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Hands on: Honor 9X Pro review

Hope you don’t need Google apps

What is a hands on review?
Honor 9X Pro
Honor 9X Pro
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

There’s not a whole lot in the Honor 9X Pro that’s different to the original device, but the few new and improved features and specs are warmly welcome. However, the lack of Google apps, and their replacement with Huawei Mobile Services, does mean not everyone will find this device easy to use.

For

  • Great fingerprint sensor position
  • Screen isn’t broken up by notch or cut-out

Against

  • Huawei Mobile Services untested
  • Cameras seem unchanged

The Honor 9X came out at the end of 2019 as the company’s budget offering to tide us over until the Honor View 30 global launch, and we weren’t expecting any more from the 9X series, but then the Honor 9X Pro was surprisingly announced at Honor’s MWC 2020 replacement event.

The Honor 9X Pro is a small spec bump up in a few ways from its non-Pro sibling, bringing in a few design aspects of the version of the 9X that was released in China (which was slightly different to the global version) as well as making some other small improvements.

But there’s something that’s really intriguing about the Honor 9X Pro – it’s the first Honor smartphone without Google apps, and it instead uses Huawei Mobile Services for the first time in an Honor phone (Huawei is Honor’s parent company). This is Honor’s first step in getting over the Huawei ban enacted almost a year ago, and it's one of our first chances to see how good Huawei’s alternative to the Google Play Store is. 

Honor 9X Pro release date and price 

(Image credit: Future)

TechRadar was told the Honor 9X Pro would be released in the UK, but we’re not totally sure when, because Honor didn’t mention it as one of the first countries the phone will come to. Instead, a few other European countries and also Egypt, Malaysia, and Saudia Arabia will see the phone in March 2020.

The Honor 9X Pro is slated to cost €249 (roughly £210, $270, AU$410) and Honor told TechRadar that they were aiming for its launch price in the UK to match that of the 9X at £249.99 (roughly $320, AU$470) since the price of that has since gone down.

For now, though, we don’t know a UK or Australia release date or price, and due to the Huawei ban it’s very unlikely the handset will come to the US.

The Honor 9X Pro has made its way to the UAE where it starts selling mid March at AED 999. It is accompanied by the Honor Sport Pro earphones at AED 249.

Design and display 

(Image credit: Future)

The Honor 9X Pro looks startlingly like the Honor 9X from 2019, which means it has an all-screen front, with the front-facing camera housed in a small square pop-up module instead. One difference between the phones though is that while the older device had a plastic back, the Honor 9X Pro is glass on the rear as well as the front.

The screen is a 6.6-inch FHD+ LCD panel, just like the Honor 9X, and while we thought that screen was good (as LCDs go, at least), even at this price tag you could probably find a good phone with an OLED screen instead.

On the back of the phone there’s a three-lens camera bump in the top left, but this bump doesn’t stick out much, so it’s not nearly as intrusive as similar features are on some other smartphones. There isn’t a nearby rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, as there was on the original Honor 9X phone; instead there’s a side-mounted scanner like on Chinese models of the original.

This scanner works similarly to on the Honor 20 phones, where a button on the side of the phone also doubles as the fingerprint scanner, and it’s in such a place that it’s easy to press when you pick up your phone normally. We found this setup perfect on the previous Honor phone, as it made accessing your phone incredibly quick and easy, and we’re glad to see it back here.

The pop-up camera is a little slow compared to similar pieces of tech on other phones, but if it’s anything like the Honor 9X version, it’s durable and can auto-recede if it senses you’ve dropped the phone.

Fans of wired headphones can rejoice here, as the Honor 9X Pro has a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is becoming less common for smartphones (although devices at this price point haven’t shown the change as much as premium handsets).

 Camera and battery life

(Image credit: Future)

The base Honor 9X had a 48MP main camera joined by an 8MP ultra-wide camera and 2MP depth sensor, and it seems the 9X Pro has exactly the same hardware, even down to the front-facing 16MP selfie camera.

Just because the hardware is the same, doesn’t mean pictures taken will be identical, because there could be some software and processing tweaks. However, we’d be surprised if the resulting photos were hugely different.

We found the Honor 9X camera reasonable for the price tag, but there was quite a bit of inconsistency in colors between lenses, and we’ve yet to find a depth sensing camera that provides a significant benefit. Based on the specs and its predecessor, the 9X Pro likely has decent photography chops overall, but there might be better smartphone cameras at the price tag too.

The Honor 9X Pro’s battery is 4,000mAh, same as the non-Pro phone, and we were impressed by how reliable and long-lasting that battery life was, so it’s probably the same here. Fast charging was absent from that phone though, as it probably is here too, so don’t expect to top up that power pack quickly.

Performance and specs 

(Image credit: Future)

The real intriguing aspect of the Honor 9X Pro is that it’s set to launch in most regions without Google Mobile Services (GMS), including Google Maps, Gmail and, most importantly, the Google Play Store, so you won’t be able to download some of your favorite Android apps.

Instead, this is Honor’s first attempt to utilize the fledgling Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), the company’s replacement. According to Honor there are quite a few popular apps available on HMS, but it wouldn’t say which or how many, so it remains to be seen if HMS is a worthy alternative to GMS. 

Whether or not HMS can replace GMS is likely a story that will run on a long time though – there are very few HMS phones out at the moment, which will likely put off some developers from porting their apps, but when HMS is a more proven beast we could see more developers jump on the train.

The chipset in the Honor 9X Pro is the Kirin 810, a step up from the Kirin 710F that we saw in the non-Pro phone, but also a processor we haven’t really seen in Huawei and Honor phones that made their way west. We’ll need to run our tests on this chipset to see just how good it is, but we’d expect high mid-range scores.

In terms of the operating system, you’re getting Android 10 with Huawei’s EMUI 10 overlaid, which is mostly an aesthetic change but has myriad small accessibility and navigation differences from stock Android too.

Early verdict 

The Honor 9X Pro seems like a minor, but still decent, step up over its non-Pro sibling, and a fine phone to tide us over until the Honor View 30 series has a global launch.

We’re intrigued to see how well the presence of HMS goes down in this phone, or more accurately, how useful the device is despite the lack of GMS apps. That could really make or break the phone, and we’ll make sure to test how viable this phone is as a normal handset when we get our hands on it for a full review.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.