Interface and reliability

  • Android 8.1 with EMUI 8.0
  • Lots of bloatware

The Honor 7S comes with Android 8.1 Oreo, which is about as up to date as Google’s mobile operating system gets right now.

On the other hand, you get Huawei’s custom EMUI 8.0 layered over the top. And that doesn’t feel particularly fresh at all.

Read more: Honor View 20 review

While Huawei is working with Android as its base, it’s clearly a big fan of Apple’s work with iOS. You can see it right there in the look and layout of EMUI’s rounded-square icons and its Settings menu, as well as in the lack of an app tray.

The latter can be changed in the Settings menu if you prefer the traditional Android method, but Huawei and Honor have clearly set their stall out as an iOS emulation effort.

While EMUI 8.0 is perfectly functional, though, it’s not half as stylish or polished as either iOS or stock Android. There’s a certain garishness to its bold colors, and a cheapness to its menus and buttons.

There’s a Themes app here that lets you customize the look of your home screen, but that doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as comprehensive or filled out here as it is in other Honor phones. This is something of a mixed blessing: while most of the available themes tended to be awful, it was nice to have the choice.

Another way in which choice has been lessened for the Honor 7S is in terms of Face Unlock. Honor’s facial recognition system was available on the almost-as-cheap Honor 7A, and worked fairly well (though it wasn’t particularly secure). 

That’s not even an option here, though, and it’s arguably missed even more in the absence of a fingerprint scanner.

One thing that we do approve of is the provision of the facility formerly known as Google Now (now known rather generically as ‘the feed’) with a leftward swipe from the home screen.

It’s a little sad that this has started to become a jumped up news stream rather than a personalized information hub, but it’s still better than any number of custom news and universal search services that tend to be positioned here.

This being an Honor phone, You get the inevitable round of bloatware as standard. In the Games folder, you’ll get half a dozen fairly forgettable Gameloft titles, while Top Apps includes Netflix, eBay (both of which we’ll let slide), and Booking.com (which we won’t).

Facebook is placed right there on the home screen as standard, which will either please or horrify you depending on your present feelings towards the social network.

You also get a batch of Huawei’s own apps, many of which duplicate or replace much better Google equivalents. We’re talking specifically about Music, Gallery, Calendar, Clock and Email.

The Tools folder contains ten little kind-of-useful apps such as Calculator, Sound Recorder and Torch. There’s also an FM Radio in there for those who want to do their music listening in an old school style.

Oh, and the Honor app is essentially a link to a mobile-optimized regional Honor website. Which means it’s a bit of a waste of time and space.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Big bright screen is good for media, though low-res
  • Meagre 16GB of storage

The price and marketing of the Honor 7S tells you that it’s being targeted at a youthful crowd, so how it handles media is pretty important.

We streamed video from a variety of sources (YouTube, Amazon Prime Video) and also downloaded them from Google Play to try and get a rounded impression of how it might perform. The handset acquitted itself very well, with smooth playback and no stuttering.

While this video content isn’t as sharp as you may be accustomed to - there’s no Full HD playback here - the Honor 7S’s display is nice and bright, and the colors are surprisingly vibrant. We’re obviously not talking OLED levels, but the reds certainly pop nonetheless.

One thing that doesn’t really play as much of a part as you might be expecting is the screen’s 18:9 aspect ratio. Precious little video content is actually shot and distributed in this format, so you’ll need to get used to black borders on either side.

The alternative, as presented by YouTube, is to zoom in with a pinch motion and remove those borders. But as that cuts off top and bottom portions of the video, we’re not huge fans of that approach.

Games fare much better, as they’re generally optimized to run in the extra-wide format. There’s a tangible benefit to running them at 18:9, particularly when on-screen virtual controls are involved, as your hands obscure less of the action.

You only get a single speaker here, but at least it’s front-facing, meaning you can’t cover it up too easily while you’re holding the phone. There’s a BesLoudness toggle in the settings that amplifies things quite well, but we’re not entirely sure why it’s even an option.

Either way, you’re much better of utilizing the top-mounted 3.5mm socket - just about the only hardware advantage these cheap phones have over their more expensive counterparts these days.

One major restriction here, however, is a severe lack of internal storage. At just 16GB of storage - and with 6GB of that given over to Android - there’s really not much to play with for the media enthusiast.

Fortunately, there’s a microSD card slot for expansion purposes. You’re going to need it.

Specs and benchmark performance

  • MediaTek MT6739 CPU is very poor
  • Underwhelming benchmarks and general performance

Many budget smartphones are undone by at least one hardware failing, and in the case of the Honor 7S it’s a matter of performance.

Put simply, the phone’s 1.5GHz quad-core MediaTek MT6739 CPU just isn’t up to the task. Backing this poor chipset up with just 2GB of RAM doesn’t help matters either.

This is a similar setup (albeit the 7S is seemingly clocked a little faster) to the Vodafone Smart N9, and performance was by far the biggest flaw with that phone too.

Stutters and sluggishness pervade the Honor 7S experience, from the moment you bring up the password unlock screen - and wait excruciating moments for it to unlock - to the halting experience of simply flicking between home screens or through menus.

When it comes to gaming, the usually forgiving Guns of Boom runs absolutely awfully on the Honor 7S. As in, it’s virtually unplayable.

Our Geekbench 4 tests yielded an average multi-core score of 1,819, which pitches the phone slightly above the Smart N9 on 1,628 (perhaps down to that faster clock speed) but well below the Wileyfox Swift 2 on 2,545.

2017s Moto G5, which can be snagged for only a little more money than the Honor 7S these days, also outperforms it with 2,377. This phone is not a strong performer at all.