"We take Huawei's budget baby, the Honor Holly for a test drive"
The budget smartphone space was a no-man’s land for international brands for the longest time. A territory fiercely contested by Indian manufacturers, there was plenty of choice, but not much variation. But, all that changed earlier this year with the launch of the Moto E. Motorola was one of the first companies to realise how lucractive the budget segment in India was, and other brands soon followed suit. ASUS and Xiaomi successfully grabbed their piece of the pie, and even old Google laid stake to the claim by roping in Indian partners under its Android One initiative.
Chinese brand Huawei is the latest to dip its toes in this category, and it’s chosen the uniquely-named Honor Holly to do so. Huawei has already piqued our interest thanks to its loaded Honor 6 (review) flagship, so we had high expectations from the Holly. We’ve been using the Flipkart-exclusive smartphone for the past couple of weeks to gauge its mettle, and here’s our verdict.
|Short on time? Check out the Huawei Honor Holly review in pictures |
There’s not much to say about the Honor Holly’s design. It’s simple, sturdy and no-frills, which is great if all you care about is functionality. If not, you might be hard pressed to find reasons to call it pretty.
In India, the Holly comes in a single, two-tone variant. The top half is in black, while the bottom half, which includes the rear panel, is in white. While the dual tones break the monotony, they can’t hide the phone’s bulk. The Holly weighs in at 156g, and measures a matronly 9.4mm around the waist. The build materials aren’t as premium as those of the Redmi 1s or Moto E, but we're willing to excuse Huawei because of the low price tag.
The façade is fairly standard, with the earpiece, front camera, sensors and notification LED above the display, and a row of capacitive non-backlit Android buttons below. Around the sides you’ll find the 3.5mm audio jack on top, the micro-USB port and primary microphone at the bottom, and the chrome-tipped volume rocker and power button on the right.
Like the Honor 6, the Holly doesn’t feature Huawei branding anywhere, with only the Honor logo inscribed on the back. Also at the rear are located the square-shaped primary camera, flash and secondary microphone on top, and the loudspeaker at the bottom.
The rear panel of the Holly is removable, and can be pried off quite easily. Inside, you’ll find the removable 2,000mAh battery and a pair of micro-SIM card slots. The back panel feels quite plasticky, and its glossy texture is prone to attracting scratches and fingerprints.
Huawei has been boasting about the the Honor Holly’s display, and with good reason. The combination of a roomy 5-inch screen size and HD resolution are a rarity at this price point, with only the Salora Arya Z2 offering the same. Huawei’s bragging rights end there though. The display doesn’t come with Gorilla Glass or Dragontrail protection, making it easily susceptible to getting scratched, as we noticed in our short time with the device. The lack of an OGS panel makes the text and icons appear recessed, and sensitivity isn’t the best we’ve come across either.
Brightness levels and colour gamut are acceptable, but the display doesn’t do well in sunlight. With a pixel density of 294ppi, the screen is sharp enough, but won’t blow you away with its clarity. In our experience, the Redmi 1s and Moto E both offer far superior displays.
In the photography department, the Holly sports an 8MP primary camera with a Samsung BSI sensor and f/2.0 aperture, as well as a 2MP front snapper for video calls. The camera app’s UI is a standard affair. When viewed in landscape orientation, the left panel displays controls for normal, Live Photo, Face Beauty and Panorama modes. The top right has a quick-access button to toggle HDR, as well as controls to switch cameras and adjust the flash. In settings, you can tweak exposure, ISO and white balance, as well as choose various scene and colour effects. Shooting modes include voice capture, smile shot, self timer and continuous shot.
When it comes to results, the images from the primary camera feature vibrant, although slightly over-saturated colours. The camera unfortunately has trouble locking focus, and this becomes more problematic with macro shots. Getting any sort of close-up shot is next to impossible, and even when you’re successful, the results lack sharpness and clarity. Landscape shots are usable, but the background is often washed out. We didn’t expect much from low light and night shots considering this is a budget device, and we were right to do so. Images are dark and noisy, requiring the use of flash in most cases.
The front camera is slightly laggy, but takes decent selfies. Suffice to say, it’s fine for video calls. Overall, the cameras on the Holly are nothing to write home about, but they do the job for social sharing.
|Also check out our Huawei Honor Holly camera review|
Here are some image samples from the Honor Holly’s primary camera. Click on the thumbnails to view them in full resolution.
We had a lot of things to say about Huawei’s Emotion UI in our Honor 6 review, most of them positive. Unfortunately, while the Honor Holly runs the same version of EMUI, v2.3, it’s a stripped-down, bare-bones affair. On the Honor 6 (and the Honor X1 for that matter), Emotion UI looks and feels a lot like MIUI, in terms of design, controls and flexibility. On the Honor Holly, what you get is essentially a skin running on top of Android 4.4.2, which modifies the look and feel of stock Android, but not much else.
The lockscreen has the usual shortcuts to access the camera, dialler and messages. The gorgeous, dynamic Magazine Unlock feature is unfortunately MIA. There are two homescreens to begin with, and you can add more later. There’s no app drawer, with all the apps and games peppered on the various panes. You can however arrange them into folders to reduce clutter. All the default icons have been modified, and are colourful and slightly TouchWiz-zy. Pre-loaded apps have thankfully been kept to a minimum, with only Flipkart and Flipkart ebooks being the third-party additions. A file manager, flashlight and FM Radio constitute the notable utility apps.
The pull-down notification shade and quick settings are standard offerings. Long-pressing any of the homescreens or tapping the menu button will bring up options to edit the homescreen layout, change transition effects or switch to Simple Home. As mentioned in our Honor 6 review, Simple Home changes the UI into an easy-to-use format featuring large blocks for app icons, and bigger font sizes for easy visibility. The advantage of Simple Home is that it doesn’t require a restart, unlike Lite Mode on the Redmi 1s/ Redmi Note.
The multitasking menu can be brought up by double-tapping the home button, while long-pressing it will launch Google Now. The settings menu, which was choc-a-bloc with features on the Honor 6, is a staid affair. There’s a dedicated SIM management section where you can assign a default SIM for voice calls, messages and data, and bind contacts to a specific SIM card.
Powering the Honor Holly is a quad-core MediaTek MT6582 processor clocked at 1.3GHz, paired with 1GB of RAM and Mali 400-MP2 graphics. We’ve seen this combination on several budget handsets in the past, and it’s a fairly reliable configuration. More intensive gaming titles like Riptide GP2 play without any lags or freezes, but the device tends to heat up after a few minutes of gameplay. Popular games like Subway Surfers play without any glitches.
In day-to-day performance, the Honor Holly isn’t as smooth as we’d like, mainly owing to the heavy UI. We noticed a few unwarranted app closes and slight lags when multi-tasking, but nothing that left us feeling overly concerned.
In terms of storage, the Honor Holly packs in a generous 16GB, which is the highest in its price range. This is expandable up to 32GB via microSD, which should be more than sufficient for your storage requirements. Out of the onboard memory, around 12.8GB is available to use.
Battery life is always a concern for any smartphone, even more so with budget devices. The Honor Holly packs in a 2,000mAh unit, which lasts through the day with regular use. The standby times are also excellent. In our battery drain test, where we loop a 720p video with brightness and volume levels set to 50 percent, the smartphone lasted 7 hours and 30 minutes, which is above average in its price range.
The Honor Holly is a dual-SIM device, but it supports 3G only on the first SIM. Other connectivity features include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and micro-USB.
The Honor Holly has a lot going for it. It offers a roomy display with HD resolution, reliable performance, generous storage and most of all, the magic price tag of Rs 6,999. But, it has some stiff competition to deal with. The Moto E (review) remains a strong contender, and while it may fall short in a spec comparison, it offers the advantages of a stock user interface, better build and longer battery life. There’s also ASUS’ commendable Zenfone 4 A450CG, which sports a more compact display but features a much friendlier user interface. Then of course, there are other worthy contenders such as the Micromax Unite 2 (review), Salora Arya Z2 (first impressions) and the Android One (review) range.
The Holly can stand up to most of these devices, but there is one smartphone that it will find hard to beat, and that's the Xiaomi Redmi 1s. The comparison between the two devices is inevitable, the shared Chinese lineage notwithstanding. Huawei is undoubtedly keen to reap the kind of success Xiaomi has had in India. The company's Honor 6 is a very worthy alternative to the Mi 3 (review) and even the yet-to-be-launched Mi 4 (review), but the Redmi 1s is another story. Compared to the Holly, the Redmi 1s has a smoother display with Dragontrail protection, a snappier Snapdragon chipset, a slicker user interface, and a very capable camera duo. And when it comes to price, it costs a whole Rs 1,000 less, which gives it an added edge.
So there you have it. The Xiaomi Redmi 1s is the clear favourite in this price band, with the Honor Holly coming in at a close second. But in the larger scheme of things, second place ain’t bad at all.
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