Huawei generally keeps their Huawei-branded phones out of the United States — no P9 or Mate phones for us. What we do get are their Nexus devices and the phones sold under their Honor brand. Huawei’s Honor phones tend to be priced as midrange devices, but generally feature aesthetically pleasing design and upper-tier smartphone camera tech. The brand is meant to appeal to the younger generation, including teens and twenty-somethings (I can’t bring myself to use the M word).
But, Honor devices are Huawei devices through and through, for better or worse. Their latest release, the Honor 8 (which got a release earlier this year in China), is a solid performer and shares the dual-camera system of the premium P9, making it a terrific device. But, like other Huawei phones, it suffers from the usual complaints about Huawei’s EMUI overlay and a price tag that is simply too high for its set of features, even if it’s not quite as overpriced as the P9.
For both Honor and Huawei phones, Huawei has demonstrated a strong commitment of late to well-designed, aesthetically pleasing phones. With the P9, we got a soft-touch all-metal build with rounded corners — regardless of what was on the inside, it looked the part of a luxury device. The cheaper Honor 8 (also a 5.2″ phone) instead goes for a metal frame and 2.5D glass on the front and back, with a special 15-layer pane of glass on the back. That last bit isn’t really for protection, though — it’s for looks, refracting light in bolts and streaks on the back. I wouldn’t call it a positive or a negative, so much as a matter of taste. Unfortunately, the glass is not Corning Gorilla Glass, so regardless of how many layers are on the phone, dropping it probably won’t end well — worth noting, because the phone can be a bit slippery.
As usual with Huawei phones, the fingerprint sensor is comfortably placed on the back, under the dual-lens camera system. The charging connector, like nearly every new phone this year, is USB Type-C, and one of the new cables comes with the phone along with a wall charger.
The Honor 8 comes in common colors — white, black, and gold. They look nice enough, but there’s also a sapphire blue option that really stands out among the rest of the smartphone crowd. It’s a richer blue than the one on the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, and is one of the nicest color options we’ve seen all year. Given how similar phones all look after a while, that counts for something.
The Honor 8 runs on a Kirin 950 SoC and 4 GB of RAM, and can be purchased with either 32 GB or 64 GB of storage (there is a microSD card slot good for another 128 GB). Unlike most Android phones, which use Qualcomm chipsets, Huawei almost always uses their own Kirin chipsets. In recent years, that usually means better processing power, but significantly worse graphics performance. Despite being a midrange phone, the 950 SoC in the Honor 8 is only one step down from the 955 in the flagship P9. The benchmark results below describe an upper midrange Android phone — it’s noticeably better than the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, although those phones are much cheaper. As usual with Huawei, graphics performance lags a bit. Usually that isn’t a problem, but with more and more nearly premium phones selling at low cost, it prevents the Honor 8 from being as competitive as it could be.
|PC Mark for Android Work||5712|
|GFXBench GL 3.1 1080p Manhattan Offscreen||583.5 frames|
|3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.1||843|
|PC Mark for Android Work Battery Life||8 hours, 43 minutes|
In everyday use, the Honor 8 performs very well. Scrolling is always smooth, and it rarely lags when opening new apps. 3D gaming, as expected, isn’t as smooth as on phones running on Qualcomm 800-series SoCs, but premium gaming performance usually comes with the most premium of prices. We didn’t notice any problems with overheating during general use, either. The phone did get a little warm when we expected it to — during quick charging and while downloading app updates.
Like the P9, the Honor 8 has a 1920 x 1080 resolution display. 1080p still looks fine on a 5.2″ screen — higher resolutions usually only make a difference for larger phones or for use with VR headsets, and I don’t think the latter will apply much to the Honor 8. More importantly, the phone’s display can get bright enough to be used easily in direct sunlight.
Huawei’s phones tend to have excellent battery life, and the Honor 8 is no exception. Its benchmark performance puts it comfortably in the upper range of Android phones. The battery itself isn’t especially large at 3,000 mAh, but the lower resolution display helps keep power draw down, helping it last for a whole day with mixed use. The Honor 8 has a USB Type-C connector (USB 2.0, so slower transfer speeds) for charging and comes with a quick charge wall adapter that will get you to about 50 percent charge in 30 minutes. One year ago, that would have been incredible, but those numbers are about middle of the pack now.
The Honor 8 is only available as a single-SIM phone. While call quality on MetroPCS (the T-Mobile network) was solid on 4G LTE and we never experienced problems with Wi-Fi, we did have one little problem with connectivity. GPS, whether data-assisted or not, was often either inaccurate or unresponsive for minutes at a time. It’d pinpoint our location eventually, but it was a bit frustrating. It’s likely a bug that can be fixed with an update, at least.
The Honor 8 has one low-key feature that could swing a lot of purchasing decisions. Most phones have left off the IR blaster lately, but Huawei has added it to the Honor 8. This means you can use the Honor 8 as a universal remote for televisions, Blu-ray and DVD players, and the like. Huawei has preloaded an app with a large library of IR device model numbers, making it easy to set up the universal remote feature.
The fingerprint scanner is very fast, waking up the phone from screen off in an instant. After a few days of use, it very rarely fails to recognize your fingerprint, too — you can trust the fingerprint scanner to consistently be more convenient than entering a pin or a pattern.
The rear camera array features dual 12 MP sensors with f/2.2 lenses with laser autofocus, dual-tone flash, and HDR. It’s the same kind of system as the P9 — one sensor takes color pictures, while the other takes black and white pictures for the purpose of taking more accurate light level data. The two pictures are then stitched together to produce crisp pictures with more accurate light levels, making the HDR feature even stronger. The only difference between this camera array and the one on the P9 is that the 1.25-micron pixels in the optics are a bit smaller, taking in less light (we suppose this is why the Honor 8 camera lacks the Leica branding of the P9).
We found pictures taken by the P9 to be very good, although not quite as crisp as the camera on the Galaxy S7 Edge. As expected, Honor 8 pictures are similar to those of the P9, but they don’t come out quite as well when taken in low-light conditions. But, for a midrange phone, they’re still excellent. You’ll have to blow up well-lit pictures a lot to notice noise, and low-light pictures don’t come out as blurry or noisy as with many other Android phones. You also have access to other camera options found on the P9, like the ability to adjust focus depth after the picture has been taken (or preview focus effects before taking the picture). It’s still possible to take black and white photos, although this now exists as a filter instead of a separate camera option.
This is where we always come down on Huawei, and it’ll be no different with the Honor 8. I don’t think EMUI’s changes to the stock Android menus are all that bad, but the app drawer is still very much missed. I actually prefer the settings menu of EMUI, because it uses smaller boxes and fonts for each item, which means less scrolling to find a setting near the bottom of the menu. But, that’s a matter of opinion.
Another good tweak to Android is the home screen management system. It’s much easier to add new panes to the carousel, and you can designate a different pane as your home screen with just a tap. It’s a really minor change, but it’s a nice usability feature.
The Honor 8 comes with more bloatware than usual for a Huawei phone, even unlocked. Shazam, Booking.com, News Republic, Lyft, Facebook, Twitter, a handful of games, and Huawei’s suite of system apps are all preloaded. Fortunately, all of those save the Huawei apps can be uninstalled, and Huawei has axed some redundant system apps over the years, like their browser.
There’s no always-on display mode, so you’ll need to wake the phone to see basic information and notifications. Huawei has included a reading mode that dials down blue light levels coming from the phone, which is great if you’re reading something on your phone at night right before you go to bed. Unfortunately, there’s no system-wide battery-saving dark mode (on some phones, this turns some backgrounds black instead of white to save battery power).
And, we can’t finish a Huawei review without talking about the very best thing Huawei does on their phones. They always get a lot of mileage out of their fingerprint sensor, and they’ve packed even more features into it this time around. Besides being able to pull down the notification center with a swipe down on the fingerprint sensor (the best one-handed use feature I can think of), the sensor is now a clickable button that can launch apps. Different apps can be launched with a press, a double press, or a long press. You can swipe side to side to navigate a photo album, too. We’re still not sure why Huawei is the only company that makes use of the fingerprint sensor in this way, but we love them for it.
Huawei has also brought back their knuckle gestures, which can do things like take screenshots, control music, and launch the camera with different knocks or traced patterns. It’s a cool idea, but I never got the knuckle gestures to work consistently enough for me to want to use them regularly.
Read on for the verdict…
This story was originally published at Huawei Honor 8 Review – Yet Another Great Mid-range Phone