Huawei is not a household name in the United States—at least not yet. The third-largest smartphone maker is placing its bet on American youths with its Honor brand, a family of smartphones that seems to exist solely for the benefit of Millennials.
Honor has already launched one Millennial-centric smartphone in the States, but the Honor 8 is its first true flagship. For a starting price of $550, you get an unlocked smartphone with a 5.2-inch Full HD display, an octo-core processor, 4GB of RAM, up to 64GB of storage, and a 3,000 mAh battery.
It might be a tough sell, however, given the glut of competition at this price point, and the fact that U.S. carriers drive the majority of smartphone sales. I’m dubious the Honor 8 offers enough distinguishing features to persuade teens into adopting it as their daily driver.
It sure looks nice
The Honor 8 is, simply put, stunning. At its launch event in San Francisco, the company bandied about plenty of fancy terminology to explain how it managed such a smooth metal and glass construction, including phrases like “multilayer optical filming.” But teenagers don’t care about the jargon. All they care about is whether a smartphone looks cool, and the Honor 8 definitely has that going for it.
In fact, it’s worth noting that I had difficulty telling the Honor 8 apart from the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 that I used to cover the event on social media. Regardless, it appears thin is in again in the Android world, and that’s a trend I’m definitely keen on.
On the back, there's a rear-facing fingerprint scanner. I still love this about the Huawei-made Nexus 6P and I appreciate that the company stuck with the feature for the Honor 8. It’s easy to reach with your index finger and you can program it so when you press it, it launches your favorite app or shortcut. By default, the button brings up the Google Now homepage. You can also program it as a shortcut with a double-press and a long-press of the button.
With all the hubbub about Apple removing the headphone jack, and Motorola opting to remove it on the Moto Z family, you might be happy to hear that Honor is sticking with the port. It resides alongside a USB Type-C port for charging, which is nice to see considering that some low-end and midrange handset makers are still stuck on the antiquated MicroUSB connector.
Double the cameras for double the fun
Huawei wants you to think of the Honor 8 as a smartphone for the young and inspired, which is why it bundled two 12-megapixel Sony camera sensors on the back. Developed in conjunction with camera-maker Leica, one of the cameras acts as an RGB sensor and captures color data, while the other is a monochrome sensor that records the details. Huawei uses a similar feature on its P9 flagship overseas.
I got to try to the cameras briefly at the Honor 8 launch event and I liked what I saw. They were fast to focus and the end result was remarkably color accurate, though not particularly sharp.
There were a few fun camera modes to take advantage of, too, like the light trail mode, which lets you write out love letters to your friends with a flashlight. It’s all very Millennial-esque and the kind of extra feature that only a teenager would find unlimited use for.
Bring the app drawer back
The Honor 8 runs on Huawei’s version of Android called EMUI 4.1, which runs atop Android 6.0 Marshmallow—not even 6.0.1. And like the Honor 5X, it does not utilize an app drawer.
Just because the iPhone doesn’t use an application drawer, doesn’t mean that Android smartphones should follow suit. I am not a fan of Huawei’s decision to do away entirely with the virtual shelf that keeps the interface in check, and I doubt that Millennials will want to spend their precious time curating their Home screen so that it’s navigable.
I don’t like the look of Huawei's bubbly, teenybopper icons either. They don’t match with the rest of the icons in the Android sphere and they look like iOS knockoffs. I want a phone with an interface that stands out. I’d take that over reductive familiarity.
Do Millennials even want this?
Here’s the thing: Most of the teenagers I see hanging around in the suburbs and on public transportation carry an Apple iPhone. It’s the smartphone that kids want because everyone else at school has one. I have seen my middle-school cousins beg their fathers for an iPhone for Christmas and their birthdays—they’re not just begging for any smartphone. Apple has marketed its devices particularly well to young techies, and even though the Honor 8 is a stunning smartphone, its online-only offering and trim aesthetic likely won’t be enough to convince teens that this is their next smartphone.
Then again, what do I know? I am, as the kids say these days, just an “old.”