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Honor, if you didn't know, is the brand Huawei uses to sell some of its phones in Europe and it's the name attached to the new Honor 6 Plus. A 5.5-inch Android smartphone with a full HD display, an octa-core processor and a quirky dual 8-megapixel camera, it's got everything you need to cope with your social network and Netflix addiction. And true to the Honor brand's affordable promise, the 6 Plus comes with a low price.
Now, here's where it gets confusing: though Honor as a separate brand is supposed to exist only in Europe, the Honor 6 Plus has been on sale since December 2014 in China, but sold as the Huawei Honor 6 Plus. What's more, Huawei does sell phones in Europe with its own name attached -- the flagship P8 , for example, launched in London in April. What's the difference between them all? Not much, really. Strip away the Honor branding and you're left with a signature Huawei phone complete with the same Emotion user interface. That's not a criticism, really, but you shouldn't forget that a phone bearing the Honor name doesn't deliver a unique experience from a Huawei-branded counterpart.
Like other Honor phones, you can pick up the Honor 6 Plus in the UK, SIM-free directly from Amazon for £300. Yet, the 6 Plus also is the first of Honor's phones to be available through a UK network, showing a definite commitment by Honor (or Huawei) for it to become a recognised brand, selling in stores. The Three network has the phone available on a range of contracts from £24 per month, with a £19 up front charge. In the US, you can buy the Huawei Honor 6 Plus through Amazon for $472.
The design of the 6 Plus is possibly best described as that of a larger, cheaper iPhone 4. The black glass front and back together with the metal-effect band running around the edge are similar to Apple's earlier phone, although 6 Plus' band is plastic, rather than metal, meaning it doesn't feel as solid or indeed as premium.
The back panel has a very subtle criss-cross pattern which you can only really see under certain lights. Honor could have made this a bit more prominent, which would have helped add a bit of interest and separate its design more from the iPhone 4.
With its 5.5-inch display, the Honor 6 Plus is significantly larger than the iPhone 4, measuring 150mm long and 75mm wide. It's comfortable to hold and easy to slide into a pocket, but you'll need two hands to type properly.
The phone comes with 32GB of storage as standard, which is a generous amount for a more budget-conscious phone. Cheaper phones typically skimp on the storage by offering 16GB or even 8GB of space, so it's nice to see a more healthy offering that doesn't force you to also buy a microSD card. It does accept microSD cards though, which is worth bearing in mind if you save a lot of music and videos to your phone, rather than streaming them.
The 5.5-inch screen has a full-HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution, giving it a pixel density of 400 pixels per inch. That's the same size and resolution as the iPhone 6 Plus, and in terms of clarity, there's nothing to differentiate the two. Small text beneath icons is sharp and easy to read and high-res photos look crisp and sharp.
The Honor's display is reasonably bright, sufficiently countering the harsh overhead office lights in the CNET UK office, although outside in the bright sun it did become a bit more difficult to see, even when set to max brightness. Colours are bold and vibrant, making Netflix shows like 'Breaking Bad," "SpongeBob" or indeed "Power Rangers" look good.
The Honor 6 Plus runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat, which is several versions out of date. The most up-to-date version of Android is Lollipop, which you can find on even rock-bottom budget phones, so it's very disappointing to see such an old version of the software on a midrange mobile.
On the surface you probably won't be able to tell, however, as Honor has heavily skinned the phone with the same Emotion user interface you'll see on most of Huawei and Honor's recent phones. It makes huge changes to the stock Android interface, including the colour schemes and the fonts (which you can alter using various themes), but the biggest change is that there's no app tray. I don't like this change as it forces you to keep all of your apps scattered across the homescreens. Once you throw widgets into the mix, it quickly becomes cluttered and difficult to navigate.
The phone is powered by a Kirin 925 processor -- an octa-core chip that apparently uses four lower-powered processing cores for everyday tasks, and four burlier cores for more intense processing needs. That's backed up by 3GB of RAM. It performed well on benchmark tests, scoring an impressive 4,456 on the Geekbench 2 test, although a less impressive 11,982 on the Quadrant test. By comparison, the Sony Xperia Z3 and LG G4 scored over 20,000 on the Quadrant test and the Galaxy S6 managed to achieve over 36,000.
Still, it was able to play the demanding game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas extremely smoothly, and photo editing in Snapseed was handled without any trouble at all. Everyday essential apps like Instagram were also handled perfectly well, but navigating around the phone's interface was less smooth, with noticeable stutters and lag creeping in -- an issue I would bet is caused by the bloated Emotion software. I'd really like to see how a stock Android version of this phone performs as I'm sure it would be a lot more smooth to use.
On the back of the phone are two 8-megapixel cameras. One takes regular shots, but the second allows some interesting depth of field effects and also lets you refocus a scene after you've taken it. I'll start with testing the phone's standard photo quality.
I was pleased with this first shot of the London Eye. There's a great balance in exposure between the bright sky and the River Thames and a nice rich blue colour in the sky as well. There's a lack of clarity on the fine details when you zoom right in, but it displays full-screen well, making it great for Facebook.
This second shot of a fruit stand is not bad either, although the white garlic has been rather overexposed. Again, when zooming in there's a noticeable fuzziness to the picture.
This St Paul's Cathedral scene is much the same -- good exposure, but lack of clarity when zoomed in.
This shot of the city of London has a rather overexposed sky and too-dark buildings.
Turning on the HDR mode has helped balance the bright and dark areas, making for a more attractive shot overall.
There's a panorama mode too, which I found works well.
The three shots below show the focus effects you can achieve with the extra camera lens. Although the three images are all taken from the same single picture, I've been able to change the focus to feature either Lego Milhouse in the background, the robot at the front, or keep all parts of the scene in focus. It's only a digital effect, but it's done well and will help lend some creative background blur for closeup shots of flowers or food.
The extra lens also apparently helps in low-light situations, by taking multiple photos, comparing the image noise in each, and therefore being able to cancel it out.
In auto mode, I was quite impressed with my first low-light shot. The items are bright and colours are good, although there's again a large lack of clarity at full screen.
There's also a mode called "Super night," which takes multiple photos over a period of multiple seconds -- 18 seconds in my test. Although the shot looks quite bright, it's susceptible to even the slightest bit of hand shake, which made this shot look blurry, even though I stabilised my hands on a solid object. To get the best from this mode, you'll need to use a tripod and ensure that no vibrations or wind disturb the phone as it takes the shot.
The camera is generally quite good, so long as you only want it for social-media snaps. Its control of exposure and colour makes it good for Facebook and Instagram, and the focus effect can help you get a bit creative. The lack of detail in the pictures however mean there's little room to crop in or display in a larger format.
The 6 Plus houses a 3,600mAh battery, which is a generous size. After 2 hours of video streaming, it had dropped from a full charge to 74 percent remaining, which is fairly average. Where it shines is holding its charge in standby: it drops a tiny amount when the screen isn't in use, meaning you can squeeze days of standby time from it.
That might not seem all that helpful, given the phone isn't being used, but if you're heading to a festival, or other remote location with no way of charging for a weekend, you can make sure you only use the phone for the essentials, leaving it in standby when possible to make the battery life last for your whole trip.
The Honor 6 Plus has a lot to offer for its reasonable price. It's slim, its big screen is well-suited for Netflix on the move, its processor is perfectly capable of handling most things you'd want to throw at it and its camera takes decent Facebook shots.
It is let down by its software however, which apart from being unacceptably outdated, makes too many changes to the Android experience, resulting in a clunky interface that's sometimes sluggish to navigate. If you're after a good all-round phone and don't want to spend extravagantly, it's definitely worth considering, but you should also consider the Motorola Moto X, which you can pick up for similar money and which uses Vanilla Android Lollipop for a considerably more enjoyable experience.