Honor 5X First Impressions: $199 Feels Pretty Good Here

Honor 5X First Impressions: $199 Feels Pretty Good Here

We may earn a commission for purchases made using our links.

Huawei’s incursion into the U.S. comes at the hand of the Honor 5X, an affordable device that attempts to look mightier than it costs. And it only takes a quick look at the device to realise it succeeds.

TechnologySpec
Display5.5″ IPS LCD @ 1080p, 401 ppi
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 616, octa-core, 64-bit
Battery3,000 mAh
SoftwareAndroid 5.1.1 Lollipop + EMUI 3.1
RAM2GB RAM
Storage16GB ROM, micro-SD expandable up to 128GB
Camera13 MP, f/2.0, dual-LED, [email protected], 5 MP front-facing
Dimensions151.3 x 76.3 x 8.2 mm

At the time of writing the Honor 5X was due to ship with a Snapdragon 615, it has now been altered to ship with Snapdragon 616. This review is based on the original 615 model.

This phone packs a whole lot of good for just $200, but what will be most surprising to some, is what it packages it inside of. The most attention-grabbing aspect of the Honor 5X is its prominent metal back with sandblasted finish, which does not look the part of a budgeted phone at all. Huawei managed to achieve what we would have only expected from top-of-the-line flagships a couple of years ago, into the higher end of the most affordable price bracket, and that success alone is what I presume will get the Honor 5X much of its attention.

Continuing on the build, the phone has precisely-cut chamfered edges that make for a design that, while familiar, is pleasant to look at. It’s somewhat nice to hold, too, because of the smoothness of the back — the only problem is that, without much of a curve in the back, your fingers really feel those aforementioned edges (luckily, they aren’t sharp). But excluding that, minor details like the textured buttons go a long way in making this device feel like more than its price; if that’s your thing, you are probably not used to finding it on a $200 phone. The only thing I personally wish Huawei would have improved on this design is the front; symmetry is scrapped for the top and bottom bezels, and the bottom in particular feels like wasted space, especially given this phone is one of those that have a black frame around the screen.

20160111_112838

Sadly, when you stop looking at the outer hardware, the Honor 5X stops impressing as much. But nonetheless, for the price, you get 2GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 615 processor, which is already a better package than that of the similarly-priced Moto G. The Snapdragon 615 was also one of the Qualcomm SoCs to suffer from throttling, however, which leads me to performance…

Some specific operations consistently stutter, without exception

I’ve only had a day with the device, and I have yet to begin my in-depth testing, but I can already see performance as a problem. Yet I don’t think it’s necessarily due to the 615 or at least, not the 615 alone, as the custom EMUI is one of the heaviest out there.

The phone generally feels choppy, with most actions coming with a framedrop or two. The speed (that is, the time it takes to open an application) is not bad, and while not comparable to flagships, it’s not frustrating to use. What is annoying is the stutters, delays, and the recents menu, which seems to be a resource hog as not only is it slow and clunky to operate, but even lags the button press animation in the navigation bar — every single time, without exception, while the other two buttons animate fluidly. The phone also comes with animations not set to x1, in what I presume is an attempt to make it feel faster, but this only makes it look like the Honor 5X can’t smoothly handle its own speed. As usual, I will do an in-depth performance analysis in my full review.

While the 5X excels at hardware design, software leaves a lot to be desired

Onto the software and user experience — EMUI might be ugly, but it packs some clever and original features. But stopping on the first point, it’s easy to see what inspired this user interface. Huawei abandoned Android’s Material Design for a glass-themed, iOS-styled UI, which also comes with a launcher that has no app drawer. The interface is clunky and odd in appearance, but luckily there is a theme store that can (very partially) remedy that. No theme will solve the glaring inconsistencies between your Material apps and your Glass-themed OS, though.

What no amount of theming can fix is the various small issues, such as oddly-colored status bars on applications like Chrome. There are also some odd lockscreen notifications mechanics, as not all of them appear there consistently, and you cannot swipe down to see them all either (you also must unlock the phone after dismissing them from there). While the 5X excels in hardware design, software leaves a lot to be desired.

The fingerprint scanner of the Honor 5X includes clever swiping gestures

This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not packed with good features, and in ways that are not as intrusive as other heavy UIs like TouchWiz. The phone comes with double tap to wake, although it takes considerably longer than on other phones, and screen-off drawing gestures to fire apps.

But by far my favorite gestures are not on the front, but on the back — the fingerprint scanner of the 5X can be swiped to lower the notification panel or open the recents menu, and long-pressed to access the homescreen.

This feels incredibly natural, and it’s also useful considering the size of the phone. Huawei managed to give more functionality to the fingerprint scanner this way, and functionality that also makes sense for a phone this big. Turning the fingerprint scanner into a mini trackpad is inventively useful.

The camera on the Honor 5X, so far, seems like a mixed bag. It has the Sony IMX214 sensor at the rear, the same that was well-reviewed in devices like the OnePlus One. Taking pictures with it is certainly faster than what you’d expect on other devices in the price bracket, yet the camera software comes packed with features you’ll rarely need, like a beautify for food. That said, you can find some samples I took in the gallery below, with a full analysis of camera speed and UX, as well as the traditional squirrel benchmark, coming in my full-review.

There are a few more things I want to mention about this device: while it attempts to provide a premium experience by looking the part, it’s worth keeping in mind it cuts several corners to do so. First of all, there is no NFC and no gyroscope, things we have criticized phones for not having in the past and with good reason. The design, while beautiful, does try to go for the obvious tricks such as a fake double speaker at the bottom (only one side emits sound) and a black frame around the screen. The fingerprint scanner is much slower than, say, a Nexus 5X, but it makes up for it by providing intuitive gestures. The screen is pretty at a first glance, but only because of odd saturation that Honor exploits with cherry-picked wallpapers. The storage is pathetic, but microSD support softens the blow.


What’s most interesting about this phone is the value to dollar ratio. For less than the cost of the higher-specced Moto G, you get better specifications in key areas (omitting some cut corners, which the Moto G doesn’t spare on either) and a legitimately impressive outer construction. To have such a device so early into 2016 solidifying this trend, and to see how competitors like Xiaomi are offering even better processing packages and general specifications for even less already, is surprising. This year will mark yet another turning point for smartphone prices, and even if you don’t care about cheap devices, consider that the high-end competition will have to find ways to justify their premium price.

The Honor 5X is a good package in itself, and I will issue my full in-depth review in the coming weeks. But for now, what I gather after a day of use is that while there are cut corners, this phone is not a bad way for Huawei to enter the U.S. I had my doubts at first — a typical mid-ranger could undo the commitment to premium hardware that Huawei had pledged to. But the Honor 5X is not a typical mid-ranger, and it does fulfills the promise of a premium-feeling smartphone, with decent hardware, and at a budget.

If only it ran stock Android…

Got any questions about the Honor 5X? Ask away in the comments and I will respond! Also, be sure to check out our contest to win a Honor 5X!

Check Out XDA’s Honor 5X Forum >>

*This post is sponsored by honor