Honor 8X review: For $250, it doesn't get much better than this

Honor has long challenged the idea of what affordable smartphones should be. The Huawei subsidiary began this transformation way back on the Honor 5X. We're a few phones in now, and you can tell Honor has gotten pretty comfortable producing good smartphones at this level.

The phones look and feel better than ever, and the Huawei of new has taken care to get its software and hardware quality under control.

We're on the Honor 8X now, and this is the phone that shows just how far Huawei's alternative brand has come. But we're not here to award points on the company's epic rise in smartphone dominance — we're here to see if the Honor 8X is worth the $250 it's sold at. Let's find out.

Pros:

  • Premium two-tone glass finish
  • FullView display is blissful
  • Massive battery goes all day long
  • Kirin 710 chipset with 6GB of RAM runs EMUI 8.2 quite smoothly
  • AI-powered dual cameras simplify photography

Cons:

  • EMUI, while smooth, comes with too many apps
  • Outdated charging and power options
  • No water resistance

About this review

I've been using the Honor 8X for 8 days. This is model JSN-AL00, the 128GB + 6GB model of the smartphone sold exclusively in China. It comes with EMUI 8.2.0.155, which was the latest update as of this writing. It shows an Android security patch date of December 1, 2018.

Honor 8X Design and Hardware

When I think of what a $250 phone should look and feel like, I don't picture a phone like the Honor 8X. Its predecessor seemed more appropriate given that all-metal builds are typical for phones of this ilk.

And yet, Honor has managed to machine a beautiful smartphone that commands attention. The front side looks nice and modern with its 6.5-inch FullView display complete with the notch we all love to hate, but turn it over to reveal one of the best designs we've ever seen.

Whereas the Honor 7X was made out of a full aluminum block, the Honor 8X bookends a metal frame with two strong pieces of glass. The rear features a striking two-tone finish under that glass, one that sports a not-always-subtle gradient that stops at a sharp change in shades where the camera bits sit.

It sort of jumps right at your eyeballs the first time you see it, and then it's hard to take your eyes off the thing. It has the elegance of something far beyond its grade. The glass doesn't exactly melt into the frame like we see on higher-end devices with 2.5D glass, but it's slick all the same.

There's no real functional reason for the glass as the Honor 8X sadly doesn't include wireless charging (and we're not counting attenuation concerns), so this was a pure design play. I have no complaints about that other than it makes the phone a little bit slippery on smooth surfaces, so a case (a slim clear case is included in every box) or extra care is needed when handling it.

Staying on the rear of the device, you'll notice those two aforementioned cameras. One is a 20-megapixel sensor that does all the heavy lifting, while a secondary 2-megapixel depth sensor is used for advanced imaging needs like simulated bokeh, neither of which add much girth to an already-thin body. It's flanked by a lone LED flash. The middle features a delightfully speedy fingerprint sensor sitting flush inside the slab of glass, and an NFC radio under the hood opens the way for mobile payments and easier pairing with other devices that use it.

A phone this cheap shouldn't look this good.

Volume and power buttons are kicked off to the right edge, while the left houses a dual SIM tray that features a third slot solely for adding a microSD card. On the bottom are the bottom-firing speaker, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the main microphone (the noise canceling microphone sits at the top edge), and — unfortunately — a Micro-USB port for charging and data.

I'm happy to see that users of analog audio equipment haven't been forsaken, but I'm highly disappointed Honor opted not to include a USB-C port here when the industry has long been settled on the new standard. This results in annoyances from both convenience and performance standpoints, with charging speeds and transfer times suffering heavily compared to most modern smartphones. As for that speaker, it's loud enough for a personal music listening or video watching session but look to your headphones and Bluetooth speakers if you're in need of higher quality.

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SpecsHonor 8X
Screen6.5-inch Full HD+ (2340x1080) IPS LCD
ChipsetHiSilicon Kirin 710
RAM4GB/6GB
Storage64GB/128GB
SoftwareAndroid 8.1 Oreo, EMUI 8.2
Rear Camera 120MP, ƒ/1.8
Rear Camera 22MP
Front Camera16MP, ƒ/2.0
SecurityRear fingerprint, face unlock
Battery3750mAh
ConnectivityWi-Fi ac, BT4.2, NFC, microUSB, FM Radio
ColorsBlack, Red, Blue
Dimensions160.4 x 76.6 x 7.8mm
Weight175g
Price$250

Back to the front, we see that controversial notch design that was popularized by Apple. It's noticeable, but not overbearing. On that notch sits a 16-megapixel camera for selfies, as well as an LED light, a speaker dot, and the sensors for reading ambient light and proximity. I'm not bothered by notches so long as the software can properly work around them, and the Honor 8X posed no problems in that regard. If you don't like it, there's an option to "disable" it (just know that the non-perfect black produced by LCD screens makes it more obvious that it's a software trick).

The whole point of the notch, though, is to make way for the 1080p FullView display, boasting a 91% screen-to-body balance in a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. This design offers the most screen real estate possible without affecting ergonomics. I found the phone easy to hold and use without the need for the included one-handed mode, but I also have big hands.

The display itself is nothing special. It's a sharp 6.5-inch LCD panel that has nice even lighting and good vibrancy in most usage scenarios. The ability to customize color temperature, screen resolution, and color modes is much appreciated.

Viewing angles suffer slightly when looking at the Honor 8X off-center, such as those times when I just want to check my notifications without having to pick the phone up off my desk. The display is also practically unusable at its lowest brightness setting, a real bummer for people like me who prefer to turn it way down at night. And even if all you're after is a nice balance, it doesn't seem to have much middle ground in terms of its luminosity scale, something to consider if you have a sensitivity to brightness.

I didn't find myself starving for battery life all that much. Inside is a 3,750mAh pack, which I've found was enough to go close to two days with moderate usage. A more stressful test for the battery — the time I spent combing through EMUI to see everything it had to offer, brightness set at medium — saw it expiring at the 18-hour mark, more than enough time for a long work day.

Charging speed over USB was not at all good, so I often had to juice up tethering the Honor 8X to a wall using the really short Micro-USB cable it comes with. The speeds were more acceptable with that method, but still not nearly as good as the latest fast charging standards.

Performance

Battery life is good enough not to consider the Honor 8X's charging pitfalls backbreaking. Much of that impressive battery life has to do with the super-efficient Kirin 710 under the hood, which utilizes an octa-core chipset and a Mali-G51 MP4 GPU on a 12nm die.

The Kirin 710 uses four ARM Cortex-A73 cores clocked at 2.2GHz for heavy duty processing work, while another four 1.7GHz Cortex-A53 cores keep things running smoothly without sucking on battery life when Android doesn't need all that power. Pair it with 4GB or 6GB of RAM depending on which exact model you get, and the result is pretty impressive.

We owe some of that praise to the massive improvement that is EMUI 8. The Honor 8X is on version 8.2 now, to be exact, and in a good way, it shows.

Qualcomm has some serious competition for its mid-range chipsets.

The Kirin 710 seems perfectly tuned for everything the OS needs it to do, with a satisfying degree of smoothness apparent all throughout the system. I spent a lot of time moving between different types of apps to give the phone all it could handle, and it didn't once break a sweat.

Gaming performance was also a bit of a surprise. The Mali-G51 MP4 is no slouch, as while it can't quite handle the most demanding games at high settings, it does offer something smooth enough to be playable.

And if you're someone like me who doesn't mind sacrificing a bit of graphical fidelity for a more stable game, you'll find that it can handle anything out there. You can thank the new GPU Turbo feature for that, which will temporarily overclock the GPU when it demands more juice.

System performance is the primary metric by which I judge smartphones and the Kirin 710 soars. I found myself hesitating to recommend a phone using a chipset from the Kirin 600-series, but we can finally put those days behind us.

Honor 8X Software

Huawei is one of those companies you can feel improving in all the right areas at all the right times. Just as its phones began improving, so did its software.

EMUI wasn't always good. In fact, it's long ranked among the most undesirable Android skins available. That all changed with the launch of EMUI 8 sitting on top of Android 8.0 Oreo.

Huawei sought a cleaner, lighter user interface that clearly has a strong emphasis on cohesiveness. There's less disjointedness overall, and it feels almost overly optimized for the Kirin 710 running the show. It doesn't attempt to get in Android's way like older versions did.

There's an abundance of options that let you make the phone your own. It has a robust selection of themes for those who like changing their look up, and dozens of system settings put you in control of everything the Honor 8X does. It also adds a new option for biometric security in its face lock feature, which I found performs quite fast. It's not the best option for lockdown security, but it's hard to beat the convenience.

Even on version 8.2 now, EMUI does still feel bloated in some places. For one, the amount of pre-installed apps the Honor 8X comes with is downright ridiculous. It might even make Samsung's busy user experience feel tolerable (especially after the One UI update). It's no problem to tuck away the things I don't need, but it's no less annoying.

I've also never been a big fan of EMUI's launcher, which doesn't hide apps into a secondary window by default. Everything is just kind of blurted out onto the grids of your home screens, though there's an option to change this in your launcher settings.

And while I'm a fan of the daily briefing panel that's become a staple on launchers these days, EMUI's take on it leaves a bit to be desired (although I did like that it included a quick glance at your activity stats for the day). Of course, these grievances are easily solved by downloading a third party launcher, so don't let them detract from an otherwise sublime user experience.

Honor 8X Camera

With more and more device makers emphasizing higher quality cameras for cheaper phones, Honor thought it wise to go all in. Dual sensors on the rear of the Honor 8X work in concert to enable smarter photography.

Your main sensor is a 20-megapixel unit with a max aperture of f/1.8. It's joined by a 2-megapixel depth-sensing camera that helps the software separate the foreground from the background. This is what makes it possible to add a simulated bokeh effect to your photos. I found the Honor 8X performed quite well at this task.

The selfie camera wasn't so great. The implementation of its simulated depth-of-field effects is disappointing. It's easy to spot imperfections in the resulting images and it doesn't give me that organic feeling other phones do. For the best results, try a high-contrast scene where your skin or hair color isn't close in shade to the color of your background.

Otherwise, the sensors are plenty capable in ideal lighting conditions. Photos come out with good color and exposure, though you begin to lose a lot of detail as lighting sources fade. That loss of quality is especially noticeable when photographing any type of foliage.

It can be pretty bad in some low light scenarios, but Honor includes a handheld Night Mode that simulates a long exposure over a period of up to 15 seconds. It takes a series of images at escalating exposures that were snapped over that time and combines them to create a more usable low light photo. It's not perfect, but it's better than trying to pull the same trick off manually. Although the feature allows you to hold the phone in your hand, you'll still need to keep the phone as still as possible for the best results.

As you can see in the shots above, I lose a ton of detail trying to shoot this low light scene with standard controls (left), but Night Mode is able to bring those details back quite nicely (right). I don't know why the camera struggles to handle low light photography without Night Mode's magic tricks. It's a shame you can't rely on Night Mode for every shooting scenario, as subjects have to be stationary for quite some time in order for it to produce a good result.

Honor made a pretty big deal about bringing AI photography to the Honor 8X, so naturally, there are high expectations of its capabilities. Right away, I wanted to see what kind of effect AI had on the final output of my images.

I found that the Honor 8X isn't quite as aggressive with image correction