Honor 5X Impressions Follow-up: Emotion UI Features and Fallouts
A couple of days ago, we gave you our first impressions of the Honor 5X. Today I want to do a follow up on the touchiest subject I found, the software, as well as expand on a few common questions I’ve been asked about it. ICYMI, we have three of these phones we’re giving away: enter the contest here.
The Honor 5X sports the Emotion UI found in Huawei devices, running on top of Lollipop. While it is sad that it is not on top of a Marshmallow base, comparing the feature set with that of the Mate 8 reveals it’s not a huge loss. Indeed, the Mate 8’s Marshmallow is as distant from Stock as the Honor 5X’s Lollipop, and it lacks a couple of useful things this has, like fingerprint and screen-off gestures. Those of you looking for a traditional Android experience should look elsewhere, but those looking for a surprising feature set on a budget will definitely get something out of the 5X.
For starters, the Honor 5X comes with a glass-style UI that is in no way Material, and because of this, it is bound to clash with Material apps. This doesn’t mean it’s not consistently executed in its own right; the UI takes the iOS inspiration a little far with a bottom control panel in the lockscreen and various animations, but at the very least it feels consistent, unlike TouchWiz which incorporates both Material Design and a Glass UI at once with questionable results. The Honor 5X also abandons the slide and expand animations of Lollipop and Marshmallow, instead returning (by default) to the zoom-in of older versions — you can change some of this with launchers, but not for every animation of this style.
You can install themes to remedy this, but not to the extent that other theme engines allow for (from Layers to TouchWiz’s). This does affect basic apps like dialers and text messengers, the settings, and some system UI elements, but the general layout is rigid and the blurry glass is something you will never be able to eradicate. That being said, there is a dark theme for all of you fans out there that is easy to install, and it makes the colorful UI a little more serious for those that don’t like the “playfulness” of it.
Where Honor went all out is in features, as the Honor 5X comes packed with abilities, some of which not even the Huawei Mate 8 has. If you follow my articles often, you might have noticed that I am a feature-hound, but only when they are done right. I quickly lose interest in useful features that are locked behind blast doors or placed behind blazing hula hoops. So in order to give credit where credit is due, I commend the 5X for some feature implementations, starting with their trackpad-like fingerprint sensor.
If you swipe up on the scanner placed on the back, you can access the recents menu. If you swipe down, the notification shade will intuitively scroll down, and then you can swipe up to make it go away. If you hold your finger on the sensor, it will act as a home button. All of these are intuitive and don’t work on just your fingerprint. They are not fully perfect, and you might want to reconsider the home button gesture if you plan to use the scanner as an index finger dimple.
I’d love to see these expanded, however; for example, swiping to the sides could switch through recent applications without going to the recents menu. There are other fingerprint related features, such as the ability to assign shortcuts to different fingers and to pick up calls and cancel alarms with the scanner. Just remember it’s toggled if you do enable it, otherwise you’ll have a very frustrating morning like I did, as there was no dismiss alarm option on sight.
The Honor 5X is a large phone still, with a very similar body to that of the Note5 yet with a smaller screen, thus, the phone comes equipped with one-handed options for both the keyboard and the entire system, the first being a toggle for the Huawei keyboard, dialer and screenlock, and the second being a system-wide gesture where you must slide your finger across the navigation bar. These features are not new at all, but also not intrusively introduced. The device also allows to quickly switch between the current and previous app by longpressing the recents button, but the animation is slow and it will remains there even if you turn off animations. Still, this is a really valuable feature to have on stock.
There are screen-off gestures, too, in the form of flip to mute (rather common nowadays), double tap to wake (welcome addition, even if slower than we are used to), and drawing gestures for shortcuts. Another screen-off feature is a touch-disable mode, where the phone detects whether it is on your pocket (using the proximity sensor) and, if it is, it won’t allow operations nor pocket dialing.
There is a floating dock in there as well, much like PIE controls and the Toolbox of Samsung devices — a mix between the two, really, as it is triggered by a button floating on the side, but opens a radial menu with options (back, home, recents menu, screen lock, and one-touch optimization). For a phone this large, it is an extremely welcome addition, even without a readily available way to disable the navigation bar, and even if longpressing the keys does nothing (i.e. bring up the last app).
So, to sum up, the comes with several relevant features:
- Fingerprint scanner gestures (should become standard)
- Theme engine
- Screen-off gestures
- Previous app shortcut
- One-handed mode
- PIE controls
- Double tap to wake
- Pocket mode
- “Ultra” Battery Saving mode
- Navigation bar customization
On paper, this sounds like an excellent list of features to have, especially considering many of these are the kind of things we root our phones for, or that OEMs don’t typically include, or that haven’t been widely adopted (like the fingerprint gestures). The features are not intrusively presented nor annoyingly executed either, which makes using them all the better. But if you read my last hands-on, you might recall the comment at the bottom where I said I wished this phone had stock Android. I appreciate the features, but the issues circumventing EMUI are ones that hit deep in my personal UX pet peeve list.
So in summary, EMUI is packed, and not in way that feels bloated to the eye (in fact, the menus are well sorted, and misc. features tucked away properly). The UI itself, however, stutters more than I’d like it to; after turning off animations though, the phone feels much, much faster and responsive. There is also no way to fully remedy the inconsistencies you’ll face between your system UI and Material apps, which is something I personally dislike as well. But for the price of $200, the feature set of this phone, and the execution of said features, is remarkable.
If such feature set was found on a phone with excellent performance and a different aesthetic, the productivity-lover in me would drool over it in a heartbeat (many come close, but none hit the mark). And as it stands, the Honor 5X is a surprisingly valuable package for the pricetag it carries. This is certainly a phone I’d recommend to friends and family, though, and if nice AOSP-based ROMs hit this device soon, it could just be the phone to get on a budget.
*This post is sponsored by honor