Huawei’s sub-brand Honor has really come out of the shadows over the last two years. Undaunted by dominant players like Xiaomi, Honor has been proactive and smart, listening to feedback from the market and aligning to meet the needs of smartphone buyers. And the recently-launched Honor 9N really makes that quite evident.

The 9N, an upgrade to the Honor 9 Lite, is a compact phone, despite its 5.94-inch display. It’s slim and narrow and easy to hold. People who are frustrated with just not finding phones that are a reasonable size any longer could well consider the Honor 9N as an option. The 9N is so compact, it can actually be used one-handed, if that’s your style. Downloading a better keyboard is advisable though, because the native one is cramped and not much fun to use.

The phone is a good looking one and dares to try on a number of different colours, including a Robin’s egg-blue which is both interesting and refreshing. It has a glossy glass back, which is what makes this gadget look more expensive than it really is, as well as distinctive and eye-catching. It needs a case — fortunately provided in the box — to give it some amount of protection against scratches. There have been some grumbles about the use of glass here because there’s no wireless charging, not something you get in this budget phone category. Why increase the vulnerability of a smartphone just to make it look pretty, after all?

There are three variants of the Honor 9N. The most basic is with 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage at ₹11,999, the second with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB storage at ₹13,999 and finally the 4 GB RAM with 128 GB storage at ₹17,999, which seems disproportionately high for a bit more space. All the same, the pricing and the characteristics of the device itself put the 9N up as competition to Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 5 and Note 5 Pro, among others including some of Honor’s own phones and some from Asus. These variants plus the different colour models end up offering quite a selection.

When you switch on the 9N, you’ll find a notch has been used to maximise the 19:9 Full-HD display. As is typical, the bottom border is a little thicker than the top, and anyone disturbed by the look of the notch can vanquish it with a display setting. The screen is quite standard and has good brightness and colours, but I did find myself annoyed at not having enough options to increase the display size. Many elements on the screen are actually exceptionally small, such as the drop-down quick settings.

When you start to use the 9N, you can easily see how good a job affordable phones are doing with performance. I found this device very fluid to navigate and use. A slight flick or swipe of the thumb and the device responds. It’s running on Huawei’s own Kirin 659 octa-core processor, which although by no means new, does a good and smooth job for things that most people need. It’s running on Android 8.0, but Huawei’s own customised skin on top of the operating system is what you’ll be interacting with. It’s still a little crowded and annoying and has nothing to recommend in particular but it’s nevertheless working in a nice optimised fashion rather than slowing down the phone.

If you’re planning on a lot of indoor photo taking, best forget about this device. The dual 13 MP + 2 MP camera set makes dark colours and areas just that much darker and gloomier. In better light, the cameras wake up and take fairly good pictures, over-exposing at times but otherwise doing a good job of depth of field and detecting edges beyond which it is to blur the background. With front cameras having long overtaken the primary camera as being the more important one because it takes selfies, the 9N has a 16 MP selfie shooter to flatter yourself with. It takes passable selfies if you have the right light — too much tends to over-expose readily. As usual, you get fairer and impossibly smooth skin. This phone has a 3,000 mAh battery, a hybrid dual SIM slot and a fingerprint sensor on the back. One distinct advantage it has is that it’s easy to buy without struggling through flash sales that are incomprehensible to many.

Price: ₹11,999 to ₹17,999

Pros: Prettily designed, has a 19:9 screen, plenty of variants and colours, fluid performance

Cons: EMUI interface still needs to get better, low light photos disappointing, some overexposing by the cameras