Huawei's sub-brand Honor has been delivering pretty compelling smartphones for a while now, and this year I finally got my first experience with one of the company's phones, the Honor 30 Pro+. Setting aside the lack of Google services - which is likely a massive barrier to many - the Honor 30 Pro+ had a lot to offer for its price, so when I was given the chance to review the Honor 9A, I took it. The thing is, I accepted it too quickly - in fact, even before I checked what kind of device it was.

The Honor 9A is an entry-level device, and the cheapest one I've reviewed yet, with an official price of just €149. Because of that, I dreaded reviewing this phone the whole time until I started using it. But that's the kicker - it was just until I started using it. Once I had the phone set up and got into my usual routine, the Honor 9A became a very impressive phone considering my expectations. It truly feels like it punches above its weight, and while it is a cheap phone, it's nowhere near as painful to use as I thought it would be. In fact, I came away very impressed that it only costs as much as it does.

Specs

CPU MediaTek Helio P22, Octa-core 2.0Ghz Cortex A-53
GPU PowerVR GE8320
Display 6.3 inches IPS LCD, 1600x720, 278ppi
Body 159.07 x 74.06 x 9.04mm, 185g
Camera 13MP main + 5MP ultra-wide + 2MP depth sensor; Front - 32MP + 8MP ultra-wide
Aperture f/1.8 + f/2.2 + f/2.4, Front - f/2.0
Video capture 1080p 30fps
Battery 5000mAh
RAM 3GB
Storage 64GB
Colors Ice Green, Midnight Black, Phantom Blue
OS Magic UI 3.1
Price €149

Day One

Design

The Honor 9A is easily identifiable as part of the Honor family. Honor likes to make phones that stand out, and the Phantom Blue version that Honor sent us is no exception. Of course, the cost savings are immediately apparent - while the phone is fairly thick, it's not that heavy, thanks to being made entirely out of plastic. The plastic back does have this cool reflective pattern though, where the light reflects to look like what I can only describe as a pixelated rainbow. It's not something you see everyday, and it's cool to see that Honor doesn't give up its uniqueness in its cheaper phones.

The triple camera setup is up in the corner, and while there is a camera bump, it's a pretty small one. Any case should be able to protect it, but the phone doesn't come with one, so that's something to keep in mind. Centered just below the cameras is the fingerprint sensor, which works as well as you could want it to.

Going around the phone, it's all business as usual. The right side has the power button and volume rocker, and both of those feel fine. In general, the build quality here is pretty nice for a plastic phone, and being so thick (likely thanks to the huge battery) helps give it some heft that makes it feel durable.

On the left side, there's only the nano-SIM card tray.

The top edge is almost completely clean, barring a single microphone hole.

And the bottom edge is where you'll see one of the notable cost-cutting measures of the Honor 9A. The charging port is still using micro-USB, something that might turn away a few people. Aside from that, a speaker grill, another microphone, and a headphone jack are all here.

Display and sound

The display on the Honor 9A is 6.3 inches diagonally, and it comes in fairly low 1600x720 resolution, making for a measly 278ppi. That's par for the course on a phone of this price, of course, and if you've read my previous reviews, you'll know I'm not exactly a resolution snob. Since I can adjust the display scaling - and no, I'll never get tired of bringing up that some companies don't give you that option - I can actually make everything the size I want it to be. As far as the use of the screen real estate goes, I prefer the Honor 9A over something like the much more expensive TCL 10L.

The display is LCD, and it's not one of the best ones at that, but again, you wouldn't expect any better at this price. I have no direct grounds for comparison at this price, but I'll once again say that the quality doesn't look worse here compared to the TCL 10L. The screen is also brighter than that TCL phone. My biggest complaint is that Honor's "eye comfort" feature, its blue light filter, makes the display seem more green-ish than yellow, which is what you'd usually get on most phones. It doesn't feel as natural or comfortable to me, personally.

For sound, the Honor 9A has a single bottom-firing speaker, but once again, it subverts my expectations for its sound quality. It's louder than I would have expected, and the sound is surprisingly full, and it doesn't feel hollow or tinny. It's not incredibly loud, and the quality itself isn't mind-blowing, but it's better than some more expensive phones I've tried.

Camera

Despite being as cheap as it is, the Honor 9A has a triple-camera setup, with a 13MP main sensor, a 5MP ultra-wide camera, and a 2MP depth sensor. These days, manufacturers love adding 2MP depth sensors or macro cameras so they can advertise multiple cameras when they really aren't that useful. At this price, I'm surprised Honor included an ultra-wide camera, which is actually useful for something, instead of leaving it at two cameras or using two pointless sensors.

Honestly, the cameras aren't that bad either. There's a noticeable difference in the white balance between the main and ultra-wide cameras, but that still happens on phones that are much more expensive. A 5MP ultra-wide camera isn't the best idea, and I never really understood why ultra-wide cameras have fewer pixels when they're supposed to capture a bigger area. In this case, the end result is often mediocre, but it's there if you really want to use it.

As we've seen in some other Honor phones, there is some tendency to oversaturate colors on the main camera, especially blues and greens, but that's much easier to forgive at this price. There's also an HDR mode that you have to enable manually, and it can actually really help in some situations, but it only works with the main camera. Even at night, while the results were far from great, they weren't as bad as I expected them to be.

The camera software is super simple, and it's pretty nimble despite the phone's low-end hardware. There are a couple of things that might help with this; for example, the viewfinder rarely looks as sharp as the final picture, and if you're using the ultra-wide camera, you'll se a very noticeable fisheye effect, which then goes away in the final image. It looks like the phone doesn't use much processing power in real time. Beyond taking a few seconds to sharpen a photo after you take it - which doesn't block you from taking more pictures in the meantime - it never froze up or anything, even in HDR mode. Of course, with a low-power phone like this, you'll only be able to record videos at 1080p and 30 frames per second.

Performance and battery life

The MediaTek Helio P22 is a pretty low-end CPU, and of course, that means you won't get the speed you'd find in more expensive phones. But once again I'll say that the experience with the Honor 9A was nowhere near as bad as I expected. I would be lying if I said I never wished I had a faster phone, but I very rarely got frustrated because I had to wait a long time for something. Despite its specs, the phone handles day-to-day tasks fairly well.

Of course, it's still a weak processor, and benchmarks highlight that. I ran the usual benchmarks, AnTuTu and GFXBench, but I sadly couldn't get Geekbench 5 to transfer from one of my other phones, and I couldn't find a way to sideload it either. I did manage to run Geekbench 4.4, but scores work differently in that version.

In AnTuTu, an all-around test, the Honor 9A scored under 100,000, and it was near the very bottom of the ranking in the app. Of course, it's unlikely that many low-end phones get tested in benchmarks, so the ranking itself doesn't necessarily paint the most accurate picture.

Next, GFXBench tests the GPU.

Finally, Geekbench 4 focuses exclusively on the CPU.

While the phone has generally been fast enough for day-to-day use, I have had some issues with reliability. Microsoft Launcher sometimes experiences random crashes that I have never seen on other phones, and some apps, like this Portuguese payment app called MB WAY, crashes immediately every time I try to login. Microsoft Launcher might be excused since it isn't available on Huawei's AppGallery, but MB WAY is, so it's a bit of an issue. I've also had a problem where my Bluetooth earbuds only work when I first pair them with the phone. Every time I connect them after that, there's no audio, forcing me to unpair and pair them again each time.

Thanks to the low-power processor, the massive 5,000mAh battery, and Huawei's power management, the battery life of the Honor 9A is absolutely beastly. It gets me through two days of use almost every time I charge it, and on more than one occasion, it's lasted me enough for three days. That's easily the most incredible thing about this phone, and it makes its thickness and weight feel much more justified. Of course, that sometimes comes at the cost of timely notifications because of Huawei's aggressive background task management, something I already complained about with the Honor 30 Pro+.

Google services, or lack thereof

Of course, you can't talk about Huawei or Honor phones without mentioning the lack of Google services, including the Play Store. The story has been beaten to death, so I won't repeat too much of it, but no, you won't be able to find all the apps you're used to finding here.

You can transfer some of your apps from another Android phone, assuming they don't require Google services, download from Huawei's own app platform, the AppGallery, or use a website that also lets you download and install apps. The thing is, all of these methods are limited in some way. Not every app on your previous phone can be transferred, som apps may install but not work because they require Google services, the AppGallery is still missing a ton of major apps, and the same can be said for app distribution websites like APKMirror. It's never a perfect solution, and it's often up in the air if you'll be able to use your phone as usual by switching to Honor devices.

If you're feeling confident, you can try to sideload Google services, but the methods to do it can be hard to find and complicated to do.

Conclusion

After I was initially scared of using it, the Honor 9A did an amazing job of turning its own story around. Almost everything about this phone is better than I would have expected at this price. The cameras are decent, the performance is solid, the battery life is incredible, and it's just an overall good experience. If it weren't for the fact that many apps I use require Google services, I wouldn't lose sleep if I was forced to use the Honor 9A permanently.

However, the fact remains that Google services are almost essential for a good - or complete - Android experience. It's hard to recommend it to anyone coming from an Android phone who's used to having to access to the whole world of Android apps on the Play Store, especially if you're not willing to tinker.

But if you are willing to search around, and maybe even sacrifice some apps, then the Honor 9A has pretty fantastic value for its price point. Better yet, on most of its European websites, Honor is selling it in bundles that give you even more stuff, like earbuds or a Wi-Fi 6 router, for the same €149,90 price. You can visit the global webpage to choose your region and make the purchase.

 

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