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Featured Review: Huawei Honor 6 Plus – Bigger and Better

February 27, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Huawei’s successful Honor series received a handful of additions to its repertoire last year including the Honor 6 and Honor 6 Plus.  We reviewed the Honor 6 near the end of January as it had just received the EmotionUI 3.0 update, which completely refreshed the interface and features of the phone.  In the same month Huawei also launched the Honor 6 Plus, which features a nearly identical build and spec sheet as the Honor 6, just in a larger body.  It’s this bigger brother that we’re here to review today, and we’ll take a look at the differences as well as the similarities between the phones so you can judge which one is right for you.

Specs

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The Huawei Honor 6 Plus doesn’t set the bar for any kind of bleeding edge specs, but it’s no slouch either.  Performance wise the Honor 6 Plus contends with most high-end phones that came out in 2014, with only later entries like the Galaxy Note 4 and Nexus 6 pulling ahead.  Powered by Huawei’s own Kirin 925 Octo-core processor, which is a slight bump up from the Kirin 920 in the Honor 6, as well as a new high-end standard 3GB and a larger 5.5-inch screen over the Honor 6, this phone is near the cream of the crop.

  • 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD
  • HiSilicon Kirin 925 Octo-Core CPU (1.8GHz Cortex-A15 Quad-core, 1.3GHZ Cortex-A7 Quad-core)
  • Mali-T628 MP6 GPU
  • 3 GB of RAM
  • 16/32GB internal storage, microSD card support
  • 3600 mAh Li-Po battery
  • Android 4.4.2, Emotion UI 3.0 Skin
  • Dual 8MP rear-facing cameras, Dual-LED flash
  • 8MP front-facing camera
  • Dual-SIM support
  • 150.5mm tall, 75.7mm wide, 7.5mm thin
  • 165g

The Honor 6 Plus supports a wide range of spectrum that works throughout the world, but only up to 3G HSPA in most countries that aren’t China.  If your country’s LTE bands are on the list and your carrier uses the technology, the Honor 6 Plus supports LTE Cat-6 Carrier Aggregation.

  • 2G: GSM 900/1800/1900MHz
  • 3G: HSPA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
  • 4G: LTE 1800/2100/2600MHz (Band 1, 3, 7, 38, 39, 40, 41)

Display

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The display on the Honor 6 was already one of the better 1080p LCD displays I’ve ever seen, but the one packed in the Honor 6 Plus is even better.  In fact this is probably the single nicest 1080p LCD display I’ve ever seen on a phone, with fantastic colors that aren’t over or under saturated, black levels that are among the best I’ve ever seen on an LCD, and motion resolution right up there with the best AMOLEDs.  Ghosting is almost non-existent and isn’t noticeable in anything I tried, which is a marked improvement over the other LCD’s out there I’ve seen with good black levels.  The only issue here are the viewing angles, where light bleed from the sides of the device become obvious as you tilt the screen, but are completely unnoticeable when viewing straight on.

Hardware and Build

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The build quality of the Honor 6 Plus feels largely the same as the Honor 6 before it, however this time around Huawei actually used metal for the sides of the device instead of the faux brushed-metal looking plastic.  This results in a higher quality feeling device, especially when it’s cooler and you can feel the cold metal against the sides of your hands.  The back is the same shiny plastic glass material and the same pattern underneath as the Honor 6 has, which gives it a bit of an elegant appearance.  Huawei kept the unique 3-sided trim around the device where both sides and the top of the phone feature a metal trim, but the bottom is a smooth rounded plastic.

Looking at the right side of the device you’ll find both volume rocker closest to the top of the device, the power button just under that, and both SIM card trays below the power button.  What’s really cool that Huawei did here was make two different sized SIM tray slots, so one fits a micro SIM and one fits a nano SIM.  On the top side of the device you’ll find an RF blaster for remote control of TV’s and other RF-controlled devices, with a noise-canceling mic to the left and a 3.5mm headset jack to the right.  The bottom side of the phone has a microUSB port nestled right in the middle of the device with another noise-cancelling mic to its left.

Moving onto the face of the device you’ll find no physical buttons at all, as the screen takes up the vast majority of the face.  Above the screen you’ll find the earpiece with the proximity and light sensors above it, and the 8mp front-facing camera to the left of the earpiece.  The back of the phone you’ll see the speaker on the bottom left, which features the same vertical dotted pattern as on the Honor 6.  The top left of the device holds something special, as the dual-LED flash sits alongside a dual-8MP camera setup.  It’s this setup that really makes the Honor 6 Plus unique, and one we’ll discuss later in the camera section of the review.

Performance and Memory

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Just as you would expect from a high-end Android device the Huawei Honor 6 Plus breezes through apps without issue.  Huawei’s EmotionUI is a sleek and powerful Android skin that’s got plenty of features and a low overhead, ensuring that your phone won’t choke on any performance-intensive task such as gaming, HD video or multitasking.  Benchmarks like AnTuTu show it at the top of its game, competing with the likes of the Xiaomi Mi4, OnePlus One and Meizu MX4 Pro without using the same chipset.  Gaming performance is phenomenal and handled everything I threw at it with ease.  The 1080p display delivers sharp, crisp visuals and the framerate never let me down even in demanding moments on visually intensive games.

Multitasking was just as much a joy to use as the rest of the phone.  Huawei uses a Recents button to make multitasking quick and easy, so bringing up the list of recently used and currently running apps is just a single software button press away.  Instead of the standard virtually scrolling list of apps with thumbnails Huawei uses a paginated interface that shows 4 large thumbnails of open apps on the screen, arranged in each of the four corners of the device.  Swiping left or right moves between pages, while swiping down locks and app in memory and swiping up closes the app.  This is a fantastic layout that’s different from stock Android but doesn’t change things in a negative way as Xiaomi’s MIUI does with its awful small row of icons.  Switching between apps was an instant affair, only taking any length of time because of the transition animations between windows.  I never saw any redraw or other symptom of poor RAM management the way I’ve seen on some other Android skins.  This means you won’t have to wait for the page to reload in the browser every time you reopen the app, as it stays in memory like it’s supposed to instead of being cleared out all the time.

Network

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There’s a marked improvement over the Honor 6 in the network category for the Honor 6 Plus.  Unlike the Honor 6, where I was only able to get 2G no matter what US GSM network I tried, the Honor 6 Plus worked on HSPA for both AT&T and T-Mobile, delivering solid network speeds and good call quality on both carriers.  Unfortunately for those on T-Mobile’s network I simply cannot recommend this phone for you.  I ran into a number of areas where calls got dropped on T-Mobile’s network where I wouldn’t have dropped calls with the OnePlus One, for instance.  I also could not get MMS to work on T-Mobile’s network at all no matter what APN settings I tried or messaging app I used, MMS messages just wouldn’t download at all.  I didn’t have any of these problems on AT&T’s network at all, and while AT&T doesn’t have the fastest HSPA speeds in the land it’s more than enough for streaming audio and non-HD video on YouTube.

LTE signals won’t be present in the US no matter what carrier you use though, so don’t expect to see that at all.  This is particularly a shame because the Honor 6 Plus supports Category 6 LTE Carrier Aggregation, meaning carriers who support this type of network connectivity can essentially join their spectrum together to deliver the fastest speeds possible with wireless communication now.  This is a feature that’s only going to be available in select few regions around the world, but if you’re in one you’ll be in luck with the Honor 6 Plus.

Battery Life

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Battery life was nothing short of spectacular in my testing.  With a 3,600mAh battery the Honor 6 Plus features a larger battery than the vast majority of phablets out there, and with a screen resolution of 1080p you’re absolutely guaranteed to get better battery life than with the available line of Quad-HD screen phones out there.  There was nothing I could do in normal use to kill the battery on the phone, from streaming music all day, watching YouTube videos, keeping the brightness on max and using the phone for chatting on Hangouts all day.  This thing just wouldn’t die, and that’s a great thing.  I’d wager you could easily get a day and a half out of the battery in any normal scenario, and Huawei also provides an ultra power saving mode to keep your battery lasting for days and days.  In this ultra power saving mode only calls, messages and access to contacts will be available, meaning Huawei’s integrated communications app is the only app able to be running.  This makes your smartphone not so smart, but it ensures that you won’t be stranded in situations where you absolutely cannot have your phone’s battery die.

Software

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EmotionUI 3.0 is a bold new step for Huawei, and one in the right direction in nearly every facet of the OS.  It takes Android 4.4 KitKat’s appearance and turns it almost all white, with thin-lined teal icons gracing the notification bar and other areas of the OS.  There’s definitely some iOS 7/8 influence here but it looks much more like Huawei’s own creation rather than just a clone or a good impression of what Apple is trying to do with its OS.  The biggest defining software difference between the Honor 6 and Honor 6 Plus is the inclusion of screen-off gestures.  Huawei now lets you double tap to wake the device as many phones since the LG G2’s debuted the feature.  Within the options menu under gesture controls you’ll find the screen-off gestures setting, which enables you to launch any app by drawing the letter c, e, m or w on the screen even while the phone is locked and the screen is off.  This is a level of convenience that’s easily overlooked but one that’s not easily let go once you start using it.

Outside of this the software experience is identical to the Honor 6 with EMUI 3.0, which we’ve detailed in our Honor 6 review, so please check out the software section there for a detailed breakdown of all the features and included apps with the Honor 6 Plus.

Sound

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As can be expected from a single-back facing speaker, the sound output from the physical speaker on the Honor 6 Plus leaves a lot to be desired.  Volume was lower than I would have liked in every application, from music to using the loudspeaker on the phone app.  I found it impossible to use the loudspeaker when in a moving car, especially on the highway, where the volume was just too low to hear the person on the other end of the line.  There’s no audible distortion from the speaker when the volume is all the way up but that’s not really saying anything given the overall low volume present from the speaker.

Audio output from the 3.5mm headset jack

Camera

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One of the most unique features on the Huawei Honor 6 Plus is the camera, as the back of the phone has not one but two 8 megapixel cameras.  This is a similar setup to what HTC did with the One M8 in the Spring of 2014, except instead of having one fairly low resolution Ultrapixel camera and a super low resolution Duo camera, Huawei features two full-quality 8MP shooters nestled right next to eachother.  HTC branded its sensor the Ultrapixel camera because the physical pixels were 2 microns in size, which is nearly double the 1.1 micron pixel size of most sensors in smartphones nowadays.  Huawei sort of follows this by creating a 1.98 micron “effective” pixel size, meaning both cameras are somewhere in the range of 1 micron pixels, but combining the image of both produces one that’s roughly the equivalent of the quality you would see out of a sensor with 1.98 micron pixels.

If all of this tech talk bores you, just remember this: the bigger the pixels the more light is allowed to enter the sensor, meaning low light photos will look better than on phones with smaller pixel sizes.  Combining both images results in a 13 megapixel image in the end rather than an 8mp or a 16mp one.  This gives you the best of both worlds, with an effective resolution higher than a single 8mp sensor but without the noise that a smaller 16mp sensor would bring.  Overall I found the pictures taken with the Honor 6 Plus to be superior to most 13 megapixel shooters out there, with less noise, better color accuracy and almost no need to use those nasty denoise filters we’ve become so used to that make pictures muddy and unusable at large sizes.

Huawei also features a couple of interesting depth tricks that use the secondary camera to isolate objects and allow you to not only apply filters to the foreground or background of an image, but also to refocus after taking the picture.  Using what’s called “Wide aperature” mode on the camera takes an 8mp shot with only a second or two of processing time in between.  Because of this processing time wide aperature mode isn’t going to be good in every situation, especially one with lots of movement, but it gives you the freedom of more post-processing options than you would normally have with a picture taken from auto mode.  After taking the shot you can select where the focus should be in the picture and adjust the virtual aperature of the lens, meaning the objects not immediately in focus will either become more or less blurred as you increase or decrease the aperature.  You can also apply filters here such as making the subject in focus colorful while tinting the rest of the shot in black & white, or applying a pencil sketch filter to the unfocused part of the shot.

HDR photos are extremely quick to take, and while it obviously doesn’t use an instant on-sensor HDR method it does produce a full 13mp resolution image.  There’s a bit more noise going on here than I would like to see in this mode, which unfortunately means the denoise filter goes into overdrive in lower light situations.  This makes low light HDR very difficult to use as the images get muddy and details fade away.  In strong lighting situations though the HDR produced some phenomenal results, taking near-instant shots with excellent color accuracy, great shadow balance and overall natural looking lighting without haloing or other common HDR imaging artifacts.

Low light shots are generally fantastic so long as you’re not in areas that are too dark.  For these areas you need to switch from auto mode to Super Night mode, which uses both cameras to hold the shutter open longer and grab more light, then stitches the photos together in an attempt to make a less blurry photo.  I found that letting it automatically choose these settings was usually a bad idea, as it held the shutter open a little too long and always resulted in a blurry photo.  In this mode there are quick options for changing ISO and shutter speed right on screen, so dropping that shutter speed to something more manageable like 1/2 or 1 second fixed my problem and produced absolutely stellar low light photos.  Just don’t move when taking these or try to capture anything moving as it’ll come out blurry.  Check out the gallery below for a smattering of different shots.

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Conclusion

 

Much like the Honor 6 before it I found myself smiling every time I used the Honor 6 Plus.  As a phablet lover the size of the device feels perfect in my hand, as it’s a generous 5.5-inch screen in a slim 7.5mm body, meaning it’s not uncomfortable to hold even with one hand.  You may not be able to use the phone one-handed 100% of the time due to the glass body, as there’s essentially no friction the colder the ambient temperature is where ever you’re at, but the slim bezels and small forehead and chin of the device make this smaller than some other 5.5-inch phones out there.  In terms of software Huawei’s refreshed EmotionUI 3.0 is a breath of fresh air when comparing it with many other Chinese OEM skins of Android, as it has proper lockscreen music control, great notification support with expandable notifications, lots of useful quick toggles and a visually rich, themeable interface.

Network support in the US remains a low point for the Honor 6 Plus, but unlike the Honor 6 I was at least able to get 3G HSPA connectivity out of the device.  Beware if you’re planning on using this phone on T-Mobile’s network or one of its MVNO’s though, as it didn’t play well and I received not only a number of dropped calls but no MMS support whatsoever.  If your carrier supports the bands here you’re going to get one of the finest wireless network experiences possible though, especially if LTE Category 6 Carrier Aggregation is supported in your region.  At around sub $400 this high-end phablet is perfect competition against what’s already in the market, but I’m not entirely sure about what’s to come.  The Spring 2015 lineup of phones is looking to be more killer than ever, and if the pricing is right on these new phones Huawei’s latest might not look quite as good as it does right at this moment.

If you would like to purchase the Huawei Honor 6 Plus you can buy it through our trusted re-seller SPEMall.com in China and they have it available for the low price of only $379.99