Honor 8 Review: The Darkhorse with a Powerful Pair of Cameras
Just prior to the festive season in India, Huawei has finally unveiled the successor to their last year’s flagship in the form of the Honor 8. The flagship smartphone from the Huawei sub-brand is now available for sale in India in three colour options – Sapphire Blue, Sunrise Gold and Pearl White – at Rs 29,999 via various offline stores and online e-tailers like Flipkart and Amazon.
A marked departure from its predecessor, the Honor 8 (First Impressions) looks and feels like a notch premium than what its budget flagship price tag suggest. It’s bound to catch your eyes instantly thanks to the all-glass exteriors and a dual rear camera setup. We have spent quite some time with the Honor 8, ever since we got our hands-on the same at the preview event in Goa. So it’s about time to let you know about our review of the Honor 8. Can it live up with the likes of the OnePlus 3 (Review) and what’s so cool about the dual camera implementation? Let’s find out in our detailed review.
Honor 8 Key Features
- 5.2 inch Full HD (1920x1080p) LTPS LCD display with 423ppi
- Hi-Silicon Kirin 950 SoC with i5 co-processor and Mali T880 MP4 GPU
- 4GB RAM and 32GB eMMC Internal Storage
- Dual 12MP f/2.2 Rear Camera with Hybrid AF; Colour and Monochrome Sensor; 1080p 60fps, 720p 120fps video recording
- 8MP f/2.4 Front Camera with 720p 30fps video recording
- 3D Fingerprint Sensor with Smart Key and Gesture Support
- IR Blaster, NFC, Dolby DTS Sound
- Single SIM (4G LTE) and MicroSD card (Upto 128GB)
- 3000mAH Li-Poly Battery without Quick Charge
Metal metal everywhere. Well, that seems to be the current mantra of smartphone manufacturers, especially in 2016. In fact, Huawei’s previous gen Honor 7 was built on a similar design principle. All metal unibody design with a curved back and a slightly protruding rear camera. While that indeed made it looks like an upper mid-range phone, it didn’t look appealing. Rather, it lacked the premium touch you were bound to expect with a flagship phone. In comes the Honor 8. Well, we weren’t really expecting much from it in terms of design, until we saw the device for ourselves.
Honor 8 sports a metal unibody chassis that boast of an all glass exterior which according to Huawei is made using an intricate manufacturing process of fusing 15 layers of glass. What makes it more appealing is the way the Gorilla Glass 3 found to the back and the front curves at the edges. It comes with a 2.5D curve thereby giving it a nice in-hand feel.
Up front, the Honor 8 boasts of a 5.2-inch Full HD (1920x1080p) IPS LCD display which comes with near minimal bezel. This is a marked departure from its predecessor who came with colored black bezels to give it a near edge to edge look. Frankly speaking, that made it look really cheap, instead of premium in our opinion.
Now coming to the display, Honor claims that their panel has a 96% NTSC color gamut thereby making it one of the best available in the market. That’s indeed a tall claim, but we have no second thoughts in stating that the panel is indeed one of the best LCD displays under Rs 30K. Only the LCD panel on the Xiaomi Mi5 can edge this one out, that too due to its 600 nits of peak brightness. That said, the FHD panel on the Honor 8 is adequately bright and is legible enough under bright sunlight. Coming to the color reproduction, the IPS panel on the Honor 8 has a great color accuracy. The whites are indeed white, without having a blue or a yellow hue to it. Huawei has also included a settings option to set the color temperature just the way you like it.
The viewing angles too are excellent with almost negligible color distortion. Just for the comparison, the colors on the OnePlus 3 get distorted to a higher extent when viewed from odd angles than on the Honor 8. It’s also worth noting that Huawei has included a ROG power saving mode in their Power Manager app wherein you can scale down the display resolution to 720p just in case you are in a low battery situation.
Hardware and Performance
On the inside, the Honor 8 packs an in-house developed 16nm Hi-Silicon Kirin 950 chip which consists of eight cores separated in two different clusters. While one cluster boasts of 4 x 2.3GHz Cortex A72 cores another packs a 4 X 1.8GHz Cortex A53 cores. The combination is nearly similar to the one seen in the Snapdragon 652, with the only difference being in the higher clocked cores. This means that the Kirin found inside the Honor 8 is one heck of a beast when it comes to CPU intensive task. The same can’t be said about its gaming performance though.
The Mali T880 MP4 GPU that comes mated with the Kirin 950 appears to be quite underpowered. The frame rates and transitions are nowhere as smooth as the Snapdragon 820 or the Exynos 8890. Ironically, the Exynos 8890 found inside the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the now defunct Galaxy Note 7, shares the same GPU with the Kirin 950 from Huawei. The only difference being in the fact that the Mali T880 GPU in the Exynos comes with 12 cores as compared to the 4 cores found in the Honor 8.
The Hi-Silicon processor is clubbed with 4GB RAM and 32GB of onboard storage, thereby making the Honor 8 powerful enough to handle almost every other task, even hardcore gaming. Rather, the difference can only be spotted only when we compare it to the likes of OnePlus 3 or Galaxy S7. Multitasking on the Honor 8 is at par with the competitions and switching between apps is rather easy.
One of the major talking points of the Honor 8 is its dual 12MP f/2.2 rear camera setup that lies to the top right corner on the back of the smartphone. This apparently is the same unit that comes with the Huawei P9, sans the Leica branding. In case you are unaware, one of the two 12MP sensors shoots in Monochrome while the other functions just like any other smartphone sensor. Thereafter, the two images shot using these sensors are processed using Huawei’s own algorithm to produce a brighter and clearer image.
The dual 12MP f/2.2 rear cameras come equipped with Laser Autofocus and PDAF (Phase Detection Autofocus) for faster focusing speeds. This is clubbed with a dual tone dual LED flash for capturing images under challenging lighting conditions. Up front, the Honor 8 sports an 8MP f/2.4 front-facing selfie snapper that also comes mated with a display flash, similar to the one seen in the Apple iPhone 6S.
The default camera UI comes with a number of tricks up its sleeve. Unlike the plain jane camera app seen on the OnePlus 3, the app on the Honor 8 comes with a hoard of customization options. There are a number of shooting modes including Pro Photo, Pro Video, Beauty, Beauty Video, Good Food, Panorama, Night Shot, Painting, Panorama, Time Lapse, Watermark etc. The Pro mode, for example, provides you with granular control over almost everything you may need starting from ISO to Manual Focus. That aside, there are a number of filters you can use while shooting, including the much touted Monochrome mode. The most intriguing feature of the Honor 8’s camera, however, is the option to control the aperture of the lens manually. Essentially it helps to blur the background while clicking an image. This is especially useful while clicking portraits. During our time with the smartphone, we found it to function exceedingly well, especially when compared with devices like the ZTE Axon Elite. That said, at times, it’s a hit or a miss, especially in situations where the frame consists of a large number of shadows and highlighted areas.
Coming to image quality, the Honor 8 performed exceptionally well during our test. We took it to click some pictures during the Durga Pujas in Kolkata and the results left us impressed. On comparing with the OnePlus 3 which apparently is the king of the segment, the Honor 8 succeeded to outshine it, especially in challenging lighting situations. That said, it’s too early to state that Honor 8 has a better camera than the OnePlus 3. For that do stay tuned for the detailed camera review coming out soon.
Talking of videos, the major drawback of the Honor 8 is its inability to shoot 4K videos. However, it compensates for the same by shooting videos at 1080p 60fps. Besides you can shoot videos at 1080p 30fps and 720p at 120fps. The video quality is decent at the best, especially when you are shooting on the move. The lack of OIS results in a rather shaky footage. That said, if you are using a tripod then the Honor 8 can really impress you. Its Hybrid Autofocus technology backed by Laser and PDAF helps the rear shooter to latch onto a subject rather quickly during the process of shooting the video.
The Honor 8 runs on an Android Marshmallow 6.0 with Huawei’s own EMUI 4.1 interface on top. As expected, just like any Chinese UI, the EMUI 4.1 lacks an app drawer. There are some new additions to this version of EMUI. These include the option of choosing between four preset Themes, the inclusion of a Health app and an improved Phone Manager App. Besides these, the UI comes with a number of tweaks up its sleeve.
Talking of the Themes app, the Honor 8 comes with four themes by default namely the Halo, Pink, Gold, and Pure. These are basically meant for the corresponding colors i.e. Sapphire Blue, Sakura Pink, Sunrise Gold and Pearl White. Nevertheless, you can choose which theme you want respective of the variant you’re using. The theme app also allows you to granularly choose the icon, font, lock screen and home screen style. Just like other Huawei smartphones running on EMUI 4.1, the Honor 8 comes with a magazine unlock feature where a different lock screen wallpaper is displayed every time you push that power button.
Next up is the Health app, that uses a Pedometer to track your movements. It works just like any other fitness tracker, the only difference being it is integrated into your smartphone. So you need to carry your phone around if you want it to calculate your steps. The app has a Start Exercise options that allow you calculate your calories burnt, steps taken during exercise like walking, running and even cycling. It’s, however, worth noting that you would be required to set up the Health app first before using it. For that, you need to add valuable details like your name, DOB, height, and weight. Thereafter the app would suggest an indicative number of steps you should cover every day to stay fit.
The Honor 8 also comes with an IR Blaster that you can use as a universal remote to control any Infrared powered devices. To make use of the IR Blaster, you need to first fire up the Smart Controller app. Thereafter, press on Add Remote Control option and choose the type of device you want to control. The app allows you to control devices ranging from TV to Projector.
To the back of the Honor 8 lies a Fingerprint Scanner, which the company refers to as a 3D Fingerprint Reader. Huawei claims that while other fingerprint readers only note the patterns on the surface of your finger, the 3D Fingerprint on the Honor 8 goes a notch above by taking an accurate measurement of the ridges between the pattern. Honor have also made good use of the hardware by providing a number of software tricks. These include slide gestures like swiping down on the fingerprint sensor brings down the notifications panel while swiping to the side help change the photos in the gallery. Besides you can touch the fingerprint sensor to click a photo/video, answer a call and even stop an alarm. It’s also worth noting you can register a total of 5 fingerprints using the scanner.
The EMUI 4.1 also comes with a Phone Manager app that performs as an all in one app to suffice all your needs. This includes options for System Optimization, Traffic Management, Harassment Filter (for blocking unknown call center numbers), Battery Management, Notification Centre etc.
Powering the Honor 8 is a 3000mAh Li-Poly battery that comes integrated within the 7.5mm thin profile of the device. Incidentally, the Honor 8 that retails in India misses out on Quick Charge. In our testing period, we found that the Honor 8 goes from 0-100% in about 2 hours 55 mins. That’s a lot of time especially when you are comparing with devices that come with Qualcomm Quick Charge. The likes of Xiaomi Mi5 and Samsung Galaxy S7 get charged within 1 hours 40 mins. OnePlus 3 with Dash Charging, on the other hand, goes from empty to full in just 70 mins on an average. So if you are not someone who always runs short on charge before leaving your house, then you are good to go with the Honor 8. But someone like me, who has a habit of charging their device at the last moment are better off choosing the OnePlus.
After using the Honor 8 for a day with heavy to moderate usage wherein WiFi and Bluetooth were switched on always, the device succeeded to last through 23 hours on a single charge. Even then the device had around 10% percent charge left. It’s worth noting that the during these 23 hours the device was exposed to continuous 4K playback for around 25-30 mins. That said, the battery life may be lower if you use your device for a lot of hardcore gaming like Nova 3, Asphalt 8 etc.
Huawei has included a Battery Manager option within the setting menu that comes with a number of tweaks to get an improved battery life from the Honor 8. The battery manager which can also be accessed from the Phone Manager app that comes with a total of three Power Saving modes – Performance, Smart, and Ultra. The device by default ships in Smart power saving mode wherein the app automatically adjusts the CPU and network usage to deliver a balance performance. Another interesting feature of the Battery Manager app is the presence of a ROG power saving mode that scales down the display resolution to 720p. Besides, the app also allows you to keep a check on battery hungry apps and optimize them by preventing them from running in the background.
Network & Connectivity
Unlike the US model, the Honor 8 in India support only one SIM along with a MicroSD card. It’s, however, worth noting that you might initially get confused thinking that the second slot is for a Nano SIM card, but that’s not the case. Nevertheless, the flagship smartphone from Huawei supports 4G LTE. Unfortunately, VoLTE isn’t enabled out of the box. An official from Huawei, however, has confirmed that the company is looking to push VoLTE support for the Honor 8 and their Nexus 6P pretty soon. That said, it needs to be seen how soon is that ‘pretty soon’! Till then, using Reliance Jio on the Honor 8 will remain a pain; as you would be required to make use of the Jio4G Voice app.
In terms of network strength, the Honor 8 has fared decently. It definitely is not the best around and Huawei really needs to work on it. As compared to the OnePlus 3, the signal strength of the Honor 8 was marginally lower. This issue, however, isn’t limited to just the Honor 8, the Huawei P9 too had similar problems. Hopefully, Honor will rectify the same in future updates. Nevertheless, the call quality is good and the microphone does an excellent job in actively suppressing surrounding noise.
As expected the WiFi on the Honor 8 is excellent and is at par with flagship from counterparts. There weren’t any signal drops and the data speed was fairly constant. The Bluetooth and GPS too function just the way they are expected to. One additional feature of the Honor 8 is the presence of NFC. This will come to use while making mobile payments but as of now most would stay clear of that, especially in India.
Now it’s time for a final call on the brand new device from Honor. At a price of Rs 30,000, the Honor 8 is indeed costlier than the competition. But that said, unlike all other devices including the OnePlus 3, Xiaomi Mi5 etc., the Honor 8 is available via offline retail stores. Incidentally, that’s quite a competitive pricing for a device available offline, considering the competition.
So here comes the dreaded question, should you get one? It’s a tough choice to make. Nevertheless, if you plan to flaunt around your device, you should definitely consider. The Honor 8 is sure to catch some eyes. This backed by the powerful CPU, 4GB RAM, and the feature rich dual 12MP camera makes it a decent flagship package for the price. In short, the smartphone delivers an overall fluid experience and will meet most of your needs apart from some hardcore gaming. But just in case benchmarks and mere specs sheet matter more to you, then opt for something like the OnePlus 3.