Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Huawei Honor 4X review

The Honor 4X is the company’s latest entrant in the budget smartphone category. It is also the launch of Honor as a brand in itself, still owned by Huawei but running independently without the Huawei branding.
The Honor 4X is a competitively priced big screen smartphone. Some of the salient features include a 5.5-inch 720p IPS display, Snapdragon 410 processor, 2GB RAM, 13 megapixel camera, dual SIM connectivity, 4G LTE, and a 3,000mAh battery, all for a price of Rs. 10,499 ($168). Let’s take a closer look at it.


Bundle

The Honor 4X packaging comes with the phone, a USB data cable, and a USB charger, along with the manuals. The charger is strangely rated at 1.0A, which makes it too slow to charge the 3000mAh battery on the phone.

Design

The Honor 4X has a rather large footprint thanks to that big 5.5-inch display. On the front are the earpiece and the sensors, along with the 5 megapixel camera above the display. There’s also a tiny green LED for notifications at the top left corner. Below are three capacitive buttons for back, home, and menu shaped after Android Lollipop icons. The choice to assign the third button as menu by default is perplexing, and you have to press and hold to access the multitasking menu. There was no way to reverse this behavior in the Settings app.
On the right are the power buttons and the volume controls. The power button is perfectly placed and right where your thumb would be. On the bottom is the microUSB port, single loudspeaker, and primary microphone. On the top is the headphone jack, and secondary microphone. On the back is the 13 megapixel camera with single LED flash.
The back panel can be removed to access the two micro SIM card slots (both support LTE) and the microSD card slot. The battery is non-removable.
The build quality of the phone was average. The back panel has a fabric like texture that neither looks nor feels particularly great. The phone generally feels sturdy but if you press it hard enough the back cover creaks a bit around the edges. Since the battery is non-removable, it would have made more sense to seal the back cover and have the card slots on the side, as that would have improved the rigidity of the phone. The removable nature of the back cover means it’s bound to creak a little when squeezed.
As mentioned before, the Honor 4X is a large phone. Those used to or wanting a big phone should be fine but others might find it a bit too large to use with one hand. The sides are also not particularly grippy and the phone is susceptible to slipping.

Display

The Honor 4X has a 5.5-inch, 1280×720 resolution IPS panel. The display is one of the best things about the Honor 4X. While it’s not uncommon to find a 720p display in a lot of the budget Android smartphones these days, the one on the Honor 4X seems to be properly calibrated with the colors looking the way they should without any blandness or oversaturation. 5.5-inch is stretching the 720p resolution a bit thin but unless you stick your face right next to the screen it’s not really noticeable. Overall, a really great display especially at this price point.

Hardware, Software, and Performance

The Honor 4X runs on Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 MSM8916, with quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU clocked at 1.2GHz and Adreno 306 GPU. There’s also 2GB of RAM and 8GB internal memory, of which 4GB is available to the user. You can expand it further with microSD cards.
On the software side, the Honor 4X is running on Android 4.4 KitKat with Huawei’s EMUI 3.0 on top. As custom skins go, EMUI has its ups and downs. There are some tasteful design decisions, such as the Settings app, which definitely looks nice. The notification drawer also looks good, as do many of the stock apps. The lockscreen also has a magazine mode, which automatically pulls high resolution wallpapers, all of which look great and there is a new one every time you unlock the screen.
All that is fine but it loses some of the goodwill through the theming engine. Now there’s nothing wrong with having theme support, but none of the pre-installed themes are particularly good, although you can download some new ones. Also, all themes insist on cropping the app icons into a square or circle instead of just leaving them alone. This leaves a sea of horribly cropped icons right on your homescreen. And because the theme support is built into the system, you have to install another launcher and then download some icon pack to get some better looking icons.
Unfortunately, this is not exclusive to Honor as other Chinese OEMs (Xiaomi, Gionee, Vivo, to name a few) are also fond of doing this in their earnest attempt to ape the uniform icon shape of the iOS Springboard. Another page from the iOS hand book is the lack of any application drawer, which means all icons land on your homescreen along with the widgets. As if that’s not enough, Honor also has an iOS Control Center style slide up menu on the lockscreen with the exact same icon shape as iOS, and pulling down on the homescreen brings iOS Spotlight style local search menu.
I also hate how the menu button functionality still exists in the OS and you have to press and hold for the multitasking menu. Google phased out the menu button with Ice Cream Sandwich but Chinese Android OEMs are yet to get the memo.
The multitasking menu on the Honor 4X is a grid of four tabs that runs in pages. You can swipe up on a tab to close that app or swipe down to lock that app. You can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to close all apps except the ones that have been locked. It must be noted that closing apps is not the best practice unless it’s misbehaving, as restarting it takes more resources and is a bigger battery hog than actually letting that app run in the background. This is why stock Android doesn’t include close all functionality in the multitasking menu.
The overall performance of the phone was genuinely impressive. Snapdragon 410 devices aren’t exactly known to be blazing fast performers, being tuned more for power consumption that performance. Still, the Honor 4X did quite well, running smoothly most of the time. The 2GB RAM also helps a lot, where the phone keeps running well even if you have a few apps open in the background. Gaming performance was also satisfactory; save for a few graphically intensive games such as ‘N.O.V.A. 3′ or ‘Modern Combat 5: Blackout’ at max settings, the phone ran all other games at a playable framerate.
Another thing to note is that there is no heating issue to speak of. The Snapdragon 410 chips are good in this aspect and even under load the phone maintains a comfortable temperature.

Connectivity

The Honor 4X has dual-SIM support with 4G LTE support on both slots. This means you can have an LTE enabled SIM on either slot and don’t have to restrict to the first slot only so you can have the first SIM for voice-only and the second one for data if you want. Of course, only one SIM can have data enabled at any point. There is also Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and GLONASS. There is no NFC, much to the dismay of three people who use it.
The call quality on the phone was good. All the wireless services also worked well. The loudspeaker on the phone is quite loud and is always heard clearly.

Camera

The Honor 4X has a 13 megapixel camera on the back with single LED flash. The camera consistently produced astonishing shots; you generally don’t expect this level of quality at this price but Honor 4X somehow manages to do that. The images from the rear camera aren’t just good for the price, they are good period. Even the front facing 5 megapixel camera is quite good and takes some impressive shots.

Battery Life

Snapdragon 410 chipsets are known for their efficiency. Couple that with a large battery and you have a recipe for great battery life. And indeed, the Honor 4X last quite long on a single charge. On a typical day with normal usage, the phone lasted a day and a half on a single charge, giving upwards of 7 hours of on-screen time. Even with heavy usage, you can still get one day of use with over 4 hours of on-screen time with this phone, with two SIM cards.

Verdict

The Honor 4X is priced quite well in India, which is just another crown in its feather. There really isn’t much wrong with this phone. The display is good, the performance is good, the cameras are great and even the battery life is excellent. My only quibbles are with the software and if you care about the design aspect you might have the same issues. The Chinese are clearly not very good at it since this issue is not exclusive to Huawei. But other than that there really wasn’t much to complain about. Between this and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4G there wasn’t a clear winner as both phones are very similar, with the Redmi Note 4G having slightly better software experience and the Honor 4X having 4G support on both slots. Regardless of which you pick, you can’t really make a bad decision as both are great phones for the price.

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