Huawei Honor 8 Pro review

Honor’s found the recipe for success with the 8 Pro

Honor has found a winner with the 8 Pro, delivering a high-performing phone at exactly the right price.
Honor has found a winner with the 8 Pro, delivering a high-performing phone at exactly the right price.
Honor has found a winner with the 8 Pro, delivering a high-performing phone at exactly the right price.

Highs

  • Excellent bokeh mode on dual-lens camera
  • Big, high-resolution screen
  • Great software experience
  • Long battery life
  • Good price

Lows

  • Not the most exciting design
  • Camera results are middling
  • VR-headset-box is a gimmick

The Honor 6X is a phone we should talk about more. It’s good looking, has a good camera, and doesn’t cost much at $250. It embodies what Honor, a brand that shares technology with Huawei, does best. But what happens when Honor goes all-out and creates a phone with high-end specifications, ready to take on Huawei Mate 9, and other big-screen phones like the LG G6, and Samsung’s new Galaxy S8?

The Honor 8 Pro — technically adept, while still reasonably priced. It does almost everything well, though the phone’s camera is a little lackluster compared to competitors, and it’s not eye-catching like the Galaxy S8.

We’ve spent a week with it, and this is what we found.

Uninspired design

While immediate comparisons will be drawn with the iPhone 7 Plus, the Honor 8 Pro is closer to the new Huawei P10 Plus in design, right down to the placement of the buttons and the microphone, to the shape and curvature of the body. Meet them going down the street, and you’d think they were twins.

The body is made from aluminum, which has a very pleasant soft textured touch to it, and the large 5.7-inch screen is covered by a 2.5D curved Gorilla Glass 3. The fingerprint sensor is on the back — its main deviation from the Huawei P10 Plus — because it uses on-screen Android navigation buttons. It’s comfortable to hold, but it’s slippery. The rear also attracts nasty smudges if your hands are anything other than squeaky clean.

This is a large phone. It’s essentially the same overall size as the iPhone 7 Plus, and comes close to matching the Mate 9. It’s almost impossible to stretch your thumb across the display, so you’ll regularly use two hands, or resort to Honor’s software and fingerprint sensor tricks to make the phone usable with one hand. But the phone’s size doesn’t affect its placement of the rear fingerprint sensor — unlike the Galaxy S8 Plus. The Honor 8 Pro rarely required me to shift my finger around to reach the sensor immediately. What helps is how the phone is unbelievably thin at less than 7mm.

The phone is unbelievably thin at less than 7mm.

While the Pro will come in black or gold, we love the blue variant. It’s great to see a colorful alternative to the usual black, white, and golds we usually get to choose from. It’s not “dazzling,” like the blue Huawei uses on the P10, but is considerably more matte and extends all over the phone, so you don’t have a white or a black bezel around the screen.

The Honor 8 Pro isn’t a heart-pounding beauty, but it offers strong build quality, premium materials, and if you choose the blue, it nicely separates itself from other more generic smartphones.

Slick interface, too many pre-installed apps

The Honor 8 Pro isn’t exciting to look at, but the same can’t be said for its software experience. It runs  Android 7.0 Nougat with the EMUI 5.1 user interface on top, which will be familiar to anyone who has used, or followed our coverage of, the Huawei Mate 9 and P10.

What was once a messy, often unpleasant piece of software, has become a coherent, slick, and attractive user interface over Android. Yes, some people will prefer regular Android, and for them, phones like the Pixel or Moto G5 exist. Everyone else — those who buy Samsung, LG, HTC, or any other Android phone — will have no problem with EMUI 5.1. There’s even an option to add an app drawer, if spreading app icons across multiple home screens isn’t your thing.

Honor’s software brings a few extra features with it, including Knuckle Sense, where using a knuckle rather than a finger to draw shapes on the screen activates certain features. These include taking screenshots, or opening the music app. Honor also has a few ways to make the large phone easier to use with one hand. Minimizing Android to one corner is activated with a swipe across the menu, back, and home buttons, for example. The fingerprint sensor also has multiple uses — a swipe down drops the notification shade, and a left or right swipe in the gallery scrolls through your pictures.

There are too many pre-installed apps — Tripadvisor, Opera, booking.com, Asphalt Nitro, Huawei’s Vmall to name just a few — and SwiftKey is the default keyboard, which I find frustrating to use. Thankfully, the third-party apps can be uninstalled, and Gboard can be used instead of SwiftKey if you prefer.

Great performance, two-day battery

Considering the Honor 8 Pro is internally very similar to the Mate 9 and P10, both of which are solid, reliable phones, it’s no surprise to find it’s just as competent.

We played a variety of games, and all ran without a problem. We did find the phone got quite warm to the touch. Never too hot, but you certainly know when the octa-core Kirin 960 processor is working hard. It’s the same chip found in the Huawei Mate 9 and P10, but in the Honor phone it’s backed up by 6GB of RAM, rather than 4GB. There’s 64GB of internal storage space, and a MicroSD card will fit in the tray alongside the SIM.

Putting the Honor 8 Pro through the AnTuTu 3D benchmark test returned a 143,237 score, slightly higher than the number achieved by the Mate 9 and the P10. Gaming performance using SlingShot Extreme on 3DMark returned a 1943 score, lower than the Mate 9 and the OnePlus 3T. Don’t read too much into these results though.

Inside the Honor 8 Pro is an almost unfeasibly massive battery for such a slim phone — 4,000mAh. We only had the phone for a week, but during that time a recharge was needed every two days, and that’s with comprehensive use. We got the similar results from the Huawei Mate 9, but we’re disappointed that Huawei’s effective SuperCharge fast-charging system is missing on the Honor 8 Pro. Recharging stretched beyond 90 minutes and towards 120 minutes.

Fun bokeh effects

Any modern smartphone, flagship or not, needs a respectable camera. The big trend at the moment is for dual-lens cameras, and the Honor 8 Pro jumps aboard with a pair of 12-megapixel sensors. One shoots in color and the other in monochrome, and used together the phone can create a cool blurred background bokeh effect. This can be manipulated in the gallery after you take the shot.

If that sounds similar to the P10 Plus and Mate 9, then it should, but there are one or two key differences — Leica isn’t involved with the Honor phone, the aperture is smaller at f/2.2, and it doesn’t have the excellent Portrait mode introduced on the P10. The results are middling. In the right environment, the camera takes good pictures, but it tends to overexpose, and overcast skies get washed out. Colors don’t always pop the way we expected either.

It’s the same story in monochrome mode, and no amount of forcing the camera to adjust the aperture produced pictures we really adored. It’s close, and all the pictures were filled with detail; but we’d regularly turn to editing the images to get them just right — something many people won’t want to do. Low-light suffered too, especially without optical image stabilization.

The bokeh mode, or wide aperture as it’s called here, saves the day and is way more successful. It’s effortless to take the shot — just activate the mode with a single button — and it’s just as easy to change the focal point afterwards. The effect looks amazing, and generates something we always look for in cameras: creative inspiration. Once you get the hang of what looks good, you’ll be looking for opportunities to use the wide aperture mode more.

The camera app is intuitive, and easy to use. Swipe to the left or right to access menus, which have large, clearly labeled icons to guide you through the different modes. There’s a pro manual mode for stills and video — which can shoot up to 4K resolution — and modes for HDR, taking pictures at night, and shooting videos in slow motion. Swap to the front camera and you’ll take 8-megapixel selfies, and get to use the subtle beauty mode. Results are satisfactory, and improved when you play around with the solid image editing tools.

The small aperture lets the Honor 8 Pro’s camera down, which is unfortunate when elsewhere, it’s a strong performer producing pictures we want to share.

Vibrant screen, gimmicky VR

The 5.7-inch LCD screen has a 2,560 x 1,440 pixel resolution, and it looks superb. It’s bright, colorful, and the details are pin sharp. But because it’s not an AMOLED panel, Google won’t certify the Honor 8 Pro for Daydream VR use. Not to worry, because the box that packs the Honor 8 Pro’s box actually turns into a VR viewer! Is it good? No, not really.

The Honor 8 Pro is hard to beat for the price.

The Honor 8 Pro comes with Jaunt VR’s app, which has some great content, and the viewer is pretty similar to other Google Cardboard viewers out there. But it doesn’t have a manual control button, so it won’t work with the Cardboard app, and bugs in the Jaunt VR app made life extra difficult. The only way to exit a movie was to remove the phone, reset the app, and start again.

Get the Jaunt VR app working and the experience will improve, and when we did get videos playing it looked fantastic on the high resolution screen. It’s a fun introduction to 360-degree video. It’s not a reason to buy the Honor 8 Pro, and you’d probably get more benefit from grabbing one of the many Cardboard headsets with an actual button on it.

Price, warranty, and availability

The Honor 8 Pro hasn’t been announced for the U.S. at the time of writing, but is on sale in the U.K. and parts of Europe. In China, the 8 Pro is known as the Honor V9. It’s priced at 480 British pounds or 550 euros through the Vmall online store, which is about $590 depending on the exact exchange rate. This is more expensive than the majority of phones we see from Honor — the 6X is $250, for example. It also puts it right in-between some highly desirable hardware. It’s more expensive than the OnePlus 3T, but less than the Huawei Mate 9, and the Huawei P10 Plus.

For the specification and its performance, the Honor 9 Pro is superb value for money. It has genuine flagship phone performance and features, for considerably less money than you’d expect. Honor would have to drastically adjust the price if the phone launches in the U.S., because the Huawei Mate 9 can be yours for $600 — and the camera’s ability makes it the better buy.

Without a U.S. release date, we’ll have to quote the U.K. warranty details, which covers the phone for 24-months, the battery and charger for six months, and the included headphones for three months. If there is a problem you have to visit a registered Honor/Huawei service center, and you won’t be covered if the phone has taken a bath or damaged through misuse.

Our Take

For once, spending less doesn’t mean making a compromise. The Honor 8 Pro’s dual-lens camera makes it trendy, the fast processor makes it usable, the massive screen looks great, and the battery is long-lasting. Give it a U.S. release date, and we’ll be very happy.

Is there a better alternative?

The Honor 8 Pro is hard to beat for the price in the U.K., where our three favourite dual-lens big-screen phones — the LG G6, the Huawei P10, and Huawei Mate 9 — both cost more than 600 British pounds. They’re better phones, but you’ll spend at least 150 British pounds more to get one in your hand. It’s toughest challenger is the OnePlus 3T. It has a smaller, lower resolution screen at 5.5-inches, but is a great looking phone with at least as much (if not more) power and performance. However, you’ll miss out on the dual-lens camera.

If you’re eyeing Huawei and are in the U.S., we’d recommend buying the Huawei Mate 9 instead given the outstanding price it’s available for, plus it comes with a U.S. warranty unlike an imported device.

How long will it last?

The Honor 8 Pro isn’t water resistant, but the metal body is arguably more durable than a completely glass smartphone in the event of a fall. The device is very thin though, so we’d be careful about accidentally putting too much pressure on it in a pocket.

Honor, like Huawei, doesn’t have the best track record with Android updates. Our review model runs Android 7.0 Nougat and has the March 1, 2017 security patch installed, so it’s relatively close. How long that will remain the case isn’t certain. The only way to be sure of the latest Android software and patches is to buy a Google Pixel phone.

Otherwise, the Honor 8 Pro can be considered a flagship phone, and has more than enough power and ability to last for several years.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you have a maximum budget of 500 British pounds (~$590), the Honor 8 Pro represents astonishing value, with better features than you’ll find on phones at or around the same price. Its build quality as well as the software experience are also excellent. We don’t suggest importing one to the U.S.. Instead, wait to see if Honor announces a U.S. version, or just opt for the Huawei Mate 9.

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