Huawei-owned Honor set to bring its A-game to the U.S. market.
Alongside a European launch in Paris later next month, it looks like the Honor 8 is headed to the United States, with an event scheduled for Aug. 16 in San Francisco. It'll be the second Honor phone to hit the U.S., following the Honor 5X earlier in the year. That phone was a mixed bag, with sluggish performance, Android 5.1 out of the box and a smudge-prone, fingerprinty screen.
But the Honor 8 looks like a serious improvement, with flagship-class internals and build quality, backed up by a seriously improved software setup. So as launch day approaches, let's come to grips with what you need to know about the Honor 8 in the U.S.
1. It's essentially a Huawei P9
The Huawei P9 never made it to American shores, so the Honor 8 might be the closest thing (relatively) mainstream phone buyers get to experiencing the Chinese firm's latest hardware. On the outside, the differences are plentiful, but internally the Honor 8 is almost a carbon copy of the P9. There's a Kirin 950 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and a unique dual rear camera setup, combining a color sensor and greyscale sensor for improved contrast, as well as depth-based after-effects.
It's unclear whether the Honor 8 will benefit from the Leica-branded image tuning of the P9 — widely considered to be an exercise in branding, for the most part — but the underlying hardware appears to be the same.
Elsewhere, a 3,000mAh battery, USB Type-C connectivity and QuickCharge support add up to a capable collection of smartphone hardware — albeit hardware relatively unfamiliar to buyers in the United States.
2. Kirin in the U.S.?
In China (and, we'd expect, in Europe), the Honor 8 runs a Kirin 950 processor, made by the Huawei-owned Hisilicon. It's a speedy high-end chip that we've seen in action in the Huawei Mate 8 — as well as being closely related to the Kirin 955 in the Huawei P9, which is essentially the same processor at higher clocks.
But we've yet to see a Kirin-powered phone sold directly in the U.S., for a whole mess of reasons relating to national security and Huawei's alleged ties to the Chinese government. And it's not clear what besides Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 would make a suitable replacement for the SoC. (Snapdragon 652 is architecturally similar, but based on a far less power-efficient 28nm process.) So it'd be a big deal if Kirin did finally come to U.S., both for future Honor handsets and Huawei in general. It could, perhaps, open the door to more powerful Huawei phones like the P and Mate lines making it to American consumers in the next year.
3. Expect the best EMUI yet
Huawei's Android-based EMUI software has been a mixed bag. Some questionable design decisions, such as weird colored icon backgrounds combined with frequent software bugs and a frustrating notification system. As of the latest EMUI version however, things are starting to look up.
Like the Honor 8, the Huawei P9 comes with EMUI 4.1, based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. EMUI 4.1 is a big deal because it's slowly chipped away at all the broken things about Huawei's software, and even corrected design and aesthetic quibbles in recent updates. The Honor 5C, for instance, no longer forces old Google app icons on its users. (Hallelujah!) Slowly but surely, Huawei's software is making progress.
4. Competitive pricing
The Honor 8's Chinese price comes in at the equivalent of around US$340. There's no guarantee the U.S. price will directly match that of the Chinese model — in fact, taxes and shipping costs will almost certainly push it higher — but it at least gives us a baseline to work from.
Regardless, we're looking at what should be a sub-$400 phone with hardware broadly in line with many of 2016's flagship phones. Unlike the Honor 5X, this is no watered-down mid-ranger, despite its likely price point.
5. Dual cameras
Huawei has previously used the Honor brand to experiment with crazy camera features, but these often haven't made it to devices in the West (the sole exception was 2015's Honor 6 Plus). This time around, the Honor 8 looks to have inherited the Huawei P9's dual-camera setup, which uses two Sony sensors in tandem in an effort to produce sharper pics with better contrast. Along with that you've got dual-LED flash and laser autofocus, and a wealth of software-driven effects (including fake bokeh!) from the Huawei camera app.
Initially the Huawei P9's camera produced mixed results, particularly in low light. However successive software updates have improved things significantly, and while it's not going to beat the Galaxy S7 in a head-to-head fight, it's impressive in its own right.
That kind of camera performance in a sub-$400 smartphone could be a big deal, and a much needed differentiator.
We'll learn more about the Honor 8's U.S. debut at the launch event on Aug. 17, so stay tuned!