Honor 6X review: A $250 phone that feels like a million bucks

Honor 6X review: A $250 phone that feels like a million bucks

Battery life, processing power, and a headphone jack are all features to consider when shopping for a new phone. Most importantly, does the phone look good, feel responsive, and take great pictures?

But as budget phones continue to get smarter, another important question has emerged: Is it worth it? With high-end phones creeping into the four-figure range, it’s a question that’s begun to take on considerable weight. We expect a Galaxy S7 to have a better processor, camera, and display than a Galaxy A5, but is it twice or even three times as good? Or are we just paying extra because of its top-of-the-line specs and branding?

These are the questions that popped into my head when I picked up the Honor 6X for the first time. Right off the bat I was impressed. Had I not known the price, I would have probably guessed its price was similar to the OnePlus 3T, somewhere in the $450 range. It’s build and feature set feels more like mid-range offering than a budget one, and even with a higher price tag than its $200 predecessor, it still punches above its weight.

honor 6x thin new Christopher Hebert

The Honor 6X is just as thin as a phone twice its price.

Mind you, if you’re expecting Honor’s latest U.S. entry to stack up to parent company Huawei’s Mate 9, you’ll likely come away disappointed, but you need to consider that could buy two 6Xes for the same price and still have money left over for an 128GB SD card. But still, even with such a low cost, the question remains: Is it worth it?

Premium for pennies

When it comes to smartphones, prices carry certain expectations. Just as much as an $800 is expected to blaze through our tasks, last all day, and take professional-quality pics, a $250 phone isn’t really expected to do any of these things. A phone that costs less than a smartwatch is supposed to be made of plastic, run a two-year-old version of Android, and take subpar photos.

honor6x screen newer Christopher Hebert

The Honor 6X has some large bezels, but it doesn’t feel at all like a $250 phone.

But that’s not the case with the Honor 6X. Taking it out of the box, its metal, tapered body feels substantial and firm, and not remotely cheap, even with a pair of plastic antenna strips. Its screen is flanked by some pretty large bezels for a 2017 phone, a look which isn’t going to age well once the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 make their appearance, but that shouldn’t deter too much from the Honor 6X’s solid design.

Despite the thick frame, the 5.5-inch 1080p LCD screen performs well enough, with good viewing angles and crisp, clean images. I didn’t start to see washed-out images until I turned the brightness all the way up, and it’s quite remarkable that display technology has advanced to the point where a large HD LCD like this is a ho-hum affair.

All day and then some

If the bezels around the screen make the Honor 6X feel older than it should, the microUSB port makes it seem downright ancient. Samsung might have been able to get away with it on its Galaxy S7 last March, but the 6X might very well have the distinction of being the last phone to use the port. And going back to it after using reversible USC-C makes it seem all the more antiquated.

honor6x musb new Christopher Hebert

Yep, that’s a microUSB port.

Around the back the Honor 6X looks no different than a premium flagship, with a dual camera and a fingerprint scanner. Like the Mate 9, the scanner is on the small side, and it’s just as fast and responsive. And for wired headphone fans, it does include a 3.5mm jack. Honor has fitted the 6X with an octa-core Huawei Kirin 655, a capable chip that isn’t going to blow you away but performs well enough at most tasks. In both benchmarks and real-world use, it doesn’t match the performance of high-end phones, but it certainly holds its own against other budget phones and it never felt sluggish really, just not quite as responsive as I’m used to from much more expensive handsets.

But while apps may open slightly slower than they do on the Mate 9 and other premium phones, the 6X can stand shoulder to shoulder with all of them when it comes to battery life. Honor has packed in a 3,340mAh battery, and without a quad HD display or a powerful chip, the 6X easily lasted a full day. In fact, during my testing I never reached a critical level under normal usage, even at the end of a long day.

Two for the price of one

While other low-tier phones might treat the camera as something of an afterthought, it’s actually the Honor 6X’s marquee feature. There’s a dual-lens system here with a 12MP main camera and a 2MP secondary one, and while it isn’t quite on the level of other high-end double shooters it’s trying to emulate, you’ll have a hard time finding another phone at this price point that performs so well.

honor 6x camera new Christopher Hebert

You won’t find a cheaper phone with a camera this good.

The system is missing flagship features like optical image stabilization or optical zoom, but you will still be able to take some pretty great shots, provided your subject keeps fairly still. The camera struggled somewhat with motion shots and I experienced some slight sluggishness before it was ready for the next snap, but when shooting single images it was able to focus and snap quickly, capturing accurate, detailed images in any light.

honor6x snow Greenbot

The Honor 6X takes good still pics, but it’ll struggle with moving targets.

A powerful set of manual controls will keep fussy shutterbugs happy and a series of filters will make your Instagram posts sing, but the most surprising feature of the 6X is its wide aperture mode. Not only does it mimic the iPhone 7 Plus’s Portrait Mode, it even lets you adjust the focus after the image has been captured. Your images won’t be perfect, but it’s one of the things that makes the Honor 6X a special phone.

honor6x aperture Greenbot

The 6X’s portrait mode can make your subject look fuzzy, but you can adjust the intensity after the shot.

It’s no slouch at shooting selfies either. It packs an 8MP front camera with a wide angle lens for cramming as many friends as possible without needing a stick. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of snapping selfies but I did have fun playing with the Beauty slider that smoothed over skin blemishes and darkened pale skin tones.

Stale Marshmallow

Now for the bad news: the Honor 6X runs Huawei’s far-inferior EMUI 4.1 OS, which is based on last year’s flavor of Android. But it’s not Marshmallow that’s the problem here. It’s what Huawei has done to it.

honor6x emui Greenbot

EMUI 4.1 is not a good look on the Honor 6X.

To be blunt, there’s not a lot to like here. The most egregious change is forcing the icons to stay visible on the home screen by eliminating the app drawer. It’s a bizarre decision that makes the Honor 6X feel cheaper than it should by putting a spotlight on unattractive icons and bloatware. Other tweaks like a horizontal app switcher and a tabbed notification shade add nothing to the Android experience, and many of the changes (with the possible exception of some customization settings for the status bar and fingerprint sensor) seem to have no real purpose.

However, Honor has promised that EMUI 5 is on the way with an upgrade to Nougat, but it won’t arrive until the second quarter. That’s a lot of time to deal with an old OS, but assuming it’s the same as the version I used on the Mate 9, the 6X will benefit oh so much from the upgrade. But in the meantime, users will have to suffer with an outdated, unintuitive, and just plain ugly OS.

Should you buy one?

Buying a smartphone isn't all about specs. It's about how the phone looks, the quality of its construction, the quality of the photos it takes, and how it feels when you use it. In all of these criteria, the Honor 6X seems like a phone that costs a lot more than it does.

honor 6x camera2 new Christopher Hebert

The Honor 6X’s dual camera system alone is worth $250.

But its value is another issue. While the phone is certainly worth every penny of its $250 price tag, its chip and display are likely to seem extremely outdated by the end of the year (and that microUSB is already archaic), not to mention a traditional two-year upgrade cycle. The Honor 6X could be considered cheap enough to swap out every year, but even then you’re going to constantly be playing catch-up.

But that likely won’t be an issue for the Honor 6X’s target audience, Android users with a budget of $250 to spend on a phone. And for them, the Honor 6X is an excellent choice, if not the best one. While Verizon and Sprint customers won’t be able to use it on either network, but there shouldn’t be anything to deter price-conscious AT&T and T-Mobile shoppers from buying one, especially once the 6X honors its promise of a Nougat update.

I’ve long subscribed to the notion that price and value often don’t correlate, but the Honor 6X has made me rethink that stance. It may be cheap, but you won’t feel like you cheaped out by buying it.

IDG Insider

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