A new mobile brand has entered the brutal smartphone arena. Say hello to Honor.
It may seem brave -- or, perhaps, foolish -- to launch a new mobile brand in such a busy market, but it's not really a new brand at all. In fact, Honor is owned and operated by Chinese manufacturer Huawei. Although not a separate company at all, Honor will apparently operate as though it is.
To prove that, here's its first phone. It's called the Honor 6 and it has a full-HD 5-inch display, an octa-core processor, a 13-megapixel camera and cat 6 LTE, which promises speeds of up to 300Mbps if your local networks support it. If that sounds at all familiar, it's because Huawei has already announced the phone, as the Huawei Honor 6, in China back in June. Now that it's going on sale throughout Europe, the only thing that's changed is the branding -- you won't see the Huawei logo on the phone, I'm told.
Still, that's no reason not to be excited about this phone. It has a solid lineup of specs that would rival many top-end phones, but comes with a price tag of only £250, SIM-free on Amazon UK. It ships on 10 November. Honor (or Huawei) hasn't said yet whether the phone will reach the US, but stay tuned for more information. It directly converts to around $400.
Design and display
The Honor 6 is most easily described as a cheaper-looking iPhone 4. It has a black glass front and back, with a metallic strip running around the edge, separating the two panels. That strip is metallic plastic, rather than metal, meaning it doesn't have the same luxurious feel as the iPhone 4.
In fact, it does feel a little on the cheap side. There's a definite plastic feeling to the phone, which isn't helped by that band -- up close it loses any chance of pretending to be metal. It's certainly not among the most luxurious phones around, but it's difficult to mark it down for that, given the price -- premium phones like the HTC One M8 , iPhone 6 and Galaxy Alpha all cost hundreds of pounds more than the Honor 6.
The glass back at least makes the phone look pretty sleek from a distance. At launch, Honor boasted about the back panel's "dazzling, 3D diamond back", which is "inspired by nature". Quite apart from the fact that "inspired by nature" was Samsung's tagline for the Galaxy S3 , the back panel just looks plain black -- only under the brightest sunlight at the right angle could I make out the faintest pattern.
With a 5-inch screen stuffed inside, it's not a small phone. It has a fairly narrow bezel though, so the body hasn't needed to stretch out too much to accommodate the large display. It's comfortable to hold in one hand, although you'll realistically need two hands in order to type properly. It has 16GB of built-in storage and there's a microSD card slot on the side to expand that further.
Speaking of the screen, that's a full-HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) panel, which is a very impressive resolution for a phone at this price. It results in a pixel density of 440 pixels per inch, which casually beats the iPhone 6 (326ppi), the Samsung Galaxy Alpha (312ppi) and the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (319ppi). It even trumps the Galaxy S5 's 432ppi screen.
Unsurprisingly, text under icons, on Web pages and in magazines looked crisp and high-resolution photos looked great too. It's bright enough to counter the worst of our overhead office lights, it's got decent viewing angles and it has strong colours too. The colour temperature is pretty even, but you can tweak this in the settings menu if you like things to look a little warmer.
Android software and processor
The phone arrives with Android 4.4.2 KitKat on board, which is now a few versions out of date. On a top-end phone this would be a major negative, but with the lower price, I'm more happy to forgive it. You also won't be able to tell that it's not bang up to date, as Honor has used the same Android skin you'll find on Huawei phones, which dramatically changes the look of the software.
The biggest change is that there's no app tray, so every app you download will be kept on the multiple homescreens. I'm not keen on this as it can make the phone very cluttered unless you take a strict approach to the layout. This isn't helped by the fact there's quite a lot of bundled extras cluttering up the place. Various games like Bubble Bash Mania and Real Football 2015 are already on board, as well as apps like Kingsoft Office and Bitcasa. I suggest uninstalling everything you can and starting with only the apps you really want.
The app icons and menu layouts are different too and there are different themes you can choose from to alter the colour schemes. The lock screen has been tweaked too, giving instant access to media controls, a calculator and a torch -- although these won't be available if you have a PIN set to unlock your phone.
It's running on an octa-core processor, made up of two quad-core chips clocked at 1.3GHz and 1.7GHz respectively, backed up by 3GB of RAM. That's an impressive engine, even for a high-end phone, let alone one with a budget-focused price. It achieved a very healthy score of 4,272 on the Geekbench test, putting it alongside the Galaxy Alpha's score of 4,350.
It didn't do as well on the Quadrant test, however, achieving 11,734 -- less than half the 23,729 the Alpha achieved on the same test. Benchmark tests aren't always an accurate representation of how a device performs though. In general use, I found it to be perfectly swift. Glossy racer Asphalt 8 played very smoothly, Netflix movies streamed well and swiping around the colourful interface was met with a minimum of lag and delay.
At the very least, it will cope with all of your standard day to day activities (email, social networking, Spotify music and so on) but will comfortably handle more demanding tasks with the same gusto you'd expect from much more expensive devices.
Battery and camera
Honor has stuffed the phone with a 3,100mAh battery, which the company claims can achieve over a whole day of heavy use or over two days with moderate use. That's a serious claim and not one I'm convinced you'll be easily able to hit in everyday use. After 2 hours of streaming video the battery had dropped from full to 68 percent remaining, which is only an average result.
I don't think you'll struggle too much to see a full day of use from the phone, so long as you're not too demanding. If you spend your morning streaming video over Netflix with the screen brightness set to full then you'll need to give it a boost sometime in the afternoon. Keep the brightness down, avoid gaming or streaming and turn off Wi-Fi and GPS when not in use and you'll get much better life from it.
The back of the phone is home to a 13-megapixel camera, which is a healthy portion of megapixels for a phone at this price. I took it for a spin and the results seemed fair. On the below shot of the Shard building in London, the exposure is adequate, although I'd like to see less dark shadows.
In the CNET office, there's a decent exposure and not much image noise, which is good considering the low indoor light.
This indoor shot of my colleagues Marc Ganley and Rich Trenholm came out well too.
The colours on this snail were a little cold, but there's plenty of detail at full screen and a sharp focus on the eyes.
I certainly expect the camera to be good enough for some Instagram snaps, although how it stacks up against the competition remains to be seen.
While there's a satisfying sharp focus on this shot of the snail and his gnome friend, the image is extremely dark as the sensor hasn't balanced the brightness from the window to the left with the shadows inside.
I turned the flash on to brighten the scene up a little, but as you can see, it's extremely powerful and has resulted in the figurines looking very washed out.
On the front is a 5-megapixel camera for taking those embarrassing selfies or video calling over Google Hangouts or Skype. It's capable of taking some decent pics, although I found it to be a little hit and miss, at times wildly blowing out the highlights, while underexposing at other times.
You can also use digital effects to apparently make yourself more beautiful. What it actually does is soften and lighten your skin and lighten your eyes. You can alter the amount of "beautification" it applies and I suggest not going for the full amount unless you want to look, let's say, a little odd:
Whether you consider it a Huawei phone or an Honor phone doesn't really matter here -- that's really just a branding exercise. What should matter is that the Honor 6 packs a heap of great tech for a very reasonable price. Its full-HD display is among the best you'll find at this price, its octa-core processor zips along smartly and the camera isn't too bad either.
Sure, it might not be the slimmest, sleekest phone around and the software might have its quirks, but if you want a powerful phone without emptying your bank account, it's a solid phone to go for.