Huawei Honor 7

Huawei is a Chinese company whose star certainly seems to be rising of late, and it’s one of the few handset makers which is seeing a rise in popularity outside of its native China.

Having its name mentioned in connection with high profile companies such as Google (it’s heavily rumoured that they will be working together to bring this year’s Nexus phablet), certainly doesn’t hurt, and with the launch of the Honor 7 smartphone, it looks like Huawei is going all out to crack the West.

To make its Western ambitions clear, it is now easier than ever to pick up a Huawei smartphone, with Huawei’s Vmall online store finally launching in the UK and Europe, allowing you to buy Huawei’s handsets directly from the manufacturer.

Huawei Honor 7

Huawei could also be looking at making it easier to walk into a high street store and buy one of its devices – or get one with a contract. At the moment Honor handsets are sold exclusively in Three UK network stores and are tied to that carrier.

Making its phones more readily available and easier to buy will certainly help Huawei’s standing in the West, and to get people even more tempted by its latest handset, it is offering a limited deal that knocks 50 (around £36, $56, AU$78) off the asking price. Even when the offer ends, the Honor 7 is still excellent value for money, joining its compatriots theOne Plus 2 and the Meizu M2 Note in offering impressive hardware for low prices, with a price tag of £249.99 (around $393, AU$547).

Considering the Honor 7 comes with an octa-core processor, a choice between 16GB and 64GB of storage and 3GB of RAM, that’s not a bad price considering the hardware involved, with a fingerprint scanner and 20 megapixel camera sweetening the deal even further.

This isn’t a budget phone with all but the most basic features cut out, but a decent handset for a compelling price with a few neat features and innovations thrown in as well.

From a Western standpoint, the Honor 7’s biggest competition is from the recently releasedMoto G (2015), which comes in two flavours; the 1GB RAM and 8GB storage version for £179 ($179, AU$250), or the 2GB RAM/16GB storage version for £209 ($219).

So does the Honor 7 continue the winning streak of Chinese handsets offering a great experience for a lot less money? Read on to find out.

Design

At first glance the design of the Huawei Honor 7 is rather straightforward and basic, and more than a little familiar. It reminded me of a cross between the Apple iPhone 4 and theXperia Z3+, which means that while it’s far from an ugly handset, it doesn’t exactly wow either.

Huawei Honor 7

With smartphones becoming increasingly competent on the inside, we’re often looking for devices that doe something a bit different on the outside, and while I wasn’t expecting any premium paradigm-shifting innovations like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge‘s curved screen, it would’ve been nice to be confronted with a design that didn’t make me think “I’ve seen that before”.

However while the front of the Honor 7 seems derivative of Apple and Sony’s offerings, the back is quite different, with a slightly curved brushed aluminium back which feels nice to hold, as well as giving the handset a sturdy feel. I wouldn’t worry about dropping this phone as much as one with a glass front and back.

The back of the Honor 7 is also home to the rear camera and LED flash, and just below that a fingerprint scanner. Its location towards the centre of the back makes it more comfortable to reach when you’re holding it in your hand than fingerprint scanners on the front of the body, though it also means it’s also easier to accidently touch as well.

Huawei Honor 7

Back to the front of the device and the 5.2-inch 1080p screen is surrounded by two thin bezels on either side that keeps the Honor 7 thin enough to hold comfortably, with a body dimension of 143.2 x 71.9 x 8.5mm and a weight of 157g.

The bezels above and below the screen are quite a bit thicker, however. While I’m willing to forgive Huawei for the thick top bezel, as it holds the front-facing camera, LED flash and speaker for phone calls, the bottom bezel seems like wasted space.

This is because there are no buttons, speakers of even logos here. Sure, the extra room is probably taken up with hardware underneath the body, but it makes the Honor 7 look a little plain.

It also means that the speakers for ring tones and media are relegated to the bottom of the body, so they can often be covered by an errant palm, making the sounds coming out of them seem muffled, and it’s a bit of a shame that the empty space of the lower bezel wasn’t used for front-facing speakers.

On the right-hand side of the handset the volume rocker and power button can be found, which are again in easy reach if you’re using the Honor 7 one handed. On the left-hand side of the body a single button is evident, and at first I thought this was a dedicated camera button, but on pushing it nothing happened.

However, holding it down opened up Google Now, which I’m not too sure I like. On other handsets with stock Android I was happy enough to swipe left to get to Google Now when I needed it and I never felt like I was missing a physical button to bring it up. I also accidently pressed it on a couple of occasions which is pretty annoying.

Some Google Now-addicts might love this addition, but I feel it’s a bit of a waste of a button. Meanwhile the volume rocker acts as a physical camera shutter button when the Camera app is open.

Finally the micro USB port resides at the bottom of the chassis – there’s no USB Type-C here – with a headphone jack at the top.

Overall the design of the Huawei Honor 7 is solid if uninspiring. It’s certainly not an ugly phone, but it does little to stand out from the crowd either – which could be a problem if Huawei is planning on making a splash with this device and bringing it to the high street.

With more chances for potential customers to take a look at the device and hold it in their hands, Huawei could have pushed a bit harder for a design that really leaves an impression, so although the design isn’t bad, I still feel it is a bit of a missed opportunity.

Unlocking with a fingerprint

The Huawei Honor 7 is one of a growing number of handsets that include biometric sensors to allow you to securely unlock the smartphone with your fingerprint.

The process is great in theory, as it combines improved security (as people are less likely to spoof your fingerprint then crack your pin code), with ease and convenience.

Although it’s good to see advanced features appear on more affordable phones, unfortunately the fingerprint scanning implementation of the Honor 7 is a bit hit and miss.

First the good news: the fingerprint scanner is placed on the back of the Honor 7, just below the rear camera, and this position makes it easy to reach when using with one hand. I found my finger naturally fell on the fingerprint scanner when I picked it up, which meant that when the scanning worked, the Honor 7 was unlocked and ready to use before I even knew it.

Another plus point is that configuring the fingerprint scanner is straightforward, with easy to follow instructions to register your fingerprint. You can register a number of fingerprints as well, which is useful if you share your phone with your partner.

The fingerprint sensor also vibrates when touched, with gives helpful feedback when using the feature, and it can also register gestures, such as a swipe down of the finger to bring down the top menu. A nice touch for accessing it with one hand, though you do need the other hand to select the options from the menu anyway.

However, there are issues with the sensor as well. For fingerprint scanning to really be easy and convenient it has to work flawlessly and consistently, and unfortunately the Honor 7’s fingerprint scanner falls short.

Despite the ease of registering my fingerprint, when I tried to use it to unlock the phone I was repeatedly told that the fingerprint wasn’t being recognised, so I went back and recalibrated the sensor.

The second time it worked much better, but frustratingly it still refused to register my fingerprint on occasion. This would mean sometimes I’d pick up the phone, press my finger on the sensor and all was well with the world. Other times I’d keep on trying until the Honor 7 gave me a 30 second timeout, forcing me to enter in my PIN password as normal.

Sadly for an easier life it meant that I ended up getting into the mind-set that I’d have to enter in my PIN code and not depend on the flakiness of the Honor 7’s fingerprint scanner, which is a real shame.

The gesture recognition of the sensor was equally spotty, with it sometimes working fine, other times not at all. It’s definitely a shame, as it was one of the features I was looking forward to most, but its unreliability means that you’ll probably end up unlocking the Honor 7 the good old fashioned way more often than not.

Voice control

In a world with Google Now, Siri and Cortana, voice control isn’t that revolutionary, but I still have to give props to Huawei for giving it a shot with its own implementation – especially considering it doesn’t have the resources of Google, Apple or Microsoft.

When setting up the phone you can turn on “Voice Wake Up”, which lets you find a misplaced Honor 7 by using your voice. Before using the feature (which can only be used in English, but gives you the option of US, British and Australian variants) you have to utter the phrase “Dear Honor” a few times for it to calibrate, while trying to avoid the bemused stares of anyone nearby.

Once done the Honor 7 continually listens out for the “Dear Honor” command, with all the pros and cons that entails.

So, it means if you’ve misplaced your Honor 7 you can walk around where you last left it saying “Dear Honor, where are you?”. If it hears your pleas it will say it’s nearby, and will play sounds and flash lights as well, which is actually pretty handy. If it’s not nearby you’ve not only lost your phone, but also potentially your dignity as well.

However with it continually listening, it also means the Honor 7 is prone to interrupting conversations. A number of times I was speaking to someone only for the Honor 7 to butt in, asking me which contact I wanted to ring. Sometimes it would interject with a huffy “I didn’t understand that. Goodbye” as well. As far as I am aware none of the conversations I was having before the Honor 7 joined in used the words “honour” or “dear”.

So in what is rapidly appearing to be a bit of a theme, the voice activation feature has some nice ideas, but is let down by the way it is implemented, leading to an inconsistent overall experience.

20 Megapixel camera

The Honor 7’s big selling point is that it has a good set of specs considering its price, but if there’s one bit of hardware that will make you sit up and take notice it’s the 20 megapixel rear camera that’s included.

This is a fair bit more capable than the Motorola Moto G (2015)‘s 13MP snapper, with theMeizu M2 Note, another competitor, also having a 13 megapixel camera.

Of course more megapixels does not automatically mean better pictures, but if you use your smartphone for regularly taking snaps, then the Honor 7’s camera could be a deciding factor when taking the plunge.

I’ll go into more depth about whether or not the camera lives up to expectations later on in the review, but it looks like mid-range smartphones are going to have to up their game in the camera spec war if they want to remain competitive.

The Huawei Honor 7 has a midrange price tag of £250 (around $393, AU$547), but it comes with some pretty impressive specifications.

It’s powered by Huawei’s own HiSilicon Kirin 935 chipset which comes replete with an octa-core processor that’s made up of four cores running at 2.2GHz and four running at 1.5GHz. This means when you want to conserve battery life and aren’t pushing the Honor 7 too hard, it will use the slower cores, while using the handset for much more intensive tasks will make it switch to the speedier ones.

After running the GeekBench 3 benchmark test, the Honor 7 scored 3629 for its multi-core performance. This is a fair bit better than the 1590 score the Moto Motorola Moto G (2015)achieved.

The Meizu M2 Note, perhaps the closest competitor to the Honor 7, gets a slightly better – though still not as impressive – score of 2693 with its Mediatek octa-core 1.3GHz CPU.

The Honor 7 also comes with a healthy 3GB of RAM which is pretty good for smartphones around this price point, with the 16GB version of the Motorola Moto G (2015) and the Meizu M2 Note coming with 2GB.

This relatively high amount of RAM, combined with the decent GeekBench scores should mean the Honor 7 is a solid performer, and from my time with the handset I can say that’s mainly true, with Android 5.0 Lollipop by and large performing well.

However performance wasn’t flawless, and there were occasions when the Honor 7 paused and became unresponsive, thought these were thankfully quite rare.

However I did experience one particularly nasty crash where the onscreen buttons became unresponsive for around 20 seconds. Some messages, such as one informing me about a network error, would also sometimes stay on screen for a while, which proved annoying.

Although the Honor 7 comes with Android 5.0 Lollipop installed, it also has Huawei’s own EMUi 3.1 interface overlaid. This brings a number of new features and tools to the current version of Android, while keeping the Material Design aesthetic of Google’s stock version.

For example the default background is a dynamic, material-design-inspired wallpaper that moves as you scroll through the home page. The custom icons from Huawei are also nice – as they’re flat with a Material Design look, yet with a monochrome (with occasional small details of other colours) present. The effect is very nice.

The lock screen is quite a bit different from Android’s default, and displays random stock photos along with the time, and although it can look a little ‘busy’ at times, I quite liked it.

EMUi doesn’t just bring aesthetic changes, however, with Huawei adding its own spin on how you can control Android – with particular attention paid to using the phone one-handed.

Although I am a big fan of the stock Android experience, I do like seeing phone manufacturers try new things, and in many cases what Huawei brings to the table with EMUi works very well. However there are occasions where I got a bit frustrated.

For example when you tap just below the Wi-Fi icon from quick menu on standard Lollipop this would open up a small menu to let you switch WiFi networks. Here it just turns Wi-Fi on and off, and you need to go into settings manually to change the network.

Huawei has also seen fit to include a number of apps preinstalled on the Honor 7 including Twitter, Facebook, WIPS Office and Highlights. Highlights is described as “your portal for free games and apps”, and to be blunt, at the moment does not work.

Clicking on the recommended apps currently just brings up a large image that is not suited for the phone’s screen. For Games, it again looks like it has not been formatted properly, with text appearing in a number of different fonts, but at least it’s usable. Sort of. It doesn’t help that the game recommendations aren’t that great, but clicking on the name takes you through to the Google Play Store to download your chosen game.

Hopefully the Highlights app is fixed when the Honor 7 releases, as at the moment it detracts from an otherwise pretty polished experience.

There are also some preinstalled games, and a Smart Controller app that turns the Honor 7 into a universal remote control for your gadgets.

The Phone Manager app is perhaps the most useful of the pre-installed software. It scans the phone and gives you a list of things you can do to optimise the handset, such as closing down apps to free up memory, as well as delete unnecessary files to give you more storage space.

Even after only a few days use the program found things to tidy up – and after more use of the handset this program could make a real improvement to performance.

You can use it to automatically perform all the tasks with just one tap, or you can tap on each task to perform individually. Even better, you can also manually perform the tasks yourself, giving you control over what is deleted or closed.

While the other apps that Huawei has included aren’t particularly impressive or inspiring, I found the Phone Manager app to be well worth trying out, and if you find your Honor 7 is beginning to feel sluggish after a few months of use, running the app to clean up the handset could result in some real improvements to performance.

The Huawei Honor 7 comes with a non-removable 3100mAh battery, which on paper should offer a decent amount of life between charges.

In practise however I found that the Honor 7 didn’t do particularly well, with the battery dropping to 81% after just two and a half hours of moderate use.

By 11:35 in the morning the battery had dropped to 70%, with the Honor 7 just about managing a full day of use before needing a charge.

However it did cope well with some tasks where other smartphones fail. Browsing the internet, which can usually drain the battery pretty sharpish on some phones, didn’t impact battery life too badly – though this might be because I was using the default browser that comes installed on the Honor 7, rather than the more resource-intensive Chrome.

Using our patented video benchmark, which involves playing a looped high definition video for 90 minutes with the screen on full brightness, the battery of the Honor 7 dropped 33%, which is quite a large amount. For comparison the Meizu M2 Note has the same capacity battery, but drops slightly less with 27% depletion.

It’s not a stellar performance battery-wise, then, but the Honor 7 does have some additional tricks up its sleeve that can help drastically improve the battery life.

Huawei has included a number of in-depth power saving and monitoring tools that give you lots of information to let you know what apps and hardware are taking up the most battery.

The battery saving tools of the Honor 7 go well beyond what most manufacturers offer, and it’s a darn sight more than stock Android’s tools.

It means with some careful research and tweaking you could tailor the Honor 7 to get even more battery life out of it by identifying the main culprits that are draining your battery.

Of course not everyone is going to have the time or inclination to meticulously go through and find out what the worst battery hogging apps are, which is why there are also battery saving modes that you can quickly switch to which will automatically configure the Honor 7’s performance to save battery.

The three power profiles are “Performance”, which makes use of the faster cores of the Honor 7’s CPU to deliver the fastest performance possible – though sacrificing battery life. Meanwhile “Smart” balances the CPU and network usage of the phone depending on what you are doing, so that when the phone is not being used for intensive tasks, it will use less power and therefore have a longer battery life.

Finally the “Ultra” mode turns off everything except for what’s needed for basic phone calls and functions. This limits what you can do with the Honor 7, so it’s best you leave this option as a last resort when your battery is running very low, but it does a very good job of giving you some extra much-needed juice.

A nice touch is that you also get a prediction of how much battery life time is remaining, and next to each power plan the revised battery life is displayed. So with Performance I had 15 hours 41 minutes left, with Smart 16 hours, 58 minutes and with Ultra 29 hours and 32 minutes, which if the prediction is correct means you can almost double the battery life of the Honor 7 with the “Ultra” setting turned on.

Overall the battery life of the Honor 7 wasn’t stellar, and fell short of some of its competitors, however I feel that Huawei has redeemed itself somewhat by including a range of in-depth battery tools that go some distance in improving the Honor 7’s battery performance.

If you do a lot of talking on your smartphone then first of all, congratulations, that’s very old school of you. Secondly, the Honor 7 could be of interest as it supports dual SIM cards, which means you can swap between networks and tarrifs without having to open up the phone.

It’s certainly handy if you have separate mobile contracts for work and leisure, as it means you don’t need two phones to make use of either. The same is true if you have a SIM card dedicated to making phone calls when abroad.

These use cases won’t appeal to everyone, and for the vast majority of us we probably only have one contract (and therefore one SIM card), so the feature will go ignored. However, for those of us with two SIMs, it’s definitely an attractive bonus.

Call quality is perfectly fine, and the Phone app, which has been given an overhaul to match Huawei’s EMUi interface, is straightforward to use with the Contacts app looking and behaving a lot like the one found in stock Android.

 

 

 

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