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Honor 9 Lite review: A great budget phone with an 18:9 display and a dual front-facing camera

Nathan Spendelow Christopher Minasians
6 Dec 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
199
inc VAT

With high-end features and a dirt-cheap price tag, the Honor 9 Lite is a budget marvel

Pros 
Superb cameras
Stunning design
18:9 display for just £200
Cons 
Short battery life
Middling performance
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Honor isn’t exactly the biggest smartphone brand in the UK – it’s actually an offshoot of Huawei – but its profile is growing. Last year’s Honor 9 proved a very viable competitor to the excellent OnePlus 5, and at only £300, if you did decide to splurge it was a decision that wouldn’t weigh heavily on your bank balance. Now, in the wake of that success, the follow-up has now arrived – the remarkable Honor 9 Lite.

Honor 9 Lite review: What you need to know

While the Honor 9 was cheap, the Honor 9 Lite is even cheaper, undercutting almost every half-decent smartphone on the market. Inside, it takes advantage of an octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 659 – the same chipset found in the Honor 7X – and includes 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expandable storage.

What’s special about the Honor 9 Lite is that, unlike its pricier predecessor, it has 13- and 2-megapixel front-facing cameras, as well as a similar pair of cameras on the rear. It also has a bigger 18:9 display, with a super-sharp 2,160 x 1,080 resolution. In all, it’s pretty darn fancy for a £200 phone.

Honor 9 Lite review: UK price and release date

The Honor 9 Lite was officially launched on 9 February, for a measly £200, alternatively, it can be found on contract through Carphone Warehouse. That means it’s going up against the likes of the Moto G5S – which has recently seen a price cut to just £200 – and the Nokia 6 (£190). Another possible rival is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X (£150), provided you can find a grey import seller in the UK.

Best Honor 9 Lite contract and SIM-free deals:

Honor 9 Lite review: Design

This phone may be presented as an (irritatingly misspelled) “Lite” smartphone, but in reality it’s nothing of the sort. The Honor 9 Lite a fully-fledged smartphone, with flagship-rivalling DNA.

The handset itself has a similar design to the Honor 9, incorporating a mirrored “2.5D” curved glass rear. It’s certainly glitzy – launching in Sapphire blue, Midnight black and Glacier grey – and it gives the immediate impression of a phone retailing at two or even three times the price.

One unexpected change is that the fingerprint reader, which on the Honor 9 was integrated into the home button, has been moved back to its old position at the rear of the phone, as on the Honor 8. Obviously, this is to accommodate the massive display on the front, but it may also be a response to customer feedback, as the move to the front wasn’t popular with fans.

The volume rocker and power button sit side-by-side on the right edge, with a microSD card and nano-SIM tray on the left. Cast your eyes downward and you’ll spot a solitary micro-USB port for charging, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

READ NEXT: The best budget smartphones – our pick of the best

Honor 9 Lite review: Display

As soon as you switch the Honor 9 Lite on, the 2,160 x 1,080, 5.65in IPS display makes a statement. This is the first time Honor has launched such an all-display handset, and although it’s the cheapest 18:9 smartphone on the market, it looks great. Its pixel density of 428 PPI is sharp enough to satisfy the most exacting eyes, and the contrast ratio is more than up to snuff, with eye-popping images. Peak brightness hits a sunlight-friendly 504cd/m2.

Colour balance and accuracy are a slight issue mind: the Honor 9 Lite has a tendency to over-saturate certain colour tones. Our X-Rite colour calibrator reported an sRGB coverage of 83.8%, which isn’t abysmal but could be better, and recorded an average Delta E of 3.71, which is some way adrift of professional standards (less than 1 is preferred).

Honor 9 Lite review: Performance and battery life

Inside, the Honor 9 Lite is almost identical to the old Honor 7X, or the Huawei P Smart. You’ll find an octa-core 2.36GHz HiSilicon Kirin 659 powering the whole show, partnered with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, which is expandable up to 256GB via microSD.

It’s a spec that promises decent, if not exceptional performance – and so it proves. In the Geekbench 4 and GFXBench tests, the Honor 9 Lite matched the scores of the Honor 7X and Moto G5S, which is to say performance is solid, but a step behind the more expensive Honor 9.

Disappointingly, the Honor 9 Lite’s 3,000mAh battery, isn’t as long-lasting as you’d think. Typically, low-powered internals like the Kirin 659 used here promise a lengthy battery life, but in our video rundown test (with airplane mode engaged) the Honor 9 Lite plummeted to zero in just 9hrs 9mins. That’s really not great: the Honor 9 gave us eleven and a half hours in the same test, and the Motorola Moto G5S lasted over twelve hours.

Honor 9 Lite review: Camera

When it comes to photography, the Honor 9 Lite isn’t as generously specced as its older sibling, but the 13- and 2-megapixel rear-facing snappers should do just the job for taking quick pics and Instagram snaps.

Indeed, provided you have plenty of light, you can get off some seriously impressive shots. In our tests it managed to pick up plenty of detail, correctly reproducing neighbouring brickwork and tricky window reflections, and capturing natural-looking colours.

However, once the light dims, the Honor 9 Lite’s sensors start to struggle, with washed-out colours, and lots of visual noise becoming apparent. Our low-light scenes lacked definition, and had no real punch or vibrancy.

Where the Honor 9 Lite does stand out is the inclusion of a similar dual-camera arrangement on the front as on the back. We found selfie shots were well-exposed, with crisp, well-defined details. There’s even a decent background-blurring bokeh mode; it isn’t as sumptuous as the Pixel 2’s, but it does a good job of bringing finer foreground details into relief.

Honor 9 Lite review: Verdict

The key to the Honor 9 Lite is its price. It may not be the fastest or most long-lived smartphone on the market, but for £200 it’s an outright bargain. With its excellent 18:9 display and decent set of cameras, it could well be a contender for best budget smartphone of 2018. Honor’s rivals are going to have to work hard to keep this smartphone down.

Hardware
ProcessorOcta-core 2.36GHz HiSilicon Kirin 659
RAM3GB
Screen size5.65in
Screen resolution2,160 x 1,080
Screen typeIPS
Front cameraDual 13- and 2-megapixel
Rear cameraDual 13- and 2-megapixel
FlashLED
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)32GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD
Wi-Fi802.11ac
Bluetooth4.2
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions151 x 71.9 x 7.6 mm
Weight149g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 8.0
Battery size3,000mAh

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