Huawei recently unveiled their Honor 8 handset for the US market, with a campaign aiming the phone at the “young and young at heart.” I admit to rolling my eyes a bit at some of the marketing speak (and feeling insanely old that their “brand ambassador” is Brooklyn Beckham), but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is kind of a baller phone.
The first thing that grabs your eye when you look at the Honor 8 is the way that light reflects against the milled glass. That’s right, the Honor 8 has a glass and metal back. The last glass phone I used was a Nexus 4, and that sucker was like a slippery bar of soap.The Honor 8 is a bit more firm in the hand, but please consider investing in a nice, solid case. The shame of a case would be covering up the “halo” effect that they designed, but trust me and use protection.
You will want a case built just for the Honor 8, though, because you don’t want to cover up the rear dual cameras. That’s right; there’s not one but two 12 MP shooters in the back. One takes full-color pictures and the second takes monochromatic ones, and they’re merged to create a very sharp image. The phone camera software got an extensive tweak too, adding gestures. You can now gesture right to pull up a preset menu. Gesturing right will give you a ton of toggles, including one to toggle geolocation. This is a very handy feature for the privacy aware.
How do the cameras actually work? Check it out.
There is no dedicated home or camera button. There is, however, an extremely responsive rear fingerprint scanner that can be programmed as a Smart Key. I have mine set to launch camera on tap, screenshot on double-tap, and launch the flashlight on long hold. You can also use the (extremely responsive) fingerprint scanner to scroll through certain menus and even pull down the notification shade. This is an inventive set of features and one Huawei has a right to be proud of.
The Honor 8 is also special in that it has a built-in-house processor, the Kirin 950. The only other Kirin phone is the P9. While the P9 has a more powerful Kirin chip, the Honor 8 has more features, including an IR blaster and smart remote app that lets you use it to control almost anything you can imagine.
One eyebrow-raising feature is the ability to launch apps by writing a letter on the screen. Yes, that’s right–there is a knuckle-dragging interface. I question the usability, but many seemed enamored of this. Maybe if you were eating something and didn’t want to smudge the stunning high-resolution screen?
Now, with all that said, there is a real elephant in the room that I’ve been avoiding talking about. Longtime readers may be aware of my disdain for heavily skinned Android phones as weak as for “value-added” apps, especially ones you can’t remove, and super-especially ones that duplicate existing function. The Honor 8 is guilty of this sin a hundred times over.
It’s not that their EMUI interface is ugly; it’s just that it’s unnecessary. The annoying Eastern “no app drawer” style requires retraining muscle memory. I tried fixing that by installing Google Now Launcher, but it didn’t work as well. So I had to get used to the new UI.
As for the app issues? The built-in email app and the Gmail app both can’t be removed, and I personally prefer Inbox. Which means I have three e-mail apps on my phone. Furthermore, as someone who doesn’t use Play Movies, Books, or Newsstand, being unable to remove them just annoys me to no end. If I wanted to have a folder called “Ignore” full of apps I don’t use but cannot remove, I’d use iOS.
It is an absolute shame that Huawei put brand-building over ease of use. In my opinion, they totally take away from the overall usefulness of the Honor 8 by doing this. I may be in the minority here, I do not know. Still, I look forward to the day a solid, no-frills custom ROM comes out for the Honor 8, or the rumored lighter EMUI 5 that will drop with Android N.
For now, though, I do have to admit to still loving it for what’s under that UI. Fast, responsive, and, yes, stylish hardware. With a price-point of $399.99 unlocked (AT&T and T-Mobile in the US) for the 32 GB model and $449.99 for the 64 GB (although I have yet to find that online), the Honor 8 is certainly a powerful, affordable option for those seeking flagship power and serious photographic muscle.
Do I have a buy recommendation? It’s a tough call. One thing is for sure: Hawei knows hardware. They built an amazing Nexus and the absolute best Android Wear watch. I merely lament that they didn’t trust that hardware expertise enough. I have a new daily driver that I don’t regret. I would suggest keeping a close eye on the Honor 8 for any available sales.
Note: Huawei not only gave me a review unit but also flew me out to the event and put me up. This did not impact my view of the phone, as you can see from my comments on the UI. I also once told a girl she looked big in a dress. #whyimssingle