The New Mid-Range: Things I Learned from the honor 5X

The New Mid-Range: Things I Learned from the honor 5X

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A few weeks ago we published our full review of the Honor 5X, where we documented all of our findings and plenty of thoughts on Huawei’s first phone aimed at the U.S, which you can find here. Since then, I’ve been carrying the honor 5X in my second pocket.

This is something I alluded to in my review; I would return to my older daily drivers – that is, flagship phones – as those were more fitting to my use cases. Nevertheless, I found the honor 5X to be a suitable second-phone for reasons I’ll expand on shortly. But most importantly, I also am aware that my use cases are not those of the general consumer, or plenty of enthusiasts for that matter. Whereas I, for example, pick Note phones for their productivity-oriented features and performance, many may be after a more media-centric device, or one that offers a more compact experience, or one that lasts multiple days on a charge. But nonetheless, we must all agree that certain phones are objectively better at certain tasks than others, and it’s those tasks that make us pick from Android’s immense variety. As shown in our review, there are many things the honor 5X is extremely good at.

Onto the specifics: a huge takeaway from my review, and one that I have only come to enjoy even more since I published it, is the battery life the device offers. Huawei has done a spectacular job with their latest phones in this particular regard, with the A72-wielding Kirin 950 powering the Mate 8 offering mind-blowing efficiency that even the toughest critics within our XDA team have come to love. The battery life of the honor 5X is even better when used as a secondary driver, and without a SIM card, standby is some of the best I’ve ever seen, only beaten by the Xperia Z5 Compact’s (without SIM card). This has allowed me to use the phone for close to 4 days on a charge, with a little over one hour of screen-on-time each day.

PCMark (Battery Life)

This is due to the combination of an A53-based processor, as its cores are specifically designed for power-saving, a resolution of 1080p, and plenty of power-saving features (most of which you don’t really need to get great longevity). In 2015, plenty of major flagships regressed in battery life over their predecessors, despite packing in similar or bigger batteries. The OnePlus 2, the One M9, and the G4 all saw slight battery regressions according to reviewers and some benchmarks, and a big part of this is the clear influence of Qualcomm’s 2015 flagship chipsets. The Snapdragon 616 in the honor 5X, however, is a clear contrast in both battery life and thermals, with its metal body failing to heat up even under strenuous circumstances, a feat that as of late has been exclusive to the consciously-built phones and the very efficient chipsets.

It is certainly not perfect, but it achieves much of what it sets out to do

The fact that a mid-range device like this, at such a price, can offer such amazing battery results is not particularly new — a look at the unforgettable Moto G sparks memories of great results comparable even to the juggernauts of its day, which included flagships like the Note 3 and the G2. The honor 5X did in fact remind me of the Moto G, the first impressive mid-range I bought, because of its battery life. But with the remembrance came two wishes: first, that the honor 5X ran stock Android, a feat that we will hopefully achieve with the ingenuity of the XDA community. And second, that the phone was smaller in size and screen.

A smaller display with lower resolution could have reduced the performance compromise with a minimal hit to pixel density

The second wish became stronger the moment I turned down the resolution to 720p using ADB shell commands, something that you shouldn’t try at home on this device unless you want an unstable UI. While EMUI can’t accommodate resources perfectly in this lower resolution, performance was much better than the somewhat disappointing results found on my review.

 Games ran better at the lower native resolution, the UI operated more fluidly, and benchmarks reflected this with sizeable increases in graphics performance for on-screen tests. With a lower size, and a screen of 5-inches or less, 720p would have been less of a compromise. With the 5.5-inch screen, 1080p makes a whole lot of sense, even with a lower-end GPU, but performance takes a slight hit.

20160123_212248-e1453743596734But while it is lower-end, it still needs to be put in context. The honor 5X displays a level of theoretical performance very similar to what we saw in the Galaxy S4 and HTC One M7, pioneers of 1080p flagships, and bearers of the Snapdragon 600 flagship chipset. The Snapdragon 616 in the Honor 5X, thus, matches a level of graphics performance close to what flagships had a few years back, and as far as mid-range chipsets go, this is close to as good as it gets (excluding brand-new chips like the Snapdragon 650). Considering that in 2015 the Snapdragon 808, a step above the 616, saw performance, battery life and throttling issues (which I sadly experience first hand on the Nexus 5X, but which XDA helped me fix), the upgrade would likely not have been worth the additional price.

And that’s where we come full circle, and once again point out the obvious: this is a mid-ranger, the latest in a series of low-cost phones that increasingly offer what we revered as supreme just a few years back. The honor 5X does more than the rest in this regard, by offering the kind of premium design which we used to think only $700 phones could sport. Yet here we are, years later, with phones less than a third of that packing the kind of specifications we once held so highly. And I believe this gap between the premium and the mid-range is coming to a close, slowly and steadily, in part thanks to OEMs like Huawei and OnePlus, which not only offer flagships are good prices, but also now offer premium-feeling devices for even lower.

The honor 5X is certainly not perfect, and as stated before, not the kind of phone that suits my personal needs — something more akin to the Nexus 6P or Mate 8 would certainly be more fitting in my pocket. But the things it sets out to do, it does extremely well — and, in cases such as battery life and design, better than a few of the higher-end devices it tries to imitate. Products like this remind me of the insane improvements technology has made within such a short span — 10 years ago, laptops with 512mb of RAM were very nice, yet today we casually pack 8 times as much in our pocket. I can’t wait for next year’s low-end phones to surprise me again; if the honor mid-range of 2017 offers as close a gap between its value and that of the high-end, I’ll likely carry another neat-looking Huawei in my backup pocket. Especially if they keep feeling and looking as good as flagships — who knows… at this rate, the low-end might have curved edges by then.

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