The Honor 5C is a phone that’s cheap enough to buy contract-free, without feeling like you’ve just made an investment big enough to make partners consider leaving you, and parents worry for your sanity.
With a strong spec list for the price, the Honor 5C looks to be off to a good start and it’s in the budget end of the market where the fledgling brand can really get a foothold.
Gunning for the G4
As a brand that’s still struggling for recognition outside the realms of tech fans and bargain hunters, it seems sensible for Honor to aim squarely at the mainstream with the Honor 5C. It arrives at just the right time too.
The Motorola Moto G4 rules the budget phone roost, but the latest version will be too big for many users – Moto Gs now have 5.5-inch screens. The Honor 5C has a more palm-friendly 5.2-inch display.
A phone of real aggression, it also has an octa-core CPU, 16GB of storage, a 13MP camera and 1080p screen resolution. In every key respect it matches the Moto G, but it costs £20 less. You may not love every part of the Honor 5C, but it’s clearly a pretty good deal.
Design and display
The first area in which Honor tries to get an edge over the Motorola Moto G is with the 5C’s design. Rather than using an all-plastic shell, like a lot of cheaper phones, the Honor 5C’s backplate is brushed aluminum.
Its sides are plastic, and the border between the metal and plastic parts very clear, but when it catches the light you can tell in an instant its back is the real deal. While the phone isn’t all that pretty as a whole, at this price a hint of metallic glamour is a nice win.
What it doesn’t get you is the feel of a mostly-metal phone. A rigid, hard back is a bonus, but companies like Samsung use metal on the sides of their phones, rather than on the back, for good reason. It’s where the most sensitive parts of your hands land: your fingertips.
Those are the parts the Honor 5C needs to convince with. And when you’re likely to have perhaps one fingertip on the actual metal bits, it doesn’t do a perfect job. Don’t expect the Honor 5C to feel as expensive as an iPhone.
However, it’s pleasant to handle and use. It’s just 8.3mm thick, has smoothly curved sides and is very pocketable.
After using the Honor 5C for a couple of weeks, we did find that the metal back is very easy to scratch – bear that in mind if you’re a serial phone abuser.
There’s also no fingerprint scanner – the Chinese version of this phone has one, but the western version doesn’t. You’ll have to either use a touchscreen PIN/password, or go without home screen security.
With the Moto G4 Plus’s fingerprint scanner having shown up those on more expensive phones, though, never mind budget ones, we’d rather Honor leave the feature out than pack in a dodgy one.
The Honor 5C’s design is not a Harry Potter-grade work of magic, just a neat and practical design for a phone of this price. What we’re more impressed with is the screen.
Until fairly recently, a 5-inch phone under £200 would almost certainly have a 720p screen. The 1080p OnePlus X and the latest Moto G have raised the stakes, and Honor has responded.
The Honor 5C has a 5.2-inch 1080p IPS LCD that, at the time of our review, is among the best screens available for the price. It’s sharp, and the colors are vivid, with only small sacrifices in terms of accuracy. Some reds appear a bit less relaxed than they should, but when saturated screens are en vogue, you’ll see similar effects in phones three times the price.
What has impressed us more, though, is how well the display performs in other areas. Viewing angles are excellent for a phone this cheap, and outdoors visibility is remarkably good. It’s a bold, sharp and bright screen that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a device more than twice the price a year or so ago.
We’ve been looking for problems with the Honor 5C, sure that there must be some notable flaws to find in a phone of the price. But there certainly aren’t any when it comes to the screen – even the Auto brightness setting, a feature that’s often spotty in lower-cost mobiles, is fairly reliable.
There is one hardware element that Honor has cheaped-out on though: the Honor 5C doesn’t have a Gorilla Glass protective layer, instead using an unspecified brand of tempered glass.
However, after fairly carefree use, including keeping the phone in a pocket with keys and loose change on occasion, it remains scratch-free, unlike the aluminium back. The Honor 5C may be wearing supermarket-brand trainers, but they do the job.