Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 review: Good value with an uncertain future

Posted: 21 October 2019 1:27 pm
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Quick Verdict

The Huawei Y9 Prime is a top-notch budget handset that we'd enthusiastically recommend were it not for the issues surrounding Huawei's access to Google updates and services.

The good

  • Good front and back cameras
  • Solid battery life
  • Decent performance within its price range
  • Pop-up camera grabs attention for those group selfies

The bad

  • Huawei's access to Google apps and services could be limited
  • Front camera can be slow to pop up
  • EMUI can still be annoying for Android purists.

The smartphone story for Huawei in 2019 should have been one of celebrated victory. Even now with competing smartphones from Samsung, Apple, LG, Oppo and many others to contend with, its P30 Pro stands tall among camera phones in the premium space.

That's not what happened, however, with the US ban on Huawei so seriously limiting its access to Google apps and services that it has launched the Huawei Mate 30 Pro without full Google access, and, at the time of writing, not yet in Australia at all.

In the middle of this kerfuffle, Huawei has also launched the more affordably priced Huawei Y9 Prime 2019. It's a full Google Android phone, so you do get access to all of Google's services, but it's a rather more open question about what happens with any future updates or access. It could well be that the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 is Huawei's last "proper" Android phone to launch in Australia.

Unfortunately, that prospect of worrying about access to Google has to be part of your decision matrix when considering the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 because removed from it, Huawei's produced an exceptionally competitive mid-range handset.

Huawei Y9 Prime 2019

Design

  • Midnight Black or Sapphire Blue finishes
  • Full-screen 6.59-inch display
  • Rear fingerprint sensor
  • Still has a headphone jack

The Huawei Y9 Prime follows Huawei's general design principles, which means it looks rather like the Huawei P30 Pro, only with a more constrained choice of colours to play with. It ships in Australia in a rather nice Sapphire Blue finish or the Midnight Black design I've tested out. If I were buying, it'd be Sapphire Blue all the way, but if you prefer a more sedate style, Midnight Black is fine. As you might expect for a mid-range phone, you're looking at a plastic back, which means you're also pretty quickly faced with a lot of your own fingerprints on the phone.

At the front, you'll find a 6.59-inch, 2340 x 1080 pixel display, which is nicely sharp for a phone in this price bracket. As is very common with many Chinese phones, there's a slight degree of oversaturation in colours on the display, although it does make it quite eye-catching.

What you won't find at the front is any kind of notch or particularly significant top bezel. That's because the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 features a pop-up selfie camera that slides up from the top left hand side of the phone. While we've seen a few phones of late in this price bracket start to offer in-display fingerprint readers, the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 opts instead for a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. That's less showy, although our experience with those cheaper front-glass mounted sensors also suggests that they're less sensitive, so it's also often easier to hit a dedicated sensor.

At 163.5x77.3x8.8mm and 196.8 grams, the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 isn't a super-light handset, but it fits comfortably in most hands. Fans of wired headphones will be pleased to note that a 3.5mm headphone jack is present, although it's mounted at the base of the phone. That's pretty much a design necessity. The SIM card slot and pop-up camera sit at the top of the phone, and there's simply no room left anywhere else!

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Huawei Y9 Prime 2019

Camera

  • Selfie camera delivers good results – but it's not quick
  • Rear cameras are very good for a phone in this price category

The Huawei Y9 Prime packs in a triple camera array at the rear, with a 16MP f/1.8 primary sensor, 8MP ultrawide and 2MP depth sensor in play. As is so common with these cheaper phones, you never shoot from that depth-sensing camera. It's simply there to provide additional focal effects, in concert with Huawei's rather impressive AI-led computational photography efforts.

For its price range, the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 impresses, with a range of camera features available whether you're a simple point-and-shoot type photographer or someone with more creative aspirations. No, it's not quite the P30 Pro in the end results, especially for features like the inbuilt night mode, but you can feel that same desire for better and easier photos coming through when you shoot with the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019. You do have to play around with the relevant modes to get the best results, though. It's an entirely capable automatic camera, for example, but its aperture mode has a tendency to introduce some slightly fake and sometimes inconsistent-looking blur around objects at times.

Then there's the front-facing 16MP f/2.2 selfie camera with its pop-up lens. Now, if you're in a group and you gather around for a selfie only to have it burst forth from the top of the phone, you will draw more than a few impressed smiles, not that Huawei was first to market with this kind of camera.

However, you'll also be left waiting a little bit, and that's very much the nature of any pop-up camera at all. It's not achingly slow, but if you're waiting for that right "fun" moment, it's more of a drag than a regular front-facing camera would be. Huawei says that it's tested the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 to survive up to 15kg of pressure in lab conditions, so it should be reasonably robust. You should let it slide itself down when you're done, but it can also be pushed down pretty easily with your finger. If you do drop the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019, the camera module automatically contracts to keep it safe, although this is still just at its regular speed. There's the potential for it to be damaged if you were very unlucky with a rapid drop onto a hard surface, and of course having a pop-up camera does limit what you can do with protective cases, too.

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Huawei Y9 Prime 2019

Performance

  • Kirin 710 provides adequate mid-range power
  • EMUI is still a love-it-or-loathe-it proposition
  • Update future is super-murky

The Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 is an Android 9 phone with Huawei's own EMUI 9.1 launcher on top of it, running on a Kirin 710 processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. Huawei doesn't license out its Kirin chips to anyone else, so direct comparison to other handsets is a little tricky. In direct benchmark terms, it compares fairly well against similar phones. We've only recently switched over to using Geekbench 5, so there's not a whole lot of comparative data at this price point to play with, but it does outpace the identically priced Mintt Ultramintt Y3:

It's a similar story with 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme, not that the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 is a heavy-duty games machine:

As it does with every other Android phone it's produced to date, Huawei heavily modifies the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 with its own EMUI launcher and range of applications. If you're an Android purist or simply used to where Google puts many settings, you may find this annoying as well as just a touch garish. However, if you like Huawei's approach to its in-house apps and you're already familiar with EMUI, you'll find it all rather familiar. Many of Huawei's apps do ask for a range of permissions when launching which may concern some, although being Android you're not really stuck using them to any great extent.

Of course the big hanging question over the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 is the future of updates and access to Google services. At launch and during the review period, there was no issue with getting Google apps or accessing the Play Store, but it's a very open question about whether that will continue, or indeed what kind of updates Huawei will be able to provide for it. In theory, it could port the AOSP version of Android 10 to it, but whether it would also be allowed to keep Google Play access is rather unknown. Huawei and Google's early statements about ongoing support suggest that it may be able to, but later statements around EMUI10 (which incorporates elements of the Play-Store-Free AOSP Android 10) suggest otherwise.

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Battery life

  • 4,000mAh battery gives good all-day battery life
  • App management can be a little overly aggressive

Huawei has produced some of the best phones for battery endurance in recent years, and the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 continues that trend. Our synthetic benchmark of choice, Geekbench has dropped its battery component with Geekbench 5, so we can't give a comparative view of how the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 stacks up against most of 2019's mid-range phones to speak of. What we've switched to is a more real-world test, letting the phone run a one-hour YouTube video at full brightness and noting battery rundown over that period. Again, though we don't have that much data to go from, here's how the Huawei Y9 Prime compares:

Over more anecdotal usage, it's very easy to get the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 to last out a day's usage, although there is a catch here. Huawei has long managed to eke out more battery life by very aggressively shutting down apps in the background so that they don't sap away those precious electrons while you might not need them. However, this also sometimes means that they're not updating in the way you might want them to. It's not an issue that will hit every app, but it's definitely worth playing around with the App Launch settings if there are specific apps you're missing details on because the Huawei Y9 Prime is constantly shutting them down.

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Huawei Y9 Prime 2019

Should you buy the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019?

  • Great value for the money
  • But what happens with updates?

In any other year, I'd be giving the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 a seal of approval because, for a mid-range phone, it's really very good. The cameras are better than you'll generally see at this price range, the battery life is good and overall performance is entirely satisfactory.

However, the ongoing concern around when and if it'll keep getting basic security and version updates, and maybe even access to the Google Play Store are a significant anchor around the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019's value proposition. If you're looking at a phone that you intend to run for the next three years or maybe more, having that basic functionality still present is rather vital.

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Huawei Y9 Prime 2019: Pricing and availability

The Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 sells outright for $399

Huawei Y9 Prime 2019: Alternatives

There are plenty of alternatives to the Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 because 2019 has been a bumper year for really top-value mid-range handsets.

It's been mentioned already in this review, but at the same price point, you could consider the Mintt Ultramintt Y3, which has a more plain Google style along with good performance and style.

If you crave really exceptional battery life, consider the Motorola Moto G7 Power, with its 5,000mAh battery.

Huawei Y9 Prime 2019 Specifications

Display

Camera

Physical dimensions

Connectivity

Power, storage and battery

Device features

Display size 6.59 inches
Resolution 2340 x 1080
Pixels per inch (PPI) 391
Rear camera megapixels 16MP + 8MP + 2MP
Rear camera aperture size N/A
Video recording 1080p
Front camera megapixels 16MP
Front camera aperture size N/A
Dimensions 163.5mm x 77.3mm x 8.8mm
Weight 196.8g
NFC No
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Network category speed Category 21
Processor Hisilicon Kirin 710F
RAM 4GB
Operating system Android 9
Internal storage

128GB

External storage support Up to 512GB
Battery capacity 4,000mAh
Headphone jack Yes
Fingerprint sensor Yes
Water resistance N/A
Wireless charging
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