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Honor 7 Review: In Depth

3.5
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The Good

  • Attractive, solid design
  • Smooth performance
  • Fingerprint scanner

The Bad

  • UI irritations
  • Poor to average battery life

Honor 7 Review: We test out the affordable Honor 7 smartphone to see if it’s a great value mobile or a bit of a dud.

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei first launched its ‘For the Brave’ Honor handsets in the UK at the end of 2014 and so far we’ve been impressed, with the Honor 6 already proving a solid example of ‘more than we expected for the price’.

However, 2015 has seen a slew of great-value smartphones hit the market. At the Honor 7’s £250 price point you can also grab the likes of Motorola’s Moto X, a fully customisable flagship packing premium specs, while British brand Wileyfox is about to unleash a Storm.

So, how does the Honor 7, with its 20-meg camera, fingerprint scanner and Full HD screen, stack up? Here’s our full in-depth Honor 7 review.

Read next: Best budget phones of 2015 so far

Design

In the past, Honor’s youth and budget-focused designs have seemed a little tame and uninspiring when compared with the glass and metal beasts launched by parent company Huawei. However, the Honor 7 turns things around with a solid bit of style.

Plastic frames are shunned for a sturdy, milled, finely textured aluminium body available in two somewhat tenuously-named colours; Fantasy Silver and Mystery Grey. From the front this phone isn’t anything special, with thick bezels above and below the screen, but the angled rim and polished back add a premium finish and there’s a pleasing heft to the handset.

Alongside milled hard keys for power and volume, the left side of the Honor 7’s frame also boasts a programmable ‘smart key’ that responds to different commands based on single or double presses and long presses. You can have it open up your favourite apps, launch the voice memo or camera or even take a screenshot. It’s very helpful once you remember that it’s actually there and you can helpfully shortcut to any app you download as well as those pre-installed.

The Honor 7 also rocks a fingerprint sensor on the back which sits neatly underneath your index finger when you grip the phone. It’s not quite as accurate as the Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6 scanners, often taking two attempts to unlock your phone, but it’s still a secure means of protecting your data and the 360-degree recognition means it works in landscape and portrait modes.

One unique feature is the way the Honor 7’s fingerprint scanner also understands certain gestures, letting you pull down your notifications or settings menus with a tap or a swipe. Once again it’s not too accurate, so after a while I gave up and just resumed screen swiping instead.

Screen and media

The front of the Honor 7 is dominated by a 5.2-inch Full HD IPS-NEO LCD. It doesn’t boast quite the same vivacity as the likes of the Huawei P8 or the Galaxy S6’s AMOLED panel, but for the price it packs a nice punch and you can fiddle with the colour temperature until it suits your personal tastes. Images are nice and crisp too, whether you’re reading an ebook, kicking back with a high-def movie or simply browsing the web.

My only issue was with the screen’s maximum brightness, which still left me squinting in the sunlight. You might need to retire indoors if you’re trying to read an email and the sun’s actually peeking from behind the clouds.

The Honor 7’s speakers are squirrelled away on the underside of the phone and they put out a decent sound for built-in efforts. Of course you’ll want to plug in ‘phones to get the most from your music, and don’t be one of those back-of-the-bus cads who plays your media out loud.

You get about 9GB of the 16GB of internal storage for carrying around your media collection, but thankfully this is expandable up to a further 128GB using the microSD memory card slot.

OS

Despite the Android 5.0 Lollipop foundation, the Honor 7’s Emotion UI 3.1 packs a few Marshmallow-ready features such as reverse charging, which we’re yet to see from any other devices currently on the market. Get beyond that though and you’re met with typical Huawei/Honor tropes such as a lack of an apps drawer, meaning all of your app icons are stacked on your desktop - folders will be your best friend.

Knuckle mode from the Huawei P8 makes a reappearance, but this time can thankfully be deactivated as it’s absolutely dire. The idea is that you can use your knuckle on the screen to highlight an area for capture and so on, but it’s so inaccurate that it just frustrates. Speaking of frustration, I’m also not a fan of the Emotion UI’s notifications bar. The thing gets horrifically cluttered in no time at all by displaying individual emails, as well as the usual count of how many unread messages you have waiting. It’s an ugly mess and painful to look at.

Still, the one-handed mode is a nice inclusion as the Honor 7 is a little on the large side, while a diagonal pinch will let you hide apps from prying eyes without needing to close them. There’s also an IR blaster to control your TV à la HTC One M9. In fact there are loads of nice ideas tucked away in the settings, ripe for discovery, but sadly there are just as many misses as there are hits.

Performance and battery life

The Honor 7’s Kirin 935 octa-core chip may produce underwhelming benchmarking scores, but for everyone else, I’m happy to report that the phone is a smooth operator in everyday use. Android runs well even with the Emotion UI sat on top, mostly thanks to the 3GB of RAM, while HD media streams perfectly well and games play without a stutter.

Not so impressive is the Honor 7’s battery life. Despite packing a mighty 3100mAh battery, the handset usually only just made it through a full day - and that’s despite constant reminders of which apps are sucking power, so you can get rid of battery hogs.

When you stream video non-stop, you can expect roughly five and a quarter hours of playback before the Honor 7 dies. That’s a pretty average result for a five-plus-inches mobile these days.

Cameras

As you’d expect at this price point, the Honor 7 packs a capable 20-megapixel camera that can cope with a wide range of conditions. You get plenty of detail packed into each shot, until there’s a high-contrast situation (for instance, shooting a dark landmark against a bright sky). Low light isn’t the Honor 7’s best friend either, but luckily you have a two-tone flash to illuminate matters and it works well, without turning your subject into a ghoul.

Huawei’s camera interface isn’t as streamlined as some rivals’ (Motorola immediately springs to mind) but it’s not a clunker either, with an Apple-esque method to flick through the available modes. As well as the usual photo and video modes, you have the obligatory Beauty mode (which is actually quite restrained, only smoothing your skin) plus Huawei’s funky Light Painting mode. This is a great one to pull out at night, making passing cars look like Disney-esque light shows, although it’s definitely a use-once-or-twice-then-forget gimmick.

The Honor 7’s front-facing 8-megapixel camera is accompanied by a single LED flash, great news if you want to snap a selfie in the pub. It’s a dependable way to capture yourself and your friends on the go, grabbing plenty of detail just like the rear-facer.

Overall, I prefer the Moto X Play's snapper, which is more dependable in a wide range of conditions. However, this is still a solid camera that will suit most amateur photographers.

Verdict

At £250 the Honor 7 packs the kind of specs you’d expect to stay competitive, along with some solid features like a fingerprint scanner. That hardware is solid and refreshingly attractive, but the software side often lets it down, with Emotion UI proving rather sketchy in areas despite throwing in lots of handy features too.

Update (4/2/16): Following the European launch of the Honor 5X, the company dropped the price of the standard Honor 7 to £209.99 and launched a premium version packing 32GB of internal storage, a fast charger and new colourways in gold and Mystery Grey.

Key Specs

  • 5.2-inches
  • Full HD (1920x1080)
  • 157 grams
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
  • 20-megapixel
  • 8-megapixel
  • 2.2GHz/1.5GHz octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 935
  • 3GB RAM
  • 16GB. Expandable via microSD up to 128GB
  • Yes
  • Dual SIM, fingerprint sensor, front-facing flash

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