Review

Honor 6X: an HD Android smartphone ‘for the brave’

The Honor 6X is the latest smartphone from this Huawei spin-off company and it’s a solid performer with a lot to offer for a reasonable price.

We’ve been using this phone on a daily basis since January, when we picked up a handset at the official product launch press conference at CES 2017. We’ve deliberately waited until now to write this review, in order to spend a decent amount of time using the phone in normal, everyday life, constantly swapping back and forth between our personal preference (an Apple iPhone 7) and the Honor 6X.

At the Las Vegas launch event, Honor – a spin-off sub-brand from the more established Huawei name – went big on its ‘maverick’ appeal, with the hashtag slogan #forthebrave and a bombardment of glossy, high-colour images of freewheeling, lifestyle-chasing millenials throwing themselves with gusto and gay abandon into whatever hedonistic adventures and pleasures they can seize in life.

Clearly, this is Honor’s target market and, in a sense, it suits the 6X handset. It’s a relatively cheap yet decently specc’ed smartphone in a generically attractive outer shell that wouldn’t embarrass you if you pulled it out poolside at Coachella. The dual-camera setup won’t let your selfies and Instagram-worthy moments down, and the dual-SIM slots mean you can take it anywhere in the world and use a local provider, but equally it wouldn’t break your heart too much if you lost it in the moshpit or dropped it down a ravine while hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro. A £700 iPhone 7 is a lot to lose. A £200 Honor 6X, well, that’s more manageable.     

While it might not be top of the range, the 6X doesn’t fall too far short: there are more smiles here than frowns. It has a 5.5in screen with a resolution of 1080 HD LCD (403ppi). The processor is Huawei’s own octa-core Kirin 655 chipset, supported by 3Gb of RAM and 32Gb of storage on board, or 4Gb of RAM and 64Gb of storage. The dual SIM tray also offers a microSD card slot, should you want to expand storage capacity up to 128Gb.

The handset has a metal back (black, silver or gold), with plastic top and bottom edges, weighing 162g and sized at 150.9 x 76.2 x 8.2mm. There is a dual-camera configuration on the rear, with the lenses arranged vertically, along with a fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone and which also doubles in performing a few OS navigation tasks, such as scrolling through photos. The front of the phone is plain and all glass, with three soft buttons for navigation and a screen protector in place that covers the whole face.

Honor 6X dual camera arrangement

 

The phone feels good in the hand, nicely balanced with rounded edges and a slightly curved back to better fit the human palm, although it doesn’t feel quite as lux as it looks. It feels lighter and flimsier than the iPhone 7 and, on that note, the placement of the volume up/down and on/off buttons on the right-hand side of the phone meant that when holding the phone in our left hand – as we typically do – we were forever accidentally turning the phone either on or off with one of our fingers. The buttons just seemed to be in the wrong place all the time and too sensitive, overly responsive. With the handset held any other way, of course, this wasn’t such a problem.  

The screen of the 6X is bright and colourful: not high-end, but eminently enjoyable. Again, this plays well to Honor’s intended target market, as photos, videos and games all pop with bold, saturated colour. The press conference made much of the 6X being a world-beating, superbly equipped camera-phone – inevitably somewhat overstating its capabilities – but what this screen does display, it displays with aplomb. The viewing angle is nice and wide, too, so friends crowding around to view your photos should all get a satisfactory eyeful.

The only aspect of the screen we found disappointing was the auto-brightness function, which is intended to adapt to changing ambient light conditions. The brightness itself is great – to almost retina-scorching levels – but the auto element seemed to randomly dim and flicker too much for our liking, so we ended up simply turning that off.

The two cameras are either the dual rear camera, with a 12-megapixel+2 megapixel arrangement, or the 8-megapixel front-facing, fixed-focus camera. Software on the phone offers an array of beauty modes (read: wrinkle-smoothing and skin-glow-enhancing filters) for the perfect selfie.

The dual camera – similar to that seen on Huawei’s P9, its Leica collaboration handset, or Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus – uses the bigger Sony IMX386 sensor to capture the image and the supplementary smaller sensor to capture depth information. In this way, using wide-aperture mode (the sensor range is F/0.95-F/16), you can refocus images after shooting, changing the point of focus and blurring the rest of the image. There are also plenty of image-editing software tools on the phone, such as spot colour, which allow for more creative fun.

The camera produces good-looking images and the HDR mode – with a decent amount of manual control on tap – takes things up another notch. Low-light images can get noisy, but this is the only significant weak spot. Unless you’re a real stickler for perfection in image quality, you’re going to enjoy the photos the 6X is capable of.

Since the launch of the 6X, most of the internet’s grumbling has centred around the OS and software, coming as it did with Android 6 Marshmallow, not Android 7 Nougat – which had been available for several months at the time of the 6X launch.

Honor also deploys its own idyosyncratic tweaks to Android, which it terms Emotion UI, and which alter the look of the OS. Some people like it, some don’t – it’s as simple as that. Moving between iOS 10 and this version of Emotion UI (EMUI 4.1) is not too jarring, as both look and function in a similar fashion. There weren’t many times we were thumbing and stabbing the screen in confusion or frustration, unable to perform the simple task we had in mind.

According to Honor, the 6X is due to get both Nougat and EMUI 5 sometime in Q2, which should further improve the overall user experience and quell any critical misgivings about the software.

Aside from the software, there are a few other minor gripes we have about the 6X, although it is fair to say that these arise largely when comparing the 6X to a phone that costs more than three times as much, such as the iPhone 7. Judged against its peers, the 6X can hold its head considerably higher.

The charging plug is an oldie and not particularly goldie microUSB jack, not the USB-C, which is really becoming the default cable choice, particularly for Android phones. Charging time is reasonable, although it’s not FastCharge, while the 3340mAH battery does seem to last for days, especially if mostly left on standby.

The dual-speaker grille arrangement on the bottom of the device is frankly a flat-out lie, as there is only one speaker and it hardly covers itself in audio glory with the volume cranked up. There is still a 3.5mm audio port for headphones, at least, for anyone not yet kitted out with wireless headphones.

Talking of wireless, the 6X has LTE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity, along with GPS, but there’s no NFC so you can’t use this phone with Android Pay.

For a phone apparently targetted at throw-caution-to-the-wind millenial types, who are apparently forever getting up to wet’n’wild high jinks in exotic locations, it is surprising that no waterproofing or water resistance of any kind is incorporated in the handset. You’ll need to get a case – athough good luck with that, as we found the choice to be extremely limited. Almost non-existent, in fact. We ended up using a slipcase intended for another model of phone that had the approximate dimensions of the 6X. Works fine: options limited.  

Despite this moaning on, the 6X can be regarded as a solid performer and an attractive proposition in the around-£200 marketplace. It’s easy to be snippy about certain aspects of the handset and lament missed opportunities and dated technology, especially given the exaggerated splash and overhyped tech spec ladled on by Honor at the launch event.

However, this is a bit like criticising a Dacia for not outperforming a Range Rover, when each vehicle is clearly aimed at a different type of consumer. The Honor 6X is squarely aimed at people who want a good-looking, large-screen, vivid-colour HD device, with a good camera that takes decent photos, something that won’t embarrass them when they pull it out or terrify them if they drop it or lose it. The 6X is not aimed at those who pore through benchmark scores and tech spec sheets (although the 6X performs respectably here) or those who simply must have the absolute best of everything.

The bottom line should be that this is a very decent, reasonably priced phone with enough quality and appealing features to elevate it above the morass of cut-price Chinese handsets. It can be bought outright for a little over £200 and offers sufficient expansion options and the promise of software updates from Honor to guarantee it a degree of longevity – at least long enough until the 7X or 8X come along.

Read more at the Honor 6X product page

Photo shootout Honor 6X vs. Apple iPhone 7

The following photos were all taken at the same time, on the same day. Standard camera settings, no filters.

Red telephone box: Honor 6X

Red telephone box: iPhone 7

Savoy Place: Honor 6X

Savoy Place: iPhone 7

Yellow flowers: Honor 6X

Yellow flowers: iPhone 7

Savoy Hotel: Honor 6X

Savoy Hotel: iPhone 7

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