Review Honor 9X Pro Smartphone: Without Google – is that even possible?
Despite the cancellation of MWC, Huawei and Honor have introduced new products, and the subsidiary has introduced the Honor 9X Pro, the first HMS smartphone. This means that it will be launched completely without Google services and only with Huawei Mobile Services. Can this still work out well?
The “normal” Honor 9X was already introduced in autumn 2019, but had to rely on already certified hardware due to the trade dispute between Huawei and the USA. Therefore the then already new Kirin 810 processor could not be used yet. However, it is now in the Honor 9X Pro, for example, because it does not use Google services. The Honor 9X Pro will be available from March 19 in the official Honor Shop.
Technical data of the Honor 9X Pro
|Honor 9X Pro|
|Display||6.59 inch 19.5:9 Full-HD+ (2340 x 1080 pixels) LC display (391 PPI)|
|Processor||HiSilicon Kirin 810 Octa-Core @2.27 GHz | 1.8 GHz|
|Graphics chip||ARM Mali-G52 MP4|
|RAM||6 GB LPDDR4X|
|Internal memory||256 GB (microSD to 512 GB)|
|Camera||48 MP ƒ/1.8 + 8 MP ultra wide angle sensor + 2 MP ƒ2.4 Triple camera|
|Front camera||16 megapixels ƒ/2.2 Iris Pop-up camera|
|Battery||4.000 mAh with 10W charger|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 4.2,USB type C 2.0, Hybrid SIM, GPS, 2.4/5GHz WLAN, LTE , NFC|
|Features||lateral fingerprint sensor, headphone jack|
|Operating system||Android 9 Pie with EMUI 9.1 interface|
|Dimensions / Weight||163.5 x 77.3 x 8.8 mm / 206 g|
Huge, Robust & Borderless
It’s almost impossible to distinguish the Honor 9X and Honor 9X Pro externally, since both devices use the almost identical design. The 6.59″ screen dictates the size here, which is roughly comparable to the Xiaomi Mi 10. But the special thing about the 9X Pro is the borderless design, since Honor relies on a pop-up camera here. This refers to the mechanically extendable front camera, which only extends when needed and otherwise hides inside the housing. We already know this from the normal 9X or the Xiaomi Mi 9T, with which the 9X Pro has to compete.
Of course, the 9X Pro is not completely borderless, the screen edges are the same size on both sides with 3.5 mm, the upper edge is 5 mm wide and at the bottom it’s almost 7 mm. But in view of the size of the mobile phone, this looks even a bit narrower.
Almost only the view on the backside allows the differentiation between both versions. The Honor 9X Pro is given a new Colorway: Phantom Purple. A beautiful purple-blue, which is definitely an eye-catcher. Not least because of the X-reflection in the right sunlight. A nice detail on the part of Honor, which has already been done with the Honor View 20 with a V. In the upper left corner there is also the triple camera, which doesn’t protrude too far out of the case.
In addition to the color, both devices can be identified by the fingerprint sensor. The Honor 9X Pro positions it on the right side and it also functions as a power button. The volume rocker is located above it. At the top is the pop-up camera, which sits slightly offset on the left, and to the right is the SIM slot.
Handling & Processing
Even if actually all smartphones from China are meanwhile satisfactorily to well manufactured, the Honor 9X Pro stands out once again. Especially for the price range, Honor is on an almost perfect level. All transitions are neatly solved, the gap dimensions are hardly noticeable, the recesses for the ports on the bottom are neatly milled and the pop-up camera also sits flush in its “hole”. The pressure points of the keys and the fingerprint sensor are very pleasant and the camera finally doesn’t protrude uncomfortably far out of the housing – best regards to Xiaomi at this point.
The fact that the back is rounded to the sides means that the phone lies comfortably in the hand despite its above-average size. The fingerprint sensor on the right side is perfectly positioned for me personally. The 206g total weight is surprisingly well balanced, I wouldn’t even have estimated that it exceeded the 200g limit without a look at the data sheet. Due to the optics, we first assumed plastic for the back, but actually Honor uses glass here, which doesn’t scratch easily. Both glass sides are held together by a metal frame, which gives the phone the necessary stability.
LCD on iPhone level
With a diagonal of 6.59 inches, the Honor 9X Pro is relatively large, and thanks to the borderless design, you have even more of it than in other devices. Thanks to the FullHD+ resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels, we arrive at a pixel density of 391 ppi with 16.7 million colors. As with the normal Honor 9X, the Huawei subsidiary relies on an LC display here. This is the same panel as the normal 9X. In the price range, you can certainly get an AMOLED display, just like in the Realme XT, but we don’t want to despise a good IPS panel either.
That’s what you get here. Especially the brightness of the panel surprised me, it can easily keep up with an iPhone 11, which probably offers the best LCD panel on the market. The brightness is convincing on every setting, in everyday life I get along wonderfully with the medium setting. However, Honor’s screen is relatively cool, even on the warm setting it is still cooler than the iPhone display. But you can also adjust this using the color palette, if you like, because it’s not serious.
For a fraction of the price of the iPhone 11, Honor also has the advantage of Full HD+ resolution, 391 ppi pixel density is definitely a good value and the panel is therefore reasonably sharp. The setting options in the EMUI operating system are also sufficient. Aside from the color temperature, an eye-friendly mode, the display size and the screen resolution can be set. In fact, Honor offers a smart mode that automatically lowers the resolution when it’s appropriate to save battery power.
Surprisingly powerful CPU
The most important difference between both versions is invisible and sits on the board. The HiSilicon Kirin 810 Octa-Core processor does its job in the Honor 9X Pro and clocks in two clusters with 2.27 GHz and 1.8 GHz. In terms of performance, the CPU even has the nose in front of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 730, which is for example in the Xiaomi Mi 9T or Realme X2. The new CPU was already plugged into the normal Honor 9X in China, for the global release you had to rely on the old 710, as already mentioned.
As far as memory is concerned, Honor has the spending power and equips the 9X Pro with 6 GB RAM and 256 GB internal memory, which can even be expanded via microSD card. Huawei has already followed this tactic with the P30 Lite New Edition and, to be honest, we like it quite a bit.
In fact, speed is one of my favorite features of the 9X Pro, there’s hardly any competition for this price range. Especially opening and closing apps in everyday life is super fast, as well as emptying the task manager, which is fast even with many open apps. The mobile phone comes out of standby quickly and photos are almost always processed directly. You can also play games almost at flagship level, Asphalt 9 runs very smoothly at high settings without frame rate drops. What more do you want?
Due to the missing Google Play Store, we could only reach our typical benchmarks via detours. Nevertheless, the Honor 9X Pro convinces in PCMark, Geekbench 4 & 5 and in the AnTuTu benchmark. The results are slightly better than those of the Snapdragon 730 from the Xiaomi Mi 9T. Benchmarks are for orientation only and are not definitive proof of how fast a mobile phone is. But since the speed is also right in practice, we have here de facto a very performance-oriented smartphone.
Who actually needs 48 megapixels?
Interestingly enough, the camera hasn’t changed anything compared to the Honor 9X. The Triple-Cam still consists of a 48 megapixel main sensor with ƒ/1.8 aperture as well as an 8 MP ultra wide angle camera and 2 MP portrait sensor. For the Pro version, I would have really wished for a telephoto camera, but for the price this is still reasonable. The pop-up camera on the front releases with 16 megapixels.
After a lot of test photos the camera leaves me a bit torn. Since we’re not a big fan of exaggerated resolutions, we shoot our test photos mainly with, in this case, 12 megapixels. The 48 megapixel main sensor always shoots at 12 MP in normal photo mode, as it combines four pixels of the large sensor into one, which “only” leaves you with 12 million pixels that can capture more light per pixel. This is called pixel binning. And the sensor needs the light, because we only like the results in good lighting conditions.
Then there are beautiful, lifelike colors, despite the somewhat paler color profile. Also the exposure fits in most cases and is also not as rich in contrast as often with other manufacturers. Feeling here Honor has improved once again in contrast to previous generations.
In return, you don’t quite get the sharpness that a similarly expensive Xiaomi Mi 9T offers. The focus range is also relatively small, with few details and fast grain in the background, especially on darker surfaces. This usually occurs in indoor situations, but can also happen outside. This is also noticeable, for example, with fonts that are outside the focus center and are slightly out of focus.
With the 48 megapixel mode, even with the Ultra Clarity mode, we unfortunately couldn’t see any real improvement in image quality. Manufacturers such as Honor and Xiaomi shouldn’t get too megapixel crazy here, in practice you don’t get anything out of it.
Ultra wide angle camera
Surprisingly, the ultra wide angle camera is absolutely comparable to the ultra wide angle camera of the Xiaomi Mi 10, but that’s more because this camera is not good at all on the Mi 10, and not good on the 9X Pro either. However, the fee is less than half the price, so we have a reasonable ultra-wide angle camera in relation to that. The effect is there, but the resolution is a bit low at 8 megapixels, which results in very few details. Unfortunately, many image areas are relatively muddy, but the colours are very similar to those of the main camera.
The third sensor is a so-called portrait or depth sensor. It works only in support of the main sensor and collects additional image information to achieve a better bokeh in portrait mode. Thus, it is not possible to control the sensor natively. Since the bokeh is artificially calculated by the camera software anyway, I’m not sure if this sensor is necessary, but okay.
The portrait photos have improved significantly compared to, for example, the Honor 10, but are still not quite on par with Xiaomi’s competition. The bokeh, i.e. the “blurred background”, is fortunately much softer and therefore more natural. But again, a lot of light is needed for the colors to be displayed correctly. Otherwise it unfortunately becomes muddy relatively fast. The edge detection is also very good and squints in the direction of the very good Xiaomi edge detection, but here I’m still missing some accuracy.
In the pop-up mechanism is a 16 megapixel sensor, which only appears when needed. So far, so good. For this camera the same applies in principle as for the main camera. With good lighting conditions you get really nice selfies. I like the color, even different skin tones are reproduced quite accurately. This changes suddenly as soon as you have to get along with (little) artificial light: overexposed faces, grain, no suitable focus.
The only thing that I find a little annoying is that if you switch from the normal mode to the selfie mode, you automatically end up in the portrait mode.
A few words about the pop-up camera itself. The engine is even slower than on the Xiaomi Mi 9T, it takes 1.4 seconds to be ready for a photo. If you retract and extend it too often in a short time, the phone will give an error message and you can’t use the Selfie-Cam for 15 seconds. As actually every pop-up smartphone, the camera retracts automatically if you fall. This is fast enough to protect the mechanics at a normal fall height.
Good running time, bad charging
At 4,000 mAh the battery is sufficient, although not excessively large. The mobile phone can be charged via USB-C, but only with 10W, Huawei SuperCharge or any other fast charging standard is not possible. We also miss wireless charging here. The battery life is surprisingly good for this. We reached a value of almost 13 hours in the benchmark, an appropriate value for the capacity. This results in a practical use of about one and a half days, depending on how intensively you use the phone. In our price range, only the Xiaomi Mi 9 Lite is actually stronger, so you can get by with it for two days.
Unfortunately, one point of criticism is the mentioned missing fast loading. With the included 10W charger, a complete charge takes about two hours, which is almost outdated. But people who generally charge overnight should not notice much of this.
A lot of connection possibilities
For this, there is NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, dual-band WiFi and GPS. LTE is of course also on board. Next to the loudspeaker, there is a USB type C port and a 3.5 mm jack plug for headphones on the bottom. The Hybrid SIM slot offers space for two nano-SIM cards or one nano-SIM card and one microSD memory card. In the O2 network, we had good reception and fast internet throughout the conurbation. Even YouTube streams start almost immediately.
Unfortunately, the position determination by GPS was not entirely convincing. Outside the fix was really good with an accuracy of 4m at a fix of one second, inside it took a few seconds and the accuracy was only about 20 meters.
Speaking of NFC: It’s nice that this has been integrated. But since the Honor 9X Pro does not support Google services, Google Pay is a corresponding problem. Using sideloads or other apps, blocks the app and can’t be used. This means that one of the main reasons for NFC, namely contactless payment, is unfortunately not given. But it can still be used for other things, such as NFC tags for the smart home or for connecting to peripherals.
Additional features of the Honor 9X Pro
Even though fingerprint sensors in the display are getting better and better, they are still not as fast as the “normal” capacitive sensors. Honors’ new mid-range model features a side fingerprint sensor, unlike the Honor 9X, where it sits on the back. And I like it extremely well in the Pro version. Fast, reliable and at least for me perfectly positioned. Here, I would have perhaps only wished for the possibility of assigning functions by wiping or something similar, as it is possible with the backside sensor in some smartphones.
The speaker on the bottom is unfortunately only a mono speaker, so the earcup is not used for sound support. Accordingly, the sound is unfortunately not quite as spatial, but overall satisfactory. The volume is also relatively limited, which also means that the speaker has hardly any room to overdrive.
Completely without Google services
Since Honor is a subsidiary of Huawei, Honor smartphones are also used with Huaweis EMUI operating system. EMUI 9.1.1. runs on the 9X Pro, which is based on Android 9. The Android security patch is unfortunately from November 2019, but the phone has not yet been released. According to the Huawei/Honor future promise, security updates will follow regularly.
The Honor 9X Pro is delivered completely without Google services, i.e. no Google Play Store, no Google Maps, no YouTube and no Google Drive. Instead, Huawei relies on the Huawei App Gallery, which already has some important apps in its portfolio, but the Facebook apps like WhatsApp or Instagram are still missing. This will probably be added later.
Depending on what kind of apps you use, the Huawei App Gallery is quite well equipped. WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram or even the Google services, which are essential for many, are missing, but there are many independent programs and games. Relevant for me were for example Amazon, Telegram, Booking.com, AliExpress, TikTok, Microsoft Office or NordVPN. For gaming there are for example Asphalt 9, Trials Extreme 4 or Tiles.
Install Google Play Store & Google Apps on the Honor 9X Pro
At that time with the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, we luckily got a model that was equipped with a Google Play Store, probably through TradingShenzhen. Therefore, we had to install the Google services for the first time on the Honor 9X Pro and tried out different possibilities.
Install Google with the Chat Partner App
The dear colleagues from the gizchina.com have probably the easiest guide for the subsequent installation of the Google services: the App Chat Partner. They have hosted the .apk (installation file). After downloading you have to install the app and grant the necessary permissions. In the login window just click on Detect Device -> Repair Now and then on Activate. After the installation you have to login twice more and then it should run. You may also need to restart your device after logging in.
If you (rightly) have security concerns here, you can work with Google’s two-factor authentication here, apart from that we have not noticed any negative events since the installation. This is definitely the easiest and fastest way to install the Google Play Store. The whole installation took less than 5 minutes.
Sideload app download
Sideloading refers to an app installation that is not done through the official App Store of the device. Many manufacturers also offer their apps as .apk installation files, which can be installed on the phone either directly via the browser or via the PC using a USB cable. This is very easy for the Facebook apps, for example. Both Facebook and Instagram can be downloaded and installed very easily via the browser. Facebook itself offers the download via the Facebook page.
It is important to obtain the installation files from a trusted source. Everyone sets their own limits differently. In my estimation, the most popular tech sites can be trusted, a larger portfolio offers for example apkmirror, who have specialized exactly in this. Here we have already downloaded apks for other China versions with Google problems in the past and made no negative experiences so far. The problem with the missing app store and manual download is the manual update. The App Store usually does this for you, so you have to re-download and update the app yourself at regular intervals.
Alternative App Store like Aptoide
Another workaround that we have used from time to time is to use an alternative App Store. For example, there is Aptoide (download here), which we successfully installed on the Honor 9X Pro. The App Store offers a variety of apps and has the advantage that you can use old versions of apps and downgrade your app. This offers the advantage of personal preference, for example, if you like the old look of an app better. But the biggest advantage is probably having an overview of all installed apps and updating them automatically.
Of course, such an App Store also has disadvantages. Security concerns are certainly appropriate here. A further disadvantage is the advertising, with actually every app download, you have to sit out a 5 second video ad on the whole screen.
Conclusion: Buy Honor 9X Pro despite missing Google services?
Admittedly, the skepticism before testing an Android smartphone without any Google services cannot be completely ignored. I’m sure that this also applies to most potential buyers. But: the Honor 9X Pro is a surprisingly good smartphone, especially after the Honor 9X, which does a lot right apart from the software, but also leaves some potential. The Pro version offers a lot of performance for little money. Especially the new, strong CPU and the large memory speak for the device, and the IPS display is also one of the best in this price range.
I’m also a fan of the looks and workmanship, the large, borderless design makes an impression, the lateral fingerprint sensor is very appealing and the camera is also a little better than we thought after our unboxing. In a 1:1 comparison, the Xiaomi Mi 9T still has the edge in terms of camera technology, which is not least due to the additional zoom camera. You can also argue here with the difference between LCD and AMOLED, but that the 9X Pro’s panel is so good can be overlooked.
The “Google problem” can really be solved very easily and in everyday life, apart from Google Pay, you shouldn’t notice anything of the missing Google certification. Nevertheless, it requires that you take care of it and deal with it. Who is interested in it, can buy it from March 19 in the HiHonor Shop for $280. For those who want a similar out-of-the-box experience, the more expensive Xiaomi Mi 9T is a better choice.
Now your opinion is needed. Is a mobile phone without Google even conceivable?