Huawei Honor 8 review: Rich feature set and design, but still falls behind the OnePlus 3
“So how does it compare to the OnePlus 3?”. “Doesn’t the OnePlus 3 offer more for less?” Those are the questions that I have been getting for quite a while now. It applies to recently launched Asus Zenfone 3 as well as many other smartphones that are priced in the Rs 30,000 bracket. Now that the Huawei Honor 8 has finally gone official, it’s Rs 29,999 price tag does creep eerily close to the OnePlus 3, the one to beat in the sub Rs 30,000 (and at times even over) segment.
Is the Huawei Honor 8 as good as the dual camera Honor 6 Plus? How does it compare to the Lenovo Z2 Plus? Is the camera as good as the one on the OnePlus 3? Is it as good as theHuawei P9? Well, by the time you are done reading this review, I will have answered all of these questions and more. So without delay, let’s begin dissecting this camera-centric smartphone that has some big shoes to fill thanks to its predecessor.
Build and Design: 8.5/10
Huawei has put in plenty of effort into its Honor brand but it is easy to say that just Honor 5C appears to be the polished one out of the lot. So there haven’t been too many Honor smartphones, that looked the part since the Honor 6 and 6 Plus. With that said, the Honor 8 is here to change all of this. It features a design that looks similar to the rest of the droids out there, but with plenty of attractive new elements to fill in those boring gaps. There’s a metal frame that sits in between two 2.5D sheets of glass and while many look the other way, you really have to hold this device to feel the quality and craftsmanship that goes into it.
Everything is well-crafted, from the flawless CNC machining process (no rough or sharp edges anywhere) to the 2.5D screens on the back and front. But the one on the back is built using 15 layers of glass. I received the Pearl White unit for review and while it may appear like the usual white and silver combination to many, it is anything but that.
Huawei has gone in with what appears to be a pearlescent finish, meaning that it’s not white but off white with a border that looks very close to silver, but in reality is really light shade of gold (like a real pearl). There’s also a fine concentric circular texture like similar to the Asus Zenfone 3, but its a lot more refined.
While these design features are barely noticeable, they work together to let you easily distinguish a Honor 8 from any other Android smartphone that is out there. Personally, I hate gold finishes on smartphones, but this one did not bother me as one can barely notice the gold coloured frame.
Flip the smartphone over to the back and you will notice something here that’s not even there on the Huawei P9 and the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, a seamless flat back. So that’s two 12MP cameras (sans OIS) with laser assist and a dual tone LED flash that sits flush with the rest of the smartphone.
Take a closer look at the flash module and you will also notice how well the metal ring (that is fitted to isolate it from the glass body) sits just half a millimeter below the rest of the screen. The fingerprint reader on the back is the only element that sits a millimeter below the rounded glass. It’s all in the details and it’s fantastic!
The true successor to the Honor 6 Plus, the Honor 8 comes with more horsepower. Raw power was a problem with its predecessor so Huawei indeed seems to have done their homework here. There’s little to complain about.
You get a a 5.2-inch LTPS Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) resolution display with a 423PPI pixel density. Inside, there is a Huawei HiSilicon Kirin 950 chipset (4x ARM Cortex-A72 at 2.3GHz + 4x ARM Cortex-A53 at 1.8GHz) paired with a Mali-T880 GPU. The phone packs in 4GB RAM and and 32GB of internal storage that is expandable and accepts microSD cards of up to 128GB in capacity.
Coming to the bits that really matter on this smartphone, there are two 12MP camera’s on the back (monochrome + colour) that feature large 1.25 um pixels and f/2.2 aperture. There also a hybrid autofocus system that uses a laser to lock the autofocus along with the standard contrast-based autofocus detection system. The front facing camera gets an 8MP sensor with an f/2.4 aperture.
The Honor 8 is a single SIM device and the SIM tray slot will accept one nano SIM with the second cutout accepting a microSD cards for storage expansion. And there’s plenty of other nice bits in terms of communications. You get NFC, an infra-red unit at the top, a USB 2.0 Type C port at the bottom, 4G bands, Bluetooth v4.1, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (Hotspot for up to 8 devices) and GPS. While Huawei claims that the smartphone supports VoLTE, we had trouble connecting a VoLTE network using a JIO SIM card.
I first received the smartphone in sunny Goa. So I did not run out of sunlight for clicking some great photo samples. What I did run out of was brightness on the display. No it’s not dull by any means and a lot more accurate than the ones that you will find in similar priced smartphones. But it’s just not bright enough to combat direct sunlight. You will find yourself peeking into those beautifully crisp captures most of the time when in direct sunlight, but indoors I had no issues with it, apart from the fact that it does get dimmer as the viewing angle gets steeper.
The Full HD display did not disappoint on sharpness and accuracy. It did however showcase a slightly cooler colours, on the default settings, but this can be adjusted using the colour wheel in the Display settings. Images displayed on it did not look over-saturated and unrealistic. This is important as the colour and temperature of the photographs shot using the camera smartphone looked pretty-much the same when we transferred them to the desktop.
I’m not really a fan of custom skins, but Huawei with its custom skin does impress to an extent. There are translucent elements all over the UI, from the lock screen to the notifications tray to the individual apps and even in the camera app. They follow some strict design guidelines and look uniquely Huawei if you have used Huawei smartphones in the past. It feels light, but this is provided you have the performance mode turned on in battery settings (which you will have to hunt down initially). Switch it to smart savings in power management and you will notice a little stuttering here and there but these do help deliver a longer battery life. But this also hints that Huawei Emotion UI with Android 6.0 Marshmallow onboard is starting to feel heavy.
Coming to the customisations, there are plenty. From the lockscreen to the fixed number of customisable themes within they do provide a satisfactory level of customisation, but with no external theme support. There is limited bloatware but these can be uninstalled easily. Also available is a Google Fit-like Health app that lets you check your step count and keep track of your fitness goals.
It may not beat the OnePlus 3 in raw benchmark performance, but it stands pretty well all by itself. With that said, the Honor 8 comes eerily close (5 percent difference) to P9 when it comes to the benchmarks. The benchmarks looked pretty decent and definitely not under powered by any means. The Kirin 950 is a pretty powerful chipset so gaming performance is not a problem. The smartphone ran games like Dead Trigger 2, Real Racing 3, Modern Combat 5 and the like pretty well with no drop in frame rates. What it somehow could not handle was the heat when using the camera.
The smartphone heats up at the area below the cameras on the back and that in turn will heat up the metal frame which gets uncomfortably hot. We measured the heat levels using our Fluke infrared thermometer and got readings of 39-40 degrees centigrade which is pretty hot for a smartphone. During normal operation, there were no signs of heating up and the phone remained fairly cool while playing games and running other third-party apps. Hopefully, Huawei has a software fix for this.
Coming to call quality the sound was clear and loud on both ends. The audio output from the speaker was fairly loud during games, but the same cannot be said about the receiver where I often found myself reaching for the volume buttons to increase the volume (but could not because I had reached the top end). The fingerprint reader on the Honor 8 was fast and accurate. More importantly, you can press it down and even swipe on it to perform some functions, like pulling down the notifications tray.
While there’s no Leica branding available on the back of the Honor 8, the results of my testing showed off image quality that was similar to what you get on the Huawei P9. The images on the P9 in comparison to the Honor 8 did look a bit saturated, while the Honor 8 produced images that looked… well the way the actual scene looked like (which is a good thing).
The new 12MP sensors and 1.25 um pixels in them are an improvement over its predecessor, the Honor 7. With that said the overall image quality was much better than what you get on the Xiaomi Mi 5 but not the OnePlus 3.
The sensor works in a manner similar to the HTC One M8, the QiKU Q Terra and uses two sensors to read different imaging data. One sensor reads RGB (colour) data while the other delivers monochrome data that makes it mighty quick at focusing thanks to added inputs from the laser assisted focusing system.
Images shot using the smartphone did not look overtly sharp and just right. The colours looked realistic and depicted the scene shot almost perfectly. You can still go ahead and tweak the default sharpness and other settings in the camera settings. Thanks to the dual camera system there are no blown out highlights either. In fact the shots composed in HDR and the standard mode barely reflected any differences.
While camera played well in daylight, low light was not as impressive as I expected it to be. Long exposures did brilliantly and this was thanks to the Pro Photo mode found in the camera app. There’s plenty of adjustments and they all produce great results. But using this camera in Auto Mode for low light shooting is not a good idea. The images looked bright enough, but the noise levels were too high and did not make for good looking pictures. The built-in Night Shot mode does a better job, but the lack of OIS means that you will need to carry a tripod.
There’s even a light painting mode built right in. All you need is a steady hand (since there’s no OIS) or a tripod stand as you can get some amazing photographs from this smartphone. With that said, the noise levels do creep in when using the camera in low light in auto mode. The wide aperture mode was fun and produced some decent bokeh effects, but I would have preferred more natural looking ones. A feather selection mode would have been really handy.
Video was a bit disappointing. Like the P9, there is no 4K video in here. You do get 1080p shooting at 30fps and 60fps as well, which is a rare sight. While 1080p at 30fps did fine, 60fps video showed stuttering showing signs of struggle. In fact, it looked almost GIF like in the viewfinder. This could boil down to the processor because to the Kirin 955 on the P9 pulled off the same without any hiccups.
The Honor 8 unit that we received from Huawei came devoid of a box. All we got was a plastic wrapper around the smartphone and USB Type-C charging cable (not even the charger) and this created some problems. I had a OnePlus 3 lying around, so I decided to use the “Dash Charger” to charge smartphone after some not so successful attempts to charge it using my iPhone 6s’ standard charger. It took me a good 3 hours to charge the Honor 8 from 9 percent to 100 percent which is super slow and not even average by any means. I do know that the Honor 8 does not offer Quick Charging, but this one is bit too slow even compared to a budget smartphones that comes with Qualcomm’s Quick charge. Disappointing. Had I received the right charger, the results would have been better.
What was impressive is how the smartphone with the 950 Kirin managed to hold the charge with a number of battery management modes. I found myself using the Performance mode a majority of the time and I got a decent 9-10 hours of battery life with some photography, plenty of gaming, some calls, 2 email accounts on sync and of course WhatsApp. In Smart mode the phone managed to squeeze out some more with an additional 2 hours. Switch to ROG power saving, which lowers the screen resolution to 1280×720 pixels and you can get a lot more screen on time with this device.
Verdict and Price in India
By now I may have already answered most of your queries. The Huawei Honor 8 indeed appears to stand up to the OnePlus 3 and packs in something different in the form of a dual camera setup and outstanding build quality. Unfortunately it does not stand up to the OnePlus 3 which offers better value, better camera quality and better battery life. It also does not come with Dash Charge, a brawny Snapdragon 820 chipset, 6GB RAM and it also does not seem to support LTE bands in India.
The Honor 8 will be a great alternative to the pricey Huawei P9 (with Leica branding) and obviously better than the Asus Zenfone 3. It would be safe to place the Honor 8 second to the OnePlus 3. You can take a look at the Honor 8 only if you happen to not like the OnePlus 3 for its sheer size or its design.