Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has had its ups and downs in the U.S. market. But alongside its prowess in telecommunications equipment, it has steadily advanced as a smartphone maker, rising to number three worldwide, after only Samsung and Apple. Yet it’s U.S. market share has remained minimal, partly because until now it only sold high-end Huawei-branded phones here. But last week it barged into the market with an impressive flagship phone from its millenial-focused brand, honor (yes it uses lower case).
The honor 8 launch event gathered hundreds of tech journalists and industry hangers-on at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and let me tell you: It was a party. Huawei is definitely determined to make a splash in the United States with this product, and wasn’t afraid of creating a spectacle surrounding its shiny new smart phone. The Lagavulin single-malt whiskey-infused cotton candy drink that was served was a statement in itself.
It was obvious that the honor 8 was to be marketed to Millennials. The night began with videos of young people skateboarding and dancing in downtown areas of nondescript cities enjoying their millennial lives and lattes in hipster cafes wearing cute little beanie hats. At one point the presiding honor executive proudly announced that it made a blue version of the phone because Millennials live “colorful lifestyles.” As the in-house millennial at Techonomy, and one of the youngest people at the event, I have to be honest: we don’t really care what color our phone is anymore.
The next part of the presentation celebrated the physical design of the honor 8, and could have easily been skipped. The phone is a spitting image of the iPhone 6, though it has a slightly larger screen (not as big as a 6 Plus, though). The speaker is in the exact same place as on an iPhone, as is the headphone jack. The beveled edges, the volume buttons, etc. feel eerily like the iPhone 6 or 6S. Perhaps the familiarity of such design elements may make some die-hard iPhone users consider giving a different phone a try.
It might make sense, because once the presenters started talking about the phone’s features, everyone began to steal glances around the room with a certain “would you look at that” facial expression. The device runs Android and has a lot of features that optimize the OS. As a longtime iPhone user, that mattered little to me, but I was getting interested.
Brooklyn Beckham, David and Victoria Beckham’s son, graced us with his presence at the end of the presentation. He is the official “brand ambassador” for the honor 8 and was completely underwhelming on stage. It almost seemed as if he had never heard of the phone. But people were surprised and excited that he was there, so I suppose that was a win for Huawei.
At the end of the night everyone was handed a brand new honor 8 as we walked out of the museum. I started using it within about twenty minutes. The phones are all unlocked and can be used with any network provider. Here are my thoughts so far:
The finger print scanner is FAST: Unlike the iPhone, which requires you to press the home button before it will let you scan your fingerprint, the honor 8 fingerprint scanner is always on. It also scans your fingerprint much, much faster than the iPhone. This means you are able to access your home screen more quickly and it feels much more seamless. It’s a small feature with huge time-saving potential. Also, the fingerprint scanner is on the rear of the device, where your fingers usually are. Makes sense.
Phenomenal camera(s): The honor 8 features a dual-lens camera that takes fantastic photos without much effort, by using one camera to detect color while the other controls exposure. In essence, the two cameras accomplish what iPhone’s HDR mode does, but at a much faster speed because both images are being captured simultaneously. This also allows the camera to focus faster. honor 8 even comes with a “professional mode” that allows you to mimic the controls of analog cameras like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. I’ve illustrated this post with pictures I took on my honor 8. Photography is a major win on this phone.
Battery life: A lot of noise is being made about potential upcoming iPhone updates, but Apple seems uninterested or unable to fix the number one complaint about their product: its battery life. The honor 8 does not run for the 1.7 days that the company bragged it would at the launch, but it has far superior battery life to an iPhone. Very common-sense measures go into battery conservation on the honor 8. For example, notifications do not cause the screen to light up. Instead a little LED lights up at the top of the phone to indicate that you have received a text or email.
Attention to detail: One thing that has peeved me since I first picked up my iPhone 6 is the fact that the on/off button is directly across the device from the volume control. So I oftentimes inadvertently push both buttons while bracing the phone. This phone puts them both on the same side. It’s not a huge breakthrough, but shows that the designers were paying attention to how we actually hold and operate our phones.
Fun, innovative new features: The screen is knuckle-sensitive, meaning you can draw shapes and letters with your knuckle to open certain apps quickly. The fingerprint scanner doubles as a programmable button that you can use to do just about anything. I programmed mine to turn on and off the flashlight by just pressing it twice. This saves me from having to tap anything on the screen itself. The phone even has an infrared port and can be used as a remote control for your home electronics.
I have been a die-hard Apple fan and I have been using my honor 8 for a little over a week now. But as much as love my iPhone, I can’t find a compelling enough reason to switch back. Everything seems more intuitive on the honor 8. Taking photos is enjoyable again. The once-foreign UI is now even more customized than my iOS device will allow.
There is a lot to like about the honor 8 – including the price- $399 for the base model and $449 for one with 64GB of memory. The main thing on our minds as we left the event, was whether or not honor 8 could serve as a real “third option” for U.S. consumers who want an alternative to Apple and Samsung phones. Huawei might have a winning product on their hands, and a way to move towards the same stature in smartphones here that it already has in many other countries.
Here are a few more photos I snapped with my honor last week: