Huawei is keeping up its attempts to break into the saturated U.S. smartphone market with its sub-brand Honor. It started with the 5X and continued with the Honor 8. The premise is to bring mid- or high-tier specs and slap them in a premium chassis, then sell it at a very affordable price. However, as good as those devices have been, their weakness has been the software (again).
The 6X continues that trend. For $250, you get a metal-bodied phone with a 1080p screen, good internals, a blazing fast fingerprint sensor, a decent camera, and a slew of LTE bands (including U.S. ones). On paper, you'd expect this phone to be outstanding and a steal of a deal at that price. Unfortunately, the phone launched with Marshmallow with Huawei's notorious EMUI 4.1 in tow.
At that point, the 6X was a hard recommendation to make; EMUI 4.1 was just that bad. However, a beta test for Nougat and the much-improved EMUI 5 opened up earlier this month, which meant that Huawei was working to make its goal of an H1 2017 Nougat launch. I applaud the company for that, especially since the beta was a massive improvement to the user experience.
However, there are little things that bug me about this phone — some of the cut corners, so to speak. I don't want to spoil it too much for you, so let's get going.
You may have noticed, dear reader, that this review is quite a bit later than what you might have seen from other outlets. The reasoning for this is that Huawei informed us that our review unit of the Honor 6X would be receiving Nougat/EMUI 5 this month, which turned out to be the beta program mentioned above. This software update was in response to user feedback and we here at Android Police wanted to give you the best possible and most complete opinion of this phone.
Excuse our tardiness, but we felt that it was the best option and that it would provide those who were considering this phone a better picture of what they can expect from a software and user experience aspect.
|Display||5.5" IPS LCD 1920 x 1080; 403ppi|
|CPU||HiSilicon Kirin 655; 4 x Cortex-A53 @ 2.1GHz, 4 x Cortex-A53 @ 1.7GHz|
|Storage||32GB/64GB; expandable via microSD|
|Cameras||12MP+2MP rear, 8MP front|
|Software||Android 6.0 Marshmallow; EMUI 4.1, upgradeable to Nougat/EMUI 5 (beta)|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 2.4GHz; LTE Bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/19/20/28/38/40; dual-SIM|
|Ports||microUSB 2.0, 3.5mm|
|Measurements||150.9 x 76.2 x 8.2 mm; 162 g|
|Colors||Gray, gold, silver|
|Value||For $250, the Honor 6X has a very good value proposition.|
|Performance||The phone works well through most tasks and games, with little lag or stutter (especially on the Nougat beta).|
|Battery life||If you need a phone that lasts a while, this is one to consider.|
|Ergonomics||The 6X is extremely easy to hold. I had a hard time believing the screen measurements at first because of how small the phone feels in the hand.|
|Fingerprint sensor||Wow, this sensor is fast. It's also one of the most accurate that I've used and easily gives the OnePlus 3/3T's a run for its money in terms of speed. Damn, Huawei.|
|Screen||While I have no qualms with the display itself in terms of resolution, viewing angles, or colors, I have serious problems with the lack of oleophobic coating on the screen. It gets gross. And brightness leaves much to be desired.|
|NFC||Okay, Huawei. Disabling NFC on some versions of the phone was a dumb decision. Really dumb.|
|Software||Shipping with Marshmallow and EMUI 4.1 was a terrible idea, too. The Nougat beta has improved things considerably, but notifications, the lockscreen, and the battery saving features still need some work.|
|Wi-Fi||The 6X does not support 5GHz Wi-Fi. Seriously?|
Design, build materials, and display
I like what Huawei did with the design of the Honor 6X. Unlike the 5X before it, I do not get the "generic metal phone" feeling from it (you know what I'm talking about). Many people commented on the overall design throughout my time with it.
Ergonomics are very important to long-term usage and ownership of a phone and the 6X's are outstanding. Honestly, I haven't had this hard of a time believing a phone's screen size measurements since the LG G2. Huawei managed to pack the 5.5" display into a body that feels a whole lot smaller. That being said, I am further surprised by this because of the front bezels. The top and bottom ones are actually rather large, with the latter used to show off the Honor logo. Large bezels don't bother me (to a point), but I figured I'd mention it for those who care.
The Honor 6X, like its predecessor, does not strike me as a "budget" phone. The metal body, rounded corners, and curved back all lend to a device that feels svelte and almost premium. The 6X is one of the few phones that startles me with how nice it feels when I pick it up; there aren't a whole lot of phones that can boast that. With the dual camera module, fingerprint sensor, and Honor logo (again), the back looks like it could belong on a much more expensive device.
Taking a walk through the rest of it, the front houses the camera and sensors above the 5.5" display with the logo on the bottom bezel. Along the right side is the power button with the volume rocker right above it — both are satisfyingly tactile and provide excellent resistance to prevent accidental presses. The bottom of the frame has the microUSB port and speaker grille (only one is the actual speaker). Only the SIM tray (with the microSD slot) resides on the left side of the device and the top is home to the 3.5mm headphone jack. The metal body itself is only broken on the back by two plastic pieces (top and bottom) to accommodate the antennae... and lack of NFC.
Alright, so I want to mention what this phone is lacking physically. If you're hoping to use the 6X for Android Pay or other cool use cases for NFC, then you'll be sorely disappointed. The U.S. version does not feature NFC (whether it lacks the chip or it's simply disabled, I am not sure), which is just annoying. Especially considering that Huawei's reasoning was that it concluded it knew the needs and desires of its target market, i.e. the "cost-conscious yet uncompromising Internet-minded millennial." Whatever. I am also curious if that was the reason to leave out support for dual-band AC Wi-Fi — you get 802.11n and 2.4GHz with this phone.
Audio, as you might expect, is not the best here on the Honor 6X. While the speaker is pretty much garbage for anything but notifications, I was not too thrilled with much else. Bluetooth audio was boring, as usual, but I was not happy with the headphone sound quality either.
Overall, I have only a few complaints about the overall design and choice of build materials for the Honor 6X. There is this little tidbit that might concern some in regards to durability, but my unit has survived plenty well.
So let's talk about the 6X's screen. The 5.5" 1080p LCD display has decent colors, good viewing angles, but not the best brightness. Touch sensitivity is also very good, which can be a concern with phones in this price bracket. Speaking of, this thing is 1080p... on a $250 phone. That is quite surprising.
But I have one glaring problem with the 6X's screen. Personally, I chalk it up to my OCD, but I know that I am not alone. What am I referring to? Simply, the glass on the display gets really disgusting. Just like the 5X (and now the P10), the 6X lacks an oleophobic coating. For those of you who don't know, that is something manufacturers treat glass with to make it easier to clean off oily substances like fingerprints and face gunk. That is why most brand new phones are super easy to wipe clean after some extended use, but it seems like they get nastier over time. That coating wears off and becomes noticeable to those of us for whom cleanliness is a compulsion.
So when a phone comes out of the box lacking an oleophobic coating, it gets nasty very quickly. I know that seems like such a trivial thing to complain about, but oily and smudgy phone screens, keyboards, mice/trackpads, and the like really bother me.
When discussing any Huawei phone in the last year or two, many reviewers will point to the camera. That's not surprising since Huawei itself touts its photography technology as a major selling point of its devices. And despite the fact that the Honor 6X is not a top-of-the-line device, the shooter on this phone is not disappointing.
You get 12MP and 2MP sensors that are meant to capture beautiful, high-res images. That's what the marketing would have you believe, and it's not too far off. Autofocus is very quick and you can do some funky things with the photograph's focus after the fact. The smaller 2MP sensor is supposed to help with more depth, à la HTC One M8, which is fun for a little while.
The images I got were a bit washed out, regardless of whether I was in bright daylight or an overcast sky. In the mornings and evenings, however, most of my shots came out alright. As you can see in the photo of Pike's Peak below, there isn't too much to write home about. That being said, I was still impressed with the 6X's camera, as I've used much worse on more expensive phones.
But what about indoor and nighttime photography? Well, let's look at a couple of examples:
As you can see, everything is quite noisy, even with HDR or using manual mode. Don't expect to shoot masterpieces indoors or at night (or at all, frankly). There is also a night mode that holds the shutter open for about thirty seconds, but every attempt I made came out blurry due to my hands shaking.
So the Honor 6X's camera is actually decent, surprisingly so. You're not getting "flagship-level" stuff here and your photos from the 6X will have hard time standing against those from the likes of the Galaxy S7 or Pixel... but those phones with their fancy cameras also cost thrice as much. You do, however, get a very capable setup that can put out pictures that will please many people, especially when compressed for uploading to social media.
Here are all of the examples and a few others for your perusal.
Performance and battery life
I want to pose you, dear reader, a question: What sort of performance would you expect from a $250 phone? I imagine that your answer was something like mine, i.e. not much. Riding in again with another surprise up its sleeve, the Honor 6X performs very well for a phone of its price. I received the 32GB/3GB model to review (there is a 64GB/4GB version, too, just not for the U.S.), which I put through the usual stuff. Benchmark numbers follow for those of you who need to know such things.
There is plenty of tolerable, if not good, performance to squeeze out of this phone. It handles the normal stuff like calls, texts, IM (work and personal), YouTube, music streaming, light gaming, and photography very well. I used the 6X paired with my LG Watch Urbane and Samsung Gear S3, both of which work fine and dandy with it for the most part.
You might stumble across some stutter, lag, or aggressive RAM management if you have a live wallpaper going (even something like Muzei). It's not too bad or frequent, but it does happen. Speaking of RAM, in the beta Nougat software, I think that Huawei found an excellent balance between being too harsh about closing apps and not. As a consequence, I lost only a few hours off of my battery life once the OS had gotten itself settled (I factory reset after receiving the beta).
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I'll give up a few hours off the battery if I can have multiple apps open at once and not have to worry about the OS killing off too many too quickly.
That, of course, brings us to the other topic that deeply interests people: battery life. If you look at Huawei's/Honor's marketing for the 6X, you will see "Two day battery" as a major selling point. That happens to be pretty accurate in my time. On Marshmallow, that was easily achievable with my normal usage. Since switching to the Nougat beta, that's dropped a bit, but I still managed to get over a day and a half, which is impressive.
As always, your mileage may vary. Keep that in mind, but the 6X's battery should last most people quite a long time.
So this is the part where most every Huawei/Honor phone falls apart. Hardware is hardly the issue anymore, as many AP readers know; software is often the Achilles' heel of these phones. Huawei's implementation of Android, EMUI, has rightfully earned its notorious reputation for being janky, buggy, and outright broken. Originally, the Honor 6X shipped with Marshmallow and EMUI v4.1. A phone shipping in 2017 with Marshmallow seemed pretty ridiculous to us.
Thankfully, Huawei came out with a beta test for its Nougat update earlier this month. Despite the moniker, the update fixed almost all of my issues with the software and made it a much better user experience. In light of that, keep in mind that this is still beta software and I have adjusted my expectations as such.
EMUI 5 brings a lot of good things. It fixes the notification shade and Quick Settings and brings them more in line with Google's vision. Nougat's bundled notifications and in-line replies make their way to the 6X, and the default launcher finally brings an app drawer. I find the rest of EMUI to be pretty unoffensive, which is actually a compliment coming from me.
I am not going to go on about EMUI 5 — it's not exactly new. But here are some talking points.
The lockscreen has made several leaps forward from where it was. You can actually see the notifications now, but you cannot expand them. The cycling wallpapers are pretty enough to look at, but the fingerprint sensor is so fast and reliable that I have barely looked at them. The biggest issue is that once the phone is unlocked, the notifications will not reappear on the lockscreen, even if you haven't touched them yet. That's just stupid.
Bloatware might be of some slight concern to some. There are quite a few pre-installed apps here and most of them are useless. One of them, News Republic, will continually spam notifications until you block it. Unfortunately, none of these are uninstallable. So... just use a custom launcher and hide the apps. Pretend they don't exist. You'll feel better.
Huawei allows for plenty of customizations, even down to the order of its annoying narrowly-spaced nav buttons. You can keep the normal way or go the Samsung route, and even add in a button that pulls down the notification shade. There is also support for fingerprint sensor gestures, which can pull down the shade, dismiss any active items, and then send the whole thing back up.
EMUI 5 is a huge departure from its predecessors, but its overall system theme is still a bit weird. In one spot it's all Tron-like blues and blacks, then suddenly you get a white background with a large palette of colors. It's a bit jarring and the system needs some continuity overall (the Settings menu, for instance, is the exact same one from EMUI 4.1 — see above). Also, the notifications now have rounded corners, which feels a bit like the Gingerbread days. Still, the design is much improved and I hope to see future versions of EMUI get cleaner and more modern.
In short, the software experience is actually tolerable, especially considering that it's a beta (hint: it's a really stable one). The UI needs some cleaning up, but speed and performance are both pretty good — even the animations feel close to "stock." Seeing standard Nougat stuff like bundled notifications, app split-screen, and in-line quick replies is great. Huawei is definitely heading in the right direction here.
$250 phones don't usually go over too well. There are often too many sacrifices made that usually just lead to a poor user experience. The Honor 6X is mostly the exception to the rule, though it does have some cut corners that are quite noticeable. The lack of 5GHz Wi-Fi support is the weirdest thing, but I am honestly not surprised at seeing NFC or USB-C missing.
When I first set out on this review, the UX was bad enough that I was not comfortable with recommending this device. However, the Nougat beta update improved a great many things. So many, in fact, that I changed my mind on what my final opinion would be. Basically, for $250, this is a good phone. In no way is it perfect and you will notice what's missing to keep that total cost low, but it's a great phone for the money.
The fingerprint sensor, battery life, and overall system performance are the highlights here — I would add the screen to that list, but the lack of an oleophobic coating bothers me to no end. EMUI has a long way to go, but v5 is a much more usable, user-friendly experience. As for when the official Nougat update will land, Huawei has another quarter to make its promised goal of H1 2017. The conglomerate seems to be taking updates more seriously lately, so let's hope the trend continues.