Honor 6X review (hands-on): Twin-camera smartphone set to rival Moto G4 Plus

Honor, I’m sure, baulks at the description of it as a “budget” smartphone brand. But the fact remains that its phones are designed to hit much lower price points than higher-end phone vendors such as Samsung and Apple.

What Honor has proven to be very good at, though, is hitting lower price points with hardware which should give the people (like me) who are prepared to pay £600 or more on a phone pause for thought.

The Honor 6X, which the company announced at CES and is already shipping in the UK for just £229, isn’t only a good phone for the money – it’s a good phone, full stop.

Honor 6X review: Design

The design of the phone isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it’s good. There’s a 1080p, 5.5in LCD screen housed in a metal body that contains 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM, and it comes in a range of three colours. (Thankfully Honor has eschewed fancy names, they’re just silver, gray and gold.)

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It has a curved design that feels nice in the hand, but there’s no true curved screen as you’ll find on a Galaxy S7 Edge. The screen itself isn’t AMOLED, but instead a good-quality LCD. It’s easy on the eyes thanks to an “eye comfort mode” that filters out blue light, and it adjusts brightness and colour temperature automatically according to ambient light.

No-one will say “wow” when they see your Honor 6X, but they won’t recoil in horror either.

As for connectivity, the phone has a dual SIM slot, allowing you install and switch between two mobile networks, which is handy for anyone who travels abroad and wants to use a local SIM. Disappointingly there’s no USB Type-C connector: the Honor 6X instead relies on old-school micro-USB for charging.

There’s also a fingerprint reader, which typically for an Honor smartphone is positioned on the back just below the twin-lens camera. This makes it almost impossible not to plonk your finger on the lens when feeling around for the fingerprint reader, but it makes up for this by being really, really fast. Unlocking the Honor 6X is so quick it’s virtually instantaneous, faster than anything I’ve used on any phone before.

Honor 6X review: Photography

The Honor 6X is designed to appeal to the young, although the company’s president, George Zhao, was at pains to explain that “young is a state of mind”, which made this 50-year-old reviewer feel a lot better. And, of course, that means that camera has to be good.

The Honor 6X’s camera is good. It’s the only phone in this price range to include a dual-lens camera, in this case a 12-megapixel lens and a 2-megapixel secondary sensor, allowing it to simulate DSLR-like wide-aperture shots.

What does that mean? Basically, like the iPhone 7 Plus’ “Bokeh” mode, you can take shots that focus on one element in the picture while blurring everything beyond the point of focus. Is it as good as the iPhone 7 Plus? Not quite, but it’s still good enough to give your shots – especially portraits – a lift. And usefully you can change the focus point after you’ve taken the shot, saving different versions as you go.

There are plenty of other modes, too, including a “light painting” mode, HDR, Honor’s weird “beauty mode”, which smooths your skin and makes your eyes bigger, plus a “food mode” for Instagram restaurant porn. For both still and video there are also “Pro” modes, which give you much more fine-grained control over every aspect of your images.

All this is great, but it wouldn’t mean much if the images weren’t decent. We’ll be trying the Honor 6X out in more varied lighting conditions over the next few days, but in typical indoor lighting the image quality was good but not spectacular. The different effects options (particularly for wide-aperture shots) were capable of producing some really interesting images quickly.

Honor 6X review: Performance

We’ll be running our full benchmarks when we get the Honor 6X back to the office, but it’s certainly no slouch in everyday use. There’s a Kirin 655 octa-core processor inside in tandem with either 3GB or 4GB of RAM. Honor claims the phone includes a “smart file system”, which reduces fragmentation and leads to around 20% faster response time for actions such as launching applications.

Thanks to a large 3,340mAh battery, low-voltage LCD backlight, and the processor, Honor claims double the battery life compared to the Honor 5X, which was distinctly mediocre when we tested it. We haven’t tested these claims, but if it lives up to the claims it should be good.

Honor 6X review: Software

An Android phone wouldn’t be an Android phone without some interface tinkering from its maker, and the Honor 6X is no exception. It’s not stock Android – if you want that, you can just go and buy the much-more-expensive Google Pixel – but Honor’s EMUI (Emotion UI) isn’t too offensive-looking.

There’s quite a bit of extraneous software installed (mostly games and a few apps from “selected partners”), but you can uninstall them, and if you want you can make the phone more Google-like by installing the Google Now launcher and Gboard keyboard.

Disappointingly, at launch, the Honor 6X doesn’t come with Android 7 Nougat, but that’s promised in the next couple of months.

Honor 6X review: Should you buy one?

There are many phones in this price range, and the Honor 6X stands above them in terms of its design, which doesn’t feel or look cheap, and its camera. It feels fast enough for even demanding users and the battery life is good.

Its biggest competition is probably the Moto G4 Plus, which (as it’s been out a while) should cost a little less at present than the Honor 6X, and has a nicer screen, but arguably more clunky design.

Personally, I’d go for the Honor thanks to its design and dual-lens camera, but it’s worth holding both in your hands to see which you think feels better.

What’s amazing about the Honor, though, is that it holds its own when compared with phones that cost much more. The phone I use daily – an iPhone 6s Plus – cost three times as much and is undoubtedly a much nicer phone. But place the two alongside each other, give both a cursory play, and you wouldn’t think that the price difference was quite so wide. That’s a testament to Honor’s ability to create a decent-quality phone at an attractive price, and the company deserves a huge amount of credit for that.

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