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Honor 7 – heir apparent to the mid-range Android crown

Huawei's nicely honed handset with nowt left out

So. What’s it like?

I spent a few days with the Honor 7. It’s not light, weighing a solid 157g, but it’s not at all flimsy. The industrial design is excellent, with no cheap plastic: you get a glass front and metal rear. Most noteworthy is the clever design – the convenient fingerprint sensor is customisable: it can do more than just lock the phone or take pictures.

Only LG has been brave enough to put controls on the rear, under the camera, with its G3, G4 flagship handsets. This is where the Honor's sensor “lives”, and this sensor is a revelation.

Honor 7 home screens

Huawei continues to refine its Emotion UI launcher/skin

Huawei introduced a 360° sensor in its Mate last year, and it’s great just to have a sensor in a phone at this price, because it’s such a huge convenience over PIN or picture password unlocking. But this isn’t just decent, it's the best fingerprint sensor implementation I’ve tried.

For fingerprint recognition, I found it to be more reliable than the iPhone’s sensor, and that's typically cited as the industry’s best. It worked with greasy or wet hands, when the iPhone wouldn’t. You can wake and unlock with your finger – something that takes a bit of getting used to – and it makes other phones seem primitive once you have.

And it’s the added customisation, via swipes over the sensor, that really makes a usability difference. (You don’t need to enrol a print to get the gestures, they’ll work out of the box). This is so brilliant and obvious, in retrospect, I’m surprised nobody has thought of doing this before. I expect many more will follow.

Customising the Honor's utility key and sensor

The Honor 7 has a utility key and the sensor takes swipes

In practice, it meant I never had to adjust the phone in my hand to swipe to the top and get notifications, as I do on every other 5+ inch display Android. I also used the sensor to go back (the default is one tap, but you have to turn this on in settings), and for task switching.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, Huawei positions the most recent app in the task switching grid where it's hardest to reach if you’re holding the phone right-handed – it’s in the top left corner – which hampered things a bit. You can also configure it to take calls or pictures.

That’s not all. The phone's dedicated, old school utility button (all BlackBerrys used to have one of these) here called (with grim inevitability) the “Smart Key”, can also be configured for up to three jobs: either a selection of tasks, or starting apps.

Honor 7 lock screen,notifications and help

Notifications include power consumption nags (centre) and tips

Surprisingly, going to the default launcher “Home” wasn’t one of the options. If it was, I could have dispensed with the on-screen navigation bar altogether, as “go back” and “tasks” can be wired up to the fingerprint sensor. That would have made it the first pure-swipe Android, like a Palm Pre or a BB10 Blackberry. Oh well. Most people will be happy they can use it to get to the phone (or flashlight) quickly.

There’s only one slot, and it doubles as a dual-SIM tray, or a SIM and SD Card tray. If you have two SIMs installed, you nominate one of them (it can be either) to be the 3G/4G data SIM, so it’s not (as far as I can tell) true dual-4G. So if you want dual SIMs and you want to carry a lot of media with you as well, go for the 64GB model.

Next page: Huawei operandi

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