Honoro 5X

CES 2016

Do not turn your nose up at a $199 smartphone. And definitely do not turn your nose up at the $199 Honor 5X. In fact, it's time we all stop using "budget phone" as a pejorative term. The Honor 5X is a pretty darn good Android smartphone that just happens to also not cost a whole lot of money.

And it's coming to the U.S. on Jan. 31.

I've been using the big cousin of the Honor 5X — the brand-new Huawei Mate 8 — for a couple weeks now. And it's bigger in just about every respect. Bigger display. Much more powerful Kirin 950 processor. Android 6.0 Marshmallow (the 5X is on Android 5.1.1). More memory. More storage. Basically all the things you'd expect to see in a $700 phone versus a $199 phone.

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But the the 5X still brings a lot to the table, and even a few things the Mate 8 doesn't have.

Honor 5X

Let's start with the body. We're looking at a 5.5-inch display with fairly thin side bezels. That puts it squarely in the big-but-not-too-big category — in fact the body is just about the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. It's made up of a brushed metal, but it definitely feels more plastic than premium, like the Mate line of phones. It's not bad, though, and it looks quite nice. The end caps are a smartly dimpled plastic, and the recessed fingerprint sensor contrasts nicely in a matte finish.

A couple of six-hole speaker grilles flank a microUSB port on the bottom of the phone. As is often the case, though, sound only comes from one side of the grille.

A dual-SIM (including micro SD support) configuration is found in the left edge, with Honor's usual volume rocker (on top) and power button on the right. Standard fare. And, frankly, it's not at all bad for a $199 phone.

The fingerprint sensor is configured same as others we've used from Huawei-family phones — just a few presses and you're good to go. And it seems to be as responsive. Pick up the phone. put your finger on the pad and everything wakes up. It's maybe not quite as fast as the Mate 8, but it's definitely close enough. And that's not unsurprising given that we've got a Snapdragon 616 under the hood, with just 2GB of RAM. Again, though, it's a $199 phone.

More: Check out the complete Honor 5X specs

Software-wise we're looking at EMUI 3.1 on top of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. And this is where things get a little interesting. EMUI isn't for everyone. It doesn't have an app drawer like most of us are used to on Android. Settings and menus and buttons are all heavily skinned, as are app icons. A third-party launcher can help with that some.

But more important is that some of the gripes we've had about EMUI in the past — mainly how notifications from Google apps tend to be broken. Black text on dark backgrounds tends to make things unreadable like that. But that's been fixed in EMUI 3.1. We'll need more time to go over our list of things that needed to be fixed — as well as to dive into some of the more obscure headaches — but that's a big one that's been fixed out of the box. And, in fact, that's something that's not even fixed on the more upscale Mate 8. So how's that for a "budget phone."

So there's your quick look at the Honor 5X. We'll have a lot more coming up as it nears release at the end of the month. Stay tuned!