You might not know this but Huawei - the company that paired with Google last year to make the excellent Nexus 6P - has a sub-brand called Honor, which has just released a new budget phone.
The Honor 5X is a sleek, mostly-metal phone that costs just £190 ($199) - putting it in clear contention with the chunkier and cheaper Moto G 2015 and pricier but similar OnePlus X. The Honor comes with a few impressive features, but there a few cons too, which we can nitpick.
Here's the thing: Honor is like the budget version of Huawei. So while the 5X has the same flashy fingerprint sensor we love on the Nexus 6P, its sensor has been paired with a highly-customised and older version of Android that doesn't support the ability to unlock apps. Plus the 5X lacks NFC, so you can't use the fingerprint sensor to pay for goods either.
As ever, when it comes to affordable phones you win some and you lose some; it's all about compromise. The Honor 5X is no different in that regard, but at this affordable price point is it the one to love beyond all others?
Honor 5X review: Design
Let's be real right away: the 5X feels fairly cheap in the hand. It has a diamond polished aluminium alloy body with chamfered edges, and while all that reads well, we thought the metal body just didn't feel very solid nor premium. It's the exact same thing we felt with the OnePlus X, really.
The metal body is more or less a metal back plate, because you'll find plastic on the top and bottom of this device, and a full glass pane on the display that smoothly meets up with those metal and plastic edges. The 5X weighs 158 grams, is 8.2mm thick, and has been given relatively small bezels underneath its laminated 5.5-inch display.
Around the outside of the phone you'll find all the usual buttons, toggles, and ports: headphone jack at the top, SIM and SD card stacked on the left, power and volume rocker on the right, and Micro USB and a single speaker on the bottom.
Two sets of speaker grilles are present for design purposes, but there's just one speaker that gets decently loud - though it's also tinny when turned up all the way. It otherwise has good clarity when not too loud and will do just fine if you want to watch a video or take a call through the loudspeaker.
So the 5X isn't quite a gorgeous-looking phone. It's a cute phone, though, especially at this price point. It won't stand out from the competition in terms of design, but we love that Honor tried to do the whole metal-body thing on the cheap. It succeeds in the ergonomics department too: its metal back offers decent grip for your fingers, and the buttons feature a textured pattern, all of which make it easy to grab this phone, find the buttons you want, and go.
Honor 5X review: Display
Once upon a time a budget phone would look really budget because of its display. But, thanks to advances in modern technology, these types of devices can now pack excellent viewing experiences while still keeping the price point down.
The Honor 5X has a 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution IPS LCD screen. It's not an OLED panel with ultra-deep blacks like the OnePlus X though.
We like the 5X's bright colouring (which you can adjust in settings), crisp-enough resolution at this scale, wide viewing angles and decent brightness. Overall this Honor offers a screen that seems on-par (or maybe even better than) with what you'd find on the Nexus 5X and OnePlus 2.
If we had to find something to whine about, it would be that the phone lacks an oleophobic coating, so the display will constantly have fingerprints and smudges and grease. Also, don't forget the Honor 5X comes with a plastic film screen protector pre-installed. We kind of hate it, but we also loathe all screen protectors by default for the way they look.
Honor 5X review: Performance
Honor has tried to make the 5X a premium-quality mid-range handset by giving it a metal back plate and 1080p display, but has majorly skimped in the performance arena. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor and 2GB of RAM under the hood is similar to what most rival phones in this space might offer, but the likes of OnePlus is a step ahead once again with Snapdragon 801 at a similar price point.
The 5X's main issue? Its feature set has been paired with Honor's EMUI 3.1 custom user interface and power-saving modes. The result is a laggy and sluggish experience. Groan.
And yet a little digging can improve things plenty. There are three power-saving modes - Normal, Smart, and Ultra - as in other Huawei/Honor handsets. Smart is on by default, for some odd reason, which automatically adjusts the CPU and network usage for a supposed "balanced" performance for daily use. But go ahead and shut that off - if you use Normal instead then you'll notice the phone's performance drastically improves.
Apps will open quick. Multitasking will work like a charm. But, unfortunately, not all of those stutters will disappear. This type of experience is pretty common on budget phones however, so keep that in mind - it's all about matching expectations really.
Some last bits to mention is that this phone doesn't come with headphones out of the box, and it only supports 802.11n (at 2.4GHz) Wi-Fi. We think most phones at this point should support 5GHz Wi-Fi connections at least.
Honor 5X review: Beefy battery
As those three power-saving modes might allude to, the 5X is keen to be the ultra-long-lasting budget handset. And if you're wondering about battery details, this Honor features a beefy 3,000mAh battery under that metal back.
When using the phone with Normal mode enabled, the 5X can power through an entire day and still have some juice left over at the end. Like, 10-20 per cent left over. Not bad, not bad at all. It's not quite the 4,000mAh offering of the 6-inch Huawei Mate 8, but that's a larger and longer-lasting device.
We love the 5X's battery, but somehow Honor has managed to shank the experience at the last possible moment by delivering this battery with a charger that only outputs 5V / 1A. In other words: get a third-party charger - unless you don't mind becoming a grandparent before your phone actually recharges.
Honor 5X review: Camera
Budget phones are not known for their cameras, but Honor 5X has blown that stereotype out of the water with its 13-megapixel shooter that features - take a breath - an f/2.0 aperture, 28mm wide-angle lens, blue glass infrared filter, anti-reflective coating, and Huawei's SmartImage 3.0 image processor for low-light shots. Unfortunately, there's no optical image stabilisation though, bummer.
But because the phone itself is a little slow, the camera app is too, and so just prepare for that extra second or two it takes before being able to capture. In the rather iOS-like camera app you'll see buttons for camera switching and the flash, plus you can access different shooting modes with swipes across the screen. Tap-to-lock works for focus and metering, as well as access a slider for adjusting exposure compensation. There's even an HDR mode, but it's buried in a menu.
We think the camera itself performs pretty well in good lighting conditions but not so much in poor lighting conditions. HDR mode helped the dynamic range, however, but we often found the colour temperature to be warm and colours to lack punch. Just know that this camera is ideal for average or perfect lighting conditions and anything else will look grainy.
On the front, you'll find a 5-megapixel camera that features a f/2.4 aperture, 22mm wide-angle lens, with an 88-degree viewing angle, meaning you should be able to get really wide group selfies with this thing.
Honor 5X review: Fingerprint scanner
Moving on to the fingerprint scanner, which is where the Honor 5X really shines... or rather, could really shine.
Huawei has tacked on the same one-tap, rear-mounted fingerprint sensor that's found on the Nexus 6P, though it's smaller and supposedly has a 500-millisecond response rate versus the Nexus 6P's 600ms. When we played with it, we thought this sensor was just as speedy and didn't notice any lag whatsoever - it's just as good as any iPhone or Android competitor you'll find.
Setting up the fingerprint sensor is a pretty standard process: just go to the settings and log a series of fingerprint presses. You'll definitely want to do this, because it enables you to speedily unlock your phone, rather than manually enter a PIN (what do you think we are, some kind of savage?).
The 5X lets you launch specific apps according to the finger pressed, which is nifty, considering the sensor is limited in use otherwise. You can't use it for mobile payments through Android Pay, for instance. Also, the phone runs Android 5.1.1 at its base, so it can't unlock any apps from the Play Store that make use of Marshmallow's fingerprint APIs.
This sensor does have a few tricks up its sleeve, though. You can perform different taps and swipes on the fingerprint sensor to navigate back to home screen, take a photo, access the recent apps menu, answer calls, stop your alarm, and more. We really liked these gestures and found them both unique and useful.
Honor 5X review: Software
The Honor 5X clearly has some decent hardware for the price point, but it's software - which is an Android 5.1.1 base beneath the company's EMUI 3.1 customisations - tends to drag everything down.
Starting off with the look, you'll see stock Android-inspired goodies, like poppy colours, transparencies, and so forth, as well as some of the classic menu stuff, like the status bar, general settings, and on-screen navigation buttons.
Other than that, all aspects of the software have been wrapped in a redesign, thanks to EMUI. The icons, for instance, have been squeezed into a rounded-off template to make them all look similar. But it doesn't look too good. The pin on the Google Maps icon has been cut off, for instance, and you can't install a third-party launcher to do some sort of workaround and fix it. There is a theme store, but you only have three themes to choose from here (there are more in other Huawei handsets we've seen), and they simply alter icons and wallpapers.
Anyway, going back to launchers for a moment. As EMUI ditches the traditional app drawer/tray and instead puts all your installed apps and widgets on the home screen (just like Apple's iOS does). It can be a bit messy. We love this, but we can see how Android diehards might gasp in horror - and as we found with the Mate 8 it makes for a messy transition when updating handsets.
EMUI also changes the notification shade. It has two parts, with one tab containing all the notifications, and the other containing shortcuts - you'll need to swipe left to access the quick toggles. Whenever an app sends you a notification, you'll have to say whether you want to receive future notifications. After an app has been running, you'll be told it's running and given the choice to close it in order to save juice when not actively using it. You can go to Settings (Settings > Power saving > Settings button > "Power-intensive prompt") to shut off these prompts, though.
And finally, we hate that the system has - again, by default - stopped third-party apps from running in the background. You'll have to go back into Settings (the Power saving and then Protected apps) to find a list, in which you can browse through and then enable individual apps to run while the screen is off. Alternatively, tap "Add all" to let them all run.
The key thing to remember - in conjunction with all these software tips - is that this budget phone isn't based on the latest version of Android. It's debuting in the US as new device with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop and a pretty thick overlay. That's not exactly enticing, but it's not the end of the world either. We'd just like a slightly more fluid experience.
So, to recap: for £190 ($199) unlocked, you'll get a metal build, 1080p 5.5-inch display, a Nexus 6P-like fingerprint sensor, decent battery life and an alright camera. That's the Honor 5X in a nutshell.
But you'll also get the meh Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor, backed by 2GB RAM, which doesn't always result in the most fluid of user experiences (confusingly there's a slightly higher-end and pricier 3GB RAM version available too). And 16GB of local storage is low, despite microSD storage meaning expansion to 128GB is possible.
As we said earlier: you win some, lose some. And here hardware is 50/50. It's the software that's a letdown, with EMUI feeling as though it's weighing down the Android experience in this guise.
In many respects the Honor 5X matches up to its competitors, such as the OnePlus X or Moto G, but just like those handsets that comes with some compromise too.
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