At the back end of 2014 Huawei announced plans for its new Honor brand. Huawei launched this new, young and hip line, promising devices that were "not afraid to do things differently". But several months later and the company has yet to show what it's aiming to do that the others aren't. Is the Honor Holly its overdue statement of intent?
The Honor 6 was the first flagship device for the new brand and it's now been followed up by the first affordable option under the Honor moniker. The Holly boasts some all-round impressive specs, but the real highlight is the low price of £89.99.
But this category has some stiff competition, including the, Lumia 535, Moto E and Moto G at similar price points. Does the Honor Holly stand a chance?
Huawei's Honor Holly isn't the most premium looking handset available on the market but it's quite well built considering how much it costs.
The phone fits perfectly in the palm, allowing for reasonably easy access to most of the phone's 5-inch display, although it could cause some problems for those with smaller hands. Along the bottom sit three hardware buttons for back, home and list functions.
The buttons are easy to reach, but there's no vibration feedback to tell you when you've pressed correctly. That sometimes left me jabbing at the button repeatedly before I realised I was pressing the wrong part of the screen.
The back of the phone is a plastic removable panel with the Honor logo, the camera sitting in the middle at the top, an LED flash to its left and a speaker vent at the bottom left.
I had a white review unit, which has a much more vibrant look than the duller black version. Compared to metal or glass backing, the plastic gives a good level of grip.
Unfortunately it's also a magnet for fingerprints, and the white edition showed those off spectacularly, filling the back with smudges that were a real challenge to remove.
The Honor Holly has rounded corners, giving it a Nexus 5-esque shape with plastic edges that allow the back panel to sit flush to the handset and made me almost forget it was removable.
That said, getting the back panel off the phone proved incredibly difficult. If you're regularly switching in SIMs or microSD cards, you'll likely find it a pain (although as the Holly is dual-SIM, you can avoid doing this too much).
On the top edge sits the 3.5mm headphone jack while the left hand side is free from any hardware buttons whatsoever. The bottom edge houses the microUSB port for charging and data connections.
Midway down on the right hand edge is a metal power button to toggle the screen on and off, sitting perfectly for your thumb to hit one handed. Sat just above that is the volume rocker, also metal – tiny details that suggest quality in a generally basic handset.
Bezels on the front of the handset are pretty thick, meaning there's quite a bit of wasted space across the front. Along the top on the left you'll also find the front facing camera. The earpiece is in the centre of the top bezel.
The Honor Holly comes with a 5-inch display with a 720 x 1280 pixel resolution and a 294ppi. It's an IPS LCD touchscreen that shows colours well. Brightness is tolerable at 50%, but you'll need to turn it up to full for the best performance.
Viewing angles can cause problems, especially in bright sunlight, but it's an impressive display that makes video content look really good and it offers stiff competition for other handsets in this price range.
Huawei's main selling point with the Honor collection is a fashionable set of mid-range spec devices and a nice low price point.
The handset is also dual-SIM, meaning you can have two different numbers on the same phone. However, only one of these can have a data connection.
As for storage, there is 16GB onboard, with 12.9GB free after firmware. This is more than most competing handsets offer, and if you additional storage there's also a microSD slot that takes cards up to 32GB.
It's a shame you can't go any higher considering the vast majority of handsets now offer either 64GB or 128GB, but 32GB is likely to suffice unless you're a media heavy user.
Interface and performance
The Honor Holly comes with a quad-core Mediatek MT6582 processor clocked at 1.3GHz. Alongside the 1GB of RAM, this is within expectations for the price. A Geekbench 3 score of 1131 proves that a mid-range processor can offer good performance in most situations.
The Moto G came in with a Geekbench 3 score of 1142 points – a little higher but nothing that should put you off picking up the Honor Holly. However, there were a few moments in use when the Holly struggled to keep up, especially when several apps were running at once.
Huawei products run Android with the manufacturer's Emotion UI overlay. This introduces some pretty heavy handed changes in the UI and a poor looking design that restricts the platform. I'd prefer to see the handsets just adopt the stock Android platform.
But on this one you've got the Emotion UI 2.3 running over Android 4.4.2 and there's no word on an update to Lollipop just yet.
The Emotion UI comes with a simplistic look that borders on childish. Everything is quite colourful with the apps lying along the bottom coming in bright green, orange, blue and purple.
On Huawei products you've usually got the option to change the themes and go for something a little more classy but with the Emotion UI on Honor handsets you're restricted to just this overlay.
A key part of the Emotion UI is the lack of an app drawer, which is an unfortunate omission. Android thrives on its app drawer allowing for clean, customised home screens with a go-to area of the phone for less frequently used apps.
Instead, I'm left hunting through multiple home screens just to find that one rarely used app that a simple search would have found much quicker.
Calculator, FM radio, music, gallery, clock, email and video players all come pre-installed. There's no real bloatware to be found.
The only non-Huawei based apps included are Twitter, Facebook, Google, WPS Office and Mobile Broadcasts – a breath of fresh air after countless major manufacturers handsets stuffed to the brim with useless home brewed apps.
My biggest gripe with the Emotion UI is the keyboard included on the platform. Even though I selected the UK version of the English keyboard, I was still bombarded with Americanised corrections.
Maybe it's because I'm used to SwiftKey, but I found the keys unresponsive, especially the space bar. Time and again I was left with the letter B connecting words – justblikebthis – rather than the grammatically necessary spaces.
The keyboard is infuriatingly difficult to use. Moving the cursor to the middle of a word to correct a letter just sends the changes to the back of the word for no logical reason.
If you're going to pick up the Honor Holly, or any Honor based phone for that matter, it'll be a good idea to grab a third party-keyboard such as SwiftKey or Swype for a much more enjoyable experience as soon as you're turned on and set up.
There are two enjoyable features in the Emotion UI I did keep returning to though. The first was the quick settings drop down menu, which you can access by pulling down on the top bar. It includes all the key specs, each of them easy to toggle in a matter of moments.
The lock screen is also well implemented on the Honor UI: dragging the padlock logo down unlocks the phone to the home screen, to the left will open up the phone dialler, to the right pitches you directly into messages, or swipe up for the camera.
Over the course of a week I found myself using these gestures more and more. It's just a shame you can't rearrange them for third-party offerings to make your most used apps as easy to access.
Battery life and camera
The Honor Holly comes with a removable 2,000mAh battery offering impressive life.
Being removable means you can carry a spare battery with you, meaning you can keep charged even when you're away from a power source. As for the battery power itself, I was impressed with how well it lasted.
When I played a 90 minute test video test on the Holly at full brightness, the battery dropped from 100% to 72% – about average for this level of handset. It's marginally harder on the battery than the Moto G (2014) that lost 26% of its battery power running the same video.
By the end of the test the phone did warm up quite a lot, although that will only be a problem if you're holding the phone to watch films for long periods of time.
I ran the test again on a 60% brightness just to see how it faired and it came out the other side with 79% left showing the screen is still a power sucker even with fewer pixels to power compared to flagship phones.
In everyday use I found the battery to cope well. For a moderate user this will easily get you through an entire day, if not a little further – it only really begins to struggle when taking on heavy processing tasks for extended periods of time.
The Huawei Honor Holly's camera isn't going to be a big selling point. The rear camera has an 8MP sensor with an LED flash whilst on the front there is a 2MP sensor.
Features on the camera include touch focus, face detection, panoramic mode and HDR as well as the terrifying beauty mode. It works on the selfie camera and flattens out your skin and enlarges your eyes to make yourself more "attractive," if your idea of attractive is a creepy doll from a noughties horror movie.
When taking shots I found the focus to be a little temperamental – it would sometimes fail to acknowledge my tap-to-focus, but after a few attempts it worked out what I wanted.
The shutter speed isn't particularly fast on the main camera, but it was never so slow that I missed a shot and it wasn't a major frustration.
The camera interface on the Holly is a little confusing during the first few uses. The buttons to take an image or video are easy enough to distinguish, but it took trial and error to work out which icons represented the different modes.
The icons in the bottom right are far clearer offering the ability to toggle flash and HDR as well as switching to the front camera.
There's a 4x zoom on the Honor Holly's camera that proves pretty poor at half distance let alone the full zoom. Here's an example of a non-zoomed photo and an image at full zoom.
The front camera is adequate for selfies but isn't anything in particular to write home about, while the face straight-up terrified me.
The Holly also comes with 1080p video recording but it is a simple affair with few features and the options of low, medium, high or fine video settings.
That means it's adequate for quick snaps, but is no competition for a flagship cameraphone.
Honor hasn't found its footing in the smartphone market yet. It hasn't established itself as the brand that is doing something "different" yet.
That said, it is still creating smartphones that, on the whole, work well. It has a lot still to do but this is far from a bad pick if you're looking for a low-end phone.
The value is phenomenal. If you're looking to pick up a phone for under £100 you'll get something impressive right here with a big chunk of spare change to play with as well.
The Holly's display is quite impressive for this price range. It isn't going to blow anyone's mind but it suffices, and video content looks good.
Under the hood, its specs only come in a little under the Motorola Moto G, and that costs a bit more than the Honor Holly currently does.
Onboard storage is impressive considering the software itself only takes up a little over 3GB. Even without grabbing a 32GB microSD you'll have 13GB free for media and such, so you're not likely to run out of space unless you're a seriously big user.
The design of the Honor Holly leaves a little bit to be desired. I wasn't expecting a metal unibody,did little to charm me.
Huawei's Emotion UI isn't up to scratch – the overlay restricts and simplifies the Android platform to no purpose. If I was to have this phone as my main handset, I'd need to download a third-party keyboard immediately as Huawei's one is infuriating, with frustrating placing of the virtual keys and a terrible predictive diary.
The lack of LTE connectivity here is now also a problem considering the Moto G and Moto E both now come with 4G on board. Huawei should have offered it here to allow users to connect up to some much speedier internet.
The display on the Honor Holly is perfect for the price and under the hood the processor fits the market perfectly. Battery life isn't a stand out feature, but isn't something to be sniffed at.
I really dislike the Emotion UI and feel if Huawei opted for a stock Android overlay it'd be a more attractive prospect for buyers of the Honor range.
The keyboard needs work, one of my main problems I have can be entirely overhauled by sticking in a third-party option there, so Huawei should have realised that before shipping and struck a deal.
Before buying the Honor Holly be sure to try out the Moto G (2014) that achieves more with a stock UI on board and all round vastly similar specs. It will set you back a little bit more, especially if you want to pick up the version with LTE connectivity, but it may be worth your while if you can spare the money.