Honor is back here at the end of 2017 with another budget phone that, for all intents and purposes, is a better bang for your buck than its predecessor, the 6X. The specs have seen a slight boost, but the biggest change is the addition of Huawei's FullView display. Yes, that's right: a budget phone with an 18:9 screen, something thus far uncommon.
The 7X outright bests its predecessor and goes right up against the Moto G5S Plus, all while sitting at an extremely attractive $199 asking price. It comes with a nicer display than its competitors and a design that keeps in step with 2017's trends. Like with the 6X, there are certainly shortcuts here, some of them very noticeable and annoying, but I think that most people will be able to overlook them when they see the MSRP; $200 gets you a lot of phone these days.
|Display||5.93" FHD IPS LCD, "FullView" 18:9|
|Software||Android 7.0; EMUI 5.1|
|Cameras||16MP+2MP rear, 8MP front|
|Connectivity||802.1 a/b/g/n 2.4GHz; LTE bands 2/4/5/7/12/17 (US version)|
|Misc||MicroUSB, fingerprint sensor, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Measurements||156.5 x 75.3 x 7.6 mm; 165 g|
|Colors||Black, blue, gold|
|Value||Huawei is pushing the boundaries here. $199 is extremely cheap with phones, especially for what you get with the 7X.|
|Battery life||I haven't had this device very long, but I have noticed that battery life is nothing short of spectacular. This is a Huawei phone, so no one should be surprised.|
|Fingerprint sensor||Super fast, very accurate, and on the back where it belongs. Need I say more?|
|Shortcuts||I know these were made to keep the price low, but the lack of NFC and 5GHz ac WiFi is certainly noticeable, and MicroUSB isn't very much fun, either.|
|Software||EMUI is still EMUI: better than it's been, but still far from perfect. And it ships with the year-old Nougat, which is disappointing to say the least.|
Design and display
When looking at the Honor 7X, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it costs more than it does. From the metal body to the 18:9 display that takes up the whole front face of the phone, Huawei managed to design a device that looks like it'd be more at home in the mid-range or lower high-tier segments. I have to commend Huawei for that.
The body feels well-constructed and has a very nice heft to it. At 165 grams, you won't wear out your wrist holding the 7X, but it's heavy enough to remind you that it's still there. The rounded edges make holding onto it a much nicer experience, too. The back of the device looks pretty generic and bland, with the dual camera module hump(s) hugging the top left corner, the fingerprint sensor right about where your index finger usually rests, and antenna lines near the top and bottom.
Huawei's FullView display takes up most of the front face with an impressive 82.9% screen:body ratio. The usual sensors and front-facing camera sit on the slim top bezel, while the bottom one houses an Honor logo because Huawei just couldn't resist — it's pretty innocuous, though, so I didn't mind it after a little while. Both the power button and volume rocker are on the right edge of the phone. I was pleasantly surprised to see how solid they feel, with each providing nice clicks and a healthy travel distance. I've used ones that are cheap/hollow on phones that are priced much higher.
One of the best parts about the 7X is the fingerprint sensor. Huawei's legendary speed and accuracy are present here on the 7X, though you will still find the Pixel 2 or OnePlus 5T to be a bit faster to wake up. Regardless, the difference is nigh indiscernible and I highly doubt anyone considering this phone would have room to complain about this particular aspect. I also really enjoyed the placement of the sensor, since it's feels much more natural.
If you read the spec sheet, you'll have noticed that the 7X lacks NFC, 5GHz ac WiFi, and USB-C. The latter is kind of understandable, but with 2018 upon us, it's disappointing to see MicroUSB nonetheless. Not seeing NFC is no surprise at all on the U.S. version, since Huawei has done this before. While those might be minor irritants to some (I hardly use NFC, personally), I think the thing that's more obvious to me is the WiFi. Being relegated to 2.4GHz n is definitely noticeable, especially when downloading apps from the Play Store. I doubt many people interested in the 7X will care, so maybe Huawei was banking on that.
Overall, the 7X looks and feels like a good, utilitarian phone. I'm astounded to see an 18:9 display on a phone in this price category, but the device's "wow" factor comes down to just that: it looks and feels nice considering how much is costs. After asking around, it seems that Huawei added an oleophobic coating on the glass this time around. It's certainly a nice touch after the 6X. There are three colors available, the best of which being the blue. It's gorgeous and I want it; sadly, I got the plain black unit (sad panda).
In terms of the display itself, I'd call it nothing special, but what I do like is that its resolution sits at full HD (1080p). The IPS panel is decent, though the colors feel a bit muted and soft — viewing angles are quite excellent, however. Outdoor brightness is actually pretty good, but I thought that the display remained a little too bright in the dark, even with the blue light filter active (perhaps that's just my eyes). I find nothing to dislike about the screen, but nothing to love, either. It does a fine job for watching videos, reading text, and playing games.
Performance and battery life
All versions of the 7X come with a Kirin 659 SoC, a big.LITTLE configuration with a Mali T830 GPU. The U.S. version (the one that I have) ships with 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM, while the rest of the world gets a 64GB+4GB setup (bummer for us Americans). You can slap in a 256GB microSD card if you need more storage; now is a good time of year to be looking for expandable storage sales.
I had very few complaints, in terms of performance, with the 7X in my short time with it. It handles day-to-day tasks like messaging, emails, web browsing, and YouTube quite well. Gaming performance on intensive games like Asphalt 8 bogged the phone down a bit, but I expected that. Obviously, this phone won't go head-to-head with big powerhouses like the OnePlus 5T or Pixel 2, but it does the basic things people need it to do rather well. 3GB of RAM is often plenty for most people and most use cases, so keep that in mind.
This is usually the part where I'd start going on a rant about RAM management, but I did not come across such issues even on my review unit. This is likely the result of further optimizations in EMUI 5.1's Ultra Memory feature. I did miss out on a few notifications from Slack and Telegram, which would come flooding in when I opened the respective app, but most things like Gmail, Inbox, SMS, and Discord (strangely enough) worked just fine — emails would actually appear on the 7X before they would on my OP5 most of the time.
Battery life, as I often expect with Huawei devices, is fantastic. The 7X easily achieves a full day of use — for me, that means pulling the phone off the charger at 4:30am, using it to stream music throughout the day, check and send messages/emails, and turning in at 10pm. If a phone can last through that, without giving me anxiety, I call the battery life great.
With the use of the cost-saving microUSB route, the 7X is more limited on charging speeds than other devices. Still, Huawei's quick charging does a nice job of topping off the phone in a pinch, just don't expect Dash Charge levels of insanity here.
Like its predecessor, the Honor 7X sports a dual rear camera setup. However, unlike the 6X, the secondary 2MP sensor captures only depth (instead of being monochromatic in order to capture stronger details). This is, of course, to keep in line with the portrait mode fad that seems to be everywhere in this half of 2017.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the 7X's camera is the lack of OIS. I happen to have shaky hands when I'm shooting photos, so a lot of what I shot with this phone came out... well, not so good. Nighttime performance will also take a hit without OIS, which is to be expected.
Portrait mode on this phone is pretty meh. The bokeh effect is fairly weak in every picture I attempted to take, and when the amount of available light dims, you see a noticeable dip in quality. Overall, however, it's clear that Huawei placed a strong focus on eeking out the best camera performance it could with a $200 phone and I applaud them for that. Dynamic range (in outdoor shots) is good, even if the focus and details are softer than I'd like. Certain settings like HDR and photo saturation help with the dullish colors, and Huawei gives you plenty of filter and mode options to play with.
The front camera is the fairly standard 8MP affair, but with the added "bonus" of portrait mode for your selfies. Instead of requiring a second sensor, the software does all of the work and the results are similar to what you get out of the rear array. This obviously begs the question of why the 7X needs a secondary 2MP sensor for depth, but we'll just ignore that for now. Otherwise, the front camera does just fine for snapping selfies for Instagram of whatnot.
Unlike the Mate 10, the Honor 7X launches with Android 7.0 and EMUI 5.1, which is a rather large downside. Since I am sure there are plenty of improvements to be had in the later EMUI 8, it's an even bigger bummer that this phone is stuck with the same old stuff that we've had for most of this year. If you want a more in-depth look at EMUI 5.1, then be sure to check out the write-up I did several months ago.
In light of the fact that we have no new ground to tread here, I don't want to ramble on. My opinions on the "skin" have not changed since the P10, but I press onward anyway. When you pass through the setup process, you're greeted with the stock launcher, which defaults to an app drawer-less, all-apps-on-screen clusterbomb that you often see in Asian UIs. Unlike many of its competitors, however, Huawei offers users the option to switch to an app drawer style. The launcher itself isn't too bad, with a few settings accessible with an outward two-finger pinch. This menu lets you change the wallpaper, add widgets, change transitions, and access further options. Some of those are your typical fare like grid size, homescreen loop, and auto-rotate; in addition to these, there's a toggle to turn on app suggestions (blech) and another to shake your phone to realign the app icons (which didn't work for me).
Notifications still have the rounded rectangle look, which some may like and others (like me) may not — they still remind me of the Gingerbread days. The expanded Quick Settings list is, by default, much more manageable than earlier instances of EMUI 5.1 and you can still customize what toggles are shown.
Huawei is sticking with its cramped soft keys, which may appeal to some since this phone is on the larger side. The button order can be changed, and you can even add a fourth notification shade key to the far right if you feel so inclined. The fingerprint sensor can also be customized to do a variety of things from pulling down the shade to answering calls to taking photos with a long press. Kudos to Huawei for offering this level of options to its users.
The bloatware situation has improved, thankfully. There are still some useless things in there, but the level of garbage has fallen. Huawei Health has also been mercifully quiet this time around, something for which I am extremely grateful.
It seems to me that, for a Huawei phone, the featureset is much smaller than previous devices. I, for one, do not mind the lack of things like knuckle screenshots or whatever, since I rarely use anything like that. App Twin, which allows you have to have two individual instances of an app, is still present and useful to those who might need such functionality.
Since the phone comes with the 18:9 display, Huawei added a scaling option that sits in the negative space below unoptimized apps. Tapping this forces the app to fit to the display and works fairly well; YouTube looked a bit funny at times, but it wasn't too noticeable for the most part.
EMUI is far from bad, but v5.1 feels stale at this point. I haven't heard anything on Oreo/EMUI 8 for the 7X yet, but I imagine that it'll help some of the blandness. Huawei is getting much better about updating its devices, even the Honor ones.
This is, by no means, perfect; however, I find it hard to complain or argue when you consider that Huawei managed to accomplish what it did with a device that costs $199 in the U.S. At that price, it's easier to overlook some of its quirks, but shipping with Nougat and microUSB is much harder to excuse, I think.
I don't know when Huawei will push Oreo to the 7X, but I imagine that it'll be in early 2018 (the company was relatively quick to update the 6X to Nougat). On my review unit, there's an app that lets you sign up for the beta program, so if you're interested in getting the latest, then I'd recommend going that route.
Honestly, the Honor 7X is probably one of the top budget phones I'd recommend at this point. Unless you really hate EMUI or are on a carrier that isn't compatible with the 7X, then there is little reason to not go with what Huawei is offering, especially since Lenovorola's update consistency is suspect these days. Other options, like the slightly cheaper Moto E, feel inferior in comparison, especially when you look at the display and camera performance on the 7X. Even the Moto G5S Plus, which costs $80 more for a similar configuration, doesn't feel as strong as what Huawei's offering this time around.
Huawei continues to turn its act around with its Honor series, and the company is providing one of the best devices for those on a tight budget. It has its problems, some of which are extremely apparent, but its strengths in combination with its $199 asking price make it a bit easier to overlook them. It's phones like this that make me question the true necessity of flagship-level devices (camera performance excluded).