Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one!

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

Generally, the Honor brand offers a very good quality ratio, except for a few missteps. The standard bearers of this range are even close, year after year, to the P series of Huawei. So close that this Honor 8 Pro shakes up the Mate 9 and the P10 Plus. Explanations.

Since its official arrival in France, we are more and more charmed by the Honor brand. The Honor 6 was a good product with an aggressive price positioning, but still lacked some precision in the making. The Honor 7 was simply a rebranded and cheaper P8. If you liked one, you loved the other. The Honor 8 had all the makings of the P9, minus the Leica certification for its dual camera sensor. But that was the only difference, apart from a lower price. And we’re not talking about the very appetizing low-cost phablets: Honor 4X, Honor 5X and Honor 5C.

Same philosophy, same aggressiveness

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a SmartphoneFrom the Honor 6 to the Honor 8, it’s obvious that the brand wants to play in the same league as the big boys, like OnePlus and Meizu, but always with prices much lower than the competition, whether Korean, American, Taiwanese, Japanese or even brotherly. Because the Honor brand benefits from the group’s developments (both hardware and software), but does not refuse to step on the toes of the Huawei brand. And, once again, this is the case with the Honor V9, successor to the Honor V8 (which was not marketed in France) renamed Honor 8 Pro in Europe, whose complete technical data is as follows

  • dimensions: 157 x 77.5 x 7 mm
  • weight: 184 grams
  • Aluminum chassis at the back and Corning Gorilla 3 glass protection
  • 5.7 inch LTPS Quad HD display with a resolution of 515 pixels per inch
  • screen to size ratio: 73.6
  • HiSilicon Kirin 960 chipset with 4 Cortex-A73 cores running at 2.4GHz, 4 Cortex-A53 cores running at 1.8GHz and an ARM Mali-G71 MP8 GPU
  • 6 GB of RAM
  • 64GB of internal storage (expandable via microSDXC up to 256GB more)
  • 4000 mAh non-removable battery
  • dual camera with two 12-megapixel sensors, f/2.2 lens, dual-tone flash, phase detection and laser autofocus, 4K video support
  • 8 megapixel webcam on the front with f/2.0 lens
  • fingerprint reader on the back
  • compatible with LTE, WiFi ac dual band (DLNA), Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS Glonass, infrared and USB type-C, 3.5 mm jack
  • DTS compatible audio chipset
  • Emotion UI 5.1 on an Android 7.0 Nougat base

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

First of all, you’ll notice that the Honor 8 Pro offers very similar dimensions to the Mate 9, give or take a few tenths of a millimeter. It’s just as tall, a little less wide and slightly thinner. However, the Mate 9’s screen is 0.2 inches larger. The edges of the Honor 8 Pro are slightly thicker. The mobile has an additional 2GB of RAM, a Quad HD display and all the other goodies of the Mate 9. Not to mention the audio chipset with DTS sound which we will explore later. In short, the Honor 8 Pro is better than the Mate 9. It could even be as good as the P10 Plus

A design very close to the iPhone 7 Plus

Before we get to the technical and multimedia performance, let’s first take a look around. The Honor 8 Pro uses the design of the Honor V8 from 2016. Since we have not experienced this phone in our countries, you should know that the mobile is more similar to an iPhone 7 Plus than to the Honor 8: the back of the phone is not covered with mineral glass, but aluminum, like the P8 Lite (2017), P10 Lite, P10 and the P10 Plus. Unlike the Mate 9, the Honor 8 Pro has a straight back in the center and offers curved edges. On the front, the smartphone features only a touchscreen, with no physical button or touch surface.

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

However, you will notice a visual difference to the previously mentioned models: the antenna dividers are neither hidden behind a glass part, nor along the edges. They are horizontal. They are visible. And they separate the shell into three parts, like an iPhone 6 Plus. The upper separation also serves as an alignment for all photographic elements: the two sensors, the laser autofocus and the flash. Below this line, where the Mate 9’s photo sensors are usually located, is the fingerprint reader to be activated with the index finger. We prefer front readers. Especially since this one is easily accessible only to those with long fingers.

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

The edges are relatively sober for a high-end model, especially when we compare with those of the Galaxy S7 for example. Here, simplicity prevails. A simplicity that is also found with the placement of technical elements: power and volume on the right, SIM and microSD drawer on the left, main microphone, USB type-C, speaker and 3.5 mm jack on the bottom, infrared and microsecondary on top. The construction is qualitative (with a tiny bit of play between the Gorilla glass slab and the metal chassis on our review unit). And the grip is classic.

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

Honor’s first QHD panel

The screen, a large 5.7-inch LTPS and QHD panel, is one of the Honor 8 Pro’s pleasant surprises. It is the first QHD model of the Honor brand to arrive in France (the Honor V8 and Honor Note 8 never made it to our country). And we do not deny our pleasure: open viewing angles, finesse in graphics, etc.. Especially since the brightness is very good (even if it is less than that of the Mate 9).

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

However, not everything is perfect: the color rendering is not as good as with Samsung or OnePlus (a little too cold), a defect related to the nature of the slab that you can counteract manually in the settings. Note that it is possible to lower the screen definition from QHD to Full HD thanks to the energy profiles (and the activation of the option in the settings). This offers, in some cases, a gain in autonomy and extra power to the chipset that may sometimes need it.

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

EMUI a little more cluttered than on the Mate 9

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a SmartphoneOnce turned on, the Honor 8 Pro presents the EMUI interface, here in version 5.1 on an Android 7.0 Nougat base. This is the first smartphone, along with the P10 and P10 Plus, with this version of Huawei’s ROM. The changes between version 5.0, of the Mate 9 for example, and this version 5.1 are few. Let’s just say that it better manages system resources to speed up the whole experience. In addition, it takes advantage of the possible presence of a “home” pad, which becomes multifunctional (like Meizu’s).

For the rest, there are no major changes in the interface. EMUI looks more and more like Android and less and less like iOS, even if the app drawer is disabled by default (but it is possible to recreate it). The global search engine is still accessible by swiping down from the center of the screen. On the other hand, the quick settings are all back in the Android-specific area. And the settings menu is no longer copied from the iPhone. By finally being closer to Android standards, EMUI becomes richer and acquires a real personality. And that’s not bad.

There is still one problem, and a big one: the number of pre-installed applications. While it dropped with the Mate 9, here it is again on the rise with the Honor 8 Pro. And we’re not talking about Huawei’s own apps (Phone Management, Health, Calendar, HiCare, Music, Video, HiGame, Themes, Gallery, Notepad, Vmall, Weather, Files, etc). We’re talking about third-party applications instead: Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Jaunt VR, Booking.com, Opera (why install a second web browser?), Instagram, Swiftkey and half a dozen games from Gameloft. Fortunately, the vast majority of these applications can be permanently removed to save a few dozen megabytes… or more.

Very good performance (thanks to the 6GB of RAM)

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a SmartphoneAnd this will not be a luxury. Because, even though the smartphone comes with 64 GB of storage, the EMUI 5.1 ROM monopolizes 11 GB of it. This leaves less than 50 GB of storage available for the user. A figure comparable to the Mate 9, which makes a lot of sense since the phablet runs on an almost identical version of EMUI. But this weight is much higher than the competition: the OnePlus Oxygen ROM, present in the OnePlus 3T, weighs about five times less and the Touchwiz ROM, based on Android Marshmallow, weighs less than 7 GB (as in the Samsung Galaxy A3 (2017), for example). On the RAM side, EMUI 5.1 requires 2 GB on average to run. Fortunately, there are four more for other applications.

Finally, the autonomy of the smartphone is above average: without being as good as that of the Mate 9 (thanks to the Full HD screen), it is well beyond the day of use thanks to a battery of 4000 mAh associated with a chipset that knows when it should not be too greedy and when it can “drop the horses”! Perfect transition to mention the Kirin 960, associated here with a QHD screen and 6 GB of RAM. We will certainly still generate polemical comments on the results we obtained with the usual benchmarks. But here are our figures: 14670 points on AnTuTu, 2952 points on Basemark OS II, 1871 and 6393 points on Geekbench (respectively in single core and multi core) and 28620 points on 3DMark (Ice Storm Unlimited)

Our interpretation (you’ll certainly have your own) is this: the Kirin 960 is a chipset that manages to come close to the Exynos 8890 (but not the Exynos 8895) thanks to the extra power offered by the 6GB of RAM, despite a QHD screen definition. But we are still far from the SD821 (which exceeds 160,000 points on AnTuTu with 6GB of RAM) and the Apple A10 Fusion (over 170,000 points with only 2GB of RAM). We see here that the Kirin 960 gains 2000 points on Ice Storm Unilimited only thanks to its extra 2GB of RAM, allowing it to catch up with the Exynos 8890-based models that have only 4GB of RAM.

In light of these results, we therefore reiterate our opinion on the Mate 9: the delay observed by the latter is due to a lack of ambition on the part of Huawei, which prefers to reduce the number of GPU cores and the number of gigabytes of RAM in order to lower the selling price. This is an interesting strategy, as it increases the base of potential customers for a high-end phone. But it has a trade-off that we developed with the Mate 9.

When will a good video player at Honor / Huawei?

The Honor 8 Pro has great technical resources. It remains to be seen whether this is reflected in the multimedia uses. First of all, with video games: we were unpleasantly surprised to find that Dead Trigger 2 was automatically set to the lowest graphics quality at first startup. After forcing the switch to the best quality, we were able to appreciate the power of the platform and the quality of the screen during some missions. The touchscreen is very responsive. The smartphone remains fluid in all circumstances. The experience is therefore very good.

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

In video, we find the same decoding engine as the Mate 9, which is as always accessible from Gallery. This engine is close to that of Android AOSP, a tool capable of decoding many formats, but which is not able to offer additional options, such as the display of subtitles. This is the negative side of the video experience. Fortunately, there are two positives: the large QHD screen offers a very good visual experience and the speaker, located on the edge, is very powerful. Be careful not to obstruct it with a finger, though…

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

Let’s finally finish with the video: the Honor 8 Pro, unlike the Mate 9 but like the Honor 8, relies on a duo of 12-megapixel sensors (one RGB and one monochrome), combined with lenses opening at f/2.2 and a hybrid autofocus. The result is surprisingly good. Better even than with the Honor 8 and the Mate 9. Two possible explanations: the image co-processor of the Kirin 960 has been improved compared to the Kirin 950. The sensor control application is better able to take advantage of the combination of images from both sensors (images that are merged to improve sharpness and brightness).

Concretely, the images are globally bright and very well balanced, since there are very few shadows (except the one on the bottom left). We took advantage of a lull above Paris to take the picture opposite: the few clouds are well drawn, the cars and the Vélib’ below are visible. Because of the 12 megapixel sensors, pixels appear relatively quickly when zooming in. Moreover, we regret that the massive contribution of luminosity (by the fusion of the two sensors) lowers considerably the contrast (with a veiled effect). The colors are therefore a little washed out.

Honor 8 Pro review: a small Mate 9 that has everything of a big one! - Choose a Smartphone

Now that’s a premium phablet that has some!

In conclusion, the Honor 8 Pro is yet another proof of the relevance of this alternative brand that, without a doubt, is one of the architects of Huawei’s meteoric rise between 2015 and 2016. There are hardly any false notes in this product, which will obviously offer its future owners everything they have the right to expect from a premium phone. So it’s great news that Huawei / Honor has decided that this is not an Asian exclusive, unlike its predecessor.

A competitor to the HTC U Play, Meizu Pro 6 Plus or OnePlus 3T, the Honor 8 Pro is above all an excellent replacement for the Mate 9, especially if you prefer the design of the latest iPhone. While the Mate 9 is theoretically more high-end, with its Leica camera block and 5.9-inch display, the Honor 8 Pro is technically at least as good as its cousin. It’s even better where it matters, while being much cheaper.