Honor 6X review — double the cameras, double the quality?

by

Honor is Huawei’s sister company, targeting more budget-conscious consumers with their impressive value-for-money proposition. We have seen the Honor 5X, Honor 5C and their latest flagship, the Honor 8, which I use as my daily driver. The Honor 6X which was just recently launched in Malaysia is the latest addition to the Honor family. Based on its specifications, the Honor 6X looks like something that slots right between the Honor 5C and Honor 8, with a faster chipset than the Honor 5C and a watered down dual camera system. Well, that’s what it says on paper anyway, let’s take it to town to know for real.

Unboxing

The Honor 6X comes in the usual blue packaging which has been the trademark of Honor smartphones. The packaging is compact, with the Honor 6X label on the front.

Lifting off the lid reveals the device wrapped in a plastic bag. I don’t understand why Honor couldn’t use the usual plastic wrappers used to wrap smartphones for the Honor 6X, but hey, money saved on packaging would mean more spent on the device itself, right?

The device features a sticker on its back that is sort of a quick start guide. I kinda like this arrangement as this way, you will be sure to have a look at the guide, as we all know no one is going to flip through the user guide if it was printed on another piece of paper.

Lifting up the device reveals a tray under it, which should contains the SIM tray ejector pin and also the documentation. We didn’t receive a complete package, so we lack the documentation which should have come with the Honor 6X. You get a standard 10W charger and a microUSB cable with the Honor 6X. In certain regions, there will be a hard case and also a pair of earphones, but we won’t get it here in Malaysia.

Appearance

It can be difficult to differentiate the Honor 6X when looking at it from the front. Aside from the Honor logo on the lower bezel, it looks just like any other smartphone out there. The corners on the Honor 6X are less rounded than most devices out there, so there won’t be a fruity company suing them for copying their design.

The back features an ergonomic curvature, with the dual camera module taking up the top half of the device. The round fingerprint sensor is just below the dual camera hump. The vertical alignment of the two camera sensors is akin to the Huawei Mate 9, as previous generations had the two cameras side by side. The top and lower edges are made of plastic, and features a slightly different tone and finish from the rest of the metal back. The plastic caps also sit just a bit higher than the metal back, which doesn’t convince me of Honor’s quality control.

The volume rocker and power button are on the right side, with the SIM tray over on the other. The volume rocker and power button feature the same smooth finishing, unlike the Honor 8 and higher end Huawei devices.

The 3.5mm (thankfully not forgotten) finds its home on the top along with the secondary microphone, while the bottom edge is where you find the primary microphone, mono loudspeaker and microUSB port. The loudspeaker and microphone are behind grilles on both sides of the microUSB, giving it a nice symmetry along the lower edge. I wish Honor had went with a USB Type-C port though.

Specifications

CPU: HiSilicon Kirin 655 (4 x A53 @ 2.1 GHz, 4 x A53 @ 1.7 GHz), Mali-T830MP2 @ 600 MHz
RAM 3GB LPDDR3
Display: 5.5″, FHD (1080p) IPS display
Storage: 32GB internal (expandable with microSD up to 256GB)
Camera: Dual Lens: 12MP f/2.2, PDAF, Sony Exmor RS IMX 386, single LED flash + 2MP secondary
8MP f/2.0
OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow with Emotion UI 4.1
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz)
Bluetooth 4.1
SIM: nanoSIM (dual SIM support, one nanoSIM slot doubles as microSD slot)
Battery: 3340 mAh (non-removable)

Performance

The Kirin 655 is pretty much the same Kirin 650 with a slight bump to 2.1 GHz instead of 2.0 GHz on the big cores. You get eight A53 cores, 4 at 2.1 GHz and another 4 at 1.7 GHz with the Mali-T830MP2 clocked at 600 MHz handling the graphics. The Kirin 655 is built on the 16nm FinFET manufacturing process. 3GB of LPDDR3 is offered, with a 4GB variant of the Honor 6X available too.

The Kirin 655 is no beast in the GPU segment, as the Mali-T830MP2 GPU is clocked pretty low. Gamers may have to look elsewhere as the Honor 6X will not be capable of delivering great graphics at smooth framerates. Surprisingly HiSilicon didn’t bump the GPU clocks up from the Kirin 650.

The Honor 6X doesn’t impress in Antutu either, but scores higher than the Honor 5C that has the Kirin 650. It doesn’t keep up with the Exynos 7880 Octa or the Snapdragon 625, but is a lot better than the Snapdragon 430.

Geekbench tests the CPU portion of the chipset, and the Honor 6X doesn’t do particularly well here either. It does better than the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017) with the Exynos 7880 Octa in single core, but falls behind in the multi core tests.

As in all the previous benchmarks, the Honor 6X doesn’t do as well as the Snapdragon 625 devices, but here it ranks higher than the Exynos 7880 Octa-packing Galaxy A7 (2017), which scored 3825, too low to even be in the chart.

Battery life of the Honor 6X is good, pushing more than 1 day of battery life with nearly 5 hours of screen on time. I was using a lot of Chrome, Facebook, Messenger and Whatsapp through out this duration. This points towards HiSilicon sacrificing raw performance in exchange for more battery life. While it scores less in benchmarks, the user experience was not compromised, which is more important than big numbers in a benchmark. The Honor 6X doesn’t support faster charging beyond 10W though, as I have tried using a 18W Huawei Quick Charger that came with my Honor 8, and it didn’t charge any faster than it would with the 10W charger.

User Experience

Hardware

The Honor 6X features dual SIM support, but unlike the Honor 5X, it goes for a hybrid second SIM slot. No complaints here as every other manufacturer does this in their recent devices with the exception of the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017).

The Honor 6X feels good in hand, as the curved back is very comfortable to hold and offers a secure grip of the device. The 5.5″ screen is manageable, and coupled with the decent bezels, it is quite easy to touch every corner of the device without changing my grip too much.

The 5.5″ 1080p IPS display which takes up the front of the device is pretty good. As an IPS display, it features wide viewing angles without color shifting. Blacks look decent, but don’t expect the pure blacks AMOLED panels are capable of. Similarly, while the colors on the Honor 6X screen are pretty nice, don’t expect the vivid (some say too vivid) colors of AMOLED displays. The Honor 6X features a sunlight readability mode which adjusts the contrast and saturation under direct sunlight. While some may consider it annoying that the display looks different under the sun, I find it great that it helps me see the screen better when I am outdoors.

Unlocking the Honor 6X via the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is really quick, a welcome upgrade from the Honor 5C, which itself had a faster fingerprint sensor than the Honor 5X. The location of the sensor is just right, allowing to put my finger on it without adjusting my grip of the device at all. Accuracy is good too, as it can even detect my fingerprint when my finger was slightly wet from washing my hands. However, the Honor 6X’s fingerprint sensor doesn’t feature the Smart Key functionality Honor so ingeniously embedded into the fingerprint sensor on the Honor 8.

The camera on the Honor 6X features a dual lens system like the Honor 8, but instead of the RGB+monochrome setup, the Honor 6X features a 12MP Sony IMX 386 sensor with PDAF + 2MP configuration. The main difference would be the Honor 6X won’t be able to take advantage of the additional dynamic range and sharpness the monochrome sensor can offer, but still deliver on the wide aperture and after-capture focus selection thanks to the ability to manipulate the depth of field. Also worth nothing is that the IMX 386 is an upgrade to the Honor 8 and Huawei P9’s Sony IMX 286, bringing PDAF which was not available with the IMX 286. We will have a look at some samples later on.

Audio from the Honor 6X is acceptable. There is a SWS mode when you plug in a pair of headphones into the 3.5mm jack, enabling Huawei’s proprietary Super Wide Sound effect for an enhanced virtual soundstage, but it can make music sound pretty bad. It didn’t have problems driving my Edifier H840, so it shouldn’t have any issues with most earphones either. The loudspeaker is not particularly loud, but serves its main purpose for notifications. The audio quality from the loudspeaker is also not all that good as it lacks a depth to the sound, and it can also suffer from some distortion at maximum volume.

Software

Moving on, the Honor 6X still runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with their own proprietary EMUI 4.1 skin. Honor has promised to update it to Android 7.0 Nougat with EMUI 5.0 sometime in H1 2017, so look forward to it arriving sometime before July. As we have previously seen, EMUI 4.1 looks dated with no app drawer and two-paged notification shade. EMUI 5.0 will be a great upgrade for the Honor 6X, and I am looking forward to it enhancing the overall experience of using the Honor 6X. Speaking of which, the Honor 6X offers a fluid experience, without the stutters and killed background apps marring my experience with the Honor 5C. I believe the increased RAM capacity contributed to this improvement, as the 100 MHz bump in clock speed does not really account for much at all.

In terms of built-in apps, EMUI 4.1 doesn’t have a really cohesive theme. Certain apps feature their own colors, while some others carry over the homescreen wallpaper’s colors into the app’s background. The user experience in these apps is acceptable, but Honor saw it fit to load the Honor 6X with a few bits of bloatware here and there. While I didn’t like that, I did like that the Honor 6X features a built-in Health app that can work as a pedometer. I can’t vouch for it’s accuracy — it consistently recorded around 300-400 steps more than what my Mi Band 2 counted — but it does great to give a rough idea of how much physical activity (or lack of) on a certain day.

The camera UI is the same as the rest of EMUI 4.1 devices. You get a large shutter button on one side of the viewfinder, some shortcuts on the other, and you can swipe left and right to change camera modes and tweak the settings. There are quite a few modes to play around with, i.e the Good Food mode gives your images a warmer tone to make your Instagram followers even hungrier when you post your dinner at midnight. Of course, thanks to secondary 2MP sensor, you also get to play around with the depth of field, simulating the aperture from f/0.95 to f/16. Just tap on the aperture icon (very appropriate) and play around with the focus. The best part of it is that you do not need to wait any longer than usual for the ability to refocus the images after you shoot, which is a very nifty feature to have.

The image quality of the Honor 6X is rather decent. Not great, but good enough. There can be some serious loss of details are lost to the noise reduction algorithms at higher ISOs, but the images look very usable for social media usage. HDR mode also doesn’t do a good job, as it results in images that can look duller than what auto mode can deliver. Food mode is great though, which is why you can see lots of food in these shots I took with the Honor 6X. The Wide Aperture Mode on the Honor 6X is a little less impressive than on the Honor 8, as it shoots only 8MP shots in the mode, and also the bokeh looks very fake. For example, it can blur out some parts of the image which are on the exact same plane of focus. This seems to point towards a heavier reliance on software as this shows that the Honor 6X can’t detect the distance with the secondary camera.

Conclusion

The Honor 6X may not have the best performance ever, nor does it have the latest software — yet — but it is quite affordable at RM1199. The dual camera feature may seem even more gimmicky than the implementation on the Honor 8 and Huawei P9, but the ability to shoot first and focus later is fun, albeit probably being less interesting than what the higher end models are offering. Otherwise, the camera is pretty okay. An update is promised to alleviate my concerns of the outdated software, so the only major negative point of the Honor 6X is its lackluster performance. If you aren’t into gaming on your smartphone, I believe the Honor 6X will make a great choice as the battery life is really good. But if you really enjoy playing games with intense graphics on your smartphone, you will be better served elsewhere. The Honor 6X also makes a nice upgrade over the Honor 5C, with the RM400 difference well accounted for with a better camera, faster fingerprint sensor and also a bigger display. But aside from the gimmicky dual lens system which allows you to focus after you take a picture, the Honor 6X doesn’t really standout from the crowd of really great mid-range devices already in the market, which is a shame.