Honor’s meteoric rise has made it quite dominant in the smartphone world as of late. The Huawei sub-brand has reached more than 70 different countries across the globe and offers smartphones in a variety of different price segments. In the budget segment, we have the Honor 7A, Honor 7C and 9 Lite. In the mid-range segment, there are the Honor 7X, 9i, 8, and the Honor 9N. In the flagship range, there are Honor View 10 and the Honor 10.
The Honor Play, however, is a different story. It uses nearly the same hardware as seen premium tier smartphone such as the Honor View 10 or the Honor 10, but it has a price tag lower than both of them. The device has been launched in China as a gaming phone and this is mostly because of the massive e-Sports scene in the country.
In India, the Honor Play is being marketed as a performance-centric device for a price that is comparatively lower than the competition. This competition, in question, is from the Samsung Galaxy J8, Vivo V9, Huawei P20 Lite and most likely it will face some competition from the Xiaomi Mi A2. However, after using the phone, I realised that what the Honor Play is offering at its price point is impressive on its own. I received the 6 GB RAM + 64 GB internal storage variant of the phone. Do I think you should buy the Honor Play? Absolutely. Read on to know why.
Build and Design: 8/10
The Honor Play just looks different from other Honor phones thanks to the full-metal unibody design. The Honor 10 launched before it sported a glass back, and every recent Honor device we have seen, such as the 9 Lite, the 9N, also sport a glass back. The Honor Play’s curved edges and metallic frame gave me a good grip on the device, something that is quite needed for a phone that is centered around gaming.
The back of the phone sees a dual-camera setup and a fingerprint sensor. One design flaw I couldn’t get over was that the fingerprint sensor was placed a bit higher than expected. It was not in a position in which my fingers would land naturally. On the bottom, we see a headphone jack (thank god), a mono-speaker and a USB Type-C port. The hybrid SIM slot is present on the left side of the phone.
The front of the phone is nearly identical to both the Huawei P20 Lite and the Honor 10. We see a notched screen on the Honor Play because apparently, that’s a thing now in nearly all 2018 smartphones. The Honor branding is seen on the tiny of chin the phone while the notch, which is slightly bigger than the OnePlus 6 notch, houses the front-facing camera, earpiece, and the sensors.
The phone has FHD+ 6.3-inch IPS LCD display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels. The phone has dimensions of 157.9 x 74.3 x 7.5 mm which is nearly the same as that of the Honor 10.
The phone is being marketed as a performance device and as such it has the Huawei’s top-of-the-line chipset, Kirin 970. Although I have to say that I’ve grown tired of Huawei and Honor’s constant shoving of the 970 chipsets in several phones and then calling it a flagship device. The Mali G72 MP12 takes care of the graphics-related workload.
Apart from that, the phone also has 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of UFS 2.0 hi-speed internal storage. In its price range, you will not find the UFS 2.0 storage in any smartphone, which is quite impressive. The phone also has a new feature called as GPU Turbo which boosts gaming performance and saves battery at the same time. We shall talk about it later on. The storage of the phone can be expanded using a micro-SD card of up to 256 GB storage.
In the camera department, that the phone has a 16 MP + 2 MP rear cameras which are apparently AI-powered. The primary sensor has EIS and a f/2.2 aperture while the secondary sensor is only there for depth sensing and has an f/2.4 aperture. On the front, we see that the phone has a 16 MP sensor along with a f/2.0 aperture.
The phone also comes with the party mode feature for those who are interseted in that kind of stuff. Basically, it allows you to connect multiple Honor Play devices to play the same song.
Apart from that, the phone has a 3,750 mAh battery with fast charging capabilities. In terms of connectivity options, we get a hybrid SIM slot with 4G VoLTE capabilities, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, FM Radio, a 3.5 mm headphone jack and a USB 2.0 type-C reversible port.
The Honor Play has a vibrant, colourful and pleasing display. The 6.3-inch screen has an LCD panel, but I find that it still keeps up with an OLED panel on say the OnePlus 6. The big screen also means that the viewing experience on the device is quite appealing. The text on the phone was sharp and crisp. I viewed video content on the phone using different angles and there seemed to be no noticeable colour shift. The phone can also get sufficiently bright in sunny conditions and also pretty dim at night time.
The phone also comes with an eye-comfort mode which filters out blue light to lower visual fatigue. I found this feature quite useful while reading at night. The screen also intelligently follows your face in a feature called as smart rotate. Basically, if you are watching landscape content while sleeping, the screen will not rotate to portrait mode. A pretty nifty feature if you ask me.
Thankfully, the notch on the top does not get in the way in most of the cases as all major apps have been optimised for its usage. You can hide the notch using Honor’s software-based solution, but in my opinion, you won’t be needing it unless you absolutely detest the notch. In any case, since the phone has LCD screen, the top area on both sides of the notch will continue to be lit up.
Software and OS: 7/10
To my immense relief, I found that Honor’s software issues have been put to bed. 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. The animations were not smooth, there were several UI glitches, and overall the skin seemed very clunky and ancient. On the Honor Play, most of these issues have been resolved.
I was greeted by a streamlined app section with smooth animations and several customisation options for the app drawer. The settings menu also looks to have been changed with more colourful icons. Also, Honor has bundled in the SwiftKey keyboard with the Honor Play which will takes some getting used to, especially if you are used to the Google Gboard.
The notifications are where I faced a slight hiccup. With the notch present on the top, all I could see on the top were the signal bar, Wi-Fi strength, battery level and the sound profile that the device has been set to. Other app notifications are only available once you swipe down from the top. I believe it can be fixed via future software updates.
Performance is something that has been mentioned quite a lot for the Honor Play. But don’t get fooled by it. What the Honor Play is really marketed as is a gaming phone. As mentioned before, in China, the phone is being sold as a gaming device due to the huge eSports industry there. But how good is the gaming experience on this phone? Short answer: For its price, quite impressive.
Here’s the long answer. Right off the bat, you notice that the Honor Play does not pack in any accessories that look gaming-centric or appeal to the mind of a typical gamer. A good example of a gaming phone would most likely be the Asus ROG phone. I mean the phone has two type-C ports, another port for attaching peripherals, a cool RGB lighting on its logo at the back, stereo speakers, an overclocked CPU, a cooling mechanism and a whole lot of other contraptions that make the phone a gamer's wet dream. Of course, all this comes at a hefty price tag too, but in an ideal world, that is how a gaming phone should look.
The Honor Play does not have any of those. But for a device that costs under Rs 25,000, you won’t expect such types of inclusions. What the Honor Play does give you in terms of a gaming boost is the fastest chipset currently in the Huawei stable, which is the Kirin 970 and a new technology called the GPU Turbo.
Now without going into too much detail the GPU Turbo essentially takes over the graphical workload so that the CPU is free to do other work. Take for example PUBG. Rendering the entire map of the size that PUBG has, places an immense load on both the CPU and GPU of the phone. Therefore at a time, only that much portion in a game is rendered which is visible to you. When you change your view, the GPU renders the part that is in front of you and the previously rendered view is either deleted or stored in the cache memory.
From the limited interaction with Honor about the GPU Turbo, I roughly gathered that this technology acts as a middleman between the CPU and the GPU to prevent unnecessary rendering of objects in the game. As per Honor, this will increase graphics processing efficiency by 60 percent while reducing the SoC energy consumption by 30 percent. While this technology is currently in the Honor Play, it will also be available on the Honor 10, Honor View 10, Honor 8 Pro, Honor 9, Honor 9 Lite and the Honor 7X via a software update.
To test out the feature, I downloaded some intensive games such as PUBG and Asphalt 9. Naturally, I cranked up the graphic settings to the maximum and played a couple of rounds. Now I would not go so far as to say that this was my best gaming experience on a smartphone as that honour (pun intended) is still held by the OnePlus 6. But I was surprised at how fluid the gameplay was. I most certainly did not expect this fluidity to stay beyond 10-15 minutes, but to my pleasant surprise, both games went on without a hitch or without heating up the metal body of the device too much. So kudos to Honor on the thermal management as well.
There is also one more thing that Honor has introduced in the Honor Play and it’s called as the 4D Smart Shock. Basically, if you are playing a game like PUBG and you are getting hit by bullets, the phone will imitate the shots in the form of a vibration, much like the ones we feel in PS4 or Xbox One controllers. This feature is not yet available and will come out later in an OTA update. Running some standard benchmarking tests, the phone does seem to put many smartphones in its price range to shame. Specifically the Vivo V9, Galaxy J8, Huawei P20 Lite. In summary, for a phone that is below the Rs 25,000 mark to run such heavy graphics intensive game so smoothly is the device’s X-factor. Having played the same game on the Galaxy J8 and the Vivo V9 showed me how good the Honor Play actually is. Combining the Kirin 970, GPU Turbo, 6 GB or 4 GB of DDR4 RAM and 64 GB of internal storage makes for a smooth gaming experience.
Apart from that, the phone’s fingerprint reader seemed to be quite fast and responsive and so was the face unlock mechanism. I will go so far as to say that the OnePlus 6 face unlock, which is ridiculously fast, has met its competitor. Thankfully, the phone has a headphone jack which also offers surround sound for a more immersive gaming experience. I also found that the position of the headphone jack, on the very left of the phone’s edge to be thoughtful, as the wire does not interfere while playing games in landscape mode.
I’ll first get the bad points out of the way. While Honor has touted a lot about the “AI Camera” on the Honor Play, I myself believed it to be a marketing gimmick at best. Now Honor claims that the 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 the photo of its natural colours and instead made them overly bright and saturated. The same can be said in the front facing camera as well. Many of the 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 the Honor Play. At least it is not something I would expect on a phone that costs around Rs 24,000. Detailing in night shots is askew and it would seem that the camera sensors are not large enough to capture low light. As such the camera offers limited dynamic range at night and the AI feature just makes the picture worse. The AI mode just leaves a lot to be desired and is nowhere close to the value addition that the camera and processing on the Honor 10 provided.
Having said that, when the Honor Play is not using its AI camera and its overzealous post-processing, the phone captures some nice photos. The camera UI, which looks heavily inspired by iOS, is quite easy to use and responsive. Photos are taken instantly, although the phone will ask you to hold your hand steady to increase the sharpness after clicking a photo. In good lighting conditions, the camera also showed decent enough dynamic range but I still feel that exposure calibration on the phone can be improved as it tends to overexpose quite often.
The portrait mode on the phone is not the best I’ve seen in its price segment as in some cases, the background blur felt very hastily done. But overall the bokeh mode produced a nice effect and the photos clicked are passable enough for social media.
The phone can shoot 4K video at 30 fps and 1080p videos at 60 fps. The phone has EIS out-of-the-box, but in my opinion, if you love shooting videos then this phone isn’t for you. The videos shot on the Honor Play are a bit jerky and tend to keep hunting for focus, which ruins the video output. I would highly recommend that you click photos without any of the AI features enabled to get good, clean and crisp photos. For a camera comparison, I chose the Vivo V9 and Samsung Galaxy J8 as competition for the Honor Play.
Though the Galaxy J8 produced more colorful and realistic shots, photos clicked by the Honor Play had more light in them. The V9 came behind both cameras in the test. On the front camera, it would seem that the clear winner was the Galaxy J8 keeping in mind how the Vivo V9 made its claim to fame relying on the front camera. But the Honor Play was not too far behind. Bottomline: You are not buying the Honor Play for a great camera, but for its processing speeds and gaming focus. However, for a general user, the Honor Play will produce decent enough photos that are pleasing to look at. The AI mode is best avoided. Click on the Flickr album below to see all photos clicked by the Honor Play in full resolution
The Honor Play has a 3,750 mAh Li-Po battery which supports fast charging. A good battery is something that a gaming-centric phone most certainly needs to have and I have to say that I’m quite satisfied with the battery life on the Honor Play. I played PUBG for about 35-40 minutes on the highest graphics possible and saw only a 20 percent decline in the battery. There are several factors involved, for instance, I was playing on Wi-Fi and not on mobile data and also the screen was above 50 percent brightness levels.
Even so, only a 20 percent decrease after nearly 40 minutes of high graphics gaming seems quite impressive to me. It would seem that the GPU Turbo is not just a gimmick after all and helps in giving a bump to the phone’s battery life.
In general usage, the phone happened to last me for about one and a half days. Plenty of battery was left over even after a lot of video streaming on a 4G connection while the screen was at 75 percent brightness. Kudos to Honor for putting in a great and durable battery.
Verdict and Price in India
Here are some reasons why you should buy the phone.
- If you enjoy a lot of mobile gaming and are on a reasonably tight budget
- If you consume a lot of video content
Here are some reasons why the Honor Play may not be for you
- If you are into mobile photography and vlogging
- If you are looking for a general purpose phone
- If you prefer stock Android
In my opinion, you will not get a more powerful device under Rs 25,000 as the Honor Play. Yes, the camera is flawed and the UI isn’t the best out there, but it is meant to be a gaming-oriented phone and should be treated as such. If you are not a gamer and feel the powerful chipset is overkill for your needs, then there are many options such as the Nokia 7 Plus, the Vivo V9 or the Oppo F7 for a more general purpose device, which you must consider.
It has a phenomenal battery life, a great display, surround sound for immersive gaming and of course a top of the line chipset. It is, as I had mentioned in my first impressions: A metallic Honor 10 with a focus on gaming.
The phone is available for sale exclusively on Amazon and the sale has already begun since 6 August.