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Huawei Honor 7 mixes high-end specs and metal body with an affordable price

The Honor 7 packs a whole heap of high-end tech, like a 20-megapixel camera, into a classy frame -- and doesn't charge the Earth for it either.

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If you like the sound of a metal phone packed with high end tech, but don't quite have the budget for a flagship phone like the iPhone 6 or the Samsung Galaxy S6, then check out the affordable Honor 7 by Huawei.

Launched just ahead of IFA 2015, his 5.2-inch Android phone stuffs a full HD display, a potent 2.2GHz octa-core processor, fingerprint scanner and 20-megapixel camera into a slim, metal body. That's a good lineup of specs, yet the Honor 7 is surprisingly cheap. It's going on sale in the UK this week for only £250, SIM-free, directly from Honor's website.

(If you're not familiar with the Honor brand, I can't blame you. It's a part of Chinese phone maker Huawei, and is the name you'll see on a range of phones aimed only at Europe. Here's where it gets really confusing though: Huawei also sells phones with its own brand name in Europe, and in fact also sells Honor phones under the Huawei brand name outside of Europe.)

The Honor 7 was launched in China earlier this year as the Huawei Honor 7 and is only now getting its European launch. US and Australian launches have yet to be confirmed, but it's available in China for 1,999 yuan, which is around $325 or AU$420. Importers listing it on Amazon.com have it for much more, however -- around $500.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Design and display

With its metal chassis, the Honor 7 both looks and feels like a more premium device than its low price suggests. It's solid to hold, and feels well put together. The drilled speaker holes in the bottom and the chamfered sides lend it a luxurious edge, although the plastic strips at the top and bottom are less welcome.

It measures 142mm long, 71mm wide and 8mm thick (5.6 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches), meaning it's not a tiny phone, but it's not that big considering it's squashing a large 5.2-inch display into the frame. A narrow bezel helps keep the overall size down.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

On the bottom you'll find the Micro-USB port for charging (sadly there's no USB Type-C), with the headphone jack on top and volume and power buttons on the right edge. There's an extra button on the left hand side too, which can be programmed to perform a variety of functions, or to open an app when you press, double press or press and hold. I can see this being useful for quickly launching apps such as the camera, WhatsApp messaging or the Chrome browser.

The 5.2-inch display has a full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution, and seems bright, bold and sharp enough for most tasks. I'll reserve my judgement on the display -- and how it compares to its rivals -- for the full review.

Features

Beneath the camera on the back of the phone is a fingerprint sensor, much like we saw on Huawei's Mate 7. It's positioned well, being exactly where your index finger naturally sits when you pick the phone up, meaning you don't have to make much effort to use it. It's easy to set up your fingerprint and I find it recognised my finger quickly and mostly accurately.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's running on Google's Android 5.0 Lollipop software, over which Honor has slapped the same Emotion interface you'll find on other Honor and Huawei phones. One of the main changes to other versions of Android is that there's no app tray -- instead, all your apps are stored among your widgets on your home screen. I find it's easy for it to become cluttered.

There's a 2.2GHz octa-core processor, with 3GB of RAM under the hood, which seems to keep the essentials ticking over nicely. How it handles more demanding games remains to be seen in the full review. It has a 2,450mAh battery, which Honor reckons you can get over two days of moderate use or a day and a half of heavy use. That's a big claim, and one I'll be testing thoroughly as soon as possible.

The back of the phone is also where you'll find the camera. It's a 20-megapixel affair, which is a generous resolution considering the low price. I took it for a quick spin and the results so far look decent.

Honor 7 camera test (click to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This shot overlooking the River Thames is well exposed, with good colours too. The high resolution means there's plenty of room to crop in should you want to.

Honor 7 slow shutter camera test (click to see full size). Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It has most of the same slow shutter effects that Huawei debuted on the P8. As well as letting you create trails of light at night, it also let me get this slow shutter shot of the river, with the clouds seen streaking overhead. I'm really impressed, as this is typically a shot I would need to use a variety of filters and other complicated kit to achieve on a normal camera.

You'll also find a range of other modes, including a beauty mode, panorama and HDR. There's a dual-LED flash too, and the front of the camera is home to an 8-megapixel camera. I'm keen to take both for a proper test soon.

Outlook

While the Honor 7 may not have the cutting-edge looks of phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, but it packs a solid lineup of specs into a metal body and doesn't charge anything like as much for it. If you're after a top-end phone on a budget, it may well be worth a closer look -- but wait for our full review to be sure.

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