Honor 8X review: Style and substance on a budget

As Huawei’s budget-conscious e-brand, Honor offers a blend of quality hardware and aggressive pricing policy, a strategy that has served it well in recent times as seen with its X-series of smartphones; we were especially impressed by the 5X from 2016.

Last year’s Honor 7X boasted a stylish metal design, a notchless 5.93-inch FHD+ display with 18:9 ratio and dual rear cameras for $200, but disappointingly it made do with MicroUSB and lacked NFC. Honor has just launched its successor, appropriately named the Honor 8X with a big 6.5-inch FHD+ display and the new Kirin 710 processor. While the 8X is an exciting entry into the mid-tier segment, the waters have been muddied somewhat with the recent launch of the Honor Play that boasts the flagship Kirin 970 processor, excellent battery life and a price tag of £280.

The big question being asked is if the Honor 8X can offer enough value to make it worthy of consideration? Join us after the break to find out in our review of the Honor 8X.

Design

Unlike its predecessor, the Honor 8X sports an all-glass design which makes the handset appear more expensive than it is, albeit adding the ability to become a fingerprint magnet and a tendency to slip out of hand. Still, the move to a rear glass panel definitely bumps up the premium feel of the handset, you wouldn’t think it was aimed at the budget-conscious buyer. While the rear glass panel is slippy, it isn’t quite as slippy as what we experienced with the Honor 9. That being said, you’ll still need to slap a case on the Honor 8X sooner rather than later to keep it looking pristine.

While the display has a notch, the 8X has a reassuringly small chin at the bottom, which is made possible due to the fingerprint reader being on the rear of the device. The chin is just about big enough, so it isn’t awkward to navigate on the phone while hardly taking up any space. Having mentioned the notch, it’s certainly not as big as we’ve seen on the Pixel 3 XL, and you can always disable the notch in the Display Settings if its something that you find tedious.

As a budget phone with a 91% screen-to-body ratio and slim bezels, the Honor 8X makes better use of its real estate than some of the more expensive phones we’ve reviewed lately, take the Sony Xperia XZ2 as a prime example.

Something that is readily apparent are the twin camera bumps that protrude from the rear panel. While it isn’t unique to the Honor 8X by any means, I would rather that the phone was slightly thicker with space for a bigger battery and thus remove the need for the camera bumps. The rear panel itself is constructed from 15 layers of Aurora glass and sits upon a metal frame that holds the display in place, while there are antenna cutouts on the bottom and the sides of the handset. 

The power button is located below the volume buttons on the right-hand side of the phone, with the SIM card tray on the left-hand side. On the top of the handset is a single microphone hole.

There is a single speaker chamber on the bottom edge, with the MicroUSB charging port sandwiched in the middle next to the 3.5mm audio jack. It’s unfortunate that Honor has stuck with the MicroUSB port instead of moving to USB Type-C, especially at this point in 2018, but we’ll expand on that topic later in the review.

Hardware

AnnouncedOctober 11
SoftwareAndroid Oreo 8.1, EMUI 8.2
Display6.5-inch Fullview IPS, 19:5:9 aspect ratio, FHD+ resolution (2340 x 1080), 91% screen-to-body ratio
ProcessorHiSilicon Kirin 710 Octa-core, Mali-G51 GPU
RAM4/6GB (region dependant)
Storage64/128GB with MicroSD card support for up to 400GB
Rear Cameras20MP F/1.8 aperture, AI + 2MP F/2.4 aperture, Field of Depth, 480fps Slo-Mo recording
Front Camera16MP F/2.0 aperture, AI Beautify, 4-in-1 Pixel Binning
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 2.4GHz; 802.11 a/n/ac, 5GHz
SensorsProximity sensor, Ambient Light sensor, Digital Compass, Gravity sensor
NetworkDual Nano-SIM,
FingerprintYes
Audio JackYes
NFCYes (Region Dependant)
Battery3.750mAh
ChargingMicroUSB 2.0, Fast Charging
Dimensions160.4 x 76.6 x 7.8mm
Weight175g

Performance

The 6.5-inch IPS display boasts FHD+ resolution as well as a notch and is plenty bright enough indoors although it’s a little on the dim side when in bright sunlight. Viewing angles are good, and the display produces vibrant, accurate colors – especially when you switch to the ‘Normal’ color mode. The display makes viewing content an enjoyable experience, especially when you take the size of the screen into account.

Something we’ve heard a fair bit about in recent months from both Honor and Huawei is GPU Turbo, a technology that they say increases power-efficiency by 30% and graphics performance by 60%. The Honor 10 was the first handset to benefit from this technology, with the Honor Play being the first handset to launch with it built-in. Because it is launching with the GPU Turbo technology from scratch, it’s difficult to say how much impact it is having on the 8X’s performance.

On pure performance, the 8X certainly feels slick, especially when you consider the price tag of just £229. The octa-core Kirin 710 processor keeps things ticking along quite nicely, but shows it’s mid-level power when you crank up the graphics levels on games such as PUBG. If gaming is your focus, you might be better off with the Honor Play which boasts the high-powered Kirin 970 processor and can handle more intense graphics with ease.

We’ve run the Honor 8X through the Antutu and GeekBench Benchmarking apps and compared the results with the Honor Play and Honor 10 below:

Benchmarking AppsHonor 8XHonor PlayHonor 10
AnTuTu140117204876201966
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme95620362987
3DMark Sling Shot Extreme (Vulkan)112333563276

Battery

With a big 3,750mAh battery, the Honor 8X often made it to midnight before reaching single digits on a typical day’s usages that consisted of checking emails and messages, browsing social media, listening to music most of the day, and taking around 40-50 pictures, all the while being connected to my smartwatch via Bluetooth. With the phone on full brightness, the battery dips by 13% when streaming Netflix for an hour. If you need more than a day’s use out of the Honor 8X, you’ll need to engage one of the included battery-saving modes to do so.

Speaking about charging, it’s unfortunate that Honor didn’t bestow a USB Type-C charging port on the 8X, at this stage of 2018 it is getting to the point of being unacceptable for a mid-range phone to launch with the dated MicroUSB port. When the 7X launched with MicroUSB, it was forgiven because USB Type-C was pretty much only present on flagship smartphones. This isn’t 2017, though, and the Honor 8X isn’t an entry-level smartphone selling for an entry-level price, so the presence of such a dated charging port has to be questioned.

Software

The Honor 8X runs Android 8.1 Oreo with Huawei’s EMUI v 8.2 running on top. If you’ve used a Huawei or Honor Phone in the past year or so you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. While this latest version of EMUI is lighter, whiter, more cohesive, and easier to navigate than previous iterations, it still packs a ton of features and functions that you might not find in stock Android.

Upon first boot, the Honor 8X appears not to have an app drawer. Instead, it shows all the app icons on the various pages of the home screen. If this doesn’t appeal to you, it’s a simple task to enable the app drawer by navigating to Settings/Display, selecting Home Screen Style and toggling the Drawer option. The dreaded notch can be disabled in a similar fashion by heading to the Notch options in the Display settings.

Software-wise, the 8X offers a similar experience to the Honor Play and Mate 20 Lite. There are a bunch of pre-loaded apps that includes Asphalt Nitro, Booking.com, Assassin’s Creed Unity: Arno’s Chronicles, Dragon Mania, Kingdoms, Spider-Man: Ultimate Power, and Puzzle Pets, all of which can be uninstalled with a couple of taps.

EMUI boasts features such as Knuckle gestures, as well as the ability to guard sensitive apps and data hidden away from prying eyes with the ‘Private Space’ and ‘Keep Safe’ functions. Every new iteration of EMUI brings further distance from the garish horrorshow that used to be EMUI 4.0, and version 8.2 is light, flat, a cinch to navigate and easy on the eye. Unless you are a staunch fan of stock Android, you’ll find little to worry about with the software experience found on the Honor 8X.

Camera

The camera is an easy way for manufacturers to cut corners when it comes to producing an affordable handset, and the Honor 8X is no different although the phone makes the most of what it has been given. In normal conditions, the 8X produces images that are perfectly fine for social media, showing good levels of detail and sharpness.

You don’t get the same standard of imagery when using Auto Mode at night, but if the subject isn’t moving, you can achieve great things by switching over to Night mode. Here you have to hold the shot for around 5-7 seconds while the phone sucks all possible light into the image, resulting in a picture that shows things you couldn’t see with your eyeballs. Basically, the 8X takes a whole bunch of images and mushes them all together to produce an image full of light and detail.

At the launch, Honor was keen to emphasize the AI abilities of the Honor 8X’s camera, with its AI mode recognizing various scenarios and then applying the appropriate settings to produce a more vibrant image. While it isn’t as high-powered as we’ve seen on the Huawei P20 Pro, it’s certainly a feature that you’ll notice and appreciate. If you don’t like the saturated colors it produces, you can turn it off in the camera app settings.

Closing

In a nutshell, the Honor 8X is a handset that seemingly manages to combine almost everything you might want in a smartphone; an affordable price of £229 (+-$300), a stylish glass exterior, cameras that produce photos you can be proud of, and a speedy user experience. It’s a shame that Honor couldn’t include a USB Type-C charging port because that would have been the cherry on the icing. It’s also a shame because the ever so slightly cheaper Moto G6 (£220) sports the newer charging port, although it’s perhaps not as capable in other departments as the Honor 8X is.

It’s difficult to talk about the 8X without mentioning the elephant in the corner in the form of the more expensive Honor Play with its more powerful Kirin 970 processor and modern USB Type-C port that offers higher levels of performance. On the flipside, the Play costs £280 and features a smaller display and a dated design when compared to the 8X.

If you don’t mind the MicroUSB port, which admittedly only affects a tiny part of the user experience, the Honor 8X outclasses similarly priced competitors in most areas, bringing style and substance to the mid-tier at a very affordable price.

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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 Pixel 2 XL, Huawei P20 Pro, and a Huawei MediaPad M5 (8.4) in his pockets and thinks nothing of lugging a 17-inch laptop around in his backpack. 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).