Huawei's Honor Holly was a great smartphone but had a few short comings, like its average camera, a small 2,000 mAh battery. Shortly after launch it was trumped by Xiaomi's Redmi 1s, which offered better performance and overall was a sweeter deal that was also priced to sell.
This time around Huawei is back with a better upgrade called the Honor Holly 2 Plus and it will retail for Rs 8,499. While the smartphone packs in plenty of upgrades and improvements (including 4G radios), is it good enough to take on new heavyweights of the budget segment like the Motorola Moto G3? Lets find out!
Build and Design: 7/10
The original Holly smartphone had a bare bones construction with plastic all over. The Honor Holly 2 Plus packs in a faux-metal frame (that is actually plastic) with plastic internals. While it is a minor upgrade and does not look all that impressive, this is a big jump for the Holly series in terms of design one that looks a little updated compared to the original.
On the front we have a very typical Huawei design that is minimal at best. You have the 5 inch HD (1280 x720 pixels) IPS LCD display with some thick bezels and the receiver centered on top, flanked by the ambient light and proximity sensor on the left while the 5MP front facing camera sits on the right.
Everything is well spaced out and we have a unique textured design, on the top and bottom bezels, that sits right below the protective glass.
On the rear side we have a similar-looking textured back, but this time you can feel the subtle texture when you hold the phone. The back is again very minimal and sports the Honor branding on top center with the 13MP camera sitting above it. Above the camera sits the secondary mic, while the single LED flash sits to its left.
Looking at the device from the front, we have a clean left side with no buttons or ports whatsoever.
On the right side we have the power/unlock button and the volume rocker.
The top of the device is again pretty clean with the 3.5mm headphone jack, while the bottom area of the frame sports the micro-USB charging port flanked by the dual speaker grilles.
Talking about the speaker grilles Huawei has oddly used the one on the left for the actual speaker while the one on the right is purely for aesthetics. But this minor move turned out to be a headache (more on this in the performance section) during our review.
Feature-wise, the Huawei Honor Holly 2 Plus packs in the good stuff; and those upgrading from the original Holly smartphone will find it to be a revelation. We get a 5-inch HD IPS LCD display that packs in a 1280x720 pixel array and translates into a sufficient 293ppi. Right behind it hides a tried and tested 1.3GHz MediaTek MT6735 chipset sporting a quad-core setup and a Mali T720 GPU.
The memory department has plenty of go as well. We get 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage that is expandable via a microSD card slot. While the front facing camera gets a 5MP unit, the primary camera on the back gets a 13MP unit with a single LED flash.
On the connectivity front, Huawei does not disappoint with the Honor Holly 2 Plus. We get 4G bands with a dual SIM setup, Wi-Fi 802.11, b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS and a micro USB port (with OTG) for charging and data transfers. Powering it all is 4000mAh battery and the handset boots to Android 5.1 Lollipop with EMUI 3.1 Lite, which is a watered-down version of the EMUI found in the Huawei's other mid-range to flagship segment.
Looking at the score that we have given it, it is easy to say that the display did not impress us. Beginning with screen that sits above the display, it was a complete disappointment. The glass did not have any sort of oleophobic coating, meaning that you would find yourself struggling to clean up the display almost every single time you pick up the smartphone. More importantly, wiping off those smudges was a task by itself as it was not easy to do the same. This resulted in a display that gets smudged so bad that it actually ends up hampering your ability to read or view content on it.
Next up is bad viewing angles which is a bit surprising for an IPS display. We aren't too sure about what Huawei has gone with, but the gap between the screen (that is often loaded with smudges) and display below it seems like a lot. This along with the reflective surface of the glass results in bad visibility when the phone is lying down on your desk.
However, holding the smartphone in your hand indoors, the brightness level seems fine. The HD display's pixel density was spot on and images looked sharp and crisp.
Text looked fine and showcased no jagged edges whatsoever. Watching movies and images was a good experience, but the fact that this is an IPS LCD display, strangely, left us a bit disappointed in the brightness department.
Indoors, the visibility was good, but the reflective screen along with the display's low brightness levels left us cringing to check images and read notifications in direct sunlight outdoors.
The Huawei Honor Holly 2 Plus boots to Android 5.1 Lollipop and comes with Huawei custom EMUI 3.1 skinning. While on most smartphones, skinning comes with plenty of bloat, our experience with EMUI 3.1 was a good one and we felt that it enhanced the hardware features to some extent as well.
To begin with EMUI 3.1 Lite is a light version of the actual EMUI 3.1 ROM. While lite often refers to reduced features on any other device, version 3.1 Lite chucks out all the snazzy stuff like the animated live wallpapers, the theme store and lot more. And Huawei has chiseled down and thrown out the stuff that would otherwise bog down the MediaTek MT6735 chipset that sits inside. The results are a silky smooth UI with no lag or broken transitions and just the basic stuff, which we felt is how EMUI 3.1 should be to begin with on other devices.
And with the custom skin, comes plenty of customisations. We have Magazine Unlock that will download and automatically update your lockscreen wallpapers depending on your categories that you have selected. As mentioned earlier, we don't get access to the themes store, so your selections when it comes to themes is pretty limited with just four options to choose from. However, you can mix and match the wallpapers and icons, lockscreen transitions and make some interesting combinations.
On the homescreen you have an iOS-like layout with no app drawer. The only additional apps that one can spot is the BackUp app to help you backup your app and personal data (and encrypt it), Phone Manager with plenty of handy additions to keep your smartphone shipshape and others like the Updater and HiCare with service center details.
Delving a bit deeper, there are plenty of fun bits in Huawei's EMUI. Like the ability to password protect your files with the built-in File Manager app, Motion control features like flip to mute and the ability to select a different set up for the navigation bar (or even hide it) that took the software experience up a notch when compared to stock Android offerings from competitors.
With a tried and tested MediaTek MT6735 chipset inside, we did not expect any issues with the Holly 2 Plus. The Lite version of EMUI 3.1 chugged along without any hicccups. The transitions were buttery smooth and overall we liked the way in which Huawei has optimised the software for the hardware.
While playing games, the smartphones did get a bit warm, but not hot enough for us to put it down. Thanks to the 1280x720 pixels display resolution, all of the games that we played worked smoothly and showed medium-level textures and graphics.
Call quality was quite good and we had no issues placing calls, with the caller on the other end being able to hear us clearly. The earpiece was also sufficiently loud. The audio experience on the headset was quite good, the phone delivers clear sound with sufficient bass while listening to music.
On the other hand, the loudspeaker of the Honor Holly 2 Plus was not too great. The speaker cracked at loud volumes and more annoying was the placement of the speaker.
Unlike most smartphones, the speaker inside the Holly resides under the left side grille when held in portrait. On the Play Store there are games that rotate to adjust the orientation of the smartphone and then there are others that do not. While playing Minigore 2, we realized that there was almost no sound coming from the speaker, because when held in the horizontal position we often ended up blocking it.
While we had no issues with performance of the Honor Holly 2 Plus, we did face some while putting the device through its paces in the benchmarking tests. When every other test ran fairly well, GFX bench did not allow us to run any high-level tests and the same can be said for PC mark that threw up an error with both the work performance and event the work battery life test.
The camera on the older Honor Holly was certainly nothing to talk about. The images produced by the 8MP sensor were average at best and the same can be said about the front-facing 2MP unit. With the Honor Holly 2 Plus, plenty has changed, for the good.
We get a 13MP unit with an f/2.0 aperture on the back with a single LED flash while the front-facing selfie shooter gets upgraded to a 5MP unit. For starters, both cameras produce some great images. The photographs produced show plenty of detail and colours appear to be well balanced even in harsh and brightly lit conditions.
While the hardware that Huawei has packed in is quick and responsive, the software once again steps in and takes the experience up a notch.
Holding the camera in portrait mode, we have the flash, swap camera and options buttons on the top, while the bottom showcases the previous photos, shutter and a filters option. While we did not fancy the filters, the Settings packed in plenty of software tweaks.
For example, using the Ultra Snapshot feature one can launch the camera and click a quick snapshot by simply double pressing the volume down button. Other tweaks allow users to manually adjust, the ISO, White Balance and other image adjustments like exposure, saturation, contrast and brightness from the camera settings.
Coming to the images, the Holly 2 Plus in complete auto mode produced some well-saturated and sharp images.
PS: Image samples have been resized here. To check the full resolution, please click on the images
The camera however struggled to focus on the object closest to the smartphone. This it did even when we were focussing in manual mode, and we ended up with a lot of test shots that focused on the object behind the subject we wanted.
Outdoor shooting was not a problem and colours we pretty accurate considering the price bracket that this smartphone retails at.
The HDR mode did a fine job, and produced well exposed images that balanced the highs and lows while not making the exposures look overly dramatic. We did notice over processing in the HDR images with over sharpening being the issue. There was also some purple fringing that we noticed in the HDR images.
Noise however was a bit of a problem in low light shots. The software handled the noise well, but this resulted in images with less details when zoomed into. Bottomline remains that the 13MP camera does a good job in daylight but produced average images in low light conditions.
Video recording on the Holly 2 Plus is limited to just 720p but the quality is strictly average and nothing to talk about. Also available in the video recording settings is a software stabiliser mode that helps improve shaky videos by cropping a bit of the frame.
Battery Life: 8.5/10
The Huawei Honor Holly 2 Plus certainly impressed us with its battery life. Using WhatsApp continuously, two email accounts on sync and an hour or more of 3D games, we were still left with some battery life to spare at the end of the day. Huawei really has you covered when it comes to battery life with the massive 4000mAh battery that is surprisingly packaged pretty well considering the smartphone's small footprint.
Again, we did face a few problems with our usual battery life benchmarking test, called PC Mark so we are unable to put out any results apart from the error message we got below.
Testing problems aside, the battery is so big you can even use the smartphone as a powerbank to charge another device. And while there is plenty of power from the big battery, once again we have the software coming to the rescue.
Jump into the phone's Setting and then into Battery and you will find a software tweak called 'Standby intelligent power saving'. Turn on the mode and the smartphone with heavy usage easily got through a day. Casual usage that includes taking photos pretty frequently did not see the battery indicator budge and lasted us a good two days. The trick that Huawei uses is similar to Sony's Stamina mode. It simply keeps all data services disconnected until you pick up the phone. Unlock your smartphone and you will see all the notifications starting to appear one by one.
We think this battery usage mode is pretty useful for those do not check their smartphone often as we missed out on notifications a couple of times.
Verdict and Pricing in India
At Rs 8,999 there are clearly no reasons to buy anything else in this price segment. Huawei has impressed us with a good combination of hardware and then added the right mix of software to help push the hardware to its limits. This is indeed a no compromises smartphone.
The only drawbacks so far include the placement of the speaker and the display, which was not bright enough for us but worked fairly well indoors.
Given its price tag, it is really hard to recommend anything else since the Huawei Honor Holly 2 Plus delivers so much for so little. The Motorola Moto G3 at Rs 9999 does not stand a chance (and even packs-in with lesser hardware) unless what a buyer is looking for is a cleaner stock Android experience with water resistance.
The one and only contender to the Honor Holly 2 Plus is the Coolpad Note 3 that is phablet with a 5.5 inch display and MT6753 processor along with a fingerprint reader. However we did like the software experience on the Huawei better and the same can be said about the camera, the 4000mAh batter and the slightly lower price tag. As for Huawei Holly users, the Honor Holly 2 Plus is definitely worth the upgrade!