Honor, Huawei's ambitious smartphone sub-brand, has had an aggressive strategy for India in the past few months, going all out by releasing multiple models priced between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 35,000 in quick succession. The new Honor 8X is aimed at the competitive Rs. 15,000 price segment, where the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro (Review) has been quite popular for quite some time.
But that's not the only smartphone that the Honor 8X is up against. There are other great options such as the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 (Review), Nokia 6.1 Plus (Review), Motorola One Power (Review), and the Realme 2 Pro (Review). So, does Honor's latest launch deliver enough performance and featuers to take on the might of these heavy hitters, all of which have received positive reviews from us? We put the Honor 8X to the test.
Honor 8X design
One of the marquee features of the Honor 8X is its design, something that differentiates it from the others in its price segment. It boasts of a glossy dual-tone design that makes the glass back look and feel premium, especially for a phone that starts at just Rs. 14,999. Honor calls this a “visual grating effect” and says it has used multiple layers of glass to achieve it.
However, the glossy back on the Honor 8X is extremely prone to smudges and even scratches. Putting a case on this phone — fortunately a soft TPU one is bundled in the box — is the only way to safeguard the beautiful design.
Another highlight of the Honor 8X is its impressive 91 percent screen-to-body ratio with a much smaller bottom chin compared to previously launched Honor phones such as the Honor Play and Honor 9N. There is a 19.5:9 screen on the front, with a small notch on top, and minimal borders all around.
Ditching the Honor logo on the front is another change that we welcomed. The phone sports a 6.5-inch display, but has roughly the same dimensions as an iPhone 8 Plus. It is definitely not made for comfortable one-handed usage, and we ended up using both hands for most functions. Still, this phone is relatively slim at about 7.8mm.
The Honor 8X is available in three colour options in India — a classic black, a trademark blue, and a bold red. We tried out the blue option which was a looker. It reflects light when you turn it in your hand. The black option is for users who like to keep it sober, while the red finish would be for those who really want to stand out.
The Honor 8X has a vertically stacked pair of rear cameras with individual bumps rather than a module encasing both. There is also a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. The Honor and “AI Camera” logos are aligned in landscape mode to emphasise that the Honor 8X was designed to show off its camera capabilities.
The power and volume buttons are located on the right of the device and are decently large. The left of the phone only houses the SIM tray. This tray can take two Nano SIM cards as well as a microSD card at the same time.
Then, you get a Micro-USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the loudspeaker, and the primary microphone on the bottom. A USB Type-C port would have been preferable, but Honor India says cost constraints led it to choose between a USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, so it went with the latter. On top is the secondary microphone that helps in cancelling out external noise during calls.
The build quality is decent, however, we noticed a couple of scratches on the glass back panel within a few hours of regular usage. Considering there is no reinforced glass for protection at the back, a case is definitely recommended.
One aspect of the Honor 8X that is not very pleasant is the size of the earpiece. In an attempt to make the notch as small as possible, Honor has compromised with a tiny earpiece that makes listening to calls frustrating. A slight shift of the phone against your ear can completely block sound during calls.
Honor 8X specifications and software
The Honor 8X is the sub-brand's first smartphone in India with a HiSilicon Kirin 710 SoC, though we first saw it in the Huawei Nova 3i (Review). It's refreshing to see a mid-range Honor phone powered by something other than the over-used Kirin 659. This 12nm processor has four Cortex-A73 cores clocked at 2.2GHz and four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.7GHz. It takes on the likes of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 636 and Snapdragon 660, both of which are currently popular in this price range
The review unit we tested was the base variant with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, priced at Rs. 14,999. There are two other options — 6GB RAM/ 64GB storage (for Rs. 16,999), and 6GB RAM/ 128GB storage (for Rs. 18,999). The Honor 8X had no problems in handling moderate multitasking, and storage was enough for a few dozen apps and lots of photos. The Honor 8X supports additional storage of up to 400GB using a microSD card.
The massive 6.5-inch screen has a resolution of 1080x2340 pixels, which should be crisp and clear enough for most people. Honor touts that the display has a blue light filter called Eye Comfort Mode that been certified by TUV Rheinland, a technical advisory firm, making it easy on the eyes.
Honor has gone with a 3,750mAh battery under the hood, which supports 5V/2A (10W) charging. There is a dual camera setup at the back with a 20-megapixel primary sensor and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. For selfies, a 16-megapixel fixed-focus camera is placed in the notch at the front. The Honor 8X supports 4G VoLTE on both SIMs. You get an ambient light sensor, an electronic compass, a gravity sensor, a gyroscope, a proximity sensor, and a fingerprint sensor. Connectivity options include dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, FM radio, GPS/A-GPS, GLONASS, and BeiDou.
The unit we tested was running EMUI 8.2.0 on top of Android 8.1 Oreo. An Android Pie update is coming to the Honor 8X, but the company has not announced any official timelines. The phone was running the September 2018 security patch when we got it, which is a good thing. There are quite a few customisations available with EMUI, and the amount of bloatware has reduced drastically, as we noted in our Honor Play review as well. You get just a few preloaded apps such as Facebook Messenger, Netflix, Camera360, and a freemium game called Lords Mobile.
The icons look too large, and a more minimal approach would have been appreciated. There's a Phone Manager app that helps you free RAM, block certain apps, track mobile data usage, check for viruses, and keep a check on battery drain. For the power user, this app is a neat way to keep track of the phone's vitals.
The Themes app adds a new Indian theme that we didn't like the look of at all. We preferred the default theme; and there are three others to choose from.
Gestures on EMUI were our choice of navigation on the Honor 8X given its humongous display and lack of reachability. You can swipe up from the bottom centre to go back to the home screen, swipe up and hold to reveal the app switcher, or swipe up from the bottom left or bottom right to trigger Google Assistant. You can also swipe left or right in any app to go back to the previous screen.
Honor's EMUI has its own dialler, calendar, gallery, music, video, and email apps. You can also mask the notch from within the Settings app.
The Honor 8X comes with software-based face recognition. It registers your face in a jiffy, but isn't very secure compared to the 3D sensors that some high-end smartphones have. The Honor 8X was mostly accurate in recognising our registered faces, and was quick to unlock itself.
Interestingly, it offered good results in low light and at night. The screen brightness automatically increases to help recognise faces. To compliment face recognition, the Honor 8X also has a snappy rear-mounted fingerprint sensor.
Honor 8X performance, cameras, and battery life
The responsiveness and fluidity of Honor's EMUI has improved a lot over the past couple of years. The Honor 8X is a great example of that; it offered a largely lag-free experience and had no issues while multitasking with several apps at a time. The phone did, however, experience some stutter particularly while using Facebook Messenger. Switching between apps was smooth, but the Recent Apps gesture could do with some improvement in terms of fluidity.
Call quality was top notch with the Honor 8X with decent reception even in areas with low cellular signals.
As for gaming, this is one of several recent Honor smartphones to feature the GPU Turbo technology out of the box. GPU Turbo is a gaming-focused optimisation that claims to offer a 60 percent improvement in performance and 30 percent better battery life when playing games.
We tried heavy games such as Asphalt 9: Legends and PUBG, but the latter ran well only at moderate settings. Lighter games such as Subway Surfers and Candy Crush were a breeze to use. Heating was minimal, and battery drain was reasonable during our scattered gaming sessions.
In terms of benchmarks, the Honor 8X scored an impressive 140,435 in AnTuTu; 1,604 and 5,559 respectively in Geekbench's single- and multi-core tests; and 7,176 in PCMark's Work 2.0 test. These are better scores than what we have seen from Snapdragon 636-powered phones such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro and the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1, and even Snapdragon 660-powered devices such as the Xiaomi Mi A2 (Review) and Realme 2 Pro. As for graphics benchmarks, the Honor 8X's GPU managed 35fps in GFXBench's T-Rex test and 13fps in the Manhattan 3.1 test. These scores are equal to or lower than what those same phones managed, showing that the Kirin 710's graphics performance isn't as strong as its general CPU performance.
Honor's camera app has a straightforward interface. It highlights five major modes — Aperture, Night, Portrait, Photo, and Video. Other options like Pro, Slow-mo, Panorama, AR Lens, HDR, Time-lapse, and more are stashed under the “More” section. The app has an AI Photography option, much like other recent Honor phones, which can be turned off.
An interesting addition is the ability to toggle AI mode even after a shot has been captured. This was actually helpful considering that some of the shots we took using AI mode came out overexposed with extreme contrast. The rear camera setup consists of a 20-megapixel primary sensor and a 2-megapixel depth sensor, both with f/1.8 apertures. It supports slow-motion video recording at 480fps slowed up to 1/16th the normal speed.
Given its price point, the Honor 8X's photo quality is nothing to write home about. Autofocus with the rear camera is quick and mostly accurate in good lighting, but the resulting photos lack clarity. Night shots look passable on the phone itself, but a lack of detail is clearly visible when seen at full size. The advertised AI camera mode is almost unusable in low light as it only ends up making shots look oversaturated by blowing out bright colours.
The 16-megapixel selfie camera is much better in terms of sharpness in picture quality, and delivers good image definition in well-lit areas. Night shots are below average on the front camera too, and the screen flash does little to help.
The Honor 8X supports up to 1080p video recording at 60fps, but has 720p set as the default. The lack of any form of stabilisation is evident considering how shaky videos turn out. Beautification works for both cameras but the results appear extremely artificial. The front camera gets a screen flash for low light selfies, which helps in the dark. .
We were initially skeptical about how the battery life might turn out given the Honor 8X's massive 6.5-inch full-HD+ display. However, results were impressive, and the phone lasted the entire day on a single full charge. Our usage included browsing social media apps and checking emails all day, as well as streaming a couple of YouTube videos and a 15-minute gaming session, using both 4G and Wi-Fi networks.
The Honor 8X also lasted 14 hours and 47 minutes in our proprietary HD video loop test. It charged up from 0 to 100 percent in slightly more than 2 hours with its bundled 10W charger.
Honor is making an attempt to penetrate the market with a good-looking and relatively affordable phablet that offers good value for money. Not only does this phone look good, it performs great for its price thanks to the new HiSilicon Kirin 710 SoC. Other things that work for the Honor 8X include its looks, vibrant display, and fast biometric security features. However, the camera results are below average, the UI could have looked sharper, and faster charging would have been useful.
Xiaomi's Redmi Note 5 Pro and Asus' ZenFone Max Pro M1 have been in the market for around six months now, and are being challenged by newer options including the Nokia 6.1 Plus and Motorola One Power. The Honor 8X could also be a tempting choice for a lot of people.