Everyone is always interested in the next budget 'high-end killer' smartfone. In recent memory we've seen a number of Asian smartphone companies do it, with Flagship-like specifications always below $300. Honor's latest attempt sits at the bottom of its stack but boasts a 6.5-inch full screen display, an AI camera, and one of the latest chips inside from its big brother, Huawei. 

Size Matters

Its hard to get away from the fact that the Honor 8X is a sizeable beast.

The 6.5-inch 1080p display, in a 5.5-inch class body, falls under the 'full screen' mantra that has encapsulated smartphones of late, with only a small notch and a small chin on the front being in the way of a 100 percent screen coverage. The Honor 8X comes in at 91% full screen coverage, more than pretty much every flagship, which the company states is down to its smaller chin compared to the competition:

  • Honor 8X: 4.25mm
  • Samsung Galaxy S9: 5.7mm
  • Oneplus 6: 6.1mm
  • Xiaomi Mi 8: 6.8mm

Honor doesn't state peak brightness in its materials, but does note that it can go as low as 2 nits in its eye comfort mode, and the application of eye comfort mode is certified by TUV Rheinland. 

Inside the phone is the Kirin 710, Huawei's latest mid-performer SoC with four Arm Cortex A73 cores and four Arm Cortex A53 cores, combined with  Mali G51MP4 graphics. The CPU portion of this chip is plenty fast, although that graphics is not going win any awards on the latest 3D smartphone titles. It will be plenty for the Candy Crush or Toon Blast crowd. Even though the chip does not have an AI accelerator like Huawei's NPU, the phone will be able to take advantage of GPU Turbo, a neural network based technology which helps lower power during certain games for the chip to turbo for longer. At current this is only two games, but will expand to six with the release of EMUI 9.0.

Left to Right: Honor 10 ($$$$), Honor Play ($$), Honor 8X ($)

Similar to the Honor Play, which sits above the 8X in the product portfolio, the 8X will have dual rear cameras and a single front facing camera in the notch area. The two rear cameras are listed as a 20MP+2MP design at f/1.8, and is supported by AI-assisted stabilisation for long exposure shots up to six seconds. The rear cameras are also AI enabled with object recognition, layer recognition, and per pixel quality adjustments designed to improve photos (I use it a lot on the Honor 10, and it works well in the vast majority of cases). In video modes, we were told that the device can record at 720p120 and 480p at 480 fps. However in our test units, the UI offers 720p at 480 fps, which is interesting. 

We did a small test to see if it is a true 720p480, given that in order to do it you would normally need a DRAM-backed camera sensor. Honor were not shouting that fact from the rooftops, and with some testing we can see that the 480 fps mode is more of an interpolation mode, as it can't really deal with quick movement:

Aside from the rear cameras on the rear, there is also a fingerprint sensor and a two-tone finish. 

The front camera is Honor's 'AI Selfie' camera, which is a 16MP design that supports 4-in-1 pixel combining for better low light performance. This works by taking a 2x2 square of one micron pixels and making them act like a bigger two micron pixel. The end result is a 4MP photo rather than a 16MP photo, but should offer better clarity. As one might expect, Honor also supports background replacement, AR skins, and a front facing portrait mode. 

The front facing camera is in a notch, which means that users will have the notch issue. As will all Huawei and Honor devices, the area around the sides of the notch can be blacked out to make it look like there is no notch. However one thing I noticed with the 8X is how it deals with icons in that top bar: most notched phones put those icons way too close to the rounded edges, such that they can sometimes be clipped. Because the notch on the 8X is small, the icons are brought in closer to the center, making it easier to see them. If anything, it removes the issue of it not looking right when clipping happens, which I think is ultimately a good way of improving UX. 

As a mid range device, the memory and storage follow similarly, at 4 GB and 64 GB, which is equal or one notch below the flagship devices (some markets will see 4GB+128GB or 6GB+128GB). The battery comes in at 3750 mAh, which is certainly a Flagship-worthy capacity, though perhaps a little small for the size of this phone. There is a 3.5mm jack, although perhaps annoyingly there is no USB Type-C: we're going back into the olden times with microUSB for the 8X. The phone also supports dual Nano SIM plus a microSD at the same time. As a frequent international traveller, this is much appreciated. Wi-Fi on most models will be 802.11ac dual band, although a couple of variants will only be 802.11n 2.4 GHz.

Other features on the device include what Honor calls 'elevator mode' to help users connect to networks more quickly. In the examples cited, their testing showed that the unit would reconnect to networks in Hong Kong within 5 seconds, while a major competitor Flagship would take between 8 and 60 seconds. Personally, with our sample, I've seen it reconnect to WiFi networks very quick, although to test this at scale requires a dedicated trip into London. Huawei says that they are using its AI to enhance connectivity speeds, though did not go into much detail. What they did state is that the antenna positioning in the device helps with this. Honor stated that rather than using a dual corner antenna like most smartphones, they use a big U shape around the bottom edge to get a better uniform connectivity regardless of the angle of the device.

Honor 10 Series
  Honor View 10 Honor 10 Honor Play Honor 8X
Models BKL-L29 COL-L29 COR-L29 JSN-L21
SoC Name HiSilicon Kirin 970 HiSilicon Kirin 970 HiSilicon Kirin 970 HiSilicon Kirin 710
CPU 4xA73 @ 2.4GHz
4xA53 @ 1.8GHz
4xA73 @ 2.4 GHz
4xA53 @ 1.8GHz
4xA73 @ 2.4GHz
4xA53 @ 1.8GHz
4xA73 @ 2.2GHz
4xA53 @ 1.7 GHz
GPU Mali-G72MP12 Mali G72MP12 Mali-G72MP12 Mali-G51MP4
Display 5.99-inch
6.3-inch 2340x1080
Size (mm) 157.0 x 75.0 x 7.0 149.6 x 71.2 x 7.7 157 x 74.3 x 7.5 160.4 x 76.6 x 7.8
Mass 172g 153g 176g 175g
RAM + NAND 6GB + 128GB 4GB+64GB
4GB+64GB 4GB+64GB
MicroSD Yes No Yes Yes
Battery 2750mAh 3750mAh 3750 mAh 3750 mAh
Front Camera 13MP f/2.0 24 MP f/2.0 16MP F/2.0 16MP f/2.0
4MP mode
Rear Camera 16MP RGB f/1.8
20MP B+W f/1.8
16MP RGB f/1.8
25MP B+W f/1.8
16MP RGB f/2.2
2MP Depth
20MP RGB f/1.8
2MP Depth
SIM Size 2x NanoSIM 2x NanoSIM 2x NanoSIM 2x NanoSIM
+ microSD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac 80211.ac 802.11ac L21: 802.11ac
L22: 802.11n 2.4G
L23: 802.11n 2.4G
L42: 802.11ac
Bluetooth BT 4.2 LE BT 4.2 BT 4.2 BT 4.2 LE
Connectivity USB 2.0 Type-C
3.5mm headset
USB 2.0 Type-C
3.5mm headset
3.5mm headset
microUSB 2.0
3.5mm headset
Fingerprint Rear Front Rear Rear
Launch OS Android 8.0 with EMUI 8.0 Android 8.1 with EMUI 8.0 Android 8.1 with EMUI 8.2 Android 8.1 with EMUI 8.2
Launch Price EUR 499€
GBP £449
EUR 400€ EUR 329€
GBP £279
GBP £239

Honor has three colors for the 8X, however only two will hit the UK: Blue and Black. The more exotic red will end up in regions where there is demand. Honor held back on declaring a price, saying we will have to wait until the device launch on October 10th.

First Impressions

I have been using the phone on and off for a few days, and to be honest, I guess I'm more surprised at how easy to use I find it. I often do work on my phones - aside from emails, I write up news and reviews on them as well. I'm not sure if it's the bigger screen, or the fact that it feels snappy, but the Honor 8X is very easy to work on. The connectivity aspect, being fast to connect to access points, is a big plus when I'm on the London underground and we keep going in/out of LTE range.

I think the biggest downside is that microUSB connector. Everything portable I own, laptops included, is now USB Type-C. I have to dig out old microUSB cables for the only device with this port. The argument for having microUSB is that the market this phone is aimed at is still on microUSB, although that was the argument back when the flagships were still microUSB as well. It's a weak argument - no-one has asked to borrow a microUSB cable from me for years. Speaking with a few others who also have the device, they feel this is the biggest let down as well. The Honor Play, which is meant to cost only slightly more, has a Type-C.

Comparing side by side with the Honor Play, the 8X is a bigger device with a slower SoC - that's going to reflect in the price for sure. Where the Play is meant to be aimed at gaming, this is more of a daily workhorse. One of the features that is going to be key long term is the camera - I have already heard some other journalists complain a little, because the AI mode does help disguise some cost saving on the device. I haven't had much experience with it yet, however the slo-mo mode does work - albeit for a total of one second or so per recording. At this point I suspect the buffer is full and it cannot record any more.

The battery is reasonably big, but the device has a big screen and a good resolution, which can perhaps cancel each other out. The fact that the Kirin 710 inside uses Cortex A73 doesn't put it in the low power bracket, but the fact that the chip is built on TSMC's 12FFC does weigh in its favor.

Gallery: Honor 8X

Overall, except for the USB thing, and testing the camera a lot more, I could see this as a very dependable device for most users. The biggest win is the screen size for the price, getting suspiciously close to that traditional '7-inch Tablet' border.

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  • hybrid2d4x4 - Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - link

    Looks like a pretty decent phone. It's nice to see that the high screen to body ratio is trickling down the price range, though I wish it wasn't exclusively in gargantuan sizes.
    I'd love to see something with a 4.3-4.5" screen with barely any bezel and innards that aren't complete garbage on a 3yr old mfg node.
  • milkywayer - Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - link

    Good phone I'd buy as backup for media consumption but dang you lost me at micro usb. W t g, huawei?
  • patel21 - Friday, October 12, 2018 - link

    Me too! If they can fit a6.5" screen in an old 5.5" body, I really wonder how awesome it would be to have just 5.5 inch phone in 5" body. Specially with powerful internals.
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, October 24, 2018 - link

    Yeah, for some reason nobody's making normal sized phones any more. It's nostalgic and quaint to look back at how people thought a 4" smartphone was unusably large, but now every smartphone is larger.
  • edwpang - Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - link

    Lower end phones from China seems likely to have microUSB. I'd rather take the slightly more expensive one for this alone for the benefit of using laptop USB-C charger which is faster and much longer.
  • PeachNCream - Thursday, October 11, 2018 - link

    USB-C is good stuff, but literally everything I currently own is microUSB so I see no problems with the interface choice on the 8X. I think I represent the majority rather than minority when it comes to existing chargers and cables out there in the wild.
  • shadarlo - Monday, October 15, 2018 - link

    Once you start getting any USB-C devices you'll quickly change your tune. And you WILL get usb-C devices as soon as you upgrade anything.
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - link

    TÜV Rheinland, it has an umlaut. :) Alt 0220 is the way to get it on other keyboard layouts. :)
    As for the phone, it looks pretty good. My HTC U Ultra (S821, 4/64GB, 5.7" 1440p, 12MP) is still in the good enough range, especially for the 200€ I bought it at new some time ago. Only the battery has been bad since the Android 8 upgrade. Gets me through a day when it was 2 before. Oh well. I'll definitely keep this one in mind though.
  • euskalzabe - Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - link

    If only Honor phones supported bands 2/4/12 for Tmo, I could consider them.
  • MrCommunistGen - Thursday, October 11, 2018 - link

    I'll second that. I'd pretty happily try this out if I could get LTE. The price is certainly low enough for a device that doesn't have *only* LITTLE cores.

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