If you haven’t heard of a smartphone brand called Honor, you’re not alone. Just about everyone I’ve mentioned it to looks baffled. That’s because it’s pretty new, having launched in the UK late last year as a sub-brand of the Chinese supergiant Huawei. Granted, not many people on these shores know Huawei either, but it’s a fair guess that the new brand is an attempt to make a big, unpronounceable Chinese behemoth seem a little more user-friendly.
Honor currently offer six phones, with the 6 Plus being the most recent. Like the iPhone 6 Plus, which it’s clearly (and somewhat lamely) named after, it’s a phablet with a 5.5-inch screen. It offers dual cameras for photo refocusing (Honor say this is a world first on a smartphone), and packs an impressively huge battery. I’ve been using it was my main phone for over a month now, day in and day out – here’s my in-depth Honor 6 Plus review.
The 6 Plus has been one of my most-commented-on handsets of all time. I was not prepared for this. Yes, it looks like a big gold iPhone, but I’ve definitely had stranger-looking review models. Nonetheless, this is the one that got all the comments. A sales assistant in Sephora (I was in New York at the time) actually called over two other people to look at it. “What kinda iPhone is that?” she said, “It’s dope!”
The 6 Plus comes in the now-standard trifecta of colourways: black, white and gold. The back is covered with glass fibre, and my gold version has a tiny triangle texture with a gloss finish which looks lovely. It picks up scratches and fingerprints fairly easily, though.
There’s a silver metal band around the sides and you’ll find the volume rocker on the top right, above the power button. As with many phones, they’re not easy enough to distinguish without looking, and you’ll often find yourself turning your music down when you were trying to switch the screen on. The black border around the screen is slim, though there are chunky gold bars at the top and bottom. There’s no physical home key or soft keys at the bottom, either: just the Android software buttons on the screen.
There’s no doubt that it’s a very good-looking phone considering the price. The fact that it looks like and has been mistaken for an iPhone is testament to this: you wouldn’t guess it’s a £300 handset. The materials feel premium, it’s got a good heft to it (165g and 7.5mm thick) and despite not being a fan of gold phones, I can’t deny it looks stylish. In fact, I think I’m a convert.
It’s fairly sizeable, though: the 5.5-inch screen edges it into phablet territory. It’s possible to use it one-handed – even with my tiny digits – but tricky. You’re going to want a lock screen pattern that’s mostly on one side of the phone! (There is a one-handed mode, but no one uses those).
The speaker is strangely-placed: it’s a vertical line on the left edge of the back panel. It feels like an afterthought. I’ve never been a fan of rear-facing speakers, but this one isn’t even centred. Holding the phone in your hand will muffle the sound, and so will putting it on a table, so you have to either turn it over or have the edge hanging over the table a bit. Neither is ideal. Still, once you’ve done that, the sound is loud and clear.
One of the things I don’t like on Huawei phones is the user interface, otherwise known as the lick of paint all manufacturers put on top of Android. Huawei’s is called EMUI, and Honor phones have it too. In fairness, it’s improved since previous iterations, and the amount of visual themes available make it much more palatable (seriously, there are so many themes), but it still has some functions that bother me.
The main one is the lack of app drawer. The app drawer is the big menu where all your app icons live on Android, and Huawei do away with it entirely, presumably to be more like iPhone. This means all your icons have to be out on show, and you end up with ninety billion home screens to contain them all. It’s annoying, it detracts from the user experience, and it makes everything messy. Look how many homescreens I have on this phone (there’s a dot for each one at the bottom):
Yes, you can put things in folders, but that just means unnecessary extra taps. It’s so awkward to find things on my many, many homescreens that more than once I’ve had to search for the app in the Play Store just to be able to open it. Grr. If you’re getting this phone, I’d highly recommend putting Google Now Launcher on it to get your app drawer back.
The other thing that displeases me about the 6 Plus is that it runs the previous version of Android, KitKat. Even some low-end phones have Lollipop now, so this is disappointing. It’s due to get the upgrade around July, but misleadingly Honor have chosen to make the navigation icons look like the Lollipop ones even though it’s KitKat. Not cool!
There’s also a bug with the music controls – if you’re listening to an album or playlist (eg. through Spotify) and you try to change the track from the controls on the lock screen, the phone will skip to a random track stored on the phone itself. It comes with some preinstalled bloatware tracks, so this won’t even be something else from your personal library. It’s vexing.
Performance-wise, though, the 6 Plus does a great job. It’s quick and responsive, and despite pushing it pretty hard, I’ve only had one crash in a month’s daily use. That’s probably because it has surprisingly good hardware for this price point: a HiSilicon Kirin octa-core 1.8Ghz processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space. Storage is also expandable using microSD cards, up to 128GB.
The 6 Plus also offers 4G, so I think if you put stock Lollipop on it, it’d be perfect. After all, it’s got the type of 64-bit processor Lollipop was designed for. And I want my app drawer back!
I’m a big fan of the screen on the Honor 6 Plus. It’s huge, vivid and very clear, with a full-HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 (that’s 401 pixels per inch). It goes very bright, so is easily readable in direct sunlight, though it’s worth noting that because the screen is so glossy, you’ll still see a bit of your own face. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on your face.
Viewing angles are very wide on this phone – in other words, you can turn it every which way and still be able to see all the detail. It barely darkens at all. The screen is made by JDI, a coalition of Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi, so it’s not surprising that JDI displays are well-known for their quality – and this one’s no exception. As always, it’s worth mentioning that a full-HD screen isn’t going to match up to the quad-HD resolution of the Samsung Galaxy S6 or the LG G4, but it’s more than beautiful enough for most. It’s also coated with Gorilla Glass 3 for extra toughness, and having been dropped pretty badly several times, it hasn’t shown so much as a scratch. At this price, it’s an excellent screen – Honor could have got away with a 720p or 5-inch panel, but I’m glad they went for something prettier.
The camera on the 6 Plus is one of its standout features, and to have a standout feature at all on a £300 phone is impressive. I should say cameras, really: the phone has 3 in total. There’s an 8MP selfie camera, and twin 8MP main cameras on the back. Why are there two cameras on the back? So you can refocus photos after you’ve taken them, of course. I demonstrated this feature at Mobile World Congress earlier this year:
This feature is ridiculously fun, and can make even a dull photo look arty. It only works for photos taken in Wide Aperture mode, so remember to turn that on first. Then you can refocus to your heart’s content.
Another innovative feature on the Honor 6 Plus camera is the ability to double-tap the bottom volume key to either instantly take a photo or open the camera. Similar features exist on the S6 and Moto E, among others, but those still work when the screen’s on. Unfortunately because the Honor version uses a volume key, it only works when the screen is off and you’re not playing music. Otherwise you’ll just turn the volume down pretty quickly. But it’s nonetheless very useful – I’d suggest setting it up to open the camera rather than take a photo, because while it does take pictures very quickly, they’re not usually focused.
The main camera itself takes clear, shareable photos, but can be annoyingly slow. This might be because I have a pre-release version of the software, so it’s possible it’ll be sorted by the time the 6 Plus comes out. Currently, though, the phone plays the animation of having taken a photo, so you think it’s safe to move, and then you get a blurry horror of a picture.
Learn to stay still a little longer, though, and you’ll get pictures like these:
Honor 6 Plus camera samples:
HDR mode also works very well (before, then after):
I’m just going to reiterate that this is a £300 phone. These are amazing results at that price point.
There’s also a ridiculously good feature called Super Night Mode, which takes pictures of things like night-time skylines that actually reflect how your eyes see them. However, it takes quite a while, and I’ve found that holding the phone still enough to get a sharp picture in this mode with hands alone is basically impossible:
If you’ve got something to balance your phone on, though, you’ll get incredible shots.
The selfie camera does a great job, too. You do get a bit too addicted to Beauty Mode, which smooths out your skin and generally makes you look better, but that’s the case with every phone with this feature:
I’m knocking a point off the Honor 6 Plus camera for the slowness/blurring issue, but other than that, amazing. If Honor can fix the issue with a software update, this’ll be an easy 10/10.
The battery on this phone is immense. Huawei were quick to point out that at 3600mAh, it’s 600mAh bigger than the iPhone 6 Plus’s battery, and it also compares favourably with just about everything else on the market. This year’s two main Android flagships, the HTC One M9 and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, offer considerably less at 2840 and 2600 mAh respectively – though it’s worth noting that they’re running Lollipop which makes better use of power than KitKat, especially with 64-bit processors. Acer’s also just announced a phone with a 4000 mAh battery, but that’s very rare.
With a big, bright screen to power, the 6 Plus needs a lot of juice, but the battery pack still goes above and beyond. I use my phone a lot and have rarely run this out before bedtime. It’s the kind of phone you don’t have to worry about – you stop thinking “how much battery do I have?” because you always have plenty. For heavy users like me, it’s a great phone to have in your pocket.
We ran our usual test of streaming a fullscreen HD film over WiFi with brightness on maximum and GPS on. From a 100% charge, the Honor 6 Plus had 62% battery left after two hours of film. With a screen that big and that bright, that’s a very good result – for an expensive phone. At this price, it’s phenomenal. Compare with the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge (£760) which scored 54% in the same test, and the HTC One M9 (£580), which got 50%. Go Honor.
The only downside to the Honor 6 Plus’s battery is that it’s not removable, but that’s hardly surprising. We wouldn’t expect wireless charging at this price point, either, so for the money this is everything we’d hope for and quite a bit more.
At £299, the Honor 6 Plus offers excellent value for money. The camera quality is superb (slowness issues notwithstanding) and the refocusing capability makes for an ideal show-off-in-the-pub feature. The battery is colossal and often outlasts even me. It looks distinctive, gets loads of attention (!) and can put up with some fairly major bashing (I must stop taking review phones on nights out).
Downsides are the UI, which isn’t very useful and doesn’t have an app drawer, and the fact that it runs KitKat rather than the newer Lollipop. When it gets Lollipop next month, it’ll be perfect.
Either way: recommended.
Honor 6 Plus UK price and availability details
The Honor 6 Plus comes out on the 1st of May in the UK for £299. Network-wise, it’ll be exclusive to Three, or available directly from Honor.
1. Great value
2. Excellent battery life
3. High-performance dual camera
1. Camera is slow
2. No Lollipop yet
3. UI is awkward