Phone makers love to take pride in the extravagant names they give their products, but it's likely that the Huawei Honor is more to its creator than just a decently-specced handset. After all, the introduction of the Honor -- followed by last week's announcement of the super-slim Ascend P1 S -- appears to represent a shift in the OEM's overall product placement strategy. Huawei has done a great job finding customers in emerging and prepaid markets, but now it has its sights set on cranking out noteworthy phones that will gain the attention of anyone looking for a high-end device.

Based on its laundry list of specs, the Honor isn't a high-end handset compared to some of its LTE and dual-core competitors. And yet, it's still the best device Huawei's offered to date, and it's clear the company's upcoming phones are only going to get better. So we're really eyeing the Honor as a step closer to the OEM finally realizing its ultimate goal. Does it live up to its name? Can the Honor play with the big boys, or is it nothing more than just an outward indication of the company's future? Read on to find out.

Huawei Honor overview

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Hardware


With specs like these, you can tell Huawei, best known for its budget devices, is making a push into higher-end devices, but the Honor isn't quite there. Nor does it pretend to be. It has some quality components, but there's no way it could be viewed in the same light as the HTC Rezound or Samsung Galaxy Nexus. That said, it easily fits into the upper end of the mid-range tier: it sells at select retailers for roughly $350, while its Cricket iteration, known as the Mercury, goes for $250 with no contract involved.

Let's start off with the display. It takes advantage of a 4-inch TFT display, but the Honor uses a thinner and longer screen that helps it become much easier to grasp. Since it offers FWVGA (854 x 480) resolution, the panel's pixel density stands at roughly around 245ppi; it's not high-res by any stretch, but we certainly can't call it a lightweight either -- to give you an idea of where it sits in comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket's WVGA display is 207ppi, whereas the iPhone 4S Retina Display is 326. The colors look good in normal conditions, but they appear distorted in direct sunlight. Viewing angles are about average, meaning you'll have a difficult time reading text or watching movies when looking at it from the side.


We also enjoy the look and feel of the Honor. It doesn't try to be too flashy, though anyone who enjoys something other than basic black will be happy to know the back cover comes in six different choices. Our tester unit was white, and when we tilt it just the right way, we can easily see tiny sparkles all over it, reminding us of something we'd normally see in some types of car paint. It's not a huge surprise, but the battery cover is made of plastic and is a bit slippery. This wasn't ever a concern to us since we never had issues gripping the thing, but we'd still prefer some sort of textured or soft-touch plastic regardless. We're happy to note that the device weighs 4.94 ounces (140g) and, as a result, feels incredibly light. With its rounded corners, slightly tapered battery cover and minimal array of buttons, the Honor did a fantastic job at offering an elegant appearance without looking too loud or noisy.

The Honor does a fantastic job at offering an elegant appearance without being too loud or flashy.
Taking a tour of the phone, the top is adorned with the standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the right and a power / screen lock button on the left, which is bad positioning for anyone who holds the phone with their left hand. The buttons, by the way, are raised up high enough from the body of the phone to be easy to press, but not so high that they interfere with our personal enjoyment of the device. A volume rocker sits on the left side and the micro-USB charging port is conveniently located dead-center on the phone's bottom side, next to the microphone just a few millimeters to the right. On the right side you'll find nothing -- it's completely smooth, devoid of any camera buttons. A 2MP front-facing cam resides just above the display, while the standard four capacitive navigation keys hang out below.


And let's not forget that back cover of which we've made mention of already: you'll see a snazzy 8MP rear camera with an LED flash to the left and speaker to the right. Underneath lies the SIM card and microSD slot, though it doesn't come included with one -- since you only have 4GB of internal storage at your disposal, it may not be such a bad idea to grab as much external space as you can.

The Honor uses a quad-band GSM / EDGE radio for worldwide compatibility and 900 / AWS / 2100 UMTS / HSPA with a max speed of 14.4Mbps. This is great for Europe and Asia, but in the US, your only bet for bringing down respectable 3G download speeds is with T-Mobile; if you have AT&T service, you're going to be limited to its turtle-slow EDGE network. Better than nothing, of course, but if you've been thinking of plunking down a few benjamins for the Honor, it's best not to have any cruel surprises when it shows up in the mail. However, there is one other option for US folks: Cricket, a prepaid carrier, offers a variant of the Honor called the Mercury. In addition to taking advantage of a CDMA / EVDO Rev A radio rather than GSM, the Mercury's front-facing camera has been downgraded to VGA resolution.

Performance


The Honor may not technically be a premium device, but it has some notable company: it's powered by a single-core 1.4GHz Qualcomm MSM8255T S2 Snapdragon and Adreno 205 GPU, which is the same chipset you'll find in the Sony Xperia arc S and Nokia Lumia 800. It also comes included with 512MB of RAM, which again is simply average for almost every mid-range handset. And it's rather speedy for our needs -- we saw a tiny bit of lag when attempting to browse image-heavy sites, but otherwise performed to our satisfaction. The touchscreen was very responsive as well. Let's have a look at the obligatory benchmark comparison tests:

Huawei Honor HTC Sensation XL HTC Rezound
Quadrant 2,435 1,963 2,347
Linpack (single-thread) 52.83 MFLOPS 56.2 MFLOPS 52.0 MFLOPS
Nenamark 1 52.2fps 29.3fps 53.5fps
Nenamark 2 30.3fps 13.1fps 35.8fps
Neocore 59.9fps 58.4fps 59.8fps
SunSpider 0.9.1 2,428ms 2,140ms 2,961ms


In short: these numbers are pretty darn good for a single-core device, cranking out excellent marks in SunSpider 0.9.1 for the web browser as well as incredibly high Quadrant and Nenamark scores. In terms of raw scores, it kept up with (and sometimes bested) the Rezound, which is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core CPU and 1GB of RAM, though admittedly Sense UI likely lessens the Rezound's scores somewhat. Regardless, the processor in the Honor is just about as good as you can find on the market without adding an extra core into the mix.

We love the speaker, as it blares louder and clearer than most handsets we've reviewed. Call quality is par for the course, and we rarely experienced any static or tinny voices. Also, we didn't have a single problem finding our location using GPS with WiFi turned off. Lastly, the Honor may look smaller than today's standard Android, but there's a whopping 1,930mAh battery tucked inside. And it performs exactly as you'd expect, as you'll easily get seven to eight hours of intense use -- gaming and video playback, for example -- and almost a day and a half of moderate usage, which basically consists of frequently checking emails and texts, making a few calls, browsing the web and so on.

Camera


Huawei threw together a decent pair of cameras for the Honor. It features an eight megapixel rear cam with an LED flash and a two megapixel front-facing shooter for video chat (and decent narcissistic Facebook profile pics). It's not comparable to a juggernaut like the Galaxy S II's sensor, as it struggles with white balance and washed-out colors in direct sunlight. However, the Honor does well in low-light and is enhanced by HDR. The feature works well in any situation in which you need to capture a high dynamic range or add in as much extra light as possible; we included a small gallery of HDR images so you can get an idea of how it looks using the Honor's cam. To be expected, these types of photos are also the victim of additional noise, which lends to shots being not as sharp as normal. But it works in a pinch when you're in a dark area and need as much backlight as possible. Close-up shots also turned out more detailed than we'd originally anticipated, especially given the lack of a dedicated macro mode.

Huawei Honor camera samples

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Huawei Honor HDR camera samples

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The Honor's camera app sticks with the stock UI but makes some changes to the option list on the right side of the viewfinder. They're mainly the same settings with different icons, but the most glaring difference is an added menu option for HDR. The sensor offers continuous autofocus, but the UI lacks the ability to tap to focus. As always, we would have also preferred a dedicated shutter button.


The Honor is capable of taking 720p HD video, but as is often the case with mid-range or budget devices, it falls short of being a worthy camcorder replacement. Motion was slightly choppy, the microphone was incredibly muffled (even without wind affecting our video) we noticed the same issue with colors washing out and the camera took extra time to compensate for changes in brightness and exposure.

Software


When it comes to firmware, the Honor is a bit of an oddity -- and we kind of like it that way. It's running a custom skin and launcher on top of Android 2.3.6, but it's actually quite customizable and doesn't seem to bog down the phone's performance as a side effect. The closest it can be related to visually is TouchWiz, in which the app menu panels are oriented left / right and most icons have a rather boxy look (much like TouchWiz 3.0). The Honor's UI, however, doesn't appear to be as cartoonish.

The app menu offers the standard 4x4 grid of icons, all of which can be moved around to your heart's content by pressing the menu settings button at the bottom of the screen. Apps can even be tucked away into folders -- again, a feature we've seen in TouchWiz 4.0 and welcome with open arms -- and can even be uninstalled directly from the app menu, without the need to go deep into the task manager to do so.

Speaking of which, the Honor comes with several pre-loaded apps that cannot be uninstalled. Most of them are the standard set of programs that you'll find on any Android device -- you know, the calendar, calculator, alarm clock, messaging, Latitude and so on -- but there are a few Huawei-specific icons scattered about, such as Streams, Cloud+ Drive, All Backup, Security Guard, TouchPal Input and Traffic Manager. Many of these apps may well be of benefit to users, and we're happy that we can at least tuck them away into folders as a small compromise, but we continue to argue that apps not native to stock Android should be optional rather than mandatory.

Huawei Honor screenshots

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Huawei employs the use of so-called aHome launchers, which means that you can customize them with various themes. It comes with two by default: one that looks awfully similar to the stock Gingerbread launcher -- complete with the standard shortcuts on the bottom, though you can swap the phone and browser icons with contacts, SMS and settings -- and one called Beyond the Sky which offers a bottom bar with your own choice of shortcut icons. Aside from the bottom bar, there are few differences between the two. The home screen also allows you to choose different types of transition animations when navigating between panels: the panels can slide back and forth, they can take the form of a cube and you can opt to have the screens do a 180-degree flip. And there's one more customization option for the home screen: the number of panels you're able to feature. Sadly, you're not able to offer more than five at a time, but minimalists will love the ability to delete unused panels.

It's apparent that Huawei wanted to keep its UI as simple as possible. For instance, the app menu only has two large buttons at the bottom of the screen -- home and settings -- and doesn't offer anything when you push the capacitive menu key. A few app icons, rather than going overly fancy and trying to out-do themselves, only show a basic representation of its overall purpose. The phone dialer, for example, is just a white box with a green phone; the call logs app has the same background and a similar-looking phone, but it adds arrows pointing to the left and right. The most extravagant UI elements appear to be the animations, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on which way you look at it: when switching from portrait to landscape mode (or vice versa), the screen acts as if the laws of physics apply to it. It adjusts to the new orientation, but not before swaying back and forth a couple times as it attempts to reconcile the inertia caused by the transition. Thus, it appears to rock back and forth for a couple seconds, as if you're on a boat, waiting for the seas to settle down.

The Honor's lockscreen offers several quick jumps, but there's no way to customize the apps.
We also like the Honor's lockscreen, even if there may be room for improvement. It offers shortcuts to the camera, phone and messaging, which arguably are three of the most widely-used apps (with the exception of email, of course) on the device. Our concern here is that unlike HTC's Sense UI, there's no way to change the quick jumps to anything that fits your fancy; you're stuck with this trio.

A side effect of having a narrow screen is the negative impact it has on the virtual keyboard. While we love the fact that the Honor comes with four different types of keyboards pre-loaded, every single one of them looks squished, as if the screen's two side walls are getting even closer and pushing each individual key in a vertical direction. We had a rough time trying to type on the keys, though we found ourselves intrigued by the included TouchPal board; instead of pressing an extra button to capitalize a letter or holding the key down to get a symbol, we discovered that all we had to do was swipe up or down on that key in order to get the intended result. In other words, swiping our finger up capitalizes the letter, and swiping down converts it into the corresponding number or symbol.

One additional note about the Honor's firmware. Huawei made headlines when it offered a demo build of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) on the Honor's official support page. By doing so, the device became one of the first phones -- outside of the Galaxy Nexus, of course -- to run an official version of ICS, even if it was simply a trial beta version that was mainly intended for the Chinese market. The download is available for everyone to try out, and even comes with instructions on how to revert back to Gingerbread if needs be.

Wrap-up


The Huawei Honor has been flying under the radar, which is a shame since it's quite the underrated device. Sure, it doesn't have the best chipset available on the market, nor the fanciest components otherwise, but it's one of the best phones we've seen Huawei make to date (let's talk again after the Ascend P1 S comes out). It's obvious the company put a lot of tender lovin' care into the Honor, and if this phone is any indication, we suspect Huawei has even better devices left to share this year.

Edgar Alvarez contributed to this review.
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Huawei

Huawei Honor

Pros

  • Incredible battery life
  • Great performance for a midrange device
  • Above-average display
  • HDR camera captures a large amount of light

Cons

  • Video capture could be better
  • Not compatible with all major UMTS / HSPA networks
Conclusion

Huawei has successfully put together a solid mid-range phone that offers great performance for its price.

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