The Huawei Honor 5X is perfectly fine, but its mostly metal design makes this £170 chunk of phone passable as something much nicer than it really is. Once you get beyond the hardware illusion, you’re left with a major software identity crisis. On the Honor 5X, that crisis is called Emotion UI (EMUI), Huawei’s own customised version of Android. If stock Android and iOS are like two fully-grown adults, then EMUI is a spotty, awkward teenager.
While the user interface isn’t the only important aspect of a phone, it just happens to be the most important. It’s the handheld window through which you live your technological life. So yeah, it better not suck.
When I started using the Honor 5X and thumbed through the various pages, settings, and menus, I noticed a few things that were, let’s say, problematic.
The multitasking (illustrated in the centre panel above) leapt out at me; not because I was in wonder, but because I felt like I’d been transported back to 2012. Instead of the carousel-like multitasking menu that lets you quickly glide through your open apps, EMUI statically displays four app windows at a time. It feels clunky and forces you to hunt and peck on your phone like a grandparent at a keyboard.
Also, despite the fact that we’re talking about an Android phone here, EMUI really wants to be iOS — and wants to court those users unwilling to drop a few hundred quid more on an off-contract iPhone. A lot of what you see is familiar. There is no app drawer. There are badge notifications. It organises apps into folders in a similar way. The lock screen even has a frosted-glass Notifications Center.
Even the camera app looks like an Apple ripoff — though the likeness stops there. There’s a lot of “noise” in photos taken in low-light — the images appearing grainy and even a little blurry. Uninspiring camera aside, all this makes the phone seem like it could be a smooth switch from iOS.
But don’t do it. Don’t switch from iOS to this phone. The general performance of the Honor can be a crap shoot. Bloatware sucks up more than 6GB of it’s 16GB of storage, so don’t load up on apps unless you plan to buy an microSD card. Otherwise, I can glide between apps with ease and play a match or two in Hearthstone no problem. But when watching a video, there’s a good chance the phone implodes on itself. It stutters, slows down, and sometimes refuses to respond to anything.
It usually gets over its technological aneurism in 10 to 20 seconds, and you can help things along by switching the CPU settings from “Smart” to “Normal”. But I don’t really understand why I should have to do that in the first place. What exactly is “smart” about turning my phone into a maddening paperweight every time I try to watch a video on YouTube?
Fortunately, the hardware outshines the software. But, again, that’s not saying much. The comparably priced Nexus 5X and Moto G are plastic, lightweight and scream “budget”. The Honor 5X ditches that idea that cheap means plastic, and instead opts for a brushed aluminium finish that borders on luxurious.
It also helps that the battery life on the Honor 5X is stunningly good. I used the 5X for an entire day, and then checked my battery life. I assumed it would be drained on a cheap phone like this but saw I still had half my battery ready to go. That’s likely due to the Honor 5X having a bigger battery than last year’s Galaxy S6, the Moto G, and the Nexus 5X. Seriously, this battery is A+.
The fingerprint sensor also earns high marks. When I saw that a £170 phone had a fingerprint sensor, I had doubts that it’d be any good. I was wrong. Setting it up is actually easier than on most phones, and the speed and accuracy compared to a flagship phone like the Galaxy S6 is almost negligible, maybe a tad slower. The only downside is that the 5X has no NFC, which means no fingerprint-enabled Android Pay — if that’s something you’re into.
Impressive build and quality fingerprint sensor aside, the middling camera, frequent software hiccups, and UI in identity crisis is a death by one thousand cuts. The 5X is a Trojan Horse, it impresses you with its exterior but something more nefarious lurks within.
For now, you’re much better off with more lightweight and Android-like software from last year’s Moto G, which we still consider the very best for the very least. Despite plastic exteriors, both of these phones feel more refined, and in the Nexus’s case, significantly faster and more reliable. The Honor 5X is an admirable first step in making a phone that’s cheap and can masquerade as top tier — the software just needs to catch up.
In the UK the phone will be on Three exclusively, from the 12th of February.
- A rare cheap phone with a good fingerprint sensor
- Great battery life
- Confused UI thinks it’s people Apple
- Laggy performance and a so-so processor
- Lots of bloat that noms up to 6GB of storage. On a 16GB phone that doesn’t leave a lot of room to grow.