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Honor 9i Review: Feature packed but questionable performance
There's an immense demand for feature-loaded affordable Android smartphones in India. Domestic and international brands are fighting neck to neck for a bigger chunk of Indian mobile space, which is at present the second largest smartphone market in the world after US. It doesn't come as a shock to see Chinese brands taking the market by storm as the neighboring country's mobile phone makers produce some great handsets for masses.
- Sturdy and Sleek design
- Smooth Multitasking
- Huawei's EMUI 5.1 feels refined
- Snappy fingerprint scanner
- Good camera performance
- Display has low brightness levels
- Not built for hard-core gaming
- No dedicated microSD card slot
- Battery performance could have been better
As per recent reports, Chinese brands continue to rule the Indian market for the second consecutive quarter and no domestic brand figures in top 5. However, the top position is still retained by Samsung even after seeing a marginal decline of 4 percent.
As per Q22017 report by IDC, Xiaomi secured second place with 25 percent QoQ growth. Vivo remained in third place with 26 percent QoQ growth and captured 13 percent market share in Q22017, whereas, OPPO climbed up to the fourth place, though shipments declined by 13 percent QoQ. Lenovo (including Motorola) slipped to fifth place as its shipments declined 25 percent QoQ.
Now if you take a closer look, China's leading smartphone manufacturer Huawei fails to make in the list of top 5 smartphone companies in India, based purely on market share. Whereas, the brand tops the list in homegrown market with 21.0% market share as per IDC's August, 2017 report. This clearly suggests that end users give more preference to smartphones from Xiaomi, OPPO/Vivo, Lenovo and Samsung than Huawei's devices.
These brands have managed to create a better market presence and their products sell in bigger numbers than Huawei and its online brand Honor. This doesn't mean Huawei's products are any less or not worth buying, they are equally compelling and offer some really good camera hardware. However, Chinese tech giant is still struggling to taste the real success in Indian mobile space, something it happily enjoys in homegrown market.
The company's latest innovation for Indian consumers is mid-range Android smartphone- Honor 9i. Priced at Rs. 17,999, the smartphone focuses on photography and also aims to enhance your multimedia viewing experience. You will be surprised to hear that this mid-range smartphone has four cameras on-board; a feature which is not very common.
There are two cameras at front and two at rear to capture depth information in the images you capture. It is also the brand's first take on a taller 18:9 aspect ratio screen, a trend rapidly turning into a standard feature in today's time. Rest of the specifications and features are as par with other smartphones in sub Rs. 20k price-point.
I used Honor 9i as my daily driver for over a week and it has a lot to offer. But is it the best Android handset in sub Rs.18k price-point. Moreover, can it change the market dynamics for Huawei in the Indian market? Let's find out.
Four cameras: Gimmick or a workable feature?
Huawei has been producing dual-lens camera smartphones from quite a while. However Honor 9i is the company's first handset to flaunt two dual-lens camera setups. The smartphone has a 16MP+2MP rear camera setup and a 13MP+2MP dual-lens camera setup at front. The front dual-lens camera is also accompanied by a flashlight, which the company is calling- Smart Selfie Toning flash.
The 2MP secondary cameras at rear and front are provided to capture depth information in the images you capture. But it is quite debatable and in few cases has been proved by some manufacturers that you don't really need a dual-camera setup to create a bokeh effect. For instance, Google's latest Pixel devices offer amazing depth of field effect via a mono camera unit with the help of complex algorithms.
But it's quite not fair to compare Honor 9i to Pixel devices as there's a huge price difference. But then while writing this review; I clicked some selfies from OPPO F5, the latest Selfie Expert handset from OPPO. The smartphone managed to offer comparable and in some case better depth effect in the selfies taken from its 20MP mono front camera. You can evaluate the results in the above picture.
As far as picture quality is concerned, Honor 9i's cameras produce good results. The images captured from both the camera setups have plenty of details and shows accurate colors. The bokeh effect is good but some unnatural blurring at the edges of the objects cannot be ignored. The low-light images captured by rear camera and front camera setups are workable but noise is quite evident.
Talking about the camera interface, it is minimal and easy to use. You can enable and disable the wide aperture mode with just one tap. The camera sensors quickly focus the subjects and capture images instantly. Overall, cameras perform a decent job on Honor 9i but they are not revolutionary.
Crisp 5.9-inch FHD+ Display but brightness is an issue
With Honor 9i, Huawei is also joining the league of smartphones with taller 18:9 Aspect ratio screens. Honor 9i sports a 5.9-inch FHD+ IPS LCD display, which is pretty touch responsive and produces crisp content and near accurate colors. The screen has minimal bezels on all four sides and allows you to consume more content in a compact form factor. Games look good and videos look immersive.
While the display works well indoors, the sunlight visibility is a quite disappointing and screen looks washed out. The screen felt pretty reflective in direct sunlight which made it tough to watch videos or consume other media content. The problem here is the brightness levels, which are not very high and affects the overall content visibility. Overall, Honor 9i is a pretty good device to serve multimedia requirements indoors and as long as you are not using the handset in direct sunlight.
Appealing and Sturdy design
Honor 9i is quite sleek and looks premium. The smartphone comes with a unibody metal design and feels very light in hands. The handset follows a clean and symmetrical design approach. The flashlight, fingerprint sensor, USB socket and dual-lens camera setup is placed on the central axis of the phone. On the front, the dual-lens camera sits on the top right corner.
The charging port, microphone and the standard 3.5mm headphone jack is positioned at the bottom edge of the handset. The hybrid SIM card tray is positioned at left side and the power button and volume rockers are placed on right side. Up top you have a microphone.
The handset is quite compact, sleek and easy to use with one hand. Overall, like most of company's previous devices, Honor 9i has a sturdy and appealing design.
Hardware and Software: Good everyday performer, not a perfect handset for heavy games
I did not come across any major issues with Honor 9i in my everyday work-media usage. The 8-core Kirin 659 chipset is snappy and can easily address most of your requirements without breaking a sweat. There were some judders but the overall experience is pleasing. The 4GB RAM takes good care of multitasking and you can run several apps at a time.
And while the handset easily sails through day to day jobs, the smartphone is not for hardcore mobile gamers. This is due to the fact that MaliT830-MP2 the GPU unit is just not the best choice to run the most demanding Android games fluently. It struggles to meet the requirements of 6-inch FHD+ 18:9 aspect ratio screen.
The smartphone has 64GB internal memory that can be expanded by a hybrid SIM card slot. As far as software is concerned, Honor 9i runs on Android 7-based EMUI 5.1. It is more or less the same custom UI that we have tested with company's previous handsets. Apps fire up quickly and overall UI is quite smooth and feels much refined. If you are not very fond of stock Android UI, Huawei's custom skin will not give you any major reasons to complain about.
Battery Performance: Can last a day with moderate usage
Honor 9i is powered by a 3,340mAh battery unit which can only last for an entire day if you are not very fond of video streaming and gaming. The battery drains quickly if you use the handset as a hotspot or for gaming and video playback. With moderate usage, Honor 9i can last for 12-13 hours on a single charge.
For connectivity, Honor 9i has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Hybrid dual-SIM, and GPS. There's standard microUSB charging port and the not Type C port, which is a bit disappointment. Even the recently launched OPPO F5 which is priced at Rs. 19,990 fails to deliver the new charging port and adjusts with the ageing microUSB port.
With double dual-camera setup, latest 18:9 aspect ratio screen and all the goodies in the package, Honor 9i is possibly the most feature-packed Android handset in sub Rs. 20k price segment. However, the real-life performance is somewhat a hit and miss game. The big 18:9 aspect ratio screen works beautifully indoors but fails to impress outdoors. The double dual-lens camera setups deliver satisfactory results but as I mentioned, they are not world-shattering. The processing and multitasking performance is satisfactory, but then it is not a handset I would recommend to my gamer friends without any hesitation.
I wish Honor has also added a dedicated microSD card as some handsets priced lower and some at comparatively similar price-point has the required feature. I am impressed by the design, software performance and battery backup is also acceptable.
Overall Honor 9i did a decent job as an everyday smartphone but it will be a mix bag of electronics in my book of reviews. If you are spending Rs. 18,000, I would recommend you also take a look at Xiaomi Mi A1 and Moto G5S Plus. These handsets are also good performers, better in some cases and are comparatively affordable.