5 December 2014

Huawei Honor 6 review

Key Features: Octo-core Kirin 920 CPU; 5-inch Full HD screen; Android 4.4.2 with EmotionUI
Manufacturer: Huawei

What is the Honor 6?

The Honor 6 sees Huawei return to a place it used to thrive: affordable phones. But the definition of an affordable phone has changed in recent years.

Huawei Honor 6 review

Where Huawei’s budget classics were £100 phones, the Honor 6 is a budget 4G £250 alternative to top-end phones such as the Galaxy S5, Xperia Z3 – and even the iPhone 6. There are plenty of quirks to either fix or learn to live with, but the value on offer here is quite excellent.

Huawei Honor 6 – Design

The Huawei Honor 6 looks and feels quite different from the company’s other phones.

Its hardware offers simplicity and and higher-end feel that we don’t often associate with Huawei phones. It’s actually quite similar in looks to the Amazon Fire Phone, but without the nasty complement of cameras on the front.

For those who haven’t checked out Amazon’s disappointing handset in person, the Huawei Honor 6 has completely flat front and back panels that look like glass. Only the front is glass, though.

A layer of Gorilla Glass 3 sits on the screen while the back is shiny ‘faux glass’ plastic. We’ll admit we didn’t really notice that in use, though.

However, after using the phone for a couple of weeks, the Huawei Honor 6 back had earned a couple of light scratches. It will be susceptible to lots more scratches in the long term, so you may want to consider using the protector that comes in the box, or buying a case.

The sides are plastic, too. The Huawei Honor 6 is a deceptively simple mobile, but one that offers enough class to fit in completely among mid-range phones, and even more expensive ones. We’ll admit it: we were fooled, at least at first.

You can get the Huawei Honor 6 in black or white, and both versions appear pretty attractive, although we’ve only tried the black first-hand.

Other than appearing to be made of glass in the vein of the Xperia Z3, the Huawei Honor 6 has nice simple sides, with all its sockets bar the micro-USB charge plug hidden under a plastic flap. Under this you’ll find the Micro-SIM and microSD slots.

On occasion among mid-range phones a memory card slot is used as an excuse to scrimp on internal storage, but the Huawei Honor 6 has a decent 16GB memory.

There are even hardware features not fully exploited in the software at launch. For example, on the top edge of the phone is an IR transmitter, but there’s no remote control app installed to use it.

An IR transmitter lets a phone function as a universal remote, but you need an app that offers the exact commands needed. There are plenty of third-party alternatives, but with current firmware the phone doesn’t seem to make the IR blaster available to other apps. We’ll be deeply disappointed if this isn’t fixed, but with any luck it will. We’re awaiting confirmation on this from Huawei.

The Huawei Honor 6 knows how to pack in the hardware, and initial impressions that the phone is great value never fade or stop. This phone truly is a bit of a bargain.

However, after comparing to some other phones of this size, it's a slight shame that it has such a boxy shape. While the sides of the Honor 6 are slightly rounded, the edges are still fairly severe, and using more of a curvature would have made it easier to handle. We have the same issue with Sony’s top Xperia phones.

Huawei Honor 6 – Screen

One of the clearest signs that the Huawei Honor 6 is a phone to be reckoned with is the spec of its screen. For £250 you get a 5-inch Full HD display. This is one of the first devices we’ve seen to launch at this price with such a high-res screen, and from a big brand, too.

Looking at the Huawei Honor 6 next to the 2014 Motorola Moto G, a cheaper 5-inch phone with a lower-res 720p display, the difference is obvious. At this size, you do need 1080p if you want the pristine sharpness we've come to associate with higher-end phones.

The Honor 6 gets you 440 pixels per inch, which is excellent pixel density that far outstrips the iPhone 6.

It’s an LTPS LCD screen, designed for low power consumption. There’s no mention of IPS architecture from Huawei’s specs, but we noticed zero contrast shift at any angle.

Viewing angles are reasonably good, but with greater loss of brightness than you get in some rival IPS LCD screens. Top brightness is very good and colours are vivid. Those with particularly picky eyes will note that the Honor 6's colours are marginally oversaturated, but not as distractingly as the recent Motorola Moto X. They’re larger than life, but not offensive to the eye.

The Huawei Honor 6 lets you tweak the colour temperature of the display, making it warmer or cooler. This doesn’t alter saturation, but warming up the display can make it appear more ‘relaxed’ if you find the colour a bit intense. The default setting is a little blueish, so we recommend having a tweak.

Aside from the slight oversaturation, the only other issue is the black level limitation that’s common to all LCDs, but a bit worse than the high-end average here. In lower lighting, the Honor 6’s black areas look quite blueish, which will become obvious if you like watching a bit of TV before bed. Some LCD phones offer better black levels, like the Sony Xperia Z3 and LG G3, but it’s not something you’ll notice in normal day-to-day use.

As long as you don’t mind the approach to colour, we can’t imagine many taking issue with the Huawei Honor 6's screen. It also has a pretty good auto-brightness feature.

Not only can you make the phone alter backlight intensity depending on ambient light conditions; you can also set the relative level using a simple slider in the drop-down notifications menu. Other phones often revert to manual brightness as soon as you touch the slider.

One obvious question, though, is how does the Honor 6 compare to the Nexus 5 and OnePlus One? Those are the two main lower-cost 1080p phone competition.

The Honor 6 has far more vibrant colour than the OnePlus One, and the Nexus 5 appears to be the best of the three for colour accuracy. However, crucially, the Huawei is in the same league as these big players.

Huawei Honor 6 – Software, Apps and Themes

The Huawei Honor 6 runs Android 4.4.2 with the new version of the custom EmotionUI that we saw in the Huawei Ascend Mate 7. We’ve had huge issues with Huawei’s custom interface in the past, and while the quirkiness is still there, the latest version is a lot better than the versions of old.

First, we’ll deal with why the EmotionUI is so unusual.

It tries to infuse a bit of iOS into Android by getting rid of the apps menu. Everything on your Honor 6 has to have a place on your homescreens, so if you like to keep your phone relatively organised you’ll have to find a place for every app and game you install.

Upon installation, they’ll just find a spot wherever they can, so you’ll need to take care to ensure it doesn’t become a mess. However it does at least support folders, giving you the tools you need to keep your phone in shape.

EmotionUI is also one of the last remaining interfaces to really embrace themes, which were much more popular in the days before Android.

In previous Huawei phones, themes were pretty poor. Most pre-installed ones were duds and you couldn’t easily download additional ones. The Huawei Honor 6 fixes both of these points.

You get three pretty attractive, simple themes pre-installed, and you can download dozens more directly from the phone. Some are a bit ridiculous – there’s even a US pop-art themed one – but we’re pretty confident most tastes will be catered for. Additional themes are free to download, too.

The Huawei Honor 6 is pretty quirk-overloaded, though. The odd layout and obsession with themes are one thing, but there are also things to fix in areas such as the ringtones and the use of images in the lock screen.

As standard, our Honor 6 played a 30-second-long piece of classical music whenever we got a WhatsApp message and displayed random images on the ‘magazine’ lock screen, including one particularly odd pic of a baby’s feet. There’s some de-weird-ification to do that we simply had to put down to differences between the Western and Chinese markets – the Honor brand has traditionally been trotted out over there.

Either that or someone high up at Huawei has strange tastes. All of these elements can be fixed, of course, but to start with the Honor 6 may feel a little alien.

There are a few things to change or get used to, but in other respects EmotionUI is a pretty feature-complete, inoffensive interface. It doesn’t bombard you with features, and offers favourites such as brightness and feature toggles in the drop-down notifications menu.  

Huawei Honor 6 – Apps

Aside from offering the Themes app and a few basic utilities like a file manager, a Huawei customer service app, FM radio and a torch, there aren’t all that many Huawei apps added to the phone as standard. That’s a very good thing given the way the Honor 6 arranges its apps.

However, there’s another dated element to the apps roster — the phone includes a bunch of preinstalled Gameloft games. We imagine this deal was put in place when Huawei was showing off its Kirin 920 processor for the first time, but this sort of move feels a little dated and unnecessary in 2014. Still, you can delete them so no major harm is done.

Huawei Honor 6 – Games and Performance

Previously we’ve complained about performance in Huawei phones, but the Honor 6 has no real issues. There’s barely any lag and we didn't experience a single crash during our fairly extended test period.

Our guess is that Huawei took on board complaints about the performance of some of its old phones, because it's packed a whopping 3GB of RAM into the Honor 6. That’s unheard of in a £250 phone and probably has a lot to do with the handset’s great performance.

The CPU is also unusual: the HiSilicon Kirin 920 CPU. This is a Huawei-made chipset, in case you’re wondering why it doesn’t use a more common processor from the Qualcomm Snapdragon range or MediaTek.

In previous high-end Huawei phones we’ve found that the Kirin chips don’t quite match up to the Qualcomm alternatives, but at £250 the Honor 6 even goes head to head with some Snapdragon 400 devices. And let’s be clear: the Kirin 920 decimates the Snapdragon 400.

The processor uses four 1.7GHz Cortex-A15 cores and four 1.3GHz Cortex-A7 cores. Even its ‘rubbish’ cores are theoretically faster than the Snapdragon 400’s ones.

This architecture uses the lesser cores for low-intensity tasks, with the others kicking in when needed.

In the Geekbench 3 benchmarking tool, the Honor 6 scores 3080 points. That is frankly an amazing score for a phone that's so cheap, and more than double the result of the LG G3 S, which sells at a similar price. It even outclasses Snapdragon 801 devices such as the Galaxy S5.

This kind of performance makes the Honor 6 among the best affordable gaming phones in the world. A 1080p screen with enough juice to avoid scrimping on textures and lighting effects for half the price of the competition? It’s an incredibly attractive combo.

The GPU used by the phone is the Mali-T628 MP4, whose performance is just a little less than the Adreno 330 seen in the most popular top-end phones of the moment.

Huawei Honor 6 – Camera

The Huawei Honor 6 offers a 13-megapixel camera on its back and a 5-megapixel one on the front. With a dual-LED flash alongside the main rear camera, it seems like this phone has it all.

However, it’s in the imaging department that actually find some of the Huawei Honor 6’s most serious issues. The hardware specs seem great for the price – for any price, really – but the results are disappointing in some conditions.

First, the autofocus is quite spotty and unreliable. We found it struggles very badly with night shooting, at times simply refusing to focus, even if there should really be enough light to work with. It also struggles with close-ups, taking quite a long time to lock on.

The result is a camera that can feel like a doddering old geriatric — not the sort of experience you may be expecting from a phone with as much high-end tech as this.

The speed issue isn't constant, though. When you’re shooting normal daylight photos, there’s very little shutter lag. And you can even take a photo from standby, just by double-tapping the volume-down button. It takes 1-1.5 seconds in total. Not bad.

If this inconsistency is down to software, Huawei should be able to fix these issues. But if it’s partly down to the image signal processor in the Kirin 920, we may have to make do.

The Honor 6's image quality varies a lot depending on the lighting conditions. In daylight, you’ll get very good detail, with the f/2.0 lens able to have a reasonable stab at making the most of the fairly high 13-megapixel resolution. For all the issues we have, the Honor 6 can reap noticeably more detail than an 8-megapixel camera in daylight.

Purple fringing around areas off high-contrast fine detail is only slight, too, and much less so than something like the HTC One M8. Really pixel-peeping, these fine details can look a little fizzy, but it’s not nothing to worry about unless you’re going to do significant cropping post-shoot.

When challenged with greater light variance in a scene, the Huawei Honor 6 seems to favour overexposing the sky rather than making the whole shot look dull. Blown highlights may make real photographers cringe, but it’s the right choice in the largely throwaway world of mobile phone shooting, and exposure was an occasional issue, not a constant companion. Could metering be more intelligent? Yes, and dynamic range isn't wonderful, but it’s not too bad in daylight.

Where the metering system really fails is in low lighting. It completely refuses to brighten up a scene when there’s not much light to work with. As well as resulting in very poor low-light or night detail in general, we found that autofocus performance was very bad indeed in darker settings. It’s as if the camera just isn’t geared up to work in these sorts of conditions at all.

Thankfully, the dual-LED flash is pretty powerful, meaning you can still get those late-night party group shots without ending up with a dark smudge. This low-light performance needs to be improved, though, as it’s a real downside for the phone.

The HDR mode could be improved, too. It’s reasonably effective, but in some conditions it doesn’t manage to weed out overexposure, which is one of the main goals of HDR, along with revealing more shadow detail.

The Honor 6’s camera app is very similar to that of the Huawei Ascend P7, its more expensive cousin. The layout is fairly simple, but you get plenty of extras in a separate modes menu.

As well as filters, panorama and HDR, you get a wrinkle-busting Beauty mode, a best photo burst-mode, watermark and All-focus. The latter takes shots at a bunch of different focus points, then lets you pick which part of the photo is in focus afterwards. It's mercifully quick, but we can’t imagine many people using it all that frequently.

The front camera has a very high-resolution 5-megapixel sensor, like several phones from Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers. Selfies have become important in the West, but doubly so elsewhere.

You can certainly take good selfies with the Honor 6, and it handily offers a little box you’re meant to look into to avoid looking like you’re staring into the middle-distance. However, as it uses a pretty tiny sensor, the extra resolution is only going to result in notably greater detail if you have decent lighting to work with.

Video capture tops out at 1080p rather than 4K. While the phone should in theory have the performance to capture in 4K, it's not a great loss given the Honor 6's price.

Huawei Honor 6 – Battery Life

The Huawei Honor 6 has a huge 3100mAh battery, the same size used by the Sony Xperia Z3, even though this phone has a smaller screen.

With light use you can get two days out of the Huawei Honor 6, but if you want to do some browsing or video viewing, you’re looking rather at a solid day and a half before needing a charge. It’s a very strong performance, but ultimately one that might disappoint if you’re expecting the world on a stick after seeing the battery specs.

Our assumption is that, as we’ve found previously, the Honor 6’s Kirin 920 processor isn’t quite as efficient as the Snapdragon 800/801/805 we see more frequently. Our battery tests show that this phone tends to use a bit more power when left unused than some of those top performers, but it’s still certainly smart and efficient enough to last for days and days (and days) should you leave it on a table fully charged but unused.

In our video playback test, which involves playing a 720p MP4 file on loop from 100 per cent battery, with the screen on mid brightness, until the device dies, the Honor 6 lasted for 11 hours and 30 minutes. It’s a very strong result but, again, not quite as good as you might get from a 5-inch 3100mAh phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU.

The Kirin 920 may be powerful, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as smart in the finer points of power management. For example, in the standard Smart power mode it’s very strict about apps getting access to CPU time when they’re not being used, but it doesn’t offer the sort of power savings you might get in Samsung or Sony phone doing the same.

There is another much more aggressive power-saving mode if you really do need to keep the Honor 6 lasting as long as possible, though. Ultra Power Saving mode changes the UI to only give you access to basic phone features such as the dialler, messaging and your contacts book. It takes the ‘smart’ out of your smartphone, basically.

It’ll make your Honor 6 last longer, but you wouldn’t want to use it apart from in an emergency.

Huawei Honor 6 – Call and Sound Quality

Little deficiencies in the technical attention to detail in the Honor 6 aren’t really down to the people who actually designed the phone – we imagine the HiSilicon team has virtually nothing to do with the folk behind the Honor 6. However, there are other little issues in the phone’s sound quality.

Both the internal speaker and the earpiece speaker suffer from audio clipping. This causes popping noises in the audio output, a form of distortion. It seems to be down to the audio levels in the phone simply being a bit off, and isn't driver distortion – it’s a lot less offensive-sounding than that, and only really becomes an annoyance in phone calls.

We hope this will be solved in a software update.

Aside from the audio pops, sound quality in both the call and internal speaker is reasonable, but not remarkable. The main speaker is a mono unit that sits on the back of the Honor 6.

The top volume is fair, but the tone is a little thin, like most mobile phone speakers. It’s also hard to ignore the several lower-cost phones that offer stereo speakers these days, like the 2014 Moto G (although its sound quality is no better).

Should I buy the Huawei Honor 6?

The Huawei Honor 6 is a high-value, aggressive phone of the kind we thought had disappeared from Huawei’s ranks. It beats all the big-name competition.

However, if you’re willing to shop around there are a few very good alternatives to consider. The LG G2 costs around £40 more and is a bit less quirky than the Honor 6, while the Nexus 5 is just £20 more and is entirely quirk-free.

The Honor 6 offers benefits other than just price, though. Battery life is significantly better than the Nexus 5's, and it has the microSD card support that the Nexus phone lacks. We think the LG G2 is perhaps a better choice, but the simple truth is that both are solid, great-value phones.


The Huawei Honor 6 is a quirky phone, but one that also offers top value.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments will be posted after moderation. Please do not post links in your comments, otherwise they will not be published.
Thank you.

Share This