Lots of people are getting excited about the cost of flagship smartphones, especially now that the iPhone has burst through the $1,000 barrier without apparently losing any momentum. How high will the prices go? Is the next stop $2000?
Guessing how crazy these prices will get is fun, although part of the obsession with price is down to the lack of genuinely exciting new features to talk about instead. However, the focus on the price of flagship handsets ignores something equally interesting, which is that you can now get an awful lot of design, features and performance from a smartphone that costs less than £250.
The Honor 8X is a good example of this. Honor is Huawei’s five-year-old sub-brand for ‘digital natives’, which means it largely sells online. The 8X is already proving popular: Honor says it has already sold six million units globally since it went on sale in September.
The Honor 8X is a 6.5-inch handset with a 1,080-by-2,340 resolution, 19.5:9 aspect-ratio display. According to Huawei, the Honor 8X’s screen covers 91 percent of the front of the device, although our favoured screen-to-body ratio calculator puts it at (a still impressive) 84.3 percent. It’s undeniably a big phone; I found that it just about fits in a pocket, perhaps with a bit of the screen peeking out from time to time — a small price to pay for that giant screen. The weight is reasonable at 175g.
The Honor 8X has the notch for the front camera that no modern smartphone is seemingly now without; you can hide this if you don’t like it, but it didn’t bother me. The quality of the IPS LCD screen itself is good, if occasionally lacking a bit of crispness compared to true flagship phones, and perhaps not quite as bright as some.
There’s a fingerprint reader at the back (where I personally prefer it), which proved to be consistently accurate and fast. Facial recognition is also available if you want to access your phone that way.
The Honor 8X runs Android 8.1 (Oreo) with Huawei’s EMUI overlain, which I think is a step up on stock Android (although not all will share this view). Inevitably there’s a slew of apps that you won’t really need or want, but it doesn’t take too long to get rid of these.
The handset is powered by Huawei’s octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 710 chipset, which has four 2.2GHz Cortex-A73 and four 1.7GHz Coretx-A53 CPU cores, plus a Mali G51 GPU. Along with 4GB of RAM, this keeps everything moving very well considering the price. There’s 64GB of internal storage, expandable via MicroSD card.
As far as benchmarks are concerned, Geekbench 4 returned a 1613 for single-core and 5512 for multi-core CPU performance, while 3DMark’s Slingshot Extreme returned 950 and 1131 for GPU performance. These are respectable benchmarks, but a long way from the leading edge. What that means in practice is that the Honor 8X can handle reasonably intensive workloads — games like PUBG bounce along quite happily, for example, which is not always the case with lower-price handsets we’ve looked at in the past.
The camera setup on the Honor 8X is best described as adequate, as it’s somewhat lacking in the sharpness that Huawei’s more expensive devices now offer. There are two cameras at the back — a 20MP unit with an f/1.8 wide-angle lens plus a 2MP depth sensor — and a 16MP front-facing selfie camera with an f/2.0 lens. Now-standard features like portrait mode with bokeh (sharp subject, blurred background) work reasonably well. Honor makes much of the 8X’s AI functionality that can recognise 22 different object categories and adjust the image settings accordingly. It’s a nice enough idea: in my experience it tends to brighten the colours of images and make them more exciting — if perhaps a little lurid and less realistic. The night mode makes adds some sharpness to your after-dark images, making for a decent set of options on such an affordable handset.
Big-screen phones need big batteries to run them, and the 3750mAh battery in the Honor 8X duly provides plenty of power to keep the phone running through the day — even with reasonably heavy app usage.
With some phones you’re pretty much obliged to get your charging cable out by the evening, but I found it quite possible to go 36 hours or more without topping up, which is a definite virtue in a phone of this size. When you do need to charge up, however, you’ll see that the 8X still uses a MicroUSB port for charging, which if nothing else looks rather old-fashioned these days. Also, that big battery takes quite a bit of charging, so make sure you’re not in too much of a hurry.
The smartphone market is in a strange place right now. Flagships are getting more expensive yet aren’t adding much more that consumers or businesses actually want in the way of features. Meanwhile the mid range is filling with phones that have pretty much all the features you will actually use on a day-to-day basis at good prices. It’s not clear how this is going to play out, but right now the level of choice for buyers is great.
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