem to have with the device laid down in front of me, coffee table, bedside, desk, the more I realise that actually, for 90% of my use, front is better. So I'll give them that, but it might not suit you. The FPS sensor, however, is lightning fast compared to some cheaper models recently tested here. Sadly there's no long-press screen-off even if another launcher is employed and Navigation Controls are placed on the screen itself. Moto Z-family seem to be one of few, if any others, which employ this. There's no Google Assistant out of the box, long-press the Home button and you get Screen Search still.

Flanking this 'pill' shaped FPS and Home Button (take note, Moto) are two dots. Capacitive. Not on the screen taking up space. They glow in a very dull fashion and turn off in no time after use. Two seconds. Thankfully, in Settings, this can be switched to 'on when screen on'. But they remain dull and quite hard to see, especially out in daylight. But your brain will know where they are very quickly. And they can be switched around for those who choose to not follow the chosen route by the system's creator.

The IPS LCD 1080p screen has been reduced from 5.2" to 5.15" for some reason. Odd. But it's bright and vibrant (when cranked up - the auto-brightness is poor and needs fixing in an update, but I think I said that about the 8) and the size in hand is just perfect as the screen pushes out to the sides and chin/forehead reduce. The colour of the screen can be adjusted along with a thousand other aspects of all sorts of stuff in Settings. A tinkerer's delight. USB-C is present at the base with Fast Charging (40% in 30 minutes), 3.5mm earphone socket and single Mono Speaker. On the left is the Nano SIM/MicroSD Card Tray, on top a Selfie Camera microphone and IR transmitter and on the right, volume rocker and power button. The fit and finish is quite superb, as it was for the 8 and, as seems to be usual these days, design is very iPhone. You just can't seem to get away from it. It seems that manufacturers want people's friends to think they have an iPhone worth twice as much. Anyway, that's how it is. Fortunately, it's lovely.

The gorgeous curves around the back lead us to a Dual Lens camera set-up with LED flash in the usual way and the Honor brand proudly stamped 75% up and centre. Inside the sealed back is a 3200mAh Li-Po battery, up from 3000 in the 8. It's really hard to fault the design and finish. It feels lovely in the hand. Perfect size, beautifully slim and pocketable.

The Mono speaker I mentioned is really quite good, for the size. Certainly much better than many. Unfortunately, there's no way to equalise the sound out of the box, unless you plug in earphones. You then get access to the Huawei Histen Sound Effect App producing all sorts of settings and 3D-Audio providing 'Near-Front-Wide' optional effects/sounds. And I have to say that it sounds great, tested with my Marshall Monitor Headphones, the effects making a real difference. Sadly, not only is none of this available through the speaker but also the Equaliser function has been stripped out of Google Play Music, so the listener can't even tweak there. Without a 3rd Party Music Player, the speaker is as-is. Very good, loud enough'ish and not tinny.

The Notification Shade is very Honor 8, as you'd expect, with EMUI 5.1 running things at the front-end, with that lovely 'neon' colour scheme reminiscent of Android Ice-Cream Sandwich, but with gorgeous fonts and icons which make the settings a delight to use. The drop-downs and Notifications are very iPhone-looking, too, with those rounded white boxes, and that's a good thing. Very attractive throughout. You get a HomeScreen choice with App Drawer or not, eye-comfort filter for night-viewing relief (with timer) and a Simple Mode as part of the setup which seems to emulate the 'tiles' of W10M!

Sadly, during Setup, Huawei/Honor really push their Apps and Stuff at the user and it's all so easy to just agree to download their stuff and set defaults to go their way instead of mainstream Google. And there's a huge amount of bloat, much more than most these days, installed at factory. Some of which can be uninstalled (AC Utility, Asphalt Nitro, Backup, Booking dot com Hotels, Dragon Mania, eBay, FaceBook, Health, HiCare, Instagram, Kingdoms, Little Big City, Mirror, Results, Smart Controller, Spider-Man, Top Games, Trip Advisor, VMall) and some which can only be disabled at best (HiCare, Huawei Mobile Services, Notepad, Recorder, SwiftKey, Weather). I get that they're trying to keep the price of the hardware down by partnering with App developers, but there are limits and others, Sony, HTC, Samsung, have toned this onslaught down these days.

As usual, I'll leave an analysis of the 20MP/8MP cameras' features, functionality and quality to +Steve Litchfield as this unit heads to him. I'm sure that he'll cover this fully in his video Phones Show as I send it over in the coming days.

For now, though, I'm not really sure that it was worth the upgrade from the 8. The changes and improvements are not staggering, more of an evolution, but given that it's pitched at pretty much the same price, of course it's worth getting if you don't have an 8. It's really a very impressive piece of hardware, there's no sign of any slowdown or lag anywhere as it flies through task upon task and is a very capable mid-tier device performing very much like a flagship. If you're in the market for a very capable, classy Android phone with great build and few compromises for a reasonable price, I'd recommend this very highly and in stock at +Clove Technology right now for £379.99.

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