Honor 8 Pro – First Impressions
Wait, I've seen this phone before...
The Honor 8, released in August of 2016, was a capable flagship and really kickstarted Honor’s journey towards offering more appealing and capable devices with less downsides than their predecessors, in the United States of all places.
Well, Honor is back with the Honor 8 Pro, not quite a sequel to the Honor 8, hoping to follow its legacy. While our full review is still a few weeks away, these are our first impressions after about a week with Honor’s newest hardware.
|Honor 8 Pro Specs|
|CPU||HiSilicon Kirin 960|
|DISPLAY||2560 x 1440 QHD|
|STORAGE||64GB w/MicroSD Support|
|BATTERY||4,000 mAh battery|
|Cameras||Dual 12MP w/8MP Front|
Last years Honor 8 was a “good looking, powerful and capable” flagship phone worthy of that title. It packed a Kirin 950, 4GB of ram and a 3,000mah battery under it’s 5.2” 1080p display along with Honor’s dual 12MP camera array in the back. Across the board the Honor 8 Pro is a step up, bringing the newest Kirin 960 found in the P10 and Mate 9, 6GB of ram, a 4,000mah battery and it also scales up the display to 5.7” at QHD resolution; where the Honor 8 was small and mighty, the Honor 8 Pro is large and in charge.
Honor carried forward many design attributes from its smaller sibling, with one major change. Located on the face of the device you have its 5.7” QHD display with beveled 2.5D glass, earpiece with bright multicolor integrated led, front facing 8MP camera, and Honor branding. Down on the bottom you have a USB Type C port, a single downward firing speaker on the right and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left. The left side houses the dual SIM tray with MicroSD support, the right side has the buttons (power on the bottom of the trio conveniently), and the top has the IR transmitter and microphone. Around back is where you find the largest differentiator from the Honor 8, and that is the removal of the all-glass back.
While the benefits to an all glass back are negligible and ultimately up to personal preference, one cannot look at the Honor 8 Pro and not see its remarkable resemblance to the larger iPhone. While the Honor 8 may have looked like an iPhone under certain conditions, the Honor 8 Pro takes it a step further and removes any doubt with its all metal curved back and iPhone 6’esque antenna bands. In fact the Honor 8 Pro is so close to the iPhone 7+ in every dimension it can actually fit into its slim-fit “skin” cases.
The in-hand feel of the Honor 8 Pro is quite remarkable considering its price. Like the Google Pixel, and unlike the iPhone, the Honor 8 Pro has a slight chamfer on the side ridge which helps improves its in-hand feel, making it less slippery and easier to hold. While I prefer a curved or tapered back like the Mate 9’s for a phone this large and unwieldy, the Honor 8 Pro improves on the iPhone’s design in this one main way and it pays off. It has some weight to it, but I have found that a properly balanced heavy device is better than a poorly balanced light device and the weight is not really a concern here.
A phone’s exterior is only part of the story and it’s when we dig deeper that we really see what the 8 Pro is worth. As I mentioned earlier the Pro is packing the latest in flagship level tech and while our performance review is still a bit off, initial impressions over this past week are solid. The phone is snappy and responsive and EMUI 5.1 is lightyears ahead of EMUI 4.x, and has some significant under-the-hood improvements over the 5.0 version found on the Mate 9. If you buy anything other than a Pixel, Blackberry, Motorola, or OnePlus device chances are you already know what sort of software experience you are going to be getting, so complaining about small changes like the lack of an app drawer as the default setting gets us nowhere. While OEM ROMs are largely up to personal preference, Huawei has made strides over the past year to normalize its experience at least closer to what stock Android provides. Gone is the custom notification panel as it was replaced with a more stock look and feel — however, Huawei decided to go with a rather ugly blue and semi-translucent black theme for its notification shade, but it can easily be skinned through the theming engine and with the help of our forums.
While EMUI has made improvements, some of its nagging faults remain. For instance the lock screen only shows new notifications and causes them to vanish from it when you unlock or the numerous changes for the sake of changing like Default Application boxes, and permission requests. It is clear that Huawei is trying to merge both its global community, that generally prefers a more iOS look and feel, with its western market, which is comfortable with the Google and Samsung experience; something OnePlus has been contending with as well. While my full review will have more insight into this matter, my experience has not yet been lessened by EMUI 5.1’s influence in any largely impactful way, which is encouraging.
Personally for me, the camera is one of the primary things I look for on a phone; bring a solid experience and you have won a customer, deliver a shoddy one and I’ll show you the door. It is with that said that we are going to need to wait for my full review to get my full thoughts on the camera. I have been both wowed and disappointed by what the Honor 8 Pro has produced in my limited time thus far and need a lot more samples to make a solid decision either way. The above images highlight some of the best I have captured with the Honor 8 Pro with all but the sign being in full auto with no HDR; almost all of them are quite stunning especially when viewed on a high resolution display. The “alligator” sign – welcome to Florida – was taken with the “Wide Aperture Mode” setting that can look great but upon closer inspection does a relatively poor job cropping the different focal ranges in my experience.
Fortunately though, the times I have been let down have been in tricky conditions and ones where almost any device can have a difficult time. I also have been slightly jaded by the Mate 9 which boasted “Leica-tuning” and a 20MP monochrome shooter that enabled some really astonishing images. While I unfortunately no longer have the Mate 9, the Honor will go toe to toe with the iPhone 7+ during my testing period, truly testing its sensor quality and image processing against one of the best. As I said before, I need more time to truly test out the Honor 8 Pro’s camera; while I have had hit or miss shots, my experience so far has been a largely good one.
While I want to go deeper into this phone I will end it here and save the rest for the full review. Things like performance go beyond “it feels smooth and snappy” and require numbers and evidence to back up what I am seeing and reporting. The battery needs still thorough testing, and unfortunately we will have to rely on synthetic benchmarks since the Honor 8 Pro does not support US LTE and could thus be unreliable, so it takes time to build up this data.
So far my time with the Honor 8 Pro has been positive and while I am disappointed to see that there are no US plans at this time, it looks like Honor has another hit on its hands after the minor misstep that was the 6X. The true test of the Honor 8 Pro will be in its competition. Many readers who are considering this phone may also likely be considering the slightly cheaper OnePlus 3T or the slightly more feature-full Mate 9; and it does not look like the Honor 8 Pro will make that decision easy. It packs more raw specs than either phone but falls behind the OnePlus 3T in the software experience and the Mate 9 in its small but beneficial features like dual-speakers, wide-array microphones, and more original styling.
What is important though, is that it looks like the Honor 8 Pro nails down what it takes to deliver a compelling smartphone experience; our full review will let us know if that is enough.