At this point, I have made clear and overstated how the ongoing US ban on Huawei has affected the Chinese brand, and how that denial of specific services such as Google Mobile Services (GMS) has spilt over to its sister brand, HONOR.
It comes as no surprise, then, that HONOR has managed to circumvent the ban by simply recycling old hardware that predates the ban. In the case of the HONOR 9X Lite, I find myself wondering: has HONOR taken the recycling game a step too far?
A primary reason behind my pondering is because – if one didn’t know any better – you would think that the HONOR 9X is a carbon copy of its predecessor, the HONOR 8X. Besides a couple of changes in the camera and cosmetics department, you’d be forgiven for thinking as such.
Hard as it is to believe, I’m actually not exaggerating about the HONOR 9X Lite. Like the HONOR 8X, it has a Full HD+ display that measures in at 6.5-inches, a Kirin 710 SoC, the same 4GB RAM and 128GB of expandable storage and the same 3750mAh battery to keep it chugging along throughout the day. Even the notch housing the selfie camera is the same, as is the shape of the earpiece next to it.
Again, like the HONOR 8X, the HONOR 9X Lite comes with a microUSB port instead of a USB-C port, like the majority of all mid-range and flagship phones. On the plus side, there’s even a 3.5mm output; a rarity in a time where smartphone manufacturers are foregoing the physical audio features altogether.
Around the back of the HONOR 9X Lite, even the fingerprint scanner is also identical, both in and position, but there is also a difference in the design. Rather than use the same partitioning line of the HONOR 8X, it now shows off a very shiny, very polished glass back.
The only physical change done with the HONOR 9X Lite is, in fact, one of the sensors on its dual main camera. Specifically, the main camera comprises a 48MP AI camera and 2MP Depth sensor, instead of a 20MP main shooter that originally came with the HONOR 8X. Having used the camera briefly, the quality of images taken with the camera are above average.
Even when I try shooting in 48MP, the scenes don’t look quite as natural and almost to the point of being overtly vivid. Further, the camera takes far too long to focus in on a subject.
The HONOR 9X Lite’s story doesn’t end on the outside either. Software-wise, the phone still runs on the old EMUI 9.1; even the wallpaper that you see upon booting up the device for the first time is exactly the same as the HONOR 8X, right down to the shape and placement of the apps. That’s not to say the phone is sluggish or performs poorly; it still loads apps fairly quickly and swiping through different pages is just as responsive.
More importantly, the phone has the important distinction of having GMS loaded into it and not HMS. Primarily due to its innards from 2018.
Given the near-identical nature of the HONOR 9X Lite to its predecessor, the only question left on my mind is of its price. At the time of writing, its big brother, the more recent HONOR 9X Pro retails for RM999, albeit with Huawei Mobile Services (HWS). So, if HONOR really does want consumers to embrace a phone that is effectively two years old, it’s really going to have to sell it for considerably less than its higher-end sibling.