Honor 5X review
The cheapest Android phone yet with a fingerprint reader
Honor has announced its latest smartphone and, like previous models, it aims to provide a high quality mobile at a rock bottom price. The Honor 5X, not to be confused with LG's similarly named Nexus 5X, is the successor to the Honor 7. Honor is Huawei's budget brand, so it's no surprise to see that the price comes in at a low 190 inc VAT SIM-free (158 ex VAT).
Metal casing, Storage and dual SIM
Available in silver, gold or gray, the 5X has a brushed metal back although the application of a ceramic coating meant to improve durability gives it an odd plastic-like sheen. Its still cool to the touch and looks great, although the pre-production model we tried did creak and bend loudly under pressure - a dead giveaway of this phone's budget origins no matter how expensive it looks. Another tell-tale sign is that the bevelled plastic endcaps for the antennae don't quite line up with the bevelled edges of the main metal body. It's a small aesthetic flaw though, rather than a huge problem.
The battery is sealed in-place, but this phone is flexible in other ways. The Nano SIM tray can also hold a micro SD card, up to 128GB, while a separate tray can hold a separate Micro SIM. You can only use one SIM for 4G, but you otherwise have flexibility in choosing which one is the default for texts, data and calls.
Like other Honor and Huawei phones, the Honor 5X has its fingerprint sensor mounted on the back just beneath its rear camera lens. It was quick to set up, especially compared to the surprisingly lengthy Touch ID setup wizard on the iPhone 5s and later. It was also, in our brief hands-on time, unsurprisingly fast a mere glancing touch was enough to unlock the phone with our fingerprint. It was somewhat prone to false negatives, especially if our fingers were wrinkled after a soak in the bath, but no more so than other fingerprint scanner-equipped Android phones.
Honor claims your tokenised fingerprint data is securely stored in the encrypted ARM Trust Zone area of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 eight-core processor and isn't uploaded to the cloud at any point. Surprisingly, NFC isn't built-in which means you won't be able to use it with Android Pay if it ever makes its way to the UK.
As with the Honor 7, you can use a range of shortcuts with the fingerprint scanner. You can quickly launch different apps depending on which finger you use to unlock the phone. You can also swipe down on it to open the notifications drawer and swipe up to see the app switcher especially handy if your small hands struggle with the sheer girth and height of this phablet.
Performance and Battery Life
The use of a Qualcomm processor is unusual as most Honor and Huawei phones in the past have come equipped with Kirin chips made by Huawei itself. Our pre-production unit came with the Snapdragon 615 processor. Paired with 2GB of memory, it was fast enough for Google Maps and web browsing, although the responsiveness of the touchscreen was a little laggy.
Although an eight-core processor, the 615 is still very much a compromised middle-of-the-road performer rather than a top of the charts speed demon. It only managed 573 in Peacekeeper, 369 in GFX Bench's Manhattan test and 3064 in Geekbench's multi-core test. Four cores run at 1.5GHz, while four lower-power energy-saving cores run at 1GHz.
Final Honor 5X phones will have a slightly faster Snapdragon 616 with four main 1.7GHz cores and four 1.2GHz energy-saving cores. This will only have a modest effect on performance and while it might help with the somewhat laggy touchscreen, we don't hold out much hope.
You should only ever need to use Honor's ultra power saving mode when you're very desparate as battery life was generally excellent.
We had no complaints about battery life though. It lasted ten hours and 34 minutes when playing H.264 video on a loop. When browsing the web continuously while connected to a 802.11n WiFi network, it lasted just over nine hours. It lasted just under 34 hours when connected to EE's 4G network in central London and subjected to a moderate usage load of web browsing, Google Maps, calls and photography.
Update 16/02/2016 - we've since gotten our hands on a final Honor 5x phone and, as expected, there was very little difference in our benchmark results. There was also no difference in battery life or in the responsiveness of the touchscreen.
Screen, EmotionUI and Camera
The 5.5in screen definitely requires two-handed usage. It has a 1080p resolution so text looks sharp, although it's not the brightest screen we've ever seen. Honor claims the screen will automatically boost its brightness when used outdoors in bright sunshine, although London's gloomy winter weather foiled us from trying this out.
The Honor 5X will come with Android 5.0 Lollipop pre-installed, with a Marshmallow update promised for some time in the future. Honor wasn't able to give a firm date for when we can expect the upgrade, but we'd be surprised if it was far off we've seen a lone 5X with Marshmallow installed in the hands of an Honor spokesperson.
Sadly and unsurprisingly, Honor's Emotion UI is laid on top of Lollipop. It resembles iOS but feels far too fussy and alters Android in numerous annoying ways. There's no app drawer, while notifications and quick settings are split into two different panes. Some quick settings, such as airplane mode and the do not disturb preferences, are split off again and only accessible by tapping the power button.
There are some neat additions though, such as glove mode which increases the touch sensitivity of the screen for use on a cold winter's day and the ability to customise the Android button bar, such as swapping the placement of the back and app switcher buttons. Plus, there's the aforementioned fingerprint-based shortcuts.
We also liked the shortcut dial which is part of Honor's numerous one-handed mode options. The pop-out dial, which hugs either the left or right hand side of the screen and can be moved up or down, gives you easier access to the Android button bar. Oddly though, when presented in this circular format outside of their usual context we had surprising trouble remember which buttons were which - no doubt a consequence of Google's decision to abstract their appearance in the transition from KitKat to Lollipop.
The 5X's 13-megapixel camera managed well outdoors in pale winter sunlight. Although it tended to blow out details in the sky, other details were well-lit and reasonably detailed. Noise and a lack of detail tended to be a problem with indoor shots, although it wasn't quite as bad as with other mid-range 13-megapixel phone cameras we've seen at this price.
The Honor 5X has a lot of compromises, but none that are out of place in a phone that only costs 158 ex VAT a remarkably low price. It will be available tied to Three as well as SIM-free on Amazon and Honor's own online store. It's a good value smartphone and, if you install another Android launcher such as Nova Launcher, you can get round most of the annoying interface problems.
This article was first published as a first look on 04/02/2016 and has since been updated to a full review on 16/02/2016 with final benchmark results.
By no means a clean sweep, but this budget Android phone is still a surprisingly good bargain
|Processor||Octa-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 616|
|Rear camera||13 megapixels|
|Storage (free)||16GB (10.5GB)|
|Wireless data||3G, 4G|
|Operating system||Android 5.1.1|
|Warranty||One year RTB|
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