Jan 27th, 2017 publishUpdated   Feb 2nd, 2017, 3:47 am

I’m going to be completely honest with you — I wasn’t ever too crazy about last year’s honor 5X. As someone who doesn’t mind splurging on high-end smartphones, the Honor 5X, although extremely well-priced, never quite delivered. It didn’t matter how much aluminum Honor wrapped around the device or new hardware features they crammed inside (the fingerprint reader was a nice touch), there wasn’t anything about the device that screamed quality. To put it bluntly: the Honor 5X felt baseline.

Sure, it was arguably one of the nicer budget devices you could buy at the time, but that alone wasn’t something to get excited about. Whether it was someone new to smartphones, or someone looking for an affordable replacement, it was typically a purchase made out of necessity. The customer was never supposed to feel proud about their purchase, just… somewhat subdued. Their satisfaction came with knowing how much money they saved, not how many bells and whistles their smartphone provided (probably because they didn’t need much to begin with).

Although I can’t say I, personally, was “excited” at the prospect of this year’s followup, it’s clear there was nowhere left to go but up. With this year’s Honor 6X, Huawei is looking to entice thrifty buyers with a brand new budget device for 2017, one that somehow blurs the lines between entry level and premium. Is the second time the charm for Honor? Let’s find out.

HARDWARE

Honor 6X specs

  • 5.5-inch 1080p LCD display (403 ppi)
  • HiSilicon Kirin 655 octa-core processor / Mali-T830MP2 GPU
  • 32GB storage / 3GB RAM or 64GB storage / 4GB RAM
  • Micro SD card slot up to 256GB
  • 12MP + 2MP rear cameras, 8MP front facing
  • 3,340mAh battery
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 5V/2A “fast charging”
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Micro USB 2.0 port
  • Dual SIM (GSM)
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow, EMUI 4.1
  • Dimensions: 150.9 x 76.2 x 8.2mm
  • Weight: 162g
  • Pre-screen protected (plastic film)
  • NO NFC
  • NO 5GHz WiFi band

If there’s one area where Huawei has really been making strides, it’s in the ability to make even budget devices like the Honor 6X feel just a little more expensive than they really are. Simply put, the Honor 6X feels like an honest to goodness, premium smartphone. No compromises.

Gone (thankfully) is the brushed aluminum of the previous 5X, replaced with a much more solid, anodized metal similar to what you’d find on the iPhone. It’s not a complete unibody like you’ll find on the iPhone — more like a metal battery cover in between two pieces of plastic — but it’s clear that’s where Huawei found their inspiration.

The sides of the phone are completely rounded and taper off to a point. This is an effort to make the phone feel thinner than it actually is. The problem is the smaller surface area makes it difficult to get a good grip on the phone, something that’s compounded by the non-stock Teflon-like finish of anodized metal. You’re definitely going to want to buy a case for this phone as it’s easily one of the more difficult smartphones to hold.

A rear mounted fingerprint sensor can be found on back, resting just underneath a chiseled camera housing. The camera protrudes slightly, but not a lot. Almost feels like it was a design choice to keep with the current status quo. The fingerprint sensor itself has been upgraded from last year’s 5X, registering fingerprints with lighting quick precision. It’s so fast you don’t really even have to hold your finger down, just give it a quick tap. Don’t worry about getting false reads or it taking forever to register, Huawei definitely didn’t skimp with the hardware here.

Other than that, there’s nothing incredibly new or different about the design. Like most phones these days, a 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on top, speaker and microphone slots on the bottom, with a micro USB port resting in the middle. It’s sort of an odd move to not go with USB Type C, but if you’re on a budget, it makes sense to use the cables you already have laying around.

Overall, the design of the Honor 6X is minimal and clean. There’s nothing to really hate but at the same time — there’s also nothing to love. It’s familiar and safe.

The real draw here is how the Honor 6X feels. The Honor 6X is raising the bar on the level of quality you should expect from a entry level smartphone. Place the Honor 6X in someone’s hands and they’re immediately going to assume that it’s the next iPhone or at least some kind of Android equivalent. It’s only when you look at the price/spec sheet that you realize otherwise, but when it comes to nailing down the overall feeling of a high-end smartphone (a mark missed by last year’s Honor 5X) the Honor 6X delivers in spades.

We’re not sure how many other OEMs can pull this off and still make a profit, but it’s 2017 — there’s no reason affordable smartphones have to feel like a children’s toy. Huawei has definitely proven that.

Display

I wont sugar coat it. The display on the Honor 6X is nothing to write home about. Not because of the 1080p resolution, mind you — which looks pin sharp, even at 5.5-inches — it just tends to look a little washed out. Of course, this is to be expected (after all, this it’s not an AMOLED panel) but even when compared against slightly higher-end devices also equipped with LCD panels, it still manages to fall short. Viewing angles are okay, but blacks aren’t very deep, colors don’t pop, and although this is technically more color accurate, it’s just not as fun.

It doesn’t help that the display isn’t very responsive to the touch (the UI trails behind your finger when swiping and there’s a slight delay when tapping things) and the refresh rate is god awful, creating excessive blur when scrolling through apps. It’s all these things that make the Honor 6X’s screen easily one of the weakest areas of the device.

There are some good things about it. Huawei gets some points for including color temperature settings, allowing you to adjust the tint to your liking. Most people probably wont take advantage of this, but I was able to appreciate the extra level of control.

There’s also an “Eye comfort” mode which is essentially a blue light filter that we’ve seen in other popular devices. This is supposed to make things easier on the eyes by creating a warmer looking display (similar to your home’s incandescent lighting), but on the Honor 6X it’s more of a florescent yellow color — nothing like the orange tint you’ll see on the iPhone or the Pixel.

Performance

Performance on the Honor 6X is somewhat of a mixed bag and kind of hard to explain. It’s not so much that Huawei’s Kirin 655 octa-core processor (2.1GHz + 1.7GHz quad-core CPUs) feels under powered, as much as lazy or lethargic.

The Honor 6X doesn’t really have any trouble loading up apps, streaming videos, loading web pages, or playing games — it just doesn’t do it with a sense of urgency. It’s almost as if the 8-core processor is simply maintaining a fuel efficient speed in an effort to help save battery. Like a Toyota Prius. So, while the phone doesn’t feel as snappy as a 2016 flagship, it still has enough power to handle whatever you throw at it. Just… you know… at its own pace. While sipping tea. So much that I can’t say the phone ever gets hot and barely even lukewarm while playing 3D intensive games.

Since it never really struggles with any one thing, hopefully this means that, over time, the Honor 6X will be able to maintain this initial speed. Depending on the device you’re upgrading from (like a 2015 flagship), the Honor 6X may feel just as fast, but it’s nowhere near the performance you’ll find on higher-end devices like the Pixel or even the Honor 8. Of course, that’s probably the point.

The most frustrating part about the Honor 6X’s performance is how Huawei is handicapping the device out of the gate. The phone’s software kills background apps every time you turn off the display, making it nearly impossible to quickly return to apps. This means the under powered processor has to re-open apps every time you wake the phone, something that takes far more time than simply pulling an open app inside RAM.

It’s an aggressive approach at memory management, one based on an archaic idea that RAM should be constantly cleared out to prolong battery life, but it’s simply not true. Now, there’s a way to turn off this “feature” in the settings — something I strongly urge you to do — but you’ll have to do it every time you install a new app. You can read more about the first things I recommend every Honor 6X owner do in our post here.

Battery life

If there was one feature alone that should have you considering the Honor 6X, it’s the amazing battery life. As you’d guess from a 3,340mAh battery, the phone is capable of delivering far better stamina than your average Android device. Add together a processor that barely sips power and we were able to consistently get a full 24 hours worth of moderate use. It’s definitely short of the advertised 2-day battery life (1.5 with moderate usage), but manufacturers often over exaggerate this metric — no surprise there.

It was nearly impossible to get this phone down below 30% before bed

Because there are so many factors that affect battery life (cellular connection, app use, brightness, etc.), it makes it difficult to tell you exactly what you can expect from the phone. Although no two people will ever get the same results, I can compare it against devices like the Google Pixel or iPhone 7. Yup, the Honor 6X absolutely wipes the floor with them. This probably isn’t too surprising considering the higher battery capacity puts the Honor 6X on par with larger phablet-sized devices like the Pixel XL or iPhone 7 Plus.

This means you can leave the house with a fully charged Honor 6X and still take advantage of every feature on your phone (location services, background sync, etc.) without worrying you have to plug in at some point throughout the day. It’s quite liberating. Even then, you’re still going to have to plug in at night or (or run the risk of having a dead phone by lunch time), but this kind of battery life is what we all manufacturers should be striving for. There’s simply no excuse.

Fast Charging

It’s impossible to talk about battery life without factoring how fast a phone takes to charge. Your phone can last all day, but if it takes forever to charge, it can be difficult to juice up in a pinch. The Honor 6X does feature a type of “fast charging” technology, but it’s nowhere near the speed you’ll find from Quick Charge enabled devices or other proprietary methods like the OnePlus’ Dash Charge.

The Honor 6X’s idea of fast charging is just 5V/2A and while it’s generally faster than phones of yesteryear, still requires a little over 2 hours to take it from 0 to 100%.

Charge times:

  • 10 min: 12%
  • 20 min: 21%
  • 30 min: 31%
  • 40 min: 41%
  • 50 min: 49%
  • 60 min: 66%
  • 70 min: 75%
  • 80 min: 82%
  • 90 min: 88%
  • 100 min: 92%
  • 110 min: 95%
  • 120 min: 97%
  • 130 min: 99%
  • 136 min: 100%

As you can see, it’s not terrible considering the battery size and actually comparable to the Google Pixel XL who’s battery is only 110mAh larger than the Honor 6X’s. That being said, you should expect to gain around 10% battery for every 10 minutes on the charger. It’s only around the 90% mark that the trickle charging kicks in, taking a little over half an hour to reach that last 10%. This is done to maintain battery health and similar to what you’ll find in just about every quick charging method, no matter the manufacturer.

Other

The rest of the hardware on the Honor 6X is pretty average. The bottom firing speaker is extremely quiet, making it difficult to hear in noisy environments. If you’re someone that enjoys using speakerphone in your car, this could be an issue.

The Honor 6X also comes with a regular ‘ol micro USB 2.0 port on the bottom. It’s hard to fault the phone over this considering the hassle involved in converting everything over to USB Type C (and the fact that some Type C cables can fry your devices), but we’re just not at the place where Type C offers any benefit over micro USB.

Sound quality using the 3.5mm port is great. Even if the DAC isn’t capable of powering larger headphones, the audio quality is nice when using earbuds, especially with the built-in “Super Wide Sound” virtualization feature for higher quality audio output.

What’s missing?

Worth mentioning is the fact that — unlike the vast majority of Android devices out there — the Honor 6X doesn’t have an NFC chip. Without NFC, you can’t take advantage of mobile payment services like Android Pay or other conveniences like easy Bluetooth pairing. Depending on how often you use these features (it’s very possible you don’t at all), this could be an issue. It’s a strange omission in what would have been a fully capable Android device.

Another seemingly odd move was the inclusion of a WiFi chip that doesn’t support dual-band WiFi. While 2.4GHz is probably fine for most folks, this could greatly decrease wireless performance in highly congested places like apartment buildings where the 5GHz band (shorter range, higher bandwidth) can be a necessity. It’s one of those things that easy to overlook and an argument could be made that the average user wont even miss it. It’s just rather odd that it’s missing in the first place.

Camera

As is the trend these days, the Honor 6X comes equipped with a dual camera setup on the back. It’s easily one of the most affordable devices to feature this setup, carrying both a 12MP shooter and a secondary 2MP camera right below it. Unlike the dual cameras on the P9 or Honor 8, which combine both color and black and white images for improved dynamic range, the secondary 2MP camera on the Honor 6X is only used for capturing depth. There is a digital “wide aperture” mode which Honor says can improve the pixel count in low light, but really the secondary camera doesn’t actually do much to improve the overall quality of photos.

Regular auto mode (left), Wide aperture mode (right)

So, is the wide aperture mode any good? That depends. It’s basically that digital shallow depth of field effect we’ve seen on devices dating all the way back to the HTC One M8 and made more popular by the iPhone 7 Plus’s “Portrait mode.” The difference? It’s a lot more gimmicky on the Honor 6X as the quality is nowhere near as good as the iPhone’s.

You can play around with it, adjusting the virtual aperture after shooting a photo to adjust the focal point and amount of “depth,” but more than often things look artificial and the edges of objects end up bleeding into blurred backgrounds. It’s crude, but remember we’re talking about a $250 smartphone here. In the end, I don’t see me using the feature very much if at all, but your results may vary.

Photo quality

When it comes to the actual quality of photos, like most smartphones these days, the Honor 6X is certainly capable of capturing a nice shot, you’re just going to have to give it a lot of light. When you do, you may be surprised at how nice the images do come out. Especially the 8MP front facing camera which delivered more favorable results than even the Galaxy S7.

I would have loved to have seen a little more dynamic range (like with the Honor 8), especially considering the how much the camera tries to brighten photos by slightly overexposing most shots. Aside from that, images are also extremely soft thanks to Huawei’s aggressive noise filtering. No matter what the ISO, Huawei’s processing attempts to remove any trace of noise from a shot. Unfortunately, this comes at a loss of detail, resulting in an almost painted look. It’s not terribly noticeable unless you zoom in or crop a photo, but I’m sure the vast majority of folks will be pleased with the output.

Low light

Low light shooter the Honor 6X is not. In anything but the most optimal lighting situations, the camera completely falls apart. It’s not like we were expecting much, especially considering there isn’t OIS (it is a mid-range device after all). Any dip in lighting — whether you’re shooting at night, indoors, or in a restaurant — and you’ll notice a boat load of noise creeping into your shots. The camera will try to compensate for this by using a slower shutter speed, meaning you’ll need to keep both a steady hand and subject to avoid blur. The fact that there isn’t OIS certainly doesn’t help matters, but then again, this is only a mid-range device, so we weren’t expecting as much.

Manual mode

On the bright side, the camera software is full featured with plenty of shooting modes, effects, and filters to dive into. For those looking for more control over the camera, there’s even a “Pro mode” that lets you adjust ISO, metering, exposure, shutter speed, auto focus, and white balance. Not bad for a $250 smartphone.

The bad

My biggest gripe with the camera was the annoying shutter lag. Press the shutter button and you’ll here the UI sound letting you know that you interacted with it, but you’ll have to wait almost a full second for the camera to actually fire off the shot. It’s pretty wild.

I also had issues with the auto-focus, which was far from consistent. I frequently had to shake the phone or tap-to-focus to get it to behave, but even then there were times when it simply wouldn’t focus properly. It’s not all bad, when recording video for instance — even though auto focus wasn’t the quickest — it does have a nice smooth transition without that hunting in/out you see in most other devices.

While we’re talking about video, the Honor 6X caps at 1080p / 30fps and the quality is okay, but the audio quality could be one of the worst I’ve heard in quite some time. When playing video back, it almost sounds like your ears are plugged or you’re shooting from a phone with a waterproof microphone. It’s just plain awful.

In the end, I don’t think I’d even say the camera was one of the phone’s weaker points. It could have been better but I was expecting far worse from a $250 smartphone. Huawei’s post processing — while aggressive — really gives photos it’s own distinct, almost film look. It’s not the fastest, sharpest, or best performing camera, but I certainly wouldn’t call it the worst.

Software

Software has never been an Honor device’s strong suit and the Honor 6X has done almost nothing to change that. Running a bastardized version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow (which is now over a year old, by the way), the Honor 6X’s version of Android features a radically different user interface, something they call EMUI 4.1 (which just so happens to be an outdated version of their own software). That means out of the box, the Honor 6X’s software is already out of date. Let that sink in for a bit.

To be fair, Honor did promise that Android 7.0 Nougat / EMUI 5.0 would be rolling out to the devices in during Q2 of this year, which could be as early as April or as late as June. You know, providing there are no unforeseen delays (something that happens a lot in mobile). From what we’ve seen of EMUI 5.0 (which can be found on the Huawei Mate 9), it’s a drastically better experience than 4.1. So that’s definitely something to be excited about.

Overall, the software experience is almost identical to that of last year’s Honor 5X with EMUI trying as hard as it can to mimic iOS. There isn’t too much 3rd party bloatware and what’s there can easily be uninstalled. Our issue with EMUI is how it tries to be helpful, but only ends up doing the user a disservice. For instance, the phone closes background apps immediately when the display is turned off while attempting to scare users into thinking every 3rd party app they install (outside of Huawei’s own built-in apps) is going to kill the phone’s battery. Not only is this counter intuitive to the way Android normally works, it’s downright misleading.

The good news is that almost every annoying EMUI feature we ran into was always accompanied by the option to turn it off. With so many software features baked into the OS, it’s not surprising to find a few stinkers. At the same time, you’ll probably run into a few that you love. We’ve covered most every software feature in depth in our 31+ Honor 6X Tips & Tricks, so make sure you head on over there if you’d like to learn more about EMUI 4.1 and what it can do on the Honor 6X. Oh, and if you’re a new Honor 6X user, make sure to check out our post on the first things you should do.

Honor 6X: First Things

Conclusion

There’s nothing about the Honor 6X that feels “entry level.” Sure, the price plants the device firmly in that category, but it really deserves to be in an entirely different segment. A premium, entry level smartphone that — on the surface — feels just as high-end as the $700 devices being offered by other OEMs. Of course it’s missing a few features (NFC and 5GHz WiFi, for instance), but it’s almost to be expected given the rock bottom pricing.

Even then, it doesn’t feel like you’re getting the short end of a deal. You still feel like you’re buying a Mercedes Benz, just… you know… an entry level C-Class model as opposed to their flagship Maybach. Of course it’s not going to have all the bells and whistles as more expensive models, but the quality is still there. For some people, that’s a big deal. $250 is cheap for a smartphone, but that’s still a lot of money for most folks.

The Honor 6X isn’t perfect, but it does do it does well. The 1080p LCD display is large and crisp, the battery is long lasting, performance is adequate, and the camera gets the job done. Aside from the software, which should improve later this year, nothing about the phone is terrible. It’s almost crazy to think that even at $250, you can still get an all around great smartphone experience.

Buy on Amazon
 

Honor 6X Rating: star_emptystar_25star_50star_75star_full (4.6 / 5)

The Good

  • Great price
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Premium build quality
  • Acceptable performance (with some tweaking)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Front facing camera is surprisingly good
  • Super fast and accurate fingerprint sensor

The Bad

  • Software (EMUI 4.1) could be the worst ever
  • Display is mediocre
  • Touch response is horrible
  • Secondary 2MP camera (Wide aperture mode) is a gimmick
  • Speaker is incredibly quiet

The Bottom Line

The Honor 6X is the first budget smartphone to actually get excited about. A few years ago, I wouldn’t recommend anyone touch a sub $300 smartphone with a 10 foot pole, but the Honor 6X proves that if you have $250 in your pocket, you really don’t have to sacrifice much to get a quality, premium feeling smartphone.

 

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