Honor 7S review: good looking, but so very slow

We’ve noticed an interesting trend in smartphones over the last few years. The gap between the best and the worst has gotten increasingly smaller. So in today’s market, the advantages of a more expensive phone are less distinct than ever.

So even if you appreciate high-end builds and having the latest features, you’d be advised to think twice before spending an arm and a leg on the latest and greatest.

Should you mind the new wave of budget handsets?

Unlike premium phones, budget-oriented devices have relied on a different yet effective strategy. Instead of trying to produce new and exciting features to fuel headlines, affordable smartphones have instead focused on doing the essentials and doing them well.

It’s for this reason that budget devices are becoming more interesting, and are improving at a faster rate. While their premium counterparts have a tendency to stagnate.

One device in this category is the recently launched Honor 7S. At least at first glance. Huawei’s sub-brand, Honor is aimed at people who don’t want to drop a huge amount on a phone. The company does offer more advanced phones like the Honor 10 View which is available for $499. Yet this price places it in direct competition with the OnePlus 6, so it’s not exactly a low-cost affair.

But the latest Honor 7S however, is truly a phone for those on a tight budget. It’s available for roughly $129 and for this modest price it brings some interesting features (and some potentially deal-breaking flaws) to the table, which we are going to talk about in a few.

Design & Build

The design of the Honor 7S isn’t striking. You won’t go “wow” as you extract it out of the box, but the phone does look pretty good. For a budget device.

It has a metal frame and a black plastic panel with a matte finish. So unlike the super trendy all-glass phones everyone is drooling over these days, the Honor 7S is not a magnet for fingerprints. Which is nice to have.

The Honor 7S is quite compact too. It weighs only 142g and has 8.3mm frame, so it feels pretty great in hand.

Display

The Honor 7S is among the cheapest offerings on the market to offer 18:9 aspect ratio, which follows a major trend throughout the phone industry. But more often it’s been seen on devices that cost a lot more. Although more affordable options are starting to emerge.

The display is a sensible 5.45-inch in size and the resolution is 1440 x 720 pixel, which is what you’d normally expect from budget devices such as this one. So while it’s not full HD, it’s still acceptable.

The color reproduction is quite decent overall. The screen is also particularly bright and vibrant compared to other devices in this price category.

You also have some additional display features to tap into from Settings. There’s Eye Comfort mode, which filters out blue light to relieve visual fatigue. Once you enable this mode, the screen will have a yellowish tint, automatically adjusting the color temperature to lessen the strain on your eyes.

Or you can manually fiddle with color temperature and opt for warmer or colder tones. Depending on what you prefer.

Apart from the display, the front of the phone also houses a loudspeaker. A 5-megapixel selfie shooter, LED notification light and LED flash for night selfies (if you’re into that) are also included. The speaker sounds quite decent for a budget phone, but offers nothing out of the ordinary.

The power button and the volume rocker are both located on the right side, while the left side is home to the dual-SIM card slot and a slot for storage expansion. The device uses a micro USB port for charging which is located at the bottom.

Like it’s still the case with the majority of budget phones today, the phone has a 3.5mm headphone jack which is located on the top.

On the back, there is a single camera system. The notable absentee here is the fingerprint scanner. Also, the phone lacks a face ID feature.

Huawei is pushing two special features with the Honor 7S, and one has to do with making phone calls. It’s called Loud Voice Call, and it’s supposed to help the other person’s voice cut through ambient noise during a call.

Yet in our experience we can’t say we’ve noticed anything out of the ordinary. Yeah, we could hear the voice of the other person loud and clear enough, but honestly, the quality didn’t stand out to us or anything.

Performance

While things seemed to be moderately promising on the outside, things aren’t that great when it comes to performance. It’s not usually a strong point of budget smartphones and the Honor 7S isn’t much different in this area. The phone is powered by MediaTek MT6739 processor which a quad-core affair clocked at 1.5GHz. It’s backed up by 2GB of RAM and 16GB of expandable storage (up to 256GB).

Unfortunately, the processor used is old and pretty lack-lustre. As a result, the phone is often laggy and takes a few seconds to “think through” even the most basic of commands.

Gaming performance is quite average at best, with more demanding games suffering the most. We’ve also noticed a weird bug. While playing (certain) games, the screen randomly dims itself and then brightens up again. It’s quite frustrating when you’re trying to see what you’re doing in the game.

If you’re coming to the Honor 7S from a Galaxy S9 or even from an Honor 10 View, the overall experience will probably feel quite exasperating. But if you give it a few seconds to breathe, the Honor 7S manages to do its job. It can handle most basic tasks, but it will do so at its own sluggish pace. Fortunately, webpages tend to load pretty fast. No major headaches here.

The Honor 7S relies on a 3,020 mAh battery which offers surprisingly good battery life. We could easily get through the day on a single charge and still have some juice left before bedtime. Our daily routine when using the phone included using social media, talking on the phone, a bit of gaming and reading a few articles.

That’s not too surprising, when you don’t have a super high-resolution display like flagships often do, your battery is simply going to last longer because there are fewer pixels to push.

A one-time session of continuous gaming  (with sound off and screen brightness set to medium) that lasted around 5.5 hours drained battery levels down to 15%. However, be warned that in such an intense scenario, the phone has a tendency to overheat.

The Honor 7S apparently has fast-charging. It takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes to fully juice it up again. But that’s with the charging cable Honor provides in the box. If you use a third party charger it takes a lot longer.

The second special feature Huawei is pushing here is a smart battery management function meant to extend battery life. You can turn it on from Settings. The mode enables a very pristine interface with only a few apps are available. Which you get to pick. With 59% battery life and the Ultra power saving mode on, you should be good for another 2 days and 4 hours!

Cameras

Dual cameras are among the most popular trends in phones over the last few years . The Honor 7S bucks this one, however, and settles for a singular 13-megapixel rear-facing camera that features PDAF for focused pictures.

For a smartphone that costs less than $150, the Honor 7S can take pretty decent pics with a moderate amount of details and nice colors. Provided you have optimal lighting conditions. Even so, in bright sunlight some results look a bit burned (see tree picture).

But don’t expect the same outcome in low-light scenarios. The pictures we’ve taken with the phone look very grainy and the colors extremely washed out.

The camera app brings nothing out of the ordinary. Swipe right and you’ll open up the Settings panel. From here you get access to more advanced options like tweaking ISO and White Balance.

The main camera also lets you shoot 1080p video at 30fps. Due to the lack of optical image stabilization, the results are pretty rudimentary.

The selfie camera is pretty mediocre in quality too. Most self-portraits we snapped turned out too soft. There’s also a beauty mode enabled that will smooth your imperfection. It’s a bit over the top, making you look overly pale, but some people might be into that kind of thing.

Software

Android 8.1 Oreo is a welcome sight on low-cost phones. It used to be the case that many devices in this category shipped with outed versions of Android. Fortunately, the Honor 7S is as up to date as it can be in this department. Although, our review unit has the March Android security patch installed, which is quite outdated.

But while it’s laudable that the Honor 7S ships with the latest in terms of Android, we’re pretty doubtful that the phone will get the Android P update.

Obviously, the phone ships with Huawei’s proprietary EMUI 8.0 laid on top of Android. So those who used a Huawei phone before will know what to expect.

The heavily-skinned interface might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it does offer sufficient functionality for users. The phone packs some customization options. For example, there’s no app drawer by default, but if you’re a fan, you can enable the option from Settings.

Another cool trick you might be familiar with if you’ve used a OnePlus is the ability to slide down three fingers to take a screenshot. You can find the option under Motion control in System.

What’s not so great is that the Honor 7S comes pre-installed with a series of apps including Tips, Phone Manager or Themes, which you may or may not need. During our time with the phone we didn’t use them much for the simple fact that we didn’t find them helpful at all.

Themes, for example, is very basic offering only a few options to choose from. Although you can add more wallpapers by tapping into your own private gallery.

Conclusion

Smartphones these days tend to have a fairly short lifespan. In most circumstances, they don’t last more than two years. So if feel it’s unnecessary to make an $800+ investment into a device you will want to replace in a couple of years, buying a budget phone makes perfect sense.

So should you consider getting the Honor 7S? It depends.

It’s hard not to notice the super convenient price tag. For under $150 you can get a phone boasting a modern 18:9 aspect ratio, a great battery life and the latest version of Android on board.

However, you might want to think twice if, for example, you want to use the phone mostly for gaming. Yeah, the large battery will enable you to embark on long gaming sessions. But at what cost?

You’ll surely become annoyed with the phone’s flat performance which is exacerbated when running games. Yes, the Honor 7S can handle a simple game like Cafeland without much lag, but try to play anything slightly more demanding and you’ll start feeling disheartened pretty fast.

But if you want a phone to assist you with basic tasks such as browsing the web, checking email, social media and texting, the Honor 7S might be what you’re looking for.

Although there might be better options out there to consider. For example, the Moto E5 Play costs only $79.99 and ships with a better Snapdragon 427 processor under the hood. However, it features a smaller battery and a less impressive 8-megapixel main camera.

We should note that the phone is not currently available in the US. However, if you are in Europe you can grab it for €119 in select countries. At this point, we don’t know whether Honor has any plans of launching the handset in the States. So for the time being, customers in the country who are looking for a budget phone can opt for the Honor 7X, which offers improved specs at a slightly higher price point.

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