2014 is such an interesting year for Honor as the sub-brand of Huawei managed to make quite an impact in Malaysia even though it only released three devices into our market so far this year.
Honor’s first success in 2014 came in the form of the Honor 3C that was released in Malaysia back in April. It received great response from local consumers, mainly thanks to its highly effective combination of high performance hardware at an affordable price point.
Fast forward to last month, Honor Malaysia released yet another smartphone into the market that was crafted under the same formula but positioned as the flagship model of the Honor family. That device is the Honor 6 which is the focus of this review.
Available in two colour schemes, our review unit is draped in pearl-like white together with a silver finish on the sides. Frankly speaking, there is nothing unique about the rounded, candy bar-shaped physique of Honor 6 as it is fairly common among many smartphones in the market but nevertheless, the device’s build quality is nothing short of excellent.
With no screen protector and any form of protective case, the multi-layered back area as well as the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 screen seem to be able to withstand light knocks and falls that we encountered throughout the duration of our time with the device, with few battle scars to show for it.
Meanwhile, the Honor 6 has only two physical buttons: the volume rocker and the power button which are located on the upper right side of the device next to the micro-SIM card and microSD card slots that are hidden by a flap.
On another hand, Honor 6’s back, home, and app switcher buttons are all on-screen software buttons. Users are also able to find the 3.5mm audio port and infra-red transmitter located on the top area of the Honor 6’s frame as well as an LED indicator on the top front area of the phone.
With a thickness of 7.5 mm, the Honor 6 is slightly thicker than Huawei’s current flagship smartphone, the Ascend P7 but still way thinner than Honor’s previous model, the Honor 3C. The 130g smartphone is also fairly comfortable to grip, but at the same time the device is rather slippery to hold which I believe is caused by the protective coating that Honor has implemented to the device.
Based on ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture, the octa-core CPU within the HiSilicon Kirin 920 processor inside the Honor 6 is actually made from two quad-core CPU clusters.
The first is the a quad-core Cortex-A15 cluster clocked at 1.7GHz and is made for high demanding tasks. The other is a quad-core Cortex-A7 cluster tuned at 1.3GHz and designed to handle low-power operations.
Besides the processor, the Honor 6 has several hardware highlights as well. There’s the generous 3GB of RAM which is not seen on any device that costs RM999. And then, there’s the connectivity: up to LTE Cat 6. Offering download speeds of up to 300Mbps, even our local networks don’t support that yet.
In addition to the benchmarks above, I also ran several games titles on the device, including Dead Trigger 2, Powerboat Racing, Despicable Me: Minion Rush, and GT Racing 2. No performance issues were encountered with any of these titles apart from the phone becoming slightly warm during game time but this is a fairly common issue when you run demanding tasks on a smartphone.
Even though Honor is a sub-brand of Huawei and operated as a separate entity, the Honor 6 is still a Huawei smartphone. Hence, it is not surprising to see that Honor 6 comes with Huawei’s own Emotion UI (EMUI) skin on top of Android 4.4.2 KitKat.
Let’s begin with the lock screen. From here, users are able to quickly activate the camera app on Honor 6 by swiping up the camera icon that is located on the lower right part of the screen. There are also four other apps that users are able to access directly from the lock screen: Calendar, Calculator, Torch Light, and Mirror (which utilizes the device’s front camera).
Before users are able to access them though, they need to swipe upwards on the screen in order to reveal the shortcut icons for these apps. This will also reveal the control panel for the lock screen’s wallpaper or what Huawei refers to as the Magazine screen which allows the wallpaper to change automatically every time users turn on the display.
Moving on to the main interface, one of the first thing that users will notice is that the EMUI has no app drawer which is a trait that exists in numerous China-made custom ROMs, including MIUI by Xiaomi and Meizu’s Flyme OS. This means that all installed apps will appear right on the home screen.
Another recurring trait that many China-made ROMs seem to have are themes, and EMUI has this feature as well. By default, the Honor 6 has three different themes that users are able to choose from but they are free to download additional themes either directly through the phone or via several sources online such as the forum for Honor Malaysia’s online store.
Users are also able to mix and match several elements from different themes that they have on their device. These elements include styles, transitions and wallpaper for the lock screen as well as the styles for app icons and fonts. Additionally, users are also able to define a wallpaper for their device’s home screen together with ringtones directly from the theme’s settings.
Apart from these two major factors, EMUI doesn’t make the Honor 6 any different from other consumer Android smartphones out there when it comes to usage experience. The absence of the app drawer might make some users confused at first, but I reckon they will get used to it in no time.
Being a custom UI on top on standard Android OS, the EMUI 2.3 on the Honor 6 does come with several additional features. One such feature is the floating suspend button for the device’s home screen which contains four buttons: back, home, lock screen, and kill all apps. It also provides access to the nifty floating mini versions of the music player, messages app, notes app, calculator, and calendar apps.
Additionally, there is also the Do Not Disturb mode which would limit the user’s communication to only pre-determined list of contacts. Users are also able to take advantage of motion gestures on Honor 6 such as flip to mute, pick up to reduce ring volume, raise to ear to answer calls, or shake and tilt to move icons and widgets on the home screen.
EMUI 2.3 also comes with an app called Phone Manager. It is essentially a centralized way to access the phone’s memory and storage cleaner as well as the power saving manager, Do Not Disturb mode, networked apps list, notification manager, and phone backup.
However, there is one unique function and not accessible from anywhere outside of the app which is called the Harassment Filter. This particular function allows users to block unwanted messages and phone calls from any given number or even specific person within the user’s contact list.
Last but not least, users also have the option to switch from the standard interface that EMUI has to another design called Simple Mode. Just like its name, the UI focuses on providing quick access to apps, features, and settings on Honor 6 by using tiles-based design but it is only limited to the home screen area, which makes it very useful for those who aren’t used to smartphones.
According to Honor Malaysia, the non-removable 3100mAh battery inside the Honor 6 is able to provide up to 19 days of standby time and 27 hours of talk time with 3G on. With LTE, the standby time will drop slightly to 17 days although the talk time remains the same.
Needless to say, the actual battery life during my time with the Honor 6 is much lower than the figures stated above. With a mix of constant H, H+ and LTE connectivity, I managed to operate the device for around 12 to 16 hours under the Smart power plan. I was then able to stretch that figure to around 1 day with conservative usage while still under same power plan – and these figures are still pretty impressive.
In order to help users manage battery life on the Honor 6, the device comes with a power manager that allows users to choose from three power plans to suit their needs. Additionally, there is also the screen saving mode which is apparently able to stretch the Honor 6’s battery life by up to 20% by reducing the image quality on the device.
I also ran several battery endurance tests to determine the time that it takes to drain the battery in the Honor 6:
Made from low temperature polysilicon (LTPS), the 5-inch IPS display panel on Honor 6 was apparently sourced from Japan Display Inc (JDI) which is a joint venture between Sony, Toshiba, and Hitachi. It has a full HD resolution, which translates to a respectable pixel density of 445 ppi.
Colours produced by the display is crisp and vibrant but you’ll need to bump up the brightness beyond the 80% mark to use the phone comfortably outdoors. I rarely found the need to increase its brightness beyond 50% when indoors, however.
Lastly, the Honor 6’s display also comes with a function called glove mode which would increase the display’s touch sensitivity once activated.
The Honor 6 is built with a single speaker that is located on the lower left side of the phone’s back area. With its volume level set to 50%, the speaker is loud enough for music playback but it is rather soft when it comes to spoken words.
Quality-wise, there is nothing much to expect from just a single mono speaker. Although the Honor 6 comes with DTS audio enhancement which pushes the volume and bass response slightly higher, it doesn’t make a huge impact on the overall output or quality of the speaker.
In terms of its main camera, the Honor 6 features a 13MP Exmor RS sensor that Huawei sourced from Sony and paired it together with a F2.0 5-elements aspheric lens as well as a dual LED flash. The camera is also able to capture video at full HD resolution.
The main camera interface on Honor 6 is quite straight forward and seemed to be targeted at average users who will not dabble much into the settings. Still, users do have manual controls, including tweaking the ISO, white balance, exposure value compensation, saturation, contrast and brightness. However, these options are only available in Normal mode.
Other modes that Honor has made available for Honor 6 users on its main camera are Smart, Beauty, Panorama, and HDR. Additionally, the company has also included the Best Photo mode that snaps 10 photos at a time for users to choose. There is also the All-Focus mode that allows users to refocus their picture after it has been taken.
Users can choose to include one of the 10 preset watermarks or apply the usual photo filters onto their photos. Last but not least, there is also a mode where users are able to attach 10 seconds worth of audio into the picture that they snapped using Honor 6.
Apart from using the touch screen, there are two additional ways that users can use to capture a photo through the Honor 6. Under the Audio Control mode, the camera will capture an image automatically once the sound level reaches a certain decibel. Furthermore, users are also able to snap photos while the device’s display is off just by pressing the volume down button twice – which seems to be the kind of creepy implementation that stalkers like.
Meanwhile, the front camera on Honor 6 is equipped with a 5MP sensor with wide-angle lens. It also capable of recording HD videos and shares several operational modes with the main camera such as Normal, Beauty, Watermark, Filters, Panorama, Audio Control, and Audio Note.
In terms of performance, Honor is not kidding when it claimed that the camera app on Honor 6 is able to go from screen lock to the first snap in just 0.6 seconds. It is really fast to be in operational state and similarly, it is also able to focus and capture image almost instantly in most circumstances. Nevertheless, one still need to exercise caution since Honor 6 does not come with any image stabilization system except for video recording.
Under bright conditions, the main camera on Honor 6 is generally able to produce sharp looking images with good colour output although the images appeared to be over processed at times. There’s a noticeably high level of contrast especially in Smart Mode. When it comes to low-light surroundings, the output produced on Smart Mode often contained more noise than other modes as it always tries to brighten up the output.
The output from the 5-megapixels front camera on Honor 6 are not the best that I’ve encountered but they are still pretty decent and far better than many other smartphones out there. As expected, it works best under bright conditions although its low light output are still not too shabby for a front-facing camera.
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Truth be told, there are few devices that come close to competing with the Honor 6. The closest rival to the Honor 6 in terms of price point would be the hugely popular Xiaomi Mi 3 which is priced at RM 769.
With a price tag that is RM 230 less than Honor 6, the Mi 3 offers relatively the same level of performance and features as the Honor 6, with one glaring omission: LTE connectivity. That being said, the Mi 3 has NFC which the Honor 6 does not have. Then again, I’m pretty sure users prefer LTE over NFC.
To find other competitors of the Honor 6, one would have to go way beyond the RM1,000 mark. This includes Huawei’s own Ascend P7 as well as the HTC One E8, and the Nokia Lumia 930. It isn’t even a stretch to say that this RM999 smartphone rivals several premium smartphones that cost over RM2,000.
Even when you consider the other Chinese smartphone companies such as Xiaomi and OnePlus, the Honor 6 is still priced lower. While both the OnePlus One and the Xiaomi Mi 4 are not yet officially available in the country, these flagship devices regularly retail for about RM1,200 or more in the grey market.
It is so easy to conclude that there are no smartphones currently available in the market which is able to match the package that the Honor 6 offers.
Despite its sub-RM1,000 price tag and the fact that it was made from a Chinese manufacturer, there is no doubt that Honor 6 is a solid smartphone. Its candy bar design might be very generic, but it still has a good build quality and more importantly performs really well, while its battery life is good enough for most users.
The “high performance, low price” business model that several smartphone companies have employed is reaping plenty of dividends, including Honor. The Honor 6 is a high quality Android smartphone that offers amazing value for money, and we dare say that at this price point, it is peerless in its class.
[Product images by Pang Tun Yau]