Most of us have friends who, let’s be honest, can be terrible. Pull an Honor phone out of your pocket and they’ll act like you've just served up Tesco value bread for their birthday meal.
The Honor 9 is a phone that proves it’s their problem, not yours. It’s their problem that they are happy spending S$1148 on a Samsung Galaxy S8 when the Honor 9 gets them 90% of the gloss and substance for just over half the price. And claim that’s a valid reason for not buying a round at the bar.
Make no mistake: this is one of the best high-end phone deals of 2017 so far.
Honor 9 Design: Shiny, shiny shiny
The Honor 9 is simultaneously both strangely conventional and eye-openingly bold.
This is one of the shiniest mobiles in the universe. Looking at its back is a bit like peering through a kaleidoscope, and the way it reacts to light is dynamic, creating laser-like lines across its rear. Is it a bit much? Perhaps, but it doesn’t half make the Honor 9 stand out.
The phone comes in blue, silver and grey colours, and every part of it feels high-end. Its front and back panels are curved glass, and the colour-matched part in the middle of this sandwich is aluminium. The only plastic parts are the little antenna cut-outs in the metal, which you might not notice until you look closely. As long as you can handle the sheer dazzle factor, it’s a good-looking phone.
With all that said, it still manages to have a far more conventional design than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8 or LG G6. Those phones are on their way to obliterating their screen surrounds completely, but the Honor 9 is more like the Galaxy S7 in its dimensions. Actually, in style terms it's almost weirdly similar to the Galaxy S7 all round - a fact I didn’t appreciate until I held the phones up next to each other. Take away the Honor's glossy finish and they could be siblings. None of that is a criticism, by the way.
The Honor 9 is easy to handle too. Rather than going too far down the giant-screen route, the 5.15in display makes it a sensible size for normal folk with normal-size hands. And there are also loads of extras worth noting. Under the central panel below the screen, which is just an indent in the glass rather than a button, sits a finger scanner. It’s among the fastest I’ve used: seriously quick.
You also get a fantastic 64GB or 128GB storage, microSD expansion and - who knew these were still around - an IR blaster on the top. This lets you control a TV, or just about anything with a normal remote control, using the Honor 9. If you’ve already bought the phone, you’ll find the Smart Controller app in the Tools folder.
Honor 9 screen: Keeping it sensible
Honor has obviously made some compromises to keep the price so low, and one of these compromises comes with the screen resolution: it's 'only' a 1080p display, meaning it has around half the number of pixels as a Samsung Galaxy S8. While you can notice the difference if you look closely, it's not a big deal. The Honor 9 screen is still very sharp, and bear in mind that it's pixels-per-inch count is still far higher than that of any iPhone. Nor is 1080p an unheard of resolution even in 2017: the Huawei P10, a phone which shares much of its DNA with this one, likewise has a 1080p screen, as does the new OnePlus 5.
Unlike the OnePlus 5, the Honor 9 uses an LCD panel, but it has an OLED-like colour punch all the same. I find the colours slightly overdone, but then I’m an RGB grinch. Make no mistake, this is a fantastic-quality LCD, which you can look at from any angle without it appearing dim or the colours going a bit weird.
The Honor 9 can hack sunny days too, and you can also tweak the look of the screen a bit: there aren’t saturation controls but there are colour temperature ones. Like previous Honor phones, you also get than Eye Comfort mode designed to reduce eyestrain later in the day; this makes the display look orangey, reducing the blue tone which supposedly makes your eyes tired.
Overall, and as with several other parts of the phone, the Honor 9’s screen isn’t quite a match for those on the best S$1000 handsets, but it’s not miles off.
Honor 9 Software: good emotions
So far, there’s nothing to put you off the Honor 9 unless you’re afraid of being blinded by its blingy back. And, while software has traditionally been an area where a few potential Honor buyers might peel off, there's nothing to be afraid of here either.
The Honor 9 runs Android 7.0 but also has Huawei’s Emotion UI on top. This is an interface that changes how Android works, zapping the apps menu and flattening the system into a bunch of homescreens. Like an iPhone, basically. Don't let that put you off, though, because there's a simple option to restore the more standard Android setup of multiple homescreens plus app locker, if you prefer.
It’s not as good-looking as iOS, but Emotion UI is a lot faster here, and a lot less weird, than some older versions. You can manually iron-out most of the remaining quirks too. For example, as standard the Honor 9 has a lock screen whose image shuffles every time you unlock, cycling between photos you might see bundled with picture frames in IKEA. Dig a bit deeper and you can choose your own pics to go in here, or switch to a much more familiar static lock screen by installing a different theme.
There’s an app that lets you download and apply these themes, and they change backgrounds, icons and the look of your lock screen. Fonts don’t change, though, to avoid you ending up with something borderline unusable.
You also get the option to use Emotion's one-button operation, which loses the onscreen Android navigation keys and instead uses the fingerprint sensor/home button for all three shortcuts: tap to go back, hold to go home, swipe to see your recent apps. This is liable to either be your favourite smartphone innovation of the year or drive you totallu mad, but if you do hate it you can disable it and use the familiar onscreen controls.
Still hate Emotion UI? You can always download Google Now and switch to the vanilla look of phones like the Google Pixel. Then only the settings and drop-down menus keep the tangy Honor flavour. I’ve been happy living with EmotionUI, though, partly because it feels so fast in the Honor 9. The finger scanner unlocks the phone incredibly quickly, apps load as fast as I’ve seen in a phone and there’s no lag. The Honor 9 runs like a dream. That's no real surprise as there's the same hardware inside it as in the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus phones, which are equally speedy in operation.