Minor yearly updates can be a bit disappointing when it comes to smartphones even though they’re all not that bad, but what if it’s monthly? That’s a bit annoying. If you’re unclear as to which budget smartphone’s footsteps this is tracing, you should probably check out the Honor 9 Lite review. It got a whopping five stars from us, but then again, the 9N is the same smartphone with a bit more spit-polished battery and camera performance through software optimisation. In fact, the Honor 9N builds upon the legacy of its predecessor by sticking to the same formula of squeezing in a lot more for a lot less.
Design: Same guy different hairstyle
The back is so shiny that it can double down as a pocket mirror. The Honor 9N has a glass back that is crazy reflective. In fact, when you stare at the 9 Lite and 9N together you can say that Honor has gone a step ahead and made the 9N shinier. Thankfully it’s not a slippery affair like the more expensive iPhone 8 glass back. We got the Sapphire Blue version but there’s also a Midnight Black (boring). Honor says that there will be a new Lavender Purple and my personal favourite Robin Egg Blue colour variants coming in August.
From the front the 9N looks like any other 2018 smartphone with a notch. It looks similar to the Huawei P20 Lite and the Honor 10 but for the price, this is the first smartphone with a notch we’ve reviewed in the budget segment.
The whole package feels classy to hold. The side frame is comfortable and the volume rocker and the lock button are quite clickety and firm. From the looks of it, you really can’t tell that the Honor 9N is a budget smartphone and the same thing was true for the 9 Lite as well.
Display and sound: Patched up
Like the smartphones of 2018 the notch offers unique preferences. The extra numbers on 2280x1080 resolution is just a Full HD+ screen with more footprint thanks to the notch. Though the screen is absolutely fantastic for the price.
For outdoor fiddling, the screen is perfectly bright too. The auto brightness setting keeps things in tandem with the sunlight and shade. In the evening the smartphone will automatically turn on the blue light filter and switch back to regular in the morning. You can find it in the settings and adjust it accordingly. Same goes for the colour temperature, a blob of colour mixture is presented to you in the settings if you know your way around it. In my opinion the stock adjustment is just as good as it gets.
The 432 pixel density is on par with many costlier smartphones. The colours are crisp and clear. While watching Sacred Games the warmer tones on the screen grab more attention than the cooler ones but there’s nothing alarming about it. From the pool of expensive smartphones drifting about in the Stuff India HQ, I wouldn’t miss out on much in terms of screen real estate and quality while using this as my daily driver.
There’s a teeny bit of bass from the bottom firing speakers. The mids are quite detailed, but the highs tend to get brash. We’d be happier if the 9N could fix on the 9 Lite’s mistakes here but at this budget, I’d refrain from complaining too much.
Performance: same, but improved
The EMUI 8.0 skin atop of Android 8.0 is loaded with a bunch of customisation options. It’s easy to organise the whole smartphone to your preference although not quite vanilla as you’d get from a Nokia. Dip into the notification settings and you can change all of Huawei’s default apps to Google’s own and then dump all of those extra apps which you cannot delete into one nice folder and forget about it. Better life? Cleaner life.
It uses the Kirin 659 octa core processor just like the 9 Lite. Although you can argue it’s outdated, but I found it reliable for swiping between apps and social media rabble. I did experience a slight stutter while handling my daily drama of obsessive scrolling on Instagram, button mashing on Whatsapp and love/hate relationship with Snapchat. The latter’s high- rendering face filters gave the Kirin 659 a minor kick at times. To be honest, those filters break even the finest smartphones, so you’ll easily overlook that.
Getting to the main slay, the Honor 9N manages to render PUBG on the lowest settings quite efficiently. I managed a Winner Winner Chicken Dinner on the lowest setting without any lag at all. Though turning up the graphical settings can severely cripple the performance.
The 3000mAh battery has improved overall but it’s still a minor jump from the 9 Lite. After a good night’s sleep, the battery life is generous than most when it comes to saving juice on standby. You won’t need to grab a charger before holding a toothbrush this time. During the day it lasted us a good nine hours with a quick round of PUBG thrown amidst regular social media visits and Netflix binging during commutes.
Camera: the grass is greener everywhere
The 13MP + 2MP dual rear cameras are consistent in producing good image quality. The colours are nice and accurate. Although, there were some inconsistency issues with colour reproduction of warmer colours. Like the red bicycle below in the camera samples is a bit oversaturated. Does that make any difference? At this price not at all.
It could cut clean lines from easier subjects like bobbleheads and human faces came out amazing too using aperture mode. HDR mode was a bit of a no-no. We saw a spike in colour contrast when using the HDR mode. Comically, the green colour of the mangroves was almost neon-ish when I switched to HDR (you can see it in the samples below).
The night mode keeps the shutter open for a long exposure shot to capture detail and also balance out the blacks automatically. It’s not very convincing but you can paint a light trail using it similar to the more expensive Huawei smartphones. In low light, the camera is decent at max. I wasn’t really happy with it but the built-in flash solves some grainy problems.
The Front facing camera gets a 16MP sensor and honestly, the selfies come out really great for the price, and we’re talking ₹11,999 here! The details on my beard were clear and defined. I was worried about oversharpening, which Huawei and Honor smartphones usually tend to do but this time it’s a bit controlled, almost for the better I can say with confidence.
You might find flaws with its front facing portrait mode but I’d say use that shiny back to get your face in the frame for a rear camera portrait mode. It really works. Who would’ve thought a glass back could be used like this? That’s why you read Stuff. You’re welcome.
Don’t zoom in though because then you’ll see right through the flaws of thrift spending. Budget cameras are usually a blobby mess when you zoom in to search for exact details. Keep that frame as you’d want it to look on social media and everything should be fine.
Moving on, you can capture videos at 1080p and there’s nothing exceptionally great to talk about them. The microphone picks up audio really well, so while you might not consider it to revive your failing YouTube career, you can be the cameraman at family dinner parties. Uncle Sharma and you could be in cahoots to spam those WhatsApp groups with birthday videos from last night.
The Honor 9N is a fantastic bargain of 2018 and so was the Honor 9 Lite. In conclusion, it’s the same phone - now with a notch. So, while that may anger existing 9 Lite users, people waiting on a more 2018 budget-brawler can definitely opt to bag the 9N.
Apart from the shinier coating and a notch, there’s not a lot going on here to differentiate it from its predecessor which came in January 2018. To bring it all in a nutshell, whichever one you pick, both are fantastic devices and offer bang for the buck.
The Honor 9N is only a grand more, but Honor says that's because of the weak rupee situation in the market currently. You could expect it to fall back a grand lower if the rupee/dollar situation eases, but we reckon that’d just be in time for Honor 9NNNNNNN.