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Honor 7A and Honor 7S, First Take: False economies?

Neither of these budget phones does Honor proud. In particular, the company needs to address the poor performance that's the main drawback of both handsets.

honor-7a-and-7s-first-takeheader.jpg

Left: Honor 7A (5.7-inch). Right: Honor 7S (5.45-inch).

Images: Honor

Honor, Huawei's affordable handset brand, often gets credit for coming up with phones that pack in the features at a fraction of the cost of flagship phones -- including those from Huawei itself. I liked this year's top-of-the-range Honor 10, for example: at £399 (inc. VAT), it delivers very good value for money.

Honor currently offers two ultra low-cost handsets: the £129.99 Honor 7A and the £99.99 Honor 7S. Can Honor really deliver a usable smartphone at these price points, or has it cut costs too far, risking damage to its 'value for money' reputation?

Here are the key specifications for the two handsets:


Honor 7A Honor 7S
Dimensions (WxDxH)73mm x 152.4mm x 7.8mm70.9mm x 146.5mm x 8.3mm
Weight150g142g
Display5.7 inches, 1,440 x 720 pixels, 18:9 aspect ratio, 282ppi5.45 inches, 1,440 x 720 pixels, 18:9 aspect ratio, 295ppi
OSAndroid 8.1.0Android 8.1.0
OS overlayEMUI 8.0EMUI 8.0
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 430MediaTek MT6739
RAM2GB2GB
Internal storage16GB (8.79GB free)16GB (9.7GB free)
MicroSD expansionyesyes
SIM slots22
Rear camera13MP +2MP13MP
Front camera8MP5MP
Fingerprint sensoryesno
NFCnono
Battery3,000mAh3,020mAh
Price (inc. VAT)£129.99£99.99

The main differences are in screen size, processor, cameras and the presence of a fingerprint sensor. Both phones use Micro-USB for charging and both include a 3.5mm audio jack.

One big plus for both handsets is that they are dual SIM and don't sacrifice a SIM slot for a MicroSD card -- the caddies are longer than usual with three bays, so that two SIMs plus a memory card are catered for. This is something every handset maker could learn from.

honor-7a-and-7s-first-takecaddies.jpg

The Honor 7A (left) and 7S (right) can support dual SIMs and a MicroSD card at the same time -- an unusual but welcome feature.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The £99.99 Honor 7S is a relatively small (5.45-inch) handset by current standards, although the screen's 18:9 aspect ratio keeps up with the current trend. The display resolution (295ppi) is moderate, but text is still readable and image quality (including video) perfectly adequate.

The real problem is the entry-level MediaTek MT6739 chipset, which means there's a noticeable wait for web pages to load, and scrolling through them is often jerky. It's the same story when waiting for individual apps to load. Overall, there's too much waiting around for things to happen.

This was an issue right from the start, and I never got used to it. I thought I was mishandling the keyboard when it failed to register letters for setting up my account, but in fact it was just the processor being very slow indeed. This continued to cause problems with data entry. Texting was particularly painful.

The other key issue with this handset is its 13MP rear camera. This makes a reasonable stab at shots where the lighting is good, but indoors it's almost unusable: without the flash, images are far too dark and grainy, while using the flash produces over-bright images. The 5MP front camera also delivers grainy images. It's all a far cry from what we expect even from affordable handsets these days.

SEE: How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back (cover story PDF)

The Honor 7S's saving grace is its 3,020mAh battery, which delivers reasonable longevity -- I was able to get through a day without charging, for example. That said, I did abandon many of the tasks I would normally do on my handset such as regularly checking websites, looking at video and reading my latest ebook. I even abandoned texting because of the slow responsiveness.

So, does the Honor 7A, which costs £30 more, fare any better?

The short answer is yes, although there are caveats. It is a larger (5.7-inch) handset than the 7S with the same pixel count (1,440 x 720) and aspect ratio (18:9), but slightly lower pixel density (282ppi). Text looks a bit grainy, but that's not the deal-breaker here.

Again the main problem is the phone's generally lethargic response. It's not quite as laggy as the 7S, but there were still notable waits while the screen refreshed as I moved between apps and pauses while web pages loaded. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 430, although ageing, is not responsible for this problem alone: this 5.7-inch handset could benefit from more than 2GB of RAM to help it out.

The cameras are also disappointing, with the images I took generally seeming a bit dull in colour and lacking in detail. Indoor images tended towards the grainy, but at least the flash did its job close up, and so photos were usable.

The Honor 7A's 3,000mAh battery didn't deliver the longevity we got from the 7S, and I never quite made it through a day on a full charge. That could be because I used this phone more during the day -- I wasn't quite as put off by its performance limitations. Giving this phone more to do than the 7S will have put more stress on the battery.

The addition of a fingerprint reader on the back of the chassis adds appeal, and while I found it a little hit-and-miss at times it did work if I slowed down and took my time. Maybe I was again expecting too much of the processor. If fingerprint unlock proves too painful, there's also the option of face unlock as well as a PIN.

Honor has a couple of youth-oriented features up its sleeve with the 7A: you can connect up to 8 handsets into a speaker array, which could be fun if you can find other owners of this phone; there's also a karaoke mode that prioritises your voice over a tune when you're wearing the provided earbuds.

I ran the Geekbench 4 benchmark on both the Honor 7S and the 7A, with multi-core results of 1,834 and 2,905 respectively. By contrast, the somewhat more expensive Moto G6 Plus (£269 when I reviewed it in May, now available for nearer £230) delivered a multi-core score of 4,167 and offers a much smoother ride.

Conclusions

Buying an ultra-low cost smartphone might prove to be a false economy. Frustration with laggy response times, poor cameras or short battery life could deter you from using a handset in the first place, which means missing out on what a smartphone can offer. Alternatively you might decide to upgrade to something better and consign the inferior phone to the back of a drawer.

Neither of these phones does Honor proud. In particular, the company needs to address the poor performance that's the main drawback of both handsets.

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