Honor 5X review: Top value, but can it dethrone the Moto G?

£190
Price when reviewed

Performance and camera

For under £200 you wouldn’t expect flagship performance, and there’s no sign of high-end Qualcomm parts here. Instead, you get the mid-range 1.5GHz Snapdragon 616 octa-core, Adreno 405 graphics and 2GB RAM, which is about what you’d expect for the price.

Honor 5X review: Top value, but can it dethrone the Moto G?

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In benchmarks, it’s clearly faster than the Moto G 3, but it lags behind the OnePlus X in all but the multi-core Geekbench 3 test, and even then not by much. It’s a mid-range performance from a mid-range processor.

In real-world use, I was less impressed. The 615-equipped Honor 5X had a tendency to feel a teeny bit laggy when transitioning from screen to screen. Apps don’t launch particularly quickly, even the keyboard takes its time to appear sometimes. Let’s hope a software update tidies that up soon. 

It’s a similar story with battery life. Although it’s pretty big – 3,000mAh in capacity – and in my experience should get you through a day easily, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. In our video rundown battery test, it lasted 10hrs 37mins, which is fairly middle of the road. 

Like the performance, the camera is middling. For your money, you’re getting a 13-megapixel, f/2 camera with a dual-LED flash on the rear, but no fancy extras. There’s no phase-detect autofocus, no 4K video capture, and not even optical image stabilisation (OIS).

Still, it’s capable of capturing surprisingly good shots. Outdoors, in good light, there’s a decent amount of detail and none of the smearing that commonly afflicts cheap smartphones. There’s also a fair amount of grain and noise, no matter the conditions, but this didn’t adversely affect the crispness of the photos I captured with it.

As with most budget smartphones, however, camera performance dips noticeably along with the ambient light. I didn’t see a particular problem with detail – that wasn’t too bad. It was grainy, as before, but it captured decent levels of detail. The camera’s big problem was with autofocus. It’s slow, very slow, particularly in low light, where I had to wait what seemed an inordinate amount of time before it would lock onto its subject.  

Software

The big weak spot for the Honor 5X, though – as it has been with all Honor and Huawei handsets I’ve used – is its Android skin. Applied over the top of Android 5.1.1, Emotion UI (otherwise known as EMUI) has earned a bad rap among regular smartphone reviewers, principally due to its several dramatic diversions from stock Android.

In large part, I concur with the general weight of opinion. The removal of the App Drawer is unnecessary, and enforces the use of multiple folders on the desktop; the notifications menu desperately needs a revamp – it’s annoyingly basic and wastes space in its design; and the fact that Honor insists on surrounding app icons on the homescreen with a box, whether or not that icon fits neatly into it, is an aesthetically execrable decision.

I’d also point out, however, that you can get around two of these (the icon and App Drawer issues) simply by installing a third-party launcher such as Nova. There are also some features built into EMUI that are worth having. I’ve found its battery saver tools, for instance, are quite effective at helping you get the most of the battery in day-to-day use.

They allow you to manage and kill background tasks that might be eating up battery capacity unnecessarily and proactively warn you about apps using up too much power. The one-handed shortcut dial (seen in the screenshot above) is another handy tool.

Verdict

Overall, the Honor 5X is a decent budget smartphone that, aside from its irritating Android skin, offers a tempting alternative to the market leaders at this price.

It isn’t the most exciting phone you’ll come across this year, but its low price, large screen size and, in particular, that fingerprint reader, means it sits in a class of its own at this price. If Honor can follow this up with decent battery life, it’ll have yet another solid Android offering on its hands.

See also: 2016’s best smartphones – we list the best

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