Huawei's online-only Honor range of smartphones has been developed and positioned as complementary to the parent company's more premium products. Naturally, it's targeted at developing markets such as India, and the phones have managed to generate enough buzz and attention to make Honor a significant player in the budget and mid-range smartphone segments in India.
The newest product from the Honor stable is the Honor 5X. This mid-range smartphone has a little bit of everything that you might be looking for in a smartphone. With a fingerprint sensor, 4G dual-SIM connectivity and the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 SoC, the Honor 5X has a lot to offer for Rs. 12,999. There's also Huawei's reputation, which got a significant boost after the Chinese company was chosen to manufacture the Google Nexus 6P (Review | Pictures). Does the Honor 5X live up to or even exceed typical mid-range expectations? We find out in our review.
Look and feel
One of the Honor 5X's key features is the fact that it has a metal body. The debate as to whether metal or plastic is better for a smartphone will continue to rage on for as long as the Earth revolves around the Sun, but for those of us who prefer having a more durable material, this is obviously a good thing.
Having said that, the device's finish looks and feels more like plastic than metal. Honor seems to have tried too hard to make the device look metal, and gone slightly backwards in the process. Part of the reason may also be the fact that the phone doesn't feel very heavy - oddly enough, it weighs even less than some similarly sized plastic phones do. The typical benefits that metal provides are, as a result, lost in translation.
The back is extremely busy, with the camera and single-tone LED flash at the top, fingerprint sensor right below them, and the Honor logo and regulatory text right at the bottom. The fingerprint sensor is the same colour as the body and blends in rather well, but the regulatory text stands out and diminishes the look of the back. While Honor is obviously obligated to put that text there, it could have been placed less prominently.
The sides of the Honor 5X are part of the same aluminium alloy piece as the back, but the top and bottom are plastic, and look visibly different from the metal bits. This is a rather bothersome aspect of the aesthetic, and in our opinion, makes a complete mess of what would have been an otherwise acceptable phone to look at.
That aside, the edges are decent in terms of grip and feel. The power and volume keys are located on the right, the SIM and microSD trays are on the left, the 3.5mm socket is on the top, and the Micro-USB port and speaker are at the bottom. There are two grilles, but only the one on the right actually houses a speaker. There are fortunately separate trays for both SIMs as well as expandable storage. One SIM tray can hold a Nano-SIM while the other is designed for a Micro-SIM. Both slots are 4G-enabled, so this offers a bit of flexibility to the user.
The front of the device has a 5.5-inch IPS-LCD screen, and there's a 72.2 percent screen-to-body ratio. The device does not have capacitive off-screen navigation buttons, relying instead on on-screen ones. At the top are the proximity sensor, front camera, earpiece, and notification light. The phone also comes with a factory-fitted screen protector film which fortunately had been applied properly on our unit. Running all around the front and extending partly onto the sides is a smooth plastic strip. On our gold review unit, the strip was a reflective shade of gold and offered some interesting visual relief to the dull shade of the rest of the body.
The screen itself is a 1080x1920-pixel affair, with a pixel density of 401ppi. We've often said that full-HD should be the bare minimum acceptable resolution for 5.5-inch screens on mid-range devices, so the Honor 5X deserves credit for not skimping on that front. Apart from that, it's a decent screen in terms of brightness, colours, and detail. Watching YouTube and Netflix videos on the Honor 5X is enjoyable.
Specifications and software
The Honor 5X is a mid-range smartphone with typically mid-range specifications similar to what is offered by most of the competition today. However, there are a couple of interesting things to note. The 5X is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 SoC, which is essentially a slightly updated version of last year's Snapdragon 615. Some apps do identify the SoC on the 5X as the Snapdragon 615, since the 616 is essentially a 615 'v2'. However, we have been assured by the Huawei that the phone does in fact sport the newer one.
Other specifications include 2GB of RAM, a relatively modest 16GB of internal storage (expandable by up to 128GB using a microSD card), a 3000mAh non-removable battery and Android 5.1.1 out of the box with EMUI 3.1 on top. We're a bit disappointed that the Honor 5X hasn't launched with Android Marshmallow. Also, although 2GB of RAM is adequate for most purposes, potential buyers may be tempted by similarly priced competitors which offer 3GB.
Thanks to its single-layered user interface, Huawei's EMUI 3.1 can be a bit bothersome to use. We went into detail about this when we reviewed the Honor 7 (Review | Pictures), and the software is largely the same on the 5X. However, the 5X isn't quite as capable a device as the Honor 7, which does tend to show in the interface, and there are fewer customisation options.
We're still not particularly fond of the way the interface looks either. The icons lack finesse and look rather poor, and the overall design is missing the sense of sophistication that we're used to seeing on manufacturer UIs such as Sense UI and even stock Android. Certain apps constantly push you notifications to activate them. The SOS Emergency app refused to leave us alone until we had it set up, whether we wanted to use it or not.
Every time you install a new app, the phone prompts you to grant or deny it permission to send you notifications, and the system by default prevents non-system applications from running in the background. There is also a power-saving prompt which constantly shows you which apps are using too much power, but this can fortunately be switched off.
One useful feature in the Honor 5X is the fingerprint sensor, which is of the 360-degree variety and will detect a fingerprint at any angle. It's quick and accurate, and rarely ever required a second touch. The phone is capable of detecting a fingerprint when in standby, which means that you don't need to first wake the device before unlocking it.
The sensor can of course be used to unlock the phone, but an interesting feature allows you to unlock it and jump directly to a particular app on detecting a specific fingerprint. For example, you can set your right index finger to unlock the phone, while the left index finger can be set to unlock and immediately load up Whatsapp, the camera, or anything else. Up to five fingerprints can be stored, each set to trigger its own function, which we found incredibly useful.
The Honor 5X has a 13-megapixel primary camera with single-tone LED flash and variable focus, and a 5-megapixel front camera with fixed focus. The rear camera can record video at up to 1080p resolution, while the front camera is capable of video recording at 720p. Both cameras have plenty of video modes and options, along with a bunch of manual controls, filters and settings that keep the camera lively.
The camera app is the same as the one we saw on the Honor 7, with the same set of controls and features in place. Modes for panorama, all-focus, HDR, slow motion video, watermark and audio note are all useful options, and additional modes for beauty, food and time-lapse might have takers as well. There is quick access to the filters, flash toggle, and camera switcher, while the timer can be accessed through the Settings menu. GPS tagging, touch-to-capture, object tracking and resolution can also be controlled through the Settings menu. It's a decent camera app that may seem a bit confusing because of the number of controls and settings, but is something we warmed up to quickly.(Tap to see full-size image)
The primary camera is decent for a mid-range shooter, and is capable of delivering excellent colour and detail in good light. Outdoor shots are among the better ones we've seen from phones in the price range. Detailing is excellent, with sharp pictures that don't have too much noise and grain. Low-light shots, while naturally not as good as well-lit outdoor pictures, are decent enough too. Although colour and detail tend to suffer a bit, the pictures are surprisingly clear of the typical grain that we'd see in low-light shots.
Focusing is a bit of an issue though, as the Honor 5X is often a bit too slow to lock focus. Additionally, it isn't good at tracking moving objects and quickly adjusting the focus. The front camera is decent for selfies and video calls, butnothing more. On the whole, occasional camera users won't be disappointed with the performance of the Honor 5X, and more active photographers will find enough to be happy.(Tap to see full-size images)
Although Honor's parent company Huawei manufactures its own SoCs under the HiSilicon brand name, some Honor devices don't use them. The Honor 5X is an example of this, and uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 SoC. As you would expect, the SoC gave us performance comparable to its predecessor, with smooth functioning through the user interface, decent performance with games and heavily encoded videos, and minimal heating issues.
When it came to benchmark figures, the Honor 5X performed well enough for a phone in its category. AnTuTu and Quadrant returned figures of 35,137 and 26,368 respectively, while GFXBench and 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme managed14fps and 5508. As stated, this translates into decent real world performance that is reliable and efficient.
Moving on to basic functionality, the Honor 5X proved more than capable of holding on to both data and Wi-Fi networks, and was good when it came to call quality as well. The device usually managed to pick up 3G even in poorly covered areas that usually force other phones to drop to 2G, which is commendable. The battery life was a bit weak though, despite the fairly large 3000mAh battery under the hood. The phone ran for 9 hours, 26 minutes in our video loop test, which is a bit lower than we were expecting. In real-world usage, it managed to go a full day on some occasions, but usually needed charging before the day was over.
The Honor 5X is a sensible mid-range smartphone that checks all the right boxes. It's built well, looks acceptable, has all the right connectivity options, and has a decent camera too. Additionally, it's got an excellent screen and useful fingerprint sensor that does a lot more than most competitors' offerings. The Honor 5X is also reliable and smooth in operation. The only real shortcomings are annoying software and slightly sub-par battery life, but these are easily forgivable when you consider the overall package.
While this simple, functional approach is praiseworthy, the Honor 5X doesn't do anything particularly special to set itself apart from the competition. Devices such as the Moto G (3rd Gen) (Review), Moto G Turbo Edition (Review), and Lenovo Vibe K4 Note are likely to appeal to users more, and the Honor 5X could get lost in the crowd. Keep this one in mind if you're looking for a no-nonsense smartphone that has pretty much everything you need.