Honor 5X Review

The Honor 5X, sure its been out a little while but to date no one seems to have given a look at from a highly audio centric viewpoint.  With ever more people using their phones for music its about time, right?  If you interested to see how it got on, read on good sir, read on.

 2016-03-18 11.24.56 (Copy)

Thanks to Honor for the loaner.

First Impression

So, Honor, yes that is how they spell their name despite the fact they have been selling for a good while now in the UK and Europe but have only just started selling them in the US but whatever…….. Anyway if you don’t know them, they are a sub brand of Huawei.  You may not have heard of them too but they are one of the major companies coming out of China and they also make lots of network infrastructure.  In the UK it’s pretty much a cert that you will have used Huawei products in some form if you make use of a mobile phone.

Okay opening up the box, though it’s a review sample so it’s been open before, and……. It’s a phone box, you open the lid and there sits a rectangle glass slab.  Hidden under it are the bits you get, a European style plug charger, a screen protector and a micro USB cable.  They are all unsurprisingly white despite the phone being gold.  In fairness I’m not saying they should really be gold but white charger and cable with a black phone is a pet peeve of mine.

Powering it on and the screen looks rather nice.  It’s a full HD or 1920 x 1080 pixel screen so everything is nicely crisp.  It’s as crisp as you would expect from what now seems to be the normal size for a phone, at 5.5 inches.  I don’t think I’m loving the fractionally raised edges on the front.

Hardware

The phone is a pretty nice object, on the whole, for a mid-priced handset it feels good.  Good but not great, most of it’s really nice, it looks accurately put together, the edges feel solid.  The back though, its metal, I know that it’s metal but if feels like the thinnest possible metal foil over some plastic.  Is it coated in something?  Honestly if the think was just plain old plastic it would feel more honest, this metal feels fraudulent and actually draws attention to the fact it’s not something more substantive.  It feels like it’s trying to be something it’s not.  If I owned it I’d be throwing it in a case so it won’t be getting touched anyway.

The internals, well it’s got a snapdragon 616 in there and I am pretty happy with its performance.  I’ve seen the 615 get bashed plenty but I can’t say I found this to have any issue.  Benchmarks say its performance is fine for an upper mid ranger and I can’t say I found there to be much in the way of stutter.  It is fine, I want to say more definitively nice things but you know it’s a phone and I’m not encoding terabytes of HD video.  The most CPU intensive thing I can see me doing normally is loading an app and none that I encountered felt slow.  Sure they maybe weren’t as snappy to respond as some more powerful devices but I never was bothered.  I never managed to get it to stutter either as is a reported 615 issue.  So I presume Huawei have drizzled a little go faster sauce or Qualcomm fixed whatever was wrong.  The addition of having 2GB of RAM I’m sure helps and I suspect that is more likely the cause of stutter issues elsewhere. 2GB is a good amount and for the price range.

Elsewhere in side we have some interesting slot options.  So there is two pull out trays, one tray is for a micro SD card and a nano sim, on the same tray.  The second tray can hold a micro sim card.  Why 2 trays and not 3 I don’t know and why two sizes I don’t know either.  However as you can make either sim card the priority one, it will make it a little more easy to stick whatever card you currently have in there.  I rather like that, it’s weird for sure but if you’re going to have a two slots, why not? Oh but what I am pleased is that the two sims can both be used and so can the micro SD card storage, at the same time.

GPU wise there is there Adreno 405.  It’s not the most powerful in the world but like its CPU its fast enough.  I myself am not a massive gamer but I was able to fire up my go to game for testing, Asphalt 8.  I powered it up and drove round the first track, the American desert one.  I never had it stutter or anything so I’m giving it an “its fine” rating.  3DMark on the other hand, I instantly notice that it doesn’t support ES3.1.  Giving “Sling Shot” using ES3.0 a go and the score that comes back is just 177.  To give a little perspective, the P8 got 526, the old Nexus 5 got 911 and my Moto G 4G (a former midrange king) got the whopping score of 52.  So while it’s clear that midrange devices having progressed significantly, it does highlight that there is a greater differentiation between GPU’s in devices than there is in the CPU.  If you are a massive gamer, you’ll still be better buying an old flagship than a new midranger.

What’s missing?  Well there is no NFC and there is no 5GHz Wi-Fi.  Nether being massive deal breakers but both I really don’t see why they have been omitted.  It is a “midrange” handset so I’m not shocked by their absence but I don’t get why they couldn’t have been.

Audio Software

For some reason Huawei have their own little music app, that I encountered on the P8 before and it’s still a pleasant little app by itself.  The ability to display the lyrics is a curious one but from what I gather it’s something that’s more common in the Far East than it is over here.  However…… the beauty of Android is that you can install whatever you like.

There is a little software issue however that I must point out.  Now it’s a pretty niche issue I realise but….. the 5X does not like external DAC’s.  Having just recently been playing with the Zorloo Aero I was saddened that plugging it into the 5X, nothing happened.  The exact same thing happened with the P8 so it’s clearly an overall Huawei issue and not one exclusive to Honor devices.

Audio Hardware

So like just about every phone out there, I couldn’t find any real information on what the audio internals of the 5X are.  Before trying it out I had relatively high hopes as everything with a Snapdragon 400 was pretty good and the closely related P8 was about the best I’d heard from a phone.  Thus from whichever route the internals have come from I expect them to not bad.

Lows

The lows were a little odd.  While they seemed a little lacking in abundance, or they did when pared with more bass heavy things like the IE7, when I moved to the RE-0 you would expect there to be almost no bass but that wasn’t the case.  They seemed to be rather more evenly handed when they had the greater power demands of the 0.  Why???  Swapping back to the easy IE7’s and the bass was there mildly relaxed and pleasant but there should be a more voluminous hump of it.  Swapping of to Fidue A65’s as they are nearby and here comes the bass.  A mighty wall of the stuff appears, a great and mighty wall it is too.  The degree of variation is strange could it be an impedance thing?  So over to the AM12 and the bass seems much more inline again.  This is just plain odd.

Okay so on the whole they are fine.  For a phone it’s quite reasonably capable but it seemed to respond to different things differently.  For example the Honor AM-12’s were a pretty great pairing, nicely balanced and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had been the earphone the 5x had been tuned with in mind.  The bass is nice, relatively polite and trying hard to be nicely linear.  Its lower reaches however fall away as there just isn’t the oomph, the power to keep it going.  Still I’d have expected a more bass centric tone form a phone.

Mids

They are nice.  They are perfectly reasonable and reasonably capable.  Never though did they sing or touch my soul.  There is a little sterility, it’s all a little dead and lifeless inside.  Strings worked rather better than vocals as they are dead anyway but…… it’s an on paper, perfectly reasonable and adequate rendition.  There isn’t anywhere can point to and say in “wrong” but they are just lacking life.  I’m really very curious to what chip is inside the thing.  Even Vienna Teng and the IE7’s and I am in no way being moved.  I keep flicking through things and while I can really say anything is catastrophically wrong, they just are not doing it for me.  The dynamics are a little so so and it all feels so samey.

Quantitatively they are pretty much all evenly in step with each other, a relatively flatish, neutral sound signature, so evenly handed.  However as many have an expectations of bass heaviness they may to some, seem a little slanted to the upper end rather than the bass.  In reality it’s a rather neutral sound.

Highs

They are in the lower and middle treble regions quite abundant.  As you start hitting the highest things start to trail off, though they might want to trail faster as they are not the most refined at the upper reaches.  It goes a little scratchy but in fairness it’s an issue that is only going to able to notice when using very highly resolving earphones and in the wild that’s likely to be exceedingly unlikely to happen.  Mostly they are fine, good, adequate, perfectly reasonable etc etc etc.  There isn’t anything on paper they really get wrong but they just don’t feel alive.  They aren’t even coldly crisp, they just, well, they are fine.

Quantity wise they are a little ahead of the bass so many might find their neutral sound signature, their balance to be overly light but its more that they aren’t bass elevated or warmed up like other things can be.

Soundstage/Instrument Separation

Both are pretty reasonable.  They are more factors of the ear or headphones you’re using and that’s true here.  They do however slightly like to project a good sized room with some space, they aren’t particularly inclined to make things feel close in nor intimate especially well.

Battery Life

Huawei have put a great deal of effort into their battery management software and being quite familiar with it, I didn’t have any issues.  However it’s a real pain at first because it wants to pester you with everything and I mean everything.  Yes yes I don’t care if some app is still running, yes let it keep running, on and on.  However I know that it’s only a bother when you freshly install things which if you own the phone means after an initial burst, where you are installing all your apps at the start up, it’s a pretty rare thing.  Thusly it’s not the bother it can be if you only have the thing for two weeks.  Anyway…… the result is that it’s pretty power sippy with the battery, it’s a 3000mAh one so fairly typical.  I’d like to have seen bigger but it’ll power that screen for more than a day’s use I found.  Actually I found you could pretty much get two days of use out of it. So long as it was on WiFi and not LTE all day.   It also comes with a crazy ultra-power saving mode that gives you an ultra-simple interface, more or less turning itself into a dumb phone to eek out all the call time it can from the device.

Build Quality

For the price, it’s a nicely put together machine.  Aside from that cheap, weird, feeling “metal” back it’s a nice thing.  In a case though you’ll never touch that back anyway and the front feels nice.

UI

EMUI is, for the most part okay.  It however has the annoying Far East thing about having no app drawer.  The apps though are nicely customised, visually and there is also a theme manager so you can easily download and swap themes.  Some of those on offer are radical changes and I love the fact that you can change themes so easily.  I’d like to see Honor themselves maybe making some but whatever.  However the no app drawer is still a deal breaker for me so I have to install Nova Launcher to give me it back.  Once done the customize options and Nova in tandem give you as much of a stock like experience as you want to have.  Personally I think if you have any more than 5 apps installed you need an app drawer.  So while EMUI is one of the lighter, nicer and more customisable UI’s that handset makers have felt the need to create……. It does feel a little unnecessary.

Oh and notably, my favourite P8 feature, the magazine lock screen thing where it changes photo’s every time it locks the screen, here it only does it between some on board limited number of pic’s.  I do not know why this is so, nor could I make it do otherwise.  Why???  Was it me being stupid and missing something I should have noticed?

In The Hand

The feel of an object can be a highly subjective thing.  It is arguably one of the things that Apple gets so right, its customers often speak of “premium” feeling which would seemingly mean the balance of being so heavy as to not feel cheap but light enough as to not feel heavy.  It’s all no doubt a careful balance that you can’t really quantify.  It’s about picking something up in your hand and just seeing how it feels.  The 5X then, well, you know, its fine.  It’s a very nice object for the price tag it carries and my head tells that me it’s a nicely built, with nice materials, that looks nicely finished, my fingertips tell me it’s all finished nicely too.  Still, that back I am not wild about.  It feels cheap, like its cheap metalic painted plastic that’s trying hard to pretend it’s not plastic.  I can’t help feeling if the back had just been plastic it would have felt more honest in the hand.  Yes the “metal” back looks photogenic but I did not like the feel of it.  I’d be slapping it in a case anyway so it wouldn’t actually matter to me but nevertheless, there it is.

Format Support

Android plays every type of musical file you can think of.  Just remember external DAC’s are not supported, or certainly not a one that I tried.

Volume

LOUD.  They can go very loud, with any and everything I plugged into them they could go blisteringly loud.  They didn’t feel like they were especially well driving big cans, they felt like there was a little bit of power lacking but in terms of sheer volume they could absolutely blast it out.  Seriously, they could go louder than was comfortable with ease with normal earphones in.

Accessories

In the box you get the obligatory white charger plug and micro USB cable.  As I have the gold, I won’t moan about getting white but….. if it had been the black phone and I got a while cable I’d be annoyed.  Not a major issue as I have many black cables but it’s a bug bear of mine that seemingly all phone makers do.  As for other things, firing up eBay and there is a ton of bits and things you can get for it.  Typing in “Honor 5X case” pulls up over 26 thousand results.  Literally there tons of options out there for you to customise and protect the thing as much as you could possibly desire.

Speaker

If you are going to fire up up the odd thing on Netflix or Iplayer the external speaker is, okay.  Its usable, it’s rather light on the lower end so it doesn’t distort horribly like somethings do when they play music.  However don’t play music, on them it’s not fair to anyone, all phones are terrible at music play back.  The nephew watching an episode of Adventure Time in the back seat of a car?  That’s much more realistic a proposition.

Camera

I know little about cameras but from what I’ve read and seen with my own eyes, the camera here is nice. It’s a 13mp sensor that by all accounts is perfectly adequate.  This is a midrange handset, it’s got a midrange price tag and thusly the camera is pretty decent stuff.  To my untrained eye……. It is absolutely fine, perfectly adequate, good for the money etc etc.

Reception

Head to head with the Nexus (because I’m not playing endless lets swap the sim cards) the Nexus 5 on Three UK, while sitting on my desk pulled in a -89dB signal and the 5X managed a -87dB signal.  So the 5X just barely got a little bit of a stronger signal.

The Good

The price tag.  Everything else about the Honor 5X is nice, it’s perfectly adequate, it’s fine, its more than sufficient, it is a nice thing that performs nicely with a perfectly nice price tag.  The 5X is a good device but it’s not an exciting one.  Everything it does it does quite well, there isn’t anything it can’t do, nor do badly, not leaving me thinking negative thoughts it way.  The trouble is it doesn’t wow me.  I cannot in anyway say that’s a bad thing any more than it would be to have a Ford Mondeo and lament it’s not as exciting or whizz bangy as a Ferarri is.  There really isn’t anything bad about the 5X but it just isn’t an exciting device.

The Bad

Well there is a couple of things that is lacking.  No NFC and no 5GHz WiFi are the two stand outs for me.  Neither are earthshattering issues but I am ever optimistic that NFC is going to take off.  Also there is no Qi charging either.  Things I all wonder if maybe related to its “metal” backing.  So erm err that’s really about it.  Ooooh how scathing are those negatives are but there just isn’t anything glaringly wrong with the phone.  It’s a nice thing.

Value

So far the review has been somewhat wishy-washy.  In most of its aspects the Honor 5X is one of this things that is exceedingly well priced and it’s that pricing that matters.  The specifications and other internals are all of a reasonable quality, all of an upper midrange.  Not quite high end but in most ways it’s not far off yet its price tag is only a fraction of the price of a high end flagship device. You get a lot for your money.

Conclusion

The Honor 5x is simply put, a nice device.  It’s a really nice device for the price but while it has some crazy stand out features it just isn’t anything special.  Sure the crazy features, may appeal massively to some but they aren’t deal sealers for me.  Like the draw a letter on the locked screen to insta-launch an app.  It’s cool for sure but it just isn’t that big a deal.  Same with using the fingerprint sensor as a mini touchpad feature.  Yes it makes you go “oh cool” the first couple of times you use it.  Then you get annoyed that you accidently used it because the sensor is right where you finger wants to rest.  I mean big points for Honor trying new things, it’s good to experiment but the sensor is just too small to be really usable.  Atm it’s just a gimmick.

However the thing that really has to be kept in mind with the 5x is that price tag.  While the device doesn’t really shine elsewhere, for the price it starts to look extremely appealing.  The 5x next to a £600 “flagship” and there is nowhere that the 5x is dramatically worse.  It may not benchmark as fast, its screen may not have as high a contrast ratio but in no aspect is it significantly inferior.  It can do absolutely everything the most expensive devices can do and accomplish them easily adequately well.  So while I may be offering it faint praise there simply isn’t anywhere that it falls down, it does everything and it does them capably.

So should you / would I buy one?  You know if I need a new phone and my budget was £200 then the 5x would be a deeply serious contender.  Three UK contracts for it start at £13 a month (though weirdly the higher plans are more expensive than the same plan with an Honor 7 instead.)  It may not be the most exciting device I’ve encountered but its highly capable and able to compete with vastly more expensive devices at a disturbingly wallet friendly price.

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