The quick take
Finally, a budget Honor phone that just about ticks every box. Previous offerings have usually been very good phones, but the omission of NFC, in particular, made them hard to recommend since it blocked off access to Google Pay.
The Honor 9 Lite isn't exactly a trimmed down version of the Honor 9, with a tall aspect ratio display and four cameras. And unless you want more internal storage or a larger screen, the Honor 9 Lite is probably a better buy than the Honor 7X. At £199 in the UK, with hardware this good and Android 8.0 Oreo, this is arguably the budget phone to get right now.
- Excellent price
- Nice-looking display
- Decent battery life
- NFC so you can use Android Pay
- Android 8.0 Oreo
- Micro-USB not USB-C
- Fingerprint magnet
- No wireless charging
- It slides off EVERYTHING
Honor 9 Lite Full review
High-end phones are exciting, but they're also utterly predictable. Every year, the most expensive smartphones cram in more features, advanced cameras, better displays, more storage and so on. The cycle is never-ending.
Where smartphones are really exciting, at least to me, is in the budget sector. There's no race to the bottom, but there is a race to see who can pack the most into a phone for less money. And the Honor 9 Lite has mostly cracked it.
Honor phones aren't usually the top-tier price bracket, which is one of the things that attracts people to the brand the most. The 'other' name to come from the Huawei factories makes great phones, and in the case of the Honor 9 Lite, is one of the absolute best budget smartphones money can buy — if it's available in your country.
About this review
I (Richard Devine) am writing this review after a week of using a UK Honor 9 Lite provided by Honor for testing purposes. Throughout the course of the review, the phone remained on Android 8.0 Oreo beneath EMUI 8.0.
Honor 9 Lite Hardware
|Operating System||EMUI 8.0 / Android 8.0|
Expandable via microSD card
|Display||5.65-inch 2160 x 1080|
18:9 aspect ratio
2.5D curved glass
|Main Camera||13MP and 2MP dual-cameras|
|Front Camera||13MP and 2MP dual-cameras|
|SIM Card||Dual SIM or nanoSIM + microSD|
|Colors||Sapphire Blue, Midnight Black, and Glacier Gray|
|Ports||Micro USB, 3.5mm headphone jack|
The Honor 9 Lite isn't just a low-rent Honor 9 as the name might lead you to think. It's also a curious title to give to a phone launching this long after the Honor 9. There is, however, one striking similarity: the shiny back.
Honor makes some of the most aesthetically pleasing smartphones on the market and the Honor 9 Lite carries its namesakes handsomeness with that ridiculously shiny, stunning sapphire blue back cover. Other colors are available, but the blue is the one to get. It looks incredible.
The trade-off is that while it looks so good, it'll only do so as long as you keep it clean. If ever a phone was designed to show off your lovely fingerprints, it's this one. You don't ever need to worry about firing up the front camera if you need a mirror. Thankfully, the blue portions on the front are, well, normal. The other trade-off is that it'll slide off any table you put it on.
The color envelopes the entire phone save for the camera cutouts, and the Honor logo squeezed on the front. Often, a manufacturer logo on the front of a phone is part of a huge bezel, but not so here. The Honor 9 Lite has a 5.65-inch, 2160 x 1080 FHD+ display at 18:9 aspect ratio. Or as Honor calls it, FullView. I'm not personally sold yet on these type of displays, but on a phone this size it makes total sense.
The Honor 9 Lite is a very light, compact phone, but one that still has a large display. It's a similar story to the LG G6. This phone is only a smidge taller and wider than the Pixel 2, but with much more display to use. You'll still need giant hands to successfully one-hand the whole thing, but you don't need giant pockets to put it in (and you can at least swipe the fingerprint scanner to drop the notifications tray).
The fingerprint scanner is suitably brilliant, being a Huawei-made phone. Since the Ascend Mate 7, Huawei has packed some of the fastest, most accurate fingerprint sensors into its phones, and it's no exception here.
You've also got a raft of additional features linked to it, such as the afore mentioned notification tray access, but you can also hold it to answer a call and use it as the shutter button in the camera app, for stopping alarms and to browse through your photos in the gallery app.
These little touches make interacting with some important aspects of the Honor 9 Lite much more enjoyable with one hand without needing to explicitly use the one-handed UI mode.
Speaking of the display, it's very nice. The default color mode pops and has both vivid colors and fairly deep blacks. You get a built-in "eye comfort" mode which will warm everything up at a schedule of your choosing, and a "smart" resolution feature that's designed to change the screen resolution to help you save power. I'm not convinced it makes much difference, but it's there and you can use it. You might find more life from it than I do.
The display itself is top-notch but the front is still a little too reflective, which makes looking at something other than your own reflection a little tough in any lighting.
And ending the hardware tour on a song: The Honor 9 Lite has NFC. That sound is the angels singing. The Honor 7X and Honor 6A that came in 2017 (and the former of which is more expensive than this phone) do not have NFC so you can't use Google Pay. Being able to pay for things with your phone shouldn't be a premium feature, and finally, Honor saw the light.
Now all we need is for the budget sector to embrace USB-C.
Honor 9 Lite Software
In years past, we'd review a phone made by Huawei and have great things to say about the hardware, and then we'd get to the software and be banging our heads on a desk. Those days aren't missed.
It's still entirely true that EMUI will split opinions, especially among Android purists. It's still bright and bold, the menu system is blindingly white and by default, there's no app drawer out front. But you can add an app drawer in settings and there are a bunch of themes you can download from the Play Store to change everything else. I found one that mixes neon app icons with a dark theme throughout the phone's UI, and it's much nicer.
The truth is also that EMUI just performs a lot better than it once did. The "WTF" moments are few and far between and it's just plain fast. The Honor 9 Lite is running the latest EMUI 8.0 on top of Android 8.0 Oreo, which even though we'd expect on any new phone, is still pleasantly surprising on a budget model.
There are still parts of EMUI on this phone that could be better, and you still get a nagging notification at times that an app is running in the background. Android is OK with apps running in the background, go away.
EMUI as a whole isn't massively changed in its latest form from other phones like the Honor 7X or even the Honor 6A, both of which were mostly the same as the Honor 9. Refinement is the key, and at least with the Honor 9 Lite you're getting Oreo as well.
Honor 9 Lite Camera
Why have two cameras on your phone when you can have four? The Honor 9 Lite packs a pair of sensors on both sides of the phone, and in both cases the same 13MP + 2MP arrangement. Why is this important? Mostly because it allows the front facing camera to shoot in portrait mode, with Honor opting for a hardware solution to the problem.
The camera app is the same as you'd find on other Honor or Huawei phones, which is a very good thing because it is packed to the rafters with features. Moving photos, HDR, manual photo and video modes, light painting, filters, time lapse and 'variable aperture' are all present and correct. If you like to have control, you get plenty of it with the Honor 9 Lite.
While portrait mode adds the bokeh effect to your pictures of peoples faces, the variable aperture feature allows the same thing for any photo and naturally, you have control over it, but it also allows you to shift the focus point of your photos after the fact.
There's a selection of samples below along with just regular, every day shots, but there's one thing I feel needs pointing out about the portrait mode: It isn't very intuitive to use. On the Pixel 2, for example, you select portrait mode, take a photo, and you're done. On the Honor 9 Lite you have to select portrait mode, then you have to realize you have to manually enable the bokeh effects. And adjust the "beauty" filters on the front camera because they're all bundled together.
Did I try portrait mode a number of times, thinking it was pretty poor before I realized you had to tap on the screen to turn the bokeh on? Yes, yes I did. Why isn't it just on? That's the whole point of portrait mode.
The portrait mode effects are pretty consistent, but even though the Honor 9 Lite uses hardware not software, it doesn't quite nail the edges of the subject. It'll detect the face just fine but if you look closely around the edges of the subject, there's some definite fuzziness.
I'll leave you to make up your own mind on the quality, but for a £199 phone, I'm pretty happy. It isn't going to challenge the very best phones from Huawei or anyone else, but for the most part it's a strong enough shooter, though it does seem to struggle to get the exposure right sometimes. Hardware solutions for portrait mode means consistency and a solid result from both the front and rear cameras. Detail and color reproduction are pretty good and I particularly like the ultra snapshot feature.
As the father of two young kids, being able to double-press the volume down button to instantly launch the camera and take a photo in under a second is sometimes the difference between catching a moment and missing it entirely.
Honor 9 Lite Battery life
It's no longer remarkable in any way that you can get through a full day comfortably on a single charge. It's also not particularly shocking that you can go a decent chunk into the following day. I'd probably still recommend charging this phone at night, but you can happily hammer its 3000mAh battery all day and not have to worry about needing a charger before you go home.
Honor says the 9 Lite has "fifth generation smart battery saving technology" which sounds impressive. As I mentioned earlier, you still get an unnecessary notification from time to time of things running in the background, but whatever the techy reasons behind it, you're getting good life from the Honor 9 Lite.
If you do want to try and squeeze as much life from it as you can, there's not only a battery saver mode but an ultra battery saver mode, and a whole bunch of "optimizations" you can make to extend your battery life. Honestly, it's 3000mAh, it's plenty big enough. Just leave it alone, enjoy your phone and charge it when you go to bed.
Honor 9 Lite Bottom line
Is this the best phone you can buy for £199 right now? There's a strong case to say yes. What you get in the Honor 9 Lite is a hardware experience comparable to more expensive, 'flagship-class' phones at a much lower price with a smooth, fast software experience and a strong camera wrapped up in a premium looking body. And I'm easily convinced that Honor's Sapphire Blue is one of the best looking colors ever to grace a smartphone.
EMUI is still far from perfect, but in the Honor 9 Lite at least it comes atop Android 8.0 Oreo, so you're not starting out with one leg in the past. And there's no jankyness to speak of, which never used to be the case.
Quad-cameras may at first sound like a gimmick and something to look good on the box, but what it offers is that ever more important portrait mode through hardware. This means it's reliable, produces a good quality effect and isn't reliant on how good Huawei's software boffins are at coding the effects.
What you get in the Honor 9 Lite is a very good phone for any price point. For £199, it's perhaps untouchable right now.