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Review: Huawei Honor 8

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Sep 29, 2016, 3:00 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

The Huawei Honor 8 is a high-quality piece of hardware that's surprisingly affordable. It competes well with a handful of other $400 unlocked phones from the likes of Alcatel, OnePlus, and ZTE. The Honor 8 boasts top specs, an attractive glass-and-metal design, and Huawei's Emotion UI on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review.

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Hardware 

Is It Your Type

The Honor 8 is a premium device that competes against other unlocked handsets such as the OnePlus 3, Alcatel Idol 4S, and ZTE Axon 7. If you want near-flagship quality for hundreds of dollars less, the Honor 8 from Huawei is a good place to start.

Body

The Honor 8 is an attractive glass-and-metal handset that packs a lot of punch into its compact frame. The Honor 8 steps away from the conventional gold, silver, or black coloring found on many premium phones in favor of a deep and appealing blue. The phone's shape may be a bit on the plain side, but the coloring and quality materials lend the phone plenty of personality.

The phone is similar in shape to the iPhone 6. It has rounded corners and curved side edges. The frame is made out of metal and has nice chamfers along the edges where the metal meets the glass front and rear panels. Huawei curved the glass right at the edges, which really helps round out the sides and give it a seamless look and feel. Both glass panels have a reflective blue coloring. It really dazzles in sunlight. The metal frame is color-matched to the glass. The phone stands out, and that's an achievement these days.

I really like the footprint of the Honor 8. It's smaller than the Axon 7, Idol 4s, and OnePlus 3 thanks to the slightly smaller screen (5.2 inches compared to 5.5 inches for the others). It's right on the border as far as one-handed use is concerned. I was able to use it with one hand effectively enough, but people with smaller hands may find themselves using two hands. I'd call it a bit on the weighty side, but the heft conveys quality. The phone is comfortable to hold and use, though it doesn't sit too deeply in your palm thanks to the flat-back design. The Honor 8 is slim and somewhat slippery thanks to the polished glass surfaces. It will drop into pockets easily. It's also prone to sliding off surfaces that aren't entirely level.

Materials and build are excellent. Huawei's Honor brand isn't historically known for top-level components, but the Honor 8 is a quality piece of kit. The glass panels fit into the metal frame snugly and demonstrate Huawei's attention to detail.

Body  

I appreciate the slim bezels that allow the display to run nearly edge-to-edge. Huawei was able to minimize the framing around the screen. There's also a notification LED. The phone doesn't include physical or capacitive buttons and instead relies on on-screen buttons to control the Android user interface. This left Huawei room to stencil the "Honor" logo in reflective chrome below the display.

The left edge of the phone is where you'll find the SIM card tray. The tray can also hold a memory card. It pops out easily enough with a SIM tool or paperclip. The lock button and volume toggle are on the right edge. It's a small button and yet easy to find, thanks to the generous profile. Travel and feedback are good. The volume toggle is a narrow strip that also has a nice profile and good travel and feedback. I like that the buttons have their own chamfers to help them stand out a bit visually. An IR blaster (rare for phones these days) is just barely visible in the top edge of the phone.

The bottom edge is a busy place that resembles a number of other handsets, such as the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S7. A USB Type-C port is centered in the middle. Remember that USB-C is less common still than micro-USB, but it is being adopted more widely these days. Accessories should catch up before long. A series of holes are drilled to the right of the USB port for the speaker. A standard 3.5mm headphone jack is to the left of the USB port.

The fingerprint reader is the most visible aspect of the rear panel other than the nice color. The reader is circular and indented enough so that it's easy to locate by feel. The reader doubles as a user-assignable shortcut key. The double camera array is tucked up against the top edge. The array consists of two side-by-side lenses, a laser focusing module, and a two-tone LED flash. I like that all the components of the camera are flush with the rear surface; there's no bulge. The Honor logo is stenciled in chrome on the back, too.

Like most glass-backed phones, the Honor 8's battery is inaccessible. That may be a dealbreaker for some, but I'd argue that it shouldn't be.

The Huawei Honor 8 is a fine, fine piece of hardware. Not only is it on par with its direct competitors, but it matches the quality of many devices that cost much more.

Screen

At 5.2 inches across the diagonal and 1080p full HD resolution, the Honor 8's screen is smaller and has fewer pixels than those of the Idol 4s, Axon 7, and OnePlus 3. I don't think the phone suffers for it. The Honor 8's LCD screen is bright, sharp, and colorful. I was pleased with HD video on the display, as well as the clarity of small text on web pages. As long as you avoid VR, it's plenty sharp.

I was able to use the phone outdoors with no problem, but found the auto-brightness tool to be lacking. It simply doesn't adjust enough for a bright environment. You need to boost the brightness manually to see the screen when under the sun. Viewing angles are excellent; there's no brightness loss or color shift when the phone is tilted side-to-side. The Honor 8's screen is quite good.

Signal

The phone is sold unlocked with support for the LTE networks of AT&T and T-Mobile, and their prepaid businesses Cricket and MetroPCS, respectively. Specifically, it supports LTE in bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, and 20. I tested the Honor 8 on AT&T's network in and around New York City and found the device performed well, but perhaps not as good as a branded AT&T device would.

For starters, the Honor 8 was more apt than other AT&T phones I've tested in recent months to miss or drop calls. It disconnected calls when at highway speeds over a 10-mile route, and I had several calls go straight to voicemail even though I was in a good coverage area. As for data, mobile broadband speeds were good, but not mind-blowingly so. The Honor 8 did well enough when it came to Google Search, checking email, following my Twitter or Instagram feeds, or catching up on Facebook. It wasn't as strong as I would like for streaming media, such as YouTube and Spotify, which were prone to halting from time to time. The phone doesn't perform poorly, but it could perform better.

Sound

The Honor 8 is a decent voice phone. The earpiece produces a ridiculous amount of volume. In fact, you may damage your hearing if you set the volume up all the way. Voices are generally good, but boosting the volume too much introduces a lot of distortion. Setting the volume to about 75% strikes the best balance for quality. If you do boost the volume up, you'll be able to hear calls in very loud spaces, including moving cars, city streets, coffee shops, and so on. People I spoke to through the Honor 8 said I sounded a bit scratchy.

The speakerphone is also quite loud and prone to distortion. You can blast out calls in your car and hear them quite easily, but you may not understand every word. As with the earpiece, setting the volume between 50% and 80% delivers the best results.

Ringers and are jarringly loud. I easily heard the Honor 8 ringing even though I was on another floor in my house, behind a closed door. The vibrate alert is good, too.

Battery

The Honor 8's battery matches that of its competitors milliamp for milliamp. It packs a 3,000 mAh power cell that delivers a solid day+ of uptime. I was pleased with the Honor 8's battery life and never found myself running low on power before the end of the day. The phone generally had about 20% of a charge left at bedtime. Most people should not have any trouble pushing through a full day with the Honor 8.

The phone includes an extensive array of battery-saving tools. For example, the phone can be set to run in three separate power modes: performance, optimized, and low-power. Huawei recommends people stick with the optimized setting for daily use, as it balances processor output and other settings. The performance setting allows the processor to ramp up to full speed for gaming and mobile video, while the low-power mode can nearly double the battery life by shutting down non-core apps.

Beyond these tools, users can opt to downgrade the screen resolution to 720p HD, as well as manually control which apps are allowed to run and which aren't once the phone goes into low-power mode.

Last, the Honor 8 supports rapid charging. Huawei claims the battery can top up by 50% in just 30 minutes when plugged into the appropriate charger.

Battery  

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi

The Honor 8's secondary radios worked well across the board. I had no trouble pairing the 8 with Bluetooth accessories such as headsets, speakers, and keyboards. It also connected to other phones and PCs for pushing files. Calls sent to a standard Bluetooth headset were acceptable, though not the best I've heard. Music was decent when streamed to stereo headsets and speakers, but again, I've heard better.

The GPS radio works efficiently with Google Maps. Maps generally pinpointed me in under 5 seconds and was accurate to within 25 feet or so. The Honor 8 was a good real-time navigation tool and I was able to use it in the car without fail.

The 8's NFC radio was helpful in pairing with some Bluetooth accessories, and it also supports Android Pay.

I didn't have any trouble with the WiFi radio.

Software 

Lock Screen

Huawei's Emotion UI — its skin for Android — offers some interesting lock screen behaviors.

First, users can set a fingerprint, PIN, password, or pattern to secure the device. Like most handsets, owners can control how quickly the Honor 8 locks itself, and what's visible on the lock screen. The fingerprint reader works very well. I was able to record several prints and all of them consistently unlocked the Honor 8 without trouble. I've seen faster, but the 8's reader is certainly fast enough.

The lock screen itself will display incoming notifications for a brief moment, but you cannot access the slide-down notification / Quick Settings shade. That's rather annoying. I do like that the 9 allows you to tweak exactly which apps are allowed to send notifications. You can also access some basic tools (voicemail, calculator, flashlight, and camera) by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. This is handy.

There is but a single app shortcut directly on the lockscreen, and that is to the camera. This is kind of silly since the camera is also accessible from the slide-up tool dock.

The Honor 8 doesn't have any sort of always-on display, tap-to-wake, or other useful lock screen features that I've come to enjoy on other handsets.

Lock Screen  

Home Screens

Huawei has taken some serious liberties with the layout and functionality of Android 6 Marshmallow thanks to its Emotion UI. The launcher isn't for everyone, though surely some won't mind its quirks.

The phone has three home screen panels active on first boot. You'll notice right away that there is no app drawer; instead, all the apps are dropped on the home screen (much like iOS.) Thankfully Huawei stuck most of the apps in folders on the second home screen panel. You can add as many panels as you wish and arrange them however you like. They support the typical set of wallpapers, shortcuts, and widgets. I like that Emotion UI includes a handful of screen transitions to choose from, and allows the home screens to loop.

Home Screens  

The notification shade / Quick Settings drop-down tool is a bit annoying. When you swipe down, the shade only shows you notifications. If you want to see the Quick Settings tools, you have to swipe the shade down to open it and then swipe to the left to access the Settings panel. However, if there are no notifications then swiping down takes you straight to the Quick Settings panel. It's the inconsistency that I find grating. One thing I love about Emotion UI is that it uses colored app icons in the status bar for notifications. For example, when a new Gmail message arrives, the full color Gmail app icon appears in the status bar rather than a generic black-and-white mail icon.

Notifications  

I'm not a total fan of how the settings tools are arranged. Chiefly, many system-level controls (battery, date/time, security, memory/storage, etc.) are buried several layers deep. I'd prefer these to be easier to find.

Settings  

I'm also not a fan of how many pop-ups there are. It feels like Emotion UI is nagging me with pop-ups all the time.

Huawei allows you to take charge of the fingerprint reader for lots of other tasks. You can program the button to perform tasks or open apps with a single press, double press, and long press. That's three shortcuts available from the same button. Very cool. Moreover, the reader acts as small touch scroll pad within certain apps (such as your photo library), allowing you to use it to scroll up and down.

Fingerprint Button  

Huawei included its Easy Mode home screen user interface, too. This mode drops the standard Android home screen layout in favor of comically large app icons and other UI elements. This mode is best reserved for those who have poor vision or prefer a simplified menu structure.

Themes allow Honor 8 owners to alter much of the home screen appearance with colors, fonts, and even alternate icon shapes. The app for managing themes is straightforward to use.

Themes  

As always, you can supplant the included Emotion UI launcher with a third-party launcher from the Google Play Store. For example, the Google Now launcher quickly and easily gives the Honor 8 a near-stock Android look and feel.

The Honor 8 relies on Huawei's Kirin 950 processor rather than silicon from Qualcomm. It's paired with a generous 4 GB of RAM. I was pleased with the Honor 8's performance. The phone always felt quick and never felt bogged down or slow. The Kirin 950 does a commendable job at delivering usable power to the Honor 8. The device chewed through games and streaming high-definition video over WiFi with no hiccups whatsoever.

Camera

There are several shortcuts to open the camera app. First, a double tap of the lower volume toggle will open the camera quite quickly. You can also can swipe up the lock screen shortcut. You can even program the fingerprint button to open the camera.

I'm not the biggest fan of this camera application. There are some odd UI choices that confound me. The camera is designed with portrait-oriented shooting — rather than landscape-oriented shooting — in mind.

The basic layout is typical of most camera apps. Using the controls on the left (holding it landscape, as I'm used to,) you can jump to the selfie camera, open the filter tool, set aperture, and toggle through the flash controls. What's odd is that the text is sideways if you're holding the camera in traditional landscape orientation. The UI doesn't change to match how you're holding the phone, as it does on other phones.

Vertical Cam  

Moreover, the aperture tool doesn't really make sense. I mean, as a person who understands how aperture works, I get what changing the aperture does on a dedicated, professional camera. But most people probably don't know what an “aperture” control does, and the explanation offered by the app itself doesn't really help. Basically, it boils down to a ham-fisted bokeh (background blur) effect. Huawei would have been better off calling it that instead.

If you're holding the phone in the portrait orientation, you access the shooting modes by swiping right and the settings by swiping left. Again, however, we run into an issue here with text orientation. For example, if you're holding the phone sideways, you now have to swipe up to access the shooting modes, but at least the shooting mode icons reorient themselves so you can read them. If you want to adjust the settings, swiping down opens the settings menu, but none of the text changes — you have to turn the phone to portrait orientation to read/adjust settings. I find this to be totally annoying.

That said, the Honor 8 does include a good selection of shooting modes. You've got normal/auto, video, food, night shot, pro photo, pro video, panorama, light painting, beauty, beauty video, HDR, slow-motion, watermark, audio note, document scan, and timelapse.

The pro photo mode is for advanced users. It allows you to manually adjust exposure, shutter speed (up to 30 seconds), brightness, white balance, ISO, and focus type (near/far). This is great for those who know what they're doing. The ring-based tools make sense are are easy enough to use. The pro video mode includes similar controls.

The audio note tool lets you record up to 10 seconds of audio after you shoot a photo; the watermark tool lets you add a time, date, location, weather stamp to your photo; the light painting mode is for capturing long exposures of headlights/taillights, flashlights, or other light sources; the food tool adjusts focus, exposure, and color to make your meal look better for social media; and the document scan mode automatically finds and captures text, such as menus. Each of these is easy to use and they all work fairly well.

The settings menu allows people to adjust the typical set of behaviors, such as the grid, location, timer, shutter button actions, focusing styles, and so on. They're all self-explanatory.

If all you want to do is point and shoot, the Honor 8 lets you do that without much fuss. The Kirin 950 processor provides enough juice so the camera focuses and snaps photos quickly. I do wish the interface were a bit simpler.

Camera  

Photos/Video

The Honor 8 has two 12-megapixel sensors: one captures full color images and the second captures monochrome data to help improve exposure and contrast. The pair work together well and produce very good images.

In general, I was pleased with the results. The majority of images demonstrated sharp focus, accurate exposure, and good white balance. The second camera really helps when it comes to details and exposure. For example, the picture of the small shrub in front of my porch reveals details in the white wall behind it. These details are often washed out in images taken with other phones. I was also pleased with low-light performance. The picture of my cuckoo clock, for instance, is sharp and free of grain. I think most people will be happy with their own results.

The 8-megapixel selfie camera is also quite good. You can see lots of details in the selfie below, especially in the background. I strongly recommend you leave the beauty effect tools off. I turned the beauty effect all the way up for the sample below and it looks like I am wearing 10 pounds of makeup. Your results will be more natural with the effect off.

The phone can record video at up to 1080p full HD. I think the results are quite good. Video is sharp, properly exposed, and shows good color throughout.

The Honor 8 may not replace a dSLR, but it's certainly enough camera for people to use on most occasions.

Photos  

Wrap-Up 

The Honor 8 from Huawei is a very good phone, but stops short of being excellent. A few hardware and software issues prevent the Honor 8 from living up to its full potential.

Huawei did a fine job crafting an attractive, high-quality piece of hardware. The glass-and-metal design is stunning. Some buyers may appreciate the phone's smaller footprint when compared to the competition, but the screen is a bit smaller and has fewer pixels. Battery life is excellent. I found the Honor 8 to fall below average in terms of compatibility with AT&T's network, with dropped calls and some stuttering data performance. Voice calls are louder than most competing devices, which is a bonus.

On the software side, Huawei's Emotion UI is polished and pretty, but usability suffers thanks to overly-convoluted menus and a lack of basic tools like access to the notification shade on the lock screen. Emotion UI does offer a lot of room for customization. The camera app is powerful, though some may dislike the inconsistent interface elements. At least it takes good pictures.

The Honor 8, OnePlus 3, Axon 7, and Idol 4s all cost $399 and are sold unlocked. Each is well-made, includes good specs, and fine performance. Deciding between these four handsets is a tough call. I think the deciding factor for many here will likely boil down to size. The Honor 8 is smaller and easier to use than the other three, but the competing phones have bigger, better screens.

You can't really go wrong with any of these handsets. The $399 price point and high-quality hardware make the Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 look stupidly expensive in comparison. The Honor 8 wouldn't be my first choice, but that's only because I prefer larger phones. If you dislike large handsets and want a more compact, quality phone, the Honor 8 is a fine first choice.

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Comments

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This forum is closed.

thebriang

Sep 30, 2016, 11:59 AM

Thank you Samsung...

If it wouldn't have been for Samsung putting out the S6, no one else would be able to make phones with this basic iPhone-esque styling. Before the S6, Apple sued companies for using these basic design style elements, the rounded corners and glass back and metal wrap frame with the drilled speaker and mic holes in the bottom.

Apple didn't want to get into another legal battle with the second largest gorilla of cellular, that they might lose and potentially be on the hook for millions (again). After the S6 dropped without a suit, there are now a lot of phones that use this styling, as they should. It feels great in the hand and the slightly heavier weight of the metal frame and glass Do feel a lot more like a quality engineered device.
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OK, and what does this have to do with the Honor 8?
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