Hands-on with the Honor 9X Pro: what's new for 2020?

With the Honor 9X Pro, the Huawei subsidiary is again refreshing an old design. There's no much new from the outside, but the brand has gone instead for a major overhaul of the internals. There's a new 7nm SoC in here to improve AI and graphics performance. We went hands-on with the phone at an event in Barcelona.
Launching in March for $270
The Honor 9X Pro will be available in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Egypt, KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) and Malaysia from March 2020 at an MSRP of €249 (around $270). For that price, you'll get the version with 6GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage.

Almost identical from the outside to the 9X
In terms of design, Honor has not really rocked the boat here. You still get glass on the front and back. Honor is calling this 3D Dual Curved glass, and in the purple color variant, you do get a nice criss-cross effect. It's also still a pretty large smartphone and feels quite heavy in the hand at 206 grams. It should be noted though that Honor decided to take extra security measures at the event and had all of the test devices attached to heavy security tags, so it was difficult to get a proper feel for the weight of the device.

The fingerprint sensor has moved from the back to the side, as we saw in the Samsung Galaxy S10e, for example. Other than that, the phone looks just like last year's Honor 9X. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the real improvements come on the inside.

No upgrades in terms of the display
The display is a 6-59-inch IPS-LCD that Honor is calling its FullView Display thanks to a screen-to-body ratio of 92 percent. The resolution comes in at 2340 x 1080 (391ppi). This is essentially the exact same display we saw on the Honor 9X from the end of 2019. At the time, our Editor Julius said that it has strong colors, good viewing angles and also convinces with its brightness, and all of this is still true today.

So not much to see in terms of what's new with the display then. I am still a fan of pop-up cameras though purely for the fact that they give you a proper, notch-free front panel. In my opinion, this is an area of the smartphone that didn't really need upgrading.

EMUI 9.1 and Android 9 Pie
Because this is a re-designed version of an already certified Android device, Honor has been able to launch with EMUI 9.1 based on Android 9. It's a shame that there's no Android 10, but this can't be too far coming.

The Honor 9X Pro is also equipped with the new Huawei Assistant, a virtual assistant that facilitates information search and apps accessibility, a bit like Google does. Users can also use the SmartCare feature of the Huawei Assistant to access contextual cards for stocks and sports and things like that.

The Kirin 810 is a 7nm SoC for tight budgets
Performance is one of the main areas where Honor has focused its upgrades here. Honor has switched out the old Kirin 710F for a Kirin 810. In terms of the manufacturing process, that's a jump from a 12nm chipset to a 7nm chipset, which is quite a leap. Current flagship processors such as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, Apple A13 Bionic, and HiSilicon's own Kirin 990 are manufactured using a 7nm process, so it's impressive to see this kind of SoC on a phone that costs 250 bucks.

The Kirin 810 runs on Huawei’s new computing architecture which is meant to deliver more sophisticated and diverse applications with artificial inteligence. The GPU has also been upgraded to the custom Mali G52 that enables Kirin Gaming+, a feature that provides a smoother gaming experience with improved graphics performance. A Liquid Cooling System improves heat dissipation during prolonged gameplay on the Honor 9X Pro too.

The Da Vinci dedicated NPU has also been thrown in for good measure, meaning you should get much faster AI performance on the 9X Pro compared to last year's 9X. This is Huawei's own self-developed unit and, combined with the Kirin 810 SoC, it is claimed that it can deliver up to 75 percent faster core performance and uses up to 50 percent less power, according to the manufacturer.

During my short time with the smartphone, it did feel snappy and I had no problems switching apps, opening and closing the camera app and playing around with the menus and settings. Of course, we'll have put the phone through the proper benchmark tests and see how it performs in everyday life once we get our hands on a review unit.

Same camera hardware, new software
The camera remains unchanged in terms of hardware from the Honor 9X to the 

Honor 9X Pro. That means you are getting the following setup:

  • 48 MP Main Camera, f/1.8, 1/2 inch CMOS sensor, 4-in-1 Light Fusion (effective1.6μm pixels), AIS, Super Night mode, AI Video Stabilization

  • 8 MP super-wide-angle, f/2.4, 120° ultra-wide-angle, supports Distortion Correction

  • 2 MP Depth Assist Camera, f/2.4, Bokeh effect

On the front, you'll get a 16-megapixel sensor via the pop-up camera. It's f/2.2 and uses what Honor is calling 3D Portrait Lighting.

Whilst the hardware remains consistent with the previous generation, the Kirin 810 AI Chipset uses the fourth generation in-house ISP to improve pixel throughput and uses the latest AWB algorithm. It also integrates a DE module and RAW domain noise reduction (NR) to improve image processing. These new AI algorithms should help with removing hand jitters, for example, among other things. Honor says it has increased the ISO capacity from 25600 on the 9X to 102400 on the 9X Pro. 

We'll have to see once we get a review unit and can put all of this to the test. I will be interested to see if that extra power under the hood has a big impact on things like night time shots.

A 4,000mAh battery
The battery in the Honor 9X Pro is a 4,000mAh cell. That's not huge, but shouldn't be too much of a worry with that AI-chipset to keep things under control and an LCD display. You don't expect to get wireless charging or any fancy fast-charging technology at this price point, but at least the regular charger is USB-C.
We'll check out the battery life on this new smartphone once we've had the chance to spend more time with and get back to you. It will interesting to see how the new SoC has an impact on its endurance.

Honor 9X Pro technical specifications

DIMENSIONS:163.1 x 77.2 x 8.8 mm
WEIGHT:206 g
SCREEN:2340 x 1080 pixels (391 ppi)
FRONT CAMERA:16 megapixels
REAR CAMERA:48 megapixels
Early Verdict
I like what Honor is doing with the 9X Pro. Rather than focus on fancy gimmicks and design tricks, it has upgraded the most important, and quickest to become outdated bits of an entry-level smartphone, the SoC and processing power. By sticking to the existing architecture, the door is left open for Google apps and services and that has to be a positive for the Huawei subsidiary, at least until it gets it AppGallery to a level where it can seriously compete with Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store outside of China.

We'll be back with a full review of the Honor 9X Pro just as soon as we receive our review device. Stay tuned.

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