Honor 8 Review: 2016's Mid-Range Success Story


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Aug 17, 2016
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Honor 8: 2016’s Mid-Range Success Story

I, Sam Park, am writing this review after two weeks with the 32GB model of the Honor 8 in Sapphire Blue (Model number FRD-L04, United States model), on the T-Mobile network and the AT&T network through Straight Talk. During this time period, I used the Honor 8 with an official Huawei clear case and a tempered glass screen protector.

Honor 8 specs:
Honor 8
12 MP Dual Cameras back
8 MP front-facing camera
Dual-tone flash
Kirin 950 processor (octa-core)
Bluetooth 4.1
USB-C 1.0
1080p IPS LCD display

Flagships are obscenely overpriced - and usually, that didn’t matter to the person who wanted top-level specs. But new midrangers like the Honor 8, OnePlus 3, ZTE Azon 7, and the Alcatel Idol 4S show that 2016 has truly been the year of midrangers, and the Honor 8 is no exception. With modular tech still needing development, huge explosion scandals, and update headaches aplenty, the Honor 8 seems like a refreshing choice. is it right for you? Let’s find out!

I. First Impressions
The Honor 8 is made of a smooth glass (2.5D glass that wraps around the sides), with a metal band around the sides. The back glass is apparently “15-layer” (marketing buzzword alert), but it looks very cool. I usually put Otterbox or some variant of tough case on my phones, but the Honor 8 was the only phone which I could not bear to case over (I did, however, opt for a clear case). While the famed “refraction effect” of light on the back glass wasn’t as dramatic as some made it out to be, it’s still an impressive piece of art.

The fingerprint sensor on the Honor 8 is truly unique (but not for much longer *cough* Pixel *cough*). It's very quick, and easy to use. The one drawback to having the sensor on the back is that it's difficult to unlock your phone quickly when it's lying face up on a table.

It feels a bit hypocritical to say this, but fingerprint scanners make phones less secure. Not only can fake fingerprints be generated, but your fingerprint can be lifted from the phone itself. Also, if you live in the United States, the police are allowed to force you to unlock your phone with your finger, but not a password (the reasoning behind this being that extracting information from your mind like a PIN is self-incrimination, but a fingerprint is a physical part of you, not information). I say this feels hypocritical because I always look for a fingerprint sensor in a phone - it just seems so much more convenient.

With such a quick unlock time, what more could there be to a fingerprint sensor? Well, it turns out a lot! Acting as a button, the sensor can also perform action such as launching apps or turning on the flashlight with a single, double, or long press down.

Calling on the Honor 8 has been...an experience. While I can hear the caller on the other end of the line perfectly (ruling out connection issues), I often had issues with sound quality and garbled noises, and I had to repeat myself many times for the other caller to hear me properly. The issue is compounded when in speakerphone mode - I think the microphones aren't well adjusted for distances like putting the phone on a desk and calling.

Voice dialing and commands, for both the Huawei voice command assistant and the Google Now assistant were, however, perfect, and even worked across the room. When recording audio in a video or with the built-in audio recording app, sound quality was crisp, but not as loud as I would have liked - voices seemed muted and quiet.

II. The part you touch, but don't actually touch

The display on the Honor 8 is very nice - while it doesn't quite match up to the AMOLED display on the OnePlus 3, blacks are very dark and colors are vibrant, if a bit off in terms of color accuracy. The screen size is adequate for most videos and games, although I found the wider screens on phones like the Honor 5X to be more comfortable for gaming (although less portable). Streaming Netflix at 1080p, I could see the finer details in dark scenes on Arrow very well. Photos taken with the camera (more on that later) looked great, but the colors just seemed...off. I think color accuracy is one of the weaker points of the Honor 8, so if you're looking for a phone that has colors true to life, you'd be better off with a phone like the OnePlus 3.

The light sensor works, but I found the auto brightness to be a bit overzealous - the backlight seemed too dim most of the time, and I found myself manually adjusting the brightness more than I would've liked.

The vibration motor on the Honor 8 is extremely weak - I got about half the level of haptic feedback as I did from my Honor 5X, which is half the cost of the Honor 8.

The proximity sensor is good, but I feel like it could be put to better use with a feature like raise to wake or pocket wake.

The stock Huawei launcher is garbage. There's just no way around it. There's no app drawer, and it's filled with gimmicks and clutter. Now that live calendar icons (where the date changes on the icon for the calendar app) are compatible with third-party launchers like Nova Launcher, there's really no reason to use the stock launcher on any phone.

I find screen rotation to be slow on most devices, and the Honor 8 is no exception. Sometimes failing to respond to screen rotations, the Honor 8 sits squarely with almost every other device I have tested, so relatively, it is fine.

Touches registered perfectly on the screen, and it can handle up to 10 individual touches (according to AnTuTu).

Huawei’s stock apps just scream inexperienced with western markets. They're clunky, hard to use, and look terrible. I disabled as many as I could (one), and found Google alternatives for others. I highly recommend you do the same.

EMUI on the Honor 8 was actually quite bearable, and once I applied Nova Launcher, I found it to actually be quite nice-looking (but with some odd quirks, like black text on the dark notification panel not showing up well for Outlook notifications).

Browsing speeds were good, but not great. While websites rendered well and smoothly, I found the experience to be just below what I would expect from a $400 phone.

Streaming video took a long time to initially load, even on a Gigabit internet connection, but after the initial loading, there wasn't too much buffering.

Games, however, are a different matter. The graphics card on the Honor 8 is squarely midrange - and it shows. Real Racing 3 took 3 minutes to load, and often crashed or froze. Other games like Subway Surfers worked well, but seemed to fare badly with multitasking.

III. Keyboard

Google Keyboard worked perfectly for me on the Honor 8, and although it seemed a little cramped, it was perfect for one-handed use.

IV. Battery

The battery in the Honor 8 lasts me an entire school day - something most phones struggle to do, due to my multitude of background processes I enjoy having on my phone. While I had to fiddle with the power settings to squeeze the last bit of performance out of the processor (at the expense of the battery life), I found the battery to be sufficient for most days. On days with lots of streaming and camera usage, I found myself needing my KMASHI 10000mah portable battery back, from which the Honor 8 charged quickly. The included Huawei Quick Charger is nice, but the proprietary tech isn't compatible with standards like Qualcomm QuickCharge (probably because there isn't a Qualcomm chip in the Honor 8), and buying another Huawei Quick Charger is a bit of a hassle, as it isn't sold on HiHonor.com, leaving you to trust an Amazon dealer (not that Amazon dealers are generally untrustable, but I prefer to buy from OEMs). USB-C is a welcome addition, although I would have found it hugely convenient if Honor had included a USB-C to MicroUSB adapter, so I could interface with the hundreds of microUSB cables I currently own.

The built-in Ulta power saving mode isn't as zealous or well implemented as the Samsung ultra power saving mode, but is still effective for those times when the bare minimum is required. However, using this mode sets all your default dialer, contacts, and messaging (sms) apps back to the default Huawei apps (trash), and this persists when exiting ultra power saving mode. But, it's there if you need it in a pinch.

V. Storage

The 32GB of built-in storage was plenty for me, but I decided to put in a 32GB Samsung microSD card, just for the fun of it. The tray was easy to remove, but I personally prefer methods that don't require a specific tool, as I dislike having to rummage for a paper clip every time I need to transfer files without an internet connection (surprisingly often, because I use my smartphone as a casual (and not too conspicuous) camera for photography at events) I did not appreciate the fact that Huawei removed Adoptable Storage, but it can be added back (with some bugs) through adb commands (just search Honor 8 Adoptable Storage - there's a how-to on MoDaCo).

VI. Video

The Honor 8’s video recording capabilities are mediocre at best - oftentimes, videos come out blurry and washed out, especially when digitally zoomed. The front facing camera is just okay, and while not special, it gets the job done for tasks like video calling.

VII. Camera Rating

While the front-facing camera is fine for video calling, selfies come out less than average, and the fixed focus makes the camera seem to lose concentration on you.

The level of customization that the Honor 8 camera app allows is quite nice - while I personally didn't find use for the “pro mode”, which allowed for custom ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and aperture, the controls seemed very encompassing when I tried them out.

The dual camera is one of the most highly-touted features of the Honor 8, and I must say the image quality is some of the best I have ever seen, apart from flagships like the Samsung Galaxy s7 and the Google Pixel XL. While optical zoom like on the iPhone 7 and OIS would have been a nice addition, the camera is still very capable. Unlike the iPhone 7, the Honor 8 uses the dual cameras to create higher-quality images, instead of optical zoom. One monochrome and one color sensor take a picture that is then sewn together by an algorithm - the advantage to this is that color sensors don't have as much clarity as monochrome sensors, due to the color-sensing layer on them, so the monochrome image restores that lost clarity and makes the image really pop.

Some sample images taken on the Honor 8:


One feature of the Honor 8 that I was really excited for (but was a bit disappointed by) was the artificial software depth of field effect - the ability to change the focus point of photos after you take a photo. However, the feature was a bit disappointing in that the edges of the subject you focused on would appear blurry, almost as if the algorithm had difficulty registering the edges of the object. So while it’s more advanced than Instagram’s “tilt shift” filter effect, I would not use it for professional photos. It is nice, however, for highlighting yourself in a selfie, while blurring out the background.


In sum, the Honor 8 is for people who value looks in a device, and yet want power for their money. While I personally don’t consider buying phones over $400 (Because a decent laptop can be around that cost), it is a great option, even in the face of phones like the OnePlus 3. The EMUI interface can be difficult to use, but if you have a basic knowledge of Android customization, it should be easy to get around it. The Honor 8 is available for $299 as a Black Friday promotion on Amazon, Best Buy, or hihonor.com Overall rating: 8/10.


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