The Honor 9 has dua cameras on the back linked together as a team, and as usual there’s a single selfie camera on the front.
Phone fans may be familiar with this setup already. Dual camera phones popped up originally four years ago before being dismissed as a bit of a gimmick, only to resurface more recently with extra reasons to exist.
The Honor 9’s dual cameras have three justifications. First, the original use for dual cameras: it lets the phone map out a quasi-3D view of any scene, to discern between the foreground and background. A wide aperture simulation mode can then blur out parts of the image further away from the subject for an arty look.
A few years ago these bokeh modes were fairly wonky, but like the iPhone 7 Plus, the Honor 9’s is now quite useful and can make portraits and close-ups look far more dynamic.
The second use for the dual cameras is low-loss zooming. Its strategy is different to that of the iPhone 7 Plus, though, whose second camera actually has a more ‘zoomed-in’ field of view. The two Honor 9 rear cameras have the same focal length.
One of the Honor 9’s cameras has a 12-megapixel sensor, the other a 20-megapixel one. Shoot at 1x or 2x zoom and the phone takes 12MP photos regardless, but it’s able to lean on the higher-resolution sensor when using the zoom so it’s not just relying on the standard digital zoom trick of cropping, expanding and smoothing the image out.
Is it effective? It’s not close to the iPhone 7 Plus in terms of bringing out more detail in zoom shots. However, there is a slight improvement, making the digital zoom seem less like a compromise.
The third argument for dual cameras is general image quality, because the Honor 9 can use the information from both sensors to make a photo. While this makes sense in principle, it doesn’t appear to have much effect on the results here, which are comparable with those of a normal good-quality 12-megapixel phone camera.
Dynamic range and detail are fairly good and the Honor 9 recreates very natural-looking colour. This is a phone I’d be happy to use as a holiday camera, particularly on those days when lugging around my FujiFilm X-T10 seems like a bit too much effort.
Among its high-end peers the Honor 9 is a solid middle-pegging contender. I’d rather use it than the Sony Xperia XZ, but the LG G6, Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8 beat it on a few fronts.
Up-close the Honor 9’s image could be a little cleaner and in low light its performance is only OK, largely because it does not have optical image stabilisation and has a slower lens than the rest with an aperture of f/2.2.
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The Samsung Galaxy S8 (and S7) in particular produces much better low-light images as they really max-out the use of stabilisation to keep sensitivity levels low for better image quality. I’ve also found that the Auto mode doesn’t bring out as much shadow detail as it could, but you can always fix this in the edit.
There’s much more shadow detail to be brought out here. Smarter processing could have done this
The Honor 9 is not a master low-light shooter
Consider the price difference and you can only conclude the Honor 9 is still a winner. It also benefits from good close-up focusing and plenty of modes that let you get more creative with your photography. Its monochrome mode produces high-contrast dramatic-looking shots, and there’s a manual mode too.
It can also shoot video at up to 4K resolution.
This isn’t the best phone camera in the world, but is among the very best at the price. The Honor 9’s selfie camera is also good, capturing a good amount of detail even indoors.
Its rendering of skin tones is sound, and typical of Honor there are some extra modes to play around with. A portrait mode attempts to blur out the background just like the rear camera’s wide aperture effect and there’s a Beauty slider that smooths-out your wrinkles and sucks in your cheeks for you.
In Tinder terms, that’s called cheating.
Honor 9 — Battery Life
The Honor 9 has a 3200mAh non-removable battery using high density lithium polymer tech. That sounds good when it’s 200mAh more than both the Honor 8 and much higher-res Samsung Galaxy S8.
In use I’ve found it to offer fair, but not particularly notable, longevity. I tend to stream a lot of audio, listening to podcasts and Spotify a good deal most days, and this seems to eat away at the battery more rapidly than some.
On days I’ve spent a lot of time plugged into headphones, the Honor 9 tends to drain down before bedtime.
If you don’t live your life like a Baby Driver wannabe with a soundtrack running in the background a lot of the time, you should be able to get to the end of the day with a little charge left. However, two-day use, or even a day and a half, feels a long way off for most enthusiastic phone users.
Charging is reasonably quick, getting you most of a refill within 40 minutes. However, it doesn’t use the quickest standard out there, with Honor’s own 9V, 2A solution. As with other elements of the Honor 9, charging speed is good but there’s better out there, if you’re happy to spend quite a lot more.
The same is true of the Honor 9 speaker. It has just a single driver that fires out of the bottom of the phone. Some recent phones that appear to have the one speaker actually use a second one in the earpiece area.
Sound quality is decent, with enough volume and bulk to the sound to make listening to all those battery-killing podcasts enjoyable. However, the sound dispersal isn’t the best if you’re playing a game or watching a video on the device. That said, if you’re watching something for more than a couple of minutes I’d hope you’d plug-in some headphones anyway.
Should I buy the Honor 9?
The Honor 9 is an interesting case. It takes over from the Honor 8, a phone released in 2016 that sold at the same price and didn’t seem like an amazing buy at the time.
Since then, the outlook has changed. Phones have become more expensive. The £70 gap between the Honor 9 and OnePlus 5 (£449) is the most important comparison, these two being the two obvious choices for those after a high-end phone at a lower price.
The Honor 9 isn’t a world apart from the Honor 8, but is does have a more attractive design, a somewhat-improved camera and double the storage. Changes made to Emotion UI also make it less polarising, as it can now be made to feel a lot more like ‘normal’ Android.
It’s enough to turn this range’s fortunes around. The Honor 8 was a fair buy, the Honor 9 is about the best you’ll find at the price.