Huawei proved long ago it knows how to build an impeccable smartphone. Whether it’s a top-of-the-line flagship, or another entry in the company’s successful, budget-conscious Honor line, the Chinese electronics manufacturer continually pumps out devices with phenomenal hardware.
The latest is the Honor 6X, a follow-up to last year’s 5X, a phone that performed beyond its $199 price tag to deliver an experience nearly as good as most high ticket flagships. The one thing holding the 5X, and all Huawei devices outside the Nexus 6P, back was the software. Emotion UI has proven polarizing and downright unpopular with many Android users for the way it pushes the operating system closer to an iOS look and feel.
In every category, the 6X is a worthy successor. It offers a similar, but refined, design and construction, and gives users a dual lens camera that delivers solid image quality and a fun user experience. The one lingering question, again, is can it overcome the software?
The Honor 6X shares a lot with its predecessor. In fact, the two are almost identical, with the sequel a more polished version of the phone we saw in 2016. Gone is the brushed finish on the aluminum backing, which looks more sophisticated, and the plastic caps on the top and bottom, a necessary evil the company opted for in lieu of antenna lines to allow the proper signals to flow unimpeded, are no longer adorned with a stippling pattern that made them look like Band-Aid’s last time around. It’s more rounded that last year’s edition, which makes it easier to use in one hand. Other visual differences include the now circular, and much faster, fingerprint scanner, and the larger camera housing, making room for the new dual-lens setup.
Otherwise, it’s the same great Huawei hardware you’ve come to know and expect regardless of price point. Despite being just $250, the device is solidly built and feels great in the hand, superior in both those respects to what was offered last year. It’s not a full unibody design, but the plastic banding that joins the metal backplate with the glass front does so without presenting an obvious seam. If you pit it against the Pixel XL, it’s obvious which one bouts at a higher weight class, the Pixel is clearly made with higher grade materials and outpaces the 6X in terms of fit and finish. But it’s not a fair fight when one phone comes in $500 more expensive than the other.
Given what you pay for, the hardware is excellent. That includes the 5.5-inch display, the same size as last year, with a 1080P resolution and 403 ppi. It does not deliver the best sharpness or color reproduction of any panel on the market, but it’s more than good enough for most users. Colors aren’t as vibrant as you’d find on AMOLED screens, appearing far more washed out, but you’d only know that if you had an AMOLED display lying around to compare it to. If you don’t, you’ll be more than pleased with what’s offered.
One issue I have noticed, however, is the screen’s ability to pick up fingerprints and other gunk from your fingers, which can lead to annoying, unbecoming oil streaks obstructing the display. I’ve had a similar issue with the Nexus 6P. I have no idea what the company may, or may not, be doing with its panels but the oleophobic coating, which is there to reduce the amount of smudging caused from the oil produced by your fingers, seems to be out of whack. The more troubling fact is that this is a brand new phone. I didn’t have the same issue with the 6P until I’d been using it for a year. It’s a minor inconvenience, for sure, and could be an outlier issue specific to my review unit, but it’s nonetheless an annoyance.
The 6X also lacks NFC which means no mobile payments. If you rely on Android Pay, you’ll have to look elsewhere for your phone needs. No NFC is a bummer, but the single worst aspect of the hardware is one that’s become all too common. The phone’s single, down firing speaker, is abysmal. It’s easily covered when using the handset in landscape and when it isn’t obstructed, the sound is thin, tinny and distant.
You can’t knock Huawei too heavily for cutting corners with the speaker, even the most well-regarded manufacturers in the world, on their flagship devices no less, deliver handsets with atrocious speaker performance. It seems with every smartphone review, save for the rare exceptions like the Alcatel Idol 4S or Axon 7 Mini, there will inevitably be a section lamenting the clear oversight by engineers in regard to audio performance. It’s been this way for years now, but the fact is no less frustrating for you, the consumer, or me, the tech journalist.
The bottom line with the hardware, though, is the good outweighs the bad. For a $250 phone, anyone who picks this device up will be elated with the build quality and materials. There are no obvious seams or inconsistencies signaling the budget-conscious lean, and while its design will be decidedly milquetoast when compared to more dramatic offerings like the LG G6 and Galaxy S8 coming later this year, it is by no means ugly. In fact, it’s quite handsome, a solid sequel to the 5X in every way, taking the best features and refining them into something that visually and constructionally works well.