The Honor 6X isn’t an entirely new phone. Although it experienced an international launch earlier this month, it’s been around since its original unveiling in China last October. We’ve been using it since acquiring a unit at CES 2017; here’s my take on the midrange smartphone.

Hold on… Honor what?

Honor is the hipper, more youthful sub-brand of Huawei. The latter is all about class and the highest-end features, whereas Honor caters to youngsters on a tighter budget. The 6X is the latest in the series, and it starts at $250.

Honor 6X

The Honor 6X has a heavily skinned Android operating system called Emotion UI 4.1

The version we have on hand has 3GB of memory and 32GB of internal storage that’s expandable using a microSD card. There’s also a variant with 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage costing $300. Both have a 5.5-inch Full HD display and hybrid dual-SIM card tray.

In certain regions, this phone goes by the name Huawei GR5 2017 or Mate 9 Lite. That’s so confusing! This has to do with the Honor brand being sold exclusively online wherever it’s available; by branding it under Huawei, markets that prefer offline sales, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, can identify the phone a lot easier.

Why should you care?

The Honor 6X might look like a typical metal-bodied Chinese smartphone, but its edge lies in having a dual-camera setup at the back. While it doesn’t provide optical zoom like on Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus or improved image quality similar to the Huawei Mate 9, you can produce photos with added blur in the background, even after taking the shot.

Honor 6X

The lens on top does the picture taking, while the other one handles depth information

This is made possible with one 12-megapixel camera capturing the scene and another 2-megapixel sensor recording depth information. Snap away all you want in the camera app’s dual-camera mode, and readjust the focus point and amount of background blur whenever you feel like it in the pre-installed gallery app.

Is the extra camera worth it?

Yes, but it takes some practice to get it right. You must also understand that while Huawei loves comparing the Honor 6X’s photos to those of real cameras, the shallow depth-of-field of the 6X clearly looks fake to trained eyes. Once you get the hang of it, creating artsy photos becomes fun, as long as it’s done in moderation.

After selecting a focus point, you can make the aperture opening as wide as f/0.95 (lots of background blur) or much smaller at f/16 (no blur at all)

How about the main camera?

After spending days in dual-camera mode, I eventually got tired of all the afterthought needed and switched to using just the main 12-megapixel shooter full time. It’s only here I uncovered most of the camera’s weaknesses.

As much as I like the simplistic camera interface and easy application of filters, the shooting speed isn’t that great. Shots taken at night are also incredibly noisy. The LED flash helped when subjects were close enough, but I otherwise avoided relying on the Honor 6X to produce anything presentable under crappy lighting.

Honor 6X

The camera bulge is rather thick and long

The 8-megapixel selfie camera has the same nighttime problem, and even though daylight snaps were fine, the focal length is kind of narrow, so you won’t be able to fit lots of friends or much of the background.

Here are some of the best samples I took:

So, is there anything special beyond the cameras?

Not really, but I do appreciate the build quality. The all-metal body reminds me of the OnePlus 3’s, which means it’s solid and a pleasure to grip. The fingerprint scanner is fast, as well — typical of Huawei. Everything else is painfully average, from the screen’s maximum brightness to the speaker’s max volume.

The battery life can be described as just good enough. It’ll net you four hours of screen-on time through a day’s worth of mixed usage; a little more over a course of two days if you leave mobile data off or lower the display brightness. Fast charging is available using the bundled charger, bringing the 3340mAh battery to full in less than two hours.

Honor 6X

The 3.5mm audio jack is still present

If you’re looking to turn this into a mobile gaming machine, expect average graphics performance. Titles such as Asphalt 8 and the NBA 2K series are too much to handle for the Honor 6X on the highest settings. Tone them down, and you’ll get acceptable frame rates.

Any deal-breakers?

This is totally my own opinion, but I’m not a fan of Huawei’s Android interface. It feels so outdated and unintuitive compared to other Android skins: The notifications shade covers the entire screen; it takes an extra swipe to access quick settings; the app overview menu isn’t snappy enough; and customization options are minimal.

It also doesn’t help that it’ll be stuck at Android 6.0 Marshmallow for a while, and not the significantly better seventh-generation Nougat. The overall performance isn’t that smooth either, mostly because of the middling Kirin 655 processor designed by Huawei itself. You’ll notice heavier apps like Facebook take longer than usual to load, even when the memory and storage aren’t full.

Honor 6X

It uses an old micro-USB port instead of the newer USB-C

And, strangely enough for a 2017 smartphone, the Honor 6X still has a micro-USB port, not the newer and faster USB-C standard. If you’re gradually updating all your chargers for the new port, the Honor 6X will make you regret starting so early.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Huawei is targeting younger crowds for this Honor, which is probably a good idea. It’s relatively affordable, has a newish feature in its dual-camera, and feels like it can handle several drops. The downsides are all things you can eventually get used to, so the Honor 6X may become your GadgetMatch after a few weeks of use. For a handset trying to do everything without breaking the $300 line, the Honor 6X/GR5 2017/Mate 9 Lite is a smart choice.

Honor 6X

Available colors are gold, silver, and gray

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