Honor 7 review: A nice balance of price and performance
By Chong Jinn Xiung November 17, 2015
HONOR, a sub-brand of Huawei Technologies’ consumer group, is one of the recent Chinese names which has succeeded in replicating Xiaomi’s strategy, selling high-quality smartphones at low prices, exclusively through online channels.
During last week’s Singles Day (China’s version of the US Black Friday sales event) on Nov 11, Honor wasted no time in taking full advantage of this lucrative buying period.
Its Honor Gala 2015 online sale, which included Malaysia as one of the 20 participating countries in the event, offered discounts on smartphones and accessories, as well as giveaways.
Collaborating with Malaysian shopping portal Vmall.my, Honor said in a statement that it shifted 15,000 smartphones during the one-day sale period and earned a total of RM12 mil in sales.
Among the top models sold during the period was the newly launched Honor 7, an affordable mid-range smartphone that comes packed with some pretty high-end specifications.
The number 7 here doesn’t refer to the screen size, rather this is the seventh iteration of the product and the follow-up to the Honor 6.
There is no denying that the Huawei has placed a lot of emphasis on design with this year’s model. Though the top and bottom of the phone are made from plastic, the metal-clad body, particularly the matte aluminium back of the device, feels great in the hand.
Even the volume and power keys on the right have a solid metal feel to them.
The phone’s USB charging port and speakers are placed on the bottom, while the 3.5mm headphone jack and IR blaster are found at the top, allowing you to control your TV and other appliances with its handy remote app.
A single tray can be popped out from the side using an included pin (or any paper clip), providing the option for either two SIM cards or one SIM with one microSD memory card to expand the on-board storage.
Below the tray, there is an additional button which the company has dubbed ‘Smart Key’ (more on that later).
The 5.2-inch full HD display (1920 x 1080 resolution) may be smaller than what some people are used to (with 5.5-inch being the norm these days), but this is actually a practical, comfortable size for people with smaller hands.
Thanks to a smaller display, it packs more pixels per inch (424 PPI to be exact) and comes off looking a little sharper, especially with small text. Viewing angles are quite good on the phone, though I had to turn off the auto brightness setting in order to view the display in bright sunlight.
Just next to the earpiece is an 8-megapixel front facing camera and on the right, a tiny light for illuminating the scene when it gets too dark for a good selfie.
At the back you will find the Honor 7’s 20-megapixel camera, a two-tone flash next to the lens and a fingerprint reader below it.
Performing on par
The Honor 7, like many of Huawei’s models, relies on the company’s very own HiSilicon System-on-a-chip (SoC), this one being the new Kirin 935 with eight cores, coupled with 3GB of RAM. Graphics-wise it is no slouch, employing the ARM Mali-T624 graphics processor.
General performance was good, apps launched fast without any hint of lag in between, as we went about doing our usual tasks. Gaming on the Honor 7 seemed effortless, as our test racing game Asphalt 8 looked beautiful and ran smoothly throughout my play time.
Huawei’s EMUI (Emotion User Interface) 3.1 runs on top of Android 5.0.2 Lollipop here, and there are only a couple of preinstalled apps, although most can be ignored or uninstalled if you find them annoying.
Even so, the 16GB of internal storage is average by today’s standards, considering that only 10GB is accessible to the user, since the remainder is taken up by the operating system. Huawei also markets a 64GB version but this was not available on Vmall.my at this time.
In fact with the 16GB version, we almost ran out of storage after installing a couple of large games and apps on the phone during testing. On the bright side, you can always expand the storage up to 128GB with a microSD card.
The 3,100mAh battery is good enough to get you through a day but I had the feeling that the charge runs down quicker than expected. Thankfully, the device supports a ‘Fast Charge’ feature when you’re short on time and need to juice up the battery quickly.
Multi-purpose sensor and Smart Key
The Honor 7 serves up a few interesting features that make it stand apart from the competition.
The device’s biometric sensor is lightning fast and very accurate in detecting fingerprints. Even with the screen turned off, I was impressed at just how fast I was able unlock the Honor 7 in under a second.
Usually, most fingerprint readers on smartphones perform only one task but the reader on the Honor 7 does more than unlock the phone. By sliding your finger down you can bring the notification drawer into view. Tap once to go back. A long-press returns you to the home screen, and if you’re using the camera, it doubles as a shutter button to take a picture.
Unique to the Honor 7 is a Smart key, a physical button on the left side of the device, that can be customised to activate specific functions. Not just one function, but up to 3 different functions, using a single click, double click or long press actions.
Similar to the Lenovo Vibe Shot, you can also activate the camera and snap a picture using this button even when the screen is dark (in standby mode), saving you precious seconds. The only downside is that the image may not be composed properly since you couldn’t see what was being captured.
Alternatively you can use this key for other functions like enabling the voice recorder, turning on the flashlight or taking a screenshot.
You can also launch specific apps like Facebook at the press of the button when you want to update your status at the spur of the moment.
I found this to be a very useful feature and wished more phones would implement this concept. It makes multi-tasking and doing stuff on the phone quicker and easier.
Still, for some it may be less practical if they don’t always remember what the 3 different functions this key is activated for! In such cases we recommend mapping the key to just one single action and don’t bother with the double click or long press functions.
High speed autofocus, low colour saturation
When it comes to optics, the Honor 7’s 20-megapixel rear camera is not the best I have handled, but it is still very capable. Autofocus especially was aided with a more advanced phase detection autofocus (PDAF) which locks on faster.
Picture quality is pretty average, good enough for the casual snaps during the day, and surprisingly quite competed at night. It can hold its own in low light and offers pretty clean pictures without a high level of graininess or ‘noise’.
The colours however weren’t as vibrant, and appear dull in fact, as if the saturation was toned way down. The resulting pictures don’t exactly jump out at you so it is a bit disappointing that I had to constantly edit the images before uploading to social media channels.
As far as camera options go, there are a bunch of other modes such as Beauty, Panorama, HDR, Slow Motion to name a few, which you will find in other Huawei smartphones as well.
Interestingly, the videos (up to full HD in quality) don’t suffer from the mute colour palate as still pictures do. For the most part, the videos look great and users will be pleased to know that it comes with built-in stabilisation to counteract shaky hands.
As such, I was pleased with the quality of videos taken with the Honor 7. In one test, I managed to get a close up video of some ants walking along a fence very clearly.
Huawei’s Honor 7 proves that you don’t necessarily need to pay top dollar for a smartphone that offers good performance and features.
From its looks alone, the Honor 7’s metal body could easily pass off as a premium phone and it packs a ton of useful features including dual SIM card support, a fingerprint reader, IR blaster and customisable key.
The performance is better than average and the camera isn’t shabby either, though we wish it also made the 64GB storage version available for sale.
At this price, it competes squarely with Lenovo’s Vibe Shot and the Asus Zenfone 2, but those don’t come with a fingerprint sensor nor a 20 megapixel camera with phase detection autofocus. The Sony Xperia M5 is waterproof and has a similar camera sensor, but comes with a smaller display and is slightly more expensive.
Simply put, I can recommend the Honor 7 for the value and quality it delivers, presenting a nice balance of performance and price.