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Available only in China for now (though Huawei does have plans to debut this handset in Southeast Asia), the Huawei Honor 3X is one of the first handsets available using MediaTek's "true" eight-core processor, the MediaTek MT6592, running at 1.7GHz. However, that's not all -- the handset packs a 5.5-inch IPS display, has a 13-megapixel rear camera, a 5-megapixel front camera and dual-SIM capability for the low price of just 1,698 Chinese Yuan ($280) without a contract.
If this sounds like an attractive package, well, it is. Huawei has managed to pack pretty good specs at a price point that would be considered budget tier. But how does it hold up in day-to-day use?
The Honor 3X resembles pretty much most of the other Android handsets in the market today, with a flat rectangular design and curved corners. You'll find physical touch-sensitive buttons located below the 5.5-inch IPS display, which has a resolution of 1,280x720 pixels. Since it's an IPS screen, you'll find that viewing angles are pretty good even when looking at the handset from the sides, and the brightness of the display makes it viewable outdoors.
While it's made of glossy black plastic, the feel and build of the Honor 3X is solid and I like the heft of the handset in my hands. The one thing that I dislike about the handset, however, has to be the fingerprint smudges that comes with just a few minutes of use.
The power and volume buttons are located on the right, making them easy to reach when holding the smartphone in one hand. The speaker is located at the back nearer the bottom, while the 13-megapixel camera and flash are found right at the top.
Huawei's handset is a 3G only device, and while there's no 4G, this means it should work almost anywhere in the world. It has two SIM slots, allowing you to have two mobile lines in one handset. Only one line can have 3G active, but you can select which SIM card to use for data, but I doubt anyone would use the non-3G activated SIM since it will be very slow. Other connectivity options include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS.
OS and apps
Like Xiaomi's MIUI, there's a theming feature, which lets you change the look of the UI. The phone comes with five official themes, and you can go online to download custom themes as well. Other options include the ability to manually select specific features to tweak, which provides the user with an impressive amount of control over the handset. While the theming feature works, I encountered a bug when applying a theme that emptied my home screens -- a reboot fixed this though.
One cool feature that I particularly liked about Emotion UI 2.0 is the Simple mode. I've seen similar modes before in Japanese phones designed for the elderly, but the Honor 3X lets you switch between your standard and simple modes easily.
Another cool feature I want to highlight is the power-tracking app that monitors how much power consumption the various apps on the phone use. If it monitors an app using quite a lot of energy, it will actually prompt you to close the app to help you save power. Pretty nifty, eh.
Now here's the downside. The Honor 3X that I reviewed doesn't come with Google services, so if you're thinking of grabbing this handset from China (and don't want to wait for a localized version), you'll need to do a lot of work to install apps such as Gmail, Play Store, Maps, Hangout, Google+, Chrome, etc. There's no option to add a Google account and the built-in app store doesn't have any of these apps available. I got around this by downloading the Baidu store app and installing these apps from there. Even then, you won't be able to add another Google account easily (I have yet to figure that out).
I also hated the default keyboard -- it's mainly designed for writing in Mandarin, and the English keyboard has crappy button placement -- the fullstop is next to a tiny spacebar, and you'll find yourself hitting the wrong keys. The autocorrect prediction isn't very good either -- you're better off downloading the Google Keyboard or any other keyboard apps from the Play Store.
The performance of the 13-megapixel rear camera is average at best. While it's capable of taking good macro shots, it doesn't seem able to take good landscape shots as you can see in the picture below. I suspect this is due to the phone's auto settings, which is unable to properly determine the right mode to use. In our indoor studio test, the Honor 3X seems capable enough, but low-light shots suffer slightly from over-processing, resulting in noisy images.
Lastly, the front 5-megapixel is mainly used for selfies, and Huawei has added a built-in beauty mode toggle to improve self portraits.
Powered by the MediaTek MT6592 octa-core 1.7GHz processor, I found the Honor 3X to deliver performance equal to that of a mid-tier handset. While there are occasions when the phone felt sluggish while opening and closing apps, the overall experience was smooth. It helps that the phone has 2GB of RAM. You can also expand the internal storage (16GB) with a microSD card.
Based on the results we got from the 3DMark benchmark, this handset can run 3D games, but probably not as good compared with the higher-end Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets.
Huawei's known for its telecom expertise, and call quality on the Honor 3X was crisp and clear. The rear audio speaker is loud, but if you're using the handset on speakerphone, you may find it hard to hear clearly unless you bounce the sound off a surface, like a table.
The phone packs a 3,000mAh battery and lasted two days of moderate use in my testing. The test settings include having one e-mail, Facebook and Twitter account on push, while also using messaging app WhatsApp constantly.
Huawei's Honor 3X delivers an impressive array of features in a budget handset, and is definitely worth considering if you want a good and cheap Android smartphone. Bear in mind, though, if you aren't going to wait for a localized version, be prepared to do a lot of work to get Google services loaded on your handset. The smartphone is slated for debut outside of China soon, do check with your local retailer for updates.