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Honor 6X (aka Huawei GR5 2017 or Mate 9 Lite) review

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Honor 6X

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

[irp posts=”8843″ name=”Honor Magic shows off beauty and brains”]

Accessories

Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 review: Affordable, but far from perfect

Xiaomi’s premium TWS offering

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The truly wireless earphones market is filled with a plethora of options today, ranging from entry-level offerings like the Redmi Earbuds S to the premium Sony WF-1000XM3. However, the most popular TWS earphones are from Apple — the AirPods.

AirPods kickstarted the TWS trend, and since then, pretty much every brand has jumped onboard. Xiaomi is known for its reliable yet affordable products, and it has launched a few options previously, but it was limited to its home market of China.

Now, the brand has finally launched the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 in India, and it’s pretty much half the price of Apple’s AirPods.

The Redmi Earbuds S is an entry-level offering while Mi branding is now used for the company’s premium offerings. TWS earphones are incredibly convenient to use, and their demand is consistently rising. Can the Mi TWS 2 offer maximum features for the price and go against the competition?

Do they look like the AirPods?

 

At first sight, you’d think they are the AirPods for a quick second. But it’s soon clear that they aren’t. This is something I appreciate about the Mi TWS 2. In a market filled with AirPods knockoffs, it’s nice to see a different design. However, don’t set your expectations too high.

The earbud’s stem is exceptionally thick, and this is easily noticeable from the side. Thankfully, it doesn’t look that thick from the front view and is oval. The stem is also considerably long, giving the earbud a very bulky look.

The polycarbonate build has a matte finish on the stem while the driver is smooth and shiny. I feel the earphones were designed with utility and features in mind, and aesthetics took a back seat.

If the bulkier design can add more battery life and better drivers, I’m okay with it. This may not be the case with many since they tend to look like cheap AirPods knockoffs.

Each earbud weighs just 4 grams, and they slide in your ears very smoothly. Putting them on is a quick task, and for calls, while driving, these are exceedingly convenient to wear single-handedly. The semi-open design is supposed to be fit-for-all. But, this is where my primary concern lies.

How’s the overall user experience?

The earbuds fit perfectly and are rather stable. But the satisfaction of wearing an earbud is utterly absent because of reduced noise isolation. Even though they’ve never automatically snuggled out, I’m always afraid of losing them while walking. The confidence to wear them outdoors is low.

These too sport gesture-based controls, and the result is below satisfaction. I’d have to try a few times before they actively receive the command. Even play/pause function is rather cumbersome and paired with the loose fit; I’m afraid they don’t fall off.

Thankfully, they have an optical sensor that automatically plays/pauses a song when the earbud is worn or removed. Most times, I’d simply remove them from my ear instead of relying on the gesture buttons.

Lastly, the case is quite basic from a design point of view but gets the job done properly. The plastic build is solid, the lid has magnetic detection, and the earbuds aren’t finicky when plugged for charging. A small LED light on the front will show you the case’s battery status. A USB-C port is located on the bottom.

Pairing them is a straightforward task, and Xiaomi phones will automatically pop-up the status menu just like it’s on iOS. It’ll show you each earbud’s battery percentage along with the case.

But do they sound good?

The brand has added a lot of features on the audio side to make the product look premium. It has support for multiple codecs like SBC, AAC, and LHDC. The last one allows high-resolution audio streaming via Bluetooth. I used the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max to test the Mi TWS 2 and it automatically leveraged the AAC band.

Each earbud houses a 14.2mm audio driver, which isn’t the biggest. But, much of the audio output relies on tuning. Sound testing is also very subjective, so I’ll try to address everyone’s choice.

To start with, the output is very crisp and clear, and the vocals are perfectly heard. If you’re into Bollywood songs or even pop, these should be ideal for you.

Unlike the usual tuning, we see in Indian products; the bass here is well managed. It isn’t too much and ultimately does justice for every user. I’d say these are your GadgetMatch if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

The drivers are massively let down by non-existent noise isolation. The design of the earbuds inherently means you can hear pretty much everything happening around you. Even at maximum volume, it just didn’t feel enough.

Lastly, they have “Environment Noise Cancellation” that automatically kicks in when you’re on a call. Background noise is reduced drastically, and everyone I called could feel the change. The overall voice clarity is immensely improved, and high-winds too couldn’t deter them.

How long can they last?

Xiaomi claimed the earbuds can last up to four hours on a single charge and it’s on-point. I was able to get almost four hours with volume at 80 percent.

The case is capable of providing 10 hours of backup, taking the total to fourteen. Thankfully, the case takes just an hour to charge.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re an audiophile, the simple answer is no. The Mi TWS 2 will disappoint you in many ways. However, if you’re looking for work-related earphones, these are perfect.

Calls are ultra-clear, and the overall experience is better thanks to a loose fit. Keep them on, and get through a full day’s work. On the audio side, hip-hop or bass-intensive genre may not suit well here. However, all other vocal-centric songs shall swing by without a hitch.

With a price of INR 4,499, the Mi True Wireless Earphones 2 is a solid competitor. When compared to the realme Buds Air, these lose out on aesthetics. But, the minor additions from a function point of view are worth the slight bump in price.

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LG Velvet Review: New breed of flagship killer?

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Over the years, LG was once a pioneer in the smartphone industry with their G and V smartphone series. These phones are packed with a lot of punch and boast new and exciting features.

But LG has forgotten one thing, and that is how to fix their unexciting phone designs. From the G7 ThinQ all the way to V50 ThinQ 5G, those phones almost look unchanged. They might have been minor changes with the newer V60 ThinQ 5G, but it’s still not as eye-catching as other contenders.

The LG Velvet isn’t a replacement to their ever-existing flagship series. Instead, LG tries to reimagine things by making sure they produce products that cater the needs of not just tech nerds, but other types of consumers as well.

Here’s our in-depth review of the LG Velvet.

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Accessories

Redmi Earbuds S review: Affordable TWS without compromises

Making TWS earphones more accessible

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Truly wireless (TWS) earphones have been around for a while. Apple kick-started the hype with the launch of the AirPods and numerous brands have released alternatives since. However, they’ve always been very expensive.

With brands keen on ditching the headphone jack, users are often left with no option but to find wireless options. Redmi phones continue to have a headphone jack, but the brand also wants to remain focused on its target — deliver quality products at an affordable price.

The Redmi Earbuds S is the first TWS offering in India under the Redmi brand. While the brand stands strong in the smartphone segment, it has some cut-throat competition from realme. With a price tag of INR 1,799 (US$ 24), does it have enough firepower to take on the competition? If you’re looking for an entry-level TWS solution, can you trust the Earbuds S? Let’s find out!

Not AirPods knock-offs

If you’ve been following the TWS market, the Earbuds S will look familiar. These are sold as the AirDots S in China and many have ordered them previously via international marketplaces. In India, Redmi is calling them the Earbuds S and these could land in more south-east Asian markets soon.

While the trend is to follow Apple’s design language, the Earbuds S is going against the flow. It has its own distinctive design that looks nothing like a cheap knock-off.

The pill-shaped case is compact, feels solid in hand, and has a subtle curve on the bottom. The case size is perfect and it’ll always slide into your pocket smoothly.

Each earbud weighs just 4g and the in-ear design is immensely comfortable. I’ve worn them pretty much all day long and never felt any irritation, pain, or slightest of inconvenience. The snug fit also ensures adequate noise isolation and wearing them while driving for calls is seamless.

There’s not much to talk about with the design since it’s basic and gets the job done. They’re built out of plastic and its clearly evident at first sight.

I won’t count this as a drawback since it helps reduce overall weight and I wouldn’t expect metal or premium construction at this price.

Easy to use, fairly straightforward

The lid is very basic but has a satisfying feel to it when closing. Unlike the popular AirPods, these sit in your ears at a 45-degree angle. Paired along are two earbud tips to suit your ear canal. I didn’t have to use them and the standard size that comes along worked fine.

Using them is a very straightforward process. Open the lid, remove the earbuds, and wear them.

They’ll connect to your phone as soon as they’re disconnected from the case. I’ve never faced any connection issues so far. Each earbud has a button for quick controls such as music playback options and calling up Google Assistant.

On the flip side, you can’t rely on the earbuds to change the volume level or play a previous song. That can only be managed via your phone.

Pressing the button thrice will trigger the low-latency gaming mode. A feature that’ll be very handy while playing online multiplayer games like PUBG Mobile or Mobile Legends.

Each earbud has an indicator light that shows the status. Red means they’re charging while white means successful connection establishment. Lastly, they’re IPX4 certified, meaning sweat resistance. This obviously translates to a perfect workout session.

Punchy bass, relatively good audio

This is where I was surprised the most. Considering the nifty features it already has, I expected some kind of compromise in this department. And, I was wrong.

It has 7.2mm drivers and delivers punchy bass — a must-have for Bollywood music. Mainstream genres like pop sound amazing and if you’re not an audiophile, you won’t have any complaints.

The maximum volume is sufficiently loud and coupled with good isolation, even a busy market street is easily navigable.

However, if you’re looking for top-notch audio, these aren’t meant for you. The low frequency takes over while the mids are flat. You can use an equalizer to change the settings but the inherent tuning is in favor of bass-heavy music.

Furthermore, these connect via the SBC codec and there’s no support for aptX. I wouldn’t call this a drawback because the brand has to cut corners to make them accessible to a wider audience.

Adequate playback duration

Xiaomi claims the earbuds can deliver up to four hours of playback on a single charge and I’ve reached 3 hours 45 minutes in one go. So, their claims aren’t farfetched.

The case can charge the earbuds fully twice, delivering a total of 12 hours of playback in one go. If you’re going to use them for conference calls, music, and other work-related activities, they’ll easily get you through a working day.

The case takes almost two hours to charge fully. For frequent travelers, this can be a major drawback. Furthermore, the case charges via a microUSB port instead of the now-standard USB-C. Don’t forget to carry that extra charging cord along!

Can this be your GadgetMatch?

Yes. It definitely can. While there are a lot of minor additions I’d want to see, the price brings me back to reality.

In a nutshell, they’re designed aptly, deliver ordinarily better audio, and have 12 hours of playback. For US$ 25, there’s no better deal available. Keep in mind, the Redmi Earbuds S are making TWS earphones more accessible to everyone.

If you’re looking for top-notch audio quality, there are premium offerings like the OPPO Enco Free, Galaxy Buds, and 1More Truly Stylish. On the affordable side, realme Buds Air Neo and OPPO Enco W31 can be alternatives but are still priced considerably high.

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