Last year we saw the smartphone industry evolve thanks to a couple key players that introduced affordable and quality handsets to the United States. While the Honor 5X was an excellent example starting at $199, beyond its luxurious facade, there were still a few things lacking at its core.
Honor returns this year with a follow-up, the Honor 6X, that aims to raise the bar, offering more features, but also at a slightly higher price. In a year's time, a lot has changed, with the competition breaking into the US market with their own affordable entries, can the Honor 6X maintain its reign or will it ascend to a higher plane?
|Display||5.5-inch 1080p display 403 PPI|
|Processor||Huawei Kirin 655, Octa-Core (4 x 2.1GHz + 4 x 1.7GHz)|
|Connectivity||802.11b/g/n, 2.4GHz Bluetooth 4.1, GPS/AGPS/GLONASS/BeiDou Navigation Satellite System|
|Camera||12MP / 2MP with wide aperture range from f/0.95-f/16 8MP front-facing camera|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, Magnetometer, Gyroscope, Light sensor, Proximity sensor|
|Launch OS||Android 6.0 with EMUI 4.1|
|Launch Date||January 2017 (US)|
|Size & Weight||150.9 x 76.2 x 8.2mm
Design / Display / Sound
The Honor 6X is a world apart from its predecessor, employing an improved design and materials all around. Sure, the Honor 5X had metal exterior pieces, but it felt hollow compared to more expensive handsets. While simply having metal on a device was a tremendous accomplishment, Honor decided to outdo itself by making it feel good in the hand. This is important because if it feels good, it can elevate the experience.
Beyond the actual materials, there is also the design element with the front of the device dominated by 5.5-inch 1080p display with curved edges that slope in the body of the device. The display utilizes an LCD panel that produces good colors and has viewing angles that are impressive. If there was one area that it was lacking, it would be the screen’s brightness that tops out at 450 nits. While this might seem like a lot, under direct sunlight, the handset struggles to produce a clear display that is comfortable to read. This is a common issue that occurs on most handsets, but even under a cloudy sky, with increased readability under sunlight enabled, it still felt a tad dim.
The back is mostly constructed of metal and has sloped curves from the rear panel that meld perfectly with the top portion. There are plastic pieces that are color matched on the top and bottom that allow for better radio penetration and do not take away from the overall look of the device. The Honor 6X also packs the usuals like speaker grill on the bottom, volume and power buttons, fingerprint sensor, and 3.5mm headset jack. The device also offers a dual camera setup with a 12MP and 2MP shooter. As far as the speaker goes, the sound is extremely tinny and is noticeable at all volume levels - something to keep in mind if you are someone that uses the speaker on their phone frequently.
As far as the physical aspect of the device, Honor has really outdone themselves with a handset that easily brings parity with devices like the Mate 9 and others that are priced double, triple, or even quadruple the price of the Honor 6X. While it isn't the most unique look on the market, it's important that Honor was again able to elevate.
The Honor 6X offers its own skinned version of Android 6.0 dubbed EMUI 4.1. Luckily, over the years I have grown accustomed to Honor’s UI, since it can be a different experience compared to what you might find on an LG or Samsung. With EMUI 4.1, the most startling difference most will notice is that it does not have an App Drawer. If unfamiliar, this is an area of Android that allows you to store all your applications, rather than having icons and folders scattered about the home screen. While there is nothing wrong with relying on folders, it does take a bit of getting used to.
With EMUI 4.1, Honor takes the approach where more is better and they include a plethora of different options and customizations. While this used to be an issue due to the confusing mess of previous iterations of EMUI, version 4.1 makes navigating the menus simpler. Although there are still a ton of options, I think Honor did the best that they could when it comes to organizing the available options. Hopefully, the Honor 6X will be updated to EMUI 5.0 in the future, currently available on the Honor 8 and Mate 9, since it features overall improvements and an app drawer natively.
Performance / Battery Life
Another area where the Honor 6X has improved on its predecessor dramatically is in performance. Last year’s handset left much to be desired, but the 6X performs well on a day-to-day basis. When opening apps, things felt snappy and surfing web pages using Chrome was always consistent. I don’t think there was ever a moment where I recall the unit stuttering. Per usual, I’ve run Vellamo, 3DMark, and AnTuTu, which you can see the numbers posted above and below.
As for battery life, the handset’s 3,340mAh battery is more than enough to last two days with moderate use. If you are a heavy user, you will probably have to top up partially through the second day, but you can definitely feel comfortable leaving it off the charger overnight. As far as my daily use, I use Gmail, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Slack, Chrome, Spotify tethered via Bluetooth to a vehicle, shoot occasional photos and videos, and also make calls when necessary.
For those that require more from their device, Honor has two battery saving modes available: ‘power saving’ and ‘ultra’. While power saving mode will throttle the CPU, reduce the frequency of internet activity and also reduce visual effects - ultra mode will put your phone into a limited state only allowing you to access the bare bones essentials like the dialer, messaging app, and contacts. You can expect to gain a huge amount of battery life by enabling this mode.
The Honor 6X's dual camera setup that utilizes a 12MP and 2MP camera sensor. Honor claims that this setup will allow you to take “professional grade images”. The setup allows for a wide aperture range (f/0.95-f/16) that allows the user to change the focus either before or after the photo has been taken. You’ll also get quick and accurate focusing thanks to its phase-detection autofocus (PDAF).
For the most part, the camera captures pretty good photos during the day and can get some decent shots at night. If you want to dial in the settings and get the most out of the camera, there is a “Pro” mode that will allow you to calibrate the ISO, shutter speed, exposure value, the focusing and more that will allow you to get that perfect shot.
As far as video goes, the handset can shoot at a maximum of 1080p, but never really looks great during the day or night. This was a bit of a surprise considering that the day photos were pretty good. While the video in lower light and night time were acceptable, it won’t really be something that you’ll want to rely on or show off to your friends.
While this is a bit minor, I did notice that during some photos and video, that there was the appearance of a halo. I'm not sure if this is a software or hardware issue, but it did appear every so often and can be seen in the samples I have provided. In all honesty, with the introduction of dual cameras, I thought that the Honor 6X would be better. Although it isn't a slouch, I did have higher expectations which were not met.
Honor could have phoned it in on the design and materials, kept it simple, and priced it in the same range or even lower than its previous model. In reality, it decided to up the ante on its “budget” line to increase the pressure on its competition and also improve the experience for its consumers. The device offers great construction, good performance, long battery life, a dual camera that can take good photos.
Naturally, there are always things that can be improved such as its dim screen, lack of USB Type-C and NFC - but at this price, you probably won't feel too bad with the investment. The $249 Honor 6X is an excellent all-arounder that isn’t a replacement for top-tier handsets, but it is a good substitute for someone on a budget.