“The Honor Play delivers great performance, offers good build quality, and comes at a reasonable price”
In a price-sensitive market like India, only the brands that offer true value for money manage to succeed in the long run. Xiaomi has proved this business model in the last few years and Huawei’s sub-brand Honor seems to be following the same. The latest handset from the brand, the Honor Play (first impressions), features the flagship-grade HiSilicon Kirin 970 SoC and comes at an extremely affordable price point for the hardware. Considering that the Honor Play has been touted by the company as a ‘gaming smartphone‘, does it make for a great buy as a handset in general? Read on our detailed review below to find out for yourself.
Design and display
If you are spending around Rs 20,000 on a phone in 2018, it needs to look and feel premium by all means. There are many brands that have opted for glass sandwich designs recently, which look impressive but serve as fingerprint magnets. The Honor Play has taken the other route, shipping with a matte back that feels really good in the hand. Having said that, the Honor Play does catch some fingerprints on the back as well (but still fares better than the phones with glass backs). Most of us put a protective case on our smartphones anyway, but it is definitely good to know that even when you take the cover off, you will get a device with a nice feel to it. The handset has been launched in India in Midnight Black and Navy Blue colours. The unit we reviewed was coloured in Black but the blue variant looks equally good in our opinion.
The company has gone ahead with a minimalistic design at the back with just the Honor branding on the lower half and an inscription below the dual camera module on the top-left that says “AI Camera”. The fingerprint sensor is placed slightly above the middle at the rear and is easily accessible.
The power button and volume rocker are present on the right side of the handset and can easily be pressed when using the phone with one hand. The USB Type-C charging port, along with the 3.5mm audio jack and loudspeaker grille, is located at the bottom. The microSD card slot is on the left, just like most phones. If you are worried about the size of the phone due to the 6.3-inch screen onboard, you can rest at ease as the handset can be held easily in one hand, thanks to its compact form factor.
This brings us to the display. The Honor Play packs a 6.3-inch FHD+ IPS LCD FullView panel with a screen resolution of 2,340 x 1,080 pixels. There is a notch display design in the offing, which has become a standard choice for most mid-range handsets. As a result, you get a taller-than-usual aspect ratio of 19.5:9. For those of you who are concerned, the Honor Play comes with one of the better implementations of the design and the cut-out does not feel like much of a hindrance while watching videos or browsing through articles online.
If we leave aside the notch bit for the moment, the panel delivers on the quality front as well. Be it viewing angles or the maximum brightness, we did not face any issues regarding the display on the handset. The colours don’t appear to be washed out or oversaturated. If you use your smartphone for watching movies or other multimedia content, you will likely be impressed by the display offered on the Honor Play. Here’s a closer look at the handset:
Coming to the optics, the Honor Play features a dual camera setup at the rear, which consists of a 16MP primary sensor with f/2.2 aperture and a secondary 2MP sensor with f/2.4 aperture. The secondary sensor essentially helps the smartphone to capture the depth information. For selfies, you get a 16MP sensor with f/2.0 aperture at the front.
With the default camera app, you get the option to take images in different portrait modes, including stage lighting, classic lighting and split lighting, much like some of the other latest mid-range handsets from the brand. There is an AR Lens mode that allows you to play around with some funny AR stickers as well as effects and backgrounds. These AR options are fun to use but only for a brief while. In the ‘More’ section, you get other modes including Pro, Slow-mo, Night, Panorama, HDR, among others. In the Pro mode, you can adjust the ISO levels and white balance to make sure the images turn out the way you want them to.
In the video mode, the brand has provided an option for object tracking as well as a stabiliser. Notably, the stabiliser feature is not available for videos with high resolution or frame rates. The primary camera setup is capable of shooting videos in 4K resolution at 30 frames per second. The front camera can record videos at up to full HD resolution at the same frame rate.
Notably, the brand has also included its Master AI feature on the Honor Play as well. For those who are unaware, this feature tries to detect the scene or object you’re shooting and enhance the image using artificial intelligence. On certain occasions, you get an image that seems like a big improvement over what you’d get otherwise. However, in many other cases you are provided with an overly saturated picture that does not seem natural at all. Specifically, if there are any plants or greenery in the image, the smartphone enhances the green colour to a level where it starts appearing unnatural or fake. As this is an optional feature and you can see the image without enhancement even after clicking it via Master AI, the feature just acts as an added bonus. We found the performance of the selfie camera to be pretty decent. The front camera offers a good amount of detail, especially in well-lit conditions.
Even though Honor Play managed to click some really good images in regular and portrait mode under direct sunlight, things took a downward turn in low light and night conditions. There was considerable grain in the images taken at night and lack of detail was evident too. Although there are very few handsets in mid-range that manage to take good pictures in low-light conditions, this drawback in camera performance does stand out. Here are a few images captured using the Honor Play.
Software and Hardware
The Honor Play runs Android 8.1 Oreo-based EMUI 8.2 out of the box. If you have used any other Honor handset recently, the software on the new phone feels no different and even though there are plenty of pre-installed apps on board, the UI never presents stutter or lag issues. The animations feel smooth and we did not face any glaring issues while navigating through the UI on a day-to-day basis.
There are some useful toggles in the notification shade like Eye comfort, which essentially acts as a blue-light filter, and Screen recording. The HiTouch feature allows you to shop online via screenshots captured on the handset. In case you don’t prefer using the rear-placed fingerprint sensor, there is a face unlock feature for security as well. This particular feature is as fast as advertised and does not unlock the handset when your eyes are closed. Unfortunately, we managed to unlock the smartphone with the face covered partially. This goes to show that the face unlock feature is convenient but definitely not as secure as the fingerprint sensor. Those of you who cannot wrap your heads around the notch design, the Honor Play comes with a software feature that allows you to turn the notch into a uniform bezel.
There are some proprietary apps from the brand like HiCare, Party mode, and Huawei Share, which can prove to be useful on occasions but not necessarily add to the utility of the platform substantially.
As we are talking about a gaming smartphone, there are some gaming-centric features on the Honor Play as well. The phone offers Smart Shock feature, which essentially recognises the game and provides you with vibration feedback accordingly, just like a console. However, this feature will be offered to users via OTA update and our review unit did not come loaded with Smart Shock.
It wouldn’t be fair if we don’t talk specifically about the gaming performance offered by the Honor Play right upfront. As the name of the handset suggests, the new offering from the brand has been positioned as a gaming smartphone. To back this claim, the Honor Play is powered by flagship-grade HiSilicon Kirin 970 SoC coupled with either 4GB or 6GB of RAM. With both variants of the Honor Play, you get 64GB of built-in storage, which is further expandable by another 256GB via microSD card. We managed to get hands on the 4GB RAM variant for the review.
The handset is further equipped with GPU Turbo technology, which promises to bring 60 percent performance improvement and 30 percent decrease in power consumption. To put this in real-world terms, the handset offers a smooth gaming performance in some of the most demanding games and apps available in the market. We managed to play PUBG at the highest graphics settings without facing any lag issues whatsoever, which is something the brand can be proud of.
Overall, the performance offered by the Honor Play can be described as best-in-class and there are very few handsets that come close to matching the handset in this price range.
With the number of hours that we spend on our smartphones each day, the battery life has become one of the most crucial categories for any handset. The Honor Play packs a 3,750mAh battery, which managed to last a full day of use with ease. In the HD video loop test, the Honor Play lasted around 12 hours.
The background app management offered by the handset makes sure that the battery lasts long in everyday usage. Although the Honor Play was not one of the best performers for us in terms of battery life, we did not have any major issues with the battery backup during the time of our review.
The Honor Play comes across as a solid performer and might be the first of several ‘gaming smartphones’ that will be launched in India this year. The handset offers smooth performance, decent battery life, and a quality display at an extremely reasonable price point. The 4GB RAM variant of the Honor Play has been priced by the company at Rs 19,999 and the 6GB RAM variant can be purchased for Rs 23,999 in the country. In this price range, the Honor Play will be competing against the likes of the Xiaomi Mi A2 (review), OPPO F7 (review), and Vivo V9 (review). If camera quality is important to you, you should know that the low-light performance offered by Honor Play leaves something to be desired. However, if you prefer performance over camera image quality, the Honor Play should be a no-brainer.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Impressive performance
- Good value for money
- Good display quality
- Battery life could have been better
- Low-light camera performance