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Honor 8X Review: Damn Good Screen, Questionable Camera

Honor, the wholly owned subsidiary of Huawei, a brand for “Digital Natives” and just cool hip people, has recently announced and is launching the Honor 8X, the midrange flagship. Honor have already built their foundation on giving bang for the buck so just how much do you get here?

Honor 8X
+ FOR
  • Stunning display
  • Gorgeous design
  • Big battery
  • Great performance
- AGAINST
  • MicroUSB charging port
  • Camera currently hit and miss
  • A big phone for some

Buy on Amazon UK – £229 (Prime)

Disclaimer: Honor provided us with this Honor 8X unit for just over 2 weeks for the purpose of this Review. The device will return to them after my testing. Honor has no say in the outcome of this review, and aside from other MTT editors, this will not be altered by anyone except myself. No Money has exchanged hands to either party. The Honor 8X was used on the ThreeUK network in the South East of the UK and Central London for the most part. No Software updates were delivered through my testing.

Honor 8X Review

Specifications

  • 6.5” IPS LCD
    • 19.5:9 Aspect Ratio
    • 2340x1080p Resolution
    • 396ppi
    • Display Notch
  • Android 8.1 Oreo (9.0 Pie release in testing)
  • EMUI 8.2 (EMUI 9.0 will arrive with Android 9.0)
  • HiSilicon Kirin 710 SoC
    • 4x Cortex A73 @ 2.2Ghz
    • 4x Cortex A53 @ 1.8Ghz
    • ARM Mali G51MP4 GPU
    • 12nm FF from TSMC
  • 4/6GB RAM
  • 64/128GB Internal storage
  • MicroSD Slot certified for up to 400GB
  • 3750mAh Battery
    • 5v2a Charging
  • MicroUSB Charger
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • NFC!
  • Rear Camera
    • 20MP RGB sensor, F1.8
    • 2MP depth sensing data.
    • 1080p60 video recording in h.264 or h.265
  • Front Camera
    • 16MP RGB F2.0
    • 1080p30 video recording in h.264 or h.265

If you want more of a look at the specs of the Honor 8X, head on over to the GSMArena Page here

Hardware

Ever since the Honor 8, Hardware hasn’t really been an issue for Honor. They’ve got the Huawei bank account, but they’ve also got designers, and the designers here know their market. The Honor 8X is able to be, at all times Sleek, Sexy, professional and fun.

Honor 8X Review

The phone is your standard glass sandwich technically but look a little deeper. Honor says there is “15 layers of Aurora Glass” on the back, whilst I would love for that to be true, the effect on the back, similar to the Honor flagships, the 8 the 9 through to the 10 and even some of the more expensive Huawei Phones like the new Twilight and Morpho Aurora P20 Pros.

The Rear glass has the two cameras in the top left with the LED Flash beneath them, and the Fingerprint reader in the centre. But the cool aesthetic touch this time around? They took the “signature stripe” from the Huawei Mate Lineup, but placed it vertically along the left side, so when you hold the phone in landscape, you get a more photographer to vibe from this device. Funny thing is, from other angles, that detail fades away through the interesting use of light on the glass. I have been using the Blue Honor 8X, but there is a Black model and a Red one too, and both have the same trick up their sleeves.

Honor 8X Review

Up front, we have the start of the show, the 6.5” Honor FullVision Display, and there is no way around this, it’s massive. It’s bigger than the 6” Honor 7X it replaces, it’s bigger than the 6” screen on the Mate 10 Pro and even the 6.1” Screen on the P20 Pro, and it positively dwarfs the 4.5” Screen on my daily BlackBerry KEY2. But it’s not just the size of the screen that is impressive, there are other additions too, and one of them is really quite subtle.

One of the easier things to notice is just how nice the display looks this is one of the nicer IPS screens I’ve seen in a while, and I can’t believe it’s for a phone that is going to be in this price bracket. I wasn’t able to get the highest brightness number, though visually I’d say it is in the mid 400 nits area, though they did disclose that it goes down as far as 2 nits in darkness. And whilst that sounds low, there was other that can go sub 1nit, and at night, that is really vital, though I am impressed that even at 2nits, with the eye care mode on, the display is still easily visible and not retina-searing, even if I would prefer it to be dimmer at night.

Honor 8X ReviewGoing on to the 2 subtle Items that make this display impressive. One is the lamination of the display to the cover glass. Most phones do this today (unless you’re searching for a sub £100 device) but the quality of the lamination matters, getting that gap as small as possible, to get the effect that the pixels are just painted on the glass, there is no display behind the glass, and Honor does quite well here. I think the illusion once again could be improved with an OLED panel or the highest brightness one, but both of those would have likely increased the cost, and on the Honor 8X, the ost is important.

The Other, even more, subtle choice? Look at the chin of the phone, small right? It’s 4.25mm to be exact and think about how many other phones with notches have a chin, a sizable one at that, then think about how many of them use OLED vs LCD. Without getting into too much depth, there are two major ways you can package a display CoG and CoF, Chip on Glass (CoG) is where all the display drivers needed for the electronics for the device are embedded into or onto the glass itself, Chip on Film (CoF) is what Honor is doing, and it is more complicated and more expensive, but instead of attaching those little circuits to the glass, they attach them to a flexible circuit board that can be bent around the edge of the phone and tucked up under the screen itself, reducing the size of the bezel. The reason this is impressive is because people have seen it before, in the iPhone X, though apple do it a different way using a high-end flexible OLED Panel, this is the first time I’ve seen it be done on an LCD, and more importantly, done on an LCD for a device of this cost, I am stunned at the quality of engineering that went into the screen on the 8X.

Honor 8X Review

On the sides we have this nice 6000 series aluminium frame, in my case anodised blue, on the left we have the SIM tray, which is another interesting point for the 8X. Most dual SIM devices make you choose between either the Second NanoSIM or the MicroSD card, the 8X has a longer slot (meaning you also need a longer SIM pin to get the tray out) So you can have both of those NanoSIMs in there as well as that up to 400GB of extra storage, neat!

Flipping 180 we have the power and volume buttons for the 8X and they’re wobblier than I’d like, that’s for sure, but they’re tactile and clicky, with enough travel to know you’ve actually pressed them. Up top is the secondary noise-cancelling microphone and down below we have the 3.5mm audio jack, the main microphone, the MicroUSB charging and Data port and the main speaker. First off, I moaned about this last year and I’ll say it again. The 8X using MicroUSB is lazy and cheap and has actually started becoming an issue for me. It’s an inferior connector, mine already feels loose after 2 weeks of use. Speeds are slow and can’t really be changed, and because it’s MicroUSB, the  8X can’t take advantage of Huawei SuperCharge, or even the newer 5v3a USB Power Delivery so charging up the monstrous 3750mAh battery is a real chore, luckily it only needs to be done once every 2 days, but that doesn’t stop it being a real pain in my a**e.

Overall, as you can tell, I’m really impressed with the hardware of the Honor 8X, They’ve made some really good choices here, peppered with a few glaring mistakes, but for the most part, the Honor 8X is a well constructed, well-designed phone that, once again, defies its price bracket.

Software

Let’s not beat around the bush. The Honor 8X is launching on an old version of Android and not the newest version of EMUI, that sucks, it really does, as I have been testing EMUI 9 and Android 9 beta on my Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and I think the Honor 8X could do with some of those changes, but that doesn’t stop what the 8X already has, which is a full and diverse user experience.

I’m not going to pretend as If I adore EMUI. first off, you’d all know I was lying, and secondly, it wouldn’t do Huawei/Honor/EMUI team any good getting false praise instead of constructive criticism. But weirdly enough, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with this version of Android and EMUI from a daily use point of view. Let me explain.

Previous versions of EMUI had many standout features, many showstopping bugs as well, such as custom blur settings throughout the UI that didn’t adhere to the Android default, so when an application didn’t specifically change the nav bar and status bar to a colour of their choice, the system would choose, and it chose the default faux Gaussian Blur effect, which really didn’t work with, well, much of anything. Then there are the notifications as well. In the EMUI of old, when you shut your screen off, It pretty much instantly killed any background process, so chat apps, maps, streaming music/podcasts etc. it was terrible, it was a showstopping issue that has slowly ben weaned out and made more efficient and smarter (though it still has issues).

I’m bringing this up because, whilst I’m not aesthetically a fan of EMUI still, mechanically, it all works nowadays, which is something I will take as a positive, and not too long ago, that wasn’t a given, and once this gets EMUI9 and Android pie, the experience is only going to get better.

Camera

The Camera is usually where budget phones start to fall apart, and Whilst that isn’t quite the case here, The camera isn’t quite the slam dunk that Honor would like you to think it is.

Honor 8X Review

Let’s start off with the hardware, I’ve said it multiple times before, having a separate sensor for “depth data” is stupid, if you’re going to allocate the extra space for another sensor, make it another functional sensor, which will also take it extra depth information if the lenses are offset, you then get the benefit of having another camera, one that is wide angled, or telephotos, or monochrome or something else. But the secondary camera that is just for depth information is a waste of space, figuratively and physically. Google showed us just what can be done computationally with software and a single lens, and the results are unilaterally better than the depth shots this produces.

Now I’ve gotten that out-of-the-way, the 20mp camera on the back of the 8X for the most part, handles whatever you throw at it pretty well. It can focus changes pretty swiftly, and the same with exposure and white balance changes, but It really needs a faster shutter. Most phones can give you a good image if you’ve got time and light, and the same is true of the Honor 8X, but it feels wrong to say that, because most of the time, even without those two, I’m getting nice shots out of this, but there are more than a few photos in my photo reel where the camera just wasn’t having it that time and spat out an out of focus blur or an underexposed mess. A part of me wants to just chalk this up to pre-release software, but I’ve seen this behaviour on multiple Huawei and Honor Phones, so, I’m not all that hopeful.

One of the things that Honor is really talking about here is the AI photography optimisations the phone makes, and whilst on the Mate line and P lines, that makes sense, the Honor line, not so much. You see, whilst the hardware on some of them might be comparable, for example, the Honor 10 and the Huawei P20 (non-pro), they have the same camera hardware, and even the same Kirin 970 with NPU, the Honor takes worse photos, mainly because it doesn’t have the same software processing as the Huawei phones do.

With the Honor 8X this is exacerbated in that the Kirin 710 that the 8X uses, as awesome as it is, doesn’t actually feature the NPU, the neural processing engine that the 970 has (and that the 980 will have 2 of.. Show off) which is what a lot of the scene detection and optimisation was done on. The Kirin 710 and the 8X have to do all that on the CPU and a little on the GPU, making it slower, and it’s also just not the same or as good as Huawei’s AI optimisations. I could take a photo of a bouquet of roses with the Honor 8X and it’d look pretty nice, and then i’d turn on AI mode, and it’d ramp up those red roses, and the green stems? Greener than you’ve ever seen before.

But it doesn’t do them subtly, it’s like a child finding Adobe Lightroom for the first time and cranking all the sliders up to full. Luckily, when you take a photo with AI mode on (seeing as it is the default) when you go into the Huawei gallery, there is a little toggle in the top right that lets you disable that, so you can see both images. Which is neat. One weird AI mode quirk? You can’t zoom in AI mode, so if you want to use digital zoom (please don’t) you have to disable AI mode to do so.

One of the most intriguing parts to me in the brief was learning that Honor had ported to super night mode from the P20 Pro down to the 8X, I was sceptical, as the Mate 10 pro hasn’t even officially got that feature yet (it will arrive with the EMUI9 update) and it apparently uses the NPU to reduce handshake artefacts in the image to take the 6-8 second exposures. Turns out I was right to be sceptical because it’s not a great feature. Once again, this is pre-release, but I was super bummed to see this turn out like that, as it is a defining feature of the P20 Pro, and the Mate 10 Pro does it just as well, but this, this is one of those times where I feel the NPU was needed for this exact version of night mode, and the Kirin 710 not having one is  a real deficit.

Well, how about the front 16MP camera? Better than I expected actually, but as usual with Huawei/Honor phones, you’ll likely want to disable the beauty mode, and potentially the “artful Bokeh” mode if you have spiky hair, wear glasses, take shots with headphones on etc. as the edge detection is… A little lacking. But when it is also lacking on phones costing triple this, I can’t really complain too much.

One of the more interesting standouts for me though was finding out just how well the Honor 8X’s camera handles Instagram, and specifically, Instagram Stories. It’s no secret that Android phones don’t have the best reputation for image quality in apps like Instagram and Snapchat, and that is for a variety of reasons I won’t get into right now, but the Honor 8X focuses well, exposes pretty damn well for the most part, but also, keeps data. I was recently ‘storying’ a journey to London, wherein I zoomed in on my eye to show the bags under my eyes as I was tired, and I realised the pretty insane amount of detail I was able to see in my own eye. Not just pupil and eye colour, not even individual eyelashes, but the limbal ring on the outside of the coloured part of my eye, the red veins where the chlorine had made my eyes bloodshot a few hours earlier. This is an unprecedented amount of detail for an Android phone on Instagram, and especially one of this price.

Lastly, I wanted to show you a few video samples from both the front and the rear of the 8X, and these too fare pretty well here, and I’m glad, as usually the non-flagship chips from HiSilicon really cheap out on the image processor, but the 8X’s video capabilities, despite only being 1080p60, look really good. There is also 720p480 and 720p120, and I’d just ignore the 480fps mode, whereas high-end phones have a literal DRAM cache on the camera sensor, this doesn’t so it’s really struggling to make a useful shot from it, but the 720p120 FPS video looks pretty nice if I do say so myself.

Performance

With a new chip inside, I was interested to check out how the Honor 8X performs, especially when comparing it to my Honor 7X which used the rapidly Aging Kirin 659 chipset.

The new chip swaps the higher clocked A53’s for a set of A73s, much newer and more powerful cores. The newer cores actually run slower, the A73’s in the 710 runs at 2.19Ghz compared to the 2.36Ghz of the olde A53 cluster. There really is no contest here, sure the A73 uses more power than the A53, but at 2.36Ghz, the A53 is being pushed to it’s limits and would not be very efficient there at all, not just that, but the Kirin 710 see’s a process node shift as well. Whereas the Kirin 659 was important for its use of 16nm when everyone else was on 22nm or 28nm, the Kirin 710 uses the 12nm process node from TSMC to make it even more efficient, offsetting the extra power consumption of the A73 cores.

The other big change is the GPU, going from the Mali T830MP2 to the Mali G51MP4. Not just doubling the numbers of cores, though that helps. Moving off o the ancient Midgard architecture onto the much newer Bitfrost Architecture, whilst I could wax poetic about specific things the Bitfrost architecture does better, it’s easier to just say that in every measurable metric, you want the Bitfrost chip over the Midgard one, period.

Battery

This is fun. The Honor 8X has a massive 3750mAh battery, and even on the heaviest day of use, where I only slept 90 minutes, walked too and from the pool for exercise listening to music, then took a 2 hour train journey to London, streaming podcasts, then using GPS in London, and then getting the train back, I still got home before the phone died, over 6 hours of screen on time, with a Bluetooth pair of headphones attached for hours, as well as a smartwatch. This is insane longevity.

Sadly, I had to then find that crappy MicroUSB cable somewhere on my bedside table, then plug it in, and did the USB dance where the first time is wrong, then you flip, that side is also wrong, then you flip it again and it works. The MicroUSB charger is a real pain point for me, it’s slow, it’s fragile, and I’ve made the switch to USB-C years ago, which means actually finding a MicroUSB cable is hard, no matter how cheap they may be, if I don’t have any at home, that’s an issue.

I might be alone in this, but I would personally take a small hit in battery longevity in order to have a USB-C port, heck I’d even give up the headphone jack for it, but I know that is not something many would do. So as it stands I have a phone that lasts 2 days for the most part, but then I have to go find a crappy charger cable to fill it up for the next 2 days.

Radios and connectivity

This is usually a section that doesn’t get much love, after all, it’s a relatively boring subject, right? NOPE!

The Honor 8X actually has some pretty incredibly antennas, specifically, the GPS and Bluetooth antennas. These outperform pretty much any other phones Bluetooth antennas I’ve ever used, including flagships. My Optoma Be Free8’s, which lately seem to be more sensitive to interference, where rock solid when connected to the Honor 8X, and I have not had a single skipped beat, dropped connection or audio/visual issue on my Anker Soundcore Liberty Lite’s.

One of the bigger changes compared to the Honor 7X that this replaces is that the 8X has both NFC and 5Ghz Wi-Fi! Yes, it’s hard to believe that the 7X had neither, but the 8X has both, and 5Ghz WiFi is a big deal for many, and NFC is a big deal for me, whether it be pairing headphones, using 2FA hardware keys, or just payments, NFC is super useful.

Conclusion

As if it wasn’t clear from reading this review, I had a pretty great time reviewing the Honor 8X. It’s far from a perfect phone for a number of reasons; those cameras are hit and miss, it is technically on an old version of Android, has an ancient charger etc.

It does, however, have a stunning screen, using the tech you usually only see on more expensive phones. It also has that huge battery, on a new chipset, and does something many Android phones struggle to do, which is take decent photos and videos inside apps like Snapchat and Instagram. When this is released on October 10th, this is going to be a real steal.

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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