Update: after Google suspended Huawei's future access to Android Play Store and security updates, there are serious question marks over the future of Huawei and Honor phones.
While Google and Huawei have promised to support phones currently on the market, it's not clear how long they'll receive Android updates or access to the Google Play Store, which would severely curtail their usefulness compared to the competition.
Honor managed to hit upon a winning budget smartphone formula with 2016’s Honor 5C, and it’s not about to upset the apple cart with the Honor 6A.
Once again we have a tidy, compact 5-inch smartphone with a flourish of premium metal and decent all-round specifications for just £149.99 (around $195/AU$245, though with no word of a US or Australian release).
In other words, while the Honor 6A retains the balance of its quietly impressive predecessor, it’s up against some slightly stiffer opposition this time around.
The Honor 6A suffers for the omission of a couple of key features, and in some ways it’s arguably a little worse than the Honor 5C before it. But the newer phone’s all-round competence and general ease of use ensure that it’s a smart purchase for the money.
Tightening the belt
- Long-lasting battery and fast camera
- The screen has been downsized
Honor’s intention with the Honor 6A seems to have been to produce a phone that looks and performs like a phone worth a good deal more money. In the process of trimming away some of the fat to meet cost it’s thrown away some precious meat, but the result remains satisfying.
On the plus side there’s metal in the phone’s construction, a fast-focusing camera, a long-lasting battery, and a more mainstream CPU than was found in last year’s Honor 5C. All positive steps that hint at a more ‘premium’ phone.
Elsewhere, Honor persists with the custom EMUI Android skin of its parent company, Huawei. It’s a middle-ranking Android skin with a clean look that aims for Apple iOS-levels of intuitiveness and vibrancy.
Some of the features that have been sacrificed to create this streamlined product represent questionable decisions, though. For example, Honor has sliced the size and resolution of the display from the Honor 5C.
Elsewhere, there’s no fingerprint scanner or NFC, which means that Android Pay is off the table, and if you want to secure your phone properly you’re going to have to tap in a PIN every time you pick it up.
Well, we say there's no fingerprint sensor - but the new Honor 6A Pro has been launched in an almost identical frame to the 6A but adds in that mysterious fingerprint scanner. We don't know why there's this differentiation between the two, but that's pretty much it.
We do know that it's not likely to come to the UK, which is a shame.
A fingerprint scanner is fast becoming an essential component even at this end of the market, with everything from the Moto G5 right down to the £85 Vodafone Smart N8 featuring fast and fluid fingerprint scanners.
Design and display
- Part-metal build lifts it above many other cheap phones
- Display is accurate but not super-sharp
Honor’s claim that the Honor 6A has a ‘metal body’ is a little disingenuous. What it actually has (like the Moto G5) is a metal rear plate, covering an area not too dissimilar to the one that the display covers on the flip side.
Surrounding that metal plate is a plastic frame, carefully painted to match the more premium material. The effect is generally pleasing, but in general use - where your palm and fingers largely make contact with the sides - it doesn’t feel particularly premium.
Nor does it look or feel tacky, though, and there’s something to be said for the restrained, plain-Jane look Honor has gone for.
This is the kind of well-built phone that gets out of the way and doesn’t make a loud statement, which we suspect is precisely what most people shopping at this price point will want.
That sense of balance can also be seen in the phone’s dimensions. At 143.7 x 71 x 8.2mm and weighing 143g this is a phone that sits as comfortably in the pocket as it does the hand, without having that disconcerting flimsiness that some cheap phones suffer from.
Honor has taken the interesting decision to step down from the Honor 5C’s 5.2-inch 1080p IPS LCD, which was one of the stand-out components of last year’s effort. In its place is a 5-inch 720p IPS LCD that’s both smaller and - crucially - less sharp.
This is a bit of a shame, and it means that the Honor 6A loses out somewhat to the Moto G5 with its own 5-inch unit, which benefits from a 1080p resolution.
That gripe aside, there’s little to complain about with the Honor 6A’s screen. Its lesser size means that you don’t really notice the lower pixel count in most instances, while the brightness level is adequate and colours are plenty vibrant enough. Viewing angles are good too, as you’d expect from an IPS display.
Of course, it’s simply not as good for media or web content as its predecessor. But we can take an educated guess as to why Honor opted for this lesser component.
It’s probably this compromise that enabled the company to go with a stronger (and pricier) chipset, while it also doubtless contributed to the phone’s decent battery life. More on that later.