There’s a lot Honor will tell you about the “new” Honor 9X Pro, and a very crucial point that it probably won’t. It’ll be upfront about the fact the Honor 9X Pro won’t come with Google Mobile Services onboard, allowing you to make a proper, informed decision when you go to buy one. What it won’t tell you is this is almost the same phone launched in China in July 2019, and that makes it old before it even goes on sale.

Improved design and internals

You may remember the Honor 9X from the end of 2019. It was a bit wheezy in performance, and just a little too low-end in its design and materials to be a recommendation. However, it does come with Google Play installed, something the 9X Pro doesn’t, giving it a massive benefit over the newly launched Honor 9X Pro before it even hits the stores. More on this later, but let’s take a look at the device.

Happily the body is made of glass, which is a welcome visual and tactile upgrade over the plastic body on the 9X. The smooth, cool-to-the-touch rear panel is classy and pleasing to hold. Honor has retained the flashy X refraction in the body’s design from the 9X on the 9X Pro, and refined it to look even better. The pixel-art style is gone, and replaced with something more like the View 20’s deep reflective surface. It’s colorful and eye-catching when held up in the right light.

The fingerprint sensor has been moved to the power button on the side of the phone, and it’s large enough to be easily pressed. This was a success on the Honor 20, so it’s good to see it here too, as it also gives the phone a decent visual upgrade over the rear fingerprint scanner on the Honor 9X.

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Inside the phone is Huawei’s Kirin 810 octa-core processor built on a 7nm process. It’s still a mid-range phone, but this is a small-but-necessary upgrade over the disappointing Kirin 710 in the 9X. Honor told me it’ll be better for gaming, but I didn’t have the chance to try it out during my short time with the phone. Zipping around the operating system and using the camera for a short while didn’t reveal any frustrating stutters or speed issues.

Same camera as the Honor 9X

It’s here where the differences between it and the Honor 9X end. The screen on the front is the same 6.59-inch IPS LCD with a 2340 x 1080 pixel resolution, and the triple-lens camera on the back is identical, as is the pop-up selfie camera above the screen. The Honor 9X Pro’s main camera lens has 48-megapixels and an f/1.8 aperture and is joined by an 8-megapixel ultra wide lens and a 2-megapixel depth-sensing lens. The pop-up selfie camera has 16-megapixels.

Based on my experience with the Honor 9X, the 9X Pro’s camera will be decent and take good photos for the price. It also includes an effective night mode and artificial intelligence-driven features. However, considering it’s the same set of sensors as on a phone launched in mid-2019, it’s in danger of being outclassed by new devices launched in 2020. In fact, this is the Honor 9X Pro’s problem all-round. It’s decent, but it should’ve launched in Europe at the time of the regular Honor 9X to be seriously considered.

It faces a serious challenge from Motorola’s rapidly improving smartphones, such as the Motorola G Power (known as the G8 Power in the U.K.) which costs $250 or 220 British pounds and has a quad-lens camera, a 5,000mAh battery, and Google apps. Others to consider include Xiaomi’s Mi A3, which is 200 pounds and has Google’s Android One software. The Honor 9X Pro has some serious competition when you shop around.

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Then we come to the software. The version I tried had Android 9 with EMUI 9.1 onboard, but I was told an update to EMUI 10 and Android 10 would come after launch. No exact date was given, but as the software is already available for other Honor phones, it shouldn’t be long. The Honor 9X Pro doesn’t come with Google Services loaded, so no Google Play Store or Google apps. Instead, Honor has the Huawei App Gallery, and of course the option for you to side load stores like the Amazon App Store, or even some Google apps if you know how.

Conclusion

Honor is in a predicament. It’s not going to stop making or selling smartphones because of the problems with the U.S. government and Google’s lack of ability to work with Huawei. It’s working to improve the app catalog inside the App Gallery, but this takes time and effort.

Like Huawei has done with the Mate 30 Pro, Honor makes it clear the 9X Pro will not have Google Services loaded. It’s banking on dedicated Honor fans picking up the phone and then modifying the software on their own. The phone will be sold only online through Honor’s own store, with the price still to be announced, although the company said it would be around the same initial price as the Honor 9X, meaning under $300.

This will make it good value, just keep in mind the phone is not very new, and only a small upgrade over the current Honor 9X, which comes with Google Services installed. Honor isn’t making it easy to recommend one over the other here. If you’re a software whizz and fancy a good value, premium-feeling phone, then the Honor 9X Pro is worth your attention. If the thought of not having Google apps on hand fills you with dread, then it isn’t the phone for you.

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