There8217;s a saying about busses: you wait ages for one and then three turn up at once. Although we can8217;t apply that loose analogy to Honor specifically – the brand has had a steady stream arriving three-monthly for seemingly forever (Honor 10, Honor View 10), flooding the market with various size options – the tail-end of 2018 does bring with it a new era of affordable flagships: from the Poco F1 and Oppo F9 to the Honor Play.
Core to all those handsets is that they will undercut the OnePlus 6 in terms of price point. And of the lot it8217;s the Honor Play that8217;s arguably the most interesting in terms of design. Add in a top-spec processor, considerable battery and a screen large enough to make you think twice about buying a Samsung Note 9, and Honor appears to have a very well versed mid-price phone on its hands.
- Unibody metal design in four colours: Ultra Violet, Navy Blue, Midnight Black, Player Edition Red/Black
- 6.3-inch, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 1080 x 2340 resolution IPS LCD display, with notch
- Rear-facing fingerprint scanner
- 157.9 x 74.3 x 7.5mm; 176g
Every time we receive an Honor phone for review it looks a little different to the last. We8217;ve repeatedly criticised this approach because it lacks the synergy we would expect from a given brand. With Honor it8217;s always a shift in colour, finish and tone. The Play does look great, though, with its soft-touch matte rear and subtle navy blue finish. Other models, such as the Honor 10, offer hyper-reflective, eye-catching finishes; or there8217;s the View 10 which is a more similar shade to the play, but shinier and more fingerprint-attracting.
Keeping those three handsets in mind, the Honor Play is a clear visual cue of how rapidly this company8217;s technology is evolving. We though the Honor 108217;s trim bezel was impressive (and that was back in February 2018, just six months before writing this), but the Play advances that form even further, with less bezel and neater edging. There8217;s nothing about this handset that doesn8217;t look flagship.
Read the specs and the Play8217;s 6.3-inch screen might sound huge, but it8217;s perfectly manageable thanks to the 19.5:9 aspect ratio, making it sink into a single hand without any problems (unlike an iPhone 8 Plus, for example, which we find too wide). The LCD designation isn8217;t as exciting as the deep blacks you8217;ll get from an OLED panel, such as that in the Huawei P20 Pro, but it8217;s got good viewing angles and ample brightness (although you may need to crank up the auto-brightness to get enough out of it).
Interestingly, the Honor Play seems to have taken a page out of the Pixel 2 XL8217;s book, as its screen isn8217;t the punchiest going. It8217;s not drab, but there8217;s an inherent flatness in its visuals when the brightness isn8217;t cranked. And you know what, we rather like this look. It8217;s been most notable when playing games, such as South Park: Phone Destroyer, where side-by-side with a Pixel 2 XL and Huawei P20 Pro it8217;s looked less punchy. However, the Play8217;s inclusion of 2.5D glass helps the image look fully embedded within the device, while the exterior glass isn8217;t too reflective to be distracting.
Oh, and you might notice that notch up there. Yup, the black-out 8216;dip8217; to the top of the screen is there to house the front-facing camera, sensors and speaker phone. It8217;s not distracting in use if you8217;re used to a notch (and there are a lot now, it8217;s like the new norm), but if you dislike it then it can be 8216;hidden8217; through software to make for a more complete looking device. Many apps will automatically ignore this upper area of the screen anyway for a fully rectangular screen load.
To the rear the Play shows off its dual camera setup to the upper corner. These protrude a little, which causes the device to rock about when laying flat on a table. It causes one other issue: the paint around the lenses isn8217;t tough enough, as it8217;s started to expose the metal beneath within just a week of use. At least it8217;s a shiny metal, though, as the whole device is built from a single metal shell.
Also on the rear is a circular fingerprint scanner. It8217;s perhaps a tiny bit too high up the body, but not difficult to reach, and it works really well with any associated digits. Alternatively there8217;s the usual PIN/pattern login – although the PIN is six digits, not four, which we find laborious to enter (yes, we know, a whole two extra inputs, how do we live?!). We8217;ve had no issues with this scanner, however, unless trying to login with wet hands8230; which is a bad idea anyway, as the Play isn8217;t weather-sealed.
Overall the Honor Play8217;s design is accomplished. There8217;s a few tweaks to make – colour/finish consistency within the range; tougher paint around the camera lenses; an OLED screen with more pre-set display forms; four digit PIN please (pedantic, yep); and the unshakable fact that the vibration alert just sounds awful – but we8217;ve found it to look and feel better than the Poco F1 (which we had used full-time prior to this Honor).
- Huawei Kirin 970 octa-core processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage
- GPU Turbo for gaming to optimise graphics
- 3750mAh battery, USB-C quick recharging
- EMUI 8.2 software (over Android 8.1)
On the power front the Honor Play doesn8217;t disappoint. Although it8217;s mid-price, its specs are anything but middling: the top-end Kirin 970 processor is on board, which is the very same you8217;ll find in the flagship Huawei P20 Pro.
In the Honor8217;s case, however, there8217;s just 4GB RAM, not the larger 6/8GB that many high-spec handsets are currently employing, which may cause some subtle load issues if you have lots of apps open at any one time. Seeing as we8217;ve mentioned the Poco F1 (which has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and 6GB RAM), the Xiaomi-made phone is about two seconds faster to open apps like Candy Crush and other games. A slight difference that shows the Honor is a whisker behind, but not something you8217;ll ever notice in isolated use.
When you have an epic game like PUBG Mobile loaded, the Honor does have a new trick up its sleeve: GPU Turbo. This hardware-software balances the graphical processing unit8217;s efficiency, boosting performance for consistent frame-rate and smooth performance. Which is a long-winded way of saying that PUBG Mobile runs super smooth as if loaded on a flagship phone.
However, GPU Turbo is not compatible with many games at present: with PUBG Mobile, Asphalt 9 and Mobile Legends are the ones we know about, so there8217;s room for compatibility progress there. Plus you won8217;t get the super-high frame-rate panel of a Razer Phone or Asus ROG Phone from this Honor, which is inherent to the display hardware.
With all this gaming and a load of work and life to balance, you might assume the Honor Play8217;s battery is going to take a hit. But this is one of the phone8217;s most impressive performance areas. After 18 hours use in a day we8217;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, it8217;ll be very difficult to deplete the Honor Play8217;s battery in a single day. And if you do non-stop game then the addition of fast-charging via USB-C is an added bonus. The battery life is exceptional.
Some of the battery kudos can probably be awarded to the software setup. The Play runs Huawei8217;s EMUI software (over the top of Google8217;s Android 8.1 operating system), which has long been known to be, let8217;s say, 8216;firm8217; about apps and battery use. In its EMUI 8.2 guise, however, it8217;s not over-bearing in its decisions to limit power to apps – indeed within the settings there are lots of adjustments you can make per app to ensure a refined experience for your personal setup (which, funnily enough, is the direction Google proper is heading with its latest Android 9 Pie setup).
Otherwise the software is at a point where it8217;s stable, easy to use and there8217;s not too much 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 it8217;s easy to rearrange home screens, or switch on the App Drawer setup instead depending on how you like to organise and layout your apps.
There are also benefits to EMUI. If you run dual SIM cards then App Twin allows duplication of certain apps, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, for different mobile numbers, thus it8217;s possible to login to business and personal accounts on the same device. You can even segregate these into separate 8216;spaces8217; so not all are showing at once, if preferred.
- Dual rear cameras: 16MP f/2.2 & 2MP f/2.4 (for depth measure and blurred-background Portrait)
- AI Camera for artificial intelligence auto scene selection
- 16MP front-facing camera for selfies
The last major piece of the puzzle is the Play8217;s camera setup. Comprising dual cameras on the rear and one on the front, it8217;s a phone positioned like most others on the market right now, with the dual cameras used to capture not only imagery but depth to be used by the software for Portrait/blurred background shots.
We weren8217;t expecting lots from the Play8217;s camera, and while some reviewers in India (who had the phone first) have called it 8220;so-so8221;, we think the main 16MP sensor is rather adept. Shots of close-up Lego present plenty of crisp detail; lower-light frames don8217;t see the colour totally bomb out into a bland wash; with only some softness/over-processing visible in shots taken in far darker conditions.
Even the depth reading, which can be used under the Aperture section of the Camera app – it8217;s possible to select between f/0.95 to f/16 (blurriest through to least blurry background) – works relatively well to soften backgrounds, such as the four-channel mixer example in our gallery. It doesn8217;t always work 100 per cent perfectly, particularly with difficult edges such as people8217;s hair in portrait shots, but it8217;s on par with the competition.
The Camera app also comes with a bundle of modes, from auto, to AI Camera (artificial intelligence scene selection), and fully manual 8216;Pro8217;. These are arranged in a mix of swipe left/right, through to the main More settings menu, which can feel like a bit of a jumble to get from one to the next. Still, as you can press-and-drag for exposure compensation and press-to-focus is relatively quick and on point, there8217;s little need to spend an age digging through many of the modes.