Smartphones with dual cameras are about to become the norm now that Apple has jumped aboard the bandwagon. And they're about to spread to more-affordable phones too. Budget phone maker Honor has just unveiled the $250 Honor 6x, which the company says is the first smartphone "in its price range" to sport two cameras on the rear. After a few days with a preview unit, I found the Honor 6x decent for the price, with its dual-camera setup in particular delivering mostly effective results.
Like its predecessor, the Honor 6x is sturdy but otherwise has a forgettable design. Its metal body is not as dense as slightly more expensive mid-range phones from Huawei, OnePlus, ZTE and LeEco, making it feel less premium. Still, it's lightweight, slightly curved body makes for a good grip.
The Honor 6x's 5.5-inch full HD IPS display isn't as rich or saturated as what you'll find on a slightly pricier phone, but it does the job. Images and videos look clear; the orange flames and Spiderman's blue-and-red costume were vivid in a trailer for Homecoming. However, I've gotten used to -- and even prefer -- the deeper blacks, higher contrast and punchier colors on higher-end devices. The 6x's screen is also hard to see in direct sunlight, since its max output is a relatively dim 300 nits. At $250, though, the phone's display isn't worth complaining about.
Something worth griping about, though, is the Honor 6x's outdated software. The Honor 6x will ship with the older 4.1 version of the company's EMUI overlay over Android 6.0 Marshmallow. This means you won't get the option to enable the app drawer that EMUI eschews or the slicker Settings interface that the new EMUI 5.0 offers on devices like the Huawei Mate 9. Honor promises that an update to Android N and EMUI 5.0 will arrive early this year, though, so you won't have to hold out for too long.
The company also said its version of EMUI 5.0 will be specifically tailored to the US market, so it may be slightly different from the flavor offered on Huawei-branded devices. You will get the new "eye comfort" mode at least, which removes blue light from the screen. Additionally, the software includes the option to lock specific content with your fingerprints.
Now, for the main reason we're even looking at the Honor 6x: Can a $250 phone have a dual-camera setup that's not absolute garbage? The answer is a pleasantly surprising yes. The Honor 6x has a 12-megapixel RGB sensor and a 2-megapixel monochrome one to enable a wide-aperture mode similar to that on the iPhone 7 Plus and Huawei Mate 9.
With this setting, you can get a soft, blurry background while keeping your subject in focus. In fact, to quote Honor, you can "bokeh all day." During my testing, this worked well, although it requires some finesse. Your subject has to take up at least a third of the foreground for the effect to look good. You can also adjust the amount of blur you want in the image by adjusting a so-called aperture. You're not really changing the lens opening here; you're just using the software to mimic the effect you'd get from changing the actual physical aperture on a typical camera.
A picture taken with wide-aperture mode activated on the Honor 6x
Pictures without the wide-aperture effect, including selfies with the 8-megapixel front camera, were generally vivid, accurately colored and sharp. But they're not as eye-catching as the ones with wide aperture enabled, so I'd keep that feature turned on.
Like the Mate 9, the Honor 6x is powered by parent company Huawei's Kirin CPU. But the Honor uses the less powerful octa-core Kirin 655 processor. It has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage onboard, which you can expand to 128GB via a microSD slot. Unfortunately, the unit we received had software that prevented benchmarking, so we weren't able to test it. But the device felt responsive overall. However, it definitely didn't feel as smooth or zippy as the Mate 9 or the OnePlus 3T. I noticed some small delays in switching between apps and launching the gallery that I wouldn't experience on a higher-end phone.
Honor also squeezed a 3,340mAh battery into the 6x, promising 2.2 days of juice with average use and 1.5 days with heavy use. If those claims hold true, the 6x should be able to survive a full day without needing to be chained to an outlet.
Based on what I've seen so far, the Honor 6x's greatest appeal is its surprisingly good dual-camera and wide-aperture mode. Once its software is updated, the phone should be easier to use and more functional than it is now. Like most unlocked phones coming to the US from abroad, the Honor 6x will only work on GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile (sorry, Sprint and Verizon subscribers). Honor is certainly the first company to offer a two-camera setup at this price, but it won't be the last to do so. I'm still skeptical that a smartphone that costs less than $300 can deliver pictures that look as good as those taken with the iPhone 7 Plus, but this at least allows those with tighter budgets to achieve similar effects on their photos.
The Honor 6x will be available starting on Jan. 4th in the US for $250 and Europe for £225. Those in America can get it for $200 during one of four flash sales, which makes the phone a much better deal.
Edgar Alvarez contributed to this report.
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