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The Honor 8X is the budget phone for big-screen junkies

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The 8X does a good job at hiding its budget price tag

Photo by Jon Porter / The Verge

Huawei’s Honor phones have never been about offering top-of-the-line performance or specs, and the Honor 8X — which is coming to Europe and North America — is no different. With a 6.5-inch notched screen, the handset looks superficially similar to 2018 flagship devices that cost four times as much, but its midlevel specs mean that the 8X simply can’t offer the same level of performance. Honor has cut corners to reach this sub-£250 (around $330 USD) price point. But depending on your needs, those might not be corners you cared about in the first place.

The Honor 8X makes a very good first impression. It’s got a gargantuan LCD screen with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, a sleek glass back (available in red, blue, and black, depending on your territory), dual rear-facing cameras, and a display notch that gives it a screen-to-body ratio of just over 90 percent. Hold it in your hands, and it simply doesn’t look or feel like a budget phone.

Peer more closely, however, and you’ll start to see a few telltale signs of its lower price point. Once you’ve finished high-fiving anyone within reach over the headphone jack, you’ll notice that the bottom of the device has a Micro USB port rather than a USB-C port. Squint at the screen, and you’ll realize it’s a Full HD affair, with a resolution of 2340 x 1080. Should you ever drop the 8X in a puddle of water, its lack of officially certified waterproofing will also become obvious. The compromises are there for you to see, but Honor’s done a decent job of obscuring them with the 8X’s appealing industrial design.

Buying a budget phone has always been about working out which features you can do without, rather than trying to find something that does everything.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the 8X doesn’t include a top-of-the-line processor. Its Huawei-made Kirin 710 is roughly equivalent to Qualcomm’s midrange Snapdragon 636 on paper, which means it offers a similar amount of power as the HTC U12 Life or Nokia 6.1 Plus. In effect, this meant that the phone occasionally struggled to keep pace with my daily usage. Google Maps’ picture-in-picture navigation mode was a particular struggle, but even quickly switching between apps occasionally saw the handset’s processor creak under the pressure (although the usual disclaimers about pre-release software apply).

If you’re worried about how this processor will impact your gaming performance when paired with the Mali G51 GPU and 4GB of RAM, then Honor has a response, albeit not one I was particularly convinced by. “GPU Turbo” is a technology that first appeared on the Honor 10, where partnerships with specific developers should, Honor claims, mean that certain games are performance-optimized for its handsets.

Exactly how many games will benefit from this tech is up for debate. At the briefing, Honor was only able to name two games, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Asphalt 9, that will benefit from the technology. When I tried to play PUBG, I still had to turn the frame rate down to Low in order to make sure it was consistent, so it’s difficult to know how much of an impact the feature was actually having.

On the camera front, the same AI photo-processing technology that Honor’s parent company Huawei includes on its flagship devices has made its way to the Honor 8X, ostensibly allowing the phone to identify what’s in the frame and optimize the image accordingly. I’ve become pretty skeptical of AI claims like this, given their overabundance in 2018, but the 20-megapixel, f/1.8 camera (flanked by a second 2-megapixel one) provides passable images under the right conditions. However, anything less frequently resulted in muddy photos with obvious motion blur, and the camera app could also be sluggish and unresponsive at times. The camera tends to be the first compromise you make when you opt for a budget device, and that’s the case with the 8X.

One compromise you’re not making with the Honor 8X is battery life, which is excellent, thanks to its 3,750mAh capacity. I consistently found myself with over 50 percent charge left at the end of a day in which I read articles and listened to music for an hour and a half during my commute and browsed Twitter throughout the day.

There was only one aspect of the Honor 8X that represented a real deal-breaker for me, and that was wireless Bluetooth performance. Listening to the same Bowers & Wilkins PX Wireless headphones that I’ve used with my trusty iPhone SE without issue for years, I experienced frequent dropouts whenever I walked through areas of high radio interference. Wireless headphones are never 100 percent perfect, but the Honor 8X gave me noticeably worse performance than usual.

The Honor 8X is a big, cheap phone. It’s not quite as big as the 7.12-inch Honor 8X Max that the company has already released in China, but it’s more than big enough for anyone who’d normally opt for the Plus, XL, or Max variants of its competitors. Just by looking at its price, you already know it’ll have its weaknesses. But depending on your needs, that might not bother you much at all.

The Honor 8X will be available starting on October 11th at an exact price that’s to be announced.