The X9a is a tempting purchase with an impressive battery, a decent set of cameras, and a capable display. Performance might struggle, depending on what you're doing but it'll get through everyday tasks, plus some light gaming.
Those that haven’t kept up with Stuff (shame on you) for the past two or so years might have a little trouble telling Honor review devices apart from Huawei review devices. That’s because Honor was a subsidiary of Huawei.
While Huawei was under fire from the US, Honor emancipated itself, in turn keeping Huawei’s best qualities like its design and mindset. And, most importantly, access to Google Mobile Services.
Since then, Honor has spent its time channelling its power, slowly making a name for itself within the smartphone game. We’ve grown rather fond of the company, what with the launching of high-end foldable and mid-rangers that manage to compete with the Android overlord – Samsung.
This time around, Stuff got to play with Honor’s latest mid-ranger – the X9a. We were rather impressed with the X9a, which often stretched beyond its means. And with the recommended retail price of R12,000 in mind, finding anything to scorn proved a difficult task.
Anyone that’s seen an Honor smartphone before (or a Huawei device for that matter) can get a basic idea of what the X9a brings to the table in terms of design. Overall, the X9a’s design impressed us. It’s thin. Really thin. And surprisingly light too. If you aren’t a fan of big, heavy glass sandwiches, that won’t be a problem with the X9a which only measures 7.9mm deep and 175g light.
The rear matte coating is a good guard against fingerprints and felt great for the five minutes we had the cover off. We had some concerns regarding how a thin and light device like this would fare in a drop test. Honor has even used slightly thicker glass to protect the display. However, we avoided putting it to the test.
Along the bottom, you’ll find the X9a’s SIM slot parked alongside the USB-C charge port and unfortunately poor, singular speaker. Running up the sides are the smartphone standards – buttons for power and volume. Don’t think we’ve forgotten to mention the headphone jack. Honor unceremoniously ditched it on the X9a. Not that anyone with a pair of Bluetooth headphones will complain.
Displaying an outward sense of AMOLED
Honor made quite a fuss where the X9a’s display was concerned. This is the first in the X-family to see a 6.6in AMOLED screen sitting atop its innards. You’re getting a 1080 x 2400 resolution and 120Hz refresh rate – including a 300Hz touch sampling rate for added perceived responsiveness.
We had no issues with the X9a’s display, it performed well in our daily usage. That usually consists of answering messages and scrolling whichever TikTok rip-off caught our eye first. To really test those frames, we fired up a few games. We spent some time with Asphalt 9: Legends and Subway Surfers to hit those higher framerates. Both performed admirably with no lag to speak of.
But gaming on the X9a does come at the expense of battery life and device temperature. We’d recommend keeping a charger handy and a wide berth of shade nearby if you’re planning to spend more than ten minutes with games that require more of the processor’s attention.
Some credit is due to the X9a’s chipset, though the AMOLED display played its part well. HDR support is unfortunately absent here, though for R12,000 we expected as much. This AMOLED display’s deep blacks and rich colours managed to impress us without it.
Below the display sits the X9a’s optical fingerprint scanner. We never noticed any issues when logging in. It’s admittedly a small detail, but one we found quite glad to see working consistently.
Distancing itself from Huawei
You won’t be disappointed with Honor’s choice to kit the X9a with a 6nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G processor. But you won’t be blown away either. It’ll glide through any everyday task you throw at it with the help of 8GB of RAM. We found no instances of laggy menus or stuttering throughout our time with the device although your results may vary depending on your workload.
The included 256GB of storage is fine and should be enough for most folks. If you need more, it can be expanded with a MicroSD card up to 1TB but you’ll need to trade a SIM slot. If you need two SIM cards and more storage, your only option is in the cloud.
Around the back, the X9a’s cameras live in the familiar-looking “dynamic eye” ring. The entire affair incorporates a 64MP main sensor, a 5MP ultrawide and a 2MP macro to grab those close-up shots. Colours pop (maybe a little too much) and most fine detail remains in shots from the main cam. We found Honor’s image processing to be a little heavy-handed for our liking.
If video is your preferred medium, you might want to look elsewhere. The X9a only offers 1080p footage at 30fps from either the main sensor or the front-facing 16MP selfie cam. That might be passable for the occasional social media post, but won’t cut it if you fancy a career as an influencer.
Charge me up, Scotty
The X9a continued to impress with its battery performance. The 5,100mAh battery is a (small) step up from what we’re used to seeing in the mid-range, often lasting a full day and a half before any warning lights start blaring. When it is time to charge, the X9a made speedy work of the task, with the included 40W wired charger. In a pinch, fifteen minutes of charge was enough to keep the device at a respectable level for the considerable future.
Honor X9a verdict
On the whole, Honor’s X9a left a rather good impression. We were impressed by the camera’s ability for a mid-ranger, and the battery is nothing to scoff at. Performance was decent, though if that’s a deal breaker, you’ll want to find something with a more capable chip. Be prepared to pay more for it. We found the 120Hz AMOLED display to be a nice touch – especially considering the R12,000 price. Having said that, there could be better options for your money. It all depends on what you’re doing with your smartphone.