Honor 7X review: Meet the new budget flagship king

Price when reviewed

Smartphone prices have gone crazy over the last couple of years. Not so long ago, flagship handsets topped out at £500 or £600 but now the likes of Samsung and Apple seem to believe that the bottom rung on the flagship pricing ladder should sit firmly at £600 – if you insist on being a cheapskate and going for the entry-level model.

Honor is different. The Chinese manufacturer – a subsidiary of Huawei – has its own idea about prices. It launched its flagship Honor 9 last year at £370 and we loved it. Its latest is nearly as good and even cheaper. It has a 6in 18:9 display, decent performance and good looks. Oh, and it comes in at £270.

Read on to find out why the Honor 7X is our pick of the lower mid-range handsets.

Honor 7X review: Design[gallery:1]

In less than a year, the 18:9 aspect-ratio display has gone from quirky USP to top-end smartphone essential. Now the cycle to omnipresent is almost complete with its arrival on the Honor 7X – by far the cheapest smartphone to have it. Before this, you’d be looking at the OnePlus 5T for £180 more.

To be clear, that’s largely a good thing. The early days when not all apps worked terribly well with the brave new format are largely forgotten thanks to the early trailblazing might of Samsung.

And it’s not just the screen. The Honor 7X is a beautifully built phone that looks like it should sell for far more than it does. If you’re looking for a design mate, it’s not a million miles from the Honor 8 Pro but all you really need to know is that it’s very good looking indeed.[gallery:2]

It does, however, have a handful of “interesting” design quirks that may or may not impact you. First of all, the fingerprint reader is on the back, because the 18:9 screen leaves precious little room on the front. Second, it has no built-in NFC – if you don’t know what that means, it likely won’t affect you too much, except that it means you can’t use Android Pay at contactless payment terminals. Third, the Honor 7X hangs heroically on to the microUSB format, which means slower data transfer rates. I secretly quite like that, as I have a million or so compatible cables, rather than my miserly ration of Type-C ones.

Oh, and it has a 3.5mm headphone jack. Hallelujah!

Honor 7X review: Screen[gallery:4]

But, let’s get back to that 18:9 IPS screen. The Honor 7X looks beautiful when switched off, but how good is it when those pixels light up? Not bad at all. While the resolution isn’t the highest – a stretched 1080p display with a 1,080 x 2,160 resolution – that really isn’t a big deal. The only time you need more than 1080p on a screen this size is if you plan to delve into VR, and even then it’s not exactly a dealbreaker.

Colour presentation isn’t the strongest, but it’s not disastrous either. Our X Rite i1 DisplayPro calibrator gave it an overall sRGB gamut coverage of 85.3% – pretty much identical to the Moto G5S, and a touch shy of the 89.2% achieved by the Honor 7X’s predecessor, the 6X. Despite this, colours feel rich and vibrant and most people won’t notice anything is off with the naked eye.

More importantly, for most consumers, the contrast is ridiculously good for an IPS panel, with a ratio of 2,109:1. With a peak brightness measured at 499cd/m2, you’re unlikely to have any trouble reading it in most conditions.

Honor 7X review: Performance[gallery:8]

So far, so good, but what’s powering the Honor 7X? As Honor veterans will know, you don’t get Qualcomm chips in the company’s smartphones with the manufacturer using its own HiSilicon Kirin processors. The results have been mixed in the past, but recently the firm’s chips have improved considerably and I’m pleased to report that the Honor 7X is no slouch.

To be clear, you’re not looking at Samsung Galaxy S8 or iPhone X performance here, but hey, what were you expecting for £270? In its field, the 2.36GHz octa-core Kirin 659 processor powering the Honor 7X performs admirably, albeit not much better than the older Honor 6X:honor_7x_review_-_geekbench_4

Historically, the Kirin processors’ Achilles Heel has been their 3D graphical performance and, unfortunately, despite the improved chipset in Huawei’s flagships, the same remains true here.honor_7x_review_-_gfxbench

It’s worth mentioning that the Manhattan 3 test is quite demanding and a low score doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do any 3D gaming of any sort, just that you won’t necessarily be powering through Hearthstone on your daily commute.

You may not want to hit the gaming too hard, though, because the Honor 7X’s one below-par aspect is its battery life. In our standard battery test – a looped video played back in airplane mode with the handset locked to 170cd/m2 brightness – the handset went just 9hrs 47mins before running out of steam. The bigger screen on the Honor 7X means that, despite having the same 3,340mAh battery inside, last year’s Honor 6X has a good hour and a half on it’s newer, shinier sibling.honor_7x_review_-_battery_life

Honor 7X review: Camera

You’re not going to have Pixel 2 rivalling camera performance from a smartphone half the price, either, but the Honor 7X has a game old try at competing and it’s probably the best camera on a phone in this range. To my eyes, only the Moto G5 Plus beats it.[gallery:9]

What you have here is a pair of rear cameras: the first is a 16-megapixel affair, and the second is a 2-megapixel. Don’t worry, the latter is only used for adding depth to portrait images. The camera has phase detect autofocus (PDAF) for quick point-and-shoot shots, and the results are pretty reasonable, especially in well-lit conditions. The image below demonstrates this nicely, with the Honor 7X picking up plenty of detail on the red brickwork in the foreground.[gallery:11]

Unfortunately, as is often the case with smartphone cameras, low-light conditions do not make for good photographs. The sensor ends up picking up a lot of image noise, and the flash gives images a slightly off-putting yellow tint.[gallery:13]

The front-facing camera is an 8-megapixel affair, which captures plenty of detail and light – and even packs a Bokeh mode to make selfies look extra striking. It’s a nice touch, and it works pretty well to boot.

Honor 7X review: Verdict[gallery:18]

You can find fault with the Honor 7X, but every one of those can be met by the response: “yeah, but it’s only £270 and it has a 6in 18:9 screen.” You can get faster handsets, better cameras and more accurate screens – but not without putting more strain on your credit card. The exception to this is the weak battery life, but most people should get through a day’s normal use regardless.

For the price, the Honor 7X is a stylish-looking phone, with a great set of features that makes sacrifices in all the right places. Frankly, for the price, it’s an absolute steal and if your budget maxes out at £300 you should look no further.

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