Launched in the U.K just days ago, the design of the Huawei Honor 7 comes directly from another success story of the brand: the Huawei Mate 7. The Honor 7 is the new top phone in Huawei’s line of “Honor” phones, which is crafted as a premium product for their most demanding customers.
At the same time, it is designed to be affordable and retails for nearly half the price of classic high-end phones. Yet, Huawei is a huge company with a great business, so how can this all be reconciled? We took the Honor 7 for a spin and put it to the real world test, along with synthetic tests to observe and analyze how good it is, and where it stands in a competitive smartphone world. Large screen, large battery, great camera – at an affordable price. Let’s take a closer look.
From a distance, the Honor 7 looks exactly like a smaller version of the Mate 7. The metal frame that ensures the phone’s rigidity is identical and the front is also white (or colored) with an edge-to-edge glass. The back has a metallic look-and-feel: it is actually metal on the Honor 7, although I’m not 100% sure about the Mate 7. Whatever it is, the back seems like a very thin sheet of metal. "HUAWEI PICKS DESIGN OVER LOGO VISIBILITY"
Upon a closer inspection, you may notice that the Huawei branding is gone from the front of the phone. This is a great move from Huawei, since it makes the face much classier. Surprisingly, the Huawei logo has also disappeared from the back. Huawei chose to trust its user experience, rather than its logo visibility.
We were expecting something like it: back in January, Huawei told us that “Honor” would become the main brand in the premium segment of the market, so this is the actual implementation of this strategic change, and that explain why the Honor metallic logo is the only one visible in the back. And since Huawei is pursuing an “unlocked” phone strategy, no carrier branding should be added (never say never, though…).
Also in the back of the phone, the camera module integration has seen some changes. The big LED flash, is now replaced by two smaller LED lights, and the camera module casing seems to be a little different. The camera itself is better, but we’ll get to that soon. The fingerprint reader module is shallower, and while there are still grooves to find where to put the finger, this should make the print reading more accurate than before.
At the top, an Infra-Red (IR) emitter has been added next to the 3.5mm audio connector, and at the bottom, there are two speaker outputs that replace the single output in the back on the Mate 7.
The Power and volume controls are still on the right, while the left has a new “smart” button to launch apps quickly (click, double click and long-press). There is also a dual-tray for the SIM card and the MicroSD card. The Mate 7 comes with two trays in two distinct slots.
Overall, this is a good design, which may be particularly liked by users who like to “have a solid phone in their hands” because of how it feels. This is a typical comment that I would hear with HTC phones, back in the days. Users who like super thin & light phones have other options, although maybe not with a 3100 mAh battery.
The LCD display is quite good, with the brightness being even across the screen and no color distortion at an extreme angle (this seems to be an IPS-like screen). That said, the contrast could be better, along with the maximum brightness.
It is unfortunately not as good as something like the iPhone 6, and certainly not stunning like the ones found on the LG G4 or the new Samsung Galaxy phones. All these phones cost twice the price of the Honor 7, and it would be completely unreasonable to expect a similar-quality screen. However, for a no-contract price of 349.99 Euros (No U.S pricing yet, so we’ll concert to 391.00 USD in this review), I’d say that you’re getting a very good quality for the price.
At 1080p, the screen resolution is good, but not the sharpest out there. In most situations, it doesn’t matter that much, and you would hardly tell the difference between this and a 2K screen (but there is one, if you pay attention). However, when taking/viewing photos or reading very small text, the 2K does make a huge difference.
Like other Huawei phones, the Honor 7 comes with its own user interface built on top of Android 5.0. Huawei calls it the EMUI, or Emotion UI (User Interface, currently at version 3. x). It organizes apps in a slightly different way, more Apple-like, with every app visible on the home screen, and of course the ability to create app folders – this is great for people who don’t download a ton of apps (it’s proven that most people use a dozen apps regularly) and want to keep things simple.
While this may feel strange for the first day, I think that most people would get used to it very easily after a very short time. I think that Huawei should not change the original Android icons, but at the same time, keep its own extra apps and optimizations – that’s just a friendly suggestion.
There are a ton of little things that make life easier, like the “Phone Manager” app that will optimize the phone with a single tap. It’s easy and very clear to understand.
Things like how you interact with the clock app is way smoother than most Android apps, thanks to an iPod-like wheel interface that makes it easy to tweak the settings. That’s so much better than flicking each minutes up or down.
There’s a “Magnifier” app that can be super handy when I try reading small prints on various devices. This works if you want to read a menu without using your glasses too.
Huawei also says that it has optimized many aspects linked to power-usage. We know for sure, that users can be given greater control over what apps are being allowed to fetch data in the background, etc., but the real impact depends on YOUR own usage, so it’s difficult to estimate how much it will help. That said, it surely cannot hurt…
Beyond that, the Android experience remains similar to others, so current Android users shouldn’t feel intimidated by going over to a (slightly) new UI.
The Huawei Honor 7 camera captures up to 20 Megapixel images, and comes with Huawei’s own Camera application that has a pretty nice feel to it.
First of all, it’s easy to switch from photo to video to special modes (food, beauty, light-painting). The camera app uses an iPhone-style slider UI on the left, which makes it easy to go from one to the other. It does, however, take some screen real-estate from the photo-shooting experience.
If you want, it is always possible to download 3rd party Camera apps, such as Google’s and others, but keep in mind that the native camera app tends to have better fine-grained controls, and is better integrated with the native hardware.
I have added a photo gallery with samples taken with the Huawei Mate 7. At the same time, you can look at the full-size photos on our Flickr account. For web usage, the Honor 7 takes good photos. In low-light you have to be extra-careful to hold your phone steady to avoid blurry pictures. I’ve compared it with the LG G3, and overall, the Honor 7 is at a slight disadvantage when it comes to photographic performance. Keep in mind that the G3 was one of last year’s top phones when it comes to photography. "THE HONOR 7 HAS A WORLD CLASS SELFIE IMAGE QUALITY"
If you zoom all the way in, you would see that the Honor 7’s sharpness is slightly lower (the G3 does have optical stabilization), and I find the color balance and metering to be a little bit geared towards making things brighter than what my eyes would see. It can be good on some occasions (see below), but by default, I would like to have it tuned to capture what I see with my own eyes. That said, here’s a good example of where extra-brightness by default helped the Honor 7:
The Honor 7 also has presets that will tend to amplify color-saturation out of the box. Depending on the situation, you may or may not like it, but it looks like Huawei has decided to go for more “eye-candy”. Here’s a good example:
Overall, the Honor 7 competes very well with the G3, which was in our opinion the best camera phone of 2014. Sometimes, the Honor 7 wins, sometimes the LG G3 wins. Overall, I still give a slight advantage to the G3. That said, and for that price-range, the Honor 7 is a great camera phone.
The Honor 7 front-camera is excellent, and features a 8 Megapixel sensor. It takes sharp photos, sharper in fact than the LG G3’s front camera, and -almost- as good as the Galaxy S6 front-camera. Huawei loves selfies (and groufies, or group-selfies), and the Honor 7 has a world-class selfie image quality. I haven’t seen any phone that will beat it at selfies for that price.
In terms of system performance, the Huawei Honor 7 has mixed results. On one hand, it has “OK” CPU and system performance, which means that the day-to-day usage is quite good. But on the other hand, it has low graphics performance, which means that heavy gamers should move onto another handset. We’re talking about complex 3D-driven games here. If you’re a heavy 2D gamer and play Candy Crush or Angry Birds 2, the performance is perfectly fine.
That’s true even if you look at performance from a performance/price standpoint: the Huawei Honor 7 offers great synthetic CPU performance, but gaming performance remains low, even when you take the price into account. Each additional dollar doesn’t buy you a whole lot of 3D-gaming speed.
The Kirin 735 processor gets high results in synthetic benchmarks such as Geekbench because it has 8 cores (A53x). However, those cores are not the fastest types, which explain why the performance in more realistic situations like simulated by Basemark OS II is not very high. Most high-end chips use the A57 design, which is faster clock-for-clock.
In terms of battery life, the Honor 7 has a large battery of 3100 mAh, which puts it in the higher range in the 5.2”to 5.4” phones category. It becomes even more interesting when you look at how much battery you are getting for each dollar spent, where it nearly takes the lead, being edged-out only by Huawei’s own Ascend Mate 2, which remains the highest battery capacity that money can buy today.
There is no built-in wireless charging capability, and at this point and we have not heard of a phone case that would add this feature to the phone. Also, it is important to note that the battery is non-removable.
Huawei has mentioned that fast-charging is supported, which is somewhat true if using a high-Amperage charger. However, in our tests, the phone was not the fastest-charging phone, with a charging speed of 34 mAh per minute, versus 50 mAh/mn for the fastest out there. It would take about 72mn to go from 0% to 80% battery charge.
The Huawei Honor 7 is a well-built, all-metal phone. It seems to have been specifically targeted at users that mostly use productivity and social apps, with an emphasis on photo-sharing, especially selfies. The camera has a “very good” performance, but can’t quite reach the “excellent” level of high-end phones that cost twice its price (which seems more than fair).
Maybe its strongest competitor today would be the LG G3, which is priced very aggressively by LG ($340 street price). The LG G3 does not have an all-metal construction, but has a removable battery and can compete effectively on many other aspects, such as 3D-Gaming. Huawei points out that the Honor 7 has a newer LTE modem technology as well, but it’s nearly impossible to assess how it impacts the user experience. [Honor 7 vs LG G3 data comparison]
For a lifestyle usage, it comes down to slight differences in the camera (especially the Huawei front-camera which is clearly better), and the design of the phone, which I think is a critical point in that segment. Huawei has delivered yet another great phone, for the price.