So far, the Honor 9 Lite seems to be plagued by few of the compromises you'd usually get when buying a budget phone. It looks good, it's got plenty of power, and a big screen. It even goes a step beyond with a total of four cameras to capture the moment.
That's a whole lot of phone and at only £200, it's unquestionably affordable. There's no official word from Honor yet about if or when the phone will hit the US and Australia, but for reference, that price converts to $280 and AU$353, respectively.
The design is probably my favourite thing about the phone. Its deep blue colour is a signature hue of almost all of Honor's phones, but it sets it apart from the typical grey or black phones you'll often find at this price. The back is covered in a sheet of shiny glass, giving it a much more premium aesthetic than you might expect for the low price. Admittedly, that glass is a total fingerprint magnet, and it might make it more susceptible to breaking if dropped, but that may be a worthwhile tradeoff if you want a great-looking handset.
The front is dominated by a 5.6-inch display with extremely slim bezels around the edge. Its 2,160x1,080-pixel resolution makes it pin sharp too.
I spent a few days with the Honor 9 Lite, and was able to run CNET's usual battery of performance benchmark tests. In those results, it performed well, beating many similarly priced phones, such as the Nokia 6. As you'd expect, it's not a match for premium phones like the Galaxy S8 or, indeed, Huawei's own Mate 10 Pro. What I don't know yet is how well it performs in everyday life. That's something I'll be able to evaluate after we've given the phone the full review treatment.
The phone has dual camera setups on both the back and front. Each side has a main 13-megapixel sensor with an additional sensor designed purely to capture depth information. It helps to give that DSLR-style depth of field to portraits, and by having it on the front too, you can capture selfies with an attractive 'bokeh' blurring around your face.
The effect worked adequately in our early tests. In this example image, it's clear to see how the phone has blurred the background around me, but the 'cut-out' of my face isn't neat, resulting in parts of my hair being blurred into the background. Overall the shot is at least good enough for a Facebook post.
Shots from the main camera are about what I'd expect from a phone at this price; good enough to for some holiday snaps in bright sunlight, but lack the overall clarity and punchy colours you'd get from a higher-end phone. If top-notch photography is important to you, it's looking like you may want to consider a different phone. I'll give the Honor 9 Lite's cameras a more thorough test when I'm able to review it fully
There's no waterproofing of any kind, which is one of the main compromises you'll have to make in opting for a budget handset. Even Honor's pricier View 10 isn't waterproof, and you'll need to splash out many hundreds more to get the waterproof Huawei Mate 10 Pro. The 9 Lite also charges using the rather outdated micro-USB, rather than USB-C. That's perhaps not much of an issue, as it will at least mean it's compatible with the stack of micro-USB cables you've likely got cluttering up your drawers at home.
In terms of specs, there's little that competes with the Honor 9 Lite at this price. The Nokia 6 costs around the same but its sluggish performance lets it down, and I personally prefer the glossy blue of the Honor. The Motorola Moto G5 Plus was our budget champion of last year, but its higher price, bulkier design and lack of a neat multicamera setup means the Honor 9 Lite is well placed to usurp the Moto's position.
Honor 9 Lite key specs:
- 5.6-inch display
- 2,160x1,080-pixel resolution
- Metal and glass design
- Fingerprint scanner on rear
- Kirin 659 octa-core processor
- 13-megapixel camera with depth sensor on front and back
- Android 8.0 Oreo software
- 3,000mAh battery (nonremovable)
- 32GB storage (expandable with microSD cards up to 256GB)