Introduction and Design
You might not have heard of Honor. In-fact, the brand didn’t even exist a year ago, but the Huawei spin-off is now producing some well specced yet affordable smartphones that you can actually buy on the high-street.
While they were first intended to be sold unlocked through a web store only, the Honor 6 Plus is now available through the network 3, so it’s easier to get hold your hands on.
For £299.99 ($470, $587 AUD), you’re getting a 5.5-inch screen with three 8MP snappers, 3GB RAM, 4G connectivity, and a whopping 3,600 mAh battery.
There’s a feeling of familiarity about the Honor 6 Plus. It’s like the designers picked up a few recent devices, chose the parts they liked, ditched the ones they didn’t, and combined them to make the 6 Plus.
The Honor’s sides, a metal ridge sandwiched between the front and back, remind me of the iPhone 5. It even has similar antenna bands cutting across the top. The glass front and back is also a design choice from Apple, that Google used in the Nexus 4 and Samsung resurrected this year with the S6.
There’s a whiff of Sony’s Xperia style at play too, with the curved corners and plastic bottom.
It’s a solid slab of smartphone, that feels far more premium than the sub-£300 price tag would suggest.
Plastic is mostly eschewed for metal and glass, always a plus in my eyes, and there’s certainly no give or flex when I tried to recreate the ‘bendgate’ scandal.
The volume and standby buttons are very clicky, and placed in just the right places. Below those buttons are the dual sim card slots (one is only 2G compatible, no make not of that) and the MicroSD expansion slot.
If you’re using a MicroSD card, you do give up the second sim slot, but that’s definitely a trade-off I’d make. Another nice addition, especially on something many would consider a ‘budget’ device, is a standard 32GB of onboard storage. Even Apple kits its pricier handsets with just 16GB, so Huawei has to be commended for doubling that.
Combine that 32GB with a 128GB MicroSD, and you’ve got yourself a serious media machine.
Using these more premium materials does increase the weight somewhat, but not to a point I’d call heavy. It tips the scales at 165g, making it 3g heavier than the OnePlus One, but lighter than Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus.
It’s also smaller than those two handsets, measuring in at 150.5 x 75.7 x 7.5 mm. The OnePlus One comes in at 152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm, while Apple’s beastly phablet pushes that further to 158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1 mm.
But make no mistake, this is a big phone. Slipping it into my pocket was sometimes a struggle and I often decided to just keep it in my bag. That’s not necessarily a negative point, though. If you’re on the look-out for a phone like this, then you should know what you’re getting yourself into.
Honor, or rather Huawei, is clearly pushing this device as affordable, without sacrificing features we’d normally find in high-end devices. Highly powered yet well-priced, Android phones are nothing new – the OnePlus One was, and still is, one of my favourites, and that comes in at just £279.99 – but the market is definitely growing and that’s great for everyone.
The 6 Plus matches the OnePlus One for screen size, coming in at 5.5-inches, so it’s definitely on the larger side. If you have small pockets or tight jeans, you’ll have to start storing the phone in your bag when you’re not using it. While it’s large, the display is also one of the device’s key selling points.
As someone used to smaller devices, switching to a larger phone really does take practice. If you’re familiar with the iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or Nexus 6, you’ll feel at home, but coming from anything smaller you’ll have to rethink how to use the device.
One-handed operation is downright impossible, especially without feeling like your new investment is about to kiss the pavement. Dragging down the notification tray is tricky, playing portrait games equally so.
The big screen is something I can live with. However, if it sacrificed pixels to achieve that size and keep the affordable price, I’d be less happy. Thankfully, I’m truly impressed by the panel on this device. It’s outshone my expectations in almost every area.
Let’s kick off with the specs: the 1080p 5.5-inch IPS LCD packs an impressive 401 ppi- exactly the same as the OnePlus One and Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus. It’s impressive on paper, and just as impressive in day-to-day use.
Colours are vibrant, viewing angles are exceptional, and the panel has a great hit of brightness. I’ve been using the device for a week in the spring sunshine and I’ve had no issues with glare. Blacks are inky too, though colours aren’t quite as saturated as you’d find on Super AMOLED displays.
It might not pack a quad-HD resolution like the Nexus 6 or Samsung Galaxy S6 – there’s still a long way to go before that tech comes to phones in this price bracket – but pixels are indistinguishable. Watching some Netflix or iPlayer on this big, sharp display is a pleasure.
Huawei – you’ve impressed me with this display.
Android used to have a bit of an identity crisis. OEMs everywhere were taking Google’s baby and skinning it, adding their own quirks and changing how it looked completely. Pick up an HTC device, along with one from Samsung and LG, and you’d be met with three very different takes on the Android operating system.
While that’s still the case, most of these brands – yes, even Samsung – have dialled back their meddling, and Android skins have become much more pleasing to look at and use.
Seems like Honor didn’t get the memo.
I’m just going to throw this out there – the worst thing about the Honor 6 Plus is the awful interface. It’s called Emotion UI and it’s the same skin you’ll find on many Huawei devices, such as the P8. I just can’t take it seriously.
Oh, it’s also running atop Android 4.4.2 (even if the on-screen buttons are the new style). No Lollipop lovin’ here yet, though I’m told the update is coming. After using a lot of Android 5.0 phones, I found it odd going back. I miss the lock-screen notifications and the rolodex- style multitasking. I miss the Material Design look and the smoother interface.
In truth, KitKat feels a bit antiquated. Why a new phone is shipping old software more than 6 months after the introduction of Lollipop is beyond me.
The best way I can describe Huawei’s take on Android is by imagining iOS and Android having a baby. The similarities between Emotion UI and Apple’s iOS are bleedingly obvious and it takes Android backwards, rather than forwards.
First off, there’s no app drawer, just endless pages of apps to scroll through. You can put them in folders, but if you’re an app hoarder like myself, then prepare to get annoyed.
Huawei has also ruined the app icons, bordering them all and turning them into squares. These look fine for the brand’s own apps, as they’re designed for this aesthetic, but otherwise it looks like you’ve installed a bad icon pack. I had to put all of Google’s apps inside a folder just so I didn’t have to look at them. For someone who uses every single Google app on a daily basis, that’s far from helpful.
The notification panel is set up in a timeline view, showing all your notifications in chronological order. I quite like this, but it gave app installs the same importance as texts and emails, so I often found things I actually wanted to see bundled near the bottom. Multitasking is done in a similar way to HTC’s Sense, with nine app panels shown simultaneously in a grid.
You’ve got support for 4G LTE connectivity and NFC, both vital for a modern day smartphone, and I found 4G speeds impressive on 3’s UK network.
I might have come down hard on the Emotion UI, but I do have to give it credit in one area- it’s definitely snappy. Scrolling through websites, swiping through menus and banging out emails don’t cause the phone any problems.
Although the processor isn’t really top-of-the-line (it’s a 2014 HiSilicon Kirin 925 chip with a quad-core 1.8GHz CPU), it does have the benefit of an impressive 3GB RAM. This is 1GB more than the iPhone 6 Plus and on-par with nearly all the flagship devices we’ve seen churned out this year.
Multitasking is a breeze. I can open 10 apps and switch between them without so much as a stutter, while my usual set of apps doesn’t even slow things down.
Gaming isn’t quite so great, though. I loaded the Honor 6 Plus up with a variety of titles, from my favourite mobile game Monument Valley, to more testing releases like Real Racing 3, Asphalt Airborne and Dead Trigger 2.
Monument Valley performed the best, as you’d expect; it was smooth and quick, and as always, a pleasure. Real Racing 3 also played quite well, though loading times were quite lengthy and frame rate drops were frequent.
Asphalt and Dead Trigger suffered fairly constantly from the latter. They were still playable, but if you’re a real Android games aficionado (do those exist?), you might be looking at the wrong device.
In my GeekBench 3 tests, a multi-core score of 3247 easily outpaces devices like Samsung’s S5, the Nexus 5 and the OnePlus One, confirming just how speedy this phone seems to be.
HD videos load quickly, and even text and image-heavy sites, like TechRadar, only took a matter of seconds to come to life.
I’ve come to expect these big phablet-like devices to impress not only in the display department, but in the battery one too. Having a larger device means there’s more room to fit in a bigger battery. I still remember the first time I used a Samsung Note device; I went to charge it one evening and saw it was still on 60% battery after a full day’s use.
Keeping the Honor 6 Plus chugging along all day, hopefully, is a non-removable 3,600 mAh battery. That’s one of the largest cells I’ve seen on a phone, a full 500 mAh more than the OnePlus One and 400 mAh than the 6-inch Nexus 6.
With the Nexus 6 having to power a seriously pixel-dense QHD display as well, I had high hopes that the Honor 6 Plus could be a real winner in the battery department.
Was I right? Yes. And then some.
I started off by running TechRadar’s typical battery test, which involves playing a looped 90-minute HD video with the screen on full brightness. When it was finished, I had only lost 5% battery. That’s impressive.
Battery tests are one thing, but it’s the real-life, day-to-day performance that makes or breaks a battery.
Here’s my typical day. I unplug my phone at 8am, check emails, Twitter and Instagram, and try to read some news to fully wake me from my bleary-eyed slumber. There have been times when my initial morning browse has depleted my iPhone 6 by as much as 10%, but the Honor 6 Plus barely budged from 100%. I began wondering whether I could leave my hefty portable charger at home… surely not.
By lunchtime I was sitting pretty on 90% – that’s with three accounts constantly pulling down a stream of picture-heavy press releases along with the ever present social network refreshing and browsing. I stream all my music from Spotify and listen to a number of podcasts through PocketCasts, but even with constant use, the phone still had 70% left at the end of the working day.
It’s been a while since I purposely left a phone off charge overnight. But as the Honor 6 Plus was at 56%, I thought I’d leave it unplugged. In the morning it was still at 50% and it lasted until 7pm before I reached for the plug to juice it up again.
There might not be any mod-cons like Qi wireless charging, quick-charging tech or the like, but the Honor 6 Plus is definitely a device that can go the distance.
With the addition of the Emotion UI comes a shed-load of Huawei apps, replacing the usual array of Google ones. Google’s versions are still here, tucked away in a folder, but Huawei wants you to use its own.
These apps are fairly sleek and minimal. The dialler is nice, though doesn’t pack any extra features like searching the web for incoming numbers, and it actually combines the messaging app.
As with most Android phones, you’ve got the choice of two browsers, two music apps, two video apps, two email apps, and so on. Each of Huawei’s stock apps are fine (some are quite pretty and oddly I’ve come to like the Clock app), but I wish OEMs would just use Google’s apps as they’re far more intuitive and integrated.
You can’t delete any of the pre-installed apps, so you’ll also be stuck with a Browser you’ll probably never use.
I normally use Google’s stock keyboard with Android devices, though Huawei ships the Honor 6 Plus with its SwiftKey-style swipe version. Despite its accuracy, I found word prediction poor and it didn’t take me long to ditch it for some better available options.
Call quality was great, on both ends, though the back-facing speaker was a little bit tinny and easily blocked if my hand was in the wrong position.
A bit like HTC and Samsung have offered with their recent flagships, Huawei has built a theming engine into the Emotion UI. These change all the icons, the lock screen, fonts, and so on. Sadly, they’re all a bit gaudy for my liking and none of them seem to change the icons to anything better looking, but at least the choice is there.
Cameras on Android phones are having a bit of renaissance this year, with the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 finally starting to give the iPhone a run for its money.
I wasn’t expecting much from the Honor 6 Plus, but it’s actually a fairly decent snapper with a few nifty additions.
First off, you’ve not just one 8MP sensor, but two. This isn’t something new; HTC kitted the One M8 out with a second depth sensor to garner more information about your shots, but that feature was quickly ditched this year with the M9. It’s used for a similar function here, letting you take parallex photos that move and alter the focus after the fact.
I’m not really a fan of this ‘fake’ aperture shifting effect. To get anything like the blurring background look you’d get with a DSLR, you need to pick the perfect subject and line the shot up precisely. I just don’t have the time to do this when I’m trying to get the best shot.
8MP, the same as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, is probably a little bit on the low-side, but I don’t think megapixels really matter, especially if the sensor is high quality.
The first lens has a f/2 aperture, and the second has a f/2.4, but the results are quite good.
You do need to play a bit with the settings. On standard, snaps are a little dull and lack vibrancy. HDR mode improves this somewhat, adding an extra hit of colour and improving the dynamic range, though you’ll have to suffer with fairly slow capture times with this enabled.
Pictures themselves are nice and detailed, especially if the conditions are in your favour. Night-time shots were less impressive, but they were far from a blurry mess.
If two 8MP shooters weren’t enough, Huawei had added another one around the front. This captures good, detailed selfies that, if I was that sort of person, I’d be happy to filter and throw on Instagram.
For less than £300 you’re getting a really competent device that has impressed me in a number of areas, from the stellar build to the fantastic display. It’s not perfect, but if you want a large device without splashing big bucks, the Honor 6 Plus should definitely be on your radar.
The 1080p, 5.5-inch IPS display is bright, colour rich and accurate. Pixels are nowhere to be seen and it impresses even outdoors. It’s also a great size for watching YouTube or Netflix, but this does mean it might be better off kept in your bag than jeans pocket.
A battery that can go for two days without a recharge is always going to win my approval, and it’s one of this device’s main selling points.
It might look like a bevy of other phones amalgamated into one, but the Honor 6 Plus has enough premium build touches to give it a classy finish.
The Emotion UI is a real disappointment; it takes everything great about Android and tries to turn it into something that will appeal to iOS users. Bring back the app drawer, please.
Also, why are we mid-way through 2015 and seeing new phones with an operating system that was superseded more than 6 months ago? Lollipop is far from perfect, but it’s much better than KitKat and we shouldn’t have to wait this long to see that update.
Gaming performance clearly could be better, especially if you want to do anything more than play fairly basic titles. Download anything graphically heavy and you’ll likely run into some frame-rate issues.
Huawei-offshoot Honor’s first widely available smartphone has impressed me on numerous occasions over the past few weeks. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to someone who was looking for a well specced phablet for a fair price.
If you’ve got the pockets for the 5.5-inch screen you’ll reap the rewards, whether it’s watching videos or replying to emails. Once you’re used to it, it’s hard going back to a smaller device. It’s also hard going back to a phone you have to charge nightly.
The camera isn’t going to match the Android top-guns, but it’s perfectly acceptable and it’s nice to see Huawei experimenting with the triple threat of 8MP snappers.
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