It’s early December, the weather is crazy and the stress of the festive period is becoming a genuine threat to my peace of mind. Senior editor Dominik Bärlocher and video producer Manuel Wenk have just got back from London. It was strictly a business trip, of course: Honor had just launched two new smartphones and the lucky things were there to see it.
What I didn’t know was that something small, square, smart and mobile had been stowed away in their luggage.
I soon found out what it was all about. Dominik strode up to me with his chest puffed out, holding out his prize, the Honor 7x. No packaging, no nothing; just the phone. It seems that the rest was lost on the arduous journey between London and Zurich. But hey, at least we had the phone. «There you go, Luca», he said in his blunt yet charming way, «try it out».
If ordered immediately.
Information subject to change.
If ordered immediately.
Information subject to change.
Being the role model I am, I focused on the brand, Honor, first and foremost. I had to find out what I would be getting into for the next few weeks. To be honest, though, that would go far beyond the scope of this review, so I’ll only scratch the surface.
Honor is the subsidiary or sister company of Chinese mobile giant Huawei. It’s not clear which – the answer differs depending on who you ask. But it’s clearly established itself as a subsidiary, even if I still don’t really know what the «Powered by Huawei» label on my new Honor 7x means.
With a little research, it’s easy to make out the strategy: Huawei cements its image as a Chinese smartphone manufacturer producing quality products at a fair price. Honor, on the other hand, makes the bold decision to only communicate with us online. This should primarily target price-conscious youngsters. The offer: as much technology as possible for the lowest possible price.
Honor is bold, as Dominik and Manuel found out in London
The positions are set, the plan of action has been prepared and the market is properly covered.
A likely story. Just when we thought we’d seen through the Huawei group’s approach, the Honor 7x comes along. It’s practically the same phone as the Huawei Mate 10 Lite. Both phones even cost the same at the time of review. The Chinese giant is working the market with two different brands, which are basically selling the same phone at the same price. Huh?
I’d better change the subject before I start rattling on about the effects of cannibalisation and other economic matters. You might already know the technical specs, but here they are in full for the sake of completeness.
According to Product Management, the product includes a Quick Start Guide and a USB charger and cable. Unless your phone is delivered by Dominik; then you just get the phone.
I carefully removed the brick from its imaginary packaging. Brick is a bad word when it comes to smartphones, but I was amazed to find just how stylish it was and how easily it sat in my hand. This should not be taken for granted, especially if you read this (in German).
I turned the phone around and around, looked at it from every angle… basically, I did everything I could to see if I would drop it. But I didn’t, thankfully. The same goes for the Honor’s grip. And perhaps it’s better if I don’t test the built-in corner airbag system – which the manufacturer claims will cushion impact – on a phone that doesn’t belong to me.
Visually, I really like the phone in blue aluminium – the exact colour is described as Blue Sapphire. It’s also available in classic Midnight Black, if you prefer. The 5.93” display seems to take up the entire front surface. «It’s virtually frameless», I hear myself mutter, «but where’s the fingerprint sensor?» A few touches later, I find it on the back of the phone, which also houses the dual camera system and lenses that protrude a little too far for my taste. Besides this small stylistic issue, I’m a pretty big fan of the design. It’s slim, but easy to use with one hand, and it’s a perfectly normal weight at 165 g.
«And?» Dominik asked, as he caught me juggling a phone, a fidget spinner and a compact camera, «Will I be getting the phone back?»
«What phone?» I answered, hiding behind a potted plant.
«The phone’s nice», I hear you say, «but can it actually do anything?»
Yes, it can. Not as much as a top-of-the-range model, but you wouldn’t expect so at this price, would you?
It’s time, then, to actually switch the phone on. I press the easy-to-find button on the side and the display comes to life to reveal a full HD+ screen with a resolution of 2160×1080 pixels and a pixel density of 400 ppi. Oh yes, this brings the sharpness to reasonable levels.
Colours are typically natural for an IPS display, although they could be a tad stronger, in my opinion. I’m also not totally satisfied with the automatic brightness sensor: it reacts quickly to changes in external conditions, but the display always remains a little too dark. So what would I suggest? If it came to it, you could adjust the colour temperature in the settings to reduce the effect of too-pale colours. If the display is also too dark, just deactivate the sensor and set the brightness to «burn my eyes out of my head». Easy. Honor proves that good screens aren’t reserved for high-end devices.
The fingerprint sensor on the back is one of the most precise examples I’ve ever come across. The reaction time is far from shabby compared to more expensive competitors: the display comes to life as soon as you put your finger on it!
I swiped through the menus, started up apps, scrolled around…everything is quick and there is very little delay. If there are too many apps open, however, it takes times to think before it gets back to work. This isn’t unusual for phones in this price bracket, and most of the users it targets will hardly notice the delays.
As soon as I put my finger on the sensor, the display comes to life. Swiping, scrolling, opening apps – everything feels great.
Honor has made a bold choice of operating system: the Huawei-developed EMUI 5.1 overlay, which is based on Android 7. While Android 8 Oreo is slated for release in the second quarter of 2018, it doesn’t look as if the Honor will be moving to Huawei’s EMUI 8.1. Shame. At least EMUI 5.1 is visually closer to Google’s stock Android – the pure version of Android – than its previous versions. It’s a good thing – like an Android, you can tailor the user interface to your needs.
I’m really impressed with the storage capacity – it’s unparalleled in its price bracket. You get 64 GB of storage with 49 GB of usable space, so extensive photography sessions, music libraries and film collections are no problem. A hybrid dual SIM slot allows you to increase the storage capacity by an impressive 256 GB with a microSD card. There’s a slight hitch, though: there’s only space for one additional SIM or memory card in the hybrid slot, so you can’t use two SIM cards at the same time if the second slot is filled by an additional memory card.
Let’s move on to the battery. With normal use – a bit of gaming on the train in the morning followed by 20 minutes of reading or WhatsApping and the same again in the afternoon and evening – the battery will last you one to two days. If you turn the brightness sensor on, it’ll last even longer.
For the record, that’s a lot for a 3340 mAh battery.
In short, no, I’m not a selfie queen. But then I’m not a professional photographer like senior editor und team leader David Lee either. To put it bluntly, I’m probably the run-of-the-mill daily user the phone was built for.
On the front, you’ll find an 8 MP camera. The back of the smartphone houses the dual camera set-up with a 16 MP and a 2 MP camera. It’s this second camera that lets you take photos with depth of focus (bokeh effect).
«Hey Luca, is that a new toy you’ve got there?» asks Dominik. He knows how proud I am of my Christmas present. «Go on. Take a few photos with it,» he cajoles.
No sooner said than done. BB-8 models for me. After all, I want to know how good the bokeh effect is. And the result was… well, it could have come out better.
As you can see from the side-by-side photos, the camera app seems to really struggle with the outline of objects. The little droid that’s in focus should be clearly defined from the background, which is intentionally blurry to create the depth of field effect. The thing is, though, it’s not managing to do that. And I’ve seen it better elsewhere. Much better, in fact.
Incidentally, I shot the photo in portrait mode. But I didn’t change a single thing in the default settings – they’re just as they were out of the box – had there been a box… Dominik!
This isn’t an isolated case. Even our video team’s mascot didn’t have much luck with its selfie. I really don’t think every photo I took in portrait mode was a failure. However, when I see just what kind of almost respectable results I can achieve with other mobiles and activated bokeh effect, I’d go as far as to rule out my own incompetence and inability. I’m sure you could get better results with some fine-tuning. My point is, other cameras can do the same thing without any need for readjustments.
Apart from the underwhelming bokeh effects, the photo quality in daylight seems to tick all the boxes. Of course, there are better cameras but there will undoubtedly also be worse. You can film videos with a maximum resolution of 1080p. Top of the range models would manage 4K, but come on. Who is doing 4K videos on a mobile phone?
It’s just a shame there’s no image stabilisation – that’s something you’re bound to pick up on in Dominik’s unboxing the Honor 7x video filmed on an Honor 7x.
What’s great is the inclusion of Huawei’s already popular pro camera mode. This lets you adjust all kinds of camera settings, from aperture to focal length. Now photography experts can have their fun as well and experiment with the settings according to their mood.
It’s time to look at the other side of the coin. But before I do that, just let me reiterate I’m talking about a mid-range mobile. I know you might be yelling at the screen: «Don’t expect too much from it. Don’t be so harsh. Don’t tear it apart unnecessarily.» With all of that in mind, let’s look at the three weakness that peeved me in the long-term test.
Maybe I’m a bit too spoilt. I mean, it’s not that long ago that mobiles didn’t even have a quick charging feature at all. With the arrival of the micro USB connection – something that isn’t amiss in a smartphone in 2017 – it took a good three hours to fully charge the battery. If I were to use the mobile at the same time, the charging time would be easily four or five hours. For me, that’s inconvenient.
As someone in the office melodramatically put it: «A life without a quick charging feature isn’t worth living»,
Mobile phones are multimedia devices. At least, mine is. It’s for listening to music, streaming videos, making calls on loudspeaker. So how does the Honor 7x fare sound-wise? The speakers certainly deliver good volume but the sound is tinny, especially at higher frequencies.
While I could possibly overlook the first two points – if I follow the «don’t expect too much from mid-range mobiles» argument – I draw the line at poor call quality. Making calls on loudspeaker is hard enough as it is (see above). But even if I have the Honor 7x pressed to my ear, I find myself saying «Sorry, what?» to the person on the other end of the line after every second sentence. Over time it gets quite trying.
I’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for Honor in the last few weeks. No, seriously. I’m aware the Honor 7x isn’t a beefy flagship phone that can muscle its way in and wrestle all the competition to the ground. That’s not even the way I’d want it. But what I do know is, with the Honor 7x, you get a smartphone with good performance, the usual must-haves and all for a fair price. It’s no more or less than that.
Of course the device has its weak points. I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Unfortunately, these weaknesses give a bit of a dull aftertaste. It seems like Honor wanted to do everything right but then overlooked fine-tuning. Take the poor call quality, for instance or the bad bokeh results that I don’t think were an isolated case.
I’ve been road-testing the phone for over four weeks now, and I’m sad to say the speakers and lack of quick charging feature taint my verdict somewhat.
But let’s face it, it’s not as if you can’t use the device to make calls. What’s certain, for me at least, is that I can count all the phones with a similar spec and for this price on one hand.
Now it’s crunch time. Would I recommend the Honor 7x? Yes. Even to my friends? Of course. I wouldn’t be recommending anything to you that I wouldn’t suggest to my friends and family. What about buying one for myself? This is where I’m a bit hesitant. I might not be a power user who drains every last bit of the device, but I do consider myself a traditional trophy hunter.
Basically, where tech is concerned, only the best will do.
«Here you go, Dominik. There’s your phone back,» I say while I clumsily drop the Honor 7x on the floor. On purpose. Dominik looks at me as if he’s wondering what sort of death stare will be the most effective. But it was OK. The airbag system worked.
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