As Huawei's Honor brand grows its mid-range offerings, it's time to measure up 2015's Honor 7 against the just-released Honor 5X

With the recent announcement of the Honor 5X — the first Honor phone to hit the U.S. market — Huawei's affordable sub-brand continues its focus on delivering decent specs at compelling price points. Over in Europe, Honor has already been competing around the £200-250 mark with the Honor 7, a similar handset that's been available since late 2014. So with the 5X due to land globally in the near future, it's time to see how it measures up against its little brother.

Read on for our quick comparison of the Honor 5X and Honor 7.

Honor 5X vs 7

The specs

Category Honor 7 Honor 5X
Operating System Android 5.1 Lollipop (with upgrade), EMUI 3.1 Android 5.1, EMUI 3.1
Display 5.2-inch 1080p LCD 5.5-inch 1080p LCD
Dimensions 143.2mm x 71.9mm x 8.5mm 151.3mm x 76.3mm x 8.15mm
Weight 158 grams 157 grams
CPU HiSilicon Kirin 935 (octa-core, 2.2GHz + 1.5GHz) Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 (octa-core, 1.5Ghz + 1.2GHz)
RAM 3GB 2GB
Storage 16GB + microSD 16GB + microSD
Camera 20.7MP, F/2.0 lens 13MP, F/2.0 lens
Front camera 8MP, F/2.4 lens, front LED flash 5MP, F/2.4 lens
Battery 3100mAh internal 3000mAh internal

External hardware

The shared design language of the Honor 7 and 5X is plain to see. From the front, the Honor 5X could easily be mistaken for its smaller sibling. Around the back, the differences are more subtle. Both devices use aluminum bodies, with plastic sections top and bottom to allow the antennae to do their thing. The main difference here is the finish of the metal — the Honor 7 features a "sand-blasted" aluminum rear, while the 5X has a slicker texture with an attractive brushed pattern. It's not unlike the back of the HTC One M9 in terms of both look and feel.

The slicker finish of the 5X makes it feel less obviously metallic than the Honor 7.

The slicker finish of the 5X makes it feel less obviously metallic than the Honor 7. In fact, pick it up for the first time and you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for plastic. Both look like classy devices — especially for the price — but the heft of the Honor 7 and its coarser texture give it more of a premium feel.

The other obvious difference is size. The Honor 7 packs a relatively compact 5.2-inch 1080p screen with slim horizontal bezels, whereas the 5X bumps this up to a roomier 5.5 inches at the same resolution. Despite this, both phones weigh about the same — 158 grams for the 5X versus 157 for the 7. And given that the Honor 5X's mass is spread out over a wider area, it doesn't feel quite as hefty.

Both phones offer an excellent fingerprint security system — a core feature of the series — and we've noticed no differences in the capabilities of the sensors used in the Honor 7 and 5X. Both are quick reliable and easy to set up.

Aside from the most obvious difference — the size — there's not a whole lot separating the displays of these two phones. Both the 5.2-inch screen of the Honor 7 and the 5X's 5.5-incher are Full HD 1080p panels, and both are similarly bright and vibrant, being easily visible in direct sunlight. Viewing angles are ever so slightly wider on the Honor 7, though the 5X's screen is perfectly fine in most use cases.

The Honor 5X is missing something crucial, though, and it has to do with what's on top of that display — or rather what's not. Unlike its smaller sibling, the 5X lacks any kind of oleophobic coating on its display, which means it's highly susceptible to getting gunked up from finger grease — much more so than the Honor 7. It's probably the phone's biggest hardware compromise, and one that you're aware of each time you use the device.

Honor 5X + 7

Software and Performance

The Honor 7 is due an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow imminently — sometime this month, according to the company. Meanwhile the Honor 5X launches on Android 5.1 Lollipop. And while it'll get Marshmallow in the future, it'll presumably be sometime after its higher-end cousin.

There's a lot of customization going on in both phones, and it's not always for the best.

So for the moment, the face of both phones is version 3.1 of Huawei's EMUI software, which is slowly improving, but remains something of an acquired taste. EMUI is based around an iOS-style springboard home screen arrangement, with icons being tweaked to fit with EMUI's visual style. The interface is heavily themeable, and you'll find plenty through the online theme portal. But most will mess with your icons, often resulting in a graphics that look slightly out of place.

Notifications (including lock screen notifications) are also handled the Huawei way, not the Google Android way, which can take a bit of getting used to. And on the current Honor 7 stable software (not including the Marshmallow beta), there are a few unresolved bugs that prevent apps like Gmail from displaying clearly in the notification shade. (Or at all on the lock screen.) That's not good — but it is fixed in the Honor 5X's variation of EMUI 3.1. Such are the vagaries of Huawei's software.

EMUI comparison

Left: EMUI 4.0 on Honor 7; Right: EMUI 3.1 on Honor 5X

Huawei's changes to the task-switching menu can make it more difficult to manage chrome tabs too. That's an issue you'll need to deal with on both handsets.

The Marshmallow update for Huawei phones will bring EMUI 4.0, a new revision of the software that we've already seen on the Mate 8. It's an improvement in a lot of areas, with new swooping animations and a cleaner approach to the inevitable icon customization. But it's not yet ready for public consumption.

The Honor 7 outperforms its cheaper sibling.

Despite the few frustrating software issues we've run across, EMUI actually does a lot right when it comes to features. Helpful gestures let you take screenshots by tapping the screen with your knuckle, bring down the notification shade by swiping down on the fingerprint scanner, or double-tap the sensor to clear notifications. Much of this stuff is buried in the Settings app, but it's worth exploring to find new software tricks you might not be aware of.

So the bottom line here is that Huawei's software in general will take some adjustment if you're used to the way Android is interpreted by the likes of Samsung, LG and HTC. Software remains a sore spot for Huawei, but with any luck the upcoming EMUI 4 updates will bring a significant step forward.

One major surprise — or not, depending on your perspective — is that the Honor 7 seriously outperforms its less expensive brother in general UI responsiveness and animation fluidity. That's likely due to the differences in CPUs between the phones; whatever the reason, it's noticeable.

Battery life

On paper there's not much separating the batteries of the Honor 7 and Honor 5X — the former boasts a 3,100mAh fixed internal cell, while the latter has a 3,000mAh unit. One significant factor affecting power consumption is that you're powering a smaller display in the Honor 7 — although the differences in CPU will likely affect longevity too.

In real-world usage, the Honor 5X seems to come out on top, but not by a lot. We've easily gotten a full day out of these phones, but heavy use seems to take a greater toll on the Honor 7 than the 5X. The cheaper, Snapdragon-powered 5X routinely got us 5 hours of screen-on time per day, whereas the Kirin-powered Honor 7 got us between 4 and 4.5 hours.

As we've noted above, though, the Honor 7 feels noticeably quicker during day-to-day use, so at least you're getting something extra in exchange for a slight hit in battery life.

Cameras

Camera

Both the Honor 7 and Honor 5X put in a pretty good showing here, with the 20-megapixel Honor 7 camera and the 5X's 13-megapixel shooter producing generally good-looking images in well-lit scenes — before falling victim to the laws of physics in darker conditions. The Honor 7 has a higher ceiling for image quality, and is also less susceptible to the kind of artefacting and noise that tends to eat away at fine detail. But these are differences you'll only notice upon examining your photos up close.

No surprises — your extra £50 or so buys you better image quality in the Honor 7 — but the 5X isn't far behind.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is the Honor 7's superior dynamic range. The 5X tends to wash-out skies or underexpose terrain in shots with challenging lighting conditions, though this can be mitigated with HDR mode.

The other big difference is the front camera. The Honor 7 can boast a sharper 8-megapixel sensor for selfies, along with a front-facing LED to illuminate your mug in darker conditions. Unsurprisingly, the plain old 5-megapixel front-facer of the Honor 5X can't quite measure up. It's fine in daylight; in a dark bar at night, not so much.

You'll also miss out on some of Huawei's headline camera modes on the Honor 5X, the big one being Super Night mode, which lets you use a tripod (or very steady hands) to capture longer exposures. Whether that's due to the optics of the camera or merely the lack of a capable sensor, night photography isn't among the 5X's strengths.

Wrap-up

Honor 5X vs 7

With the 5X, Honor has reinterpreted its 2015 flagship as an entry-level device that retains many (but not all) of its premium features. Obviously the Honor 7 is the better device, in terms of both speed, build quality and feature set. The question when deciding between the two has to come down to what the extra £50 — assuming you're buying unlocked — gets you.

The answer? A subtle but tangible improvement in build quality, a screen that won't get gunked up so easily, a superior camera experience and a faster update to Marshmallow.

That said, the core experience of the Honor 5X is really solid for a phone that costs less off-contract than many smartwatches and other high-end accessories. The fact that you can get a complete (although not perfect) Android experience for £189.99 is impressive in itself.

Software is a crucial part of any phone, though, and both models stumble a little in this area — at least for the moment. That said, we're hopeful for some meaningful improvements in the upcoming EMUI 4.0

Have you bought an Honor 5X or Honor 7? Share your thoughts on these phones down in the comments!