You can get a really decent phone for a couple hundred dollars these days. The Huawei Y9 Prime has a motorized front facing camera, notch-free screen, 4000mAh battery, triple-cameras including an ultrawide lens, a headphone jack and an octa-core processor inside – you could be led to believe you’re getting a zero-compromise phone for a fraction of the price of a flagship. While the Y9 Prime is a perfectly fine device on its own merits, its feature list belies a collection of weird choices and compromises that were made to hit this mid-tier price.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Y9 Prime is the size of the lad, it’s an absolute unit. Coming from an iPhone X, the Y9 felt positively gargantuan in comparison. This is to house it’s huge screen – a 6.59-inch IPS LCD display that curves around the corners and covers almost the entire front of the phone. There’s minimal bezel around the edges, a fairly small chin, and no notch to house a front-facing camera (we’ll touch on that later).
The screen is nice enough. It’s no OLED so you won’t be getting perfectly inky blacks, but after adjusting to the ‘Normal’ colour profile in settings it’s nice enough to look at. The resolution is totally fine at 1080p, plenty sharp enough for images and text at any reasonable distance, but the biggest issue I had with the screen was that it just doesn’t get very bright. For indoor use it’s perfectly adequate, but I struggled to see the screen while outside taking photos on a sunny day. It is nice to have a screen entirely uninterrupted by notches or hole punches, but the front facing camera has to fit somewhere, which leads to one of the weirdest compromises in the Y9.
It’s all about the camera(s)
The Y9 has a motorized front-facing camera. While you’re normally using the phone it sits hidden inside the top edge of the phone, ready to pop out when you open a camera app. It comes out pretty quickly, and is supposed to pretty strong according to Huawei’s marketing materials (the company says you can hang 15kg off of it, if that’s something you ever feel like doing) but I’m not sure I’d encourage testing that.
It’s supposed to be reliable for 100,000 cycles in and out, but introducing a moving part to a phone will inevitably make it less reliable. As nice as an uninterrupted screen might be, I don’t think it’s worth the compromise of a motorized camera that introduces an extra potential point of failure.
The Y9 has a triple lens array on the rear to round out the camera setup, with a 16 megapixel main sensor, an 8 megapixel ultrawide and a depth camera for portraits. Huawei make a big deal of their AI camera system which identifies the subjects of your photo and adjusts settings accordingly, but for all this wizardry I found the images coming from this phone middling at best.
It has a tendency to overexpose, leaving photos looking washed out and lacking in shadow detail, and while the ultrawide lens is fun to play with and lets you get some super interesting shots that might otherwise be impossible – there’s a noticeable drop in quality when using this lens. The photos will be fine for an Instagram post, but a little zooming will reveal a lack of detail in the ultrawide shots. In short – the cameras on the Y9 are fine, but I definitely wouldn’t be buying this phone on the back of it’s impressive sounding but ultimately average cameras.
Performance on the Y9 was totally okay for the most part. Navigating the phone feels nice and zippy, and social media feeds scroll as smoothly as you’d hope. Unless you want to use this phone for games you’ll probably not have any issues with performance and even then it’s hardly terrible.
A game as simple as Hearthstone plays totally fine for the most part, but animations involving particles (think smoke or flashy impacts) send the phone straight to chug-town. Mario Kart Tour plays mostly okay with the occasional hitch, while Real Racing plays smoothly albeit at a noticeably low resolution. I would have tested Fortnite, but the entire game got sucked into a black hole before I got the chance.
It’ll last you all day and maybe all night, and the massive screen while unwieldy is undeniably nice for watching video.
One feature that definitely lives up to expectations is the huge battery in this thing. At 4000mAh in capacity it’s bigger than even the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and I had zero trouble getting through a day without looking for a charger.
I put it through my normal day of heavy social media scrolling, some podcast and music streaming to Bluetooth headphones, a little photography, video streaming, Hearthstone – a bit of everything. This kind of usage would have me scrambling for a power outlet by the early evening on my iPhone X, but the Y9 Prime soldiered on with power to spare. The charger packed in with the phone is unremarkable, just a regular run-of-the-mill USB-A power adapter packed with a USB-A to USB-C cable, but it’s hard to fault this given the price of the phone.
The Y9 ships with Huawei’s EMUI skin over Android 9, and got the September 2019 security update during my time with it. Hard to say whether updates will remain this quick in the future but it’s promising at least. It has a super fast fingerprint sensor mounted on the rear, just a little too high for me to use without changing my grip on the phone. It lacks wireless charging but it does pack a headphone jack, a feature I’ve found myself missing on far more expensive devices. It can handle dual SIMs or an SD card, which is a nice bonus on top of the 128GB of built in storage.
That really sums up the Y9 Prime for me. It’s got a huge list of impressive sounding features that hide a perfectly fine phone. The promise of AI-enhanced triple cameras doesn’t really live up to its own hype, producing photos that are acceptable if unremarkable. It’ll last you all day and maybe all night, and the massive screen while unwieldy is undeniably nice for watching video. If I were considering a mid-range phone I’d lean to spending a couple hundred dollars more on a Pixel 3a for it’s incredible camera and guarantee of updates, but if you’re not looking to spend more than $400, the Y9 Prime 2019 is a totally capable phone as long as you can get past the average camera and occasional performance hiccups.