Honor 5X review: A budget-friendly handset with a premium mindset

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Besides launching handsets such as the P9 and P9 Plus that are aimed squarely at the premium segment, Huawei (pronounced “Wah-Way“)  also has a sub-brand called Honor offering smartphones at reasonable prices without too many compromises. The Honor 5X is its latest budget-friendly smartphone, featuring a 5.5-inch Full HD display, a first-rate fingerprint scanner, and a premium, metallic finish for $199 in the U.S. and £189/€229 in Europe.

Hit the break for the full review.

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The Honor 5X has been my daily driver for the bulk of the last two months since its European launch back in February and has been used primarily with a nano-SIM from the UK network, EE. During this time, it has been paired to an LG G Watch and has been running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop (build KIW-L21C432B130) with Huawei’s EMUI 3.1 skin.

Design

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The first thing you notice about the Honor 5X is that it doesn’t feel or look cheap. There’s a brushed metal rear panel of aircraft graded aluminum that has had a diamond polish treatment. There are plastic, dimpled strips top and bottom along with a chamfered edge running all around the back of the phone. The rear camera protrudes around a millimeter or so, although the camera lens is recessed in the bump ever so slightly, so you shouldn’t have to overly worry about scratching the lens. The impressive fingerprint scanner is inset just below the camera.

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The volume and power buttons reside on the right-hand edge while the trays for the dual SIM’s and microSD card sit on the opposite side. Moving on to the business end of the handset, and here we have the speaker to the right of the camera sensor, ambient light sensor, and proximity sensor. There is also an LED notification light on the right-hand-side. The Honor 5X has customizable on-screen navigation buttons, so you never have to worry about the recent apps button being on the incorrect side.

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The bottom of the handset features the speaker along with the MicroUSB 2.0 charging port. The 3.5mm audio jack sits on the top of the handset, just off to the right with a microphone next to it.

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Bearing in mind that the Honor 5X is a budget smartphone, and has been discounted to as low as £149 in recent weeks, it has a solid feel to it. And, unlike the Smart Ultra 6 that I reviewed back in February, the Honor 5X looks good too. While the bezels around the 5.5-inch display aren’t ultra-thin, they are still a respectable size. The Honor 5X has a screen-to-body ratio of 72.5%, and its Full HD display has a factory installed screen protector. It weighs 158 grams and measures 151.3 x 76.6 x 8.15mm.

In essence, the Honor 5X feels well-made, and as a bonus, it looks good too. It may not be on a par with the super-sleek Galaxy S7, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish, and as such, it would never be a fair comparison. The Honor 5X hits the middle ground of design quite nicely in that it isn’t terribly flashy, but neither is it bland. As Goldilocks once said, it’s just right.

Hardware

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The Honor 5X features a 5.5-inch Full HD (1920×1080) IPS display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 octa-core processor, Adreno 405 GPU, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage with a microSD card slot, a 13MP rear camera with dual-tone flash, a 5MP front camera, a 3000mAh battery, a rear fingerprint scanner, Bluetooth 4.1 and WiFi 802.11 b/g/n.

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Support bands for the different Honor 5X models

Performance

At 5.5 inches, the Honor 5X’s display isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but its IPS technology ensures great viewing angles and vibrant colors. Considering the price of the handset, consumers will struggle to find a better display, especially during one of Honor’s frequent promotions when the Honor 5X is being offered for just £149.

The Honor 5X is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 616, which is basically a tweaked version of the 615 chipset, whereby four of the eight cores are upgraded to run at 1.5GHz, instead of the original 1.2GHz. Combined with 2GB of RAM and Adreno 405 graphics processor, the Honor 5X manages to score 695 on the single core test, and 3037 on multi-core via the Geekbench benchmarking app, and 34543 on Antutu, as seen below.

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In the real-world, the Honor 5X is pretty nippy for the most part, albeit with the occasional slow-down after you’ve run through a few apps and games. The apps don’t spring open as spritely as they do on a Galaxy S7 Edge (reviewed here), but it isn’t an unseemly lag, you are never left waiting for it to open, it just takes that split-second to get there. Considering the hardware and price tag, the performance is more than adequate, and to be honest, it isn’t exactly fair to compare the performance to such an expensive handset.

The Honor 5X plays games such as Asphalt 8 and Plants vs Zombies 2 with no problems. Whereas many budget-friendly handsets can become unbearably warm with extended gaming or intensive use, the Honor 5X does not. It still gets warm, as just about every smartphone does these days, just not uncomfortably.

Moving on to the sound, and the bottom-mounted speaker isn’t really anything to write home about. The volume is sufficiently high, and at full volume the sound isn’t distorted, but it can be a little tinny, and you definitely aren’t going to get a huge amount of bass from the speaker. As with so many other of its components, the Honor 5X’s speaker is decent, perfectly up to the task of everyday life. To use that word again, it’s fairly middling.

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This is where we move on to the Honor 5X’s party trick, the rear fingerprint scanner. Besides the obvious function of unlocking the handset, the fingerprint scanner can also be setup to launch up to five of your favorite apps. You can assign one app to a particular finger, and when that finger is used to unlock the phone, the specified app will also open up. I found it handy to open up the camera app so that there was less chance of my missing the shot in the time it took to do things step-by-step. WhatsApp and Twitter were also assigned a fingerprint each.

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That isn’t all, if you delve into the settings, you can choose to use the fingerprint scanner as a back button, home button, answer calls, stop alarms, and even take photos and videos. Gestures also reveal added functions, if you swipe up on the fingerprint scanner the phone will show the most recent apps while sliding down can show the notification panel. As someone who never got on at all with the Note 4’s fingerprint scanner, I found the Honor 5X’s fingerprint scanner to be a pleasant surprise. It really is easy to use, easy to setup, and easy to reach.

Connectivity

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So, the Honor 5X offers support for dual-SIM’s, along with a MicroSD card. Unusually, the 5X has a tray that takes a nano-SIM and MicroSD card, and then a separate tray for a Micro-SIM. Happily enough, both SIM slots can be used for voice calls. One SIM serves up 4G data while the other is limited to 2G. Unlike some dual-SIM handsets, you don’t have to choose between carrying an extra SIM card or the MicroSD card, you can have your cake and eat it.

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Battery

Moving on to power management, and the Honor 5X will get you through the day even with heavy use. Despite the 3.000mAh battery being non-removable, you should never suffer from battery anxiety with the 5X. It sips power when in standby, and is pretty miserly even when taxed. I averaged out at around 5 hours screen time with the Honor 5X. With less intensive use, the 5X will manage around 1 and a half days before needing to be plugged in to charge. While the Honor 5X doesn’t support Qualcomm’s QuickCharge technology, it will take a full 2A from a suitable 5V charger. I didn’t receive a charger with the review unit, but when I hooked the Honor 5X up to a Samsung Fast Charger with 5V/2A output, the 5X took around 2 hours to charge from 0-100%.

Software

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So, let’s talk about the software. The Honor 5X runs Android 5.1 Lollipop out of the box, with the addition of Huawei’s EMUI 3.1 custom interface. Much like Samsung’s TouchWiz, EMUI results in polarizing opinions. If you think of version 3.1 as the TouchWiz of a couple of years ago, you are probably on the right track. While EMUI 3.1 adds a lot of nifty features, it can be a little over the top, and maybe some of the features could be cut back on, or even sent off to the Play Store as optional extras.

Something you will notice straight away with the EMUI interface is the lack of an app drawer. Much has been written this year about the possibility of Android N doing away with the app drawer. LG’s G5 (reviewed here) doesn’t come with one as standard, instead, you have to download an old version of its UX launcher to regain the app drawer. Samsung kept the app drawer on the Galaxy S7 but allowed its non-US customers to choose if they wanted it or not via the Galaxy Labs tab in Settings.

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If you like having your app icons spread willy-nilly across your home screen with no way of sorting them other than placing them in folders, you’ll probably get on ok with EMUI. Personally, I took the decision of installing a third-party app drawer, which allowed me to make sense out of everything.

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Now, it may seem that I’ve been pretty negative on EMUI, but it does have its strong points. There are a lot of added functions that aren’t present in stock Android. One of my favorite LG features, Knock-Knock, or as it’s called on the Honor 5X, ‘Double Touch’, is present, allowing one to wake the handset simply by tapping twice on the display. You can also choose to have a floating dock with back, home, and recent apps functionality, as well as the ability to lock the screen and clear the recent apps. Many of these additional features have to be hunted down in the settings as they are turned off by default.

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EMIU 3.1 also boasts a fairly robust power management setup. You have the normal mode, that allows apps to run unchecked, the Smart mode that informs you when an app is consuming excessive energy, notifying you when an app is drawing excessive power, something it does with infuriating frequency in the initial stages. Then there’s the Ultra mode that shuts everything off, keeping only the calls, messaging, and access to contacts going. Once the Ultra mode is activated, the display turns to monochrome with only a simple clock and tabs for messaging, contacts, and dialer, along with a tab marked ‘Exit’ so you can leave the Ultra mode.

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The lock screen has some nifty built-in functionality. If for example, the phone is locked, and you swipe up from the bottom of the display, a set of icons appears, giving you quick access to voice messages, calculator, flashlight, and the camera.

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If you don’t like how EMUI appears, you can always change the theme, which can change how icons appear on the home screen, as well as the lock screen animation and wallpaper. To do this, you just find the Themes app, open it, and then choose your favorite.

While the 5X is currently running EMUI 3.1 atop Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, Honor (US) is currently running a Marshmallow Beta Test, and across the pond, its UK counterpart is busy setting up a similar program. So an update to Android Marshmallow would appear to be locked in for the Honor 5X in the next month or two.

Camera

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By now, you must be wondering just where did Huawei cut corners with the Honor 5X. Rest assured, it wasn’t in the camera department. The 5X’s 13MP front shooter is of Sony origin with a dual-tone flash on the rear and in the right conditions, will take a pretty mean picture. As the light fades, though, the sensor doesn’t quite take in the fine details as much. The Lack of OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) doesn’t help when taking low-light or night pictures, but the Honor 5X will take pictures that look perfectly fine on the web or the various social media sites.

The actual camera app includes Good Food, Beauty, Photo, Video, and Time Lapse modes available for quick access just above the shutter button. If you tap the app’s settings button, you gain access to the Panorama, HDR, All-Focus, Best Photo, Watermark, Slow-mo, and Audio note modes. If that isn’t enough to fiddle with, there’s a whole host of preferences and tweaks to mess with once you tap the settings icon. You can check out the gallery below to see the quality of the rear camera.

Closing

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It has to be asked, again, just where did Honor cut corners with the Honor 5X? Well, the handset doesn’t support WiFi 5G, and neither does it have NFC. Neither are deal-breakers in themselves, unless you are an Android Pay user, or looking to become one when Google’s mobile payments system eventually comes to the UK.

In closing, the Honor 5X does everything you would want from a smartphone, without a fuss. When buying a budget handset you can often expect too much from the device, however, there should be no such concern when considering the Honor 5X. It’s a tidy performer, with a premium construction, good battery life, and a big 5.5-inch Full HD display with good viewing angles. The cameras are more than adequate, and as a bonus, the first-rate fingerprint scanner is easy to use, accurate, and also pretty useful in its secondary function as a quick launcher.

The Honor 5X is a jack-of-all-trades smartphone that punches well above its class, and the best part is that it only costs £189/$199, which means you don’t have to get a second mortgage to buy it.

[Honor]


About the Author: Peter Holden

He's been an Android fan ever since owning an HTC Hero, with the Dell Streak being his first phablet. He currently carries a Huawei P10 and a Galaxy Tab S2 8.0. When not immersed in the world of Android and gadgets, he's an avid sports fan, and like all South Africans, he loves a good Braai (BBQ).


  • http://goo.gl/JvhiKA eric mccrory

    Looks like a good budget smartphone

    • http://www.talkandroid.com/author/peter-h/ Peter Holden

      Surprisingly so. The only reason it’s on the sidelines at the moment is because I have a Huawei P9 to review…

  • Islam

    Blu Vivo 5 can beat Honor 5X????
    Honor 5x from amazon £160

    • http://www.talkandroid.com/author/peter-h/ Peter Holden

      It depends. The Honor team are quite responsive on social media, and the 5X will definitely get Marshmallow (just received the beta build on my 5X). Do you know if Blu are proactive in updating their handsets?It might be worth checking out.

      • Islam

        Blu vivo 5 will be getting Marshmallow android 6 updates in the future. Only thing Blu Vivo 5 is missing is a finger print scanner.
        And Honor 5X has finger print scanner.