Hands-on: Honor has just kicked off its CES 2017 with a new mid-range smartphone, that has one particularly nifty feature.
Huawei’s ‘millennial’ focussed spin-off brand Honor has been slowly improving over the past few years, and while its phones haven’t been the most exciting I have come across I do appreciate how it tries to bring higher-end features down to the lower end of the market. And that’s exactly what it has done here.
The Honor 6X is the cheapest phone that I have seen that utilises a dual-camera set-up on the back. There’s a regular 12MP Sony made sensor and a secondary 2MP one that lets the phone captures photos at varying apertures. This isn’t like Huawei’s P9 or Mate 9, where the second camera is a monochrome sensor, but more comparable to the ‘depth-effect’ you get with the two cameras on the rear of the iPhone 7 Plus.
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You can switch the aperture from f/0.95 to f/16, but of course this is all software magic going on in the background. It certainly sounds a lot cleverer than it really is, and in lots of situations the results look strange with the blur in the wrong place and odd parts left in focus. Still, it is possible to get good shots and I’ll need more time with the phone to really see how well it copes.
There’s Phase Detection Autofocus too, and focussing in most situations does seem snappy and accurate. Around the front is an 8MP selfie camera that’s nicely wide-angled and seems a lot more natural in its colour profiles than previous Honor and Huawei phones. Of course, the usual array of beauty modes are here too if you want to smooth over your wrinkles…
The rest of the phone is fairly standard stuff, and I’m not sure there’s much else here to really appeal to the millennial audience Honor is gunning for.
There’s little to get excited about with the design, and while there’s no doubting it’s well made, it feels very safe. The slightly curved metal back with rounded corners and a sparse front look feel overused and the dull selection of silver, grey and gold colours again just seems like Honor is following the crowd. The brand puts so much into marketing itself as fun, young and different that just doesn’t fit with the way it designs its phones.
Honor has also taken a step back with the software, which is outdated even before its released. While the Honor 8 and Huawei Mate 9 are being updated to the much improved EMUI 5 and Android Nougat, the Honor 6X is stuck on the far inferior EMUI 4.1. Icons are back to being ugly, the stock apps feel like iPhone rip-offs and the notification panel is messy and struggles with Google notifications.
I find it strange too that Honor has stuck a microUSB port on the bottom, rather than the foreword thinking USB-C port. This feels like a backward step, and screams of cost-cutting. There’s still fast charging though, and Honor claims the 3,450 mAh battery can last multiple days with moderate use and comfortably through a day with heavier use. I haven’t had the phone long enough to see if these claims are true, but that’s a pretty large battery for a phone with just a 1080p screen so I have high hopes.
Considering its £224.99/$249.99 price-tag though, there is still a lot to like here.
The big 5.5-inch 1080p display is one of the best I have seen at this price. It’s detailed, seems accurate and is intensely bright when you crank it up. When brand’s like Sony still insist on slapping 720p panels on phones even pricier than this, it’s nice to see Honor not skimping. Honor says the screen should be better at rejecting reflections than the competition, but I haven’t yet noticed anything overwhelmingly different.
Powering the phone is a mid-range Kirin 655 CPU, and you can pick between 3GB or 4GB of RAM. My unit is the latter and it certainly seems smooth and nippy, even if the fairy frequent doggedness of EMUI 4.1 is still noticeable after even minimal use. Hopefully this would be eradicated if it were to see an upgrade though.
32GB of storage is standard, but if you plump for the 4GB model that jumps to 64GB. As with every Honor phone support for microSD is here, and if you don’t need the extra storage you can bung in a second sim-card for when you’re travelling.
Another Honor staple is the fingerprint scanner, and once again it sits below the two camera sensors on the 6X. On first inspection it seems to match the Honor 8 for speed, but it lacks that ridiculous useful quick-access button baked inside.
NFC is here too for Android Pay – certainly not a given in this price – and there’s a new Wi-Fi bridge feature that’s supposed to let the phone act as a repeating if you struggle with poor wireless reception at home.
Honor 6X: First impressions
Considering the price, there’s a lot going on here that should make the Honor 6X a tempting prospect. Yet, I don’t feel like the devices churned out by Honor are matching its millennial and teen focussed image it’s spouting. The design is dull and predicable, the software old and it’s missing soon to be required features like USB-C.
It seems like Honor is trying too hard to give out an idea that it’s cool and ‘hip’, and actually forgetting to bring any of those idea to its phone design.