THE RELENTLESS MARCH of the budget phones continues with the new 8X from Honor, Huawei's subsidiary brand for digital natives and people who value specs over status.
The brand's ethos of flagship hardware at pocket-friendly prices is working well for them, both here in the UK and globally: they've apparently enjoyed 150 per cent year-on-year growth overseas, and 200 per cent on these shores. Clearly, there's an appetite for blagships, as we're christening them, and the 8X is another phone in that vein.
The Honor 8X has been available in China since September 2018, but we had to wait an extra month to get it here. We're also not getting the gorgeous red colourway offered in the brand's home country unless sales prove strong enough that Honor considers it worth the effort. So should you spend your £250 on an Honor 8X? Here's our hands-on review.
The Honor 8X looks a lot like the company's flagship, the Honor 10. It has a similar laser-like effect on the 15-layered glass back ("double-texture aurora design" in Honor parlance), though this is much more pronounced on our blue unit than the black one that's also coming to the UK.
This unfortunately makes the phone a real slippery fish without a case on, and we wouldn't want to use it unprotected for any length of time for that reason. It just loves to dive off flat surfaces, and since there's no mention of toughened Gorilla Glass or similar in the specs, we'd strongly recommend you give it some protection the second it's out of the box.
The phone's metal sides are rounded, and the metallic blue on our review unit complements the back panel nicely. The left edge is bereft of features save for the SIM tray, which unusually has space for two SIM cards AND a microSD - you don't have to choose between them. That'll please a lot of people, especially at this price.
The right-hand side holds the volume rocker and power key, though we'd have liked to see some texturing on the latter to make it easier to find by feel. The bottom edge is the biggest disappointment, though: an old-style micro-USB charging port instead of USB C. Surely we've reached a point now where even budget phones can use the not-even-that-new standard?
Since you won't be plugging in any USB-C headphones, there's a proper 3.5mm audio jack to the left and a solo speaker on the right. Flipping over to the back, there's a circular fingerprint sensor which unlocks the phone quickly and efficiently, and a dual AI camera setup on its own panel to the left. More on that in the Camera section.
Honor is very proud of the screen on the 8X, and rightly so. It's a 6.5-incher, and what Honor calls 'FullView', aka the trendy bezel-less thing everyone's doing now. This means there's a notch, of course, but it also means the front of the phone is a whopping 91 per cent screen.
That's impressive, especially in the budget arena, and means the handset is the size of a traditional 5.5in smartphone. Ideal for anyone who wants a big screen but not necessarily big pockets.
The display has a somewhat idiosyncratic aspect ratio of 19.5:9 and a resolution of 1080x2340, which works out to about 397 pixels per inch. As you'd expect, then, the screen looks bright and beautiful, and will more than satisfy your HD Netflix needs. However, we managed to put a scratch in ours within just a few days, and as we mentioned it's a VERY slippery handset, so buy a case and treat your 8X with extra care if you do spring for one. You don't want it to become a false economy.
Hardware and software
The hardware specs on the Honor 8X are very good for the price. You get 64GB of storage (though there is a 128GB model globally), 4GB of RAM (the 128GB model has 6GB, but it doesn't look like we're getting that in the UK), a Kirin 710 octa-core chipset (4 x 2.2 GHz Cortex-A73 & 4 x 1.7 GHz Cortex-A53) with the Mali G51 GPU, a microSD slot that takes up to 400GB, and a whopping 3750mAh battery.
There's also some showboatery built-in, including 'Elevator Mode' for quick reconnection to 4G when you get out of a lift, and noise/wind reduction for calls. The demos Honor showed us were impressive, but we won't know for sure how these features perform until we've had more time with the phone. Similarly, we'll need to test Honor's claim that it's 150 minutes from flat to fully charged with the included fast charger, which isn't bad considering the old-style charging port and the capacious battery.
As with all Honor and Huawei phones, the downside of the price point is the software. It's not bad by any means, but it does have the Huawei EMUI overlay, and that makes everything look just a bit uglier than vanilla Android.
You'll have to bring back the app drawer manually if you don't want to store all your apps on homescreens, and you'll need to tap the icon in the middle of the quick launch bar to open said drawer, because EMUI doesn't yet have vanilla Android's swipe-up functionality. You'll also be dependent on Huawei's fairly opaque schedule to get the update from Android 8.1 Oreo to the newer 9.0 Pie.
The Honor 8X comes equipped with dual 20MP + 2MP rear cameras with AI functionality, and a 16MP AI-enabled selfie snapper at f/1.8.
The AI isn't just a marketing ploy, it's actually a useful addition to the camera app. It essentially works out what you're taking pictures of and optimises settings for that - plants come out greener, cats look furrier, and the phone does a lot of background calculations to optimise each element in the photo. We'll need some more time with the AI camera to give a full verdict, but the app correctly determined what we were aiming the camera at in our tests, and the final snaps came out well if not remarkable. The phone does seem to struggle a little in overcast British weather, with some of our samples coming out darker and greyer than they should have been.
Other camera features include super-slow-mo at 480p or 720p, improved night shot performance on both main camera photos and selfies (even without a tripod, which Huawei's Super Night Mode used to require unless you had hands of steel), video at 1080p (30fps) and an LED flash.
The amount you get in a sub-£250 phone these days is genuinely mind-bending, and Honor continues that trend with the 8X. The specs are great, camera and screen are both strong, and we have high hopes for the overall experience in everything except the divisive software overlay.
If you can deal with some bloatware, a longer wait for Android updates and a bit of tacky design, the payoffs in terms of battery life, performance and good old-fashioned value for money are substantial. The dual-SIM-plus microSD inclusion is another upside, making this an appealing phone for work or travel, and the handset looks better than you'd expect for the cost. Old-style micro-USB is disappointing, and we have concerns about slipperiness vs the durability of the screen, but overall we think this is going to be a compelling addition to the UK budget Android arena.
Check back soon for our full Honor 8X review. µ