Huawei Honor 5X Review: The Budget Phone to Beat

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Bargain hunters may not believe their eyes when they see Huawei's Honor 5X. This $200 unlocked phone (which works on GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile) offers the kind of features you'd expect from a $350 to $400 device. We're talking about a premium metal body, a 1080p screen, a snappy fingerprint sensor and capable cameras. Throw in a battery that lasts all day, and you've got the best budget phone available.

Design: Surprisingly Sleek

How stylish does the Honor 5X look? I handed the phone to a co-worker and asked him to guess how much it cost. His guess: between $300 and $400.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

The phone features an all-metal body that's solid and slightly curved on the back. Hold the Honor 5X, and it feels a little hollow compared to higher-end flagships such as the Huawei Mate 8 or the Google Nexus 6P.

The brushed-metal pattern on the back adds a touch of class to the Honor 5X.

The brushed-metal pattern on the back adds a touch of class to the device, which sports a rounded-square fingerprint sensor below its rear camera. Up front, a white bezel surrounds the Honor 5X's 5.5-inch display. I wish Huawei had continued the metallic aesthetic around the front, because this white bezel slightly cheapens the look of the phone.

The Honor 5X has three card slots, allowing you to insert either two SIM cards at once along with one microSD card, or two microSD cards and one nano SIM. This lets data hoarders greatly expand storage capacity, or allows frequent travelers to keep international SIM cards active.

I set the Honor 5X to open the Gallery app with the fingerprint sensor, making it easy to show photos to my friends.

At 5.57 ounces, the Honor 5X is heavier than competitors like the plastic Alcatel Onetouch Idol 3 (4.9 ounces) but lighter than the 6-ounce Asus ZenFone 2.

Huawei Honor 5X Specs

Carrier: Unlocked
Display (main): 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080
OS Family: Android
Operating System: Android 5.1
CPU: 1.5/1.2-GHz octa-core Snapdragon 616
Internal Memory: 16GB
Memory Expansion Type: microSD card
Bluetooth Type: Bluetooth 4.1
Front Camera Resolution: 5 MP
Camera Resolution: 13 MP
Ports: micro SIM, microSD, micro USB, 3.5mm headphone

Fingerprint Sensor: Helpful Shortcuts

I wasn't expecting a $200 phone to come with a fingerprint sensor, so I was pleasantly surprised that the one on the back of the Honor 5X worked well. It took just seven scans to fully register my fingerprint in the system, far fewer than the dozen or so taps I'm used to on other phones. I could also quickly and conveniently unlock the Honor 5X just by laying my finger on the sensor.

Instead of just using your finger to unlock your phone, you can register up to five digits and assign each to launch a different app or call a specified contact when the phone is asleep. I set the Honor 5X to open the Gallery app with my right middle finger, making it easy to quickly pull up my favorite photos to show my friends.

Realistically, only three fingers can comfortably launch shortcuts when you're holding the Honor 5X with its screen facing toward you — both index fingers and your primary hand's middle finger. Still, this is a nifty tool.

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You can also set the Honor 5X to perform different tasks within certain built-in apps and parts of the interface when you put a registered digit on the fingerprint scanner. For instance, you can touch and hold the sensor to stop an alarm when it goes off, go back to the home screen from an app, take a photo or video with the camera, or answer a call.

Display and Audio: Bright and Colorful

The Honor 5X's 5.5-inch 1080p display proved to be a good partner for my Netflix binges and casual gaming. Red taillights and orange flames of a burning star appeared vibrant in a 1080p trailer for The Last Witch Hunter, and I could easily see individual snowflakes as they swirled around Vin Diesel's brooding face.

Registering 529 nits on our light meter, the Honor 5X's display is brighter than the average for smartphones (425 nits) and most of its rivals, though the Idol 3 (736 nits) still outshines other smartphones.

The Honor 5X reproduced 120.5 percent of the sRGB spectrum, making it slightly more colorful than the smartphone average (119.6 percent) and better than the competition. However, it didn't match the OnePlus X, which got 186.2 percent.

Credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide)

With a Delta-E error rating of 3.52, the Honor 5X's screen was not as accurate as the smartphone average (3.19). (Numbers closer to 0 are better.) However, it did better than the ZenFone 2 (8.5) at accurately displaying colors.

The bottom-mounted speakers on the Honor 5X pumped out music loud enough to drown out my TV and fill my living room. Music felt canned, though, with Justin Bieber's "Sorry" sounding hollow. 

Interface: A Different Look for Lollipop

Running Huawei's EMUI 3.1 software over Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, the Honor 5X's interface is markedly different from stock Android. Instead of having an apps drawer, the Honor 5X lays out all of your apps on your home pages. The interface features a cartoonish skin with colorful, rounded icons. You can use the Themes app to replace the icons, wallpaper and color scheme of the system.

The Honor 5X comes with Huawei apps such as Weather, Gallery, Video Player and Phone Manager, replacing the standard Android apps. The latter app lets you optimize your system performance with one tap by closing apps that are using too much power; it also allows you to block incoming messages that have specific keywords.

I sometimes had trouble trying to drag the brightness slider in the notifications panel. You have to touch the marker with pinpoint accuracy, before dragging it. It's a small but annoying problem, because I adjust the display brightness a lot and I wish I didn't have to be so precise with it.

The Honor 5X's battery lasts long enough to keep you going all day.

In addition to Huawei's utilities, such as Files and Phone Manager, you get a folder of apps, including Huawei Support and Huawei Community, as well as third-party titles such as Facebook, Shazam and Facetune. I would have preferred that the phone not push these apps on me at all, although I appreciate that they're stashed away in a folder. You'll find more bloatware on the Honor 5X than on the Nexus 5X, the OnePlus and the Idol 3, but far less than what's on the ZenFone 2.

Performance: Pretty Good for the Price

Armed with an octa-core Snapdragon CPU (featuring four 1.5-GHz cores and four 1.2-GHz cores) and 2GB of RAM, the Honor 5X was generally zippy, but hiccuped occasionally when running a lot of apps. Although I smoothly played a round of Cooking Dash despite a dozen apps open in the background, the phone exhibited some lag when returning to the home screen.

Surprisingly, the Honor 5X's Geekbench 3 result of 2,990 was better than such $250 phones as the Idol 3 (2,029), the ZenFone 2 (2,832) and the OnePlus X (2,402). It outperformed the average smartphone (2,838) but lost to the hexa-core Snapdragon 808-powered Nexus 5X (3,507). The Nexus is considerably more expensive, though, at $299.

Taking 7 minutes and 41 seconds to convert a 204MB video from 1080p to 480p, the Honor 5X lagged behind the smartphone average (7:10) and the speedy ZenFone 2 (3:40), but it handled the task faster than the Idol 3 (8:22).

Mobile gamers may be disappointed with the Honor 5X's graphics performance. Its 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited score of 7,792 is worse than the score for the average smartphone (14,778) and every other competing handset other than the Idol 3 (6,384).

Cameras: Solid Image Quality

Instagram fiends can rest assured that the Honor 5X's pictures will be good enough to post.

Credit: Cherlynn Low

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low)

The rear 13-megapixel camera takes sharp, colorful pictures. The camera accurately captured green and orange chairs in my neighborhood café, while the floral patterns on the walls looked clear.

Credit: Cherlynn Low

(Image credit: Cherlynn Low)

The 5X also performed ably in low light, accurately capturing the bright-red accents in my co-worker's jacket, although the blue fabric looked more like black. It's easy to make out details, such as the edges of his zipper, as well.

The 1080p video I shot of Manhattan streets looked smooth, colorful and clear, with passing cars appearing sharp and yellow cabs showing accurate colors.

I liked the crisp, vibrant selfies shot with the Honor 5X's 5-MP front camera, which accurately captured both my light-brown hair and the green plants behind me. The images were clear enough to show the faint ribbing in my white sweater.

Left: Beauty Mode 0. Right: Beauty Mode 5.

Left: Beauty Mode 0. Right: Beauty Mode 5.

The front camera's portrait-enhancing Beauty Mode is set to level 5 by default, which I found to be good enough at smoothing my complexion without being too aggressive. Huawei's camera app also offers shooting modes such as Time Lapse, Slow Motion, Panorama, Beauty and Food.

Battery Life: A Full Day of Use

Clocking in at 9 hours and 22 minutes on our battery test (which involves Web surfing over AT&T's 4G LTE network at 150 nits of brightness), the Honor 5X lasts long enough to keep you going all day.

It beat the average smartphone (8:15), the OnePlus X (7:21), the ZenFone 2 (7:05) and the Idol 3 (9:16). It trailed only the Nexus 5X, which got a whopping 11:30 result.

I also liked that the Honor 5X was able to hold its charge when asleep. Other phones I've tested tend to lose juice in a day even if they were just chilling out in my backpack not doing anything.

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The Honor 5X's battery level didn't drop, despite sitting idle in my bag for a day and a half. Credit Huawei's SmartPower 3.0 power-saving technology, which the company says reduces power consumption by 30 percent.

Bottom Line

It's hard to find a better phone for the price than the Honor 5X. For just $200, the Honor 5X squeezes an all-day battery, a useful fingerprint sensor and good cameras into a solid, all-metal body. I love the clever use of the fingerprint sensor for shortcuts, and the surprisingly speedy performance. Android purists may not like the heavy-handed EMUI skin, but I'm happy to install a different theme over it.

Those looking for better performance and with more money to spend should consider the $300 Nexus 5X, which outperformed the Honor and lasted an incredible 11 hours on our battery test. Among $200 phones, though, the Honor 5X provides excellent performance in a stylish package, making it the budget phone to beat.

Cherlynn Low

Cherlynn is Deputy Editor, Reviews at Engadget and also leads the site's Google reporting. She graduated with a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University before joining Tom's Guide and its sister site LaptopMag as a staff writer, where she covered wearables, cameras, laptops, computers and smartphones, among many other subjects.