Huawei’s sub brand Honor today announced its all new Honor 8 Pro, the successor to its previous Honor 8 handset that arrived in India last year. The handset is priced at Rs 29,999 and features a new design, gets rid of the glass back and goes in for a polished, all-metal build that looks unique and even feels better in comparison to the current smartphone alternatives in its class.
With that said, Huawei through its Honor brand has gotten rather competitive after realising how close it came to competing with the OnePlus 3 last year. This time around, the brand has worked on its weaker points, and now seems to have delivered a much more competitive offering that clearly has the OnePlus 5 in its crosshairs.
Going by the specifications, on paper, the Honor 8 Pro sure has an edge over the OnePlus despite packing in its homegrown Kirin 960 chipset (16 nm) in comparison with the OnePlus 5's Snapdragon 835 (10 nm). The Honor even packs in a larger battery and a much better QHD LCD display, among other features; but do these features result in a better handset in comparison to the OnePlus 5? Has Huawei beaten the OnePlus 5 at its own game? I think it has.
Build and Design: 8.5/10
As with last year’s Honor 8, Huawei has focussed on the design this time as well. To many, it may not look too different, but you really need to hold one in your hands to experience the quality and effort the design team has put into the 8 Pro.
Huawei skipped on the glass back and went in for an all-metal build this year. While it looks like your typical smartphone from afar, it is well polished when held up close. The OnePlus 5, its arch rival looks, like an iPhone 7 Plus copy. Considering the lack of attention to details, the OnePlus 5 does not stand a chance against the Honor 8 Pro.
The design is understated at best and features rounded corners. The machining process is top notch and very unlike the OnePlus 5 that has some really sharp edges. The front features a 2.5D Gorilla Glass that feels premium and feels smooth when you slide your finger from the sides of the smartphone to the display.
Flip it over the rear and you can see what is now no longer the highlight of the device, its dual cameras (everyone else has one too, these days). What is interesting about this layout is how Huawei has managed to fit two cameras sitting flush with the rest of the back. Move your finger over the camera and will not be able to tell where it is located, because there is no camera bump.
Those who love typing with their phones placed on a table, will be happy to see a phone that does not wobble thanks to all those protruding cameras on the back. There’s a dual LED flash that also sits flat with the rest of the back with millimetre precision. Other details on the back include the two plastic inserts for the antennas (since this is an all-metal build) and a fingerprint reader on the back that unlocks the device rather quickly.
The Honor 8 Pro is just 6.9 mm thick, which is impressive and feels thinner than Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the OnePlus 5.
If you are a OnePlus user, you will be blown away by the quality of smartphone. Coming from another Honor device, you would already expect smartphones with this level of detail at the given price. Even with a design that can easily compete with flagship smartphones, the best is yet to come.
While the Honor 8 fell short with its Kirin 950, Huawei’s new Kirin 960 takes charge on the 8 Pro, one that comes close to competing with flagships.
There a 5.7-inch Quad HD (2560x1440 pixels) LTPS IPS LCD display that that delivers a 73.6 percent screen to body ratio. The QHD resolutions deliver a stunning 515 PPI that should do well when it comes to mobile VR use.
The display is protected by a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen that should be good enough to protect it from bumps and drops.
Inside, there is Huawei’s very own, HiSilicon Kirin 960 chipset which packs in 4x 2.4 GHz Cortex-A73 cores and 4x 1.8 GHz Cortex-A53 cores. There is also an additional i6 core that takes over the load from rest to handle light background processes and record fitness data, while sipping very little power. This is analogous to the motion co-processor on Apple's iPhone chips.
As with the Honor 8, Huawei has once again gone in for a dual camera setup that features two 12 MP sensors with an f/2.2 aperture. One camera reads RGB data while the second reads black and white data, both work together to deliver better image quality and great-looking bokeh in images. The rear camera setup also features laser AF and phase detection AF, which when combined, help the camera focus rather quickly.
The front facing camera is a humbler 8 MP unit, but oddly, comes with an f/2.0 aperture.
There’s 6 GB of RAM along with 128 GB of internal storage. Huawei also lets you expand that internal storage using the hybrid SIM tray which accepts a microSD card of up to 256 GB.
The handset runs Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box with Huawei’s revamped (more on this in software) Emotion UI 5.1 that is supposed to run smarter and even uses machine learning to keep the system running lag free.
Connectivity options include dual SIM support with VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot included) Bluetooth v 4.2, GPS, NFC, an Infrared port and a USB 2.0 Type-C reversible connector with USB On-The-Go (OTG) support.
The handset is powered by a large 4,000 mAh battery which should deliver some good numbers despite the power hungry 5.7-inch QHD display.
The Huawei Honor 8 Pro features a 5.7-inch Quad HD LTPS IPS LCD display. The display fares well in direct sunlight with no viewing problems whatsoever. 515 PPI means that this will not just deliver ultra sharp text in the smallest text display settings possible, but also deliver good results when it comes to mobile VR headsets. Indeed, this is one area that OnePlus 5 does not stand a chance or does not even come close.
The colours are accurate, unlike most cheaper AMOLED displays out there, which are usually oversaturated. Viewing angles are great with no shift in colour when viewed at the steepest angles. It is one of the few handsets that I came across this year in the mid-range that stands up to Apple’s iPhone displays.
The colours were a tad bit cooler, but this can be adjusted in the 'Display settings' under 'Colour temperature'.
Unlike past EMUI skins that looked pretty while trying to balance out performance, EMUI 5.1 not only looks good but performs better as well.
At the private preview yours truly attended, Huawei explained that they did spend plenty of time on software and the results, from what I have experienced for more than a week, are quite visible. The smartphone maker claims that the EMUI now uses machine learning to clean up cache and will automatically figure out which apps it will need to close (when not used) or prioritise others with a performance boost when needed.
The UI feels buttery smooth and fluid with no stuttering whatsoever. I did not comes across any lag, including when launching, closing or switching between third-party apps. The only area where I did notice a slight stutter was when scrolling through the app drawer. But most will not notice this because the app drawer needs to be enabled; it's set to off by default.
Unlike the translucent interface we have seen from Huawei in the past, the new UI feels polished and flawless and goes with a spartan white theme with a blue accent colour. Everything looks fresh and modern and Huawei claims that the new OS has been designed to get the user to any of its internal settings with just 3 taps. LG's famed WebOS concept aimed for the same.
Coming to customisations, there are plenty. One can download themes, wallpapers, ringtones, fonts and more from the theme store which is filled to the brim with plenty of selections.
Apart from the usual Huawei apps there is also a revamped HiGame app, a new Health app and an enhanced Phone Manager app.
Thanks to its updated processor, the Huawei Honor 8 Pro comes pretty close to competing with devices in its segment, and those above it as well. Benchmarks showed scores that were rather competitive and came eerily close to the premium flagship territory, which is good news for buyers who are looking for performance at a price.
You can run every possible game at the highest graphics settings without any stutter or skipped frames. Whether its Asphalt Xtreme, Real Racing 3 or even casual titles like Mekorama and the like, the phone barely warmed up while playing games. It only got uncomfortably hot when using the camera app outdoors and in direct sunlight. The app however did not shut down in any of the above mentioned situations.
Mobile gamers will be more than happy to know that the Honor 8 Pro supports Vulcan graphics, which should deliver a performance boost when it comes to gaming, provided the developer supports it. However, as you can see from the charts below, the Kirin 960 is clearly not as effective a gaming platform as the Snapdragon 835 and even the older Snapdragon 821. However, as mentioned earlier, there's still more than enough performance on tap, so there is no noticeable performance difference in real-world usage.
Audio quality using a standard pair of headphones was decent and delivered plenty of depth while balancing out the treble and bass. Call quality was top notch as well, with no dropped calls and conversations being clear at both ends.
The speaker is loud and clear, which is something that one rarely finds in smartphones at this price point. Most of the time I did not feel the need to plug in my headphones while playing intensive games, which is commendable.
Huawei includes the same old 12 MP sensors from the Honor 8 which again deliver similar levels of quality and sharpness as before. The phone, thanks to its laser AF combined with PDAF was quick to focus in any given scenario.
Photographs clicked in daylight showcased impressive colour accuracy and sharpness. You can tone down or turn up details like Saturation, Brightness and Contrast to your liking by heading into the 'Image Adjustment' setting in the camera app. The camera tends to overexpose images in brightly lit scenarios, so you will need to turn on the HDR mode manually whenever the setting is too bright. There were even scenarios where some photographs, like the ones shot near a lake (in the sample album) that showed flat textures even in brightly lit conditions.
Indeed, this is not the Leica-branded stuff you will get on the P9 or the P10 smartphones, but the results were good enough in daylight.
The Monochrome mode, which lets you click pictures in black and white, are the best I have seen to date. These were expected as Huawei is one of the few manufacturers that actually use a monochrome camera setup. The images are not the result of a software filter, but true monochrome inputs coming straight from the sensor. Sadly, none of that hardware monochrome output can be used in the Pro or Manual mode. You will have to click the images in Auto and then open the Gallery app, which will let you tweak the photos.
The bokeh mode is impressive. The feather selection is pretty accurate and easily delivers the exceptional bokeh when compared to other smartphones, both in its class and even compared to the Samsung Galaxy S8 (which only has a single camera on the back). The OnePlus 5 fails terribly in this area. Still, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus performs better than the Honor 8 pro, but the former is also priced at quite a premium.
While daylight shooting scenarios were fine, switching to low light or dimly lit settings results in images that were not exactly up to the mark. In auto mode (which is how most will use the camera) the camera showcased blotchy images with no details whatsoever. The luminance noise levels were just too high and the algorithms try and suppress the noise, killing all the details in the process.
The results in these scenarios are pretty bad, with most images looking like paintings, with no details whatsoever. Textures are flat and show no details whether you click them with rear camera or the front camera.
The camera software could do with a tweak to its image processing, so these problems might be resolved with a single software update. But for now, this is not a camera you would want to use in low light scenarios, forget night scenes.
Coming to video, the Honor 8 Pro records great looking video at 720p, 1080p, 1080p@60 and 4K in daylight. The video recording is smooth and looks great in daylight. In low light, I'd rather keep this phone in my pocket as the results are terrible and mostly unusable with lots of noise. It's clear that Huawei’s software team needs to take a look at the video recording software. It could also be that the chipset is simply incapable of handling that much processing.
The Honor 8 Pro packs in a 4,000 mAh battery. While this may seem like plenty for most handsets these days, the Honor indeed had other hardware features that almost convinced me that it would not last too long.
Fortunately, I was wrong. Despite featuring a great Quad HD display that measures 5.7-inches diagonally and a Kirin chipset that is manufactured using the 16 nm process, the smartphone fared surprisingly well.
I got a good nine hours of battery life using our standard 'PCMark Work 1.0 Battery Life' test with the brightness set to 50 percent. In day-to-day usage, I did not feel the need to plug in the 8 Pro, because there would be sufficient charge left inside that could get me through the first half of the second work day.
Clearly, its Huawei’s software optimisation at work and the results are great despite the fact that it has pixel-rich QHD LCD display. Among the power saving settings I also found a switch that would run the smartphone at lower resolution, giving it an extra hour of battery life in day to day usage.
As for the charging, Huawei claims that the Honor 8 Pro comes with a quick charging facility, but we could not test this out since the company did not include the charger nor the cable in the box. Using the OnePlus 5’s Dash charger, it took a few hours to get to 100 percent, which is painfully long. But once it's charged, there’s little to be worried about as the device can get you through a whole work day and more without breaking sweat.
Verdict and price in India
Launched at Rs 29,999 with 6 GB RAM and 128 GB internal storage, there's really not much to complain about with the Huawei Honor 8 Pro. It defeats the value for money offerings from OnePlus and defeats the OnePlus 5 at its own game with a refined design, 4,000 mAh battery and even that QHD display.
The downside is the camera's low light performance that delivers noisy images and a possible performance gap when compared to the OnePlus 5. Thankfully, the performance gap is not noticeable in real-world usage and the camera issues might be fixed in a software update.
Overall, the only other smartphones that comes close is the OnePlus 3T that currently retails on Amazon at Rs 29,999. At that price you get a processor that is half a year old, a smaller battery, a Full HD display and a decent low light camera.
Also available is the smartphone that goes big on everything, the Samsung Galaxy C9 Pro, which packs in a massive display and a big battery. However, considering the competition in this space, the C9 Pro's Qualcomm Snapdragon 653 belongs more towards the budget lineup than the mid-range.
Lastly, there's the Oppo F3 Plus, but it too features a slower chipset and only 4 GB RAM.
Clearly, Huawei has done its homework and put up an offering with the right specifications at a rather low price. The only area where the OnePlus can take it down is software (it's already on Android 7.1.1) and better low light images. For everything else, the Huawei certainly does a better job and delivers the same at a much lower price.
While buyers who earlier looked up to OnePlus can now also look at Huawei, both smartphones do cater to different audiences. The OnePlus 5 is clearly for the tweakers who love the install custom ROMs. But if you are not into that stuff, you do need to take one long, hard look at the Honor 8 Pro that delivers some serious bokeh effects and some mind-blowing black and white imagery and some better hardware. While we are yet to put up our OnePlus 5 review, it is easy to say that it is going to get some serious competition from Huawei's Honor brand this year.