Honor Play Review

Honor Play

Honor Play

Honor

June, 2018
6.3" IPS LCD display, Hisilicon Kirin 970 chipset, 3750 mAh battery, 64 GB storage, 6 GB RAM.
EUR:€250 | USD:$283 | PKR:39,658 | INR:20,000

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Honor Play Review

Honor Play Review


Introduction

2018 has been an amazing year for all smartphone enthusiast. With top flagships shining bright in market, it's been a year full of midrange surprises as well. To make smartphone market even competitive, Huawei has released an exciting new smartphone, one which looks like a mid-ranger, costs like a mid-ranger, but performs like a flagship. Huawei Honor Play is that drop in the lake of smartphones which is here to change entire trends and user expectations from a mid-range device. Bearing flagship performance, this phone is set to break the barrier between mid-range segment and top-notch performance and to top it all, Huawei is also branding this phone as a gamer's device. It's optimized for high levels of GPU performance and comes with a premium design. Question remains now, is this formula really going to work? What are the cuts that Huawei must've done to keep price so low? Let's find out!

Design

Honor devices have a reputation of changing design language much often and that's exactly what you'll get to see with Huawei Honor Play as well. Phone just looks different from other Honor phones thanks to its full-metal unibody design. Phone's curved edges and metallic frame give a good grip on device, something that is quite needed for a phone that is centered around gaming.

At front of this beautiful device, there's a large notched display which stretched all the way up to corners, providing minimum side bezels. Bottom bezel is fairly small as well, with Honor branding on it. Inside notch, there's a selfie camera, earpiece and sensors, with no physical buttons anywhere on front. Going towards back of phone, you'll be getting to see a metal back, with soft touch to it. There are antenna bands as well on top, resembling Apple iPhone 7 in an uncanny manner. On top left is where you'll find a dual camera module with an LED flash right below it. A fingerprint scanner is positioned in middle of top half of device, while rest of phone is kept clean. There's some Honor branding on bottom left of phone with some more minimal branding on upper left side. Rest of the back is left clean and it'll catch your eye with the shimmer it offers.

At right side of device, there's a power button with volume keys right below it. Left side is kept clean, just like top of device. At bottom, you're getting a single speaker, a USB Type-C port and thankfully, a 3.5 mm headphone jack.

Overall, it's great to see that Huawei didn't cut down on design department of this phone. Rear of Huawei Honor Play feels premium to touch, and you may prefer grip here to that on some glass-backed flagship devices.

Display

Huawei Honor Play sports a pretty large display with a notch, and I was surprised to see how good it was. It's a 6.3 inch Full HD+ IPS LCD display with a resolution of 1080x2340p, aspect ratio of 19.5:9 and pixel density of 401 ppi. LCD isn't as exciting as deep blacks you'll get from an OLED panel, such as that in Huawei P20 Pro, but it's got good viewing angles and ample brightness (although you may need to push up auto-brightness to get enough out of it).

Huawei Honor Play, interestingly, seems to have taken a page out of Google Pixel 2 XL's book, as its screen isn't the punchiest going. It's not dull, but there's an inherent flatness in its visuals when brightness isn't cranked, most notable when playing games, such as South Park: Phone Destroyer. However, Huawei Honor Play's inclusion of 2.5D glass helps image look fully embedded within device, while exterior glass isn't too reflective to be distracting. Furthermore, you might notice that notch up there. Yes, it is there to the top of screen to house front-facing camera, sensors and speaker phone but it's not distracting in use if you're used to a notch. However, if you dislike it then it can be hidden through software to make for a more complete looking device. In my daily use, I found out that many apps will automatically ignore this upper area of the screen anyway for a fully rectangular screen load.

Overall, I didn't find anything mighty exciting about this display, nor did I find it rather boring. It's a well-rounded display for a device that isn't an expensive flagship and that's all most people would care about.

Hardware

There's plenty of area where smartphone users won't be amazed with Huawei Honor Play, but the hardware department is where it all changes. Although it's price as a midrange device, its specs don't reflect the midrange price tag at all. Top-end Kirin 970 processor is on board, which is the very same processor you'll find in flagship Huawei P20 Pro devices. Phone's GPU is Mali G-72 MP 12 which is the most powerful Mali GPU available. It comes with only 64 GB of onboard storage with RAM options of either 4 GB or 6 GB. In-case you're a power user and want more space, there's MicroSD card expansion available for storage increase of up to 256 GB.

During my performance test of Huawei Honor Play, I found performance to be quite compelling. Most prominent thing that I noticed was phone's lower RAM variant's struggle to keep apps in memory. Comparing it to Xiaomi Pocophone F1 (which has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and 6GB RAM), Huawei Honor Play was about two seconds slower to open apps like Candy Crush and other games. A slight difference that shows this device is a whisker behind, but not something you'll ever notice in isolated use. When you have a demanding game like PUBG Mobile loaded, Huawei Honor Play does have a special trick up its sleeve. Huawei has introduced GPU Turbo which enables hardware-software to balance graphical processing unit's efficiency, boosting performance for consistent frame-rate and provide a longer smooth performance. Long story short, PUBG Mobile runs super smooth on Huawei Honor Play, as if it's loaded on a flagship phone. A downside to this is that GPU Turbo is not compatible with many games at present: PUBG Mobile, Asphalt 9 and Mobile Legends are the ones I know about, so there's room for compatibility progress there. Honor says that GPU Turbo means that a host of technical stuff is improved in Huawei Honor Play, such as jitter rate, however I was simply pleased to see that phone delivered on its core promise of running mobile games very well. Honor Play's Game Suite mode adds to this excellent core competency by delivering ability to easily record gameplay, lock phone's navigation keys and bars to prevent accidental usage, and mute incoming notifications, too.

Naturally, as a phone geared towards performance, I was keen to see what sort of scores Huawei Honor Play posted in terms of benchmark. I received an overall score of 8,525 in GeekBench 4 and lodged a multi-core score of 6,561 and a single-core score of 1,888. These scores compare very well to a variety of flagship Android phones, but ultimately fall short of the biggest scoring phones we've seen this year such as OnePlus 6, HTC U12+ and Samsung Galaxy Note9. On audio side, Huawei Honor Play comes with a single bottom firing speaker, while it features a 3.5mm headphone jack for wired audio experience. You also get a USB Type-C port for fast charging and that makes the whole hardware package on this powerful device, more exciting.

Overall impressions on hardware department of this phone are fairly impressive, especially because of a flagship chipset and no visible cuts on essential hardware components required in a phone aimed at gamers and power users. It'll be interesting to see how well this phone bids in near future, with continues usage and long performance hours.

Battery

Huawei Honor Play is aimed at gamers and that warrants a long-lasting battery with good enough power capacity to be included. It comes with a large 3750 mAh battery and with all this gaming and a load of work and life to balance, you might assume phone's battery is going to take a hit. But this is one of this phone's most impressive performance areas. After 18 hours use in a day I've still had 45 per cent battery remaining. On days with some longer gaming sessions, over 16 hours use has seen over 20 per cent battery remaining. In short: try hard as you will, it'll be very difficult to deplete the Honor Play's battery in a single day. In-case you do non-stop gaming, then addition of fast-charging via USB Type-C is an added bonus.

There are no wireless charging features here, but Huawei Honor Play does come with fast charging, which will allow you to pump your phone up in the quickest time possible. I found that phone would charge particularly fast, at just over 1 hour and 45 minutes and it didn't heat up any more than I've experienced with other current phones. If I have to put all this up in a few words, I would say that Huawei Honor Play's battery performance is simply incredible.

Camera

At a midrange price point, you don't expect camera on this phone to be perfect. However, with more and more midrange phones coming out with pretty good cameras, your expectations rise. With Huawei Honor Play, you're getting dual cameras on the rear, coming at 16 MP for the main sensor at an f/2.2 aperture and 2 MP for secondary depth sensor with an f/2.4 aperture. Second sensor is just to allow you to take bokeh shots as well as enabling a few other smart tricks on device's shooter. This isn't likely to give you photography that's as good as Huawei Honor 10, but we found that it performed well in good lighting.

I wasn't expecting much from Huawei Honor Play's camera, and while some users might find it mediocre, I think that main 16MP sensor is rather adept. Shots of close-up subjects present plenty of crisp detail, with lower-light frames don't see color totally expose out into a bland wash. While Honor has touted a lot about “AI Camera” on Huawei Honor Play, I personally believed it to be a marketing gimmick at best. Now Honor claims that Huawei Honor Play's AI camera can recognize 22 objects in over 500 scenarios. Even though that might be true, during my testing I found that this AI feature robbed photos of their natural colors and instead made them overly bright and saturated. Same can be said in front facing camera as well. Many of portrait lighting features made me look more like an anime character rather than showing me my actual face. Low light photography is not up to the mark on Huawei Honor Play, though. Detailing in night shots is askew and it would seem that camera sensors are not large enough to capture low light. AI mode just leaves a lot to be desired and is nowhere close to value addition that camera and processing on Huawei Honor 10 provided. In short, you'll be able to capture some impressive shots during day, but not so much indoors or in dark.

Having said that, when Huawei Honor Play is not using its AI camera and its overzealous post-processing, phone manages to capture some nice photos. Camera UI, which looks heavily inspired by iOS, is quite easy to use and responsive. Photos are taken instantly, although camera app will ask you to hold your hand steady to increase sharpness after clicking a photo. In good lighting conditions, camera also showed decent enough dynamic range, but I still feel that exposure calibration on phone can be improved as it tends to overexpose images quite often. Portrait mode on this phone is not best I've seen in its price segment as in some cases, background blur felt very hastily done. However, overall bokeh mode produced a nice effect and photos clicked are passable enough for social media.

Selfie camera on Huawei Honor Play is a 16 MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture. This is an AI selfie camera with 3D facial recognition (this isn't biometric) and 3D portrait lighting capabilities. Almost inevitably for a phone launched in 2018, Huawei Honor Play also has a AR camera mode that allows you to superimpose a variety of creative things on selfie shots or images in general. On video front, phone can shoot 4K video at 30 fps and 1080p videos at 60 fps. It has EIS out-of-the-box, but in my opinion, if you love shooting videos then this phone isn't for you. Videos shot on Huawei Honor Play are a bit jerky and tend to keep hunting for focus, which ruins video output.

In the end, I will say that Huawei Honor Play isn't great at photography. It isn't meant to be great at it either and its competitor Xiaomi Pocophone F1 performs much better in this domain. For people who are content with decent photography and don't want really good pictures, just turn AI mode off and you'd be good to go.

Software

Huawei Honor series is infamous for having glitchy software. To my immense relief, I found that Honor's software issues have been put to bed on Huawei Honor Play. Huawei's custom EMUI 8.2 skin is overlaid upon Android 8.1 Oreo and even though I'm a person who prefers stock Android, I felt that EMUI was not too bad either. My previous experience with EMUI has been disappointing, to say the least. Software on this device is at a point where it's stable, easy to use and there's nothing major to hinder your experience. Sure, Honor likes to pre-load some apps, and there are obvious duplications of some Google equivalents (Music, Clock, Calendar), but it's easy to rearrange home screens, or switch on App Drawer setup instead depending on how you like to organize and layout your apps. Animations were not smooth, there were several UI glitches, and overall skin seemed very clunky and ancient. Settings menu however, looks to have been changed with more colorful icons. Also, Honor has bundled in SwiftKey keyboard with which will takes some getting used to, especially if you are used to Google Gboard.

Notifications are where I faced a slight hiccup. With notch present on top, all I could see on top were signal bar, Wi-Fi strength, battery level and sound profile that device has been set to while other app notifications are only available once you swipe down from top. I really hope that it can be fixed via future software updates. There are also benefits to EMUI that if you run dual SIM cards then App Twin allows duplication of certain apps, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, for different mobile numbers, thus it's possible to login to business and personal accounts on same device. You can even segregate these into separate 'spaces' so not all are showing at once, if preferred.

Rest of UI and software experience is classic EMUI, something you won't be surprised to see on this device.

Conclusion

Huawei Honor Play is available in market for around 320 Euros depending on your market. It's available in five different colors: Midnight Black, Navy Blue, Violet, Player Edition Red and Player Edition Black. Last few years it's OnePlus that's ruled affordable flagship roster. However, Huawei Honor Play has emerged as the first real midrange device with flagship performance.

With its massive screen, great overall performance, exceptional battery life, considered design and crazy-good asking price, Huawei Honor Play doesn't just put itself into a competitive spot, it wipes the floor with its competition. It is a well-speced Android phone that has been tailored specifically to make mobile games a better experience. And, on that count, it definitely succeeds, adding in genuinely useful or performance-enhancing tech and features that make playing mobile games very enjoyable. GPU Turbo is a neat piece of engineering and from my comparison testing with other devices, does definitely add an extra level of gaming power.

It has some cons, however, and I won't recommend this phone to you if you are into mobile photography and vlogging, if you are looking for a general-purpose phone or if you prefer stock Android. If you're looking for performance however, or mobile gaming at a midrange price, then this phone is definitely going to get your attention. Most importantly, except for Xiaomi Pocophone F1, there isn't any real competition out there for this phone at this price point. Overall, then, I feel that Huawei Honor Play is very easy to recommend if you are looking for a new Android phone and are shopping with a low mid-range budget, and especially so if you are gamer who enjoys playing mobile games on the go.