The latest from Huawei's Honor brand boasts phenomenal value — but with a few familiar caveats ...
The quick take
Through a mix of solid hardware — in terms of performance as well as build quality — the Honor 7 finds its way into the fast-growing category of really-good-and-extremely-affordable Android phones. At a functional level, it does just about everything really well, and it packages that functionality in the kind of impressive metal chassis we've come to expect from Huawei. But just as Huawei is a strength for Honor, it's also a weakness. For some buyers, particularly Android purists, the company's highly customized EMUI software will be the biggest reason not to buy.
Solid build quality and easy one-handed use
Fingerprint scanner works well
Speedy, lag-free performance
Bright, punchy display and impressive speaker
Excellent value for money
Huawei's EMUI software is overbearing as ever
Many software issues from the P8 left unaddressed
Camera hit and miss in low light
5.64 in 143.2mm
2.83 in 71.9mm
0.33 in 8.5mm
5.2-inch Full HD
1920x1080 resolution (435ppi)
20.7MP, ƒ/2.0 lens
5MP front-facing camera
Octa-core Huawei Kirin 935 processor
4x2.2GHz A53e cores + 4x1.5GHz A53 cores
16GB internal storage
microSD slot (also second SIM slot)
About this review
We're publishing this review after a week using a European-spec Honor 7 (PLK-L01) in the UK. Most of the time we used our review device on Vodafone UK, in areas with decent LTE and HSPA coverage and a 64GB Samsung microSD card fitted. To test the phone's dual-SIM capabilities, we used it with an EE SIM alongside the Vodafone SIM.
Honor 7 Video Walkthrough
Familiar, Sturdy, Dependable
Honor 7 Hardware
If you know your Huawei phones, the look and feel of the Honor 7 is pretty easy to sum up. It's basically a cross between the Mate 7 — last year's Huawei "phablet" device — and the company's current high-end offering, the P8. Although Honor is its own distinct brand in the UK, the Huawei design traits are clear to see. There's a largely untouched front face, save for the usual earpiece, camera and sensors, while the back panel serves as a reminder of Huawei's high-end phones, with a curved aluminum surface and eye-catching chamfers.
Veterans of the Honor series will find a device closer to the Honor 6 than the larger (and beefier) 6 Plus. The LCD gets a modest bump up to 5.2 inches with the same 1080p resolution, while modest hardware upgrades from the Honor 6 can be found in other areas.
This is basically the offspring of a Mate 7 and a P8.
The Honor 7 runs Huawei's homegrown 64-bit Kirin 935 CPU, an octa-core chip packing four higher-clocked "A53e" cores at up to 2.2GHz and four lower-power A53 cores at 1.5GHz. If you're keeping score here, that's basically the same as the Kirin 930 powering the Huawei P8, only at higher clock speeds. And it's paired with an ARM Mali-T624 GPU and a roomy 3GB of RAM. Elsewhere, the battery capacity stays at an ample 3,100mAh, while the front and rear cameras earn upgrades to 8 and 20 megapixels respectively. (The front camera's also grown an LED flash for low-light duckfacing.)
There's an even more significant addition around the back. The Honor 7 features a touch-activated fingerprint sensor with a few neat tricks to offer. As well as biometric security — no need to unlock first, by the way, as touching the sensor will activate it even when the phone is off — you can swipe down to open the notification shade, or up to view recent apps. The notification shortcut in particular is ridiculously useful — even on a relatively small phone like the Honor 7, reaching up to the notification shade can be troublesome, and the swipe shortcut replaces this awkward finger-gymnastics with one easy gesture. We really hope everyone working on a fingerprint-scanning phone steals this feature.
The new fingerprint sensor enables a couple of ridiculously useful software shortcuts.
And like just about everything else in Huawei's EMUI, these extra functions are configurable in the menus. There's also a "smart" button on the left edge, which can be programmed to load up different apps or perform various tasks on a single, double or long press. All genuinely useful stuff, though it's easy to accidentally press the "smart" button along with the power button when picking the phone up.
The Honor 7's display matches that of the P8 on paper, and we found it to be equally bright and vibrant as well. (And, anecdotally, perhaps a bit easier to see in direct sunlight.) There doesn't seem to be anything too crazy going on with contrast enhancement, though Huawei has implemented a brightness-limiting feature that adjusts the backlight brightness depending on the brightness of the image being shown.
Despite the presence of two grills, there's just a single loudspeaker to be found, located to the left of the microUSB port. Smartphone speakers are still really hit-and-miss, but the Honor 7's impressed us, and like the P8 it offers surprising volume, bass and clarity from a relatively small cutout.
In the hand, the Honor 7 feels sturdy yet classy. The top and bottom sections are plastic to allow those all-important radio waves in and out, but the main contact points are along the metal sides and back, so this isn't especially noticeable. The same goes for the slim plastic border between screen and body — which should protect the phone from knocks and scrapes as well.
Like most Huawei phones these days, the Honor 7 nails the fundamentals.
Conventional wisdom suggests that a 5.2-inch screen is about the limit for comfortable one-handed use, and this holds true for the Honor 7. There's no in-hand slippage due to the metal body, and the combination of this screen size and the angular metal design makes the Honor 7 easy to one-hand. While it's not spectacularly thin or light, it feels solid and dependable — arguably more so than a lot of more expensive phones.
Dual-SIM connectivity is the other big trick up the Honor 7's sleeve. The SIM tray has two slots — a primary nanoSIM slot, and a secondary slot that can hold either a second nanoSIM or a microSD card. In a country like the UK, where users aren't generally hopping between two coverage areas, dual-SIM support isn't especially useful. But it is an added bonus for frequent travelers, and doubling it up with the microSD slot means it's not wasted if you're just using one network.
As for internal storage, you're limited to 16 gigabytes, which is the bare minimum of what we'd consider acceptable from any smartphone in 2015. You'll have 10GB and change left over for your own stuff, though the SD slot may alleviate some of your storage woes.
Other hardware notables? There's a top-mounted IR blaster that works with the built-in "Smart Controller" app, allowing you to control just about anything with an IR receiver. And quick charging support is included, though we're told the bundled charger won't be quick-charge compatible. While we couldn't confirm that the phone was definitely charging at higher voltages on our Motorola Turbo Charger, it seemed to reach peak capacity pretty quickly.
Honor 7 Software
The Honor 7 runs Huawei's EMUI 3.1 software atop Android 5.0. And if you've read our P8 review you'll know what to expect here — a heavily-skinned version of Android with a highly-customized look, a few pet hates, and system that feels at odds with Google's vision of the OS.
Though most of the things that were straight-up broken about the P8's initial firmware have been fixed, many visual and functional annoyances remain.
EMUI continues to be afflicted by visual and functional annoyances.
Aesthetically, there's a lot to like. The UI is built around circles, lines and rounded icons, with accent colors from your chosen wallpaper being included in Huawei's built-in apps. Everything, including app icons, is heavily themeable, and the library of themes has been expanded upon since the days of the P8, including some that now actually look pretty good.
The entire theming system still feels overbearing, though, and because not all the themes are up to date with the latest app icons, the experience is somewhat disjointed too. It's one of many areas of the software where we wish Huawei would have just left things alone.
Others include the notification system, which duplicates notifications from some apps, including Gmail, and only shows notifications on the lock screen if you're using a certain lock screen style. If you're used to the relatively light touch of Samsung, HTC or LG, these changes may well be maddening. If not, then they are what they are: Different, and not necessarily for the better. In particular, Huawei's approach to "protected apps" — apps with permission to run when the screen is off — and constant notification area nags about apps using power in the background, add unnecessary mental overhead.
When it comes to overall performance and the visual cohesiveness of Huawei's own apps, there's not much to complain about. While it might not gel with Google's vision of the OS, it's clean, sharp and undeniably iOS-influenced.
You also can't fault EMUI's expansive feature set, which is surprisingly light on cruft and surprisingly heavy on genuinely useful stuff, like programmable shortcut buttons, voice-activated wake-up functionality and a wide array of camera features. But we'd still like to see a comprehensive overhaul of Huawei's software for EMUI 4.0, and hopefully see this highly customized layout replaced with something closer to vanilla Android.
We've got a more in-depth look at EMUI 3.1 in our P8 review, so check that out for more of the good, the bad and the confusing from Huawei's take on Android.
Competent, if not spectacular
Honor 7 Camera
As smartphone hardware becomes more commoditized, imaging is one of the few areas left where traditional flagship phones have an edge. Even so, we're starting to see some impressive photographic capabilities from less expensive handsets, including Huawei's own Honor 6 Plus with its wacky dual-camera setup.
The Honor 7 opts for a traditional front and rear camera arrangement, however. There's a 20-megapixel shooter around the back, behind an f/2.0 lens with dual-tone LED flash, while the front-facer gets bumped up to 8 megapixels and is joined by a single LED of its own.
This is no Galaxy S6-beater, but it is capable across the board, and occasionally very impressive.
When you're selling a phone around the £250 price point, however, there are some trade-offs to be made. The biggest of these is the lack of optical image stabilization, which is the main reason the Honor 7 can't match the clarity of phones twice its price in low-light conditions. (And that's not unexpected, honestly.)
There is a "super night" shooting mode that combines a series of longer exposures, though this is largely useless without a tripod. We've also noticed an unfortunate tendency for the Honor 7 to miss focus in darker conditions, resulting in shots that are both blurry and grainy.
As for pics in good to moderately-lit conditions, the Honor 7 is a reliable performer across the board. Auto HDR mode dutifully kicks in to prevent washed-out skies and underexposed landscapes, keeping everything evenly lit. Overall, we have no real complaints when it comes to image quality — plenty of detail is captured thanks to the high-resolution sensor, and colors are generally accurate, if somewhat desaturated compared to the likes of the GS6 and G4.
Huawei's camera app also presents a bunch of useful features, including a dedicated light painting mode like the P8's, where longer exposures are used to create artistic light trail effects. You'll want to use a tripod with this feature though, as the lack of OIS makes it almost impossible to get steady, longer exposures with the phone in-hand.
As for the front camera, it's comparable with what you'd get from the current Android flagships, complete with beautification modes to either enhance your features, or make you look like a terrifying live waxwork version of yourself. There's also a front-facing LED for when the lights are low and fun things are happening, which, given the proximity to your face, takes a little getting used to.
So that's the Honor 7 camera experience — competent, capable, but not quite a match for the current flagships, or, we'd argue, the Honor 6 Plus's insane low-light capabilities. Everything about this phone needs to be considered in the context of its price, though, and with that in mind you're getting a pretty solid imaging setup for your money.
All that juice
Honor 7 Battery Life
By the numbers alone, a 3,100mAh battery should be able to provide more than enough juice for a phone like the Honor 7. The manufacturer claims heavy users will comfortable get more than a day (1.2 days, in fact) out of the phone's fixed battery, with lighter use getting you up to two days per charge.
One day with ease, or two at a squeeze.
And our experiences with the phone track pretty closely to that. Throughout more than a week of testing the Honor 7 never died on us before the day's end, even with extensive use on LTE, and with two SIMs inserted. On lighter days, which were mostly limited to Wifi usage indoors, we easily reached the evening with 50 percent or more remaining. In terms of screen-on time, we're looking at anywhere between 3.5 to 5 hours, depending on usage.
A word of warning on some of the battery charts displayed here: The firmware version we're using doesn't seem to display awake time and mobile network reception properly, so take both with a pinch of salt.
For all practical purposes, though, you'll simply won't need to worry about battery life if you're used to a regular nightly charging pattern. That's still not true of all high-end phones, so Huawei deserves credit where it's due.
As for charging, the Honor 7 supports quick charging — a welcome addition given the battery size — although Qualcomm's standard isn't specifically mentioned by the manufacturer. That said, Quick Charge 2.0 doesn't necessarily require a Qualcomm CPU, and as previously mentioned we've found the phone charges fast enough using a Motorola Turbo Charger.
A worthy contender?
Honor 7: The Bottom Line
The Honor 7's impressive array of hardware and highly competitive price point makes it worthy of your attention, and perhaps your money too. As usual, Huawei gets the hardware side of the equation right — the Honor 7 is a well-built, premium handset and a quick performer, camera capabilities that stand out in the mid-range space. EMUI, despite its flaws, adds genuinely useful capabilities, and has a coherent look throughout, even when themed.
The brand is different, but the hardware and software remains the same.
But we think it's time for an overhaul of Huawei's software experience. From the confusing notification and background app management system to the overbearing way in which EMUI takes over icons and status bar colors, there's plenty here to irritate Android purists. If that's you, that could be a reason not to buy.
Ultimately, as much as Honor is a distinct brand in its own right, its handsets' triumphs and foibles run in parallel with the parent company's. You're still getting a Huawei phone through-and-through, with all the benefits and annoyances that brings.
Should you buy the Honor 7? Maybe
We keep saying this over and over, and we'll have to do so again here: Huawei makes great hardware — really great hardware. But software continues to be a glaring weak point. For that reason we can't recommend the Honor 7 unreservedly, but it is worthy of your consideration if you're shopping around for a capable new mid-range handset. But the Honor 7 has tons of competition from countless rivals, and you'd be wise to take a look at the hardware-software balance from the likes of Alcatel, Motorola and ASUS before parting with your cash.
The Android Developer Challenge 2 is in its first round of judging and it's up to us Android users to determine which apps make it to Round 2! Simply head to Android Market and download the Android Developer Challenge 2 Application to participate. The Android Developer Challenge 2 Judging Application will display applications for users to download and score according to a set criteria (originality, effective use of Android platform, etc).
The first round of judging will last 2 weeks and determine the Top 20 applications in the 10 categories. Remember, the first round is entirely determined by user votes. In the second round, user votes will account for 40% of the final score with the remaining 60% determined by industry experts.
The Android Developer Challenge 2 will most certainly deliver a slew of great applications for the Android platform and we can't wait to test them all out. Let us know which applications you think are simply amazing in the comments!
At this point, we know so much about the Sprint HTC Hero that nothing really can surprise us anymore. It's chin-less, round-ish, and altogether pretty safe design-wise. So instead of focusing on the phone itself, how would you like to take a look at the box art of the much anticipated next Android device? Rather generic looking, ain't it?
What this leaked picture most likely means is that Sprint is familiarizing its team of workers with the HTC Hero in order to give customers advice on the workings of the device. Thus, the leaks. But if you read this site with any regularity, you'd probably prefer figuring out the inner workings of the HTC Hero yourself and can instead take this leak as a sign that the HTC Hero is going to be available right around the corner.
Now this is more like it. With the onset of the Motorola CLIQ and the G1's own price drop, T-Mobile has just dropped the price of the myTouch 3G to a pretty competitive $149.99. We strongly believe that the $149.99 price point should have been the launch price of the myTouch 3G but that's all water under the bridge now.
The myTouch 3G is a great phone for Android beginners and experts alike and we'd imagine this price drop will spur sales for T-Mobile until the CLIQ comes. So, what do you guys say--are you going to grab the myTouch 3G for $149.99 or wait for the Motorola CLIQ for an as yet unknown price?
The Samsung Galaxy Lite, what we predicted to be a HTC Tattoo competitor, has shown its sort-of pretty face in new pictures! Though to us, the pictures of the Galaxy Lite kind of, sort of look like dummy units, you can still get a good feel for the styling of the Galaxy Lite.
The specs of the Galaxy Lite are:
3.0″ WQVGA TFT Touchscreen
3.2 megapixel camera
Android OS 1.5
Google Apps and Android Market
3G, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth
3.5mm audio jack
Memory 200MB internal and MicroSD card (up to 32G)
Okay, maybe it's a little bit better than the HTC Tattoo. And could Touchwiz be a yet-to-be announced custom build of Android a la HTC Sense and MOTOBLUR? Hopefully we'll find out soon. One thing for certain, can we get the cute little Android Robot laser-etched on ALL of our Android devices?
The next big feature for smartphones (and all mobile devices, really) is the augmented reality browser. Augmented Reality applications show the world around you in a brand new way--through the looking glass of your smartphone. Layar is a pioneer of this new method of 'seeing the world' and they've just unveiled their 3D-engine to make their browser all the more real.
The 3D-engine in the Layar Reality Browser kicks Augmented Reality Browsers up a notch. Developers can now tag real-life objects with 3D text or even drop 3D images in the browser. In Layar's words, "the addition of 3D enables Layar developers to create more realistic and immersive augmented reality experiences for mobile devices."
The video above shows a hilarious Pac-Man game being played in your average park, though that in itself doesn't do much for end-users, developers will certainly take advantage of the added depth that 3D enables.
We're big fans of Augmented Reality Browsers and Layar is definitely an application we've kept a close eye on. We can't wait to see what 3D can do to an already wonderful Android application.
The Samsung InstinctQ (also known as the Samsung M900) just passed through the hands of the Notorious FCC. And when yet-to-be announced products pass through the FCC, it typically means it's going to be announced sooner rather than later. So should we expect the Samsung InstinctQ/M900 to take over the daily headlines in the near future?
We think yes. The Samsung InstinctQ was previously rumored to release in October, and though that seems a wee bit too close, we're fairly certain an announcement (at the least) is on its way. The Notorious FCC leaks that the InstinctQ will rock CDMA/EV-DO connectivity which definitely points toward Sprint being the carrier. Everything else seems to be standard fare--Android OS, Bluetooth, and WiFi. The InstinctQ deserves bonus points for a hardware keyboard though.
What do you guys think? Is a hardware QWERTY keyboard enough to make you pass on the HTC Hero and wait for this puppy? Or are you just happy to see Android take off?
Sprint has announced their 9th annual Developer Conference and for the first time ever, we'll have to pay attention. Why? Because the Sprint Developer Conference will have a heavy focus on our favorite Android OS, with Google Engineers on-site to discuss Android Market and more specifically, Android development. What makes the deal even sweeter is that Sprint will also be giving away 400 HTC Hero units to developers.
So if you're interested in Android development, head on over to the Sprint Dev Conference website to sign up! We love that Sprint is taking their Android efforts so seriously, we believe that this conference will be fruitful for developers and thus down the line, Android users.
The Sprint Developer Conference is October 26-28, 2009 at Santa Clara, California.
While Verizon & AT&T have aligned themselves with LTE and T-Mobile is sticking with 21Mbps HSPA+, Sprint has heavily invested in a WiMax network by Clearwire for their 4G-speed offerings. So it's really no surprise that Sprint is planning to release a WiMax-speed smartphone in 2010. What is surprising is that some reports are pointing that device to be a Samsung-built, Android-powered smartphone. Android, Samsung, and WiMax? We're already sold.
Though Sprint is just starting to launch their Android portfolio (with the wonderful HTC Hero), a truly ground-breaking device like a WiMax speed, Android-powered smartphone would be an absolute game changer for the sinking carrier. With the speed of WiMax, we're talking about data speeds 3-5x faster than what an iPhone 3GS can do. Yeah, that's pretty fast. By the end of 2010, about 80 cities will be covered in the WiMax network, a fairly respectable number given the breathtaking speeds of 4G.
We know 2009 isn't over yet but if a 4G/WiMax Android device is coming by the end of 2010, we won't even mind pining for a device that's more than a year away. What do you guys think? Android, Samsung, Sprint, WiMax for the win?
Cellular South, the largest privately held wireless provider in the US which focuses on customers in the gulf coast, will be the third US carrier to officially support Android (T-Mobile and Sprint being first and second). Cellular South just announced that they will offer the Sprint-styled HTC Hero to their 5 million customers and it'll pack all the goodies of Google Apps and Android Market. Confession: We've never heard of Cellular South until now.
The Sprint-styled HTC Hero is the generically designed, chin-less version of the HTC Hero that packs a 5 megapixel camera and runs HTC Sense. Though we wish that they would offer the daringly styled, chin-full GSM version, it's still great to see a small carrier like Cellular South put their efforts behind an Android device that we believe to be the best Android offering available.
If anyone is a Cellular South customer or ever used Cellular South, please let us know in the comments how Cellular South is!
One of the greatest things about Android is that any company can tweak, modify, or add to the open-source of Android. We've seen both HTC and Motorola do some really great things with that freedom and we're certain that more companies will dabble in the customization. Case in point: Larva Labs just showed a concept that'll give Android a "Intelligent Home Screen" a la Windows Mobile's Today Screen.
The "Intelligent Home Screen" allows Android users to filter through personal items and general items. In a demo of the "Intelligent Home Screen" we see that personal items such as SMS, e-mails, phone calls are loaded on the top portion of the screen and general items like RSS feeds are shown on the bottom of the screen. The two categories are separated by a date and time bar. The entire interface is customizable--you can choose how many personal items or general items to display, you can choose font size, and even what is shown.
The "Intelligent Home Screen" would be a welcome addition to Android because the concept of a Today Screen is so useful in day-to-day usage. Though Larva Labs' Intelligent Home Screen is only in concept form, we're pretty sure once this is available to Android users, it's going to be a hit. What do you guys think?
The leaked images are of the blurrycam nature and though that typically casts doubt in our minds, we just want this to be real so bad that we can forgive the shoddy camera work. The pictures never really detail the specifics of the amazingly beautiful UI that Sony Ericsson has built on top of Android (like HTC did with Sense) but a couple shots of Android staple screens are enough to hold us over.
Images of a white Sony Ericsson XPERIA X3 'Rachael' Android phone have also leaked. All the pictures of this highly anticipated Android phone can be found after the jump!
As always with anything intensive like this, proceed at your own discretion. The Cyanogen ROM, though wonderful, is still unofficial and a rooted phone, though amazing, may cause fits for the average user. If you're still interested in experiencing the new Android Market, head over to CyanogenMod to see how it's done.
Let us know your thoughts on the new Android Market!
Chalk this up as another reason to love Android. Android just received its second video broadcasting/streaming application, Ustream (the first being qik). Any Android user who downloads Ustream (for free in Android Market) will be able to instantly shoot video and stream it live over 3G or Wi-Fi. Other features include local recording for higher quality web sharing later and polling and chatting with viewers in real time.
One of the purported benefits of Ustream vs Qik is that Ustream handles latency (aka lag) better. In early testing, lag time of three seconds over 3G have been reported. That's nothing short of amazing. We're excited to see bigger developers release full-featured applications on Android, sorry we can't say the same for our iPhone using friends. Zing!
If you've been keeping track of the T-Mobile 3G rollout like we know you have, you'll be happy to know that it's steadily moving along. The latest cities to receive T-Mobile 3G are Honolulu, Hawaii and Salt Lake City, Utah. So whether you're enjoying the last remnants of summer in Waikiki or anticipating the impending snow season in Salt Lake City, you'll be able to experience the game changing feature that is 3G.
But the news gets even better for Philadelphians. T-Mobile is cranking up the current 3G in Philly and bringing 21Mbps HSPA+ to T-Mobile users in the city of Brotherly Love. We know that T-Mobile plans to use 21Mbps HSPA+ in lieu of moving to 4G (LTE) and though we disagree with the decision in the long-term, 21Mbps HSPA+ right now sounds like the best 3G data around. (For comparison, current T-Mobile 3G is capped at 1.8Mbps and even AT&T's 3G maxes out at 7.2Mbps)
Those in Honolulu, Salt Lake City, and especially Philadelphia, please let us know in the comments how the 3G is working!
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