Honor 8 Second Opinion: A great phone with a few quirks
With Honor not being a huge player in the U.S., the Honor 8 may not be on your radar, but it should be.
Honor is moving towards a larger presence in the states, and the Honor 8 is a great product. Bringing to market a powerful phone that has specs people crave, with awesome build quality, makes the phone quite attractive to many. Over the past two years the budget space has become a whole lot more competitive, with great offerings coming from OnePlus, ZTE, Alcatel and other players.
If you are in the market for a new phone but don’t want a monthly payment, or don’t think that any phone is worth $ 800 or more, the Honor 8 offers you a great way to get that premium experience without the price tag. For all the things that Honor did great with it, there are a number of things that could stand to change as well, so let’s take a look at some of them.
For the past two weeks, my T-Mobile SIM card has been in the Honor 8, and it may stay in for longer. Here’s why.
It seems like we’ve hit peak hardware design on mobile phones. Over the past few years, things have started looking increasingly similar, and those who are trying new things are getting ridiculed for it. Honor goes with a tried and true design on the Honor 8, but does it in a clean and classy way. The front of the phone is a single glass panel that doesn’t have much of bezel on the top or bottom. At the top you’ve got a LED in the speaker grill, the front-facing camera, and a proximity sensor. Honor has placed its logo down at the bottom, which takes away from the clean look a bit.
It seems like we’ve hit peak hardware design on mobile phones.
Around the back, you’ve got the dual camera set up at the top, with the fingerprint sensor below that. There is another Honor branding at the bottom of the phone with a bit more text, but that is far less noticeable than the one around the front. It is also a glass back, which can be slippery and needs to be treated with care. The left side of the phone has the SIM and SD card tray, and around the right side you’ve got a volume rocker at the top and the power button beneath that.
In the hand, the Honor 8 feels as good as it looks. It can be slippery, and the glass back is likely to get some scratches over time, but that doesn’t take away from it. Honor has gone with USB-C for the charging port down at the bottom, and next to that is the headphone jack.
If you aren’t familiar with Huawei and Honor’s EMUI, you are in for quite an experience with this one. For all the things that it does well, there are an equal number of things that are enough to drive you nuts. Since you are buying an unlocked phone here, you don’t have to worry about it being bogged down by carrier bloat, though there are a few apps that you will likely want to remove. Luckily, removing them is as easy as heading into Google Play and uninstalling them, or going to the app manager to do the same.
In the hand, the Honor 8 feels as good as it looks.
EMUI 4.1 definitely feels pretty polished but also lacking some basic Android functionality that you may be used to. One of the biggest qualms that I have with it is the lack of ability to act on your notifications from the lock screen. You can see the notifications, and swipe to launch the corresponding app, but that is it. You can’t delete your emails or quickly reply to a text message from your lock screen. You have to unlock the phone, then head into the app and do what you need to do. Sure, it’s part of the way that EMUI works at a core level, but it quickly becomes frustrating, especially if this isn’t your first Android phone.
Navigating the OS is fast, and fluid. There is no app drawer, so all of your app icons sit on the home screens. You can organize them into folders but you can’t take them off the home screen and put them in the app drawer. Of course, you could always download a third-party launcher like Nova or Action 3, but Honor even somewhat buries the setting to switch which of them is your default.
For all the things Honor’s software does well, there are an equal number of things that are enough to drive you nuts.
With EMUI, you aren’t stuck with the icons and other UI elements, as they can be easily themed. While discovery on the themes lacks, you can download a few from Google Play (with Stockify being a personal favorite) and some forums offer others as well. The problem with downloading them from forums is that you are manually hunting down updates for it each time, the themes won’t automatically update or even notify you there is a new version.
I am by no means an excellent photographer, but having a camera that works well definitely helps. The Honor 8 camera is an excellent one and offers the ability to shoot in auto or head into Pro mode for even more control. On the rear, you’ve got a 12MP dual-camera set up, which has one of them giving the phone a color image and the other monochrome. You don’t need to handle them separately or worry about them, they do what they need to do behind the scenes.
Once you launch the camera you can swipe to the left or right to reveal more options if you don’t want to just point and shoot. Swiping towards the left will bring up a menu to adjust the size of the image, add a grid, location services, etc. A swipe in the opposite direction brings up the other modes so you can switch from Auto to Pro or HDR and pano. The camera is very easy to use, and with little effort, you should be able to capture some images that you are extremely happy with.
The camera on the Honor 8 is something you’d expect to find on a more expensive phone, but it has a few quirks as well. The f/2.2 lens is a little on the slow side, and you won’t get OIS here either. At times, the camera can have trouble picking a focal spot, but that wasn’t overly frequent. You won’t be replacing your DSLR by carrying this around, but you will be able to take some pictures that you can certainly be proud of. The more time you spend playing with the Pro settings, the better the pictures can get.
Around the front, Honor has placed an 8MP camera that does a great job of taking those stunning selfies, as long as you turn the beauty mode that it defaults to off. The beauty mode overcompensates and makes your skin look photoshopped and extremely unnatural. It has a feature that allows it to take a picture when it recognizes a smile, which is a small but useful feature.
Battery life is always subjective, and it will vary for everyone. For having a 3000mAh battery built-in, odds are that it will leave you impressed at the end of the day. There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t made it ’til bedtime with power left, and that includes heavy Pokémon Go usage, email, social networking, texting and more throughout the day. There are a number of battery saving features that are built into EMUI, but some of them can be a pain.
Once you take some time to sort the apps that you want to exclude from the battery saving features, the operation of it is super smooth and odds are that you will be able to make it through the day easily. If you are just someone who can eat through battery life like no other, the built-in fast charging will quickly become your best friend.
Honor does a pretty great job here of meshing premium hardware and usable software with a great camera, all without breaking the bank. At $ 400, it’s hard to say that this phone isn’t worth checking out. Sure, there are some quirks, but you will experience that with phones in every price range. The pros definitely outweigh the cons here. Being an unlocked phone, you just toss your existing SIM card in the phone and you are good to go.
Be ready to spend some time adjusting from the experience you are used to using to the one that Huawei and Honor have envisioned with EMUI. Give it a few days, learn the ins and outs, and odds are that you will come away from it extremely happy with your purchase.