Hands On Review of the Affordable-But-Powerful Honor 8 Smartphone

A phone you may not have heard of holds its own against much pricier rivals.

By Dave Johnson

TL; DW (too long, didn't watch)

Whether you’re the sort of person who’s always on the lookout for the next cool Android phone, or you just want a good phone at a good price, I have a handset you're going to want to take a close look at.

The brand name Honor might not mean a lot to you, since it’s not from a well-known company like Apple or Samsung or even HTC. It’s from Huawei, a Chinese company that’s just starting to make a name for itself. The company's previous handsets were quite respectable, but the Honor 8—the newest—is a really impressive phone that's both powerful and affordable.

First, take a look at it. It’s really pretty, perfectly flat with no bulging lenses. It’s only a hair thicker than the iPhone 6, and its 5.2-inch 1080P screen is a sharp, bright, and about the right size even for me—and I love the huge iPhone 6 Plus display. It’s finished in glass on both side because, well, why not? And it’s made of layers that refract light for a really cool look. Bottom line is that it’s solid, sturdy, and looks and feels great.

This phone puts the fingerprint sensor on the back, so you can unlock it when your index finger naturally falls into place. The sensor seems to unlock the phone more or less instantly—honestly, blink and you'll miss the time it takes to read your fingerprint.

The fingerprint sensor is also a button that lets you launch three favorite apps with a tap, a double tap, and a tap and hold. For me, one tap gives me Outlook, and two taps gives me my calendar. You can also slide through your photos with a sideways swipe of your fingertip, and pull down the notifications. It’s nifty, though I miss the ability to turn on my phone when it’s sitting on my desk: There’s no home button there, so you have to pick up the phone to turn it on.

Using the quick-launch button is just one way to quickly get at apps. The Honor 8 also supports knuckle gestures. Draw a C on the screen with your knuckle, for example, and the camera starts. To me, this feels like a gimmick. I find it hard to draw with my knuckle, and it only works about half the time. Why not just draw with your fingertip? This feature is a dud.

One of the phone’s coolest features is its camera—in addition to a beefy 8MP selfie camera, it has dual 12-megapixel main camera lenses on the back. The Honor takes one color and one monochrome image and combines them for an image that purportedly has better detail and color. My eyeballs say: This phone takes excellent photos.

Moreover, the camera has a lot of tricks. There’s a pro mode that gives you easy control over shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and more. And remember the Lytro camera that lets you change the focus of a picture after you’ve taken it? Well, you can do that here as well, choosing to make the background or foreground in focus after it’s shot. Wow. And I didn't even get to the night modes that let you take light trail photos! This camera is amazing.

The Honor 8 has a lot more going for it as well, like a speedy processor and a micro-SD slot, which lets you add up to 128GB of memory to your phone.

I’m a fan. This is a superb smartphone that holds its own against the best models from Samsung and Apple. Best of all, it’s very affordable: The 32GB model costs $400, and the 64GB model is $450--putting it in OnePlus 3 pricing territory. So like I said at the start, this phone has both a great price and an impressive array of features. It’s a keeper.