HiSilicon 925 proves itself once again as a high end processor
Emotion UI one of the best Asian operating systems out there
Few extra features outside the obvious (no NFC)
Lack of Google Play Services cripples Google-centric users
Battery life tends to hit the one day mark despite larger size
Camera is a good performer, just not standout in quality
Dual optics setup provides defocusing, but no low light enhancement that real aperture settings bring
Despite its elegance in design and in software, the Honor 6 Plus doesn’t deliver enough in its dual camera setup to separate itself from similarly performing competitors.
We’ve seen the competition heating up recently with Chinese smartphone manufacturers like Huawei, Xiaomi, Meizu and Lenovo all doing their best to deliver the gold. Huawei, in particular, has been making great strides thanks to their high-end offerings at low-budget price points. The company has been on a roll recently with their highly-regarded Ascend Mate 7, which is currently one of the best selling smartphones in the East. But that’s not all the company has up their sleeve.
Huawei’s Honor brand is geared towards younger consumers, offering high-end hardware while still being sold at an affordable price point. One of the more recent smartphones in this line is the Honor 6 Plus, the follow up to the company’s Honor 6 handset. We took a look at the handset at CES 2015, and went hands-on with the 6 Plus not too long ago. How does the 6 Plus stand up against other flagship devices on the market? Does the handset truly offer a great user experience and high-end hardware for a cheap price? We find that out, and more, in our in-depth review of the Huawei Honor 6 Plus!
In a stark departure from the metal construction of the company’s Ascend Mate 7, the Honor 6 Plus offers a mostly glass build, taking inspiration from multiple different handsets to provide a simplistic yet attractive design. The metal frame surrounding the device is largely reminiscent of the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, offering flat sides everywhere but the bottom. The bottom of the device is plastic, which is similar to what we’ve seen on Sony’s Xperia line. Xperia design choices seem to have influenced the 6 Plus in more areas, as the Honor also brings dual glass front and back panels.
Huawei didn’t change around the button layout on this device, and that’s a good thing. The bottom edge houses the Micro USB port, the top features the 3.5mm headphone jack, and you can find the SIM and MicroSD card slots on the right side below the volume rocker and power/standby key.
Side note: The MicroSD card goes in the SIM 2 slot (Nano SIM slot), which could be a little confusing.
Around back, the simplistic Honor logo can be found under the dual camera setup in the corner. While some users would prefer to have no branding on the device whatsoever, having the word Honor on the back really isn’t a big deal and arguably adds to the phone’s style. The back also holds the single rear-facing speaker on the bottom-left corner.
A 5.5-inch display might be too big for some users, but we didn’t really run into any trouble handling the device. The bezels and flat sides help with the handling, and the thin profile makes it easy to hold as well. The Honor 6 Plus isn’t the most original handset, but it does take design influences from some of the most well-designed phones on the market.
The 5.5 inch display provides 1080p resolution with 401 pixels per inch, but what makes this screen stand out is its screen to body ratio, which comes in at around 73%. A handset that has a 5.5-inch screen or greater almost has to have a high screen to body ratio, otherwise handling and one-handed use can easily suffer. The IPS display offers a super high level of brightness to the device, even outdoors. The viewing angles are great and outdoor color visibility barely suffers at all.
Huawei prides itself on the company’s colorful Emotion UI, which really pops with the high-quality display. The saturation levels may be a little high on the 6 Plus, but text is sharp and contrast is spot-on. Even with difficulties reaching to the top of the display with one hand, the Honor 6 Plus manages a very enjoyable display experience for work and for play.
As has become customary for Huawei smartphones, the Honor 6 Plus does not use a conventional chipset you would find in many of its competitors – instead, Huawei constructs their own processing packages and since the Mate 7 we’ve been pretty impressed with what they put out. The HiSilicon 925 makes a return here offering high-end performance, mainly providing a very smooth and speedy experience in the Emotion UI. Scrolling through all of the various elements yielded no problems and the 3GB of RAM allowed for a great multitasking experience.
Overall, we barely experienced any hiccups or stutters with the Honor, and that performance quality translated to gaming as well. The recently released WWE Immortals moved along smoothly and without incident, giving the Mali-T628 MP4 a few points in Huawei’s architecture. During our recent tour of Huawei’s offices, we learned that the company is focused on creating a great-performing processor for all of their devices across the board. And if the Mate 7 and now the Honor 6 Plus are any indication, HiSilicon is fulfilling that goal.
The Honor 6 Plus is one of the more simply-designed phones we’ve seen, so you won’t see many more features than the essentials. Remember, the Honor line is meant to appeal to a younger crowd with lower-budgets, and phones that carry the Huawei name (like the Ascent Mate 7) are more geared towards the high-end market.
We didn’t experience any call quality problems with the Honor 6, though the volume was a bit low for our taste. When it comes to connection, we weren’t surprised to see that the Chinese phone wouldn’t connect to any US LTE networks. With that said, AT&T’s HSPA+ network connection didn’t give us any problems, and was actually very reliable from day-to-day.
Moving around to the rear-facing speaker, you already know what we’re going to say. We would have liked to see the speaker on the front of the device. Also, the speaker is very narrow, so the sound wasn’t as loud as we would have liked it to be. Nowadays, NFC comes standard on almost every Android handset. Unfortunately, the Honor 6 Plus doesn’t have NFC capabilities. It’s a feature we’ve gotten used to over the years, so to see a smartphone without NFC is a little unfortunate.
The 6 Plus has a non-removable 3600mAh battery which gave us around a full day of use. With sporadic usage, the device may even be able to last up to a day and a half.
The Honor 6 Plus’ main claim to fame is the dual camera setup, made in a similar fashion to the Duo Camera from the HTC One M8. Just like HTC’s handset, the optics are supposed to retrieve depth information in a scene and provide the ability to set a focal point. Both rear cameras on this handset are 8MP shooters. When they work together, it results in a number of different exposures for each scene, making it a very fast HDR performer.
Much like other camera apps on Huawei devices, choosing different modes is possible by swiping on the viewfinder, while other modes can be found via a button on the side of the app. All of the standard modes are present, including HDR, Panorama, and even a Super Night mode that really helps out with dark shots. Despite the graininess and loss in quality that you’d expect, this mode works wonders during nighttime shots. However, since Super Night mode is basically just a slow shutter mode, you’ll have to hold the device very still or even use a tripod. HDR did a good job enhancing a scene as well, owing to the benefit to different exposures being captured simultaneously from the second camera.
This device doesn’t have optical image stabilization (OIS), so video recording is a little shaky. However, if you have steady hands, you can produce really high quality full HD shots.
In general, picture quality is quite good. Saturation levels and a good amount of detail were captured by using the main auto mode. The camera is quick to take pictures, so this is a great device for an everyday camera companion.
While these effects mimic the same procedures on DSLRs, one big reason for choosing low aperture lenses isn't found here: low light performance
The main problem we found, however, has to do with the dual camera setup. When in the ‘wide aperture’ mode, you can tap on a focal point and adjust the aperture, which is the term that they are using for what is otherwise a defocusing mode. Depth of field is done on the software side, which gives you the ability to refocus photos from the gallery. When used on a certain point, you can blur out the rest of the image other than the particular selected area. While these effects mimic the same procedures on DSLRs, one big reason for choosing low aperture lenses isn’t found here: low light performance.
As you can see from a few of these pictures, the focus point is very finely chosen but the picture retains the same lackluster low-light quality. The issue is with the usage of the term ‘aperture’ – sure, it is a catch-all term for what the company is trying to do, and the resulting stylized photos will please those who want the effect – but it’s only about half of the truth behind its usage in the Honor 6 Plus.
Emotion UI is the OS of choice for Huawei, and as far as Asian operating systems go, it’s a sleek and good looking one in comparison. Its highly colorful and clean aesthetic make homescreens easy to navigate through, though folders and some organization will be needed due to the lack of an app drawer. Additionally, the softkeys on the bottom of the 6 Plus are customizable and can be swiped away if you want to open up some real estate. Huawei makes it easy to customize the software thanks to the built-in theme engine. Not only can you customize the UI experience, but lock screen gestures can be assigned in order to access certain parts of the phone with ease. The notification dropdown shows your notifications in a reverse chronological timeline, and nice transitions in and out of applications are present thanks to the HiSilicon processor.
Since we’re using the Chinese variant of this device, the main gripe we have is the lack of Google services. It’s easy enough to search Baidu for applications and install the Google Play Store, but without Services syncing contacts to the device, that meant extracting them from another phone via Bluetooth. Also, we couldn’t sync our Google Play Music library with the device, which is an important feature we’ve grown to love on most other Android handsets. The combination of smooth performance and a lovely screen help elevate what is already a nice interface in the Emotion UI. But without Google Play Services, it’s tough for a Westerner to fully convert to the OS without making sacrifices.
Pricing and final thoughts
The Honor 6 Plus is available in China and parts of Europe for a price that converts to around $400. That’s a pretty great price for a high end device, though plenty of other Chinese-based manufacturers have been able to meet or even surpass this price point. There are also some competitors that offer extra features like the rotating camera of the Oppo N3 or the fast charging capabilities found on plenty of its other rivals.
Fixating on the word ‘honor’ seems to imply simplicity. And if nothing else, the Honor 6 Plus succeeds at bringing the essentials in a simplistically elegant design. On its aesthetic and performance, you can mostly justify the price point. But claims about the camera were the focus – no pun intended – and the dual camera setup proves to be more of a gimmick than a game changer. A dual camera setup is nothing new at this point, and while the so-called ‘wide aperture’ mode is functional and arguably useful, the camera does nothing else to differentiate itself from the competition. The Honor 6 Plus lays in the cut, providing the Huawei flavor of what we may otherwise already expect from high end devices. If there were more compelling features like the fingerprint scanner and battery life of the Ascend Mate 7, the sum of its parts might make this a standout winner. But instead, what we have is another admittedly great entry point into the high end market, where there happens to be quite a few filling that space already.