Huawei’s budget line of smartphones is hitting the U.S. for the first time with the Honor 5X. We were lucky enough to get our hands on a review unit of the device a few days ago, and have been putting it through its paces. A handful of hours is not enough time to make any definitive declarations about the phone, but we do have some preliminary impressions.
Here they are:
1. Phenomenal Budget Build
Like the OnePlus X, which provided a stellar glass and metal build, Huawei’s Honor 5X features a construction beyond its bargain price. Budget phones have been improving in nearly every way the last few years, but build has especially advanced in the last year or so. The 5X feels wonderful in the hand, particularly thanks to its aluminum alloy back casing that has a brushed finish, which the company says is accomplished by applying a ceramic coating with a unique brushing technique. Admittedly, when compared directly to a phone like the Nexus 6P, you can notice the dollar difference, but on its own the Honor 5X’s aluminum is lovely. Like the 6P, the Honor 5X’s back also features minimal plastic (on the top and bottom here) to allow for the necessary antennas. My gripe is not with the plastic, but the stippling Huawei did to give the pieces some texture, which to my eye makes them look like Band-Aids.
On the front, there is a glass coating over the 5.5-inch screen, and a plastic border that joins the aluminum back to the front of the device. It all adds up to deliver a phone that doesn’t feel like something you’ll shell out $199 for, and that’s the (great) trend of budget phones these days. Plastic is becoming a thing of the past, in the every price bracket.
2. A Strong Fingerprint Scanner
Huawei might make the best fingerprint scanners in the business. The scanner it built for the Nexus 6P is ridiculously fast, and the Honor 5X’s is not far behind. Like the build quality, when compared directly to its more expensive brother, the 5X’s fingerprint reader clearly is less premium in the feel, but nearly identical in the most important factor, speed. Rarely do I see the lock screen when using the scanner, and it has proven to be reliably accurate, as well. Again, when compared directly to the 6P, it’s obvious which one is higher quality, but otherwise there is little to complain about here.
3. Solid Battery Life
Battery performance has not been a huge point of focus for most high-end phone makers, leaving it to the budget, or lower profile, lines to offer devices with impressive battery life. The Honor 5X won’t blow anyone away, but it does come with a healthy 3,000 mAh battery, and has performed admirably in my few days of testing. At the moment, I’m getting roughly four hours of screen-on-time, just a hair under what I generally get with the Nexus 6P. It’s more than enough to get me through a full day with average use, an impressive feat for a $199 phone. Comparably, the OnePlus X would often die in the evening on days of regular use. The Honor 5X, so far, is standing up to the challenge.
4. Middling Performance
Unlike battery life, the Honor 5X’s software performance has been less than impressive. The phone features 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 616 processor and an Adreno 405 GPU. Most tasks are handled well enough, but the phone is prone to both minor and major hiccups. Apps can be slow to launch, and in app performance can feel cumbersome from time to time. Multitasking is a chore, thanks in large part to the disappointing Emotion UI skin the company has included on top of Android 5.1.1. A few days is certainly not enough to make a firm judgement on the phone’s performance prowess, and I’ve yet to see how it handles heavier tasks like gaming, but the early returns show where Huawei perhaps cut some corners to lower price.
5. Emotion UI is Majorly Flawed
The most disappointing part of the Honor 5X, and really any Huawei phone the last year or so, is the Emotion UI skin. It lacks the elegance of material design and hampers much of Android’s core features to deliver an experience that’s far closer to iOS, or a Frankenstein hybrid of the two. The look is too childish for my taste, but more importantly it doesn’t handle intuitively and the simplest tasks often feel more difficult than they ought to. It’s a shame, given how well Huawei handles hardware, that the software is such a detraction, but again I’ve only handled the phone for a few days and there is much to learn. The good news is that, despite the look and feel, it is still Android, meaning you can install a third party launcher to alleviate some of the issues if you desire.
That’s all for now from Huawei’s first budget phone to hit the States, stay tuned to Paste Tech in the coming weeks for a full review of the Honor 5X!