Honor’s 7A brings a touch of luxury to the affordable smartphone space with an elongated display and face unlock, but is that enough to render this entry-level blower worthy of your moolah?
Just as OnePlus pushes the envelope with regards to affordability in the flagship space, so too does Honor, but across its entire portfolio. The Honor 10 is giving the OnePlus 6 a run for its money at the top end but the premium touches the brand has managed to instil in the new entry-level 7A should give the likes of Motorola cause for concern too.
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Honor 7A Review: Design
For a phone with a 5.7-inch display the 7A feels surprisingly comfortable to clutch one-handed. The bezels are narrow for a budget phone and despite its affordable nature, at 7.8mm, it isn’t too thick, either.
The metal/plastic build feels well put together, even if the fit and finish reminds you of just how competitively priced Honor is taking things this time around. A small part of us misses the metal-backed design of its predecessor, especially when experience has taught us that elements like the 7A’s shiny plastic frame will show signs of wear and tear quickly if not clad in a case from the get-go.
Honor still slaps microUSB ports in place of USB-C on its cheapest devices, but at least it hasn’t killed the headphone jack; one trend that’s becoming increasingly pervasive amongst this year’s smartphone crop.
The hardware controls along the phone’s sides are as equally plasticy as the frame into which they’re set but they’re wholly serviceable. There’s also a responsive gesture-capable fingerprint sensor on the phone’s back – a feature that still isn’t guaranteed within the affordable space.
Honor 7A Review: Screen & Media
One of the phone’s big talking points is that FullView 18:9 aspect ratio display. It’s an IPS LCD panel sporting a 720 x 1440 resolution, so density isn’t its strong suit. It’s essentially a 5.7-inch 720p screen extended for that taller aspect ratio and despite distinct bezels on all sides, it still dominates the phone’s front, which is ideal for enjoying media or running two apps simultaneously via split-screen multitasking.
The display’s natural white balance looks a little off, naturally edging towards warmer, green hues; plus colour, contrast and brightness can be thrown off at more extreme viewing angles all too easily.
As for the audio experience, the headphone jack is, as ever, a welcome inclusion, with the company’s HISTEN 4.0 software on-hand to offer simulated 3D audio whilst you’re plugged in. The single downward-facing loudspeaker pushes out a surprising amount of sound (it’s supposedly one of the loudest in its class at up to 88dB), with levels of clarity that surpassed our expectations for such a low-cost device. There are some anticipated shortcomings, such as a notable lack of bass and the restraints of mono output, though.
Honor 7A Review: OS & Features
The evolution of Emotion UI has proven to be a real Cinderella story, with Huawei’s/Honor’s overlay transitioning from one of the worst to one of the best adaptations of the base Android experience. EMUI 8.0 as it appears on the Honor 7A is unquestionably still going to pose a notable learning curve to those only familiar with stock iterations of Android 8.0 Oreo, but the additional features and capabilities it adds are, for the most part, appreciated.
EMUI is packed with assistive tools to help improve usability, which is particularly important when a phone (like the 7A) sports an extended display. There’s a ‘simple mode’, which swaps out the standard interface for a cleaner, larger panel-driven experience; one-handed mode is accessible by swiping along the on-screen navigation keys at the bottom and the notifications shade can be pulled down with a swipe on the rear fingerprint sensor.
Some features, like eye comfort mode and scheduled power, will prove more useful to some, than others, whilst elements like the inbuilt performance management tools (and EMUI 8’s iAware2.0 intelligent management software) are great inclusions that help keep things running smoothly across the board.
Where EMUI falls down is with the number of first and third-party bloat that comes loaded on the phone out the box. The likes of the App Gallery and Mirror will be of little use to most and occupy some of the phone’s already limited internal space, whilst the pre-loaded games folder pushes users to titles publishers have most likely paid Huawei/Honor for in exchange for taking up residence on your home screens.
Honor 7A Review: Performance & Battery
As is often the case with affordable phones, storage is one of the most conservative aspects of the 7A’s hardware. With 16GB of ROM all in, there’s little in the way of wiggle room, with almost half of that space occupied from the off. Thankfully, the phone supports a rare 3-in-1 tray that accommodates both dual-SIM functionality and microSD expandability simultaneously, so adding more storage space in via SD card is a readily viable solution.
As for performance, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430 is running the show in place of Huawei’s own silicon this time around. The model we were testing also featured 2GB of RAM (there are versions with 3GB in some markets) which paired with the 430 does an admirable job of providing a consistent user experience. Swiping around the main interface is, for the most part, a trouble-free affair. It’s not as snappy as the likes of the flagship Huawei P20 Pro, but we weren’t expecting it to be. The most obvious slow-downs come with app load times, which still aren’t atrocious by any means, and shooting HDR imagery on the 7A’s primary camera.
Even with such humble processing clout, the Snapdragon processor is able to run high-fidelity 3D games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (albeit at its lowest graphical settings), meaning you shouldn’t discount the 7A as a viable mobile gaming machine, even if your purse strings don’t open very far.
As for battery life, the 3000mAh cell inside the 7A will withstand a day of heavy use on a single charge, however, we wouldn’t risk exceeding that sort of time frame. The phone’s affordability means fast charging is out, which is a shame as some rival handsets manage to keep this useful feature intact.
Honor 7A Review: Cameras
One of the most obvious differences between the 7A and pricier Honor 7C is that the A loses out on a secondary rear camera sensor (made all the more confusing by the fact that it retains this second sensor in other markets). As such, you’re left with a single 13-megapixel primary snapper and an 8-megapixel front-facer complete with a ‘selfie toning light’ also known as a variable front-facing LED flash.
Beauty mode is an ever-present aspect of the camera’s viewfinder, whilst the mode selection screen includes options like HDR, which adds a notable amount of shutter lag without any real discernable difference to the resultant shot. Overall, whilst the 7A’s photographic feature set feels a little slim, there are some interesting options like its audio and smile-activated shutter which we wouldn’t necessarily expect.
As for image quality, naturally lit shots demonstrate an impressive amount of detail for such an affordable smartphone snapper, with a narrow dynamic range being the most obvious shortcoming; prioritising darker elements over lighter. Fine detail, particularly in macro shots is crisper and cleaner than we were expecting, unless, of course, you drop the amount of available light.
In darker environments, shots are extremely muddy and blurred, and as there’s no manual control, there’s no option for long-exposure to try and rectify things. The flash does at least help remedy such shooting situations with surprising effectiveness.
On the video side, things top out at Full HD (1080p) recording at 30 frames per second. Footage demonstrates good colour reproduction and fast automatic contrast adjustment but a complete lack of stabilisation pushes videographers to try and set up static shots if they want to pull usable footage from the 7A.
There’s also the matter of the phone’s headline face unlock functionality, which supposedly uses 1024 different feature points for authentication. In practice setup is fast and it works extremely well, in so much that the phone can tell one face from another and seldom seems to slip up. As for how secure the technology at play on the 7A is (and how easy it would be to fool) remains to be seen.
Honor 7A Review: Verdict
At £139, the Honor 7A is a commendable entrant in the affordable smartphone space. It undercuts entrants like its launch sibling the Honor 7C, the Honor 9 Lite and Motorola’s new G6 Play but for that extra level of affordability, sacrifices have been made. It stands out for that elongated display at such a low price point but beyond that, it feels like a wholly forgettable handset.
If you can’t swing the additional £30 for any of the aforementioned rivals then the Honor 7A is a perfectly fine choice, but we’d suggest you save your pennies and fork out the extra cash for a more worthwhile and long-term smartphone choice.