Honor 7 review

Honor, the brand backed by Huawei, has impressed us with its flagship smartphones at low prices. Its latest effort is the Honor 7 and here's our full review. Updated: 4 February 2016 with audio tests. See also: 20 best phones 2015.

With a phone called the Honor 7 you might think the firm has been around for longer than Apple or Samsung which are both on '6' editions of handsets but the Honor 6 was the first smartphone we saw which was launched just over a year ago.

Honor 7 review: Price and competition

True to form, the Honor 7 is priced at a somewhat ridiculously low £249 – the same price which the Honor 6 launched at. Incidentally, the old model is still available at just £209. You'll discover why we describe the price tag as ridiculous by the time you get to the end of the review.

Although it's a really affordable flagship phone, competition in this area has ramped up recently so it's not just Google's Nexus phones to outpace. In fact, the Nexus 5X is a fair amount more at £315. The Honor 7 has to fend off the likes of the OnePlus 2 which is just £239 (now can only be found at £289 for the 64GB version) and the Moto X Play which is £279 (can now be found for £249).

The difficulty will be getting hold of an Honor 7 as we've found it to be often sold out on vMall. Each batch has disappeared very quickly although we don't know how many have been made available. You can also buy it on Amazon for the same £249.99 price. Also see: Best MiFi 2016.

Honor 7 review

Honor 7 review: Design and build

Although the Honor 7 looks somewhat similar to its predecessor, it actually looks more like the Huawei Mate S – mostly down to its metal rear cover.

It is a bit bigger than the Honor 6 so bear this in mind if you're thinking about upgrading. It's by no means the most svelte 5.2in phone on the market and it's more the 157g weight than the 8.5mm thickness that bothers us.

A plain appearance is on display at the front but the back is where all the style is found. The metal body looks like phones which cost twice the price, although we couldn't tell it has a 'ceramic blasted finish'. Strips at the top and bottom have a crosshatch texture which is unique while a shiny bevelled edge all the way around finishes things off nicely.

Honor 7 review design

You may have noticed that a recessed fingerprint scanner sits below the camera and there's an additional button on the left side. We'll come to the fingerprint scanner in the hardware section but that so called 'smart button' can be customised to do what you want like open an app.

Honor 7 review: Hardware and specs

As mentioned, the Honor 7 has a 5.2in screen which is a small jump from the 5in display found on the Honor 6. The resolution remains at Full HD (1080x1920) though so pixel density does take a small dive to 424ppi. That said, the IPS screen looks nice and crisp with popping colours and decent brightness available should you need it.

Honor 7 review screen

Under the shiny exterior is a bump to a Kirin 935 processor which is still octa-core with the same Mali-T628 GPU but clock speeds are higher with half at 2.2GHz and the other half at 1.5GHz. A healthy 3GB of RAM is on offer and we've found performance of the Honor 7 to be delightfully smooth.

The benchmark results don't entirely reflect this, namely in the graphics department but we've not had any problems from a user perspective.

Where the Honor 7 really stood out under testing was battery life via the 3100mAh battery. In our benchmark, the phone managed an impressive seven hours and eight minutes with a score of 4238. That's the best results we've seen from a phone, outpacing the Galaxy S6 models which last just under seven hours.

In terms of storage, you can choose either 16- or 64GB of internal capacity and a Micro-SD card slot will likely come in handy allowing up to 128GB more.

Core connectivity consists of dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, GPS and 4G LTE support. The IR blaster also remains in the line-up and you get a fingerprint scanner on top which you're likely to use a lot more often.

As you can guess, you can use it to unlock the phone with multiple fingerprints but it can do a lot more. Like a touchpad on a laptop, you can use it for navigational purposes such as opening the notification bar and recent apps. It can also take you to the homescreen, take a photo, answer a call and stop an alarm. If any of this is annoying – we found it quite easy to do things by mistake - you can switch these functions off.

Honor 7 review fingerprint scanner and camera

Before we talk about software, there are the all-important cameras to cover. Both have been upgraded compared to the Honor 6 jumping from 16- to 20Mp at the back at 5- to 8Mp at the front.

The main camera now has phase detection autofocus and shoots very quickly which is always welcome. There's plenty of detail on offer from the Sony sensor and we like the bokeh effect which gives the impression of a DSLR with out of focus backgrounds. The front camera isn't as detailed as 8Mp suggest but it's better than a lot of phones and the new LED flash will come in handy for dark situations like when you want to take a selfie in da club.  

Honor 7 camera test photo

Honor 7 review: Audio

Speaker quality

The Honor 7 comes with a single downward-firing speaker design with its location at the bottom-hand corner of the phone. Unlike other phones like the iPhone 6s, the speaker is located on the left-hand side and not the right-hand side. The speaker gets reasonably loud and competes in loudness with the likes of the Sony Xperia Z5 which has two front-facing stereo speakers. We gave the Honor 7 a fitting 7/10 loudness rating. At maximum volume we found the speakers to slightly vibrate the lower part of the phone, where the speaker was placed. On the plus side we did not hear any distortions coming from the speaker, even at maximum volume. Read more: Best Sounding Phones of 2016.

In terms of its speaker’s sound quality we found that the Honor 7 had an emphasis in the bass department, where its sub-bass extended reasonably well, albeit being cut-off in the lower end frequencies. Its mid-bass was also quite present and presented enough mid-bass impact, but unfortunately lacked that control.

Due to its mid-bass presence, the mids were slightly pushed back, resulting in a slightly warm sound, which gave off a recessed-type of sound. Its highs were fantastic, where they provided a great sparkle and provided the phone’s speaker with some life, however we felt the highs could have extended a little more.

Finally, its soundstage was reasonably well presented but left us wanting more, which was mainly due to its single downward-firing speaker. The single speaker lacked that finesse in its instrument separation and could have also provided a slightly better width to its sound signature.

Internal sound quality

The Honor 7 utilises the HiSilicon Kirin 935 chipset, where we presume it’s using a SoC (system on chip) design with a HiSilicon Hi6402 Audio DSP which has a smart amplifier. The HiSilicon Kirin 935 is also only found in the Huawei P8 MAX and Mate S, both of which are more expensive variants of the Honor 7. It’s therefore interesting to hear the differences the SoC of the Kirin 935 performs against the SoCs found on the Snapdragon chipsets.

The phone had to be cranked up to 90-95 percent, which is the same level we tested the Google Nexus 6P. We found this level to be too low for consumers who might be using their phones during busy commutes. We didn’t experience any distortion problems, but did hear an extremely faint hissing noise. We found it very hard to hear the hissing, but it was present versus the completely silent Marshall London, which didn’t experience any hissing. In comparison, phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 among others all experienced interference problems, which left us impressed about the Honor 7’s almost-perfect signal. Read our in-depth smartphone audio comparison: Best Sounding Phones of 2016

In terms of sound quality we found the lows to extend well, especially in the sub-bass region, where the phone could produce good extended sub-bass tones. Its mid-bass was also very impressive, with a good slam and control to it.

Even though the phone has a good mid-bass slam, the phone’s mids are well presented, where they are forward sounding and are not too recessed. Its highs extend well, but could have done with a little extra sparkle in the top end frequency.

Finally we found its soundstage to be a little disappointing, which unfortunately lets the phone down in comparison to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Marshall London. We found the Honor 7’s soundstage to be let down by its depth and width, where we felt it missed that fullness the other phones provided. On the plus side we found its instrument separation to be decent.

Honor 7 review: Software and apps

The Honor 7 comes pre-installed with Android 5.0 Lollipop which is a little out of date now 6.0 Marshmallow has started rolling out. We're not sure when an upgrade will arrive but it should get the new version since the phone is quite new.

As usual, there is the Huawei Emotion UI skin placed over the top and the Honor 7 comes with version 3.1. As we've found with previous phones running the overlay, there are pros and cons.

We love the different lockscreen photo every time you press the power button and being able to set the extra 'smart button' to do whatever you want – probably your most used app. There are also quick settings such as music control and the torch available on the lockscreen by swiping up from the bottom.

Honor 7 review software

However, we don't like the grid view recent apps which is awkward to use and we just don't understand why there is no app menu leaving icons all over the homescreen panels like iOS.
Pre-loaded apps consist of far more than just Google's collection like Maps and Gmail. You get things like Facebook and Twitter which you're likely to download anyway but taking up valuable space are games like Dragon Mania and Puzzle Pets. Luckily you can uninstall anything you don't want.

Honor 7: Specs

  • Android 5.0 Lollipop OS
  • 5.2in IPS display (1080x1920), 424 ppi
  • Octa-core Kirin 935 CPU (4 x 2.2GHz Cortex-A53 & 4 x 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53)
  • Mali-T628 MP4 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 16/64GB internal storage
  • microSD card slot (up to 128 GB)
  • 20Mp rear camera, AF with dual-tone LED Flash
  • 8Mp front camera with LED flash
  • Video recording at up to 1080p
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.1 LE
  • NFC
  • IR blaster
  • A-GPS
  • Micro-USB 2.0
  • 4G LTE (Cat 6)
  • Nanoo-SIM
  • 11.5Wh (3100mAh) non-removable battery
  • 72x143x8.5mm
  • 157g
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop OS
  • 5.2in IPS display (1080x1920), 424 ppi
  • Octa-core Kirin 935 CPU (4 x 2.2GHz Cortex-A53 & 4 x 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53)
  • Mali-T628 MP4 GPU
  • 3GB RAM
  • 16/64GB internal storage
  • microSD card slot (up to 128 GB)
  • 20Mp rear camera, AF with dual-tone LED Flash
  • 8Mp front camera with LED flash
  • Video recording at up to 1080p
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.1 LE
  • NFC
  • IR blaster
  • A-GPS
  • Micro-USB 2.0
  • 4G LTE (Cat 6)
  • Nanoo-SIM
  • 11.5Wh (3100mAh) non-removable battery
  • 72x143x8.5mm
  • 157g

OUR VERDICT

Honor has once again impressed us with a flagship smartphone at an outrageous price. For under £250 you get a lot of phone for your money. Performance is good with the main camera and fingerprint sensors being the highlights on the hardware side. Emotion UI isn't our favourite Android skin but it's perfectly usable and you can always change it if you like.

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