Last year’s Honor 5X had the potential to be 2016’s best budget phone or, at the very least, had enough going for it to earn a spot on a year-end shortlist. What held it back was subpar software, Huawei’s own Emotion UI, which gives Android a more iOS look and feel with little of the polish. It was a shame, given how strong the phone was from a hardware perspective, that Huawei mucked it up with a poor software experience, particularly coming off the success of the Nexus 6P which paired the company’s great hardware chops with fluid and beautiful stock Android.
In 2017, the Honor line is looking to refine the 5X with its successor, aptly named the 6X. We’ll have a full review in the coming weeks, but here are a few preliminary thoughts after spending the weekend with the handset.
Once again, Huawei has proven it knows how to build a great phone. The 6X is nearly identical to last year’s model, but refined into an even more aesthetically pleasing package. The aluminum back has lost the brushed finish, which made the 5X look cheap to my eyes, in favor of a more standard matte look. The plastic caps on the top and bottom no longer have a stipple pattern, another welcomed upgrade as the stippling gave too much of a Band-Aid vibe, and the fingerprint scanner is now round instead of square. The biggest change you’ll notice is the camera, which now offers a dual-lens setup, giving the back of the phone a visual anchor provided by the ellipse shape of the housing.
Otherwise, the 6X is very familiar to last year’s edition. It’s still a 5.5-inch, 1080P screen on the front; a solid performer, but not one that will wow you like those on higher-end phones. The internals have received expected upgrades, including a bump to 3GB of RAM that has helped make the day-to-day experience of using the device a smoother one than with the 5X. Beyond that, there’s not much to say about the hardware. It’s very nice, but not a big improvement over last year’s already great offering. Visually, I prefer the 6X and think overall it’s a more thoughtful and solid design, but budget phones have become so good on the hardware sign in the last few years that it’s no shock to see the 6X holding its own.
While the hardware remains top-notch, the software at work is still a drag. There’s no way around it, EMUI is ugly and does not pair well with the 6X’s splendid exterior. What’s really unfortunate, though, is that the 6X isn’t shipping with the latest version of Huawei’s custom skin, or Android Nougat. An update is expected in March, but until then users are stuck with Android 6.0 and EMUI 4.1. This could be a good thing for battery life, I personally have struggled with battery woes on Android N (using a Nexus 6P and Pixel XL) and in my short time with the 6X, it appears to outperform both of those devices. The 6X packs a healthy 3340 mAh battery, which Huawei claims will get users two days of lighter use and roughly 1.5 days of heavier use. I haven’t reached those heights, but I have been satisfied with the phone’s battery performance thus far.
Still, battery boost aside, it’s a shame the 6X won’t offer the numerous useful features of Android N, like in-line replies and split-screen (Huawei has its own version of this, but it works with far fewer apps). It also won’t have the benefits of EMUI 5.0, which offers some welcomed upgrades, including a few that help offset the aesthetic drawbacks.
Before writing off EMUI completely for a second year in a row, I’ll wait to give it the proper time and see if it grows on me. Right now, I’m keeping my expectations at a minimum.
The best change to the 6X is, without question, the new dual-lens rear camera, which allows users to take photos with a shallower depth of field, similar to the iPhone 7 Plus’ Portrait mode. The images produced by the 12 megapixel and 2 megapixel dual-lenses is not best-in-class, nor did I expect it to be. At a $249 price point, you can’t expect the 6X to stand up to the iPhone, Pixel or Galaxy S7 in pure image processing power.
What it is able to accomplish, though, are images that have serious flair thanks to the wide aperture range (f/0.95-f/16), which you can adjust at will either while taking the photo, or after. It works well, though you can definitely see some digital weirdness on display when looking more closely at the photos. Most of all, it’s fun. It makes taking a picture on your phone more exciting, which is a big reason why so many smartphone manufacturers are expected to join the dual-camera trend in 2017.
Beyond the dual-lens feature, there are a bevy of different modes and tools offered within the camera app that are similar to what Huawei has offered in the past. We’ll dig into them more for our full review, plus how the camera performs in a variety of lighting conditions.
The Honor 6X is shaping up to be another solid, budget effort from Huawei. We’ll see in the coming weeks if the handset can withstand the issues brought on by its software to deliver an overall great experience. Stay tuned for our full review to find out.