Honor 4x review: A phablet for less
Budget phones have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, spurred on in large part by the Motorola Moto G. Back in 2013 it proved that cheap really could be cheerful, and forced other manufacturers to up their budget-smartphone game.
Despite this, we haven’t seen all that many top-quality budget phablets. Step forward Chinese outfit Huawei, and the Honor 4X: a 5.5in Android smartphone that retails for just £145.
How it looks
Not that you’d know this is a Huawei by looking at it. Unlike HTC, Samsung and Apple, Huawei has chosen not to display its logo anywhere on the handset, instead using its sub-brand Honor. Whatever the reasons behind this, there’s nothing hugely wrong with the design, especially for a budget phone.
Yes, it’s a bit basic. The build is all plastic, and the front plain glass, but it looks reasonably smart. My review model came in a two-tone black-and-white finish, which appeals greatly to the Derby County fan in me.
Plastic gets a bit of a bad rap when it comes to phone design, but it’s a necessary evil in the budget market. Huawei has made a good hash of it here, with the textured backplate offering a good level of grip. At 170g, it feels more substantial than many other budget offerings we’ve come across. Removing the shell, meanwhile, reveals both microSD and dual-SIM card slots, which are nice-to-have features in this price bracket.
And when you switch on the Honor 4X for the first time, any worry you might have had over the low price disappear. The Honor 4X employs Huawei’s Emotion UI (version 3), and it’s a light-touch overlay. In fact, it looks like the stock Android experience, barring a couple of extra bells and whistles. I particularly like the way new app icons shimmer immediately after they’ve been downloaded to remind you to give them some love.
And you know what? This unencumbered plain Android installation sure can move. It may not be a fair comparison, but my year-old HTC One M8 feels a wee bit sluggish by comparison to this young upstart, which retails at around a third of the One M8’s original price. Menus glide by, the web browser is quick and responsive, and the keyboard pops up with no lag at all. The 2GB of RAM it packs is also very welcome.
Benchmarks reveal that raw performance isn’t quite up to the same level. In Geekbench 3, the 4X’s octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 620 processor registers a single-core score of 552 and a multi-core result of 1,602, well below the Huawei P8’s 870 and 3,491, and even further off the Samsung Galaxy S6’s 1,485 and 5,282. In the GFXBench T-Rex HD game benchmark, run at the screen’s native resolution, the Honor 4X averaged 15fps. That might not sound like much, and it’s a long way behind Samsung Galaxy S6 and other flagship phones, but crucially it’s around four to five frames per second faster than both the 2014 Moto G.
Battery life is pretty good, too: under light use the charge depreciates at an encouragingly slow rate, comfortably making it through one or even two days if used sparingly. In our looping video test, with the screen at a set brightness of 120cd/m2 in flight mode, battery capacity fell at a rate of around 8% per hour, while our 4G streaming-audio test saw a drop of 5% per hour. It’s slightly better than the 2014 Moto G with the screen on, and slightly worse with the screen off.
The Honor 4X’s 720p IPS screen is pretty good, too. It reaches an impressively high maximum brightness of 531cd/m2, which means readability in bright sunlight is not a problem. And with the brightness set to more sensible levels, the screen is clear and text looks sharp. The low pixel density of 277ppi means you can see the pixels if you look hard, but even on a 5.5in screen, it isn’t a huge problem.
The contrast is a highly respectable 1,080:1, although the colour accuracy is a little off – especially in the blues. This means the screen can at times look a little lacking in richness.
One obvious corner has been cut, though: there’s no Gorilla Glass, with the Honor 4X’s display protected only by a screen protector applied before shipping. On the plus side, there are no unsightly bubbles (at least not on our unit) – but it doesn’t half pick up fingerprint smudges.
Keen photographers will find their options catered for by the now familiar provision of a high-resolution, rear-facing camera, and a lower-resolution front-facing snapper for video calls and selfies. The camera on the back is a 13-megapixel affair – although to take photos at the highest resolution of 4,160 x 3,120, you’ll have to make do with a 4:3 aspect ratio. For 16:9 photos, it defaults to 4,160 x 2,336.
Still, the camera is easy enough to use and – in a nice touch aimed at squarely at novices – it shows a short message onscreen letting you know exactly what you’ve just done. It’s a simple, no-frills camera that does the job. Just avoid the silly extra features – the beauty filter turned up to ten resulted in making me look like an anime character – and you’ll be fine.
As for quality, the camera struggles a little in low-light conditions, but in good light snaps look fine, and close-up shots are detailed and sharp. In short, it’s a decent camera and, at this price, “decent” is a great achievement. That’s matched by the Honor 4X’s video recording, where 1080p video at 30fps is the order of the day.
It’s hard to find any serious faults with the Honor 4X that can’t be immediately neutralised by adding “but it costs less than £150”. As someone who has only really used flagship handsets in recent years, I found it a breath of fresh air, and a strong reminder that the gap between top-of-the-range and mid-range is rapidly shrinking.
So, no: it’s not the fastest in gaming or raw specifications, but the basic, stripped-back UI certainly makes it feel highly responsive. The screen isn’t the sharpest around, but it’s vibrant and very usable. The back is textured plastic rather than a sleek aluminum unibody, but that isn’t a big negative.
What has been especially startling is the reaction from people who have had a go with the handset when I’ve been out and about. Friends with a casual interest in smartphones – even those with top-of-the-range flagships – have been in turn complimentary and then positively flabbergasted when they hear the price tag. They’re left wondering why they’re paying so much when a phone of such good quality can be had for so little.
The Honor 4X may not be as good as the iPhone 6 Plus or Galaxy Note 4, but it’s a bargain: a genuine big-screened alternative to the Motorola Moto G.