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Honor 5X review: heavy on features, light on wallets

And it's pretty to boot

By Emma Boyle March 3, 2016

We got hands on with the Honor 5X not too long ago, and we’re now ready to give you the full review as per our Reddit-inspired review policy. Having gone from the Moto G to the Honor 7 and now the 5X, I’m becoming somewhat of an affordable Android aficionado. My experience with the Honor 7 has been overall a very positive one and I had high hopes for the 5X.

So, have Honor managed to create another smartphone that looks and behaves like it should cost more than it does? They really have. While the 5X isn’t groundbreaking, it offers features often lacking in phones that cost considerably more, and everyone loves a bargain. Here’s our Honor 5X review.

Handset

  • 151.3 x 76.3 x 8.15 mm
  • 158g
  • 5.5 inch screen
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Colours: silver, gold, grey

I found myself surprised by just how wide the 5X is; it’s around 5mm wider than the Honor 7 which only just manages to be a comfortable fit in my annoyingly small hands, so frequently I found myself struggling to use it single-handed with a secure grip. Although this won’t be a problem for everyone, it is worth bearing in mind that though it’s not unusually big, this definitely isn’t a small phone.

Visually, the 5X is apparently inspired by the metallic exterior of the Guggenheim museum and its colours have been specifically chosen to echo the reflections of the Guggenheim’s curved walls at sunset, nighttime, and dawn. Now, I don’t know about that, but I do know that the diamond-polished aluminium alloy body they’ve used makes the phone look pretty smart, and more premium than it actually is.

On the handset, you’ll find the headphone jack at the top right, volume control and the power button on the right edge, and card slot on the left which has space for three cards: micro-SIM, nano-SIM, and up to a 128GB microSD card. Impressive.

In the centre of the bottom there’s the USB charging port (the old style, not type C) with the holes for the speaker on either side of it.

It’s hard to miss the fingerprint sensor in the centre of the phone’s back and we’re pleased to say it works consistently well. Registering your fingerprint takes six taps per finger and you can store the prints for up to five fingers. They don’t all necessarily have to be your fingers, either, if you have a loved one you especially trust. The great thing about the fingerprint sensor is that it can do more than just unlock the phone: you can configure certain apps to open depending on which finger you use and swipe gestures mean you can quickly access your notifications and recently accessed apps. You can see a demo in our hands-on video:

The hardware

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 octa-core 64-bit processor (4 x 1.2 GHz, 4 x 1.5)
  • 2GB RAM

In terms of hardware, the 5X is offering you some bang for your buck. These days, 2GB doesn’t seem like much RAM at all, but the 5X performs well regardless; apps opened quickly and there was minimal lag when using them.

A good sign that the phone isn’t struggling to do its job or multi-task is that it doesn’t get warm even after long periods of use, which you sometimes find with lower-end smartphones. It also handles gaming apps really well; the Honor 5X comes with quite a few games already downloaded (the Ultimate Spiderman app is definitely worth a look if you can avoid despairing at the sheer number of in-app purchase offers web-slung your way) and they all load quickly and play smoothly.

The software

  • Android 5.1 with Huawei’s EMUI 3.1 skin
  • Smartpower 3.0

The Honor 5X is running EMUI 3.1 which is based on Android 5.1 Lollipop, though an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow and EMUI 4.0 isn’t far off. There are parts of EMUI you can love, and parts you can loathe – how much they matter is really down to your priorities.

Something I love is the redesigned notification shade; it allows for a lot more space for your notifications, and it has a second ‘shortcuts’ section where you can quickly access things like your WiFi, screen brightness, and torch. It really makes the phone feel easy to navigate. On balance, there’s no app drawer, so I hope you’re good at organising your app folders.

The theme that comes as standard with the phone isn’t particularly attractive; it’s clearly inspired by the bright colours of stock Android, but the icons are unattractive and overall I just had a feeling there was something visually ‘off’ about it. Fortunately, the 5X does have some degree of customisability. A quick dip into the ‘Themes’ section will reveal a whole host of pretty, and some not so pretty, backgrounds and icons to make your phone a little more interesting. The Legend of Zelda inspired one I have is, by far, the best.

The 5X also comes with integrated SmartPower 3.0 which will flag up when you have apps running in the background and invite you to close them to save power. When you hit the dreaded low battery it’ll also give you the option to put the phone into ultra power-saving mode in which you can only use the phone’s text and call functions – but only through the native apps, not WhatsApp or others. It basically turns the phone into a Nokia 3310, but without Snake.

Honor say SmartPower reduces power consumption by 30%, but the frequency of consumption reminders began to get more than a little irritating, mostly because I’m the kind of person that hates notification symbols floating at the top of my screen. The software comes in three settings: normal, smart, and ultra. It’s worth digging into your settings when you power the phone up to make sure it’s set to normal and not smart to ensure your phone is performing at its fastest. Although the phone suggests smart for daily use, I found it made the 5X sluggish to a degree that made saving half an hour in battery life seem insignificant compared to the years of my life I was losing thanks to stress and frustration.

The screen

  • 5.5 inches
  • 1080p (full HD), 401 ppi

The 5X’s display is bright, clear and responsive. Turning the brightness up really brings out how vibrant the phone’s colours are, particularly on the cartoonish theme I have applied. Fortunately, though, when you want the brightness low it can certainly do that too. I like to have my phone on low brightness before bed and on public transport (because of nosy parkers) and often I find screens just don’t go quite as dark as I’d like them to, but the 5X has a good range of brightnesses.

The phone comes with a protective film, which you might be tempted to keep on for scratch protection because the screen doesn’t have the benefit of having reinforced or Gorilla Glass, but the degree to which the film attracts fingerprints and marks will have you peeling it off within a week.

Storage

  • 16GB
  • MicroSD Card slot

One of the main requirements from any phone I buy is a microSD card slot, because I resent any phone that makes me attentively prune my camera roll with the frequency of a Bonsai tree. With a fairly low 16GB of internal storage as standard, the 5X really couldn’t have done without the expandable memory option, so we’re glad to see it’s there. Especially when so many pricier phones still leave it out.

16GB is fair at this price (at this price, Apple), but you’ll want to budget for a microSD card eventually as that’ll fill up fast.

Speakers

As with many phones, you’ll find the Honor 5X’s speaker on its bottom edge. Although it looks like the phone has two speakers because of the two grilles, only one of them actually hides a speaker (it’s the bottom right one). Annoyingly, placing the speaker on the bottom of the phone makes it a lot easier to muffle the sound when you’re watching something in landscape.

The sound quality from the 5X isn’t much to shout about. It can go reasonably loud before sounding thin or tinny, but where it actually seems to have trouble is going low – I found that at its lowest, the sound from the Honor 5X just wasn’t quiet enough.

The selfie camera

  • 5MP
  • F2.4

The selfie camera on the Honor 5X takes good-quality pictures that you’ll be happy to share on social media. It does, however, come with a beauty mode that, whilst fun to play around with, isn’t great for the self esteem. It gives you the ability to smooth out your skin, thin your face, brighten your eyes and even make them bigger. On the far left there’s no beauty mode, in the middle it’s set to 5, and on the right it’s airbrushed me so hard I’ve lost definition.

This is kind of fun to play with, especially when you turn the settings up to full. Trust me, you look weird. Perfect Selfie Mode actually lets you store these beauty settings so that no matter what picture you’re in, your face is automatically beautified to the degree you desire. It’ll feel really great when you take a group picture and everyone double-takes because you look “so different!”

For normal selfies on auto, you’ll find it’s easily good enough to keep your Instagram well-stocked. Pikachu was impressed.

The main camera

  • 13 MP
  • F2.0 aperture

One of my favourite thing about Honor phones is that they seem to understand that for most people, their phone is now their main means of taking photos so they add a bunch of camera features that can really add to the experience. The camera comes with a bunch of filters you can apply before your photo even hits Instagram, as well as some interesting modes including Food Mode that’s pretty much beauty mode but for your plate, time-lapse mode, and even one that will watermark your photo with your location, the time, and the weather from the moment you took it. In case someone demands proof that you were where you say you were.

And as a standard auto camera, I was happy to use it every day and I found it copes particularly well with bright light.

In rooms where the lighting was much lower, the 5X’s main camera still held its own, which is good to see:

The battery

  • 3000 mAh
  • Non-removable

I had a bit of an issue when it came to the phone’s battery life at first. Despite being a very impressive (for this price) 3000 mAh, which Honor said would last a moderate user around a day and a half, I was barely getting half a day out of it, even with screen brightness turned all the way down. Inspecting the phone’s battery settings, I found Google Chrome was using up around 40% of the phone’s power. Uninstalling and reinstalling Chrome was enough to fix this and I now get a full day out of the 5X without a problem, which is the kind of reliability I’d come to expect from using the Honor 7.

In short, if you’re having issues, check the battery settings for wonkiness. If anything’s consuming more power than the screen, there’s a problem.

An hour’s screen-on time at max brightness will cost you 19% of your battery. That’s about the same as the similarly-priced OnePlus X (18%).

Honor 5X UK price and availability

The Honor 5X is available now. On contract, it’s exclusive to Three in the UK, with prices from £13 a month with no upfront cost for the phone.

You can also buy it directly from Honor SIM-free for £189.99, or, amazingly, £169.99 on Amazon UK. If you’re getting your mum a phone for Mothers’ Day, this is an excellent choice.

Gadgette’s verdict

At £189.99, we don’t think you could ever feel disappointed by this phone. In terms of its screen, battery, camera and appearance the 5X is absolutely one of the best phones in its price range. The software, as ever, is going to be an issue for some people, but it’s very customisable. If the lack of app drawer bugs you, Google Now Launcher brings it back, and if you hate the icons there are other themes.

Overall, if you’ve been searching for a solid Android handset that looks good and won’t start throwing lag at you after just two weeks of use, the Honor 5X is a great choice, and its existence makes it hard to accept phones twice the price with no microSD or fingerprint sensor. This phone feels like a gauntlet thrown down to the budget end of the market – your move, manufacturers.


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