Honor 7X review: The new budget champion
Honor's latest affordable phone packs an 18:9 screen, a beautiful aluminum chassis and a decent camera into a device that sells for just $199.
The quick take
There are always trade-offs when buying a phone for less than $200, but Honor manages to successfully walk the budget tightrope, with only a few minor concerns around UI and the lack of NFC for mobile payments.
· Premium design and good-looking display
· Decent mid-range performance
· Dependable camera for general use
· Decent one-day battery life
· Ships on Nougat
· Uses outdated microUSB port
· EMUI weirdness persists
Honor 7X Full Review
The budget phone world is a hugely competitive space, as Huawei's Honor brand well knows from its recent efforts with the Honor 5X and 6X. These phones have generally managed to balance feature set, build quality and price with generally successful results. The Honor 5X was one of the first handsets to bring metal construction and fingerprint recognition to a cheaper price tier. And a year ago, the Honor 6X added a surprisingly competent dual camera rig to the experience.
A year on, Honor has taken the bones of the 6X, and fleshed it out into something that looks and feels more premium than anything I've used at its price point of $199. A brushed aluminum body with distinctive colors, including a trademark blue hue. A beautiful 18:9 display. And software which, though not entirely current, gets the job done.
About this review
We're publishing this review after just over two weeks with an unlocked European Honor 7X (BND-L21). I (Alex Dobie) have been using it on Three in the UK, and also in Taiwan on Taiwan Mobile. The phone was running software version 101, based on Android 7.0 Nougat, with the October 5, 2017 Android security patch.
Honor 7X Hardware
On the outside, the Honor 7X broadly resembles a mash-up between an Honor 8 Pro and a Huawei Mate 10 Pro. It boasts a new, taller 18:9 aspect ratio, with a 5.93-inch Full HD+ (2160x1080) LCD panel — a first in such an inexpensive handset. The curves of the Honor 7X are more iPhone-like than other metal-bodied Android phones, including OnePlus's just-launched 5T. As a result, it's a little slick in the hand, though not disastrously so.
The body of the phone is furnished with a brushed, anodized aluminum finish that's almost identical to the much more expensive Honor 8 Pro — including the signature navy blue hue that'll be the main color for the UK. A plain old black model will also be offered, for the color-averse.
Other distinguishing features: top and bottom antenna bands, a slight bump around each of the two rear cameras, and a recessed rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. The 7X's biometrics, by the way, are fast and accurate -- though, naturally, lagging behind the speed of the Mate 10 Pro.
You could argue about whether, like the 6X and 5X, the design is a bit derivative. What's more important is that there's nothing at all cheap-feeling about this phone. Around the front, the 2.5D glass of the display finally has an oleophobic coating, which sounds like a small thing, but is hugely important in stopping the screen getting gunked up by fingerprints. That's aside from the tall aspect ratio that gives makes phone just as modern-looking as a OnePlus 5T or LG V30.
The 7X's premium finish is a leap beyond the Honor 6X.
The premium design and brushed finish of the Honor 7X takes a step beyond 6X and 5X. Fortunately, the flagship-like aesthetics of the Honor 7X don't come at the cost of durability. While Honor isn't advertising the 7X as being drop-resistant in the same way as, for example, a Moto Z2 Force, the 7X does boast reinforced corners — the main impact point for any drop — to reduce the likelihood of permanent damage if it hits the floor. I haven't put this to the test with my unit, but I did witness the phone survive a few impromptu drop tests at a meeting in London ahead of today's announcement.
It also feels sturdy and well-built, with good weight distribution and haptics that are a little soft, but not rattly.
On the inside, the Honor 7X runs the latest of Huawei's mid-level Kirin chips, the Kirin 659 — an octa-core 16nm part, along with 4GB of RAM and (in the UK) 64GB of storage, plus microSD. Like many other dual-SIM phones, the 7X's hybrid slot can support either a single SIM plus SD Card, or two SIMs and no SD card.
It's worth noting, however, that unlike some other dual-SIM handsets, the second SIM will only work in 2G mode, not 3G mode. Why does that matter? In some places like South Korea and Taiwan, 2G networks have been deactivated, making the second SIM slot useless.
Overall performance throughout my two weeks with the Honor 7X has been solid, though somewhat less dazzling than what I've seen from Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 630 chipset. In day-to-day tasks, the Honor 7X is performant enough to handle everything you might want to throw at it. But with heavy background tasks running -- for example, app updates -- a little performance jank can creep in.
There's also no NFC, which makes Android Pay a non-starter on the phone. This omission in particular feels like a big miss.
On the other hand, at least the roomy 4GB of RAM means app reloads are seldom a problem.
And the display itself, a 2160x1080 LCD panel, has been given the attention it deserves. Along with the all-important oleophobic coating, it's a solid upgrade from the 6X's display in all the key metrics -- outdoor visibility, color vibrance and viewing angles. This is no flagship-tier panel, but it's also not as disappointing as the LCDs used in some of Motorola's G5-series phones.
Audio-wise, the ever elusive 3.5mm headphone jack is thankfully present, alongside a single bottom-firing that gets reasonably loud, but is lacking in bass.
There's another slightly weird component decision here too -- the Honor 7X's use of a fairly dated microUSB port, as opposed to the newer USB Type-C. It works just as well for charging, which maxes out at 5V/2A anyway, but it goes against the grain of what is otherwise quite a forward-looking phone.
Overall, then this is a device with good-enough mid-level internals packaged inside a deceptively high-end chassis. The Honor 7X's hardware has just enough power to get the job done, and just enough style to stand out at its chosen price point.
Honor 7X Software
On the software side, the compromises of running a mid-range chip are also apparent: The Honor 7X runs the older EMUI 5.1 firmware from the Huawei mothership, based on Android 7.0 Nougat. That's as opposed to the newer EMUI 8 found in Kirin 970-powered handsets like the Honor V10 and Huawei Mate 10. Visually, this doesn't make a whole lot of difference, and Honor has even ported some of EMUI 8's more useful features back to the older software. Apps that don't support 18:9 natively can easily be scaled up to fill the full size of the display. And some messaging apps can (optionally) open messages in a split-screen view if you're watching full-screen video.
The Honor 7X's lock screen has also been tweaked slightly compared with what we've seen on earlier EMUI phones (on both 5.x and 8.0). With the re-tooled lock screen, it's now easier to expand notifications and swipe to unlock. Both changes make for a more polished experience in a part of Android you'll use every day.
EMUI 5 adapts to a new, taller aspect ratio, with a couple of other feature additions ported from version 8.
Besides that, this is EMUI 5.1 just as we've seen it on a number of phones over the past twelve months. It's an improvement on what came before, with a clean blue-and-white color scheme, but there's still some software weirdness, including icons that don't quite gel with the rest of Android.
However, I do appreciate many of EMUI's many convenient additions , like the one-handed mode, which is easy to activate with a swipe along the software keys. EMUI can also run multiple instances of certain messaging apps, like WeChat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which is particularly useful in a dual-SIM device, where you might be juggling both work and personal numbers.
We've gone into much more detail on Huawei's EMUI 5 software in our reviews of the Mate 9 and Honor 9, and much of the software experience is unchanged. It's a fast, responsive interface occasionally held back by weird design decisions.
Honor 7X Cameras
Around the back, the Honor 7X 16-megapixel main camera with PDAF (phase-detection autofocus) behind an f/2.2 lens, backed up by a 2-megapixel secondary sensor for depth-sensing and portrait mode. (Unlike some Huawei-built phones, the secondary sensor doesn't capture fine details, it just captures depth.)
Not a huge upgrade from the Honor 6X's camera hardware, but the 7X's camera still impresses.
The resolution is upgraded from the 13-megapixel sensor used in the Honor 6X, but besides that, many of the strengths and weaknesses of that camera carry over. There's no OIS (optical image stabilization), so performance can quickly degrade in darker conditions, and hand motion can introduce blurring into photos, even in relatively well-lit shots.
That's even more noticeable in the 7X's new portrait mode, the performance of which quickly tails off in darker conditions.
Honor's excellent post-processing picks up the slack, though, and just like the Honor 6X, a steady hand will be rewarded with surprisingly good-looking shots. In particular, the 7X manages to eke out impressive dynamic range from daylight shots, considering the price of this phone.
Despite the general smudginess of night-time photos from the Honor 7X compared to more expensive models, I've been generally happy with the photo quality from this phone. Don't expect miracles, but also don't expect a camera that's a total afterthought.
Around the front, there's an 8-megapixel setup that's also capable of capturing portrait mode shots — a feature that's only just starting to gain prominence in the Android world. Again, in the context of this phone's price, the selfie camera works pretty well. Noise is generally absent from selfies, though images are much softer than higher-end offerings. (And edge detection can be pretty rough considering the limits of the camera and the processor.)
Honor 7X Battery Life
Last year's Honor 6X proved to be a pleasant surprise in terms of battery longevity. And the 7X promises at least decent performance in this area, thanks to the same 3,340mAh internal battery capacity that served its forerunner so well. That's nothing to write home about in the flagship space, it's plenty for a device like the 7X, running lower-powered silicon.
An average battery capacity goes a long way, thanks to efficient innards.
Between an efficient CPU using Cortex-A53 cores and a relatively large battery, the Honor 7X has enough juice to get you through a full day of use. I regularly got solid 16-17 hour days from the phone's battery, with mixed use on LTE and Wi-Fi, and screen-on time in the 4-hour ballpark. The Kirin 659's use of four A53s makes power draw relatively predictable, and I didn't notice any excessive power draw even in intensive tasks like desktop web browsing or gaming.
Unfortunately there's no advanced quick charging solution to be found here, like Huawei's Super Charging, or even 9V quick charging. But the Honor 7X's 5V/2A rapid charging is speedy enough that occasional evening refills aren't too tedious with the bundled 2A plug.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Should you buy the Honor 7X? Yes
The Honor 7X has flagship looks, but not quite flagship brawn. You'll need to settle for a less powerful CPU, a less capable camera, especially in low light, no NFC, and year-old Android software. Nevertheless, despite these compromises, which were surely necessary to hit the $199 price point, the Honor 7X delivers an enjoyable, high-performance Android experience in a chassis that's just as desirable as phones costing twice as much.
You may well notice how much faster, say, a OnePlus 5T is compared to the Honor 7X. But in terms of the construction and overall quality, there's really not much in it at all. And in normal day-to-day use, the 7X's performance is perfectly fine, with no cutting of corners around RAM or internal storage.
Mid-range internals in a high-end chassis makes for a pretty good phone.
Like other Huawei and Honor phones, contending with weird-looking software continues to be a thing. As well as running an old version of Android -- which, to Huawei's credit, is no longer a given for the company's phones -- the Honor 7X's EMUI 5 interface will be jarring to newcomers in the West. It's not as attractive as stock Android, and niggling app compatibility issues remain.
Ultimately, though, a phone at this price is all about balance, and the Honor 7X certainly offers the best balance of any handset I've used in this price bracket. If you're after a stylish budget phone that doesn't skimp on performance or features, it's absolutely worth a look.