Honor and Huawei have been pushing new models out at a frenetic pace for the past few months, and after attacking nearly every product segment, it's time for the sub-Rs. 10,000 space to get some attention. The new Honor 7S is aimed right at value-conscious buyers, and Honor is hoping to tempt them with style, features and functionality. The timing of this launch means that the Honor 7S will go right up against the shiny new Xiaomi Redmi 6A.
Honor will have to match Xiaomi's ability to pack low-cost phones with powerful hardware and in-demand features, which will not be easy at all. There are also other strong players such as Infinix and Realme to contend with. Let's see if the Honor 7S can successfully adapt the formula that has worked well for the company in other price bands.
Honor 7S design
In terms of looks, there really isn't much that sets the Honor 7S apart. Our review unit came in a deep shade of blue that almost looked purple, and is at least somewhat attractive. You also have more conventional black and gold options. The design is clean and simple, with zero fuss. There's an 18:9 screen on the front, with relatively little blank space around it. The front camera, flash, and sensors are all in one horizontal line with the earpiece. If not for the bright silver Honor logo on the front, this would be a very minimalist phone.
The power and volume buttons are on the left, and are within easy reach. There's a tray on the right with individual slots for two Nano-SIMs as well as a microSD card, and we're always happy to see this on a low-cost phone. The 3.5mm audio socket is on the top, and you'll find only a Micro-USB port on the bottom. There's no speaker grille because the earpiece doubles up as this phone's only speaker. There's also no fingerprint sensor, which is perhaps unavoidable for a phone that sells for Rs. 6,999. The lower priced Redmi 6A makes the same compromise, but Redmi 6, which costs just Rs. 1,000 more, does not.
The camera module on the rear protrudes a little, but not enough to ever get in the way. There are antenna lines across the top and bottom of the rear but the plastic body of this phone doesn't require them. Honor hasn't stated whether it has used reinforced glass. Some buyers might not be happy about that, but at least the company has bundled an adhesive film and a plastic case with this phone.
We found the Honor 7S very easy to use and live with, and even one-handed use wasn't much of a problem. The slightly rounded sides make this phone comfortable to hold. The body isn't slippery, and while the front face does pick up a lot of fingerprints, the rear stayed clean during our review period. At 142g, it won't weigh down your pockets either.
Honor 7S specifications and software
The MediaTek MT6739 is an interesting processor, because it was launched in India last year specifically for low-cost phones. It has four ARM Cortex-A53 cores running at up to 1.5GHz, with an integrated PowerVR GE8100 GPU. We first saw it used earlier this year in the iVoomi i2 Lite (Review) which costs just slightly less. The Honor 7S has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, and there are no variants. We began to get warnings about running out of storage space after loading this phone with only our standard test files and apps that come in at around 10GB.
The 5.45-inch screen has a resolution of 720x1440 which is crisp enough for most people. The corners are not rounded and there's no notch, so nothing is clipped. Honor has gone with a 3020mAh battery, 13-megapixel rear camera, and 5-megapixel front camera. This phone supports 4G but only on one SIM at a time. You get an accelerometer, ambient light sensor, and proximity sensor. There's Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, and GPS.
Our review unit was running Android 8.1 with Huawei's custom EMUI skin. It arrived with the July 2018 security patch, and we received an update to the August patch while we were using it. There are a few customisation options including a switchable app drawer and your choice of icon density. You can long-press app icons to show quick shortcut actions as well as app-specific notifications, which not all custom UIs support. SwiftKey is set as the default keyboard, which may or may not be to everyone's taste.
Many phones released over the past year and a half with 18:9 or taller screens have managed to deal with native 16:9 apps without any problem. At most, we've seen black bands on screen. With this phone though, Honor for some reason decided it would be a good idea to always show a message in the blank space, directing you to go to the Settings to force an app to fill the screen. We found this invasive and distracting, especially when gaming. There might be apps that cannot scale gracefully, and they should be allowed to run letterboxed in peace.
There's a small amount of bloatware in the form of a Themes app which did not actually have any themes for us to choose from, a Phone Manager with the usual RAM cleanup and permissions management tools; and a formulaic freemium game called Lords Mobile. EMUI also has its own gallery, calendar, email, music, and video apps. There did not seem to be any shortcut gestures, not even the ability to double-tap the screen to wake it.
The Honor 7S does have face recognition, but the setup process warns that this phone could be unlocked by people or even objects that look like you. When we first tested this, the phone was unable to enrol our face despite over 20 attempts, but it later started working with no explanation. We found that trying to unlock the phone with our faces took 2-3 seconds each time, which is far from ideal. Combined with the lack of a fingerprint sensor, this was a disappointing experience.
Honor 7S performance, cameras, and battery life
As soon as we started using this phone, we encountered odd momentary freezes and lags. Simple things like swiping between home screens and scrolling through a list of apps in the Play store were not as fluid as they should be. With apps downloading the the background, this phone became severely unresponsive. This was a little frustrating, but it seemed to take care of itself after the first few days. It still took much longer than we would have liked to load apps, though. Switching between apps also wasn't very smooth.
On the plus side, the Honor 7S has a pretty good screen. We found it to be good for watching videos on, thanks to its vibrant colour reproduction. It was also bright enough to be usable outdoors without trouble. The speaker is just about okay for watching videos and playing games, but don't expect music to sound great.
Speaking of games, you'll want to stick to very simple 2D puzzles. We struggled to play Amazing Katamari Damacy, a relatively simple 3D endless runner, and Dead Trigger 2 was so unresponsive that we kept dying before we could react to zombie attacks. Benchmark scores were just about passable for a phone at this price level. We got 46,151 in AnTuTu, 606 and 1700 respectively in Geekbench's single-core and multi-core tests, and 3,025 in PCMark Work 2.0. The Honor 7S managed only 9.8fps in the GFXBench T-rex graphics test, and 147 in 3DMark Slingshot.
At least this phone put up a somewhat decent showing in our battery life tests. Our HD video loop ran for only 7 hours, 43 minutes, but we were able to get through a full day of use with just over 40 percent left. That might be due to us not really playing games, but we did stream video for about an hour and spend a fair bit of time trying out various apps and reading articles online. A 30-minute charge brought us up from zero to 24 percent.
Honor's camera app takes a little getting used to. You switch modes by swiping right to bring up a panel of options, and then tap to choose one. Swiping left brings up the preferences page. There's no automatic HDR; this is a separate camera mode that you have to choose. On the other hand, there's no manual mode but there are white balance and ISO settings in the menu. It takes at least four taps and some scrolling to adjust the brightness or saturation.
If you have simple needs, you might find the cameras of the Honor 7S adequate. We saw grain and artificial-looking textures even in close-up shots. Autofocus locking was quick but on rare occasions, photos came out unfocused or there were overexposed patches. Photos all looked fine on the phone's own screen, but you can't really do much with them beyond that. Most of our night-time shots were blurry and noisy, and anything at even a slight distance was lost. We needed to focus manually by tapping the screen. Even under direct lighting such as a streetlamp, objects right in front of us came out looking indistinct.
You can record video at up to 1080p, but clips are saved in the ancient 3GP format. The default resolution is 720p, and videos were surprisingly decent as long as we stood completely still and there was sufficient light. Beautification works when shooting stills or videos, and the results are extremely artificial. A 'Perfect Selfie' mode is oddly buried on the settings page. It tries to map your face in 3D but you have to awkwardly take shots of your face from the side and from above. You can adjust eye size, face thickness, and of course whitening, but again, the results are rather comedic.
Honor has tried to deliver a low-cost phone with attractive features, and while it does look quite good, we found actual usage to be frustrating on multiple levels. Even some of last year's phones at this price level deliver better features and performance. Buyers are likely to be turned off by the lack of a fingerprint sensor and the weak specifications before they even get their hands on this phone. Camera quality was particularly disappointing, and many people specifically look for phones that support 4G on both SIMs.
Xiaomi's recently launched Redmi 6A has a lower starting price and offers a newer processor but otherwise roughly similar specifications. We haven't reviewed it yet and so we can't fully recommend it as an alternative at this stage, but we would advise people to wait and see.There are also a few other models that cost only a little more but deliver far better value, such as the Redmi 6, which promises , an even better processor, double the storage, and 50 percent more RAM for just Rs. 1,000 more.