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Honor Is the Best Smartphone Brand You Never Heard Of

Honor isn't a brand that you'll see while walking the aisles of your carrier store. And yet this smartphone company has already amassed 100 million fans and users in 74 countries, and its Honor 5X redefined how good a cheap phone could be in 2016. Honor also claims to be the first company to develop dual-lens cameras for phones, which is becoming all the rage this year.

Now, Honor — which is part of but very distinct from its parent company, Huawei — is hoping to woo younger shoppers away from Apple and Samsung with its Honor 6X. We didn't love everything about this device in our review, but the phone delivers features you wouldn't expect for $249, including a dual-lens camera, metal design and strong performance. Right now, it's the best unlocked phone selling for under $300.

I recently sat down with Honor's president, George Zhao, to see what makes this brand one to watch and what's on the horizon.

Tom's Guide: What's the difference between Honor and Huawei?

George Zhao: Huawei's brand has a more traditional business model, like Apple and Samsung, which mostly rely on wireless carriers. But Honor is targeting digital natives and young people. Our brand spirit is totally different.

Honor is specifically focused on millennials, which is why we're a digital-first brand. Because our customers are always engaging online, searching and living online, Honor focuses primarily on e-marketing. For Honor, we usually don't use TV campaigns. We use social networks.

Honor president George Zhao. Credit: Honor

(Image credit: Honor president George Zhao. Credit: Honor)

TG: How important is the U.S. versus China for you?

Zhao: The U.S. market is our long-term view and long-term strategy for Honor. It's easy to win market share when you have a low price and an aggressive marketing campaign, but Honor doesn't want to go that way. We are building our local capability step by step, and we've built our own sales platform at hihonor.com.

"We don't have to share costs with the carriers. That allows us to save costs, return the benefit to the young consumer and invest more in R&D."— George Zhao, president, Honor

Honor is always pragmatic rather than opportunistic. Our rapid business growth in global markets is made possible by quality product, continuous innovation and user engagement. Our down-to-Earth approach protects us from the market fluctuations and the come and go of the hyped [trends].

We also built our Honor local office in San Jose, [California]. We value the importance of talents, and we started to build our U.S. team in 2016. We'll have a new office at Mountain View, [California], in the Bay Area in 2017, hoping attract more talents to Honor brand.

At $249, the Honor 6X offers surprsingly good performance. Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: At $249, the Honor 6X offers surprsingly good performance. Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide)

TG: Why not go through U.S. carriers?

Zhao: We have our own channel, hihonor.com/us, and we cooperated with e-retailers like Amazon, Newegg, B&H and Best Buy. In 2017, we'll continue to use hihonor.com and those e-retailers as well as our own sales platform. And off-line, we're cooperating with Best Buy so people can see our smartphones.

Because we don't go through the channel [of another company], we don't have to share the costs with the carriers. That allows us to save costs, return the benefit to the young consumer and invest more in R&D.

TG: The budget-phone market is pretty crowded. How is the Honor 6X different?

Zhao: The dual-lens rear camera, long-lasting battery, strong performance and design make it the perfect technological budget beast for millennials, allowing them to double their enjoyment. An extended battery life means you will never have to keep things short again. The battery life is over two days with regular use and over one day with heavy use.

                                         Honor 6X Battery Life vs Competition

Additionally, Honor 6X also [comes] packed with some useful functions to optimize mobile internet experience. For example, there's the Eye Comfort mode to relieve the fatigue of your eyes, and you can use Wi-Fi bridge function to share your Wi-Fi data with your friends and family.

TG: It seems everyone is focusing on artificial intelligence this year. What makes the Honor Magic stand out?

Zhao: Honor Magic is the very first smart device of Honor equipped with artificial intelligence technology. It  marks the first step taken by Honor to explore the future, to bring smartphones closer to truly intelligent devices.

Honor Magic provides human-like interactions, on-demand services and information. Its operating system is called Honor Magic Live, which can learn your habits. Also, by detecting external factors, — such as touch, direction, brightness, speed, distance and location — Honor Magic does not only function passively on user's demand, but [also] provides active services.

For example, it will present information the instant you need it, and you do not need to search on your phone. Once you arrive at the theater, Honor Magic will automatically display the ticket booking number. It will also help [you] to remember where you parked your car, to make life more convenient. Imagine when you are chatting about movies with your friends on [an[ instant messaging app, [and] Honor Magic will then be able to recommend the latest blockbusters for you.

TG: Do you plan to launch the Magic in the U.S.?

Zhao: We will launch the flagship Honor 9 in 2017 [in the U.S.]. For Honor Magic, because the system requires local cooperation and deep understanding of local culture, traditions and living habits, we do not have a solid plan yet about the U.S. market.

We'll also refine the intelligence system before possibly bringing it to the U.S.