Huawei Honor 8 Review: 90 Percent Flagship at 50 Percent Price

by Reads (1,608)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Service, Warranty & Support
      • 7
      • Ease of Use
      • 8
      • Design
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Value
      • 10
      • Total Score:
      • 8.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Excellent design, well built
    • Stable and swift performance
    • Decent camera with fun features
    • An excellent value
  • Cons

    • Battery just OK
    • Camera struggles in low light
    • Needs more carrier support

Quick Take

The Honor 8 is a great smartphone, with excellent performance and high-end features. At $400, it's one of the best smartphone values we've ever seen.

Good smartphones are getting cheaper; in fact, they are fast becoming a commodity. Little separates a mid-range handset from the flagships in terms of utility. In addition, mid-range handsets are beginning to sport features that were once only found on the priciest and best.

The Huawei Honor 8 exemplifies this trend. It starts at $400, and it has a flagship-level 4GB of RAM, USB Type-C input, and a unique dual-camera setup.

We had good things to say about the $200 Honor 5X earlier this year, claiming “It isn’t an iPhone or Galaxy as its performance and spec sheet reveal some limitations, but it’s not as far off as its price suggests.” The Honor 8 costs more, and has fewer “limitations” on paper.

Can it match up with the name brands? Read this Huawei Honor 8 review to find out.

Build & Design

Honor 8 smartphone

The Honor 8 smartphone has a glass build with aluminum alloy bumper.

The Honor 8 smartphone is good-looking. It comes in pearl white, midnight black, and sapphire blue, and it sports an all-glass front and back panel, with a rounded aluminum alloy bumper around the edges. The 5.2-inch display is slightly raised, giving what many device makers call a “2.5D” effect. The left and right bezels are extremely thin, while the top and bottom match the sizes found on other devices.

It feels solid in hand, and the aluminum and glass combination give a quality impression. But the Honor 8 is too still slick for our liking, even if the aluminium adds much-needed grip. This is an issue inherent in all glass smartphones, and a case is highly recommended. The other issues are fingerprints and smudges. There’s no avoiding either with this Android smartphone.

The buttons and ports are laid out logically, with both a single-piece volume rocker and power button on the right side, and the SIM tray/microSD card slot on the left. The bottom houses the USB Type-C input and 3.5mm headphone jack.The top has an IR blaster and pinhole mic. The dual-camera setup, flash, and laser sensor sit on the upper-back panel, just above a round fingerprint sensor.

Huawei Honor 8 USB-Type C input

The Honor 8 has a USB-Type C input.

There’s nothing to complain about here. The power button and volume rocker are different sizes and easy to identify by touch alone, and the camera lenses (yes, there are two) sit flush with the rest of body. The fingerprint sensor is easy to access during one-handed use (certainly easier than Samsung and Apple’s home-button placement), and it’s also clickable and swipeable, doubling as a quick launcher for access to specific apps, notifications, and navigating through gallery photos. This neat bit of innovation proves very useful in day-to-day operation.

Display & Speakers

Honor 8 smartphone fingerprint sensor

The Huawei Honor 8 has a glass back with a fingerprint sensor.

The Huawei Honor 8 has a 5.2-inch LTPC LCD, with a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. That results in about 423 pixels per inch and a cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio. Most Android flagships have denser displays with PPI counts topping 500, and that’s one of the big differences distinguishing the high-end from the mid-tier. It makes sense for a company like Samsung, which has the Gear VR headset that can take advantage of all those pixels. For anything else a 500+ PPI count is overkill, and it’s hard to see any difference between those smartphones and the Honor 8, even side by side.

Besides all that, the Honor 8 display looks great. Colors are rich, with pleasant saturation, and sufficient brightness. It cuts through sun glare as well as any other smartphone we’ve tested. Huawei also provides deeper display controls than any other smartphone maker, letting users adjust the color temperature, and including an “eye comfort” mode that filters blue light in favor or a yellowish tint.

We’ve yet to test a smartphone that has “good” speaker output, as the small sizes always results in compromised sound. The Honor 8 is decent when graded on a smartphone curve. It’s fine for personal use, but headphones are preferable.

Performance

Huawei Honor 8 Android with EMUI 4.1

The Honor 8 smartphone runs Android with EMUI 4.1.

Crack open the Honor 8 smartphone and you’ll find an octa-core Hisilicon Kirin 950 processor (four Cortex A72 running at 2.3GHz, and four Cortex A53 running at 1.8GHz, plus a Mali-T880 MP4 GPU running at 900MHz) along with 4GB LPDDR4 RAM.

This is a potent combo, and it generally bests the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 found inside the flagships and some other $400 smartphones in terms of CPU performance, but lags behind in GPU output… at least in benchmark comparisons. To that end, our Huawei Honor 8 review unit scored 5118 on the Geekbench 4 multi-core test, 1744 on the single-core test, and 2978 on the compute GPU test.

The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge scored 3945, 1687, and 6185 on the same tests, respectively.

In the real world, the Honor 8 runs like a flagship. It handles its Android 6.0 and Huawei EMUI 4.1 steadily. It’s both stable and swift, and can blast through intensive games as well as any other handset on the market.

The Huawei fingerprint sensor bears additional praise. In addition to its quick launch capability and ergonomic placement, it’s also one of the best fingerprint sensors on the market. It’s quick and reliable, much more so than Samsung’s or any other Android fingerprint sensor we’ve tested. In fact, Huawei is neck and neck with Apple in terms of fingerprint sensor performance.

Battery

Our Huawei Honor 8 review unit lasted 7 hours and 30 minutes streaming Netflix over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set to max. This torture test give you an idea of the bare minimum life of the Honor 8’s 3000mAh battery.

Our dividing line is 8 hours. Anything more than that is good, with the best smartphones lasting 11 and 12 hours. So the Honor 8 is borderline OK here.

That said, Huawei packed the Honor 8 full of power management options, so we don’t doubt the Honor 8 could last a full day and then some. It charges fast with the included USB Type-C charger, going from dead to 46% in just 30 minutes plugged in.

Software

Huawei’s Android is easy to confuse with iOS, at least at a glance. The EMUI 4.1 skin borrows heavily from Apple’s mobile OS, foregoing the familiar Android app drawer, and distinguishing notifications and shortcuts as separate items in the display drop down.

So it’s as far from stock Android as any OEM’s version aesthetically, but it works. It’s unique and nothing feels forced for the sake of being different. The knuckle gestures feel like a gimmick (one knuckle double tap to snap a screenshot; two knuckle double tap to record the display; and quick launch apps by knuckle drawing C, E, W, and M), and require too much effort. Thankfully, they are not part of the core experience. Besides, those pining for more traditional Android can always download and install the Google Now launcher from the Google Play Store.

Our Huawei Honor 8 review unit came with 32GB, of which about 21GB were available out of the box (around 23GB is typical). Android 6.0 with the EMUI 4.1 skin takes up most of the space, with apps taking up about 2.5GB. There’s some bloatware, like the Shazam, Booking.com, Lyft, and NewsRebublic apps, which can be uninstalled.

Huawei bundles a handful of useful apps, including a Smart Controller for the IR blaster. Here you can program the Honor 8 to control TVs, various set-top boxes, and even air conditioners. And yes, it actually works on air conditioners, TVs as well. However, we couldn’t get it to work with our Xfinity set-top cable boxes. We also liked the battery manager, voice controls, glove mode, and Optimizer, which closes out unused apps and ends unnecessary background processes.

The Honor 8 notifications resemble iOS

The Honor 8 notifications resemble iOS.

The Hono 8 can double as an AC remote.

The Honor 8 can double as an AC remote.

Software support is always a big concern when dealing with an unfamiliar brand (unfamiliar in the US anyway). Will Huawei provide regular software and security updates for the Honor 8? Huawei has stated it will support the Honor 8 for at least two years, pushing out new features every three months for the first, and keeping up on security and bugs for the second. Other recent Huawei smartphones ship with an FM tuner and companion app. Unfortunately, they are absent on the Honor 8.

So the Honor 8 is very likely due for an Android Nougat update. There’s little guarantee beyond that outside of bug fixes and security patches.

Connectivity

The Honor 8 smartphone supports dual-band Wi-Fi with automatic switching, and LTE/WCDMA/GSM networks. That includes the 1,2,3,4,5,7,8,12,17,20 LTE bands. This means the Honor 8 connects to AT&T and T-Mobile, and many overseas networks, but not Sprint or Verizon. Those customers will want to stay away.

It also supports NFC, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, and GPS/Glonass/AGPS.

Honor 8 smartphone dual-camera lens

Huawei Honor 8 dual-camera lens

Camera

Dual cameras are the Huawei Honor 8 differentiator. This kind of high-end feature is typically reserved for flagships, and it expands smartphone camera options with unique and creative shooting modes.

The Honor 8 has 12-megapixel dual-camera system with a f/2.2 aperture and laser-assisted autofocus. It consists of one RGB sensor (color) and a separate monochrome sensor (black and white) with 1.2μm pixels. This all combines to produce “more vivid colors and crisper details, even in dim or low light,” according to Huawei.

Those numbers line up with other mid-range smartphones. A high-end smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge has a an f/1.7 lens (meaning it’s open wider and lets in more light) and its image pixels measure 1.4μm (meaning they are larger and able to absorb more light).

Honor 8 extreme "beauty mode" selfie

Honor 8 extreme “beauty mode” selfie

The Honor 8 camera performs like a flagship where it counts. It focuses fast and is quick on the snap. Using the fingerprint sensor fast launch, you can snap a pic from a sleeping Honor 8 in less than a few seconds.

The Huawei camera app is robust, with plenty of features and filters, including a decent “Pro photo” mode that enables manual control of the ISO, exposure value, shutter speed, and white balance. We also like the “wide aperture” mode, which creates a shallow depth of field, blurring photo backgrounds, similar to a DSLR or interchangeable lens camera.

The Honor 8 has an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, complete with Huawei’s creepy “Beauty Mode.” Mess with the setting enough, and it produces some disturbing results. The Android smartphone also shoots video that tops out at full HD (1080 x 1920), but has some decent features, including video pro mode and slow motion. Some higher-end handsets shoot 4k, and that’s overkill. The Honor 8 is good enough.

Sample Photos

The sample photos show off the Honor 8’s shooting prowess. Pictures have deep contrast and the colors pop. Details are well captured. Looking at the “Riverside” sign, the Honor 8 captured the chipping white paint around the black “T.” This was taken on a very sunny day, and a lesser camera would have blown it out.

Honor 8 sample photo

Honor 8 sample photo

Honor 8 sample photo

The monochrome sensor produces solid results, too. The contrast on the Madball pic shows its strengths. A simple black-and-white filter wouldn’t be able to duplicate that.

Honor 8 sample photo

We also enjoyed playing with the aperture, producing pics with a blurry background. The potential for an excellent photo is there. However, the results can’t match a DSLR, and the Honor 8 sometimes produces odd or inconsistent blurring.

Honor 8 sample photo

It’s not all great though. The low-light photos reveal the limits of a $400 smartphone’s camera. The sleeping dog pic is very noisy, with little color. Compare that to the same picture taken by the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (the Galaxy S7 and Note 7 have similar camers), which has the best low-light camera, and best overall (even better than the iPhone 7). The difference is stark.

Honor 8 low-light pic

Honor 8

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge low-light pic

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge

Value

The 32GB Honor 8 costs $399.99, while the 64GB costs $449.99, and Huawei offers three months of screen protection. This is a great price.

In fact, $400 is the sweet spot for price-to-performance ratio, with both the ZTE Axon 7 and OnePlus 3 costing about the same. On paper, these two devices are slightly more powerful. The OnePlus 3 has 6GB of RAM and 64GB capacity, but lacks expandable storage, while the ZTE Axon 7 has the same storage capacity, with microSD expansion, and great audio output. In real use, it’s hard to distinguish between the three, and the Honor 8 has a slight edge in camera performance and build quality.

Whichever device, you can’t go wrong. And they are all extremely compelling compared against $700 and $800 Samsung Galaxies and Apple iPhones. The traditional flagships may be better devices overall, but they are not $300 or $400 better.

Bottom line: If we’re paying, it’s the Honor 8 or one of the other mid-range smartphones listed. If someone else is paying, give us an iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, or Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Conclusion

Honor 8It’s not necessary to spend $700+ for a good smartphone. The Huawei Honor 8 is a prime example of a mid-range smartphone with near flagship performance and build. It even has high-end features like an excellent fingerprint scanner and dual-lens camera.

The Honor 8 should please most Android smartphone users. The EMUI skin does little to detract from operation and navigation, and actually adds some novel features. We otherwise love the fingerprint sensor and quick launch options. It runs very well, and its camera shoots above its class in most instances.

Many of its issues are acceptable for the price range, and only apparent when comparing it against more expensive smartphones. It’s not water resistant, and it can be very slick in hand because of its glass panels. The camera is poor in low light, the battery is just ok, and we wish it supported Verizon and Sprint.

But by any standard it’s a good smartphone, and a great $400 smartphone. Give it a long look and you might end up saving good money.

Pros:

  • Excellent design, well built
  • Stable and swift performance
  • Decent camera with fun features
  • An excellent value

Cons:

  • Battery just OK
  • Camera struggles in low light
  • Needs more carrier support


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