Honor have never really had a problem with hardware, but if we are honest, that’s because they very rarely drastically altered the designs that Huawei used for their flagships. This changes with the Honor 8, because although internally, it is almost a complete match to the Huawei P9, externally it is a whole other beast. Read on to learn more.
Disclaimer: Honor provided us (Dom) with the Honor 8 review unit after attending the launch event in Paris. Since that event on the 24th of August 2016, I have been using the Honor 8 as my primary device, mostly on the Three UK network in single SIM mode, but also in dual SIM mode in Berlin, Germany for IFA for a week. No system OTAs were supplied during this testing period and Honor has no editorial control over the outcome of the review.
Speeds and Feeds (Specs)
- 5.2” 1920x1080p IPS-Neo Display
- Octa-Core Kirin 950 SoC
- Mali-T880 GPU
- 4GB RAM
- 32GB On-board storage
- MicroSD expansion up to 128gb
- Dual 12MP rear cameras, one monochrome, the other RGB
- Laser Autofocus
- Dual-Tone LED Flash
- 8MP Front Facing camera
- USB Type-C Charging port
- Fingerprint scanner with embedded button
- IR Blaster
- EMUI 4.1 disguising Android 6.0.1
For a more exhaustive look at the specs, head on over to GSMArena
The Honor 8 Is a beautiful piece of hardware, and there is no denying that. Whether you have the Blue like we have, the fantastically amazing Black, the pure white or the (I’m sure some people will love it) Gold. The aluminium frame, the glass sandwich design and more; I loved the Huawei P9 so much I bought one, but in this case, I think that Honor has outdone their parent company.
Sure, the glass isn’t as sturdy as the metal used on the P9. I already have 3 scratches on the rear of my Honor 8, despite babying it, but it feels so good in the hand, and then we get to see what Honor is bragging about, that rear glass panel. Now it is not the first to do rear glass panels, they’ve been done to death. They’re also not the first to do fancy patterns under the glass (I still absolutely adore the pattern under the glass of my Nexus 4), Bbut the 15 layer back of the Honor 8 is just phenomenal to look at.
Each layer is laser etched in a different way so that when stacked and the light goes through one, it hits another and moves, then it hits another and so on and so forth. Usually, I try to hide glare on glass panels, but in the case of the Honor 8, I found myself constantly looking for sun so I could see the awesome pattern it makes. Will I likely cover it with a dbrand skin once one becomes available? More than likely, but that is more to do with not trusting myself with a glass backed phone that isn’t protected (fun fact, my Nexus 4 was bought on launch day, and has had a dbrand Carbon Fibre skin on since, and it is still on there now).
So onto the other parts of the hardware. It really is hard to describe this as anything other than “refined AF” as I believe the kids say. The Honor 8’s aluminium frame with its blue anodisation feels spectacular in the hand. I don’t think I have ever felt that it was too slippery in hand (the back is another thing altogether). The buttons all have enough movement to make them easy to press, but not enough wobble to make them annoying or to make them rattle.
Around the perimeter we have the power button and volume rocker on the right-hand edge, with only an antenna line above it, flipping to the left side we have the NanoSIM tray that can either take 2 NanoSIM cards or a single NanoSIM and a MicroSD card. This actually came in handy when travelling with the Honor 8 to Berlin, as I was able to turn data roaming off on my main SIM, and buy a cheap local SIM with a data package and only use that for Data allowing me to still Whatsapp from my normal number, along with all the other messaging apps and social media apps I use daily.
Up top there is the secondary noise cancelling microphone and the IR Blaster. Whilst I am not the biggest fan of IR Blasters, for the people who enjoy them, there is one here as well as Huawei’s rather comprehensive remote control app, allowing you to control everything from your TV to stereo to probably your hair dryer if it had an IR port.
Down bottom we have the Single Speaker port that produces okay sound. It is far too easy to cover, but it sounds okay. I would really prefer it if was louder and in a better position, but it is not horrendous where it is; at least it is not on the back. Next up is the USB Type-C port. Now let’s just get this out-of-the-way. This is a USB Type-C port with a USB2.0 backplane. I was once very against this, and I have gone out of my way to shame companies that used this watered down implementation, such as OnePlus and Nokia (with the N1) but I am here to say I was wrong. We need to get USB Type-C everywhere, and if we need to use USB2.0 to get mass adoption until the ICs for USB3.1 Gen2 are good enough, then so be it. We need the transition to be as painless as possible, so let’s get there anyway we can. Last but not least is the 3.5mm headphone port. A feature that is suddenly very desirable since Apple removed it on the iPhone 7 and to a lesser degree Motorola removing it on the Moto Z and Z Force (but not Z Play). It is in my preferred placement, on the bottom, and it works – simple.
The front houses the awesome 5.2” 1080p IPS-Neo display. This is every bit as awesome as the display on the P9. Likely because it is the same unit. It’s a fully laminated 1080p panel which, despite being IPS has strangely good black levels (still no OLED though), good touch response, a slick screen (meaning your finger slides easily across all of it) and best of all (for an Honor phone) an Oleophobic coating! Meaning, that not only does it resist most of my greasy fingerprints, the ones that slip through are super easy to remove. Good job guys!
So let’s start with the disappointing thing, EMUI still exists and it’s still a very large deviation from what Google thinks Android should look like. On the plus side, it’s a relatively recent version of Android (6.0, though Nougat is on the way), with a relatively recent security patch (though it could certainly be better than June 1st). However EMUI is miles better than it has been in recent years. It no longer messes with your icons so damn much Notifications are also almost always perfectly formatted now. Sure, it’s still very different from stock in a lot of ways; the two that bug me the most being the notification shade and the multitasking menu, but those too are soon be remedied with the up and coming EMUI5 update, which is said to be a ground up redesign fixing at the very least, those two core issues.
One thing I am solely grateful for is EMUI no longer hogging the resources it once was. Sure, it could still be lighter, but it no longer feels like a geriatric dog going on a walk with weights on it’s back. It is there, but it feels incredibly smooth, which means either the Kirin 950 is even more beastly than we thought, or Huawei also seriously toned down its rendition of Android.
There is still no app drawer by default, it still has insanely overactive power management features (yes, I know Talon is taking up a lot of battery, I specifically set it up to poll often), and it is still to hard to change the default launcher and SMS app, but once again, it is infinitely better than it once was even a year ago. It’s easy to rag on Honor for EMUI, but let’s be honest, they inherited it from Huawei. I have a feeling (but no confirmation at all) that if Honor didn’t have to use EMUI, they likely wouldn’t. Whilst EMUI works well in Eastern audiences in the same way that Oppo’s ColorOS and Xiaomi’s MIUI does, in the West things operate a little differently. People have become accustomed to certain things, like app drawers, and sure you can add a third-party launcher (which is still too hard for normies to change) but I kind of feel that if you’re very heavily marketing the Honor brand in Europe, a user interface and user experience paradigm that fits in with the west would be beneficial.
(though, once again I’d like to point out that EMUI5 is slated to be arriving soon and is a ground up redesign and this is so exciting for me.)
2 words? Bloody brilliant! The 3000 mAh battery of the Honor 8 was unlikely to perform badly, but I never expected it to perform this well.
On a standard day for me I usually went to bed with it upwards of 50%, sometimes closer to 60%, that’s on a standard day. Whilst I was testing the Honor 8 I had a week of not so usual usage, also called IFA week. During IFA week I had a second SIM card in there at all times, with both being active. I had the brightness usually cranked to 100% because Berlin was so bloody bright, I was also using it a tonne for Vlogging. One day I had to use it in place of my camera because I forgot to charge it the night before, and not a single day at IFA did my battery make it below 20% (Editor’s note: Christ I hated Dom for this as it embarrassed my OnePlus 3 daily! – Craig).
Some of the insane battery is to do with Huawei’s battery saving features, but not all, seeing as I turned as many of them off as I could (seriously guys, Pebble needs to be open when the screen is off). Not only that, but I had 2 active SIM cards in it at all times for that week, a brutal thing for many devices. Whilst some of the battery longevity comes down to software most of it comes down to hardware. The IPS-Neo display is very efficient, the Kirin 950 sips power most of the time and the Lithium-Polymer chemistry in the battery pack in the phone is high density and awesome. The Honor 8 has tremendous battery longevity, and I hope that it stays this good for a while. I have few devices that have stellar battery for the first few months, then rapidly decrease. Let’s just say, I can usually get 2 days out of the Honor 8, and if for some reason I get to mid day of the second day and I’m running low, throwing it on the charger gives me a respectable top up on my lunch break.
A quick word about charging. The Honor 8 ships with Huawei’s 9v2a charging brick, which is great. That’s 18w of power, except that unless you use their charger, speeds are going to be a little slower. It’s not the end of the world though, I can charge my Honor 8 up from a 2.4a wall plug quite quickly. It’s no VOOC, but it is about QuickCharge 2.0 levels in my experience which is plenty for most people, and to be honest, if you’re like most people and charge over night, even a 5v1a plug is going to be enough and will actually increase the lifespan of the battery itself. I try to fast charge as little as possible for this very reason.
Honor have done exactly what you would have thought they’d have done. They ported nearly all the magic from the P9 over to the Honor 8 and it works just about as well. When I say nearly there, it isn’t to say that the Honor 8 is appreciably worse, because in most cases it is not, but the real kicker here is that because there is no Leica branding here. Some of the special tuning that Leica added into the P9 isn’t here, one of the biggest and most annoying omissions? No monochrome only mode. Now that sucks, and for multiple reasons. First off the secondary monochrome sensor is still here, and it still does all the fancy monochrome and RGB magic that the P9 does, but they just removed the option to take monochrome only shots. For people about to say “just put a filter over it” – hush. Whilst that does work, the difference between a monochrome native image and a colour image made monochrome is quite drastic.
The Honor 8 has a quality camera that I love using. It’s fast to open, fast to focus, has a phenomenal camera app (even with the missing Leica features) and it’s just a great experience. The Dual 12MP cameras work in tandem to give you the best image they can. The monochrome sensor handles getting the most depth and exposure that it can, and then the RGB sensor collects the colour and focus and then it blends the two together to give you a great photo. This is important because it’s all automatic and this is the default mode the Honor 8 wants to take photos in. Can you change it? Sure, and that’s awesome as well. The choice to change things makes this a great camera for many people, just like the P9.
The Front facing camera on the Honor 8 is also a bit of a cracker. Unlike some other phones it does not come with a front facing LED, but instead it flashes the screen a certain colour just as the shutter goes off. This is clearly inspired by the similar feature (I believe it’s called “Retina Flash” on the iPhone) but it doesn’t make it any less of a great feature. The selfie snapper on the Honor 8 gives me great shots pretty much every time I open it unless I’m in very low light environments, or if Mr Shaky hands makes another appearance. If I had one gripe with the front facing camera it’s that the “Beauty Mode” is on by default, meaning I’ve taken a shot, realised I look like a pseudo-Ken Doll, turned the feature off, and then retaken the shot. Is it the end of the world? Of course not, and the Beauty mode is only at number 5 of 10 at default, but it’s weird that it always seems to default to the on position. Enough of that, have a look at some Selfies.
Lastly of course there has to be some video footage, so here is the Vlog I made on the Honor 8 from me and the MTT guys went to IFA, Enjoy.
Simply put – insanely good. The Honor 8 hasn’t locked up on me once in the time I’ve been testing it, and I’ve put it through a lot. I try not to game (I usually have more important things to be doing) but when I did, the Honor 8 handled the games I tried splendidly and without getting too hot.
I know that I personally don’t enjoy benchmarks as much as some people do, but If I don’t add them in, people ask where they are, so I’ve thrown a few in here for you guys.
But for those of you who actually want to know what day-to-day performance is like, put it this way, I’ve never worried about it. I’ve never wondered if the Kirin 950 was powerful enough for something I was going to throw at it. I just did it, and it worked. Whether it be scrolling through instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tinder or even using the live filters on Snapchat, the Honor 8 performed valiantly
Radios and connectivity
You guys are going to see a running theme with this review, things being above average. The Honor 8 does great, whether it be on Wi-Fi (both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz are supported), Bluetooth (v4.1) or mobile Data (LTE-Cat.6).
I very rarely had no signal, and when I did it was because I was going through a known dead spot, like a tunnel, or my kitchen, where every radio signal goes to die. But data speeds were on par with the Huawei P9, which is to say great. Calls sounded really good, the noise cancelling algorithm Huawei has developed seems to be a cut above the rest in my testing and others stated that I was easier to hear than on other phones. So yeah, pat on the Back Honor. You’ve nailed the phone part of Smartphones!
This section is mainly the fingerprint scanner, the smart key inside the fingerprint scanner and the colours. Let’s first start off with the fingerprint scanner. It’s in the right place, on the back in the centre about ¾ of the way up the phone. It’s insanely fast, not quite Oppo F1 Plus fast, but faster than every other device I’ve tried in recent memory, including newer TouchID sensors, the S7 and the HTC 10. The enrollment of a finger on the Honor 8 is nice and speedy too, taking roughly around 5-7 taps to get the finger in the system, and once I’ve enrolled, I’ve not had a single failed reading in my testing, not even with sweaty or damp fingers, something that even the venerable F1 Plus struggled with. If I had to state one gripe with the Honor 8’s fingerprint module it’s that the actual surface is so incredibly fingerprint magnet-y, in the worst way possible. If I wiped the sensor clean, then washed and dried my hands, then unlocked the Honor 8, on the sensor would be a very noticeable fingerprint left over. It wipes off nice and easily, but this is not an issue I’ve had with Huawei fingerprint scanners before.
Next up is the smart key. So if you remember back to last year and the Honor 7? Honor put a spare key on the side of the Honor 7 that let you do “additional” stuff. This year they integrated that button into the fingerprint scanner. The actual fingerprint scanner is a physical button that depresses and clicks! You can have things set up for a single-click, double-click, and long press. I personally have disabled single click as I activated it too often, but double-click is a screenshot, and a long press activates the torch. This is nice to have, though it did take me a while to figure out where the option to change what each touch/click did was.
Lastly is the colours. This is going to be a small one, but still. What Honor did with the back is awesome. What I assume is 14 layers of polycarbonate with the last layer being glass is just astounding. The micro-etching on each panel catches the light in awesome ways, and not only that, each colour has different properties when light hits them so each colour, as well as each unit looks different. This is truly awesome. So it doesn’t matter if you have Black, White, Gold or Blue, each Honor 8 will look “dope AF” when the light hits it.
I’m not sure I need to say this, but I love the Honor 8 and I think it is a tremendous buy, even at the high price of £369. Whilst £369 seems high, we have to remember that his is Honor’s flagship and when you compare it to other flagships, those are usually in the £500+ range. The difficulty comes when you realise just how crowded the £300-£400 price range is. We have the Honor 8, the Huawei Nova, The OnePlus 3, the Idol 4s, the Moto Z Play and more. What has Honor 8 over all of those though? Carrier availability. Honor is more readily available to the average consumer which bodes well for it’s sales in Europe.
Whilst we techies like to snob at the idea of people buying devices on contract, that’s still what the majority of people do, and being able to buy the Honor 8 on contract at Three UK is a really big deal for some people. It’s really awesome that we have such a crowded unlocked/SIM free market, meaning that we have loads of good options at this price point, but if we use one of my siblings as an example, he’s picking up an Honor 8 to upgrade from his original Moto G, purely because it is available on contract.
Honor, you did good, and you should be proud. Long may it continue.