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Honor 8X hands-on review

Fadu News 2018-10-12 00:32:18

Honor and its parent company Huawei has mostly adopted the practice of over-saturating the market with a plethora of extremely similar models. It's perfectly understandable if you get confused at times. We frequently find ourselves puzzled by their "different, but same, but different" devices.

The Honor 8X is, sadly, no exception to the rule. Looking at its basic specs, it is a hefty phablet, with a 6.5-inch, notched LCD panel, Huawei's fairly new mid-range Kirin 710 chipset and a sizeable 3,750 mAh battery. However, most of that is also true about the Huawei P Smart+ (nova 3i) and the Huawei Mate 20 Lite, which just sit at 0.2 inches less in display diagonal. If that's that important to you, there is the Huawei Y9 (2019), which packs a slightly lower resolution main camera, but compensates with a bigger battery. Then there are also the Huawei Honor Play and the Huawei nova 3, which also fit the overall description, while also rocking the flagship Kirin 970 chipset.

And that's without even considering notch-free options, like the Honor Note 10 or the Honor View 10. Granted, not all of these devices are offered at the same markets, but it's almost as if Honor and Huawei are deliberately trying to confuse and overwhelm buyers with choice.

  • Body: Aluminum frame, plastic back, 160.4 x 76.6 x 7.8 mm, 175g.
  • Display: 6.5" IPS LCD, 1,080 x 2,340px, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 396ppi.
  • Rear camera: Primary 20MP, f/1.8 aperture, 27mm equiv. focal length; phase detect autofocus; secondary 2MP depth sensor.
  • Front camera: 16MP, f/2.0 aperture, 26mm equiv. focal length; fixed focus lens
  • OS/Software: Android 8.1 Oreo, EMUI 8.2.
  • Chipset: Kirin 710: octa-core CPU (2x2.2GHz Cortex-A73 + 2x1.7GHz Cortex-A53); Mali-G51 MP4 GPU.
  • Memory: 4/6GB of RAM; 64/128GB storage; microSD card slot (dedicated).
  • Battery: 3,750mAh (sealed), 9V/2A fast charging (but not Huawei SuperCharge)
  • Connectivity: Dual SIM; Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2; microUSB 2.0, 3.5mm jack
  • Misc: Histen 5.0; dual microphones (noise reduction); Fingerprint reader (rear-mounted)

Upon closer inspection, however, there does appear to be one ongoing trend in all this that we can't overlook and it has to do with an increase in value. After averaging some prices, with an MSRP of just CNY 1,399/€180 on its home market, the Honor 8X seems to bring the aforementioned rough set of hardware specs for the lowest price yet.

Hopefully, this should be attributed to various ongoing manufacturing and supply chain savings, which Honor is graciously transfering on to end-users over time. The other alternative would be a less praise-worthy market segmentation scheme, intended to weigh out profits and losses across a wide pool of devices and markets, in keeping with a global bottom line. But we can only guess, of course.

Honor 8X in official photos

And we're definitely in no position to judge. Although, we are sympathetic if you only recently bought one of the aforementioned Huawei/Honor devices for more than the Honor 8X asking price. In any case, on paper, the Honor 8X looks like a great mid-ranger value option, we just feel obliged to check out. Still, bear in mind, most of it is not surprising or new in any capacity, especially since it has been out on various markets for some time now.

Handling the Honor 8X feels very familiar. This is not necessarily criticism in any way, but it's also not particularly exciting either. Measuring 160.4 x 76.6 x 7.8 mm and tipping the scale at 175 grams, the Honor 8X sits pretty nicely in the hand. Not really thick or particularly heady

The body feels quite sturdy, but at this price point, some corners have obviously been cut. Instead of Gorilla Glass, the back of the phone is made of plastic. The latter is definitely more prone to scratches, so a case is advisable. On the flip side, however, the back plate does feature a rather interesting design that kind of grew on us quickly. The left portion of the area, housing the dual camera setup features a different texture and a less-glossy finish. A nice little detail to set it apart from the Huawei/Honor crowd. There are a total of four available color options, including Black, Blue, Red and Pink.

The fingerprint reader occupies its typical position on the back side of the Honor 8X. It is a really snappy and accurate reader too, boasting unlock speeds as low as 0.3 seconds. In case fingerprints are not your biometric cup of tea, Honor has also included face unlock. However, that does take twice as long, averaging around 0.6 second unlocks.

Of course, making a huge "slab" like the Honor 8X entirely from plastic is not really a great idea, in terms of durability. Luckily Honor opted for the better approach of sandwiching a metal main frame between the front and back panels.

That way, even though the Honor 8X is clearly part of the trendy, extra-tall smartphone crowd and made with a lot of plastic, it has little to no flex.

The front of the Honor 8X also offers little in the way of surprises. It is nice to see a fair bit of bezel-slimming effort on Honor's part. Especially at this price point. The same goes for the display notch. Don't get us wrong, the way it cuts into content is still pretty annoying, but it does appear to be relatively smaller than the cut-outs on some of its Huawei and Honor siblings.

Left and right sides

On to a quick tour of controls then. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. On the right - a power button and volume rockers. Both nicely textured, well defined, satisfactory "clicky". No complaints there. On the left - a tray, sitting quite flush with the rest of the frame. Though, it is just a bit off, in terms of color.

Top and bottom sides

Nitpicking aside, we really appreciate the fact that said tray can house a duo on Nano SIM cards, as well as a microSD card, all at the same time. No hybrid setups and compromises in sight. The top side of the Honor 8X is practically empty, only housing a small secondary microphone. On the bottom - the main microphone, single speaker and a 3.5mm audio jack. Pretty great setup, only partially spoiled by the choice of a dated microUSB 2.0 port. Still, reminding ourselves of the price tag make this a lot easier to swallow.

Plus, if you're not really in a hurry while charging or transferring data, the interface is still plenty fast. Speaking of charging, Honor or rather Huawei, judging by the branding on the unit we encountered, also includes a nice thick USB cable and a standard 10W (5V@2A) wall adapter in the box.

We do feel obliged to say a few words about the Honor 8X's display as well. Although it's not really overly impressive in any particular way. We still find 1080 x 2340 pixels to be perfectly adequate on a 6.5-inch diagonal. The LCD looks sharp and detailed, but you do have to check back in the full review for particulars, like brightness, contrast and color accuracy.

Mind you, like many of its siblings, the Honor 8X features a particularly tall or wide, depending on which way you look at it, aspect ratio - 19.5:9. Huawei often points out the fact that this comes pretty close to a standard cinematic video ratio. While technically true, we have a few issues with that. Namely the notch, cutting into the video, kind of making the aspect kind of a moot point. And then there is the lack of a large quantity of easily accessible cinematic footage on mobile, in the first place.

The Honor 8X is based around Hisilicon's relatively new Kirin 710 chipset. Again, it's hardly the first Huawei to adopt the chip, but it might just be the cheapest one yet. And the Kirin 710 is no slouch. It has an octa-core processor configuration, with 4x2.2 GHz Cortex-A73 and 4x1.7 GHz Cortex-A53 units. That's not that far off from the flagship Kirin 960, with its 4x2.4 GHz Cortex-A73 & 4x1.8 GHz Cortex-A53.

Throw in 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage in the base model and 6GB, plus 64GB or 128GB on higher-tier variants and you have yourself a very capable setup that we've already seen chew through most every productivity or mundane task out there.

The weakest link in the performance chain seems to the Mali-G51 MP4 GPU. It can't really keep up with the Mali-G72 MP12 in the flagship Kirin 960. To be fair, the Honor 8X can still offer a quite enjoyable gaming experience, as long as you keep things casual. Heavy modern online titles, like mobas or battle royal arenas tend to bring the average frame rates down to and below the thirties on the Kirin 710. At least in our experience, that is.

The Honor 8X does have a trick up its sleeve, though. It's one of many Huawei devices to receive the GPU Turbo software optimization layer. You can check out our recent review on what GPU Turbo works. Basically, you can think of it as an extra layer of graphics optimization, sitting between any compatible apps and the hardware. Contrary to the name, however, it doesn't really boost in-game frame rates but rather smooths out any dips at the cost of a few frames here and there. Overall, this equates to a much more enjoyable experience, with the bonus of some battery savings in the process.

While not explicitly stated during Honor's PR event, we can only assume that the Honor 8X will also include Huawei's CPU Turbo tech. It is the accompanying system that tries to optimize CPU loads and performance.

Before moving on to the Camera, Honor did put quite a bit of emphasis on a new Party Mode feature of its. It's an exciting concept for grouping different Honor devices (possibly Huawei, as well) together into a single speaker arrangement. One of these plays the role of the master phone, which leverages multipoint Bluetooth connectivity to sync with up to seven other devices (as per the general Bluetooth spec). The master can then play audio content and have the other devices play various channels of said content, all the while rearranging and re-assigning them freely. Of course, for the best effect possible, you do need a 7.1 surround audio source and a total of eight compatible devices. So, it's more of a tech concept than anything else.

The camera department on the Honor 8X poses yet another case of slight variations on an already familiar setup. In this case, the 20MP, f/1.8, 27mm equivalent wide-angle, plus a 2MP depth sensor arrangement seems to be directly borrowed from the Huawei Mate 20 Lite. There are no added or stripped-down extra bells or whistles either. Just a straight-forward phase detection autofocus system and a single LED flash.

Since that is the case, you can hop over to the Mate 20 Lite review for some relevant, in-depth info on what we once again found to be a very decent camera experience. We did, however, manage to snap a few quick shots with the Honor 8X.

Honor 8X camera samples

Looking at the secondary 2MP depth-sensing camera, we also naturally felt obliged to give the portrait mode a quick test. It appears to work well, most of the time. Usually, human subjects get picked up easier by the algorithm. You can even do focus re-adjustment on the portrait photos after you take them.

Honor 8X portrait samples

Despite its budget standing, the Honor 8X still gets the benefit of Huawei's various AI camera algorithms. First and foremost, there is the object and scene recognition. It can currently differentiate between 500+ scenes, spread across 22 categories.

We have to say, we still get a kick out of pointing the phone at a car and getting a little corresponding notice on the viewfinder. As per Honor's PR, once something gets recognized by the AI, specific tweaks get automatically applied to the image. The current version of the camera algorithm takes things one step beyond and can detect multiple objects, areas or scenes within a single frame and apply effects to those areas, accordingly. This is especially beneficial for low-light shots, in what Honor has dubbed the AIS Super Night Shooting system. But, we'll have to very these claims in the full review.

One thing we did notice straight away about the AI mode on the Honor 8X was that it was limited to 12MP on our test unit. Not a major issue, or anything, but it is still worth noting.

The Honor 8X might have borrowed its rear camera setup from the Huawei Mate 20 Lite, but on the selfie sides, things are a bit more toned-down. Honor put a single 16MP, f/2.0, fixed-focus snapper above the display. Quite possibly the same one found on the Honor Play.

Honor 8X selfie samples

We snapped a couple of quick selfies as well, under, what we might add were pretty challenging lighting conditions. Software-only portraits are available.

Huawei and especially Honor appear to be on an on-going quest towards offering more value for less in their devices. Of course, that's one way of looking at things, ignoring the utter chaos the two companies lineups have now become.

Either way, the Honor 8X is one of the latest milestones is said quest. A solid mid-ranger, with a tantalizingly low price, systematically making its way on to more and more international markets. Even so, we find it hard to give it an instant recommendation purely on the basis that many other Huawei and Honor phones exist and could easily offer a better match for your specific set of needs, in roughly the same price bracket.

If you are prepared to navigate this confusing lineup of devices, you might have to answer some pretty tough questions for yourself. Namely, prioritizing slightly better cameras, chipsets, bigger panels and batteries as best you can. In any case, we'll have to reserve any final judgment for the full review.