If you didn't know how inexpensive Huawei's Honor 5C is, you would never guess

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The Honor 5C may have cracked the code for cheap phones, with a metal body, a processor suitable for gaming, and a sleek design

Budget isn’t a word that exactly inspires excitement, but Honor, a Huawei spin-off brand, may have cracked the code with its 5C. Yes, that’s the same name taken by Apple for its own not-cheap-at-all iPhone 5C released a few years ago, but the Honor 5C is most definitely not a dreary clone.

It looks great. The body is made of metal, and curves gently round to meet the screen, resulting in a phone that’s easy to hold in one hand. It actually nestles, mainly thanks to the sensible 5.2-inch display, which makes the 5C very compact and easy to hold. The 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution looked good, with plenty of brightness. Worried about scratching that rear panel? We were, because the 5X seems to pick up marks a little too easily, but Huawei said the anodized finish makes it tough.

Interestingly, the 5C is the first phone Huawei is putting through its new quality assurance standards. It has been subject to tougher tests, including higher drop tests, better thermal management, and port durability. There shouldn’t be any concerns over the hardware or its longevity here.

Honor’s very proud of the processor inside the 5C. It’s an octa-core Kirin 650 running at 2GHz and has been built using a 16nm (nanometer) process, something that’s usually reserved for fancy chips inside more expensive phones. Why should you care? It consumes less energy, but returns more performance, and Huawei claims the 5C is a great gaming phone.

The phone we tried had a demo of Asphalt Nitro already installed, so we fired that up to see how the phone did, and were suitably impressed. There were no stutters or slow loading times, and the game was perfectly playable. The screen reacted swiftly to inputs, and the motion-based steering controls were very responsive. If other games perform similarly, it seems Huawei’s enthusiasm is warranted.

Android 6.0 is the operating system, and its EMUI (Emotion User Interface) 4.1 interface is placed over the top. The EMUI skin has had its share of problems, but it has improved over time, and this version is the same one that is installed on the Huawei P9. That’s a good thing.

Related: Here’s our review of the Honor 7

One notable difference between the P9 and previous versions of EMUI is the camera app. Swipe right from the viewfinder and you’re presented with the various modes, including a new macro setting and a Light Painting mode for capturing light trails in night shots, while a left swipe shows all the relevant camera settings. It’s fast, fluid, and the clean design looks superb.

We didn’t get to test the camera extensive, but found it did focus very quickly, and the macro mode was very effective. It would pick up raindrops on a window, for example. The 13-megapixel rear camera has an f/2.0 aperture, intelligent color management, and a hybrid autofocus, while the front camera has 8-megapixels and another f/2.0 sensor.

Other positives include the chance to increase the 16GB of internal memory with a MicroSD card (or to use its slot for a second SIM), speakers mounted inside their own box system for improved bass, and the presence of NFC so you can use the device with Android Pay. However, there’s no fingerprint sensor, unlike the Honor 5X and the Chinese version of the 5C, and the decision to leave it off the European model was purely financial. There are other downsides. The screen was covered in fingerprints in the short time we spent with it, so it will likely need frequent cleaning if you use it every day.

Those aren’t exactly deal-breakers, especially considering the Honor 5C costs just 150 British pounds, less than the 170 pounds it costs to get an Honor 5X. Convert it over and you get about $220, and unfair comparison due to VAT (taxed) costs in the United Kingdom. That’s cheap, but the Honor 5X really didn’t feel cheap, budget, or low-cost. It feels what most would define as ‘premium,’ due to the metal body. It doesn’t have premium processing power, but what’s inside appears to be more than capable of handling the everyday tasks we use our phones for. We liked the sleek grey model best, although it’s also available in silver and gold.

Annoyingly, the Honor 5C is currently only on sale in the U.K. and Europe, and no decision has been made on a U.S. release.

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