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Review: Honor 6 Plus

The Honor 6 Plus marks a return to the market by the Huawei-backed brand, and brings with it a compelling specifications list, feature set and price point. Has the Honor 6 Plus got what it takes to lure consumers away from the dynamic duo, Apple and Samsung? Let’s find out in the full review of the Honor 6 Plus.

For those that don’t know, and you’d be forgiven for that, Honor are a brand of the Chinese networking and telecommunications giant Huawei. Prior products include the Honor Holly, a decidedly mid-range device with a price point to match and the Honor 6, a device that looked to push towards the higher end of the mid-range market. With the Honor 6 Plus however, Honor are looking to position themselves alongside the likes of Oppo, OnePlus and Xiaomi in delivering a product with great specifications, but at a more budget conscious cost than that of the big hitters like HTC, Apple, Samsung and LG.

Overview & Unboxing

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#FF9900″]”The backplate protector is a nice touch and something more OEMs should consider.”[/pullquote]Honor don’t have the sort of budget to spend on marketing that Samsung do, so instead the concentration has to be on quality over quantity. Their packaging is one example of this. A turquoise box with a very minimalist feel, envelops the Honor 6 Plus. Upon closer inspection there is a spot laminated Honor logo at the top of the box that shines when tilted into daylight which is a nice little touch. Boxes are boxes right, but it’s always nice when you get a product that looks like it’s going to be a premium one, and Honor managed this.

Inside the main box are a set of other smaller boxes and compartments, within which the following is found:

  • The Honor 6 Plus.
  • Wall adapter (white).
  • USB charging cable (white).
  • SIM removal tool.
  • In ear headphones
  • A multi-language Quick Start Guide.
  • A Screen protector & and back plate protector.

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The backplate protector is a nice touch and something more OEMs should consider. Honor realises that with a device that claims flagship quality, the glass on both the front and the rear need protecting to aid longevity.

Longevity is tested mostly by the performance of a devices’ ability to continue to deliver the day 1 performance even after day 730, and beyond. With that in mind Honor have seemingly spent some time putting the specifications list together.

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#FF9900″]”There’s no getting away from it. It looks like a large iPhone 5.”[/pullquote]

Key Features:

  • 5.5-inch 1080×1920 IPS LCD screen (401 ppi).
  • Quad Core 1.8GHz octo-core Kirin 925 processor (4 x Cortex A15@ 1.8Ghz, 4 x Cortez A7 @ 1.3Ghz)
  • 3GB RAM.
  • 32GB of internal storage (SDcard upto 128GB).
  • 2 x 8MP dual-lens 13MP rear camera with dual-LED flash, capable of 1080p video.
  • 8MP front-facing camera.
  • 3600 mAh non-removable battery.
  • Dual-sim trays.
  • Android 4.4.2 KitKat.

To the device itself, there’s no getting away from it. It looks like a large iPhone 5 without the home button. There are similar front facing camera, earpiece, proximity sensor and LED notification placements at the top of the front face too. On the left hand edge sits the dual-SIM trays, a power button and a one piece volume rocker. The right hand edge is clean whilst the top and bottom show a headphone jack, an Infrared port, a pinhole mic, and a microUSB charging slot respectively. Finally, on the backside, there is some subtle branding and the speaker drill-holes. Sadly, the bundled User Guide seems to show differences between the actual product and the call outs in the manual so it’s by trial and error you’ll discover some of the features.

This device is big. I’m sure that goes without saying as it’s packing a 5.5″ screen, but I’ll say it anyway. Holding this device in the hand is very similar to holding the OnePlus One in sheer size. The blocky edges of this device deliver a slightly less comfortable in-hand experience however when compared to similar sized devices. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4, and the aforementioned OnePlus One are both thicker than this device, although due to the curved nature of the backplates of it’s competitors, the Honor 6 Plus feels thicker. It’s not a deal breaker. That additional perceived bulk gives it a more sturdy however, and it’s still far from an unwieldy device; after all it packs a lot into it’s 7.5mm deep frame!

Hardware & Performance

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#FF9900″]”The Kirin 925 has ensured that every action has been snappy.”[/pullquote]The big boys play with Qualcomm; everyone knows that right? Samsung have dabbled with their own Exynos chips in their latest flagship, but the world in general looks to Qualcomm to deliver the power behind flagship devices. That’s an established relationship. Honor however have leveraged their parent brand and delivered the Kirin 925 SoC in the Honor 6 Plus. Again, as with much of this device, you’d be forgiven for not knowing too much about the Kirin architecture. The Kirin SoC delivers an octo-core platform with two lots of Cortex chips running at different clock speeds and leveraging heterogeneous multi-processing which allows all 8 cores to function and process tasks simultaneously. Utilising two “tiers” (for want of a better word) of chips delivers an energy-efficient way of dealing with those less critical tasks as well as providing a boost when in performance modes. This is backed up by a Mali-T628 MP4 GPU which is a 4 core variant of GPU deployments we’ve seen in devices such as the Galaxy Alpha and sits just behind an Adreno 330 (found in Snapgdragon 800 chipsets) in terms of performance.

[pullquote align=”left” color=”#FF9900″]”Nobody should be putting a speaker on the back of a smartphone in 2015.”[/pullquote]Synthetic benchmarks put the Honor 6 Plus around the same performance as the OnePlus One, and trailing the latest flagships, however this is not indicative of day to day performance. In fact, we’ve not had a single bottleneck; not one, during our time with this device. The Kirin 925 has ensured that every action has been snappy and our go to test game, RipTide GP2 as an example, ran flawlessly. Today’s smartphones are more about team ethics than marquee players; the sum of the parts are greater than the whole. The Honor 6 Plus certainly aligns itself to that ethos.

There are some cardinal sins to be found on this device if you’re looking hard enough however. Due to the lack of a home button on the front of the device, there is a sterile, vacant wasteland within which nothing has been achieved. It seems as though this chin could have been used for something? Perhaps, they could have housed a from firing speaker there a-la Boomsound, rather than repeat the mistake made by so many manufacturers and deploying a speaker on the rear of the device. I’ll say this once more; nobody should be putting a speaker on the back of a smartphone in 2015. Furthermore the placement of the volume rocker and power button along with the choice of materials makes them somewhat difficult to depress when using the device with your left hand alone. The phone naturally sits in the palm with the index and forefingers gripping the section that has the buttons placed. I can see their choice, but I think a better placement for the home button would have been on the left edge. For right-handed handlers of phones however, this will surely be perfect placement. As I said, nit-picking.

In order to utilise the speed of this device with any applications you’ll be glued to a 5.5″ IPS LCD display with a resolution or 1080 x 1920 (401 ppi). The screen has a nice contrast between its brightest and dimmest settings and colours are adequately represented. The addition of an app to allow the colour temperature to be changed is a welcome one and should alleviate any tone issues for all but the most uber of calibration nerds. Whilst not to the same level

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#FF9900″]”At 3600 mAh this battery is a beast.”[/pullquote]Moving on to one of the more nuanced features for a UK handset, the dual SIM capability. Dual SIM card slots in smartphones are common in the Far East and it’s nice to see some European devices getting this feature now. Anybody who battles with the multiple phone syndrome (that is a work and a personal device) will attest to just how annoying it can get. The Honor 6 Plus will run a 4G and a 2G SIM simultaneously and can be switched between with ease. Those wishing to roam will also be happy as a local SIM will be preferred over any other SIM when calls/data are being used which should save a bob or two. Call quality was good compared to others in its class with both myself and the recipient reporting adequate detail with little background noise on the Three UK network.

Finally, on to the battery. At 3600 mAh this battery is a beast and will deliver well over a 24 hours of battery life which is good. There is a caveat though. Screen on time seems average with around 4 hours being hit during continuous use of media, camera work and browsing. It’s in idle that the battery really shows it’s stamina. During our tests we found little to no drain of the battery overnight when left with the screen off with the average result being just 2%. It might not sound too helpful but those with the latest flagships are stung both on-screen on time and idle time in terms of battery drain, so the Honor 6 Plus delivers the ability to pick-up where you left off with almost the same amount of battery life. A very good effort by Honor.

Software & UI

[pullquote align=”left” color=”#FF9900″]”All across the device there are little areas of functionality which add value to the user experience.”[/pullquote]The Honor 6 Plus runs atop Android 4.4.2 KitKat and Honor has committed to delivering Lollipop speedily. If delivered in a timely manner, this will be made all the more satisfying considering the rather deep skin that Honor deploy on the device. Emotion UI (EMUI) is back, and sits at version 3.0. EMUI has certainly been somewhat akin to Marmite for users in the past. To start with, there is no app drawer present here. Instead all applications are stored on the multiple home screens either isolated, or in folders. Very iOS. Another iOS similarity is the lock screen quick controls that are accessed by a swipe up from the bottom of the screen. The ability to control the media playback, or launch some logical apps quickly (namely, Sound Recorder, Torch, Calculator and Camera) is very reminiscent of iOS’s Control Center.

EMUI is, at its best, a lovely combination of HTC’s Sense, Stock Android and iOS which blends seamlessly throughout its deep option base. The general aesthetic is minimal with washed out tones evident throughout and flat menu items galore. Its not perfect, but it does a very good job og presenting information in a clean and intuitive way.

There are way too many options and features to go through and part of the fun will be playing with the device and find a hidden gem, but there are some stand outs that aren’t just gimmicks. First and foremost, Honor realise that a large phone is difficult to use one-handed. They attempt, and partially succeed, to mitigate this particular first world problem by implementing a one-handed UI option. Accessible from the “Smart Assistance” section of the settings menu, One-hand UI, when toggled, moves the navigation bar buttons across to the right hand side. Coupled with the setting to provide a notification pull down trigger button on the nav bar, this helps alleviate some of the issues associated with a larger device and make some actions easier. IT would be nice if there was an option to move all of this functionality to the left side of the device, but it’s a nice first step.

All across the device there are little areas of functionality which add value to the user experience to some degree. Here’s a brief list of some of our favourites:

  • Shake to change home screen wallpaper.
  • Screenshots now hover for a few seconds giving the option to share or edit, negating the need to pull down the notifications menu.
  • ‘Protected Apps’ allowing certain applications to continue to run after the screen is turned off to negate poor development work.
  • ‘Notification Manager’ allows discreet control over push notification alerts by application.
  • ‘Privacy Protection’ allows certain applications and photos to be hidden from guest users.
  • ‘Networked Apps’ allows a per app setting as to which networking type to utilise; WiFi or Mobile data (or both).
  • Motion gestures such as shaking to rearrange application icons, raise to ear to answer calls, flip to mute, and double touch to wake all add to the experience.
  • Mapping a screen gesture (letter shape) to an application will allow the launch of that application from screen off. An example is to map the gesture for ‘C’ to Camera. Making the C shape whilst the screen is off traces the gesture with a glittery fluorescent glow and the application then loads.
  • Ability to hid the navigation bar with a downwards arrow on it to give applications full screen capability.

 

These are some of the more interesting settings that can be toggled in order to allow further immersion into the EMUI. Strangely, none of these additions detract from the overall experience. Yes there is a wealth of options, but we’re not talking Samsung territory where previously you’d have had to spend the first 60 minutes of time with your phone disabling them. They are all logically assigned and rarely are changes needed unless you wish it. Honor have done a good job deploying a stable Android skin which, whilst deep in penetration, is light on resources. That’s no mean feat and it’s something they get two thumbs up for.

All of the standard options and assignments you’d expect from Android are here also. Editing quick toggles, theme management, configurable home screens, widgets and wallpaper management, and so on. EMUI is the first Skin I’ve used since HTC Sense which I believe could be functional for both novice and power users alike.

Optics

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#FF9900″]”Some of the shots that are capable at Super Night mode are, quite frankly, superb.”[/pullquote]Here’s where things get a little bit different. Honor have opted for dual 8MP cameras on the rear of the device that can operate simultaneously. The standard shooting mode can be set to 13MP (4160 x 3120 resolution) in a 4:3 aspect ratio. 16:9 is capable at 10MP. Once a focal point is decided upon by tapping the viewfinder, a helpful turquoise ring is shown that allows the changing of the exposure prior to taking the shot. A nice touch. The shots are editable in the usual fashion with crops and filters available and sharing to the app of your choice. Standard shots in the highest 13MP mode are created by a combination of shots taken with both cameras and stitched together in post processing remarkably well. Couple this with the fact that the camera is capable of snapping your picture in just 0.1 seconds depending on the environment, and you’ll get some good pictures by default.

However, switching across to “Wide Aperture” mode with a swipe , allows the utilisation of the full power of this optical setup. The camera lens’ are capable of ƒ/16 to ƒ/0.95 meaning that the amount of light let into the camera’s sensor and thus the depth of field, can be drastically altered to give different effects. A higher ƒ stop number will decrease the aperture and will let in less light therefore more depth to the image (i.e. a landscape picture where detail is spread evenly) whereas a lower ƒ stop number will widen the aperture, let in more light and as such give a shallow depth of field resulting in a more pronounced focal point and blurred surroundings. What’s more is that these changes can be made in after the fact in editing mode on the phone. Very nice.

 

There are numerous other modes to try also from a beautification mode, to HDR, and more. One of the more helpful modes however is Super Night. With the ability of the camera to alter the ISO sensitivity and the aperture, the camera is capable of taking some good night shots. However Super Night mode is where some of the better low light shots can be taken. Essentially, Super Night mode can automatically or manually apply changes to the ISO and Shutter Speed when taking a shot. Some of the shots that are capable at Super Night mode are, quite frankly, superb. You’ll need a tripod to get the most out of these features, but tinkering with a faster shutter speed on Super Night mode you can still get some good results.

Take a look at some of the examples below:

Whilst others have dabbled with a dual camera deployment and struggled (cough HTC cough) Honor seems to have found a winning combination. It straddles the fence between quality and usability admirably and there is nearly always enough detail to work with in shots to make them usable. A very impressive optical setup and something we expect to see refined on the upcoming Honor 7 and perhaps beyond. Again, there are areas that have been passed up which could have improved matters. There is no OIS in the Honor 6 Plus which does, at times, harm the video recording specifically. At 7.5mm thin however we can understand the reasoning for leaving it out.

The video experience is standard fair in truth with the 1080p operation giving ample clarity and more than adequate sound recording in our tests. The ability to object track by clicking to focus and the stability mode in video recording help get the most from the optics.

Conclusion

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#FF9900″]”The sum of the parts are greater than the whole. The Honor 6 Plus certainly aligns itself to that ethos.”[/pullquote]This phone is interesting, and it gets even more interesting when you look at the price point. For £300 SIM free you can pick up an Honor 6 Plus from Three who currently have exclusivity on tariffs here in the UK.

The design isn’t anything new though. Apple trotted this design out a couple of years ago and it was stylish and original. A few years on and it’s a little tired. However it’s well built, sturdy, and feels like it’s built to last. The screen is bright and acceptable, and whilst it can’t hold a candle to the latest QHD displays, it doesn’t really need to. Most consumers will struggle to tell the difference between a good 1080p display and a QHD display in day-to-day use, so why not cut down on cost and indeed battery consumption whilst the gap is so small? Speaking of the battery, you’re not going to be caught cold anywhere with this device thanks largely to its 3600 mAh battery and its unbelievable standby time.

The software is an acquired taste but aside from the homescreen icons, I’m almost 100% on board. Any skin that can cover every inch of a users’ experience and still not bog down the system has to be respected, and EMUI delivers on that. It remains to be seen how long updates to later versions of Android take, and how many versions will be supported thanks in part to EMUI, but we have faith that Honor, a company that has almost solely built its early reputation on word of mouth and social media exposure, will continue to offer assistance to the community as they grow.

Overall, the Honor 6 Plus is a good solid package and whilst it’s not going to be able to hold its own in cutting edge specifications against the latest flagships from the big 3 or 4 OEMs, it does have something to offer that’s different; its optics, and its deep UI, and deploys them both reasonably well. Therefore the Honor 6 Plus should be in the reckoning for anyone looking for a new, larger, device, especially on a budget.

Take a trip over to Three UK‘s website to see what tariffs are available.

Links: Honor EUThree UKFlickR Album

Honor 6 Plus

£299.99
8.5

Hardware

8.5/10

Software

8.5/10

Camera

8.5/10

Performance

8.0/10

Value

9.0/10

Pros

  • Price point
  • Standby battery life
  • Premium feel
  • Optical implementation
  • Dual SIM ability

Cons

  • Screen on battery life
  • 1080p screen
  • Bulky feel
  • Still on KitKat

About Craig Bradshaw

Tech enthusiast and Editor-in-Chief of MobileTechTalk

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