What is the Honor 8X?
Huawei’s ‘Honor’ sub-brand (or ‘e-brand’ if you want to use its own label) has really begun to find its feet with recent releases. The Honor 9 in particular has been a recent highlight but other attempts, like the Honor 10 and Honor 7X, have also shown some positive steps. The latest in Honor’s even more budget-friendly ‘X’ series has really put all of this experience into a package that can rival Motorola in the lower end of the market.
With the Honor 8X, Honor has managed to pack a host of features you would expect to see in more expensive smartphones, like a big high-resolution notched display, into a package that’s also laden with ‘AI’. All alongside a surprising amount of battery stamina. For the money, the Honor 8X delivers in spades, even if there are still some minor annoyances. But even these can’t take the sheen off an accomplished, great-value phone.
Honor 8X – Design
The Honor 8X is well constructed and feels good in your hand. There’s a metal middle frame with what Honor calls 2.5D double texture aurora glass. The back has a ‘grating’ effect, which isn’t meant to be a description of your emotional response. I’m guessing Honor’s referring to the slight vertical band down the left of the rear that catches the light slightly differently so appears a different shade.
On that note, the Honor 8X is available in blue, red and black finishes. As is common with Honor’s phone, the rear features multiple layers designed to catch and refract the light. The effect isn’t quite as pronounced on the black model I was sent for review compared to the vibrant blue Honor phones I’ve reviewed in the past.
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That glass body is a magnet for fingerprints, however. The Honor 8X is one of those phones that tends to always look a little grubby unless you wipe it down regularly. The Honor 8X doesn’t have the overly curved edges of many recent flagship phones, like the Sony Xperia XZ3 or Samsung Galaxy S9, that make them a little difficult to hold. The more pronounced metal middle gives you a little more grip, so I didn’t feel I was always on the cusp of having an expensive accident.
The right edge of the phone has a volume rocker and a sensibly placed power button. The left side houses a dual-nano SIM and microSD tray. You can expand the storage by up to 400GB. On the bottom of the phone you’ll still find a 3.5mm headphone jack alongside a somewhat disappointing Micro USB port for charging. I had hoped Honor would have finally adopted USB-C for its X phones, especially when rivals like the Moto One have adopted it. There’s also just a solitary mono speaker on the bottom, which you can easily obstruct with your hand. It reaches decent volumes but ultimately sounds thin and lifeless.
Flip the phone over and there’s a fingerprint scanner that’s exactly where you would want it to be. When so many phones now place the fingerprint sensor so awkwardly, it’s actually a real bonus to not blindly feel around the back or touch the camera lens by accident. The fingerprint scanner is nice and swift, too, and supports handy gestures like swipes to bring down the notification shade. There’s also face unlock that Honor says the 8X uses its AI smarts to improve. I found it worked reliably and it still unlocked when I wore glasses even though it was initially trained without. No luck getting past the face unlock while wearing sunglasses, however. I was hoping following up with a fingerprint would train it to learn my face wearing sunglasses, but this seems beyond the supposed AI.
Honor 8X – Display
This is a phone that really benefits from its notched display and thin bezels. The 6.5-inch LTPS LCD totally dominates the front, with only a small bezel at the bottom thanks to the fingerprint sensor being round back, unlike the Honor 10. The 2340 x 1080 display equates to a crisp 397 pixels-per-inch and everything looks nice and sharp.
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The display has a 19.5:9 ratio, which is close to the standard 21:9 some films are shot in. The display is great for watching films, with vibrant colours and respectable viewing angles. The screen is also nice and bright, with a sensible auto brightness setting to adjust to ambient conditions.
You can toggle apps into ‘Full View’ mode, which gets round the fact not everything is coded for such an aspect ratio. I didn’t run into any compatibility issues with apps I used, although there is a disclaimer saying some might not run properly. There’s a whole host of customisation for the display, too, from adjusting the colour temperature to resizing screen elements and size to take advantage of the resolution. A smart resolution mode can also automatically toggle the resolution between HD+ and FHD+ to conserve battery when needed.
Oh, and you can also hide the notch if you want as well but you essentially lose that top part of the screen. I prefer to live with the notch as a result. An Eye Comfort mode is also included to reduce blue light and eye strain.
Honor 8X – Performance
This is a mid-range option from Honor, and you get performance generally befitting of its price point. That’s not to say that during day-to-day use it proves sluggish. I never encountered any frustrating stutters running everyday apps like Instagram or Twitter, or opening a bunch of tabs in Chrome.
The camera was also pleasingly responsive, which isn’t always guaranteed even at higher price points. Slightly more intense processing like trimming video clips can take a little longer than on more powerful phones, but if it’s not something you’re doing frequently it’s not a massive issue.
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Powering the Honor 8X is a Kirin 710 chipset, which is included in a Honor phone for the very first time (having featured only in Huawei phones previously). This is an octa-core system-on-chip based around an improved 12nm process that promised better performance and battery stamina. We’ll come to the Honor 8X’s impressive battery life later in this review. This is paired with 4GB of RAM and a generous 64GB of storage (with that option of microSD expansion).
In our synthetic benchmarks, the Honor 8X acquits itself well, managing a score of 1412 and 5313 in the Geekbench 4 single- and multi-core tests respectively. Pit it against the similarly-priced Moto G6 Plus‘s 866 and 4081 scores and you see the Kirin 710 packs a decent punch. Gaming performance, courtesy of a Mali G51 GPU, is respectable for the money. Fire up PUBG Mobile and you get smooth frame-rates at lower graphics quality.
Elsewhere, the Honor 8X only makes do with Bluetooth 4.2 support compared to the Moto G6 Plus’s more futureproof Bluetooth 5. It does at least include NFC, so you have the convenience of Google Pay.
Honor 8X – Software
Huawei (and therefore Honor) has improved its EMUI software over the years, and it’s a lot less garish than years gone by. That’s not to say I wouldn’t much prefer a more stripped back, vanilla Android experience, however. In this instance, it’s EMUI 8.2, which is based on the now out of date Android 8.0 Oreo, rather than the newer Android Pie.
There are still frustrations with EMUI, such as the raft of pre-installed duplicate apps for the calendar and email. There are also a bunch of games pre-installed. The HiCare app is also particularly frustrating, pushing notifications promoting a protection plan. Other apps sound neat on paper, like the Party Mode app that can synchronise music across multiple phones. But then you remember the speaker on the Honor 8X is mediocre at best, so you struggle to think of why you would want to blare music out of it.
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EMUI also still does away with an app drawer, in favour of multiple horizontal home screens akin to iOS but you can at least customise the grid of apps to different grid sizes. I’m still generally not fond of the icons Huawei opts to use, though.
Otherwise, there are a few welcome tweaks like the aforementioned fingerprint sensor gestures to pull down the notification shade, and a one-handed mode activated by swiping across the navigation bar.
Honor 8X – Camera
There’s a dual-camera setup on the rear, with the lenses arranged vertically to the side. That’s a good thing because otherwise I have a tendency to get my fingers in the shot if the cameras are above the fingerprint scanner. One camera has a 20-megapixel sensor, whereas the other has a 2-megapixel sensor. The latter sensor is there to support in helping the camera calculate depth of field. Both lenses have a relatively large F/1.8 aperture for helping with low-light shots. The camera also supports Phase Detection Autofocus.
The camera also has ‘AI’ support, in that the Kirin 710 can recognise up to 22 different categories and 500 different scenarios, all in real time. This means if you toggle the AI mode on, then point the camera at a plant, it can recognise this and adjust its camera settings to take the most attractive shot. Similarly, point it at a plate of food and it recognises this. It feels like ‘AI’ is the latest tech buzzword to be bandied around, though. Sony has been doing something similar with its Xperia cameras over the past few years, so it’s not necessarily something particularly unique.
That said, the camera does detect different scenes pretty rapidly. But the AI mode doesn’t always guarantee a better shot. Take a photo of food, for example, and it has a habit of massively boosting the contrast and saturation, so that your dinner ends up looking a little radioactive. It works better for other scenarios, such as when it detects a sky, helping to really heighten the blues of an early autumn day.
There’s also a Night Shot mode that algorithmically stitches together multiple shots for a better-exposed low-light photo. It’s something that Google showed off recently with the considerably more expensive Google Pixel 3. In this mode, you have to try and hold the camera as steady as possible for six seconds, wherein the camera takes multiple shots and factors in your camera movement when compositing the end result. It works relatively well, although shots can look a little soft under closer scrutiny. The lighting isn’t particularly realistic compare to the actual scene, however.
If there’s one complaint with the camera, is that it can be quite artificial, as if the processing could do with being taken down a notch. The other issue is the autofocus can have a tendency to hunt, struggling to get a lock on a subject. Occasionally the resulting shot would have the background in focus rather than the foreground subject. In the test scenarios I wouldn’t have expected the camera to get the focus wrong.
There’s also a dedicated Aperture mode, which lets you adjust the level of bokeh, but again you can find the results can be hit and miss with some of the background blur looking particularly artificial.
Still, when the camera manages to get the component pieces correct, it can take good, well-detailed and sharp photos. It just feels like you have to be a little more considered than just shooting on full ‘Auto’.
Honor 8X – Battery life
The Honor 8X has a 3750mAh battery, which is certainly towards the larger end of the scale. Honor says it adopts ‘intelligent power saving technology’ to get up to 33% more battery life. The Honor 8X’s stamina is certainly one of its strongest points. There is absolutely no risk of it not seeing you through a day of general use.
From the alarm going off at 7:30AM, the Honor 8X can see me through my usual day’s use of Twitter, podcasts, Spotify streaming, browsing and copious WhatsApp messaging and by the time I would typically plug it back in at 10:30PM it can still have anywhere from 60-70% of battery left. That’s genuinely impressive. Practically every other phone I’ve used recently would be sitting at around 30-50% under the same usage.
I intentionally didn’t charge overnight, and by the next morning it was still at 45% after 24 hours away from a charger. This is a phone that can actually scrape towards two days of usage before it needs a top up.
The only downside is that Micro USB for charging, which feels so outdated in the face of USB-C. There’s also no wireless or fast charging.
Why buy the Honor 8X?
The Honor 8X is a great-value phone that packs in great performance, a fantastic display and seriously impressive stamina for the money. It compares very favourably with the Moto G6 Plus that costs around the same, but in my opinion has a more attractive design.
The camera can be a bit of a mixed bag, but if used with some consideration can achieve some good shots. Just don’t necessarily buy into all of the AI hype.
The Honor 8X is great value for money with seriously impressive battery life.