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Hands on: Huawei Honor 8

Samsung-baiting Honor 8, with its dual camera, goes on sale in the U.K.

Huawei’s Honor 8 takes aim at the OnePlus 3 to compete for the flagship killer crown.

Chinese brand Huawei’s phones occupy all corners of the pricing spectrum. On the one end, there’s the cutting-edge, top-of-the-line, $700 P9 with Leica-certified lenses and on the opposite is the $180 Honor 5X, which eschews all those bells and whistles in favor of bargain basement pricing. And somewhere in the middle is the Huawei’s $400 Honor 8.

It’s the newest addition to the company’s Honor sub-brand, which maintains a careful balancing act: delivering a few, but not all, of its pricier counterparts’ features at a palatable price point. It launched in China in early July and then in the U.S. on August 17 for $400. At the end of August, the Honor 8 went on sale in the U.K. for 370 British pounds, through the online Vmall store.

Related: The wait is over, the dual-lens, big-screen Leica-tuned Huawei P9 Plus is yours to buy

Huawei has some stiff competition in the flaghship killer space, though. It has to contend with the $400 ZTE Axon 7 and the $400 OnePlus 3, which are both stellar devices — but Huawei brought its A-game. We go hands on.

A comfortable fit and finish

The Honor 8 is a thin (7.5 mm) sandwich of a smartphone formed by two curved, 2.5D glass panels adhered to either side of a single aluminum frame. Huawei matched the hue of the phone’s frame with the color of the glass, and, thanks to an intentional quirk of manufacturing, imbued a refractive glimmer in the rear glass panel. It produces intricate patterns as it catches the light — the company said no two handsets produce the same pattern.

The sloping glass makes for a comfortable feel, fit, and finish, and the Honor 8 feels surprising substantial at 185 g grams. It’s solid, but balanced and it strikes a fine contrast with the feather-light mid-range phones made of plastic. That said, the Honor 8’s design is otherwise unremarkable. Depending on your point of view, it’s the epitome of understated elegance or bland and boring.

The Honor 8’s appearance may be subtle, but its hardware is anything but.

The front of the phone is a nondescript slab of glass: up top, cutouts for a front-facing camera, LED flash, and earpiece, and on the bottom, an etched “Huawei” logo. Things are a bit more visually interesting around back. The rear-facing camera module, iris scanner, and dual-LED flash are recessed as avoid encroaching on rear panel’s light show of reflections. Even the fingerprint sensor is minimalistic. It’s encircled by a thin strip of metal that almost blends into the glass background.

If the phone’s front and rear might rightly be accused of blandness, the sides recall Apple’s iPhone: they’re curved bulbously, “diamond cut” along the edges and partitioned by plastic antenna housing. But derivative as they may be, the curves compliment the glass’s symmetry and, perhaps more importantly, feel soft and natural against the palm. On the right is a sturdy volume rocker and power button. On the left side, you get a combination dual SIM tray/MicroSD Card slot. And on top, there’s a noise-canceling microphone. The bottom edge hosts a 3.5mm headphone jack, single speaker, and USB Type-C port.

Impressive hardware at a bargain price

The Honor 8’s appearance may be subtle, but its hardware is anything but. Huawei’s mid-range monster packs an octa-core Kirin 950 processor with four powerful, 2.3 GHz Cortex-A72 chips under the hood complemented by four low-power, 1.8 GHz Cortex A53 co-processors for lighter tasks — and 4GB of RAM. That silicon is paired with a 5.2-inch 1,920 x 1,080-pixel IPS LCD screen. The Honor 8 boasts 64GB of internal storage, a Micro SD slot, and a “3D” fingerprint sensor that supports what Huawei calls “Smart Key” gestures. Tapping twice in quick succession launches the camera app, for instance, and tapping once while viewing a photo gallery allows you to progress to the next photo.

huawei honor 8 hands on
Kyle Wiggers

Perhaps the highlights of the Honor 8’s hardware, though, are the cameras. The front-facing cam is an 8-megapixel, f/2.2 aperture shooter, and the rear module is a carryover from Huawei’s P9. It’s a dual-sensor, 12-megapixel camera with an f/2.2 aperture and 1.25 µm pixel size  that’s capable of impressive feats. By combining the color data from the module’s RGB sensor and the brightness data from a secondary, monochrome sensor, Huawei said the Honor 8, like the P9, is able to capture superior detail in low light. The monochrome can be used independently, too, to snap black-and-white pics.

And there’s more: the Honor 8 sports Huawei’s Hybrid Focus, or an intelligent focus feature which uses laser depth data and phase detection to focus on subjects, and a wide-aperture mode that lets you create bokeh and depth-of-field effects. If this camera performs as well as the P9’s it will be a force to be reckoned with.

If the Honor 8’s camera performs as well as the P9’s it will be a force to be reckoned with.

The Honor 8, as you might expect, isn’t lacking in connectivity, either. It boasts support for dual-band Wi-Fi, LTE, and Bluetooth 4.2 Low Energy. It’s also got the typical accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, and compass.

Keeping all those internals humming along is a 3,000mAh Lithium-Polymer battery that lasts “more than a day,” Huawei said. The company claims it will get about 20 hours of continuous music or 11 hours of video. It supports fast charging that should, in theory, bring a dead battery up to about 50 percent capacity in 30 minutes, though we have yet to put that claim to the test.

We weren’t given the chance to run the Honor 8’s software through its paces, unfortunately, but were told that it runs Huawei’s Emotion User Interface atop Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Despite the customization, Huawei said the Honor 8 will receive regular patches that’ll correspond with Google’s monthly Android security updates.

Warranty information

As for the warranty, Huawei, like HTC and Motorola before it, is offering a grace period for new purchasers: If you accidentally drop your phone and crack the screen, Huawei will repair it or provide a replacement. It’s a benefit on top of a one-year manufacture warranty, Huawei said, and available to all U.S. buyers of the Honor 8.

Related: Forget phablets, Huawei’s upcoming phone might as well be a small tablet

Huawei’s limited warranty otherwise covers material defects resulting from a manufacturing issue. It doesn’t extend to accidental damage like bumps, scratches, or exposure to moisture. Repairs are free but don’t include shipping, and the claim period lasts 12 months from the date of purchase.

Conclusion

All in all, it’s a compelling package. Huawei has seemingly managed to cram almost every component of the P9 — a phone which retails well above $400 — into a handset that doesn’t feel like a compromise. It’s a supply chain miracle and deserving of high praise.

Huawei’s Honor 8 has some high-end features that set it apart from the crowd, the best of which is the same dual-lens camera that can be found on the flagship Huawei P9. It’s more or less on par with the OnePlus 3 spec-wise, except when it comes to RAM and processing power. The OnePlus 3 packs the reliable Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip and 6GB of RAM compared to the Honor 8’s less well-known Kirin chipset and 4GB. We’ll need to test and compare the two to determine whether the extra RAM and Qualcomm chip make too much of a difference, though.

If you consider the Honor 8 a slimmed-down edition of Huawei’s top-end P9, it’s a heck of a deal – just a few months ago, the P9 debuted for almost twice the price. It bears further testing, but the Honor has promise as a flagship killer.

The Honor 8 will be available starting on August 17 at Newegg, Best Buy, B&H Photo Video, and HiHonor.com. The 32GB model costs $400, and the 64GB is a bit extra at $450. It comes in three configurations: white, black, and blue. Best Buy will get exclusive dibs on the blue edition for the first 60 days. As a little bonus, Huawei’s throwing in a $50 gift card with pre-orders place before September 3. Stay tuned for our full review.

Highs

  • Gorgeous, premium design
  • Same dual-camera tech as the Huawei P9
  • Strong processing power
  • Expandable storage with MicroSD card

Lows

  • Glass catches fingerprints
  • Not Stock Android

Article originally published on 08-26-2016. Updated on 08-25-2016 by Andy Boxall: Added in news of the Honor 8’s U.K. release.