OnePlus 3T vs. Pixel XL: Can the 3T rival Google for almost half the price?

In all but a handful of areas, OnePlus’s newly refreshed flagship legitimately matches Google’s more expensive handset.

The Google Pixel XL isn’t a cheap phone, nor is it supposed to be. Its competition is the iPhone — and, less directly, Samsung’s Galaxy line. Yet the price hike compared to last year’s Nexus 5X and 6P leaves the door open to OnePlus. The Chinese upstart has recently upgraded the OnePlus 3T to Android 7.0 Nougat, bringing closer to par with the Pixel’s software.

Inevitably, there are corners to be cut when you’re selling a phone around the $439 mark, compared to Google’s $749 and up for the Pixel XL. But as it happens, the 3T does manage to give Google’s larger Pixel a run for its money. Let’s take a look at how it measures up across the board.

OnePlus 3T vs Pixel XL

With 5.5-inch displays, both the Pixel XL and OnePlus 3T are relatively large handsets. Overall, the 3T does a better job of masking its heft — it’s both thinner and lighter than Google’s phone, with more angular sides for easier one-handed wrangling.

That said, OnePlus’s design doesn’t shake things up too much, using much the same look manufacturers like HTC and Huawei have been riffing on for a few generations now. Despite claims (largely dubious claims, in my opinion) of it being an iPhone copycat, the Pixel’s slightly-wedge-shaped, glass-backed profile is unlike anything else on the market. And that’s probably no accident.

Google’s back panel is more unique-looking, but OnePlus’s feels better in the hand.

OnePlus 3T vs Pixel XL

That glass window, however, is notoriously bad for picking up hairline scratches — my Pixel XL started picking them up within days, even as I was babying it more than usual. (And as an aside, the fact that the glass is flush with the metal surface, with no camera hump, means the metal part can also pick up scratches more easily.)

On the inside, these two go toe-to-toe in terms of specs, with OnePlus actually beating Google in some areas — the 3T has more RAM and a larger base storage option. The Pixel, as we’ll discuss later, has the better camera of the two by a comfortable margin. It also has an advantage in terms of screen resolution, but the jump from Full HD to Quad HD isn’t especially noticeable unless you’re looking really close.

In other areas, it’s a wash: battery capacities are comparable, and both handsets have excellent fingerprint scanners, though on opposite sides of the phone.

Category OnePlus 3T Pixel XL
Display 5.5-inch 1080p Optic AMOLED 5.5-inch 1440p SuperAMOLED
Operating System Android 7.0 (Oxygen OS 4) Android 7.1.1 (Pixel UI)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
RAM 6GB 4GB
Storage 64GB/128GB 32GB/128GB
microSD No No
Dual SIM Yes No
Rear camera 16MP (1.1-micron pixels), f/2.0, OIS 12MP (1.55-micron pixels), f/2.0
Front camera 16MP, f/2.0 8MP, f/2.4
Battery 3,400mAh 3,450mAh
Quick charging Dash Charge USB-PD
Dimensions 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35 mm 154.7 x 75.74 x 8.6 mm
Weight 158g 168g
Price $439-479 $769-869

Having bounced between both phones for the past few weeks, I can’t say I’ve noticed any huge difference in day-to-day battery life — no real surprise considering the largely identical display sizes, CPU and battery capacities. Both phones are good for a day’s use, topping out at between 4 to 5 hours of screen-on time per day, depending on the proportion of time you’re on LTE.

One advantage OnePlus has, however, is Dash Charge, the company’s proprietary quick-charging standard that’s a good deal faster than just about anything else out there when it comes to bringing a depleted phone back to life. (The other side of that coin is that you can only buy compatible cables and chargers from OnePlus, whereas Google’s quick charging uses USB standards.)

In any case, what’s much more meaningful is the difference in software. Neither phone strays too far from vanilla Android — both the Pixel UI and OnePlus’s OxygenOS keep things looking and feeling pretty “stock.” But in both instances there’s a wealth of smaller features to get stuck into.

The biggie for the Pixel is Google Assistant, Google’s AI, well, assistant which has been steadily gaining smarts since the phone’s release, but which still hasn’t reached “killer app” status. Assistant combines Google’s knowledge graph with the information in your Google account, and some of the best speech recognition I’ve seen in a phone, to do useful stuff. (And there’s an awful lot of stuff it can do.) But there are also limitations — including issues drawing in certain info from multiple Google accounts.

Pixel vs OP3T

Google Assistant still isn’t quite the killer app it was made out to be.

The Pixel also gives you Google’s revamped Pixel launcher, along with a selection of beautiful (and exclusive) live wallpapers, many of which use your location, the weather and time of day to visualize the current climate.

Other Google tricks include smart caller ID through the dialer app — something Nexus phones have enjoyed for a while. And unlimited full-res photo backup through Google Photos, so the size constraints of the 32GB Pixel are less worrisome than you might expect.

That’s all built on the rock solid foundation of Android Nougat, with headline features like split-screen multi-window and an overhauled notification system. (And rounded off by Google’s promise of two years of fast Android OS updates, and live customer support through the Settings app.)

With OnePlus, it’s all about customization. From whether you want on-screen or capacitive buttons, to which icons are displayed in the status bar, to the color of just about everything. If you like to tune your phone and style its appearance and behavior to your own personal tastes, you’ll find plenty to tinker with in OxygenOS.

OnePlus also has the ever-present alert slider, a staple iPhone feature which bizarrely hasn’t found much traction in the Android world, and its three settings can be tuned to your liking as well.

Software

And there’s a bewildering array of gestures you can enable, from double-tap-to-wake to more exotic options like drawing an O on the screen for the camera, or a V to open the flashlight. (Compare that to the solid but less diverse lineup of “Moves” in Google’s Pixel UI, including basics like raise to wake, and double-tap to wake.)

OnePlus’s software suite is all about customization.

The rest of the software is lean enough to not get in the way, with OnePlus fielding an array of Material Design-inspired apps that are speedy, fully-featured and gel well with the rest of the UI.

If there’s one software trick I haven’t found much use for, though, it’s OnePlus’s widget shelf, the main reason being that most widgets are poorly supported, and thus either broken or weird-looking. Your mileage will vary depending on the apps (and widgets) that you use.

Pixel camera

Camera performance is the clearest differentiator between these two.

Having used both extensively over the past few weeks, there’s really no doubt in my mind that the Pixel has the better camera overall. But then, you’d hope so for a $400 premium over the OnePlus 3T. The difference is as much about Google’s excellent auto HDR+ processing as it is about the different sensors and optics.

The 3T’s camera is good, solid reliable. But the Pixel is on another level.

OnePlus goes with a traditional 16-megapixel camera with small 1.1-micron pixels behind an f/2.0 lens, with optical image stabilization. Google’s 12-megapixel camera has the same f/2.0 aperture without OIS, but much larger 1.55-micron pixels. So right off the bat, you’d expect potentially more detail from the OnePlus 3T, and better low-light pics out of the Pixel.

That’s mostly how things play out, but the megapixel advantage doesn’t do OnePlus much good in a direct contest with the Pixel — though its camera certainly performs well for the price point.

Both phones produce good-looking images in daylight, though the Pixel delivers a brighter, more vibrant image, with slightly warmer colors too. The 3T is also a little more susceptible to motion, with the resulting blur being noticeable around the edges of shots.

In high-contrast and moving shots, Google’s HDR+ processing (and bigger pixels on the sensor) allow its camera to create more balanced shots without blowing out brighter areas.

And in low light, the difference is even more striking. OnePlus quickly runs up against the physical limitations of its camera, whereas Google has both physics and software processing on its side, allowing it to capture stunning shots which ooze with color detail.

OnePlus’s secret weapon when it comes to capturing more detail is HQ mode, which sucks in more fine detail at the cost of saturation and color detail. It’s a very situational mode that can be susceptible to motion blur at times, and it’s less reliable in producing a better shot than HDR+.

Ultimately, the OnePlus 3T has a good, solid camera that occasionally surprises you with a really excellent shot. HQ mode brings out lots of fine detail, but the smaller pixels on the sensor means your get darker, murkier low-light pics.

On the other hand the Pixel is better overall — with Google’s camera, it sometimes feels like it’s too easy to get fantastic shots, especially in low-light or high contrast situations. But you do sacrifice a bit of fine detail at times.

That’s a major difference between these two — one of the biggest, next to the Pixel’s advantage in software. The other trump card Google can pull is its phone’s privileged position as the first device with new Android software versions. You know you’re good for speedy updates for two years from purchase, something which is a far less certain if you buy the OnePlus 3T.

Google’s camera magic also extends to video, where it’s able to use the built-in gyro to smooth out wobbly footage, even when the camera’s shaking about all over the place. It’s easily the best video stabilization I’ve seen in any Android phone. By contrast, the OnePlus 3T is a solid performer in video, despite some focus-hunting issues in moving shots. But the lack of any software stabilization feature shows.

Whether extras like the above are worth the extra money though, has to depend on your budget. I think I could get by quite happily with the OnePlus 3T — camera, software and all — though I do appreciate how often the Pixel camera really does knock it out of the park with amazing photos. And in the longterm, the confidence that comes with Google’s speedy software updates.

Phone Comparisons: Lenovo Moto Z Force vs Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)

Introduction

Do we have a good one for you today – the Moto Z Force goes up against the Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017). Both devices use an all-metal backing and share a solid build quality. The Moto Z Force can enhance its abilities by accepting Moto Mods, or it will accept different backs to personalize its looks. Those Mods or backings take away from the large camera that protrudes out of the back. Both devices are high quality, well-built, and a delight to use. Let’s look at just what these two devices have in common, if anything, and then we will take a closer look at each one in hopes that we can determine a winner of this comparison.

The Moto Z Force and the Samsung Galaxy A7 have very few things in common. The display on the Galaxy A7 is only 0.2-inches larger, which makes their physical size almost identical. Even though they are virtually identical in size, the Galaxy A7 weighs only 141 grams compared to the Z Force’s 163 grams. The displays use the same AMOLED technology but are different resolutions. They both use a different processor, GPU, different amounts of RAM, but do have a 32GB variant and expandable memory via a microSD card. The primary and front-facing cameras (FFCs) areas are different, but both deliver great photos with the nod going to the Z-Force. Both have a front-mounted fingerprint sensor for unlocking your device as well as authorizing mobile payments, and both have a large, non-removable battery with rapid charge capabilities. They both come with the usual suspects – WiFi, Bluetooth (v4.1 on the Z Force and v4.2 on the Galaxy A7,) GPS, NFC, and both use the newer Type-C reversible port for charging and data transfer.

Please take a thoughtful look at the detailed Specifications Comparison chart below, and here you will see just how these two great devices stack up against one another – click on the “View Full Comparison” link at the end of the chart to expand the details. After that, we will look at each device in greater depth and point out some of its pros and cons. From all of this information, we will try to determine the winner based on specs and execution of design and functions.

Specifications

Lenovo Moto Z Force

Lenovo came out with their new Moto Z series, which includes the top Moto Z Force, followed by the Moto Z and finally the Moto Z Play. The Moto Z-Force packs a Quad HD AMOLED display with an exclusive ShatterShield screen. They did not skimp in the camera area with a 21MP camera, threw in a large battery, and it comes with the Moto Turbo Charger. The Moto Z Force is a sturdy all-metal design with a solid build and a thin stature with a protruding camera and metal contact points on the back. All three of the Z family devices can use the Moto Mods that easily allows you to increase the functionality of the smartphone by ‘snapping’ one onto the back, held on with magnets and stabilized by the protruding camera ring.

The Moto Z Force sports a 5.5-inch AMOLED QHD display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels and 535 pixels-per-inch (PPI.) Moto’s custom ShatterShield is exclusive to the Z Force model and adds a 5-layer protective shield over the display to help prevent breakage or shattering of the screen. Lenovo tapped the Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor with dual cores clocked at 1.6GHz and dual cores clocked at 2.15GHz. They coupled it with an Adreno 530 GPU to handle any graphics you can throw at it. The Moto Z Force packs 4GB of DDR4 RAM and offers 32GB of the faster UFS 2.0 internal memory that is expandable 256GB via a microSD card.

Lenovo uses a 21MP sensor on the Z-Force’s primary camera with a large aperture of f/1.8, laser and phase detection autofocus (PDAF), a dual-tone flash, and OIS. The FFC uses a 5MP lens with a f/2.2 aperture and even includes a LED flash for selfies and video chatting. The Moto Z Force uses a large 3500mAh non-removable battery that comes with a Moto Turbo Charger, one of the fastest chargers available. An $89 Moto Mod will increase the battery by size by 2200mAh and adds wireless charging capabilities.

Please note: the Moto Z and Moto Z Force do not have a 3.5mm headphone jack. The standard Moto Z is understandable since it is simply too narrow for the jack, but the Moto Z Force is broad enough to handle a 3.5mm jack. You could reason that Lenovo was going for consistency; however, they included the jack on the Moto Z Play. Lenovo provides an adapter that plugs into the Type-C reversible port to accept earphones – it does produce a better sound, but you have to remember to carry around an adapter or look to purchase Bluetooth headsets. A prominent feature of the Moto Z Force is the ability to utilize Moto Mods that can add features to your devices such as an extended battery with wireless charging, JBL speakers, and a Hasselblad camera attachment. If you chose, one could also add customized covers to the back to help personalize its looks. The Moto Z Force is part of the Droid series that is exclusive to Verizon, but unlocked version is available to use on other networks. It has an IP53 certification for water resistance, but it is not a sealed phone. It measures in at 155.9 x 75.8 x 7mm and weighs in at 163 grams. It comes in four colors – Black/Gray, Black/Rose Gold, Black/Gold, and White with pricing around $700.

Samsung Galaxy A7 (2017)

Samsung’s new Galaxy A7 (2017) could not be mistaken for anything but a Samsung device. It has the typical rounded corners, speaker grate at the top with the Samsung name under it, and an oval home button at the bottom for scanning your fingerprint. The Galaxy A7 has an all-metal aluminum body designed to fit comfortably in your hand whereas the higher priced Galaxy S series uses a glass backing. It also includes some decent specifications for a mid-range phone, and it should, for its rather high price at $530. The Galaxy A7 also includes the IP68 certification for water and dust and has a new side-positioned loudspeaker. Let’s see just how this new Galaxy A7 mid-range holds up against the Moto Z Force.

The Galaxy A7 sports the same size display as the Galaxy S7 Edge – a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED FHD display giving it a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels with 386 PPI. Samsung added the ‘always-on’ screen on the Galaxy A7 to help save battery life by allowing you to check the time, date, or notifications without turning on the main display. The Galaxy A7 uses Samsung’s Exynos 7880 octa-core processor clocked at 1.9GHz and a Mali-T830MP2 for graphics. The Galaxy A7 packs 3GB of DDR4 RAM and has 32GB of expandable internal memory up to 256GB via a microSD card.

The Galaxy A7 uses a 16MP lens for its primary camera along with a large aperture of f/1.9 and includes autofocus and a LED flash. Samsung added a big 16MP camera for the Galaxy A7’s FFC that also comes with the same f/1.9 aperture as the primary camera. This large FFC will give you excellent low-light selfies and video chatting. The Galaxy A7 comes packing a large non-removable battery of 3600mAh and features rapid charging.

The Galaxy A7 comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow as the OS, although word is out that Samsung is working on Nougat. The device is already available in some Asian markets and in early February it will launch in Europe – there is no word on when or if there will be a US release. To listen to tunes or to use as a speakerphone, the Galaxy A7 has an unusual side-mounted speaker. With the inclusion of an NFC chip, Mobile purchases are available through both Android Pay as well as Samsung Pay, which will allow A7 users to make mobile purchases just about anywhere they can swipe a credit or debit card. Samsung included IP68 certification against dust and water. The Galaxy A7 measures 156.8 x 77.6 x 7.9mm, weighs in at a hefty 186 grams, is available in Black Sky, Gold Sand, Blue Mist, and Peach Cloud and costs about $530.

…And The Winner Is…

The Final Word

Even with its higher price tag, I have to pick the Moto Z Force as the winner of this comparison. It has better specifications all around, add to that the Moto Mods and custom backs, and the Z Force has more functionality than the Galaxy A7.

The Z Force sports a QHD display with ShatterShield protection, a better processor, GPU, more RAM, a better primary camera, already has its Android 7.0 Nougat, runs almost vanilla Android, and it can be used on all major US carriers.

The Samsung Galaxy A7 does have IP68 water and dust protection and can use Samsung Pay as well as featuring an ‘always-on’ display, but for $530 we should expect more performance and features.

Apple quashes bugs in iOS, macOS and Safari

Apple on Monday updated macOS Sierra to 10.12.3, patching 11 security vulnerabilities and addressing a graphics hardware problem in the latest 15-in. MacBook Pro laptop.

At the same time, Apple released iOS 10.2.1, an update that fixed 18 security flaws, the bulk of them in WebKit, the foundation of the baked-in Safari browser.

According to Apple’s typically terse update documentation, macOS 10.12.3 “improves automatic graphics switching on MacBook Pro (15-in., October 2016).” Another fix addressed “graphics issues” on both the 15-in. and the smaller 13-in. sibling when encoding in Adobe Premiere Pro; that bug attracted attention after a video showing a notebook wildly cycling through colors went viral.

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Apple unveiled the new MacBook Pro on Oct. 29. Its most notable feature was the “Touch Bar,” a narrow display above the top row of keys that responds to gestures and adapts to the active application.

The same update also patched nearly a dozen vulnerabilities, most of them critical. A pair of kernel bugs reported to Apple by Google Project Zero, for instance, was cited as having the potential to “execute arbitrary code,” Apple-speak for a very serious vulnerability ranking.

iOS was also refreshed Monday, with 10.2.1 offered to iPhone and iPad owners.

Apple described only the 18 vulnerabilities patched by the update. Thirteen of those flaws were within WebKit, the open-source project that produces the rendering engine that powers Safari.

Safari on macOS was also updated to patch 12 of the 13 bugs quashed in the iOS version. Labeled Safari 10.0.3, it was packaged with the Sierra 10.12.3 update, but was made available separately to Mac owners running the older OS X Yosemite and OS X El Capitan, Sierra’s predecessors.

Although no description in the Safari 10.0.3 update mentioned the bug reported by Consumer Reports — the flaw resulted in the magazine initially refusing to recommend the new MacBook Pro notebooks because of unusual battery test results — Apple previously said it dealt with the flaw in a beta leading up to macOS 10.12.3. If so, it should also have been fixed in the Safari-only update.

The iOS, macOS and Sierra updates will be automatically offered on the appropriate devices. Users can manually trigger an update on a Mac by selecting “App Store” from the Apple menu, then choosing “Updates” from the row of icons at the top of the window. On iPhones and iPads, users can begin an update by touching “Settings,” then “General,” then “Software Update.”

Honor 6X Review

I’m going to be completely honest with you — I wasn’t ever too crazy about last year’s honor 5X. As someone who doesn’t mind splurging on high-end smartphones, the Honor 5X, although extremely well-priced, never quite delivered. It didn’t matter how much aluminum Honor wrapped around the device or new hardware features they crammed inside (the fingerprint reader was a nice touch), there wasn’t anything about the device that screamed quality. To put it bluntly: the Honor 5X felt baseline.

Sure, it was arguably one of the nicer budget devices you could buy at the time, but that alone wasn’t something to get excited about. Whether it was someone new to smartphones, or someone looking for an affordable replacement, it was typically a purchase made out of necessity. The customer was never supposed to feel proud about their purchase, just… somewhat subdued. Their satisfaction came with knowing how much money they saved, not how many bells and whistles their smartphone provided (probably because they didn’t need much to begin with).

Although I can’t say I, personally, was “excited” at the prospect of this year’s followup, it’s clear there was nowhere left to go but up. With this year’s Honor 6X, Huawei is looking to entice thrifty buyers with a brand new budget device for 2017, one that somehow blurs the lines between entry level and premium. Is the second time the charm for Honor? Let’s find out.

HARDWARE

Honor 6X specs

  • 5.5-inch 1080p LCD display (403 ppi)
  • HiSilicon Kirin 655 octa-core processor / Mali-T830MP2 GPU
  • 32GB storage / 3GB RAM or 64GB storage / 4GB RAM
  • Micro SD card slot up to 256GB
  • 12MP + 2MP rear cameras, 8MP front facing
  • 3,340mAh battery
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 5V/2A “fast charging”
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Micro USB 2.0 port
  • Dual SIM (GSM)
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow, EMUI 4.1
  • Dimensions: 150.9 x 76.2 x 8.2mm
  • Weight: 162g
  • Pre-screen protected (plastic film)
  • NO NFC
  • NO 5GHz WiFi band

If there’s one area where Huawei has really been making strides, it’s in the ability to make even budget devices like the Honor 6X feel just a little more expensive than they really are. Simply put, the Honor 6X feels like an honest to goodness, premium smartphone. No compromises.

Gone (thankfully) is the brushed aluminum of the previous 5X, replaced with a much more solid, anodized metal similar to what you’d find on the iPhone. It’s not a complete unibody like you’ll find on the iPhone — more like a metal battery cover in between two pieces of plastic — but it’s clear that’s where Huawei found their inspiration.

The sides of the phone are completely rounded and taper off to a point. This is an effort to make the phone feel thinner than it actually is. The problem is the smaller surface area makes it difficult to get a good grip on the phone, something that’s compounded by the non-stock Teflon-like finish of anodized metal. You’re definitely going to want to buy a case for this phone as it’s easily one of the more difficult smartphones to hold.

A rear mounted fingerprint sensor can be found on back, resting just underneath a chiseled camera housing. The camera protrudes slightly, but not a lot. Almost feels like it was a design choice to keep with the current status quo. The fingerprint sensor itself has been upgraded from last year’s 5X, registering fingerprints with lighting quick precision. It’s so fast you don’t really even have to hold your finger down, just give it a quick tap. Don’t worry about getting false reads or it taking forever to register, Huawei definitely didn’t skimp with the hardware here.

Other than that, there’s nothing incredibly new or different about the design. Like most phones these days, a 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on top, speaker and microphone slots on the bottom, with a micro USB port resting in the middle. It’s sort of an odd move to not go with USB Type C, but if you’re on a budget, it makes sense to use the cables you already have laying around.

Overall, the design of the Honor 6X is minimal and clean. There’s nothing to really hate but at the same time — there’s also nothing to love. It’s familiar and safe.

The real draw here is how the Honor 6X feels. The Honor 6X is raising the bar on the level of quality you should expect from a entry level smartphone. Place the Honor 6X in someone’s hands and they’re immediately going to assume that it’s the next iPhone or at least some kind of Android equivalent. It’s only when you look at the price/spec sheet that you realize otherwise, but when it comes to nailing down the overall feeling of a high-end smartphone (a mark missed by last year’s Honor 5X) the Honor 6X delivers in spades.

We’re not sure how many other OEMs can pull this off and still make a profit, but it’s 2017 — there’s no reason affordable smartphones have to feel like a children’s toy. Huawei has definitely proven that.

Display

I wont sugar coat it. The display on the Honor 6X is nothing to write home about. Not because of the 1080p resolution, mind you — which looks pin sharp, even at 5.5-inches — it just tends to look a little washed out. Of course, this is to be expected (after all, this it’s not an AMOLED panel) but even when compared against slightly higher-end devices also equipped with LCD panels, it still manages to fall short. Viewing angles are okay, but blacks aren’t very deep, colors don’t pop, and although this is technically more color accurate, it’s just not as fun.

It doesn’t help that the display isn’t very responsive to the touch (the UI trails behind your finger when swiping and there’s a slight delay when tapping things) and the refresh rate is god awful, creating excessive blur when scrolling through apps. It’s all these things that make the Honor 6X’s screen easily one of the weakest areas of the device.

There are some good things about it. Huawei gets some points for including color temperature settings, allowing you to adjust the tint to your liking. Most people probably wont take advantage of this, but I was able to appreciate the extra level of control.

There’s also an “Eye comfort” mode which is essentially a blue light filter that we’ve seen in other popular devices. This is supposed to make things easier on the eyes by creating a warmer looking display (similar to your home’s incandescent lighting), but on the Honor 6X it’s more of a florescent yellow color — nothing like the orange tint you’ll see on the iPhone or the Pixel.

Performance

Performance on the Honor 6X is somewhat of a mixed bag and kind of hard to explain. It’s not so much that Huawei’s Kirin 655 octa-core processor (2.1GHz + 1.7GHz quad-core CPUs) feels under powered, as much as lazy or lethargic.

The Honor 6X doesn’t really have any trouble loading up apps, streaming videos, loading web pages, or playing games — it just doesn’t do it with a sense of urgency. It’s almost as if the 8-core processor is simply maintaining a fuel efficient speed in an effort to help save battery. Like a Toyota Prius. So, while the phone doesn’t feel as snappy as a 2016 flagship, it still has enough power to handle whatever you throw at it. Just… you know… at its own pace. While sipping tea. So much that I can’t say the phone ever gets hot and barely even lukewarm while playing 3D intensive games.

Since it never really struggles with any one thing, hopefully this means that, over time, the Honor 6X will be able to maintain this initial speed. Depending on the device you’re upgrading from (like a 2015 flagship), the Honor 6X may feel just as fast, but it’s nowhere near the performance you’ll find on higher-end devices like the Pixel or even the Honor 8. Of course, that’s probably the point.

The most frustrating part about the Honor 6X’s performance is how Huawei is handicapping the device out of the gate. The phone’s software kills background apps every time you turn off the display, making it nearly impossible to quickly return to apps. This means the under powered processor has to re-open apps every time you wake the phone, something that takes far more time than simply pulling an open app inside RAM.

It’s an aggressive approach at memory management, one based on an archaic idea that RAM should be constantly cleared out to prolong battery life, but it’s simply not true. Now, there’s a way to turn off this “feature” in the settings — something I strongly urge you to do — but you’ll have to do it every time you install a new app. You can read more about the first things I recommend every Honor 6X owner do in our post here.

Battery life

If there was one feature alone that should have you considering the Honor 6X, it’s the amazing battery life. As you’d guess from a 3,340mAh battery, the phone is capable of delivering far better stamina than your average Android device. Add together a processor that barely sips power and we were able to consistently get a full 24 hours worth of moderate use. It’s definitely short of the advertised 2-day battery life (1.5 with moderate usage), but manufacturers often over exaggerate this metric — no surprise there.

Because there are so many factors that affect battery life (cellular connection, app use, brightness, etc.), it makes it difficult to tell you exactly what you can expect from the phone. Although no two people will ever get the same results, I can compare it against devices like the Google Pixel or iPhone 7. Yup, the Honor 6X absolutely wipes the floor with them. This probably isn’t too surprising considering the higher battery capacity puts the Honor 6X on par with larger phablet-sized devices like the Pixel XL or iPhone 7 Plus.

This means you can leave the house with a fully charged Honor 6X and still take advantage of every feature on your phone (location services, background sync, etc.) without worrying you have to plug in at some point throughout the day. It’s quite liberating. Even then, you’re still going to have to plug in at night or (or run the risk of having a dead phone by lunch time), but this kind of battery life is what we all manufacturers should be striving for. There’s simply no excuse.

Fast Charging

It’s impossible to talk about battery life without factoring how fast a phone takes to charge. Your phone can last all day, but if it takes forever to charge, it can be difficult to juice up in a pinch. The Honor 6X does feature a type of “fast charging” technology, but it’s nowhere near the speed you’ll find from Quick Charge enabled devices or other proprietary methods like the OnePlus’ Dash Charge.

The Honor 6X’s idea of fast charging is just 5V/2A and while it’s generally faster than phones of yesteryear, still requires a little over 2 hours to take it from 0 to 100%.

Charge times:

  • 10 min: 12%
  • 20 min: 21%
  • 30 min: 31%
  • 40 min: 41%
  • 50 min: 49%
  • 60 min: 66%
  • 70 min: 75%
  • 80 min: 82%
  • 90 min: 88%
  • 100 min: 92%
  • 110 min: 95%
  • 120 min: 97%
  • 130 min: 99%
  • 136 min: 100%

As you can see, it’s not terrible considering the battery size and actually comparable to the Google Pixel XL who’s battery is only 110mAh larger than the Honor 6X’s. That being said, you should expect to gain around 10% battery for every 10 minutes on the charger. It’s only around the 90% mark that the trickle charging kicks in, taking a little over half an hour to reach that last 10%. This is done to maintain battery health and similar to what you’ll find in just about every quick charging method, no matter the manufacturer.

Other

The rest of the hardware on the Honor 6X is pretty average. The bottom firing speaker is extremely quiet, making it difficult to hear in noisy environments. If you’re someone that enjoys using speakerphone in your car, this could be an issue.

The Honor 6X also comes with a regular ‘ol micro USB 2.0 port on the bottom. It’s hard to fault the phone over this considering the hassle involved in converting everything over to USB Type C (and the fact that some Type C cables can fry your devices), but we’re just not at the place where Type C offers any benefit over micro USB.

Sound quality using the 3.5mm port is great. Even if the DAC isn’t capable of powering larger headphones, the audio quality is nice when using earbuds, especially with the built-in “Super Wide Sound” virtualization feature for higher quality audio output.

What’s missing?

Worth mentioning is the fact that — unlike the vast majority of Android devices out there — the Honor 6X doesn’t have an NFC chip. Without NFC, you can’t take advantage of mobile payment services like Android Pay or other conveniences like easy Bluetooth pairing. Depending on how often you use these features (it’s very possible you don’t at all), this could be an issue. It’s a strange omission in what would have been a fully capable Android device.

Another seemingly odd move was the inclusion of a WiFi chip that doesn’t support dual-band WiFi. While 2.4GHz is probably fine for most folks, this could greatly decrease wireless performance in highly congested places like apartment buildings where the 5GHz band (shorter range, higher bandwidth) can be a necessity. It’s one of those things that easy to overlook and an argument could be made that the average user wont even miss it. It’s just rather odd that it’s missing in the first place.

Camera

As is the trend these days, the Honor 6X comes equipped with a dual camera setup on the back. It’s easily one of the most affordable devices to feature this setup, carrying both a 12MP shooter and a secondary 2MP camera right below it. Unlike the dual cameras on the P9 or Honor 8, which combine both color and black and white images for improved dynamic range, the secondary 2MP camera on the Honor 6X is only used for capturing depth. There is a digital “wide aperture” mode which Honor says can improve the pixel count in low light, but really the secondary camera doesn’t actually do much to improve the overall quality of photos.

Regular auto mode (left), Wide aperture mode (right)

So, is the wide aperture mode any good? That depends. It’s basically that digital shallow depth of field effect we’ve seen on devices dating all the way back to the HTC One M8 and made more popular by the iPhone 7 Plus’s “Portrait mode.” The difference? It’s a lot more gimmicky on the Honor 6X as the quality is nowhere near as good as the iPhone’s.

You can play around with it, adjusting the virtual aperture after shooting a photo to adjust the focal point and amount of “depth,” but more than often things look artificial and the edges of objects end up bleeding into blurred backgrounds. It’s crude, but remember we’re talking about a $250 smartphone here. In the end, I don’t see me using the feature very much if at all, but your results may vary.

Photo quality

When it comes to the actual quality of photos, like most smartphones these days, the Honor 6X is certainly capable of capturing a nice shot, you’re just going to have to give it a lot of light. When you do, you may be surprised at how nice the images do come out. Especially the 8MP front facing camera which delivered more favorable results than even the Galaxy S7.

I would have loved to have seen a little more dynamic range (like with the Honor 8), especially considering the how much the camera tries to brighten photos by slightly overexposing most shots. Aside from that, images are also extremely soft thanks to Huawei’s aggressive noise filtering. No matter what the ISO, Huawei’s processing attempts to remove any trace of noise from a shot. Unfortunately, this comes at a loss of detail, resulting in an almost painted look. It’s not terribly noticeable unless you zoom in or crop a photo, but I’m sure the vast majority of folks will be pleased with the output.

Low light

Low light shooter the Honor 6X is not. In anything but the most optimal lighting situations, the camera completely falls apart. It’s not like we were expecting much, especially considering there isn’t OIS (it is a mid-range device after all). Any dip in lighting — whether you’re shooting at night, indoors, or in a restaurant — and you’ll notice a boat load of noise creeping into your shots. The camera will try to compensate for this by using a slower shutter speed, meaning you’ll need to keep both a steady hand and subject to avoid blur. The fact that there isn’t OIS certainly doesn’t help matters, but then again, this is only a mid-range device, so we weren’t expecting as much.

Manual mode

On the bright side, the camera software is full featured with plenty of shooting modes, effects, and filters to dive into. For those looking for more control over the camera, there’s even a “Pro mode” that lets you adjust ISO, metering, exposure, shutter speed, auto focus, and white balance. Not bad for a $250 smartphone.

The bad

My biggest gripe with the camera was the annoying shutter lag. Press the shutter button and you’ll here the UI sound letting you know that you interacted with it, but you’ll have to wait almost a full second for the camera to actually fire off the shot. It’s pretty wild.

I also had issues with the auto-focus, which was far from consistent. I frequently had to shake the phone or tap-to-focus to get it to behave, but even then there were times when it simply wouldn’t focus properly. It’s not all bad, when recording video for instance — even though auto focus wasn’t the quickest — it does have a nice smooth transition without that hunting in/out you see in most other devices.

While we’re talking about video, the Honor 6X caps at 1080p / 30fps and the quality is okay, but the audio quality could be one of the worst I’ve heard in quite some time. When playing video back, it almost sounds like your ears are plugged or you’re shooting from a phone with a waterproof microphone. It’s just plain awful.

In the end, I don’t think I’d even say the camera was one of the phone’s weaker points. It could have been better but I was expecting far worse from a $250 smartphone. Huawei’s post processing — while aggressive — really gives photos it’s own distinct, almost film look. It’s not the fastest, sharpest, or best performing camera, but I certainly wouldn’t call it the worst.

Software

Software has never been an Honor device’s strong suit and the Honor 6X has done almost nothing to change that. Running a bastardized version of Android 6.0 Marshmallow (which is now over a year old, by the way), the Honor 6X’s version of Android features a radically different user interface, something they call EMUI 4.1 (which just so happens to be an outdated version of their own software). That means out of the box, the Honor 6X’s software is already out of date. Let that sink in for a bit.

To be fair, Honor did promise that Android 7.0 Nougat / EMUI 5.0 would be rolling out to the devices in during Q2 of this year, which could be as early as April or as late as June. You know, providing there are no unforeseen delays (something that happens a lot in mobile). From what we’ve seen of EMUI 5.0 (which can be found on the Huawei Mate 9), it’s a drastically better experience than 4.1. So that’s definitely something to be excited about.

Overall, the software experience is almost identical to that of last year’s Honor 5X with EMUI trying as hard as it can to mimic iOS. There isn’t too much 3rd party bloatware and what’s there can easily be uninstalled. Our issue with EMUI is how it tries to be helpful, but only ends up doing the user a disservice. For instance, the phone closes background apps immediately when the display is turned off while attempting to scare users into thinking every 3rd party app they install (outside of Huawei’s own built-in apps) is going to kill the phone’s battery. Not only is this counter intuitive to the way Android normally works, it’s downright misleading.

The good news is that almost every annoying EMUI feature we ran into was always accompanied by the option to turn it off. With so many software features baked into the OS, it’s not surprising to find a few stinkers. At the same time, you’ll probably run into a few that you love. We’ve covered most every software feature in depth in our 31+ Honor 6X Tips & Tricks, so make sure you head on over there if you’d like to learn more about EMUI 4.1 and what it can do on the Honor 6X. Oh, and if you’re a new Honor 6X user, make sure to check out our post on the first things you should do.

Honor 6X: First Things

Conclusion

There’s nothing about the Honor 6X that feels “entry level.” Sure, the price plants the device firmly in that category, but it really deserves to be in an entirely different segment. A premium, entry level smartphone that — on the surface — feels just as high-end as the $700 devices being offered by other OEMs. Of course it’s missing a few features (NFC and 5GHz WiFi, for instance), but it’s almost to be expected given the rock bottom pricing.

Even then, it doesn’t feel like you’re getting the short end of a deal. You still feel like you’re buying a Mercedes Benz, just… you know… an entry level C-Class model as opposed to their flagship Maybach. Of course it’s not going to have all the bells and whistles as more expensive models, but the quality is still there. For some people, that’s a big deal. $250 is cheap for a smartphone, but that’s still a lot of money for most folks.

The Honor 6X isn’t perfect, but it does do it does well. The 1080p LCD display is large and crisp, the battery is long lasting, performance is adequate, and the camera gets the job done. Aside from the software, which should improve later this year, nothing about the phone is terrible. It’s almost crazy to think that even at $250, you can still get an all around great smartphone experience.

 

Honor 6X Rating: star_emptystar_25star_50star_75star_full (4.6 / 5)

The Good

  • Great price
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Premium build quality
  • Acceptable performance (with some tweaking)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Front facing camera is surprisingly good
  • Super fast and accurate fingerprint sensor

The Bad

  • Software (EMUI 4.1) could be the worst ever
  • Display is mediocre
  • Touch response is horrible
  • Secondary 2MP camera (Wide aperture mode) is a gimmick
  • Speaker is incredibly quiet

The Bottom Line

The Honor 6X is the first budget smartphone to actually get excited about. A few years ago, I wouldn’t recommend anyone touch a sub $300 smartphone with a 10 foot pole, but the Honor 6X proves that if you have $250 in your pocket, you really don’t have to sacrifice much to get a quality, premium feeling smartphone.