I’ve been using Honor’s new flagship Honor 8 for a few weeks now, meaning it is finally time to put my thoughts into words, and hopefully help you decide if it’s worth the highest price tag ever applied to an Honor branded phone.

In case you’re not aware, the Honor 8 is effectively a rebadge of the Huawei P9 phone released in April this year. Whereas the P9 got a premium look through a lot of metal, the Honor 8 opts for glass. However, the multi-layered design gives it a unique look that looks stunning when tilted around to catch reflections from any light source.

The Sapphire Blue model is the phone I am reviewing, which Honor believes is the ‘hero’ phone. While you can also buy it in black or white (see my hands-on for photos and video of these) the blue is definitely ‘out there’ and has the highest appeal for anyone that wants something to stand out in a crowd.

A gold model is also available in some regions and may well make an appearance in the UK and Europe later in the year, or early next.

Honor 8 vs P9 – Key Differences

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Hardware wise, there are only very minor differences between the Honor 8 and the Huawei P9, and surprisingly, it’s not the Honor that comes out worse.

The Honor 8 has a slower clocked Kirin 950 chipset than the P9, but an extra gigabyte of RAM (the P9 has this as an option but not widely available in the UK). Yes, that’s correct – the cheaper Honor phone has more RAM, not the other way around.

Both models have 32GB of internal storage and both have a memory card slot that will gladly eat up cards up to 256GB in capacity (and beyond, as and when they become available). Now, the P9 also had a dual-SIM option in some markets, but not the UK.

Guess what, the Honor 8 has dual-SIM support on the UK model as standard. However, it comes as an either/or option because you’ll have to sacrifice the memory card if you wish to use a second SIM.

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(Note, the phone has a third-party screen protector fitted that is not supplied with the phone)

 

Both handsets have a dual-camera arrangement (two 12-megapixel Sony sensors), but the Honor 8 goes without the Leica branding that adorns the P9. Each has fast charging support, but only the Honor 8 comes with the faster 9 volt / 2 amp power adapter in the box.

Two unique additions to the Honor 8 are an infrared port, and an eye-protection mode (reduced blue light). The latter being a software feature makes it quite likely to appear on the P9 and other Huawei phones in future updates (it’s on the new Huawei nova phones, for example).

Finally, each phone has a fingerprint sensor, but the Honor 8 takes things a step further by making the sensor also double up as a physical button, with three different modes of operation – short, double and long press. Each can be set to trigger actions or apps, which in my case has been set for launching the camera, starting the audio recorder, and toggling the torch.

So, the P9 is the basically the more expensive phone (although given its time on the market you may be find it at a price similar to, or even lower than, the Honor 8) but it actually offers slightly less functionality overall.

If you prefer the look of the P9 (especially in the recently launched red and blue versions) then you by all means go for that instead, but the Honor 8 is anything but a cheap compromise.

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Honor 8 Huawei P9
Size 145.5x71x7.55mm 145×70.9x7mm
Weight 153g 144g
Screen size 5.2 inch 5.2 inch
Screen type LTPS IPS-NEO
Screen resolution 1080×1920 1080×1920
Android version 6.0.1 6.0.1
Speaker Mono (base) Mono (base)
EMUI 4.1 4.1
CPU Kirin 950 – 4 x 2.3GHz Cortex-A72 + 4 x 1.8GHz Cortex A53 Kirin 955 – 4 x 2.5GHz Cortex-A72 + 4 x 1.8GHz Cortex A53
GPU Mali-T880 MP4 Mali-T880 MP4
RAM 4GB LPDDR4 3GB LPDDR3
Internal Storage 32GB 32GB
Memory Card slot Yes (up to 256GB) Yes (up to 256GB)
Rear Camera Dual 12MP IMX286 (RGB & Mono) f/2.2, Laser AF Dual 12MP IMX286 (RGB & Mono) f/2.2, Laser AF
Front Camera 8MP f/2.4 8MP f/2.4
LTE/4G Max Speed LTE Cat 6 (300/50) LTE Cat 6 (300/50)
Dual SIM Yes (nano+nano or nano+microSDXC) Optional (UK single SIM only)
USB type USB-C USB-C
Battery 3,000mAh 3,000mAh
Connectivity Dual-band Wi-Fi, BT 4.2 Dual-band Wi-Fi, BT 4.2
Infrared Yes No
Smart Key Yes No
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Fast charging Yes (PSU in box) Yes (PSU extra)
NFC Yes Yes

Design

The Honor 8 is undoubtedly the best looking phone Honor has ever produced, with a glass back constructed from 15 individual layers, and strong glass at the front to protect the 5.2-inch full-HD LTPS display. A display that through the design almost looks as if it wraps around the edges like a Samsung phone.

This does make the phone into a complete fingerprint magnet, but that’s par for the course on such designs. Fortunately, there are a range of accessories that will not only protect the rear glass from bumps or scrapes, but still allow you (and others) to enjoy looking at the back in all its glory.

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It’s also nice that the cameras don’t protrude from the back, even though the phone remains very slim at just 7.5mm thick, and weighing only 153g despite housing a decent sized 3,000mAh battery.

Camera

Between getting the Honor 8 and posting my review, Apple has laid its cards out on the table with the iPhone 7 Plus, featuring a dual-camera design of its own. While each sensor is 12MP, like the Honor 8, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Apple has opted to use the two cameras to offer a choice between wide-angle and telephoto modes, with a digital zoom being used to spread from 1x to 10x. It’s an interesting idea, but the Honor (and Huawei) setup is about two individual sensors working together (so no zoom options), with one colour image sensor and one black and white sensor working together, significantly improving low-light photography, exposure and contrast.

The P9 has a dedicated monochrome mode that can be used to take rather incredible photos in near darkness, but on the Honor 8 this is hidden away as one of many filters.

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The Honor also lacks the P9’s choice of three colour profiles that give each image a unique style, from my preferred ‘smooth colours’ mode, to normal and vivid. It’s the one thing I miss by switching from the P9, but certainly not a deal breaker (and if you never used a P9, you wouldn’t miss the feature at all).

You do still get the same manual controls, for stills and video, and a variety of other great modes that are too big to list, so you can see them in the screenshots below instead.

Night shot requires a stationary phone to take exceptional photos in near darkness, taking a an exposure of up to 20 seconds or more, while the document scan feature will take a photo of a page (or projected slide image) and straighten it up automatically by establishing where the edges are and working out the perspective. Both are great features, but easily lost in a sea of camera modes that need experimenting with.

Huawei also loves its light painting and beauty modes, so it’s no surprise to see them as part of the selection.

The Honor 8 also has extensive editing facilities for photos, and simple video editing options, and can also take ‘rolling’ screen shots of long web pages with ease – all saved as one long and tall image.

The resulting images from the Honor 8 (and P9/P9 Plus) don’t stand up to scrutiny as well as, say, a Galaxy S7 or Nexus 6P when you zoom in at 100%, but they never disappoint. The multiple modes, including the all-focus aperture controls, the numerous filters and everything else makes the phone camera a joy to use.

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While fast movement in less than perfect light can result in blurring unless you enable the manual controls to adjust the shutter speed accordingly, for the most part it’s pretty impossible to get a bad shot thanks to laser autofocus and a hybrid phase detection system in software.

The camera lacks optical image stabilisation, but it rarely – if ever – presents itself as an issue in usage. If you can get a better photo in a quicker time, OIS almost becomes redundant.

Another great feature includes adjusting focus and light exposure independently by holding down on the viewfinder window where you want to focus, and then dragging a second dot to a light or dark area. You can also adjust the exposure with a drag up and down. It’s very simple and extremely effective at making sure you get the exact result you want.

It soon becomes a pleasure to take photos, and things are further aided by the smart key that lets you configure things to fire up the camera with a simple press. Taking a photo can then be performed in a number of ways, from pressing the fingerprint sensor, a volume key, or keeping it old-school with the on-screen shutter.

Without a doubt, the camera is one of the key assets on the Honor 8 and it’s up there with the top performers, punching way above its weight in price terms.

Video recording is more average, with no Ultra-HD support, but you do get 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second.

For selfie-fans, there’s an 8-megapixel f/2.4 camera at the front, and a range of beauty options that will use various filtering to improve your looks.

Camera Samples

 

Audio

Alongside a crisp, bright and almost AMOLED looking display, comes the need for good sound. This is where things fall down slightly, as Huawei has still to embrace front-facing speakers on most of its phones. The P9 Plus has this, along with the Huawei-built Nexus 6P, but for most other models the order of the day is a down-facing, mono, speaker.

It’s loud and quite punchy, making it perfect for speakerphone calls, blasting out alarms that will wake you from another room, or listening to music when positioned on a table, but it is never going to make watching a movie on the phone (something that the 5.2-inch display actively encourages you to do) as pleasurable as it could be.

But at least there’s still a 3.5mm headphone port!

Performance

This is where things get interesting. The Honor 8 uses a slightly lower-spec chipset to the flagship Huawei P9, but in a series of tests the Honor came out on top!

The P9 has 3GB of RAM and a Kirin 955 SoC (4 x 2.5GHz Cortex A72 cores and 4 x 1.8GHz Cortex A53 cores). The Honor 8 has a slower Kirin 950 (4 x 2.3GHz Cortex A72 cores and 4 x 1.8GHz Cortex A53 cores) but has 4GB of RAM.

It’s the extra RAM that might be giving the Honor the edge, or possibly the phone design allowing the Honor 8 to keep its cool for longer, which will always have a huge impact on performance under load.

I can’t say that my P9 ever really gets hot to the touch, but the Honor 8 almost never gets warm. This means benchmark results that show just how well the phone sits in the market.

So with the faster chipset pretty much the only ‘edge’ over the Honor 8, reality paints a totally different picture.

Naturally, you could perform these tests numerous times and fluctuations could show occasions where the differences are more slight, or even swing the other way, but ultimately it just means the phones are so similar that the difference in chipset becomes irrelevant.

Both are fast, but Huawei definitely needs to work on the GPU side. It’s in this area that impacts the overall scores, and prevents the phones getting into the top ten, which would then take them into true high-end territory.

But, not everyone is going to be playing graphically intensive games often. For all other tasks these phones are still exceptional performers. Most of the other phones with similar scores come with much higher price tags.

honor8-handset-14

Emotion UI

screenshot_2016-09-15-11-03-44.pngRather than fit this in the good or bad section below, I felt it fairer to talk about Huawei’s Emotion UI in a separate section. Some will EMUI it as a good thing, while others will hate it with a passion. It’s the one aspect that divides opinion greatly, and possibly why some people still feel uneasy about investing in a Huawei, or Honor, phone.

There are ongoing rumours that the next incarnation of Emotion UI will be scaled back to look more like vanilla Android instead of the current hybrid look of Android and iOS, but for now the best solution is to throw on a third-party launcher if you don’t like the loss of an app drawer.

It’s an incredibly easy process, but anyone seeing one of these phones in a high-street store may not realise this. I have no doubt EMUI costs sales from people put off, but if you’re reading this view – don’t be. Download Nova Launcher, or even the standard Google Now launcher, and you’ll be just fine.

When it comes to the quick shortcuts and Huawei’s own apps, like battery and power management, I love the level of control that you have over the operation of the phone.

It can be daunting at first to set things up, and if you get it wrong (like having everything shut down when the screen goes off) you may wonder where all your notifications have gone, but find the right balance and you’ll benefit from significantly improved battery life.

Honor claims the Honor 8 is an all-day phone, and I can vouch for that. I still carry a portable power bank for peace of mind, but it’s a phone that can last a full day unless used extensively. So to is the P9, for what it’s worth.

The Honor 8 ships with EMUI 4.1, but with a promise of an update to Android Nougat soon, it will be interesting to see what the rumoured EMUI 5.0 brings to the table.

  • Some of you might notice the above images look slightly different than standard, as the phone has a different theme enabled (with custom icons and colours). Themes are free and part of Emotion UI, and you can download the above VUi theme for the Honor 8 (and other Huawei phones) yourself.

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Phone Performance

What about the Honor 8 as, you know, an actual phone? Well, besides support HD voice and its own voice enhancement function, a key feature of recent Huawei/Honor phones has been the dual antenna arrangement, as well as enhanced Wi-Fi performance.

The phone will monitor the connection to both Wi-Fi and mobile data and swap automatically between the two (if you want it to, as it could result in increased mobile data usage). The phone also supports dual-band Wi-Fi, including 802.11ac at speeds of up to 433Mbps.

Back to the phone side, and there’s LTE Cat 6 (300/50Mbps) support, as well as support for DC-HSPA on 3G. The dual-SIM features one slot designated as 3G/4G and the second relegated to 2G operation only. Bear this in mind if you’re on Three, as switching the 4G access to a second SIM will mean losing signal entirely on Three (no 2G service to use).

The Honor 8 supports all bands currently used in the UK for 4G, including 800, 900, 1800, 2100 and 2600MHz. Networks like Vodafone are now reusing a lot of 3G spectrum for 4G at 2100MHz.

It is important to note that currently Three does not offer access to its 800MHz network (marketed as 4G Super Voice) as there’s no support for VoLTE. While the handset is capable for future use, there’s no support for VoLTE on Three, Vodafone, EE or anyone else as it stands today.

Nor does Three’s inTouch app allow voice over 4G yet (and apparently may never do so as Three states it doesn’t offer 4G calling via the app on dual-SIM phones).

honor8-handset-8

Summing Up

There’s very little bad to say about the Honor 8, but plenty of good. It’s far more than just a good value offering. The design of the phone itself could swing customers away from the more expensive phones on looks alone.

I have had no qualms in making this my new daily driver, and the phone is regularly complimented on not looking just like any other phone.

If iOS users now have the option to stand out in a crowd with the jet black iPhone 7, Android users have the sapphire blue Honor 8 to do just the same.

It’s a little disappointing that you need to choose between a second SIM or memory card, and that the phone doesn’t support adopted storage (the new Android feature that lets you combine internal and external storage into one combined location), but you can choose to install apps on the SD card, as well as using it for photos, videos and music.

For most people neither of these things will be a problem. 32GB is a reasonable amount of storage, especially when Google Photos will back up your photos and video for free and quickly free up space once completed. With fast connectivity options, a lot of other media consumption will be streamed on demand too.

As time goes on, and connectivity improves indoors and outdoors, storage will become less of an issue for most users.

honor8-handset-5

The only real elephant in the room is the price. At a price of £370, it feels like a phone that is no longer in keeping with Honor’s target audience. However, in context, high end phones like the Galaxy S7 edge (and Note 7 when it eventually goes back on sale), or the iPhone 7 plus (a closer competitor than the ordinary iPhone 7 in my view) will set you back around twice as much.

As long as Honor follows through with its committment to support the Honor 8 with updates, starting with Android Nougat later this year (even in beta form, which you can get involved with by using the HiCare app for early access to new updates), the phone should be a safe investment that can stay with you for some time. A useful consideration if you’re buying this on a two-year contract.

Honor is renowned for doing promotions via its own vMall store, so there’s every chance that you’ll be able to save money by waiting for one of these to take place.

And, unlike many other cheap phones from China now flooding the market, Honor has released a range of accessories for the phone which are available to buy right away. You can see some of the official and unofficial accessories here and here. Soon I will also have the windowed flip-cover to try out properly.

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Verdict

The Huawei P9 is a fantastic phone, but Honor has made it better in multiple ways. It’s by far the better choice, even if you can find a P9 at a better price on account of its age.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still recommend the P9, but now it comes down to personal taste more than anything else. You might not care for an infrared port, for example, but in terms of overall value and functionality, the Honor wins comfortably.

At £370 it’s not as easy to simply buy almost on impulse, as is now possible in a market flooded with phones in the £100-200 price range. These include Honor devices like the 5X and 5C (and even last year’s flagship Honor 7 almost).

But if you’re looking for high-end performance but can’t quite justify shelling out £700 or more on a phone SIM-free, or landing yourself on an expensive contract for two years, the Honor 8 suddenly doesn’t seem like such an expensive choice.

honor8-handset-9

The Good

  • Amazing camera experience
  • Unique, premium, handset design, front and back
  • High performance that punches above its weight
  • Clever combined Fingerprint/Smart Key button
  • Almost AMOLED like display, with great contrast and brightness
  • Strong battery life with an array of power management options
  • Promise of timely updates (including Android 7) via the HiCare and Update apps
  • Access to Honor forum to speak amongts ‘fan’ community and Honor staff

The Bad

  • Hybrid SIM/memory card slot – must choose memory card OR second SIM
  • Camera app misses some features from Huawei P9 (colour profiles, RAW support*)
  • Surprisingly high price for a brand known for affordable smartphones
  • Rear glass a total fingerprint magnet
  • Base speaker is loud but poorly positioned
  • No Ultra-HD video recording

* The phone does still support RAW via third-party camera apps

Looking to buy?

 

Got an Honor 8 yourself?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and please join the open Honor 8 Google Photos gallery to contribute your own photos and videos. In the future, I’ll pick out some exceptional photos to feature on this site.

 

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Written by Jonathan Morris

Writing about technology, with a focus on mobile, since the early 1990s! Former editor of What Mobile magazine, writer for The Telegraph, Stuff, Know Your Mobile, Pocket Gamer, Smart TV Radar and more. Regular Tweeter, occasional YouTuber, keen amateur photographer and forum moderator. If you like what I write, please consider deactivating your ad blocker or making a donation via PayPal to help fund this site.

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