FOX11 (Los Angeles, CA) - A pretty consistent topic I’ve been harping on for the better part of two years now is the readily available access to very high quality, inexpensive Android smartphones. I’ve mused about whether or not a $200 phone is a $700 flagship killer and, quite frankly, I’m convinced that for most people it can be. Huawei is among the companies bringing to market affordable phones that fall squarely into that category and their Honor 5X is a handset that that fits the bill nicely on many levels!
A premium experience at a price point which doesn’t break the bank. That’s the promise of the Honor 5X from Chinese manufacturer, Huawei. For the most part, it delivers on that promise and so much so that we purchased one for my teenage son who games on his phones, among other things. Aside from my own hands-on time with the phone, one of the great barometers of processor quality and speed is the complaints of my boys. They’ve grown up in a generation of instant gratification, so when phones are slow, when they lag during processor intensive tasks like gaming, I hear about it. Not one complaint thus far with the Honor 5X. Having used far more phones than they have, and probably a tad bit more critical than they are, I’ve noticed some small things, but overall I have to say that my experience isn’t too far from theirs. So, let’s get into it!
The hardware of the Honor 5X definitely has a premium look to it! You can pick one up in a choice of three different colors, but for our review, we had the chance to live with the Gold version for a while. Even with a metallic body the phone feels very light and is quite thin but not obnoxiously so. It feels good in hand, not like it’s going to slip out of your grasp at any moment even though it’s fairly slick. On the front of the phone you get a 5.5” full HD display, 5MP front camera and the usual array of sensors. The top of the phone houses the headphone jack and second microphone, while the bottom is where you’ll find two speaker grills, and the microUSB port. The right side of the phone houses the power button and the volume rocker, while the left side of the phone is where you’ll find your two SIM slots (micro and nano), the second being a combo SIM/microSD slot that will support up to a 128GB card. The rear of the phone gives you a 13MP main camera, fixed 3000mAh battery and fingerprint scanner.
The experience, fit and finish as far as the hardware is concerned, is a solid one all the way around. The 3000mAh battery was able to easily power me through a busy day of calls, texts, email, Google Play streaming and neurotic social media checking. In this case, that “day” was sun up to bedtime and not just my work day. I have to say that the battery life on the 5X is outstanding! I had one day that I was streaming quite a bit and I just kept looking at how the phone was just taking sips of juice and not depleting me into FOMO territory. For those who are road warriors, or parents tired of hearing their teens tell them they couldn’t answer a call because their phones were dead, you’ll definitely be quite happy with your purchase here- nevermind the fact that “my phone was dead” is a sorry excuse in the first place, but I’ll just go back to sipping this tea. If you buy that from your adolescent I have some land in Florida that I’d like to sell you as well!
While we’re on the back, talking about the battery, we may as well get into the camera. It’s 13MP but the quality is just OK. The user interface on my review unit was a bit slow, as I experienced lag moving through the different settings and when the phone was focusing in low light conditions. This is definitely where you feel the difference in price when compared to much costlier options. That said, the camera isn’t bad at all. It will suffice for the vast majority of things people are doing with their cameras these days, like taking selfies and pictures of your lunch. And, Huawei knows that! When you open the camera, one of the first options for shooting modes is “Good Food” at the bottom of the screen. That mode punches up the color saturation so that your meals look more vibrant before you slap whichever filter you’re probably going to put on the image anyway. Look at the gallery of images above to see camera samples taken in low light and good, natural daylight.
The fingerprint scanner, also on the rear is a welcomed addition to a phone at this price point. Huawei took the whole Android fingerprint game up a notch when it brought their version of the technology to the popular Nexus 6P and now we get that in the Honor 5X, except in my experience it wasn’t as flawless as the 6P. It’s darn good, mind you, but I did get some times when I touched my finger to the back of the device and got the “fingerprint not recognized” error message. That rarely, if ever, happened during my time reviewing the 6P. Also, the 6P will cost you a couple hundred dollars more, so there’s that. Thankfully though, Huawei has actually come up with some pretty cool ways to make use of the fingerprint scanner, above and beyond just unlocking the device. We’ll get into that a little more when we discuss the device’s software.
So, we’ve talked about the hardware you can see, but what about the nuts and bolts powering the 5X? Internally, you get a 1.5 GHz, 64-bit octa-core CPU with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Having used flagship devices and comparing them to that experience, I can say that the Honor 5X is a hair slower when apps launch and just moving around the interface, but that really is relative. In an apples-to-apples comparison with other phones in this price range, Huawei’s phone is fast. You won’t be waiting for apps to open. They launch immediately and are ready to go, no matter the size. Evernote? Play Music? Gaming? All launch quickly and get you where you want to be, in short order. The only reason I even compare this phone to a flagship, and this is a good thing, is because these phones have gotten so good that they are literally nipping at the heels of many, much more expensive, premiere smartphones.
I know I’ll get some flack from some of my Android-loving brethren in the tech world for this, but I absolutely love the graphic language of the Honor’s “skin,” EMUI 3.1. The contacts and dialing animations. The user interface icons and graphics. Everything just seems to come to life when you interact with it! It’s just all very cheery and inviting. What isn’t inviting, however is the lack of an app drawer or the fact that it takes two steps to get to your shortcuts in the pull down shade. Unlike other skins, or stock Android, which place shortcuts just above notifications, you’re going to have to swipe left, or tap “Shortcuts” to get to that quick list of settings that you frequently interact with. That said, you could always just use the controls widget which will give you access to the WiFi, Bluetooth, data and other toggles, right from a home screen. My other issue, and admittedly it’s a personal one, is that I can’t access the pull down shade from the lock screen. I’m used to accessing quick settings in this manner and having to unlock the phone to get to those is inefficient to me.
One of the areas where the notifications pull down does win is with the ease of deleting emails and other messages directly from there without having to open an app. Very convenient that I don’t have to dismiss a notification, then go into the app to delete the actual message. I can do that all from one place. And, speaking of handling everything from one place, those extra features implemented with the fingerprint scanner are well thought out and executed. With the Honor 5X and the fingerprint scanner you get gesture controls which allow you to get more out of it than just unlocking the phone, or authentication. I’ve set the phone to use the swipe down motion to pull down the notification shade and “tap and hold” to take me back to the home screen. I will have to admit that I found myself scratching my head a few times when I was in an app and it “force closed” on me because I’d forgotten that I’d set up that feature. It is sensitive, works quite well, so if your natural finger placement on the phone is right where that scanner is, you may want to leave that functionality turned off as you’ll be closing apps accidentally. The other option I turned on was the ability to use the fingerprint scanner to take selfies. I don’t take them often, so I’m really not that good at the mechanics of the whole affair, but accessing the “shutter button” via the scanner is easy peasy.
When it comes to software, EMUI has some nice tweaks which make understanding your phone and what it’s doing, very easy for the average user. For example, when we talk battery stats, we give that to you in mAh but do most consumers really know what that means? If you have a 3000mAh battery in your phone, what does that mean to you? Well, one of the features of EMUI tells you just how much battery your apps are eating in mAh. So, if you’re looking for a good email app and you’re trying out two or three different ones to see which is best for you, you can also look at how they affect battery life and now have that dimension of usability added to your final decision. Is that app with more features worth heavier battery drain, or do you like the light, agile app which has a lesser impact on battery life?
The Honor 5X has been a pleasure to use. Again, I thought highly enough of it that we ended up buying one through Amazon for my son. And he hasn’t had one single complaint! At 18, he’s gaming, using social media and texting heavily and the phone has kept up with him. In my own use, I thoroughly enjoyed using the device. Having used higher end flagship phones there were definitely some differences in speed, but they were minute, and for those looking for something much more friendly on the wallet than a $700+ smartphone, the Honor 5X is an option that is worth serious consideration.
Disclosure: Huawei provided us with a demo unit for the purpose of this review.