Introduction and design
The Honor 5X is a phone that only comes along every once in a while. It took me by surprise with how high-spec it has managed to be while still only coming in at a really low price.
The first time I picked up the phone I was initially a little let down by what this was, but then sitting back and taking a few moments to contemplate, I came to realise that the Honor 5X is incredible for its price.
It’s remarkable that Honor is managing to retail this phone for £189.99 (US$199.99, about AU$275). That’s without the discount offered by some retailers at launch, but may continue on in the future.
For the level of spec you’re getting here, it’s quite impressive how Honor has managed to keep the price so low.
Honor is an off-shoot of parent company Huawei, which has been producing phones for years and is starting to become a major contender in Western markets. Honor is where it plans to release the cheap, yet "cool" phones with lower price tags, and the 5X is exactly that.
Let’s take a look and see what are the highlights and lowlights of the latest cheap, Chinese phone.
Honor has highlighted the premium aluminium back on the 5X, but when you pick up this phone you notice right away that it isn’t as high-end as you were hoping.
That’s partly down to it being such a light handset. But it’s also partly down to the tacky feeling metal on the back of the phone. That said, it looks great when you put it down or leave it on the table in a pub.
It’s only when you pick it up that you notice how cheap it feels and when you compare it to the Huawei Mate 8 the weight makes an enormous difference.
The Honor 5X is made of an aluminium alloy uni-body that looks fantastic, at a distance, for such a cheap phone. The back of the phone has a brushed metal effect and the logo at the bottom has been etched in by a laser.
I feel it’s a bit of a shame that’s then followed by the Huawei name and details Honor has to fit on the back of the phone though.
The edges of the Honor 5X are more premium than the back and feel like they are able to take the odd knock on without taking any visible damage.
Even though the phone is reasonably large, the power button and volume rocker on the right hand side are still easy to access with your thumb. I did find the button placing a little too close together, especially when trying to turn down music through my pocket and trying to judge where the rocker was sitting through my jeans.
On the left hand side sits the microSD, microSIM and nanoSIM drawers. Yes, this phone comes with all three.
It means you can up the storage, which you’ll likely need to as it’s only 16GB, and have two different SIM cards in all at the same time.
Many other dual-SIM phones have to sacrifice the extra storage for this, so I’m impressed how Honor has managed to make this possible on the Honor 5X.
The bottom of the phone is home to the speaker grille surrounding the microUSB slot for charging and data transfer. Personally I disliked the grille on the Huawei Mate 8, but for me it seems to work on the Honor 5X.
The slightly more budget feeling design complements the steampunk look of the speakers and I’m not as opposed to them here than I was on Huawei’s flagship phone.
Some will likely find the Honor 5X a little unwieldy – but it’s not going to be such as big problem as it was on the Mate 8.
Housing a 5.5-inch screen on the 5X, with relatively slim bezels, Honor has managed to keep this package tight and I feel those with smaller hands will still be able to control this phablet better than other options like the iPhone 6S Plus.
The 5X was, according to Honor, inspired by the Guggenheim Museum in Spain. Personally, I don’t see where that has made an impact. A lot of the design on the Honor 5X is just the Huawei Mate 8 on a budget.
But that’s not a bad thing. More than halving the price of an already cheap phone is a phenomenal step for Honor and you can’t go in expecting something with a high-end, take-your-breath away design.
Dazzling display, fancy finger scanner
With budget smartphones the display is usually one of the first things to suffer. Even options such as the Sony Xperia Z5 Compact only have a 720p display, but Honor has managed to avoid that.
The specs on the Honor 5X aren’t comfortably better than you’d expect, with a 5.5-inch, 1080p display that is actually a great looking.
I particularly liked the Huawei Mate 8 screen, and while this panel isn’t as large or as bright, the Honor 5X isn’t far behind. In fact I’ve not used a budget phone with a display this beautiful.
The fact is, you don’t need anything more than a 1080p resolution. LG and Samsung are embracing 2K while Sony is jumping to 4K on the Xperia Z5 Premium, but on such small screens the Honor 5X makes just a good enough picture with a far stricter pixel limit.
Turning down the display brightness it was quite a struggle to see the picture, so just make sure you don’t turn it down all the way. I found auto-mode was bringing it down a little too low for how I usually like it.
The size is also worth noting. If you’re undecided between this and the Huawei Mate 8, the Honor 5X is a little smaller but when you’re watching video or playing games it can be difficult to even notice the difference.
The bezels are another complaint about the Honor 5X screen. A lot of space is wasted on the black bars fixed around the screen.
Especially along the bottom where you’d usually expect to find hardware buttons. It’s a big thick line that feels like you should be able to tap it for buttons, but instead your only option is on screen buttons.
It’s a strange choice, but clearly something Honor had to do to keep that price down.
One of the Honor 5X’s key features is the fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone. Putting it on the back is traditional Huawei fashion, and for some people it works.
It’s a rounder sensor than other phones we’ve seen from the company and is the first Honor phone to feature a fingerprint scanner.
The good news is it works well – setting up this fingerprint sensor only took 6 or 7 presses from each finger making it a simple and fast process.
Honor claims it can unlock the phone in only 0.5s, beating a lot of the competition out there. The reality is it’s hard to notice the different anymore.
Compare the Nexus 6P to an iPhone 6S and the delay is so minimal it doesn’t really matter in a day-to-day scenario. All you need to know is the Honor 5X is fast at registering your print and it will unlock as soon as you want it to.
An interesting idea Honor has adapted is that you can use different fingers to open up different apps. So for example. you could program your left index finger to open up the Messaging app directly.
It’s a smart idea, but something you need to remember you have switched on. It’s so instinctive to just bring a phone out of your pocket and use the nearest finger and press the app you’re looking for.
After a week or so, I did get used to the feature though and found myself opening it up with a lot of different fingers than I do on other devices.
One of the key selling points of the Honor 5X is its price. The fact you’re getting such high-end spec in such an affordable package is admirable and sometimes it’s difficult to believe how much this phone does actually cost.
When you consider how closely I compare this phone to the Huawei Mate 8, a phone that costs two and a half times as much it’s even more impressive. The spec on the Mate 8 is slightly higher end, and the design feels a little bit nicer, but if you’re worried about price the Honor 5X is the one to go for.
Specs and performance
One area where cheaper phones tend to struggle is performance. Design can be done reasonably well on a budget, as can packing in a good display and camera tech, but getting a processor capable of doing everything high-end phones can do on top of those is a bit of a struggle.
This is where I found the Honor 5X to fall down most – it’s not what we’ve come to expect from these phones.
I’ve been using the OnePlus 2 recently, and although I’ve sometimes had a few issues with its performance I got used to how strong it could be and how much I could do with it.
Switching over to the Honor 5X I immediately found the slow down a frustrating process. Even signing into Android took longer than I was hoping for.
The European version I had for review packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 processor, while the original Honor 5X that went to the US and other markets has the older Snapdragon 615 chip.
Jumping into apps was usually a simple to do process and there wasn’t much slow down upon other high-end phones.
One of the best tests for performance is always gaming though so I’ve had the excuse to playing around on a few of my favourite titles. And to be honest, I was happily surprised by what the Honor 5X could do.
Playing Asphalt Nitro, which is one of the many games that comes preinstalled on the Honor 5X, and the gameplay was smooth and as you’d expect on a high-end phone.
The action renders fast and while some phones in this price range would struggle with keeping up with the action, the 616 didn’t have any real issues here. The Honor 5X initially launched with the 615, and it’s unsure if the upgrade to the 616 has seen a significant performance upgrade.
I then went on to play Spiderman: Ultimate Power that struggled to start up at first and was a little jaggedly, but once it was ready to play there weren’t any clear issues.
I ran the Honor 5X through the GeekBench 3 software a number of times and it came out with an average multi-core score of 3105.
Then there’s the software. The Honor 5X is running Android 5.1.1 which is a bit of a shame considering Android 6 Marshmallow was released almost nine months before the Honor 5X launched in this version.
Honor has said it will get the Android 6 Marshmallow software eventually, but for now there’s no guarantee how long that will take. The Honor 5X also runs Emotion 3.1 UI software over the top of Android.
This is a heavily skinned version of Android that Honor and Huawei both claim is successful in Chinese markets. It means a lot of the apps look different to how you would expect them to on other Android phones, and it’s a select taste.
I don’t particularly like the design of Emotion 3.1 UI, and I even prefer the updated Emotion 4.0 UI that features on the Huawei Mate 8. The customisation from Honor and Huawei is too much for my taste.
All of your apps look different – the icons are now square and won’t look as good as they do on stock Android. It also loses the ability to have an app drawer, so instead all of your downloaded apps appear over a number of pages and look a lot more cluttered than if you had designed your own homescreen.
All in all, it’s down to your personal preference. Some people love Emotion UI and feel it really adds something more onto Android, but personally I wouldn’t recommend this phone for that exact feature.
Honor has also pushed a lot of different apps on the 5X. When you take this out of the box you’ll already have a lot of apps waiting for you. Some are useful, and others aren’t.
For example, one folder of key apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter makes sense to me as those are apps that almost everyone who owns a smartphone in the West uses.
But then Huawei have also put a selection of Gameloft games in one folder, taking up quite a bit of the storage, as well as the company’s own services like VMALL, Honor Club and HiCare. Unless you’re a big fan of Honor products, it’s unlikely you’re going to use these.
Most of it just takes up space on your phone, and for that reason I don’t like to be greeted by a phone full of apps before I’ve even set it up properly.
The Honor 5X comes with a 13MP camera, which compared to some of the other phones in this price range is surprisingly high. The truth is though, it’s not as good as some of the competition but it’ll get the job done.
The 5X camera isn’t mesmerising and you’re not going to get flagship levels of quality shots. If you compare these photos to what the Samsung Galaxy S7 or the iPhone 6S can do it looks quite embarrassing.
Even the Huawei Mate 8 has a far better camera technology than the Honor 5X, but it’s certainly not the worst on the market.
Pixel quality on the Honor 5X isn’t an issue, but a lot of the photos I took while testing out the phone felt washed out without much vibrancy to any of the images.
It especially struggled in darker settings and I really struggled to get anything without the flash being turned on.
In a darkened restaurant I struggled to get a good quality shot from candle light. This is probably why Honor has left the automatic flash on with the 5X, but the flash was just over exposed.
I was pleasantly surprised by the zoom on the Honor 5X. I managed to get quite far into an image without losing much of the pixel quality.
Other features on the rear camera include Beauty mode that smoothes out blemishes in faces, video which is up to 1080p and timelapse, which does exactly what you’d expect.
The UI within the camera app on the Honor 5X is quite functional compared to some of the other elements of Emotion UI. Accessing all the different features and editing the settings of an image is simple and everything is easy to access quickly when you need to take a fast shot.
Another nice touch of the camera app is if you leave it open without taking photos or recording it will go into a screensaver mode just to save a little on the battery. That can be useful for when you forget the camera app is open.
Swing round to the front of the phone and there’s a 5MP selfie shooter for all your narcissistic needs. Don’t expect anything special here, but it’s still a suitable front facing camera for whenever you want to send silly photos to your friends.
A lot of Chinese manufacturers are upping the front-facing camera specs to try and get even better photos on the front than the back can do.
Phones such as the Oppo F1 and the Huawei Mate 8 both have 8MP selfie cameras while the Sony Xperia M5 goes all the way up to 13MP.
I don’t personally see the reason in getting this level of front facing shots. I do take quite a few selfies, but a standard 5MP camera like this does the job.
You don’t need a high-end shot, it’s just for the odd social networking post and I’d recommend sticking to this and keeping the price low. Unless you’re really in it for the selfie camera though, if so be sure to check out our selfie test.
Battery on the Huawei Mate 8 was one of the stand out features of the phablet and made it one of the best you can buy right now for giving an impressive innings off the charging cable. I was expecting big things from the Honor 5X for that exact reason, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The Honor 5X gave me an astonishing amount of battery life and I never found myself going to bed empty when using the phone. The same can’t be said for a lot of the larger manufacturers.
There was always enough charge on my phone to get me through the day no matter how much I was doing with it.
Our video test at techradar found the phone with 81% battery after running a 90 minute video on full brightness with full connectivity options on. That’s the higher end of how the battery life on these phones can do and in fact it was even better than the Huawei Mate 8 that came out with 80% at the end.
The Honor 5X will allow you to watch a few full length movies without having to worry about the charge.
I also ran the test again at 50% brightness to see how much the screen was affecting the battery and it came out at the end of the test with 83% life. Not the biggest saving in battery, but it still shows how much you can save by turning it down a little.
But the thing to note with the Honor 5X was how much I was able to do with the phone and not have to worry about recharging half way through the day.
Honor is missing out on a few features here though with wireless and fast charging capabilities no-where to be seen.
Fast charging is a great feature when you need a little bit of extra juice and only have a few minutes to go into the mains. While wireless charging is becoming a much bigger deal with a number of cafes and restaurants even bringing the feature in.
It’s great to be able to sit your phone down and not have to plug it in for a charge – but it’s understandable why Honor hasn’t seen fit to put this feature in here.
But hopefully in a couple of years, or maybe even months, we’ll start to see features such as fast charging coming down to these cheaper handsets and not being reserve red for the realms of the flagship phones.
Music, movies and gaming
Music on the Honor 5X can be played a number of ways. On the actual phone yourself you have the normal Honor "Music app" where you can listen to any songs you have on board the internal or microSD storage.
It does the job – but there’s nothing exciting here from Honor. It’s much a normal music player with simple functionality and different choices of playlists, favourites, recents or everything you have on the device.
Within the Google folder on your phone it’ll also have Play Music sat there ready and waiting as an alternative way to get to your tracks.
You’ll also be able to sign up to the streaming service through here and obviously you can download any number of other streaming apps through the Google Play Store. Most of my listening was done through Spotify and a little on the Pocket Casts podcast app.
There are some speakers at the bottom of the phone, but that’s the only place the audio is going to be coming out. That makes it easy to muffle the phone without realising it.
I didn’t find the speakers on the Honor 5X very powerful, especially compared to those on the Huawei Mate 8. It’s not a killer feature for most people, but I quite often play music through my phone without a need for headphones so it’s a bit of a letdown.
If you want wired headphones you can plug them in the 3.5mm headphone jack right at the top of the phone or you can use Bluetooth connected devices as well.
The real highlight of watching films is the display on the Honor 5X, and the fact the battery life seems to be strong enough to watch quite a few without dying off quickly.
There’s a Videos app which you can use to play your videos recorded on the phone or saved onto the internal storage. Much like the Music app, it’s quite simple to use with a few little extras added on top.
My highlight feature is the lock on the left-hand side of the screen that means if you tap the video while it’s playing it won’t pop up with the bars around the screen immediately.
This can be useful for when you’re watching movies and accidentally tap the screen, but it’s not all that helpful when you need to pause it really quickly.
There’s also a button in the top right hand side that will give you a smaller window for the video to play in meaning you can multitask with the homescreen at the same time.
You can then move that around the screen meaning you can then use other apps at the same time. Below you can see it while reading the techradar site at the same time.
If you’re a big fan of multitasking this feature can be a godsend, but it’s not likely going to attract you if you’re a film nut who can’t take their eyes off the action.
When you first launch the Honor 5X, take note of the amount of games already here for you to play. Honor have primed it for gamers with Asphalt Nitro, Bubble Bash Mani, Dragon Mania, Puzzle Pets, Spiderman: Ultimate Power and two apps to download more games.
This is clearly a deal with developer Gameloft as all the games are made by that company. They are fine, but it’s not exactly the height of mobile gaming.
You can of course download any titles you’d like yourself from the Google Play Store and the processor set up in the Honor 5X allows you to play pretty much everything without any noticeable struggle.
In fact, the Honor 5X never warmed up while I was gaming and I didn’t experience any tough issues while playing games. If you’re looking for a cheap phone that can game well, this wouldn’t be a terrible choice.
The Honor 5X is a very particular phone that many wouldn’t like. Its size alone makes it a phablet and it’s on the cheaper end that some people might not like.
But there are so many other phones out there that now offer high-end spec but don’t charge lots of money for it. It’s not all about the iPhone 6S Plus.
Here is my selection of phones I think might be worth your interest.
Huawei Mate 8
If you’re looking for something a little like the Honor 5X, but with a slightly more premium feel – the Huawei Mate 8 is the ultimate choice. Produced by Honor’s parent company, this the Honor 5X is quite clearly based upon this 6-inch phablet, and is not embarrassed to show it.
The Huawei Mate 8 does come with a slightly higher spec though such as the 32GB of internal storage, 8MP front facing camera and 4GB of RAM.
But you pay for that a little with the extra PRICE. That said, you still compare this to the iPhone 6S Plus or the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ and this phone looks cheap for a phablet.
- Read our review of the Huawei Mate 8
The indie darling of the Chinese phone market released its latest large screen device in July last year in the form of the OnePlus 2. At the time it didn’t garner the critical acclaim that the original phone did, but the OnePlus 2 does have a lot to love.
You can now only buy the 64GB version of the OnePlus 2, but the controversial invite system has been dropped making it much easier to just jump online and buy one.
You won’t have NFC support on this phone, and it’s missing a few of the internal bands you’d want if you need signal everywhere you go – but it’s pretty hard to go wrong with these phones.
- Read our review of the OnePlus 2
Moto X Style
Then there’s one of the latest phones from Motorola that once again offers up high-end spec without going for a large price. It features a slightly larger screen than the Honor 5X at 5.7-inches.
The camera is a real highlight on the Moto X Style with a huge 21MP sensor on the back with phase detection autofocus, dual-LED flash and auto-HDR technology.
There’s a strong 3000mAh battery inside that means you’re going to get some good life and a selection of different storage types as well as microSD support.
If you’re looking for something a little sturdier than the Honor 5X, I’d recommend grabbing a hold of a Moto X Style. It’s thicker design can be a big selling point compared to the light Honor 5X, but it’s up to you to what you’d like in your pocket.
- Read our review of the Moto X Style
Huawei has already shown it can do phablets well with the Mate 8, but somehow the company has managed to do the same again but for half the price with its Honor division.
Huawei very much want to keep the brands separate, but there’s so much that is shared between the two it’s hard to not compare them together.
And when you consider that this phone is half the price of the Huawei offering, the Honor 5X is astounding in what it can achieve.
The number one thing I like about the Honor 5X is the price. Hands down, this is one of the most affordable phones out there with high-end spec.
If you compare this to what you can get for the same amount of money it’s impressive what Honor is managing to achieve.
It can be a pain for some that it’s only online and you can’t try this out in a store, but when you consider this is at least a third of the price of an iPhone or is less than half the price of the Huawei Mate 8 it’s a no-brainer if you’re looking for a cheaper option.
The screen on the Honor 5X is gorgeous and can do just exactly what the Mate 8 can as well. Honor has managed to prove here that you can make a good screen without just having to update the pixels and squeeze in as much tech as you can find.
The processing power of the Honor 5X is also impressive for how much you’re paying. High-end games are easy to run and even though there is the odd little flicker and the frame rate can drop a little, you shouldn’t be put off of the Honor 5X.
And then there’s battery life. Having a reliable phone that doesn’t just die on you half way through a day is a feature worth paying a lot of money for. Here, you don’t even need to pay that much for it.
Honor still has a problem with its UI. Whenever I broach the subject with honor and Huawei spokespeople I always get the answer that it works well in china, why can’t it here?
The thing is, people don’t want overcomplicated versions of Android with the customisations already there. The general Android fan wants to make the phone their own and Honor’s Emotion UI makes that an issue.
The design on the Honor 5X can make it sometimes feel a little cheap. When you compare it to other phones in this market it’s actually a lovely looking phone, but it’s light and you can tell it’s not as premium a design as the Huawei Mate 8.
But the problem is Honor is hooking the design as the key selling point of the Honor 5X, and I think that’s misreprenting what this phone can do. The design isn’t phenomenal, but it does the job for someone who wants something cheap.
The Honor 5X is a cheaper version of the Huaiwe Mate 8. It may not have the same premium feel or strong camera, but the 5X does have a number of the same key features and a much lower price tag.
For a sub £200 (sub US$200) phone, it’s quite amazing what Honor has managed to achieve and if you’re looking for something that will compete with the high-end flagships, but not cost anywhere near as much, the 5X is a great choice.
If you’ve got that little bit of extra to spend, I would recommend the Huawei Mate 8 over the Honor 5X. But if you’re more worried about how much you’re spending this is probably a better option.
It offers a strong battery life, which is a killer feature for those who want aphone that doesn’t let you down and the fact the display is this good makes me really consider how much flagship phones should be costing these days.
I can’t wait to see what Honor can achieve next, and if it manages to keep making high-end products with this kind of spec and this low price, maybe it will become a major competitor to rival the Western giants in the next few years.
First reviewed: February 2016