In a year when multiple phones from big-name manufacturers have come very close to, and sometimes surpassed, the $1,000 mark, it’s time to redefine what we mean by good value in phones. If manufacturers want to gain any sort of attention in the increasingly expensive smartphone world, a low price just isn’t enough. The OnePlus 5T proved we don’t need to spend more than $500 to get a good flagship smartphone; and Huawei’s subsidiary Honor now shows us you don’t need to spend more than $200 for a good phone. The latest from the Chinese company is the Honor 7X, and while there are compromises, we found the phone to be the best bargain of 2017.
BEZEL-LESS AT A BUDGET
If you buy a phone in 2017, you don’t really want it to have massive edges flanking the screen. Thick bezels already look old fashioned, and they’ll stand out even more next year. The 5.93-inch Honor 7X meets the design requirements for a 2017 edge-to-edge, or “bezel-less,” display. Put it alongside the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and you’ll find the top and bottom bezels are almost identical in size. Even the 2,160 x 1,080 pixel resolution is the same. It’s the side bezels that are slightly more pronounced on the Honor 7X.
The bigger screen doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger phone, and the advantages of an 18:9 aspect ratio screen are there — fitting more content on screen in landscape format, along with more immersive gaming and video too. Honor wants you to make the most of it too. Under the Display menu in Settings is a full-screen mode, where you can choose which apps automatically open up and use the total length of screen available. It often pops up in-app too, to save jumping into the Settings. Sadly, there’s no way to hide the Android navigation buttons like there is on the Mate 10 Pro.
The body is made of metal, and the glass on the front has a 2.5D curved effect, blending in perfectly with the rounded sides of the phone. The back of the Honor 7X is flat, with a matte blue finish on our review model. There’s also a fast fingerprint sensor in an easy to locate, recessed and chamfered spot. In the top left are two pronounced camera lenses. It’s here where more savings are made, because the camera lenses on the Huawei P10, Mate 10, and even the Honor 9 are flush against the rear panel.
You’ll hardly believe it costs so little
The Honor 7X is the result of 28 prototypes and 15 months of design development work. The in-hand comfort is exceptional, and Honor has managed to sidestep the common problem of slipperiness too. Even with a light grip, the Honor 7X never feels like it’s going to escape from your hand.
It’s a tough little thing too. The phone was dropped several times by the Honor team when we first saw the device, and it survived without a scratch, due to what Honor calls an airbag-style internal design at each corner. It’s not officially shockproof, but “life proof,” according to Honor. Elsewhere, there is a 3.5mm headphone jack, and it sits alongside a MicroUSB port for charging. It’s a shame Honor didn’t swap it for a USB Type-C. It’s also a shame that there’s no NFC chip inside the svelte body, so you won’t be using the Honor 7X for Android Pay.
When you see how incredibly modern the Honor 7X it looks, you’ll hardly believe it costs so little.
GOOD DUAL CAMERAS
The dual camera lenses, which sit inside two raised bumps on the back of the phone, are perhaps the least visually-pleasing part of the phone. But it’s easily forgivable because they perform well. Due to sharing the same Android user interface as Huawei phones, the Honor 7X’s camera app will be familiar to anyone who has used the Huawei P10 or Mate 9. The app is simple, logical, and packed full of features. Slide to the left to show the options list, and slide to the right for different camera modes. Icons for special features are shown along the top of the screen.
The main f/2.2 aperture lens has 16-megapixels, but the secondary lens has only 2-megapixels. The second camera doesn’t exclusively shoot in monochrome, unlike many Huawei phones, but the dual cameras work together to produce a bokeh or blur effect. The software has also been tweaked to speed up wide-aperture focusing by six times, and improve low-light performance.
Share the photos with friends, or on social media, and no-one will know you didn’t splash out on an expensive camera phone. Honor is pulling the same trick Xiaomi has mastered — provide solid cameras inside a reasonably priced phone, that produce shots that are perfect for posting online. On a series of sunny days, the Honor 7X really showed its strengths with colorful, fun photos. At night, it also captured some great variably-lit scenes. It’s not perfect — dark scenes lack pop, and it didn’t enjoy shooting in low afternoon sun, for example.
The bokeh Wide Aperture mode is a direct port of Huawei’s system, and you can alter the focal point in photos taken later on. This flexibility cuts down the emphasis on making sure you’re getting the right shot in the first place, and lets you get creative later on. When you choose a focal point and save the image, the original is retained, so you can save multiple versions with different objects in focus. The Honor 7X’s bokeh mode is excellent. It’s fun, creative, simple, and never frustrates.
It’s certainly better than the Portrait Mode, which is very hit-or-miss. It never seems to “grab” an object or face to effectively blur out the background, especially in challenging light. We’ve experienced similar problems using it on the Huawei P10. There’s also a Moving Picture mode, which acts like Apple’s Live Photo and takes a short video instead of a still. We’d rather use Instagram’s short video modes, as the results are easier to share.
We mentioned the rear camera is skewed towards shareable images with plenty of color and pop. The 8-megapixel front camera is also made for social media, and has a bokeh Portrait Mode, along with built-in face filters. These are reminiscent of those featured on Snapchat, Snow, and other similar apps. They’re fast to activate, accurate with face tracking, and most importantly: Cute. It’s not a feature everyone will use, but it’s definitely in-line with what the primary audience for the Honor 7X will already be using elsewhere. It seems sensible to have it ready to go in the standard camera too.
For $200, the Honor 7X’s camera is great, and a genuine reason to buy the phone.
GOOD PERFORMANCE, ANDROID 7.1 NOUGAT
In the U.S., only the 3GB/32GB Honor 7X will be sold, and for a very reasonable $200. In the U.K., the Honor 7X costs 270 British pounds and comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space. Both have the Kirin 659 processor, and the hybrid SIM card slot has space for a MicroSD card too in case you need more space.
We reviewed the 4GB/64GB version here, and we don’t expect there to be much of a difference in terms of performance between the two. Here are our benchmark results:
- AnTuTu: 63,311
- Geekbench 4 CPU: Single-Core 906, Multi-Core 3,556
- 3DMark SlingShot Extreme: 399
The 4GB/64GB benchmark scores won’t set the world alight, but are comparable to the similarly powered Motorola Moto G5S Plus, and to the Moto G5 Plus. It comes in below the HTC U11 Life and the Moto X4. However, the Honor 7X is $200, considerably less than either of those two phones, and it obliterates the $180 Moto E4 Plus in tests. It’s no surprise they’re half of what phones like the OnePlus 5T and Galaxy S8 achieve.
We played Riptide GP3, Crossy Road, and Modern Combat Versus, the latter apparently being optimized for the phone. It didn’t come pre-installed on our review model though. While it doesn’t reach the gaming supremacy of the Razer Phone, the Honor 7X is still a strong gaming device for those not wanting to spend $700. Riptide GP3 played well enough, although it struggled a little with frame rate during very busy scenes. Hardly a surprise given the processing power available; but there’s more than enough for a bit of casual gaming.
The Honor 7X is still a strong gaming device
You’ll find Android 7.1 Nougat installed with Huawei’s EMUI 5.1 user interface layered on top. This isn’t good news. Android 8.1 Oreo has been out since August, and regardless of whether this is a cheaper phone or not, it should be installed on new devices we’re buying now. Huawei has also released version 8.0 of EMUI, so even the user interface is out of date. It’s not slow, but it’s not as refined as EMUI 8.0, and you’re missing out on new Oreo features like Notification Dots and picture-in-picture mode.
Using EMUI isn’t the annoying experience you may fear. No, it’s not stock Android, but you can add the app drawer as an option if you miss it, and the settings menu and notification shade are more refined and less heavily customized than older models. It’s not slow, which is very important, and all our usual apps worked without a problem.
We like the split-screen mode, which is activated simply by long pressing an app in the Recents view, and dragging it to the top of the screen. Another advantage of the 18:9 aspect ratio is that you can see a lot more information on these apps at a quick glance.
Honor has added a daytime viewing mode to its reading mode for late-night use. The reading mode is great, and can be scheduled to come on at a set time each day. There are quite a few pre-installed apps, such as a torch, mirror, sound recorder, compass, download manager, and some Huawei-specific apps. A theme manager app lets you change the look of the interface, a Phone Manager app will scan for viruses and optimises the system, along with providing battery and data use information. Not all these can be uninstalled.
Using the Honor 7X alongside the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, it’s clear the Honor phone is slower; but that’s to be expected. Used on its own, the software experience is slick enough for general everyday use. Just remember this is not a phone for power users, and you’ll be satisfied.
BATTERY AND AUDIO
Does the Honor 7X have enough battery power to last the day? In our experience, yes it does. The 3,340mAh cell is charged using a MicroUSB cable, and supports fast charging using the included charger. Starting out the day with an almost full battery, we used GPS navigation, the camera, browsed social networks, played games, and the 7X reached 20 percent by late evening. We’d hoped for a little more, given the modest processor and screen resolution.
A 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on the bottom of the phone, and Honor has added Histen audio enhancements to the 7X. This offers a 3D surround sound effect when using headphones, and it’s marginally successful. We like the basic Histen enhancements, but the 3D audio — you choose between a Near, Front, or Wide style — made our favourite songs sound different, and not in a good way. We left it on Near, or turned it off entirely. Listen without the 3D audio, and the Honor 7X sounds great.
WARRANTY, AVAILABILITY, AND PRICE
In the U.S., Honor gives a one year warranty with its phones, which is a repair or replace scheme. It doesn’t cover accidental damage, misuse, water damage, or normal wear and tear. Parts and labor are included, but shipping is down to the owner. In the U.K., the coverage is the same, but the warranty period is 24 months.
The Honor 7X is just $200 in the U.S., which gives you a 3GB/32GB unlocked phone without a contract. It’s available on the official HiHonor store online for pre-order now, and orders ship on December 15. In the U.K., you can only buy the 4GB/64GB Honor 7X, and it costs 270 British pounds. In addition to the HiHonor online store, Amazon and Very will sell the phone, as will high street retailers Argos. Buy through the U.K. HiHonor store and for a limited time you’ll get a free pair of Honor AM61 Bluetooth headphones.
You should know, the Honor 7X doesn’t support the CDMA network, which means it doesn’t work on Verizon and Sprint. You can only use it on T-Mobile or AT&T in the U.S.
Taken only at face value, the good-looking Honor 7X doesn’t appear to be a $200 smartphone. Add in a decent, fun-feature packed camera, solid performance, and a great screen, and you’ll question the price even more. Yet it does only cost a bargain $200.
Are there better alternatives?
The Honor 7X is almost ridiculously cheap in the U.S. This is easily one of the best looking and strongest performing cheap phones you’ll buy. It punches well above its weight, and it easily beats Motorola’s budget phones like the E4 Plus for style and for performance. To improve on it, you’ll need to spend $350 on the HTC U11 Life, or $400 on the Moto X4. That’s a big difference, and if you’re considering the Moto X4, we recommend saving up an extra $100 to secure a OnePlus 5T.
How long will it last?
The Honor 7X’s body may withstand a few knocks, but it won’t be happy if it gets wet: There’s no water resistance at all. The software is already out of date, and neither Huawei or Honor are especially fast at sending out Android version updates. While this is a $200 phone, and we understand compromises must be made, it’s a shame we’ll be forced to wait for Android 8.0 Oreo.
If you buy the Honor 7X, and aren’t a demanding smartphone user, then the phone will happily last for a year or more before feeling a little old. The design is slick enough that it won’t look ancient by that time, so provided you aren’t suddenly wanting the phone to do a lot more, it should carry on serving you well past this time.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Honor 7X is an absolute bargain. To help you understand just how much value the Honor 7X represents: It’s $50 less than the Honor 6X that came out at the beginning of the year, yet it looks better and performs better. We like that kind of advancement, and think you’ll like the Honor 7X too.
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