Technology

Honor X9b Review: A Stylish Battery-Focussed Mid-Ranger


Huawei sub-brand Honor has really come a long way. After exiting the market a few years ago, the brand has once again entered India, this time under a new parent company called HTech, with the licence to manufacture and sell Huawei’s Honor smartphones in India. And since it is technically based out of India under a different company, these Honor smartphones also pack in the usual Google services integrations and apps. Honor’s first smartphone under the HTech banner was its Honor 90, which was launched as a premium device.

Soon enough, this was followed by the new Honor X9b, which is a mid-range smartphone. While it offers a slick-looking design, a massive battery and a seemingly capable camera (on paper), Honor has also been harping about its ultra-bounce display tech, which is supposed to offer a certain level of shock resistance. I’ve been using this smartphone for a while, and while it seems like a practical mid-ranger, I find it very hard to recommend and here’s why.

Honor X9b Review: Price in India

The Honor X9b is available with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage and is priced at Rs. 25,999. The phone is offered in two colourways. The Midnight Black colourway offers a basic polycarbonate rear panel while the Sunrise Orange colourway spices things up with a bright orange vegan leather rear panel. We received the Midnight Black colourway for review.

The Honor X9b sure makes a good first impression when you pick it up the first time

 

Apart from a clear TPU case and documentation, Honor has even included a Type-C to 3.5mm headphone adaptor and a pair of wired earphones. There’s also the usual Type-A to Type-C USB cable for charging, but no charger in the box. We were provided with the 30W charger, which is available separately as an option at Rs. 699.

Honor X9b Review: Design

The Honor X9b appears quite slim and surely makes an impression with its curved sides. Both the polycarbonate rear panel and the display glass on the front curve around the edges on the left and right sides, making it comfortable to hold. The phone weighs 185g but feels surprisingly lightweight and has a thickness of just 7.98mm. The curved edges give it a very good hand feel despite having a skinny polycarbonate frame; it feels quite sturdy in terms of build quality and premium in terms of finish.

Honor also claims that the phone can survive a drop of 1.5 metres, meaning that its display glass should not shatter under impact. Since this is not a rugged phone (with numerous seals and bumpers), Honor relies on its proprietary shock-absorbing cushioning material (consists of three layers) that is applied to the X9b’s frame, which the display’s curved edge glass panel rests on. Honor claims that the phone can withstand impacts not just on soft surfaces but even on hard surfaces like marble. However, that does not mean that it is absolutely shatter-proof. It’s just that the Ultra-Bounce Anti-Drop display tech will resist shattering up to a certain point.

honor x9b back smudged design ndtv HonorX9b  Honor

The Honor X9b turns into a smudgy and dust-ridden mess after a few hours of use

 

Given this device’s durability claims, I did put it to the test. The phone properly survived the first drop, which was flat on the back (rear panel) and the second one, which was on one of its edges (the frame), but a corner of the display shattered on the third drop, which was face forward on the display. However, the display layer below the glass screen was intact, properly functional, and worked absolutely fine with no problems whatsoever.

While it’s clear that it won’t survive a direct impact on the display, the polycarbonate frame and rear panel barely got scratched, which is impressive. Nokia’s XR20, which I reviewed more than a year ago, is definitely a better choice if you put your phones through so much torture or plan to use them without a case.

Given its rather slick-looking design, I was a bit disappointed that its rear panel is a dust and fingerprint magnet. To make things worse it’s almost impossible to wipe off these fingerprints thanks to its matte surface. Given its mid-range price tag, the X9b does offer an official IP53 rating for dust and water resistance, which is quite basic as far as ingress protection ratings go. In fact, its closest competitor, the Realme 12 Pro, offers an IP65 certification at the same price point, which is a lot better.

honor x9b cracked display  ndtv HonorX9b  Honor

Honor’s Ultra-Bounce display cushioning could not protect its screen on impact

 

Despite the IP53 rating claims, I noticed that the rubber seal around the SIM card tray comes off quite easily when pulling or pushing the tray into the slot. This is something I have rarely encountered on a mid-range smartphone, so I would not be too confident about subjecting this phone to sprays of water.

I liked the design of the curved-edge 6.78-inch display. It has a thin bezel all around and gives the phone a very premium appearance. It’s a bit of a smudge magnet, but these smudges can be wiped off easily.

Honor X9b Review: Specifications and software

It’s a bit unusual to see a Huawei device not powered by their own silicon but the Qualcomm Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 SoC isn’t a bad choice for the casual user. The 4nm processor with a maximum clock speed of 2.2GHz was announced in 2022, so it is a bit dated today and mostly replaced by the faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 7 Gen 3 SoC, which is found on competing smartphones like the OnePlus Nord CE4 that I recently reviewed. The phone is equipped with 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM and offers 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, which is not expandable. As for communication standards, there’s dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC support and a USB-C port at the bottom. There’s support for dual 5G standby (with two nano SIM cards), and the phone also supports the usual global positioning systems. The phone has a massive 5,800mAh battery and supports 35W wired charging.

One detail that hasn’t changed much compared to the older range of Honor and Huawei devices is the software experience. The Honor X9b offers Magic OS 7.2, which is oddly based on Android 13. Honor promises just two years of Android updates and three years of security updates, but this feels a bit limited given that the phone is already stuck on Android 13, while competing smartphones offer better.

honor x9b SIM tray ndtv Ultra-Bounce Anti-Drop display tech

The Honor X9b has an official IP53 rating, but the seal around the SIM card tray came off several times

 

The software is typically Huawei if you have used or owned a Huawei smartphone previously. The icons have a slightly refreshed appearance, but the whole interface hasn’t changed much since Huawei waved goodbye to India several years ago. With that said, Magic OS is basically a slightly tweaked version of EMUI (but for Honor or globally sold devices). Meanwhile EMUI is still available on handsets sold in the Chinese market.

The 120Hz refresh rate display surely enhances the software experience, making interactions appear quite fluid. The icons have been revamped and now offer plenty of customisation options and themes and it’s well laid out like the Personalisation section of OnePlus’ OxygenOS. I’m also a fan of the Honor Sans font, and unlike most smartphone operating systems (or skins) I’ve come across, this font remains consistent across the interface (save for third-party apps that do not support a native font), much like iOS. It’s also used in the Chrome web browser, which makes for a very consistent software experience.

I also like the swipe-up gesture over select system icons, which display their respective cards (or widgets). There are also some minor AI-enabled features, like AI app suggestions (which show up as a widget on the home screen) and Magic Text, which lets you pull out text from a screenshot, that is handy.

Honor X9b Review: Performance

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 performs as expected, which is on par with most devices at this price point, like the Realme 12 Pro and the OnePlus Nord CE4. However, it does fall behind more performance-oriented devices like the Poco X6 Pro. This basically translates to a smooth and lag-free software experience and a decent gaming experience with a few hiccups.

The phone scored 4,87,774 points in AnTuTu and 939 and 2,763 points in Geekbench’s single and multi-core tests, respectively. In terms of graphics performance, the phone managed a passable 60 FPS, 31 FPS, and 16 FPS in GFXBench’s T-Rex, Manhattan 3.1, and Car Chase test suites, respectively.

honor x9b front display  ndtv HonorX9b  Honor

The Magic OS software is based on Android 13 but runs quite smoothly

 

Firing up Call of Duty: Mobile (CODM), the phone did not offer any options over High graphics but allowed for Max frame rate, which was limited to 60 FPS during gameplay. With just High graphics on offer, the phone did not heat up when playing games, but the 240Hz maximum touch sampling rate seemed too lag-ridden for fast-paced shooters like CODM. Asphalt 9: Legends worked smoothly at High quality graphics with no hiccups whatsoever and even offered a 60 FPS mode.

The 120Hz refresh does not play a big part in the rather mid-range gaming experience but works well by delivering buttery smooth animations and transitions when interacting with the Magic OS software. It gets quite bright outdoors, with text and images being properly legible even under direct sunlight. Colour reproduction is also good, provided you stick to the natural screen colour mode.

Battery life is one of the standout features of the Honor X9b. While it’s impressive enough to see how the engineers managed to squeeze in a large, 5,800mAh battery into such a slim frame, it was definitely worth the effort. The phone delivers a good 1.5 days of battery life with heavy use. With casual use, which does not involve any gaming or camera usage, you can easily get about 2 days of usage, which is pretty impressive.

Our standard video loop battery test managed a very impressive 25 hours and 43 minutes, which is a bit lower than what the OnePlus Nord CE4 pulled off in the same test, but these are still good numbers, regardless.

honor x9b front software ndtv HonorX9b  Honor

Honor’s software update commitment includes just 2 years of Android updates, which isn’t great considering it is stuck on Android 13

 

When it comes to charging, this is where the phone takes a bit of a hit. Charging at 30W (or the supported 35W) is relatively quite slow, given that most competing smartphones offer between 67-100W of wired charging. Honor also does not bundle a charger in the box. However, they did send the optional 30W charger for review, and it managed to charge the phone to 37 percent in 30 minutes, 62 percent in an hour and completed the charge in 1 hour and 54 minutes, which is a bit too slow compared to the competition, even when you consider the bigger than usual battery capacity.

Honor X9b Review: Cameras

The Honor X9b offers a very basic camera setup for a mid-range device. There’s a 108-megapixel primary camera (sans OIS), a 5-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera and a 2-megapixel macro camera. Selfies are handled by a 16-megapixel front-facing camera. Unlike the rest of Magic OS, the camera interface feels a bit clunky and unintuitive in the sense that settings or toggles you would normally expect to find in the viewfinder will be buried in the camera settings. However, I do like the intuitive clicking sounds when changing camera modes, which give out a very classic camera vibe.

The primary camera has a rather high resolution and captures 12-megapixel binned images by default. In daylight, the photos come out strictly okay. The resolved details, despite packing that large sensor, are just passable, but the camera often overexposes images, leading to blown-out highlights. There’s also a noticeable pinkish tinge in all images, whether you are clicking landscapes, objects, or people.

Honor X9b daylight camera samples. Top to bottom: Ultra-wide-angle camera, primary camera, 2X digital zoom (tap to expand images)

 

Shooting with 2X digital zoom, you can get closer to your subject, but there is a very obvious drop in image quality be it textures or sharpness. Overall, the primary camera isn’t able to shoot or maintain shot-to-shot consistency, which is a basic requirement for a smartphone at this price point.

In low light, image quality drops even further when shooting in Auto mode, and the image processing is best described as weird, with slightly pixelated photos that have flattened textures. Switching to the dedicated Night mode helps by a large margin, resulting in decent images with defined edges around objects, but it’s far from what the competition is capable of.

Selfies captured in broad daylight in Portrait mode show blown-out backgrounds (tap image to expand)

 

Selfies captured in Auto mode have decent detail and good dynamic range, ensuring that both the subject and background are well exposed. Switch to Portrait mode, and things go for toss with average edge detection and blown-out backgrounds, making photos captured in bright daylight unusable. Selfies captured in low light are just ok, provided you switch on the on-screen flash, with plenty of over sharpening and noise suppression along with the usual blown-out highlights in Portrait mode.

Honor X9b low light camera samples. Top: Primary camera (auto mode) bottom: Primary camera (Night mode) (tap images to expand)

 

The ultra-wide camera is a bit below average, sporting a paltry 5-megapixel resolution. The results speak for themselves, showing slightly overexposed images with plenty of purple fringing. The textures on objects also appear like oil paintings and have very little definition. Low-light images appear soft and mostly blurry.

The 2-megapixel macro camera, as expected, does a passable job of snapping macro photos. While it does let you get closer to subjects, one can get better results by cropping images captured by the primary camera.

4K 30fps video recordings come out quite shaky while walking and also when panning while stationary. Exposure and detail are decent, so the footage is usable, provided you can handle the camera shake, which seems unavoidable at this shooting resolution. Capturing video at 1080p 30fps has much better results and better stabilisation however, it tends to overexpose frequently when shooting in daylight. In low light, recording at 4K shows the best results but with plenty of noise.

Honor X9b Review: Verdict

While the mid-range Honor X9b (priced at Rs. 25,999) is still quite practical in terms of battery life, the premium Honor 90 (First Impressions) currently retails at a severely discounted price of Rs. 27,999, making the X9b redundant as it offers much better value overall.

But even when compared to the competition, the Honor X9b fails to hold its ground despite its ultra-bounce display technology. The OnePlus Nord CE 4 (Review) (Rs. 24,999 onwards) offers equally impressive performance with battery life, but also a better software experience, and relatively better cameras along with super-fast 100W wired charging. The Poco X6 Pro (Review) (Rs. 25,999 onwards) also has a much better performance for the gaming audience. There’s also the Nothing Phone 2A (Review) (Rs. 23,999 onwards), which offers good performance, a standout design and a bloatware-free software experience. And if you are willing to spend a few thousand more, there’s the Realme 12 Pro+ (Review) (Rs. 29,999 onwards), which offers far superior camera performance and telephoto capability along with a unique design and an IP65 rating. And so, with better-performing smartphones in the mid-range, it’s really hard to recommend the Honor X9b.


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