Honor already has one of the best value phones of 2017 - so why not make it two for two?
The £370 Honor 9 might be a a real bargain if you’ve got the cash to splash, but there are plenty of people that don’t - which is where the 7X comes in. It replaces the already impressive 6X, which might have only arrived in January, but that’s a lifetime when it comes to phones.
The 7X shouldn’t show its age for a long time to come, thanks to an ultra-modern 18:9 aspect screen and a pair of cameras on the back. That’s pretty much two of 2017’s must-haves right there, and we’re only just getting started.
DESIGN & BUILD: BLUE ME AWAY
On sheer looks alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking the 7X was just a rehash of April’s Honor 8 Pro.
Both phones have all-metal bodies, sculpted corners and edges that sit comfortably in your hand, and that signature Honor blue hue. Even the antenna bands on the back look the same.
That’s no bad thing, however - the Honor 8 Pro looked pretty slick, and the 7X feels pretty premium too. The corners have apparently been reinforced this time around, so it should survive bigger bumps and drops without shattering into a million pieces.
The 7X keeps Honor’s super-quick rear fingerprint sensor, skipping the home screen in a scant few milliseconds, and the elongated size hasn’t shunted it out of reach either.
Speaking of screen, it makes up almost all of the front of the phone, with slim bezels at either side and only slightly chunkier ones at the top and bottom. It’s no Galaxy S8, but it certainly looks high-end.
Important extras like the headphone jack haven’t gone walkabout just yet, which is good to see, but the microUSB charging point is a bit of a bummer - surely USB-C wouldn’t have pushed the price up too dramatically?
No NFC means no contactless payments here in the UK, either. You'll find them in other mid-range phones, and with Android Pay picking up steam just about everywhere, it's a real shame you don't get that as part of the package.
SCREEN & SOUND: STRETCH IT OUT
It’s the 5.93in, 18:9 ratio screen that’s the real attention grabber, and with good reason - few phones in this price bracket can match it for size, while still staying physically small enough to slip in a pocket.
The extra pixels from that longer aspect ratio means you’re looking at a 2160x1080 resolution, which is spot on in this price range - or slightly above it if you're comparing with an old-school, 16:9 screen handset.
The panel is LCD, and seems to be a pretty decent one: text, images and video all look sharp enough, colours are vibrant without going too overboard, and brightness goes very high indeed. It's easy to see clearly on a bright day - albeit a cold December one in London.
The single speaker can pump out surprisingly loud audio, but it’s only really good for YouTube clips - anything more taxing and it shows its limits. The placement isn’t ideal, either - it’s all too easy to muffle it with your hands.
Honor’s Hasten 3D surround sound EQ setup returns, as long as you plug in a pair of headphones. We weren’t blown away by it on the Honor 8 Pro, and it's more of the same here - if you like tweaking your music with more bass then go for it, otherwise leave the setting alone.
CAMERA: TWO BECOME ONE
The 7X doesn’t mix up the formula too much when it comes to the rear cameras - but it does improve on it.
You still get one main sensor and a second, much lower resolution one that’s there purely to capture depth information, just like you did on the 6X. Only here, the main snapper gets boosted to 16MP, up from 12.
Honestly, though, unless you're feeding it brightly lit subjects, the results are only average. As soon as the light gets low, your pictures become grainy. There's no optical image stabilisation either, so without a very steady hand, you'll almost certainly end up with a few blurry shots.
Colours are surprisingly muted, too - even in broad daylight. The detail is there, but photos just don't have as much punch as other phones.
Honor reckons it has tweaked its algorithms so its depth-blurring wide aperture mode should be a bit more realistic now, and the 7X also gains a portrait mode - for both the back cameras and the 8MP selfie cam up front. The rear cameras do a pretty good job, but the front cam is easily tricked by hair - the results can still look a little dodgy.
The 7X is only using phase detect autofocus, so isn't as nippy as more expensive phones with multiple AF types - you have to wait quite a while for it to focus at night, so it's often quicker to tap and focus manually, but it gets the job done during the day.
SOFTWARE & OS: EMUI ALL THE WAY
Now that EMUI 8 is out in the wild, courtesy of Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro, we were expecting Honor to follow suit and stick to Android 8.0 Oreo for all upcoming handsets. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
The 7X arrives running Android 7, with EMUI 5.1 on top. An Oreo update should make an appearance early next year, but it’s still a shame not to have the latest and greatest OS at launch.
There have been a few software tweaks, though. A new one-button split screen mode automatically kicks in whenever you get a SMS or WhatsApp message, letting the Recents key divide the screen into two with just a tap, instead of a tap and hold.
The blue light filtering Night Mode has been improved, dipping all the way down to 3 nits when you’re reading in pitch black darkness so as not to burn out your retinas. It does feel genuinely dimmer and easier on the eyes than other phones. A Daytime brightness booster sharpens up text on sunny days, too, so things are easier to read - although this one is harder to test, given the UK's lack of sunshine at this time of year.
PERFORMANCE & BATTERY: NEEDS MORE JUICE
It’s not an absolute powerhouse by any means, but the Kirin 659 CPU is more than capable of running Android smoothly. It’s the same chip you’ll find in Huawei’s Nova series, where it was fairly potent.
4GB of RAM really helps when it comes to multitasking, too. Usually this is where budget phones would cut corners, so it’s great to see Honor not skipping out on memory. Apps and games don't really pose any problems, with only the most demanding ones not quite feeling completely smooth, but for the most part there were no stutters or hiccups to worry about.
64GB of on-board storage should be more than enough to keep you going, but you can also use one of the dual SIM card slots for a microSD card if you’re running low on space.
Certain games have been optimised for that 18:9 screen, too: Honor is working with GameLoft to give 7X users a wider field of view in Modern Combat VS, compared to a standard 16:9 smartphone.
Battery life is arguably a little disappointing, given the mid-range CPU and screen resolution. The 7X would regularly be in the red by the evening, so you might have to cut back on power-hungry apps on your commute home from the office. Still, the 3340mAh cell is good for around ten hours of video playback, which is a decent result. If you need more staying power, you'll have to accept a 16:9 screen from the longer-lasting alternatives.
MicroUSB charging isn’t going to be quick, either, unless you use the bundled fast charging adaptor - this’ll be a phone you leave plugged in overnight so you’re back up to full by the next morning.
HONOR 7X VERDICT
The 7X replaces the 6X, which would have set you back £250 back almost twelve months ago, and arrives at a very tempting £269 - not an awful lot more considering you're getting a bigger, better screen and an improved camera - if only slightly.
There’s not much else out there that matches it for the price. Motorola’s budget models all have old-school 16:9 screens, as do the rest of the affordable crowd like Alcatel and in-house handsets from Vodafone.
We’ve spotted some limitations, like microUSB charging and no NFC, which feel a bit short-sighted. Battery life could be better, too, given the mid-powered components, but otherwise you're getting a lot of phone for your money.
If an on-trend screen is what you're after, the 7X might be worth a few sacrifices.