Let’s get to know the Honor 8.
I would have preferred capacitive keys in place of the “honor” chin branding, but the on-screen navigation keys are still very pleasant to use. I also really appreciate the added software option to change the key layout as well.
The Honor 8 is sporting a 5.2″ 1080P LTPS display, which looks great with a good amount of sharpness and saturated and punchy colors. Color reproduction could have been more accurate, however. Mainly, the display’s color temperature is very cool. Thankfully, you can make adjustments in the settings to compensate for this, but it’s a shame that the device didn’t ship with a better calibrated display.
The smaller display size does make handling easier in comparison to larger devices on the market. In fact, the Honor 8’s smaller size may seal the deal for some, as we rarely see this, especially at this price. The display brightness maxes out at 455 nits, which is about average. Sunlight readability is consequently good, especially for the price.
As expected, performance was absolutely excellent. Everything is very smooth and responsive, which is what you’d usually expect from a more expensive device. Thankfully, there is 4 GB of RAM in both US models, so you can expect a smooth multitasking experience as well.
In my experience, the Honor 8’s Mali-T880 MP4 GPU performed very well when playing mobile games. Do keep in mind, however, that it may not be as future proof as the high-end Adreno GPUs. For example, in a 3Dmark test, the ZTE Axon 7 with the Adreno 530 scored a 2580 whereas the Honor 8 with the Mali-T880 MP4 scored a 964.
As is the case with many Chinese smartphones, the Honor 8 is unlocked and includes dual-SIM card support, meaning that you can use up to two different lines with this single phone. In the US, carrier support includes AT&T, T-Mobile, and their respective MVNOs. The phone also supports Band 12 LTE, so you’ll receive T-Mobile’s extended range coverage.
If you’re willing to give up one of the SIM card slots, you can expand the phone’s base 32 GB of storage via microSD card, up to 128 GB. This is always a great option to have, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
The USB Type-C charging port is accompanied by the headphone jack on the left and a single speaker on the right. The speaker is decent; it gets the job done, but sounds hollow and distorted. I would say that it performs slightly below average overall.
The fingerprint reader on the back of the Honor 8 is quite good: it’s fast while still being accurate. It’s comparable to the one found on the Axon 7, but that’s before considering the unique functionality that Huawei has implemented.
Since the reader also doubles as a tactile button, or what Huawei calls a “smart key,” you can program different shortcuts including flashlight, screenshot, or voice recording to tap, double tap, and hold. You can also have it open an app instead, if you find that useful. It’s a pretty nifty idea, and I’ve found my settings for double tap for flashlight and hold for Google Now to be quite handy.
Huawei provides three battery profiles out of the box: performance, smart, and ultra. While the default smart mode does seem to marginally improve battery life, I noticed that it prevented many of my apps from sending notifications. This made me miss a few important messages in Slack and a couple of Snapchats within the first few hours of using the phone, so I had to switch to the less power-conservative performance mode in order to continue with my review.
In my testing, the 3000mAh battery delivered lackluster results. Battery life is long enough to get most light to moderate users through a full day of use, but heavy users may need to charge up more than once per day. While three and a half hours of screen on time isn’t terrible, it’s not nearly as much as what some competing options offer.
Thankfully, the Honor 8 supports 9V/2A fast charging with the factory supplied charger. You can charge the phone from 0 to about 42% in 30 minutes, which is almost as good as competing options. I do wish that the phone supported fast charging with third party 9V/2A chargers, but Honor has informed us that they will be selling compatible chargers directly to US consumers in the future.
The Honor 8 includes a 12 MP dual-camera configuration with an f/2.2 aperture and hybrid autofocus (laser assisted). One of the lens captures color, while the other is monochrome; Huawei states that this setup helps the phone capture better, crispier looking images.
It’s a great shooter overall
And for the most part, the Honor 8 takes great, contrasty images with a good amount of sharpness and excellent dynamic range. I was surprised at how well it handled balancing the highlights and shadows in many of the images I took.
Honor 8 camera samples:
It’s a great shooter overall, and you’ll likely be very pleased with the images it takes. It’s not going to outperform the Samsung Galaxy S7, but that’s okay considering the Honor 8’s price. The 8 MP front-facing camera is also good.
Low-light performance was surprisingly strong, unlike many other affordable smartphones. Images don’t turn out excellent, but they’re more acceptable than those taken by the Axon 7 and even the OnePlus 3.
One of the perks of having the dual camera setup is the wide aperture mode, which allows you to set an aperture from f/0.95 to f/16 when taking a photo. Once you take the image, you can go back and change the aperture or focus point. This worked pretty well in my testing overall, although the widest of apertures weren’t as convincing.
Unfortunately, there’s no 4K video recording, and you’re limited to 1080P/60p. That’d be acceptable on its own given the phone’s price, but the video quality itself is poor as well with disappointing colors. You can see a sample clip in our video review, featured above.
The camera app is fairly nice, and offers some very useful manual controls. Unfortunately, they don’t rotate when switching to landscape mode, which is quite annoying. The myriad of camera modes can be overwhelming too, and many of them feel half-baked.
For software, the Honor 8 is running Huawei’s Emotion UI 4.1 over Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Overall, the software is very different from stock Android: there’s no app drawer, the UI is iOS-like, and there are a great number of additions. Some users will enjoy this experience, but it may not be for everyone.
Some users will enjoy this experience, but it may not be for everyone
Some of Huawei’s additions are certainly appreciated, but a lot of them can come across as gimmicky. For example, the knuckle gestures are cool in theory, but don’t always work in practice. There’s also a good number of bloatware apps, which I quite frankly wasn’t expecting.
EMUI also has an entirely different scrolling mechanic than stock Android, which is smoother but slower. It looks pretty nice, but you have to wait for the inertia scrolling to completely stop in order to select something. This is incredibly frustrating in day-to-day use, as you’ll find yourself having to repeatedly tap on something until the phone finally responds.
It’s not all bad, however, as the lock screen view is refreshing, the timeline notifications are kind of cool, and the power management tools are quite useful. I just wish that Huawei would have approached software wholeheartedly and made more refinements instead of including a bunch of features that few people will actually use.
On a positive note, Honor has committed to updating the Honor 8 with new features every three months for the first year, and then providing security and bug fix updates for an additional year. With this phone, the question is not whether you will receive the Android 7.0 Nougat update, but rather, when it will arrive. It’s great to see this kind of software support, especially at this price.
There’s also the recently announced partnership with XDA-Developers that aims to create developer interest in the Honor 8. While it’s difficult to say just how many custom ROMs will be available for the phone in the future, this is certainly a step in the right direction.
The Honor 8 is now available for pre-order from Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, and HiHonor starting at $399.99 for the 32 GB storage option or $449.99 for the 64 GB storage option. There are several promotional offers available, including a $50 gift card, which can certainly sweeten the deal. The color options include blue, black, and white.
If you accidentally crack the Honor 8 within the first three months of owning it, Huawei will repair it for free. This is a great protection to have, although I wish it covered the phone for a bit longer.
Huawei has brought what many have wanted from an affordable flagship for a while now: a gorgeous design, a smaller size, and a great camera. In addition, the Honor 8’s excellent performance and IR blaster are not always common on an affordable smartphone.
While the Honor 8 is indeed a great value for the money, it is important to recognize that this is a very competitive price segment so you have many options to chose from. It would be wise to consider what you value most in a smartphone and base your final decision off of that.