Honor 7

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.

The good

  • 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

The bad

  • Huawei's EMUI software is overbearing as ever
  • Many software issues from the P8 left unaddressed
  • Camera hit and miss in low light
Width Height Thickness
5.64 in
143.2mm
2.83 in
71.9mm
0.33 in
8.5mm
  • Display:
    • 5.2-inch Full HD
    • LCD Display
    • 1920x1080 resolution (435ppi)
  • Camera:
    • 20.7MP, ƒ/2.0 lens
    • 5MP front-facing camera
  • Battery:
    • 3100mAh capacity
    • Quick Charging
  • Chips:
    • Octa-core Huawei Kirin 935 processor
    • 4x2.2GHz A53e cores + 4x1.5GHz A53 cores
    • 3GB RAM
    • 16GB internal storage
    • microSD slot (also second SIM slot)

Honor 7

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

Honor 7

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.

Honor 7 swipe

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.

Honor 7

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.

Honor 7

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 apps

Familiar caveats

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.

Honor 7 apps

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.

Honor 7 camera

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.

Honor 7 camera options

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.

Honor 7

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.

Honor 7

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.

Presented by Blackberry

Talk Mobile You

Finding the spot for you on the mobile device spectrum

by Rene Ritchie, Daniel Rubino, Kevin Michaluk, Phil Nickinson

For the longest time your options with mobile devices were limited. If you wanted a smartphone, chances are you'd be getting one with a physical keyboard, either the Treo/BlackBerry-style "candybar" smartphone or a horizontal slider. If you wanted a tablet, you were looking at a thick stylus-driven experience mated to laptop-style internals. And if you wanted a laptop, well, you could get one of those, but couldn't expect anything better than a few hours battery life in a slow and bulky package.

Today things have changed. Smartphones are available in a variety of form factors from numerous manufacturers on multiple platforms. Tablets have ditched their laptop origins in favor of chipsets that more closely parallel their smartphone cousins. Laptops are thinner, lighter, more powerful, and longer-lasting than ever before.

Even some old technologies - like the stylus - have found a new life in today's devices. So just which one is right for whom, and which one is right for you?

Let's get the conversation started!

  1. 01 KEVIN Smartphones today are good enough and easy enough
  2. 02 PHIL A smartphone, a tablet, a… phablet?
  3. 03 RENE Tablets are the new portable computer for the masses
  4. 04 DANIEL Making the case for laptops in this supposed post-PC world

01

Smartphones today are good enough and easy enough

If we go back a few years to 2006 and asked 2006 Kevin the question "who are smartphones best for?", I would have answered differently than I would today. Smartphones weren't easy. They weren't exactly user-friendly, and had a steep learning curve to unlocking their full potential. Apps had to be downloaded on a computer and synced over a cable, regular restarts and resets weren't uncommon, and you needed a removable battery not just for quick power, but also to yank it out when things went awry. The technology wasn't there yet, hardware or software.

In the past few years, things have changed. Dramatically. We have smartphones that are faster, longer-lasting, more durable, beautiful, thinner, lighter, and loaded with sensors that always know what's going on around them. Software is more powerful and far easier to use, surfacing what the user needs while hiding away what they don't need to see.

Seven years ago, my answer would have encompassed mobile business people and those that needed to connect to the then nascent mobile web. Today, it's simple: everybody.

Smartphones today are powerful and easy that the average person can get enough use out of them to justify owning one. They're for the jet-setting business traveler, the college student, and the grandparent.

We can all benefit from smartphones. They've put information quickly and easily at our fingertips. Smartphones make let us stay constantly connected in text, voice, and even face-to-face. They predict our needs and tell us what we need to know before we need to know it.

Smartphones record our lives, be it through writing or drawing or photos or motion data. They help us capture moments on the fly, document what we need to keep, and remind us of the things we need to do. They track how we move and where we go, and if you want, can tell us how to get there.

The hidden complexity of smartphones has helped to reduce the complexity in our own lives.

The hidden complexity of smartphones has helped to reduce the complexity in our own lives. No longer do we need to carry a physical address book and day planner, a camera and an MP3 player. We don't need to keep a dedicated GPS navigator in our cars nor do we need to sit down in front of a computer to access the internet. The smartphone does all of this and so much more.

I can't think of anybody that can't get some benefit from owning a smartphone.

Who are smartphones best for? The answer is… everybody.

Derek Kessler / Managing Editor, Mobile Nations

02

A smartphone, a tablet, a… phablet?

One day, long from now, we’ll be telling stories to our grandkids. … “Back in my day, we had smartphones the size of small tablets. We put them in our pockets, we put them up to our ears. Nothing like what you kids have today.”

Whether our grandkids will be using smartphones the size of large tablets or attached to glasses or shoved into watches — or embedded directly into their brains — remains to be seen. (Personally, I’d expect some sort of seismic shift long before then.) But one trend became apparently around 2010 and 2011: small phones were done for.

A few experimented — the old Sony Xperia Mini comes to mind — but we quickly saw phones hit 4 inches. Then 4.3 inches. Then 4.5 and 4.7 inches. Now 5 inches — and even a little bigger — is the norm for a smartphone not named iPhone. The HTC One Mini? 4.3 inches is the new "mini."

Then came the Samsung Galaxy Note. Huge at the time — 5.3 inches?! — but rather pedestrian by today’s standards. The Note ushered in the age of the “phablet,” a horrible name (that no self-respecting smartphone nerd actually uses) for some that’s more than a smartphone but not quite a tablet. Since 2011, we’ve seen the likes of the Note 2 (5.5 inches) and 3 (5.7 inches). And other manufacturers followed suit, like LG with the Optimus G Pro (5.5 inches), Sony with the Xperia Z Ultra (6.4 inches!) and Samsung with the Galaxy Mega 5.8 and 6.3.

Screen size alone does not a phablet make.

It’s gotten to be a bit much. But that’s not to say these oversized phones haven’t been popular — and that’s not to say they haven’t added something to the ecosystem. In fact, screen size alone does not a phablet make, we’d argue. (And that’s another reason the word “phablet” is kind of dumb.) The good ones add something, be it pen input or pen input or … well, more often than not, they’ve added some sort of pen input.

None of this has really answered the question, though. Who are these monstrosities — these freak-of-nature phones — best for? The answer is an unexciting “Anyone.” At the end of the day, they’re no different than any other smartphones, oversized or not. Different sizes, different features. Different strokes for different folks.

03

Tablets are the new portable computer for the masses

From punch cards to command lines to point-and-click to multitouch, modern computer history has been the story of ever more accessible, ever more personal, ever more empowering technology. My father worked on mainframes. They were impenetrable to me. I grew up on command lines. My sister never gave them a second glance.

Everyone in my family has a laptop or desktop computer. Not a day has passed that my mother hasn’t felt lost in front of it. She now has an iPad. It can’t do anywhere nearly as much as her iMac, but with her iPad she can do far more than she ever could with her iMac.

Tablets that keep the inner workings as inner workings, those are the new, even more personal computers.

That’s the first group of people for whom tablets are ideal. Not all tablets mind you. Not the ones that still work and act like PCs. But mainstream computing appliances that don’t confuse or confound people with archaic desktop metaphors, anachronistic file systems, and insane levels of complexity. Tablets like the iPad and the Kindle Fire and the Nexus tablets; they keep the inner workings as inner workings and just let people drive. Those are the new, even more personal computers, and the perfect devices for most of the mainstream, most of the time.

They use direct manipulation, instant interactivity, constant save states, and seamless syncs to let you finger paint with productivity, sketch with information, and play with content in a way simple and delightful enough for a child to discover, yet profound enough for the most sophisticated person on planet to enjoy.

Which brings me to the second group. The nerds. The people for whom “second screen” makes any kind of sense, the people for whom taking a break from the desk means computing from the sofa, the ones who want to be constantly connected no matter what they’re doing or where they are.

Traveling with a laptop, even a ultra-book, for these uber-geeks is just not an option. When they want to travel light, they want light. Likewise browsing the web, catching up on email, reading a book, playing a game, watching a video - the idea of wasting a Photoshop- or Battlefield-class machine on such low-demand activity just flat out offends them.

They can use a tablet for that. In fact, they do. I do. Tablets are the new personal computer. They’re just more personal than ever.

04

Making the case for laptops in this supposed post-PC world

Laptops. In many ways they seem like yesterday’s technology. Today’s big hits? Smartphones, phablets, and tablets, of course. So who still needs a laptop?

Actually, many people do, but admittedly, the amount of time people feel the need to a new laptop and their actual usage is going down. Whereas people used to exclusively check and reply to email on such devices (or desktops), it’s often easier and faster to do it from your phone or tablet. It's on you, might as well use it, right?

Between advances in processors and displays, things are still moving fast in the laptop field.

Still, for the student, the professional, or the writer, laptops remain a key component in their daily routine. Between advances in processors (e.g. Intel’s powerful but battery-sipping fourth-generation Haswell chipset) to improved display quality from Samsung and Apple, things are still moving fast in the laptop field. That’s probably the irony here: while the technology is better than ever, it may be too late for many who have learned to live without that device category.

Laptops though are indispensable in the long run. They offer a full, comfortable keyboard, larger display size, more processing power, and more potential storage than a tablet or smartphone. Between their low profile and increasingly cheaper price points, laptops are ideal for the college student or the frequent traveler. Combined with in-air Wi-Fi and even AC outlets on newer planes, it's hard to say laptops aren't for travelers when there are so many thin-and-light options out there.

Let’s not forget about gamers, that subset who demands nothing but the most aggressive power from their machines. High resolution, raw CPU output and plenty of memory keep these portable rigs at the cutting edge of technology. The industry likes to constantly bemoan the death of PC gaming, but every year we see more and better hardware like the Razer Blade 14-inch machine. And it sells for big bucks. It's not quite a desktop gaming rig, but for the on-the-go gamer it's hard to beat. In the end, laptop usage may go down but those who need it will still gladly pay top dollar for the most advanced hardware. Whether you’re a journalist, student, writer, photographer or business user who travels, there will also be a need for a portable PC. Luckily, today is better than ever to get one.

CONCLUSION

When you get down to it, all technology these days is made for all people. Smartphones, phablets, tablets, and laptops are designed for you, me, your father, your grandmother, and your children. They're simultaneously easier than ever to use but also more powerful and flexible.

What it comes down to are your preferences and your needs. If you need gobs of power or do a lot of writing, then you might want a laptop with a keyboard. If you're an artist or spend most of your computing time browsing the web, then a tablet might be it for you. Need the ability to be mobile and connected? Consider a smartphone. How about something in between the smartphone and tablet? You know, a phablet?

What works best for you might take some experimentation, or at least going in to the store and trying it out. We’ve been saying all along that specs and stats aren't everything, but form factor and capabilities? Those are important.

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