Telling Honor how to make a budget blower would be like lecturing Lewis Hamilton on how to win F1 races: this is a company that knows what it’s doing.
Case in point: the Honor 9. It was probably the best phone you could buy in 2017 for sheer value. And now it has a baby brother that’s somehow even better.
The Honor 9 Lite takes all the bits we loved before, like the spangly glass design, but adds modern must-haves like an 18:9 screen and skinny bezels. And to top it off? Not one, but two twin-lens cameras - one for the back and another up front.
After trying one out at the official UK launch, we’re scratching our heads as to how it will only set you back £199.
HONOR 9 LITE DESIGN & BUILD
It’s shiny. Oh, so shiny. That’ll be the 2.5D glass, which has been treated with what Honor calls a “nano-etched optical coating” - basically geek speak for a mirror finish. It’s sandwiched into a metal frame, and looks the business.
With the 18:9 screen taking up most of the front, the fingerprint sensor has been shunted to the back, and the hardware buttons have been scrapped for onscreen keys. Seriously, you’ll struggle to find a £200 phone that looks as good as this.
That finger scanner is in a sensible place, right where your index finger rests when you pick up the phone, and is well away from the rear cameras. You’d need digits longer the size of cucumbers to smudge these lenses.
In fact, the whole thing feels very comfortable in your mitts, being shorter and narrower than the 6in OnePlus 5T.
The all-important 3.5mm headphone port hasn’t gone anywhere, either, so there’ll be no dongle life with one of these in your pocket.
HONOR 9 LITE CAMERAS
It’s hard enough hunting down a sub-£200 smartphone with one dual-cam setup, let alone two, so you’d be forgiven for wondering if the Honor 9 Lite’s snappers are really up to snuff.
You get a 13MP main sensor, paired with a 2MP secondary sensor dedicated to depth mapping. It’s this that helps work out which bits to blur when you turn on the wide aperture or portrait modes.
Do they work? Sometimes, yeah - when the blur is just right, your shots can look like they were taken with an expensive camera, not a smartphone that you just slipped out of your pocket. It’s not infallible, though, with some dodgy detection leaving parts of our test shots out of focus when they should have been crisp and clear.
The second camera is also on hand to help in low-light, and seemed to do a great job at Honor’s dimly lit launch event. In fact, those were the only kind of shots we were able to snap - daylight scenes will have to wait for a full review. The photos we did snap had a surprising amount of detail, and less noise and grain than we’d expect at this price range.
It won’t put a flagship phone to shame, but then it costs a fifth of the price.
It’ll be impossible to say how well the 9 Lite performs against other £200 phones until we’ve tried it out in all light conditions, but first impressions really are very good.
HONOR 9 LITE DISPLAY & SOUND
It’s almost a crime to launch a phone in 2018 without a trendy 18:9 aspect screen, but luckily we don’t have to send Honor to smartphone design jail just yet.
The Honor 9 Lite squeezes a 5.65in, 18:9 aspect ratio LCD panel into a phone that would have only had room for a 5.2in screen a year ago. The top and bottom bezels are Topshop slim to the Galaxy S8’s Gucci skinny Galaxy S8, but the fact they are even on the same catwalk in an achievement.
The slighter-more-than-Full-HD 2160x1080 resolution is spot on the for the money, packing enough pixels to make text easy to read and to give your photos a respectable level of detail.
Is contrast going to be on par with an OLED phone? Not even close, but from what we’ve seen so far, you won’t feel the need to bleach your eyeballs after a few hours spent staring at the 9 Lite and its LCD panel.
Colour accuracy even seemed better than Honor’s more expensive phones, with whites that looked properly white, and photos that had real punch.
It seemed plenty bright, but a dimly lit bar-cum-ball-pool (that’s Shoreditch for you) wasn’t the best testing ground. We’ll have to wait until a full review to deliver a final verdict on picture quality.
The same goes for the speaker - with so much background noise, we’ve no idea if this phone is better seen than heard, or if it can hit all the right notes.
HONOR 9 LITE PERFORMANCE
A quick look at the spec sheet reveals how Honor has kept the price so low: the hardware comes from the lower end of the parts bin, rather than the flagship tech that gets squeezed into the Honor 9 and View 10.
That means a Kirin 659 CPU and 3GB of RAM, along with 32GB of on-board storage.
That might not sound super-quick, but based on what we’ve seen, it’s more than enough to keep Android Oreo ticking over smoothly. Apps open without any noticeable lag, and games have a decent frame rate.
Is it going to light up the benchmark leaderboards? No, not really - but you won’t be tapping your foot while you wait for your apps to open, either. And that’s pretty much perfect for this kind of cash.
A 3000mAh battery sounds like it should be good enough to go all day without needing a top-up, but we’ll have to wait until a full review to see if it has real staying power.
You don’t get USB-C at this price, which is a real shame. MicroUSB is fiddly, can’t fast charge, and deserves to be put out to pasture. Hopefully this is the last year we’ll be seeing it before USB-C takes over completely.
HONOR 9 LITE SOFTWARE & OS
The Honor 9 Lite runs EMUI on top of Android 8.0 Oreo, with all the features you’d expect from Google’s latest OS - plus a few extras thrown in for good measure.
Parent company Huawei’s custom EMUI interface has come a long way in the past few years, and while it still looks dramatically different from vanilla Android, it’s a lot less full-on than it used to be. Although there’s still a fair whack of bundled software when you first get it out of the box.
The notification tray, system icons and Settings menus will look a little different if you’re coming across from any other version of Android, but it won’t take long to adjust.
With 32GB of on-board storage, there’s a reasonable amount of room for your extra apps, games, music, photos and the rest - but a microSD card slot means it’s sad easy to add more capacity if you’re running low.
HONOR 9 LITE INITIAL VERDICT
The fact you can pick up an eye-catching phone with an 18:9 screen and two dual-cam snappers for £199 is, quite frankly, incredible.
Honor has managed to keep the spirit of the Honor 9, add new, in-demand features, and somehow drop the price too. The 9 Lite is shaping up to be a proper bargain, even if we did manage to spot a few negatives in the short time we spent with one at the launch.
How well those dual cameras stack up to the similarly priced competition, whether battery life is much cop, and if that mid-range CPU has the grunt to run the latest Google Play Store games remains to be seen, though.
Make sure to check back in the next few weeks, once we’ve given the Honor 9 Lite a proper workout.