Attending Honor’s big event this week in London, I couldn’t help shake the feeling that despite their claims about innovation, and a few software tweaks aside, all they really did was copy what has already been done and make it cheaper to end users. From the 2:1 display – understandable – to a new, upcoming front camera projector and ID system, teased for 2018, that’s set to be a carbon copy of what the iPhone X does – complete with Animoji. However, like most of us, I’m all for making things cheaper, and I loved last year’s Honor 6X – really decent specs and capabilities in a premium-feeling phone that cost around £220 or so. Amazing. Can the 7X live up to the same billing?
The Honor 7X is an improvement overall, justifying the price hike to £270 (at RRP in the UK right now) with 2:1 1080p 5.9” LCD display that’s bright and colourful. It’s thinner and sleeker, partly because the very decent dual camera is now repositioned, up top on the back and because the (welcome) headphone jack is down the bottom, opposite the mono and a rather average speaker.
The display really is the key thing to note here, it’s the major change for the ‘7’ series and it’s exactly as it sounds. ‘Max your view’ was Honor’s slogan all around the event and you can certainly fit more content on the extra long screen, with a system update in the last 24 hours adding compatibility for zooming 16:9 video content to 2:1, for example in YouTube.
It’s of good brightness and clarity and is oleophobic too – the edges even curve away slightly, Samsung-style, though not as drastically.
The dual camera (here 16MP f/2.2 and 2MP) is something that Huawei (and Honor) has mastered, at least if you’re a fan of shallow depth of field effects. There’s a ‘Portrait’ mode, as on the iPhone and countless copies, but the core feature is still the ‘Wide aperture effects’ mode, letting you adjust both focus point in the scene and depth of field after the fact, i.e. later, playing with a single ‘photo’ to create something genuinely stunning and arty. Of course, it’s ultimately a software effect, based on image data from the main lens and depth data from the lower resolution sensor, but it’s both fun and useful.
Away from the effects, images are very good in most light conditions, see the samples here, with comments. The lack of OIS means that results in very low light are poor, but that’s to be expected at this price point.
Video capture maxes out at 1080p, which is OK but misses any stabilisation, which isn’t. As I’ll mention below, the 7X is aimed at millennials (cue shots of people skateboarding, skiing, hiking, “For The Brave”, etc.), and putting digital stabilisation in for video capture would seem utterly essential. Yet it’s absent and I can only hope that it gets added in an OS update soon. In the meantime, those skateboard, skiing and hiking sequences will be wobble-tastic.
So far so good then. Android 7 out of the box (with a promise of Oreo early next year), but that’s OK at this price point. Dual SIM or single SIM and microSD, as usual, with 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM, plus the latest Kirin 659 chipset.
Although there’s no waterproofing, you do get what Honor is calling ‘air bag‘ technology – as far as I can tell, compressible air spaces inside the corners to absorb corner impacts (rather than packing componentry there).
So why do I find myself hesitating in recommending the Honor 7X? For two reasons – and they’re so (on the face of it) stupid that I called Honor out when quizzing both the Global President and the 7X product manager at the launch event.
For starters, this is the end of 2017 and for anything over £200 we live in a USB Type C world. It’s ubiquitous now. Yet Honor has cheaped out and gone with an old microUSB data and charging port. Honor’s argument is that it doesn’t make a difference to the target market – millennials – and is much cheaper to put in. Hmm… maybe £5 per handset cheaper, at most, but the inclusion of Type C would have made the handset £30 more desirable in my (admittedly geek/connoisseur) view. And, in a year’s time, at the end of 2018, when (literally) everything else is Type C, the Honor 7X owner is going to feel pretty cheesed off.
Secondly, and perhaps more critically, there’s no NFC. So what? I hear you ask. NFC is trivial to include – and was in last year’s Honor 6x, at least in the UK – and is what enables Android Pay. So let’s get this straight – Honor is aiming this phone at the young and tech savvy, the very people who are growing up in a world where paying for things using phones and smartwatches is normal. And then these same people will come to a screeching halt when they try installing and using Android Pay on the Honor 7X. Cue lots of angry users.
NFC costs, I estimate, less than a dollar to build into a phone. Not having it on an upwardly-mobile mid ranger like this is indeed… stupid.
Interface and apps
EMUI 5 is familiar from other Huawei and Honor phones – it’s capable enough, but is quite aggressive with how it manages the day to day experience, for example closing applications when the screen locks. The goal is better battery life and the 7X does achieve this, easily getting through a long day on its 3340mAh battery, though power users will want to make sure that their core apps are kept running by whitelisting them deep in EMUI’s settings.
There’s no ambient display or always on display at this price, but there is a notification LED, so better than nothing. Not all applications are supported here though, for example Gmail, so don’t assume that every app can tie new events into the LED.
There’s some bloat – mainly trial games – and plenty of duplication with Android standard apps from Google, Calendar vs Google Calendar, Email vs Gmail, Gallery vs Google Photos, and so on. We’ve seen this before, though it’s not a huge issue for most people.
Google Assistant is baked in, happily, so a long press on the virtual home control or simply saying ‘OK Google’ (when the screen is lit, at least) gets you into a full voice interface that generally works well.
EMUI 5 comes in for a fair amount of stick in reviews, but I could live with it – it’s just that I’d need a good hour of set-up time to customise everything to my liking. (New users will have to live with all the defaults – they’re sensible for novices but are ultimately wrong for anyone who knows what they’re doing!)
There’s a Themes engine (and app) but this doesn’t extend to system dialogs and settings panes, so a lot of the UI remains resolutely dark (notifications pane) or resolutely light (Settings) and there’s no way to change these. Still, with a LCD display the colour is not as critical to battery life as on AMOLED-screened phones…
If this is for a teenage son or daughter – or even a parent – who doesn’t intend to use Android Pay then the 7X is a good smartphone with a great display, excellent camera, and terrific performance, especially if you can get it at a good offer price on the likes of hihonor.com
But it’s ultimately too short-sighted of Honor. I wasn’t expecting OIS on the cameras or waterproofing or AMOLED at this mid-range price. But missing both NFC and USB Type C are characteristics of a sub £150 starter phone, not of something launched to much glitz at a price point higher than many existing phones which do have these two aspects (the Wileyfox Swift 2 at £159 springs to mind here in the UK). So you’d have to really want that 2:1 display for the 7X to be in the purchasing frame.