Huawei Honor 7 AH-36

Featured Review: Honor 7

August 27, 2015 - Written By John Anon

Huawei is one of the companies who has been making significant strides of late and with their most recent smartphone offerings. That said, they still lack a significant presence in the U.S. In other markets they are doing much better and are actually one of the leading manufacturers in China, thanks to the popularity and quality on offer with the likes of the Huawei P8. More recently, Huawei has been making good headway in Europe and has also now began bringing its sub-brand, Honor, to the region. The Honor 7 is the latest smartphone to join the Honor range and following its earlier launch in China in June, has now made its was to a number of European countries. The Honor 7 has been confirmed priced at €349.99 in Europe, which roughly equates to a little under $400. For that kind of money, you surprisingly get quite a lot with the Honor 7.

Specs

Huawei’s Honor 7 comes equipped with a 5.2-inch LCD display which makes use of a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Inside the Honor 7 comes loaded with 3GB RAM and powered by a 64-bit Huawei HiSilicon Kirin 935 octa-core processor (clocking at 2.2 GHz). In terms of memory, the Honor 7 comes with 16GB internal storage as standard, but is also equipped with a microSD card slot for further expansion. Moving to the cameras and the Honor 7 comes touting a 20-megapixel rear camera (with a Sony IMX230 sensor) which is coupled with an 8-megapixel front facing camera. Additional features on offer include dual-SIM, 3, 4G, 3100 mAh battery, fingerprint scanner and the device comes running on Android 5.0 (Lollipop) with Huawei’s EMUI 3.1 over the top. The Honor 7 measures 143.2 x 71.9 x 8.5 mm and weighs 157 grams.

Design & Hardware

Huawei Honor 7 AH-9

As Honor are essentially a sub-brand of Huawei, you might be torn on what to expect from the quality of the design and the hardware. On the one hand, this is Huawei and they do seem to put together a decent device and one which does include all the features and design cues that are associated with ‘premium’. However, on the other hand, this is a sub-brand and that tag in itself is one which might lead to the assumption that this is a lesser quality product. In truth, when it comes to the design, the Honor 7 is much closer to the former than the latter.

The Honor 7 is an extremely well built little smartphone. The price it is set out, firmly places this as a mid-range device, however, once instantly in hand, it would be difficult to find fault with the design and especially at this price range. The device is made up of an alloy based uni-body design which does result in an immediate premium feel when touched. However, the downside is that it is much heavier than you might expect. If weight is a sign of quality, then the Honor 7 certainly rises to the occasion. That said, it is not overly heavy, but you will know that you are holding it.

Starting at the back of the device, the rear casing is largely made up of a plain Huawei look and the back casing is silky smooth to touch. Over, the top and bottom ridges of the back are slightly raised which presumably is one way to ensure the device remains still when on a flat or sliding surface. Which is a nice touch. The only other notable features on the back include the camera which is top back positioned and is a protruding camera. This seems to be a typical design cue of most devices of late and as such the Honor 7 is en vogue in this respect. As a result though the device never lies perfectly flat when laid. Directly underneath the camera sensor is the included obligatory fingerprint scanner. Regardless of how you feel about fingerprint scanners, the fact that one is included on a device at this price point is quite impressive. This is a recessed scanner and as such is quite  textually contrasting when compared to the protruding camera. Closing out the back of the device, is the Honor logo which is typically dead center and is actually slightly embossed offering a raised feel when passing.

Moving to the front of the device and things get a lot more simpler now. On offer is a 5.2-inch Full HD display. This is not the most crisp display you will get on a smartphone, but is certainly one which holds its own within the price bracket. Offering a 1920 x 1080 resolution and on a smaller sized screen than for instance, the OnePlus 2 (which is similar priced and the same resolutin), the Honor 7 does provide a good level of clarity and color bursting.

Moving to the sides of the Honor 7 and for the most part, things are as to be expected. Down the right hand side of the device is the volume rocker and the power button. Both of which are rather prominent in their placing. Both the power and volume buttons do stick out and are actual buttons (compared to the more softer almost button-less type found on a number of smartphones). As such, you do know when you press these buttons. So much so that the volume even has a slight click to it.

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Down the left hand side of the device is the dual-sim tray as well as the Smart Key button. For those not used to one of these, this is a sort of do-it-all button which you can program to perform a specific action. In the Honor 7’s case, this means choosing from a short selection of features like taking a screenshot, but nevertheless, it is a handy feature to have thrown in.

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Lastly, the top of the smartphone houses your 3.5 mm headphone socket while the bottom is made up of the microUSB port as well as the bottom facing grilled dual speakers.

Overall, the design of the Honor 7 is one which does suggest Huawei took the time to incorporate a lot of the features and design cues that you might find on the Huawei P8. While always keeping a thought on the price of the Honor 7, this is a well built phone, with lots of accents, things to press and a more heightened tactile approach, which is often lost on other smartphones and especially in this price range. To be clear, this is not the most beautiful device you will ever see and it does feel a little clunky in some ways. But for what it costs, the design is meant to at least, emulate premium and it does.

Software & UI Experience

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In terms of the software, much of what the Honor 7 has to offer will be extremely familiar to those who have used a Huawei before. This is Huawei after all and their proprietary software, EMUI, is in effect. However, unlike the P8 Lite which recently launched in the U.S. and came based on Android 4.4 (KitKat), the Honor 7 OS comes based on Android 5.0 (Lollipop) in the form of EMUI 3.1.

Honor screen 1

As a result, the Honor 7 software and UI experience is familiar on multiple levels. On the one hand, this is Lollipop and that means there are all the more basic and fundamental Lollipop aspects which are offered. Icons are a lot more uniformed, Material Design is much more in play, but being EMUI based they are heavy enough skinned to look different and much more Huawei-like. As such, you can expect typical Chinese aspects like the lack of a dedicated app drawer.

Likewise, as this is a Huawei skin, there are quite a few added features thrown in for good measure. The first and most consistent with other Huawei devices is the level of theming that is available. Right out of the box, there are a number of themes which can instantly be applied across the board. Likewise, theme aspects can simply be applied to minor elements of the UI like icons, wallpapers and so on.

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Not to mention, there is also the same basic theme which can be applied for an extremely friendly end user smartphone experience.

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In addition, there are a bunch of other features which you might want to try or not, depending on the level of functionality you want. These includes one-hand UI, Voice Wakeup, gesture controls, and of course the Start Key functions.

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The lock screen is also a lot more functional than you might expect. In fact, most people are unlikely to notice due to how hidden the feature is, but from the lock screen users can typically access the camera, but also less typically, access other shortcuts like the flashlight, voicemail and even the calculator. The features are all hidden at the bottom of the screen and only become visible when swiped up.

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Pre-installed apps are always going to be a concern for non-stock software, however, as this is an unlocked smartphone and carrier-free the degree of pre-installed apps is not that bad out of the box. In fact, compared to a number of other devices, the Honor 7 is extremely lightweight in terms of apps. Facebook and Twitter do come pre-installed and there is a few ‘useful’ Honor tool apps and that is about it. Besides the normal Gapps that comes installed.

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One point to note about the software is in relation to the fingerprint scanner. It was not clear if this was a software issue or a hardware issue, but typical of fingerprint scanners, it was not the most responsive. More times than not, the fingerprint scanner would only correctly read my fingerprint on the 3rd try. In fact, during testing, it hardly ever read on the first attempt. That said, even with two or three tries in a row, the scanner did not take that long to active and open. When it works, it is lightning fast. So much so, that it became clear if you just pressed it a couple of times (assuming it would not read the first time), it was still usable. However this being a Huawei device means that the fingerprint scanner is not just a simply lock/unlock feature but instead, you can use various gesture controls on the fingerprint scanner to activate additional commands like take a photo, answer/ignore a call and so on.

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Battery Life & Performance

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A disclaimer does need to be made here. This is a European device and we were testing it in the U.S. on T-Mobile. As a result, 4G connectivity was never experienced. With that in mind, the device was only used bouncing between WiFi (most of the time) and 3G. That aside, the Honor 7 does come packing a 3,100 mAh battery and as such, for the price, is a big gun battery offering. As a result, you would not expect there to be any major battery issues and in truth, there was not. There are no major issues with getting through the day and it will easily pass a day and a half with minimal use. Likewise, the screen on time was pretty much in line with what you would expect and at worst would end around the three hour marker and at a stretch pass the four hour barrier. That said, although screen brightness is a common issue for battery drain, it was more noticeable on the Honor 7. The device comes activated by default on the automatic lighting setting and when you use this, the battery life is fine. However, for an automatic setting (roughly mid-way), it is very dark. This led to the constant tendency to turn the automatic feature off to get a more natural level of lightning and in these non-automatic instances, the battery drained much quicker (even at a mid-placed brightness setting). In automatic mode, there are some really good baked in power saving aspects which are in play, however, it is just not that functional in this mode due to the lack of brightness automatic mode offers.

In terms of charging, again, this was largely ordinary. From empty to full took a little under two hours to achieve. Now, the Honor 7 does come with a Fast Charge tech inside, however, the plug that came in the box was a for a European wall socket. Therefore, was not able to be used in the States. Therefore, during testing all charge times were noted using a third party charger. It is likely the times could be greatly improved if using the original plug, although, this will only be an option for those in Europe.

That said, the Honor 7 does come with the typical Huawei battery monitor apps and features built-in. So for those who are willing to be more hands-on with their battery management, they can do so.

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The performance was also a little on the sketchy side in truth. This is Huawei’s own Kirin 935 processor inside and is unashamedly mid-range which is not an issue in itself. However, navigating at times could be a little sluggish and was not always responsive. As a result, the level of speed and performance was a little inconsistent. General browsing and navigating was fine, however, this is not the type of device you want to be buying for any sort of heavy gaming or video watching. The average screen resolution coupled with the processing ability does make his more of a surf and use device than a get your game on option.

Camera

Honor 7 Camera AH

It is no secret that cameras continue to be one of the main selling points of smartphones these days and also the one of the main judging aspects. Although, it could be argued a mid-range device has nothing to prove in this respect as they are not claiming to have the best cameras on the market, the rate at which the mid-range area is expanding, the camera abilities for this part of the market is probably the most closely fought. When it comes to the Honor 7 camera, there is nothing to be ashamed about. In terms of the numbers, the Honor 7 comes boasting a 20-megapixel rear shooter with an f/20 aperture in play. Up front is a very modest 8-megapixel camera.

In terms of the images, this camera performed extremely well and on the whole better than you might expect for a mid-range device. Images were clean and crisp and generally suitable for all conditions. Likewise, the low light shooting of the Honor 7 camera was also surprisingly good. To be clear, this is not going to take on the likes of the LG G4 and Galaxy S6, but what it does do is perform very well and offer an incredibly reliable camera without having to adjust too much. The auto focus was quick, clean and images could be easily and repeatedly taken first time.

That said, for those who like to dig deep into the camera settings and features, you do have that option too. The software for the camera department includes enough tricks and tips to help you get the best out of your images. Not to mention, all the usual suspects are on offer include a HDR mode, Panorama and Time-Lapse. There is even a Super night mode which did to take better images in low light conditions. Although, this mode takes multiple exposures and if you do not have a steady hand then you are unlikely to get the shot you want using Super night.

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If you are more of the selfie persuasion then there is a bunch of software tweaks on offer so you can make sure your beauty shots are good to go

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You can check out a selection of sample images taken with the Honor 7 in the gallery below.

Summing Up

If smartphones were purely based on how much you get for your money, then there could be little arguing that the Honor 7 is ‘value for money’. This is a feature-rich device and does come with a number of design cues and accents that make it a great purchase. However, Huawei do run the risk of trying too hard and loading too much into the Honor 7. At this price point, what you need most is a fully functional and reliable device. This is just about the case, but with the number of features and things going on, it was felt, more time and intention could have been paid towards a much better performing device. As such, the Honor 7 feels like it is aimed more towards those who have the time and intention to invest in playing with their phone and really getting to know it. Which in reality, will automatically rule out a number of younger and older users who might be looking for a device in this price bracket.

However, the price point is inescapable and for the money on offer, you are unlikely to find such a feature heavy device. Besides the copious number of software features, there is the multi-dimensional fingerprint scanner and Smart Key. One thing’s for sure, with the Honor 7, you are getting more than what you paid for.