honor 5X XDA Review: The Current Vanguard of the Mid-Range Segment

honor 5X XDA Review: The Current Vanguard of the Mid-Range Segment

The honor 5X is a device that attempts to push the boundaries of design for the mid-range smartphone segment. For a relatively small sum, it promises plenty of features untraditional of its budgeted competitors. Can the honor 5X deliver the premium value at the small price it promises?

In this review, we’ll take an in-depth dive into the honor 5X. Rather than listing specs and talking about how the experience felt, this feature attempts to provide a thorough look with contents relevant to our reader base. At XDA, our reviews are not meant to tell a user whether a phone is worth buying or not — instead, we try to lend you the phone through our words and help you come to the decision by yourself. Before getting started, let’s get the specification sheet out of the way:

Android Version: 5.1.1 Lollipop Model Name: honor 5X (KIW-L24)
Dimensions: 151.3 x 76.3 x 8.2 mm

(5.96 x 3.00 x 0.32 in)

Screen size
& screen ratio:
5.5 inches (~72.2% screen-to-body ratio)
Primary Camera: 13MP f/2.0 Secondary Camera: 5MP f/2.4
Screen Type & Resolution: LCD, 1080 x 1920, 401 ppi Chipset: Snapdragon 615
Internal Storage: 16 GB CPU: Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53

Quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A53

Card Slot: MicroSD GPU: Adreno 405
RAM: 2GB Battery: Li-Poly 3,000mAh
NFC: No USB: Micro USB v2.0 (no QC)

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.

Index

Design ^

The honor 5X’s most sought-after feature is, without a doubt, its design. For a device that costs only $200, you will not find a phone of this build quality in the United States, and perhaps even in the global market, yet it offers a better all-around package than most phones that go for all-flash and no substance, too. But leaving the substance for later, it’s nigh impossible to deny that this phone has flash — as much flash as $200 can get you right now.

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The honor 5X is far from the $200 phone we are accustomed to

The back of the phone is made of an aluminum alloy with a brushed look that is absolutely smooth to the touch. The device itself doesn’t see much in the way of curves, with only a slight deviation near the sides.

Nevertheless, the back of the phone is a pleasure to touch and a beauty to behold — it’s simply not something we are used to eyeing or holding in a device of this price bracket. On the back you’ll also find the honor branding, as well as some FCC and manufacturing details. The camera does not protrude more than 2mm, and the bands spanning across the top and bottom are slightly raised as well. This makes the device rock slightly when it is operated while laying on a surface, but not enough to make typing impractical.

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The back of the device also hosts a fingerprint scanner in a slight depression, with some shiny edges . This is a theme all around the phone — the edges on the sides are chamfered, cut and polished with precision akin to the diamond-cut results of the Nexus 6P. The camera, too, has a shiny edge around it. In the honor 5X’s case, they don’t look tacky and compliment the overall design, and the metal back, pretty well. If anything, the only part that looks off are the top and bottom bands, which do not reflect light in the same way the rest of the phone does.

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The front of the device is where the phone makes a radical change, as it goes for an all-white clear look with no capacitive keys nor other distractions, excluding the top earpiece, camera and sensors. The bezels to the sides look exquisitely small at a first glance, but only because of the all-too-common trick of placing a black border around the actual screen. Once the display is on, the side bezel doubles in size. The top and bottom bezel are also not symmetrical, a common pet peeve that Chinese OEMs in particular seem to transgress upon. The bottom feels particularly tall, and with the black frame around the screen even moreso, and very empty (there are no capactive keys). The top does host a decent number of things without having them stick out much. In fact, you will simply not see the notification LED unless it’s blinking, as it is very well hidden despite the white color choice.

The minute detail and construction are what we expected of premium flagships not long ago

The sides of the device are where the white front and the metal back mix, and it’s a bit disjointed given that on the bottom you have shiny chamfered edges, but on the top you have the more plasticky white. This doesn’t take much away from the overall quality, though — the buttons, in particular, are some probably the best in this price-range, as they feel clicky, mostly solid, and even have a minute texture. Both the volume rocker and the power button are on the right side, while the left side hosts two slots, one for a micro SIM, and the other one for both a micro SIM and a microSD or nano SIM. This gives you a lot of options and versatility, and the microSD support is particularly welcome given the measly 16GB of storage.

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At the top you will find a noise cancellation mic and a headphone jack that is off centered in both axes, much like most of the details on the sides, and slightly blends into the back, but not in a way that makes it uncomfortable to touch (I am looking at you, Nexus 5X). The bottom hosts a traditional microUSB port, perfectly centered in both axes (only exempt item), the only two screws you’ll find, and the two speaker grills, of which only the right speaker actually does anything (another common trick found in plenty of devices nowadays).

A few final points on the design: this phone is much larger than it seems in pictures, and the body almost matches up to that of the Galaxy Note5, despite the smaller screen. While it is bigger than it looks, it feels thinner as well, and overall it is comfortable to hold as the edges are not sharp. The lack of a curve, however, makes a noticeable difference — despite similar dimensions to the Note5, the honor 5X doesn’t allow for nearly the same amount of grip (hand-wrapping). Another thing worth noting is that your finger will rest on the volume rocker, not the power button, and even if you use a tap-to-sleep solution on the status bar, you might need to re-position the device to reach it properly. The corners are rounded and I have had no issues putting this in my pockets. Finally, the device comes with a screen protector by default.

Software — User Interface ^

The honor 5X comes with Emotion UI running on top of Lollipop 5.1.1, but an update to Marshmallow has been promised. This skin is completely different from what you’d find on most devices in the West, as like many other Chinese-based OEMs, Huawei designed a UI that resembles Android’s competition more than it resembles Android itself. The result is bound to be polarizing, and you will clearly see why in short.

It is a colorful UI by default, with plenty bright and saturated wallpapers and mellow icons. The launcher itself retains the all-too familiar setup, but without the app drawer we’ve come to appreciate out of traditional OEMs. There are a few options in the default launcher to customize the layout, the transitions between pages, and to allow for loop scrolling. The icons themselves can have badges indicating the amount of pending notifications, a nifty feature that is sadly limited to a handful of system apps. Other than that, there is an auto-alignment as well as a “shake to realign” gesture, which is borderline gimmicky. If you are anything like me, you’ll likely switch to something like Nova pretty early on.

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The system UI has an unconventional look as it completely abandons Material Design, and every aspect of it, for a glass-like UI full of transparencies, blurs, and white and blue outlines. It’s easy to see where Huawei drew inspiration from, and the similarities in philosophy stretch to every corner of the OS. The many features are rounded and the status bar icons are completely redesigned, with a horizontal battery icon and other icons longer than usual. The result is a status bar that is easily crowded on both sides.

Screenshot_2016-01-25-10-43-59The notification shade is one of the least conventional ones in today’s Android. Incoming notifications are put next to a timeline that specifies the time it was received, and a delete button appears on the bottom to clear all notifications. It’s a strange approach, and the notifications can get crowded. The blur in the background is an effect many like, and that has its own Xposed module to replicate on any device. The effect is convincing, but unlike Samsung’s and Apple’s blurs, it is static, meaning media in the background will not animate (this is likely done to save battery life).

The tab at the top leads to shortcuts, which you can edit as well. There are many usful toggles, such as mobile data, 4G, a handful of built-in features, hotspot, screencast, and battery saving… even a screenshot button. You’ll also find the brightness bar as well as an auto brightness toggle. The status bar does not theme like it does in most Android devices, as I’ve spotted some odd behavior on apps that do not theme by default, such as Chrome.

The recents menu completely foregoes the cardstack for a more HTC-like UI, with windows organized in a 2 x 2 grid with the top-left app being the most recent, and with the ability to scroll, lock applications in memory by flicking down and clearing all (unlocked) applications by flicking up. This recents menu also has a RAM counter so that you can keep track of how much memory you have left — a nice little addition that means virtually nothing in the face of the phone’s low-retention abilities.

The settings menu is spread into two settings — General, which has the stuff you are more likely to use, and All, which has the many, many options out there. This is a good way to not confuse users, as the General tab is quick and simple, and the Settings app remembers your last tab as well. The only odd part is that the Battery menu, by far one of the most frequently accessed part of the Settings, is not in the General tab. The colorful settings menu has many options, with a handy search on top that includes recent searches for good measure. The insane amount of features will be detailed in the section after this one, but I must say that for a ROM this feature packed, honor did a good job at classifying the features and making sure their menus make sense.

EMUI’s lockscreen is an odd one, with the lockscreen notifications not being set up by default on all notifications. Once you enable them, it becomes more pleasant to use, though, although different themes have different unlock styles, and some are more efficient than others. By default, you swipe to the left side to unlock, and swipe up for a list of quick toggles, like music controls, a calculator, a flashlight… very much like a certain fruity competitor’s.

Last but not last, EMUI allows for theming, albeit not in the same capacity other theme engines offer. The themes are mostly relegated to the palettes of system apps and various UI hues, but getting rid of the base look of the system is not something you should expect. While you can make TouchWiz adopt a more Material Design look, the honor 5X will simply never look like a proper Android device under this ROM. This doesn’t mean you can’t find a nice theme to suit your style, however, and while the clash between a glass and blurry UI and material apps will never be remedied, at the very least EMUI is mostly consistent (excluding the odd Material left-overs) in its design philosophy, unlike Samsung and LG which can’t quite make up their minds.

Software – Features & UX ^

The honor 5X is, to put it bluntly, one of the most feature-packed devices I have ever tested. And the fact that all of this comes on such a cheap package is surprisingly to say the least. As far as features go, this device gives Samsung and others a run for their money, as not only does it offer plenty of the same, but the overall execution is well thought-out, and there are some unexpected, innovative jewel-features in there.

Let’s start with my favorite part: the honor 5X has one of the best fingerprint scanner implementations to date, but not because it’s particularly good at scanning fingers. In fact, the fingerprint scanner is significantly slower (yet not impractical) than the Nexus imprint, Samsung’s Note5 scanner, and that of the OnePlus 2 as well. Rather than use it for just your fingerprint, though, honor tried something unusual and turned the fingerprint scanner into a trackpad that can detect the orientation of your swipes, as well as the duration of your press.

You can tap swipe on the fingerprint scanner to access your notifications or the recents menu

To integrate this into the UX, honor has included fingerprint gestures that allow you to swipe down on the scanner to bring down the notification panel — a great feature on a phone this large. You can also swipe up to access the recents menu, making it much easier to switch applications without reaching to the very bottom of the phone (also difficult with one hand). Finally, you can tap it to go back a screen (extremely useful) and long-press the scanner to access your homescreen, but given it’s on at all times, it leads to accidental touches and long-presses, so you might want to enable these contextually.

There are also screen-off gestures: the beloved double-tap to wake is available, and you can use a custom-solution for your preferred tap-to-sleep gesture to replicate the popular feature-combo. Sadly, it’s not as fast as it is on many other devices, and the fingerprint scanner of the back will likely be your preferred unlocking method anyway (but it is good to have with smartlock). That’s not all, though, as you also have customizable screen-off gestures and shortcuts, which allow for quick application launching, including a fast way to launch the camera. But if you don’t want to do a gesture through the screen, the honor 5X also allows you to double-tap the volume-down button to take a picture without unlocking the phone — after it’s done, it’ll show the picture and the time it took to take, usually between 1.2 and 1.6 seconds.

The honor 5X also comes with a handy one-handed mode, easily accessible by swiping across the navigation bar. This implementation is readily available and unobtrusive, unlike past atrocities like Samsung’s awkward double-swipe-trigger. There is also a one-handed option for character input, also available in PINs in case you must swiftly unlock the lockscreen with one hand. And if that’s not enough for one-handed usability, EMUI includes a PIE controls clone, activated by tapping a floating bubble rather than swiping from the edge, that can easily be enabled in the quick toggles without digging through settings.

The settings menus are well sorted, and feature discovery is unobtrusive

There is also some navigation bar customization apart from the theming, allowing you to configure your navigation keys order and add a notification-bar dropdown button as well. The home button can of course be long-pressed to access Google, but the recents menu can also be long-pressed to go back to the most recent application. This is a beloved feature in many custom ROMs, so it’s nice to see it implemented by default, especially considering the overall UI navigation performance in this phone is lacking (more on that below).

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The settings menus are well sorted, and feature discovery is unobtrusive. Because of the sheer plentitude, there are many you are likely to not stumble upon with a single read-through, but they are tucked away in the “more” sections, or properly distributed among specific sub-menus. There are other small things worth pointing out: you can prevent applications from automatically launching, and customize their notifications (where they show up, and how they show up). You can also lock applications so that clearing all recents won’t get rid of them, and if you don’t want to see them again, you can completely uninstall Huawei apps (but not System apps). The status bar’s bluetooth icon shows the battery of the gadget you are connected to, which is useful with bluetooth headsets and the like. There is also a pocketmode that uses the proximity sensor to prevent accidental touches inside your pocket. The few issues I found with features I found with built-in applications, many of which are redundant (mirror apps? really?), and others which I instantly replaced.

Looking past that, EMUI packs plenty in a packaged that does not seem nearly as cramped as other UIs like TouchWiz and ZenUI. Many of the features found here are the kind of things enthusiasts flash and root for, so it’s nice to see them by default, even if they come with things not many will use and with such a polarizing user interface.

Performance^

The Snapdragon 615 inside the honor 5X was already met with plenty of disapproval in earlier devices, namely the Xiaomi Mi 4i and the Moto X Play. Both of those, and others with the 615, have faced criticism of throttling and overheating, on top of the SoC not being as powerful as older flagship chipsets like the Snapdragon 800 and 801. The Snapdragon 615 initially lured consumers because of an 64-bit octa-core configuration — on it’s face, this can sound impressive, but it’s also worth considering that unlike the other big.LITTLE chipsets of 2015, the 615 only has A53 cores, and no A57 high-power cores. This is, in my opinion, an important detail worth noting and I believe you’ll see why it’s relevant in the sections ahead.

The Snapdragon 615 is designed to be a mid-range chip and it simply cannot presume to be more than that. The fact that this device exclusively uses differently-clocked A53 cores would mean that, in theory, the power-efficiency of this device would take a front seat, as it sacrifices performance by offering no powerful cores in its clusters. My results seem to confirm that the Snapdragon 615 does, in fact, offer less performance but surprising battery results.

CPU & System ^

As stated above, the Snapdragon 615 sports eight cores, spread among two clusters, one clocked at 1.5GHz and the other one clocked at 1.2GHz. With there being no big architectural  difference between the clusters, one mustn’t worry about cluster migration nearly as much as on other devices like the OnePlus 2, where a switch to the A53 cores meant a huge sacrifice in performance. In my results I found this translated to more consistency, but obviously lower maximums. The Snapdragon 615 as seen on the honor 5X offers a different experience, which I’ll expand on shortly. First, let’s look at some numbers.

PCMark (Overall)
The standard set of benchmarks shows that the Snapdragon 615 on the honor 5X falls below all 2015 flagships, and also below plenty of 2014 and even 2013 phones. That being said, it does outcompete the Snapdragon 410 found in many other budget devices, and also the MT6753 processor favored by plenty of phones within this price-range on CPU and GPU metrics. Sadly, alternative 2015 “mid-range” processors like the Atom Z3580 absolutely outperform this device in terms of both theoretical performance and real-world performance as well (more on that below). The scores we see here are nothing to write home about, but at the very least they are higher than what most phones at this range can muster.

Onto throttling: due to the issues regarding throttling and performance on previous 615 devices, I came to testing the 615 with low expectations That being said, I’ve been surprised with the overall resilience of this device. Honor has achieved something unexpected with the honor 5X, as even when pushing it to its limits, the device has not throttled significantly, and certainly not nearly as much as higher-end Qualcomm-bearing devices I’ve tested.

Even 30 minutes of continuous Geekbench, a strenuous test that submitted devices like the OnePlus 2 and Nexus 5X, produced no significant nor clearly-stratified drop in results, and the temperature didn’t exceed 40 degrees Celsius in the body, with the top of the device generating more heat due to the SoC location, yet the bottom being almost as cold as it was when the test began. From this testing I infer that the metal body of the honor 5X, as well as the internal configuration, allows the device to not hit the infamous temperatures other Snapdragon devices have reached under the same testing and similar conditions, and also avoid the consequences.

GPU & Gaming ^

The Adreno 405 found in the honor 5X might have a higher number than what we saw in chipsets such as the Snapdragon 801 and its Adreno 330, but that shouldn’t fool you. In fact, high-performance tests such as GFXBench’s Manhattan ES3.0 output about half the frames-per-second of devices like the M8, which also runs at the same resolution. The same disparity carries onto other tests like T-Rex on both on-screen and off-screen results. And as expected, 3DMark scores and all of the graphics breakdowns of every other benchmark also put the Adreno 405 way below old flagship chipsets.

But putting the GPU into proper perspective — that is, against the competing GPUs of other budget chipsets, shows that it is still ahead of the output from the Mali T720 and other lower-end GPUs. This is also not to say that the Adreno 405 doesn’t produce decent graphics results. Indeed, this chipset is still running 1080p. Even though the GPU underperforms in comparison to the chipsets that arguably mastered this resolution, it actually is comparable to the generation before that (the Adreno 320 of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One M7) in raw output, closely matching the results in GFXBench scores and GameBench.

Speaking of gaming, the honor 5X is nothing to be surprised by, but it still shows competency in the “high-graphics” games we routinely test. Games like Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5, despite their popularity as the “ultimate game benchmarks”, are rather optimized and most phones have no trouble hitting 30FPS (a popular cap). The honor 5X does indeed hit the 30FPS average on Asphalt 8 (and the framerate jumps above, something not seen in clearly-capped test runs I have submitted in other reviews).

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Around 10 minutes of GTA: San Andreas (maximum settings)

Modern Combat 5 comes close to the 30FPS cutoff, while Dead Trigger 2 and GTA:SA (max settings), more demanding games, significantly underperform in comparison to 2015 flagships, with the former hitting half the framerate of 810 and Exynos 7420 devices, and the second less than half. That being said, I have found no clear-cut throttling even in lengthy GTA sessions, a stark contrast to the 3-minute throttle I found on the OnePlus 2 and Nexus 5X.

As a side note, and to back up my claims about the honor 5X being below the threshold of required graphics output for a smooth 1080p experience, I downgraded the resolution to 720p using adb and shell commands (unrooted) and re-did the benchmarks. The on-screen results of GFXBench doubled (from 6FPS to 12FPS), and overall UI performance was smoother (not faster) with significantly fewer framedrops. The ROM’s more-consistent framedrop instances remained, however, suggesting that the issues surrounding this phone’s performance have to do with both the processor and the unoptimized EMUI.

Storage & RAM ^

storageThe honor 5X comes with just 16GB of storage, a number that is significantly lower than the current standard of 32GB, and even more-so when you consider the significant space the OS itself takes. That being said, the honor 5X does come with a microSD slot which you can use to expand upon the low base amount. I personally hit the 16GB cap twice during my two-week review period; once when downloading benchmarks to test the device, and another near the end of the run, as the space just got filled with media and other downloads.

It’d be nice to see a higher base-amount, and I hope that Huawei considers 32GB for whatever next mid-range comes along. The microSD is useful, but considering the honor 5X comes with Lollipop and not Marshmallow (for integration), it’s limited in comparison to what Android can offer on other devices.

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Oh, the irony

As far as speed goes, the storage is rather slow, even when compared to other inexpensive devices we’ve reviewed. As it stands, sequential read and write are close to half the speed of the faster storage solutions we’ve reviewed. Random read and write are closer to the 2014 standard than that of 2015, and close to two times slower than the UFS2.0 record marked by the Note5. I haven’t found this to be a significant issue in day-to-day operations, but I know those that expect a pleasant ROM scene on any device would prefer faster storage.

The RAM amount of the honor 5X is a simple 2GB, well-below the current standard of 3GB, and half the 4GB amount that will cement itself as the new average in 2016 flagships. For a mid-ranger, it’s not bad at all, and only a handful of Chinese devices managed to cram in more at the same price-point. Without open applications, the available memory is close to 1.25GB, and EMUI does offer the ability to disable app auto-launching, and to lock apps into the recents menu. There is a handy RAM-count in the recents panel as well, but despite seeing a high amount of open RAM, this number is as misleading as it is on other devices, given the app cut-off seems to be around 5 running apps before one must be re-loaded.

Real World Performance ^

Note: Unlike in other reviews, I am not able to provide many screen-recorded samples because when using screen recording services, this devices drops more frames than usual. I assume this has to do with graphics performance, but I was unable to confirm.

cpuspyIn a nutshell, the only way to describe the Honor 5X’s real-world performance is “acceptable”. For a device competing in the mid-range space, while it doesn’t offer anything comparable to a flagship, it is certainly better than many if not most of it’s similarly-priced competitors. That being said, it’s still not as good as a performance-per-dollar as older mid-range devices that are better optimized, like those found in the Moto G line. I’d also say that in terms of overall performance, devices like the ZenFone 2 (2GB) give it a serious run for its money.

This is likely because of both the Snapdragon 615 and the UI that’s present here. To be fair, performance issues have been found on many Snapdragon 615 devices, and this one is not the exception. But the heavy UI certainly doesn’t help, and given the lack of clear throttling or heat generation in the benchmarking and gaming tests I did, it’s likely more about the software than the processor.

To cite some examples of performance issues, there is not just the typical stutters and framedrops, but also extremely consistent framedrops and animation lag in the recents menu and certain UI transitions; an example is the framedrops in the recents button press animation, as it happens every single time.

Screenshot (01-13PM, Jan 25, 2016)This makes the overall experience feel janky at times, but not to the point where it is unusable. In any case, I’ve found that rebooting the phone was a quick way to re-establish some performance that is lost after much uptime. The honor 5X also provides many memory-cleaning and performance-optimizing options and settings, but none are able to change much. Keep in mind that the device comes on a power-saver profile by default, but this review was done under the balanced profile.

While the animations are janky, the overall speed of the phone is not bad — in fact, I found the phone much more pleasant to use after disabling all animations, which made summoning apps in-memory instant, and also sped up launching them cold a little more. The recents menu is still not as fast as fluid as on other phones under this state, including the similarly affordable ZenFone 2 (2GB). That being said, if you are not planning on doing heavy multitasking and productivity-oriented tasks, the honor 5X is as good as any other phone under $300. It’s only when you try to push the phone a little more that you find issues:

Under heavy usage, the honor 5X does not compare to higher-end devices, or the more optimized mid-rangers we’ve seen last year. While no mid-ranger smartphone is going to give you a productivity powerhouse, I found the honor 5X impossible to use for editing on the fly, for browsing docs and sheets, or for heavy web apps. This was in part due to the apps themselves, but mostly due to the unpleasant delays in app-switching — even when the multi-tasking menu decides to launch swiftly, it won’t instantly respond to touch, meaning I often must click a second time. As far as web-browsing goes, you might want to use the built-in web browser if you plan on using a heavy web app or otherwise doing resource-intensive navigation. If you want to use your phone without frustration for prolonged periods of time, the honor 5X will likely make you wait

Display ^

The screen of the honor 5X is typical for a phone these days — 5.5 inches diagonally, 1080p resolution, IPS LCD. Typically is not the only word to describe it, as it’s fairly average as well. At a first glance, and on my first few moments with the device, the screen looked fairly beautiful, but that’s the intention behind every OEM’s first impression with the device. After changing the wallpaper from the carefully-picked and beautiful stock images, designed to show the display’s best strengths, I came to realise the screen is the standard offering for inexpensive phones.

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In terms of brightness, it does a fair job in the real world, and I had no issues even with the hyper-reflective snow of Minneapolis on the sunnier days. It doesn’t get as bright as the latest generation of AMOLED panels, particularly when they go past their regular cap on auto-mode, but text was readable under the most intense sunlight I came across. That being said, I certainly can’t help but doubt it’d hold up as well as other screens in very sunny regions. It’s also worth pointing out that auto-brightness is adaptive, so you can adjust the slider.

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Screenshot 2016-01-25 06.50.04As for the display itself, the colors are a bit more saturated than I personally enjoy, with a clear contrast against the well-tuned AMOLED Basic mode of the Note5. This does help the stock wallpapers, and plenty of content, look very pleasant, and I know many appreciate the look — but the difference is there. Luckily there is not much distortion when looking at most colors at an angle, with blue having the clearest casting. The whites look nicer and colder than the Note5’s Basic Mode, and you can also adjust the color-temperature, so I don’t have many complaints on that regard.

There is no light-bleed on my unit, and the screen is consistent all across. The biggest downside comes with darker colors and blacks, which are pretty bad even for an LCD, and the issue is only reinforced by the black borders surrounding the screen. Black is also the worst part about the display at an angle, with most other colors seeing less of a variation and making that of the navigation keys and other black regions stand out significantly. Because of this, the average contrast of the honor 5X takes a hit when you look at the screen from an angle.

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The blacks don’t hold up at an angle

Overall, it’s an average screen. I personally think that a more Stock-based color palette would do it a better service, as EMUI is too colorful by default and even with themes, the blur does not look as good as the solid colors of material design, under a palette that benefits all sorts of screens.

Camera ^

The camera on the honor 5X might have the same sensor as affordable but brilliant smartphone cameras like that of the OnePlus One, but after using it for two weeks, I must say its results are rather underwhelming, especially when factoring in the user experience. The camera has a UI that seems simplistic, with the ability to slide to the side and arrive to a Good Food mode and a Beauty mode on the gimmicky side, and video and time-lapse on the useful side. There is a gallery shortcut, and a bunch of filters. There are more features tucked behind the menu button, though, including HDR (why would they put it there?), a mode to adjust focus after the picture’s taking, slow-mo, Panorama, and Best Photo.

The fact that HDR is tucked away is secondary to ISO, white balance and other image adjustment settings hiding after yet another menu, making on-the-fly tuning much harder. This is not to say that the camera software has no merit: you can customize the actions of volume buttons, there is decent object tracking, it can automatically capture smiles, and there is an “ultra snapshot” mode that allows you to take a picture from deep sleep by double-pressing the volume down button, resulting in snaps in less than 1.5 seconds. All of this is nice to have, but as seen above, focusing and picture taking is not very fast, and the actual results vary too much.

One thing I’ve noticed, and that you can also see in the UI video above, is that the post-processing makes colors either too cold or too warm depending on where you tap to focus, and this makes for some awkwardly distorted colors. Beauty mode and Food mode also completely distort images, and while that’s kind of the point, the results are very unrealistic and not too pleasing. The camera can pick up a good amount of detail, but the exposure usually plays against it by not generating enough contrast to make it stand out.

Low light photos are also really blurry, and middle-to-low light and indoors shots have noticeable noise in grey and dark areas. But when you grab some good natural lighting, the camera can output some pretty nice shots, with just the right exposure and background blur. I found that I managed to get better shots of objects than landscapes, but I admit I am not the best smartphone photographer. A good way to pick up more detail on the honor 5X is with HDR, which luckily does not over-saturate colors and in my testing has properly brought out more detail from shadows (as you can see in the picture of the red house).

Video is OK, and perhaps the most limited part of this device. It can record 1080p at 30 frames per second with no hardware stabilization, and you can judge the results in the video above. It’s also good enough for filming puppies indoors, for whatever that’s worth. There is not much to write home about here, but it gets the job done without merit nor shame in a space where few competitors like the Moto G (3rd Gen) can claim to provide an above-average camera experience.

Audio ^

The bottom speaker of the 5X is one of the more underwhelming aspects of the phone as it is extremely average in terms of performance. First of all, despite two speaker grills, only the one on the right produces any sound — an all-too-common trick that even big manufacturers succumb to. That said, the device doesn’t need two speakers to get loud. The phone can produce some high-volume output, but not without sacrificing some quality. As the sample before shows, using the Note5’s speaker as a reference for both volume and clarity (same conditions), the honor 5X shows similar volume but significantly different clarity.

The headphone experience with this phone isn’t too bad, though, and the microphone is decent for regular phone calls as well. I haven’t received any complaints on the other end, and I’ve used it at least an hour every day for calls, although it is clearly not noise-free. You can find a microphone sample below, with the Note5 playing the reference again under the same conditions. Do notice the slight to medium noise in the quieter moments and on top of my voice.

Battery Life & Charging ^

The honor 5X’s battery life was perhaps the most surprising part of my testing period. Simply put, the device completely surpassed my expectations by delivering insane amounts of screen-on-time and idle time, even during the days that I played heavy 3D games or tried pushing the phone to its limits. While a 3,000mAh Li-Poly battery might sound puny in an age where many are venturing past 3,500mAh, the honor 5X has offered me some of the best battery results I have tested so far.

pcmarkefficincy

Not only did it average over 8 hours on PCMark, but it also did so with remarkable efficiency

I can only speculate why this is; the phone does only employ A53 cores, which are power-efficient and usually focused on battery-saving. It also has no shortage of battery saving options, but I never actually used the power-saving profile nor the ultra power saving mode. In fact, the device came on a battery-friendly profile which I changed away from as soon as I found it during my first hour of usage. That being said, I suspect that the phone doesn’t sync as often as other devices, even when running the balanced profile, but I was no able to determine this with absolute certainty.

PCMark (Battery Life)

The battery benchmarks I did on this device show the expected results, with PCMark outputting a beastly 8 hour average, a score only rivaled by efficiency-juggernauts like the Note5 (similar score) or phones with massive batteries. Video playback on the honor 5X also allowed for over 10 hours of movies and 7 hours of youtube.

I never managed to fully kill the phone with a single day, usually hitting around 4 hours of SOT by the time I got to bed with close to 40% battery life left. I simply haven’t been able to deplete it, not even with heavy usage, gaming and benchmarking. My regular usage mostly consists of Reddit, Youtube, Chrome, all of the Google Docs suite (which as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t use too much given the phone’s productivity-crippling UI performance), navigation and games (Crashlands!). Idle times were also excellent, with slightly above 1.2% battery drain per hour on LTE, and a surprisingly-low 0.4 to 0.6% drain per hour while sitting overnight on wi-fi. I haven’t had any issues with wakelocks, and I honestly never worried about this phone’s longevity during the day. Which is good, considering the phone has really limited charging options.

ampereThe honor 5X foregoes both fast charging solutions and wireless charging (as one would expect), which means that charging this phone is nowhere near as quick as some phones get, and with Quick Charge 3.0 coming with the Snapdragon 820, the gap between the honor 5X’s charging time and the fastest out there will significantly widen. Using Ampere, I found that the battery would only take close to the 1A it is supposed to take even with fast chargers (2A), and significantly less on high-percentages. If it wasn’t for the surprising battery performance of this device, such prospect would be troubling.

Thoughts on Development & Future Proofing ^

Because this device practically just launched, we still haven’t seen much of an impact in terms of development, and at the moment there is very little we know about its future support by the community — if you want to help or discuss, please visit the official forum. What we do know is that the honor 5X will receive OEM support. Firstly, the kernel sources have already been released, allowing interested developers to take a peek and tinker. Huawei also allows bootloader unlocking by downloading a tool in their EMUI site. Finally, we know that the device will receive updates including Marshmallow, and it has already received a security patch (I have not installed it yet) in preparation for launch.

It’s also worth noting that there has been some development for other Huawei and Honor devices that has brought AOSP-based ROMs to them. The honor 4X, for example, has unofficial CM builds despite its Kirin processor. Considering the honor 5X has a friendlier Qualcomm chipset, chances are someone will get an AOSP ROM (or otherwise, a CyanogenMod port) running on it. I personally hope that’s the case, because a ROM that’s more akin to stock would, in my opinion, tremendously increase this phone’s value to western power users.

The biggest future-proofing constraints come at the hand of the phone’s hardware, a sad state of affairs as they cannot be circumvented by OEM support or the cleverness of XDA developers. The phone has no NFC, meaning you won’t be able to use it with the ever-growing Android Pay. It also lacks a gyroscope, which limits some of its Virtual Reality potential. There is no band 12 for T-mobile, and there is also no 5GHz wi-fi. The phone’s battery is non-removable, it lacks wireless charging, and it simply isn’t a fast charger when wired either, at a time where manufacturers are trying to out-do each other in charging times.

Conclusion ^

The honor 5X is a device that tries to do too much and asks little for it. This phone is now the vanguard of the mid-range segment, and I don’t think I am going on a limb when I state that it is, perhaps, the most “valuable” affordable smartphone, especially against other $200 phones and when much of its competition still has not caught up to it in terms of physical design and hardware. This is one of the cheaper devices to offer a fingerprint scanner and a metal body (especially in the west), and given it packs both, it’s no wonder that this combination makes for the slogan of the phone’s marketing campaign.

The device does have its shortcomings, and it is certainly well-behind what we come to expect from flagships in almost every aspect. Because of this, it does not fall in the “affordable flagship” category, but in that of a “premium mid-ranger”; frankly, I feel that the line between these two labels blurs with every release. But for now it is a crucial distinction, because saying this is a traditional flagship would be a lie, yet just calling it a mid-ranger would be a severe understatement. I cannot avoid admitting that because I primarily look for productivity, I am not within the target demographic of this device. Its performance and resulting user-experience are very different from what I’ve grown accustomed to. Yet I do see a lot of potential in the actual features of EMUI, and the phone itself is one of the most pleasant devices I’ve looked at, ever.

It’s simply unbelievable that this phone is $200, and everyone I showed it to expected the price-tag to be much higher. One would also expect the low cost to come at the expense of plenty of hardware, but other than excluded components such as NFC and gyroscope, the phone is around the standard or above the average in almost every aspect when compared to competitors in the same bracket. For less than the price of the latest Moto G, you get a better screen and a significantly bigger battery with good results. The audio and storage come off as the weaker points in terms of hardware, but cheap phones are not traditionally renowned for good storage or audio either.

By far the most polarizing aspect of this device is its user interface, which I’ve seen many people dub an “instant turn-off”. Again, I must say that the overall UX of EMUI is not my cup of tea. I welcome the useful features the UI brings, but I do question whether the sacrifices in performance and aesthetics make the usefulness a worthy trade-off for those looking to use this device for more serious use-cases.

I am inclined to say no, but I know for a fact that many users, particularly those looking for a phone in this segment, would be enthused to have so many of the features this phone has – again, plenty of which is the kind of stuff we root our phones for – and in such a stunning chassis to boot. But on that note, the future development for this device is still uncertain. We know it’ll be officially supported, that sources will be available, and that the processor is one of the friendlier ones. The activity on XDA will ultimately be determined by the impact this phone has on the market, particularly among the demographics it targets.

One thing is certain: this phone packs incredible value for just $199, and anyone that wants a beautiful phone chock-full of features for a steal should consider the honor 5X and the immense amount of things it offers. Those that are looking for a more traditional, solid experience and are willing to fork out a few extra hundred, though, have many options to consider.


Be sure to check out our contest to win a honor 5X!

Check out XDA’s honor 5X Forum

 

We thank honor for providing XDA with review units of the 5X. While we worked with honor to help promote the honor 5X on XDA, this review, and all content you’ve seen about the device, was unaltered and uninfluenced by them.

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