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Honor 5X review: Can this phone dethrone the Moto G?

Alphr logo Alphr 12-02-2016 Jonathan Bray

Honor 5X review (hands-on): Can this phone dethrone the Moto G 3?

Honor 5X review (hands-on): Can this phone dethrone the Moto G 3?
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© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

The launch of the Honor 5X has to be one of the longest, most drawn out phone announcements of recent times. We caught our first glimpse of the phone at CES 2016, and since then there's been a steady trickle of news and updates about the phone.

Now the phone has finally been officially launched in Munich, has it been worth the wait? 

Honor 5X review: Design and screen

Price-wise and design-wise, the Honor 5X looks pretty darned good. What we have here is a modern 5.5in Android smartphone, complete with a smart, metal chassis that costs a mere £190 inc VAT.

Honor 5X rear camera© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Honor 5X rear camera

That alone would have been enough to raise eyebrows a couple of years back, but big phones costing very little have become more commonplace over the past few years. What sets the Honor 5X apart from its main rivals – the all-conquering Motorola Moto G3 and the gorgeous OnePlus X – are size, design and features.

Let's start with the screen: where the Moto and OnePlus phones have 5in screens, the Honor is equipped with a 5.5in display, and it also uses a Full HD panel, delivering a pixel density of 401ppi. That means it's sharp enough that most normal folk won't be able to see any kind of pixel structure from normal viewing distances. It's all you need in a 5.5in phone and, even on a larger screen such as the Huawei Mate 8, isn't a big problem.

Image quality is pretty good, too. I had the opportunity to test a pre-production unit prior to the launch, and under the beady eye of our office X-Rite i1 DisplayPro colorimeter, it returned maximum brightness and contrast ratio figures of 469cd/m2 and 1,170:1 respectively, capping things off with an sRGB colour space coverage result of 88.9%. Those are reasonable numbers and, to the eye, it’s perfectly pleasant, with colours popping nicely off the screen.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Honor has been steadily improving the design of its phones of late and that shows through here. The phone has a curved, brushed metal finish on the rear, a glossy, mirror-effect rim around the edge of the phone at the front, and it looks smart, too - from a distance. Up close, it's still pretty classy for a sub-£200 phone, and looks a lot nicer than the third generation Moto G, but when you pick it up, it doesn't feel as good as it looks.

Bend the phone and it creaks and cracks alarmingly, and it rattles when you shake it. This is where its rivals edge ahead of it. It isn’t weatherproof like the Motorola Moto G 3, which has a dust and water-resistance rating of IPX7, and it doesn't feel as solid and unyielding as the OnePlus X.

In its favour, however, is a plethora of slots and expansion capabilities. On the right edge of the Honor 5X you'll find a pair of drawers, which allow you to add two SIM cards (one nano, one micro) and a microSD card up to 128GB in size. It's highly flexible, and ideal for travellers.

The cherry on top, however, is the fingerprint reader - in the centre, on the rear. It's the first time I've seen one  on a phone costing less than £200, and it works extremely well, unlocking the phone at a single tap. Honor didn't settle for just adding the ability to unlock your phone with the sensor, either - it's also possible to launch your favourite apps with your - um - favourite finger, too. If you can remember which finger you registered to which app, that is.

Honor 5X front, screen off© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Honor 5X front, screen off

Performance and camera

For under £200 you wouldn't expect flagship performance, and there's no sign of high-end Qualcomm parts here. Instead, you get the mid-range 1.5GHz Snapdragon 616 octa-core, Adreno 405 graphics and 2GB RAM, which is about what you'd expect for the price.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

In benchmarks, it's clearly faster than the Moto G 3, but it lags behind the OnePlus X in all but the multi-core Geekbench 3 test, and even then not by much. It's a mid-range performance from a mid-range processor.

In real-world use, I haven't been so impressed. The 615-equipped Honor 5X had a tendency to feel a teeny bit laggy when transitioning from screen to screen. Apps don't launch particularly quickly, even the keyboard takes its time to appear sometimes. Let's hope a software update tidies that up soon. 

I haven't yet had time to test battery life, but the battery is of a decent size - 3,000mAh in capacity - and from my experiences so far should get you through a day easily. I'll update this review when I've tested battery life fully and had the chance to use the phone for a bit longer.

Like the performance, the camera is middling. For your money, you’re getting a 13-megapixel, f/2 camera with a dual-LED flash on the rear, but no fancy extras. There’s no phase-detect autofocus, no 4K video capture, and not even optical image stabilisation (OIS).

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Still, it’s capable of capturing surprisingly good shots. Outdoors, in good light, there’s a decent amount of detail and none of the smearing that commonly afflicts cheap smartphones. There’s also a fair amount of grain and noise, no matter the conditions, but this didn't adversely affect the crispness of the photos I captured with it.

As with most budget smartphones, however, camera performance dips noticeably along with the ambient light. I didn't see a particular problem with detail – that wasn't too bad. It was grainy, as before, but it captured decent levels of detail. The camera's big problem was with autofocus. It's slow, very slow, particularly in low light, where I had to wait what seemed an inordinate amount of time before it would lock onto its subject.  

Software

The big weak spot for the Honor 5X, though – as it has been with all Honor and Huawei handsets I’ve used – is its Android skin. Applied over the top of Android 5.1.1, Emotion UI (otherwise known as EMUI) has earned a bad rap among regular smartphone reviewers, principally due to its several dramatic diversions from stock Android.

In large part, I concur with the general weight of opinion. The removal of the App Drawer is unnecessary, and enforces the use of multiple folders on the desktop; the notifications menu desperately needs a revamp – it's annoyingly basic and wastes space in its design; and the fact that Honor insists on surrounding app icons on the homescreen with a box, whether or not that icon fits neatly into it, is an aesthetically execrable decision.

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

I’d also point out, however, that you can get around two of these (the icon and App Drawer issues) simply by installing a third-party launcher such as Nova. There are also some features built into EMUI that are worth having. I’ve found its battery saver tools, for instance, are quite effective at helping you get the most of the battery in day-to-day use.

They allow you to manage and kill background tasks that might be eating up battery capacity unnecessarily and proactively warn you about apps using up too much power. The one-handed shortcut dial (seen in the screenshot above) is another handy tool.

Verdict

Overall, the Honor 5X is a decent budget smartphone that, aside from its irritating Android skin, offers a tempting alternative to the market leaders at this price.

It isn't the most exciting phone you'll come across this year, but its low price, large screen size and, in particular, that fingerprint reader, means it sits in a class of its own at this price. If Honor can follow this up with decent battery life, it’ll have yet another solid Android offering on its hands.


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