Huawei’s latest comes with a svelte metal body and a good screen, and could be a decent shout for general users as well as gamers
Huawei’s Honor sub-brand has been firing out great phones at a rate of knots, with the Honor Play the latest in its line of lower-cost top-spec phones.
The Play doesn’t deviate from the winning formula used by the last few top-end Honor smartphones: a flagship processor, plenty of memory and storage, a big screen and battery life reaching well into the second day.
The result is a very smooth and solid-feeling phone reminiscent of the iPhone 7, with a simple metal back and a front dominated by the screen. Glass may be the material of the moment, but the Honor Play is one of the best feeling phones to my hands right now.
The full HD+ LCD screen is big, bright and crisp with excellent viewing angles, but it’s also long and relatively narrow, which makes handling it relatively easy.
The large notch at the top of the screen containing the selfie camera, sensors and earpiece speaker gets in the way more than I would like. With Bluetooth headphones connected, the phone set to vibrate and connected to wifi there is no room in the status bar for any notification icons.
At 7.5mm thick and 176g in weight, the Play matches up well to all its top-end competition. There’s a headphone socket and USB-C port in the bottom, a small dual-camera lump and an excellent fingerprint scanner on the back.
- Screen: 6.3in FHD+ LCD (409ppi)
- Processor: octa-core Huawei Kirin 970
- RAM: 4GB of RAM
- Storage: 64GB + microSD card slot
- Operating system: EMUI 8.2 based on Android 8.1 Oreo
- Camera: Dual rear camera 16MP + 2MP, 16MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: Dual sim LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2 and GPS
- Dimensions: 157.9 x 74.3 x 7.5 mm
- Weight: 176g
The Honor Play has the same Huawei Kirin 970 processor and 4GB of memory as the Honor 10, and performs similarly in day-to-day usage. The phone feels snappy, apps launch quickly and switching between those apps fast, if not quite on a par with the OnePlus 6.
Gaming performance was solid but not exceptional in my testing: 30 minute stints of Shadowgun Legends were relatively smooth and consumed only 0.5% of battery per minute. For comparison, the same game running on a Google Pixel 2XL consumed 1% per minute, making the Honor Play twice as efficient for similar performance.
Considering it is a phone marketed for gaming, it’s a shame the Play doesn’t have stereo speakers, but at least the one in the end of the phone is quite loud.
Battery life for the Play worked out slightly worse than Honor’s other Kirin 970-powered phones. It lasted an average of 28 hours between charges, starting at 8am one day and making it through till lunchtime on day two.
That was while using it as my primary device, browsing and using apps for five hours while receiving hundreds of push emails and messages, reading comics for 30 minutes, playing games for 30 minutes, taking about 20 photos and listening to seven hours of music via Bluetooth headphones.
The Honor 10 runs Huawei’s modified version of Android called EMUI 8.2, based on Android Oreo 8.1.
It is essentially the same version as running on the Honor 10, looking like a cross between Android and Apple’s iOS.
EMUI includes the option to switch between having an app drawer or having every app on the homescreen. The Google app’s personalised feed is available on the left-most homescreen pane, and the notifications have a more rounded card look, similar to the recently released Android 9 Pie.
The notch can also be hidden in a permanent black status bar, and there are plenty of power-saving features you can activate if you need the phone to last as long as possible.
EMUI 8.2 is arguably the best version of Huawei’s software yet, being much less of a Marmite experience for most, but running on last year’s Android Oreo rather than the new Android 9 Pie is a little disappointing, if not unexpected for a phone launched in late August.
The dual camera on the back of the Play is similar to previous Honor models, but with a lower-resolution 2-megapixel secondary camera that is just there for depth perception for simulated bokeh in portraits. The primary 16-megapixel camera has Honor’s AI system from the Honor 10.
The camera is capable of capturing detailed photos, even in middling light without the AI system turned on. It isn’t quite on par with the best of the best, but it also isn’t that far off.
With the AI system active, which is meant to recognise objects and optimise the camera’s scent, colours simply looked oversaturated, as if they’ve been passed through an Instagram filter.
The 16-megapixel selfie camera is really very good too, capturing far more detail in the face than even £1,000 phones. Some may not find capturing every blemish and wrinkle all that flattering, but when you can see the reflection of the phone in the lens of your own eye in a selfie, I think you’re on to a winner. You can also enable the various degrees of beauty mode to smooth out your skin.
- Huawei’s Histen sound processing can simulate different 3D sound, such as speakers placed in front of you, using regular wired headphones
- Vibrations in game are short, sharp and tightly controlled
- It comes with a clear TPU case in the box
- Huawei’s facial recognition is very fast, although the fingerprint scanner is more secure
The Honor Play costs £279.99 and is available in blue or black.
For comparison, the 5.9in Honor 10 costs £400 with 128GB of storage, the 6in Honor 10 View costs £450 with 128GB, the 6.1in Huawei P20 Pro costs £799 with 128GB, the 6.28in OnePlus 6 costs £469 with 64GB, the 6.2in Samsung Galaxy S9+ costs £869 with 128GB, the 6in Google Pixel 2 XL costs £799 with 64GB, and the 5.8in iPhone X costs £999 with 64GB.
In the last three years, Huawei’s Honor has made a name for itself with excellent phones that cost far less than half the price of top-end rivals. The Honor Play is another great entry in the line costing even less.
It’s well made and feels great, has a good screen, good battery life, reasonable camera, really great fingerprint scanner on the back and plenty of value-added features. It’s still running Android 8.1 Oreo, not the new Android 9 Pie, and lacks water resistance, but few smartphones in this price bracket have it.
The only issue is which of the three Kirin 970 Honor phones is the best, as they’re all competing with each other and pretty similar. At £120 less the Honor Play might take the crown from the Honor 10.
If you’re looking for a metal phone under £280 that gets more than just the basics right, the Honor Play should definitely be on your list.
Pros: decent battery life, good performance, decent camera, good screen, premium feel, dual sim support, headphone socket, efficient gaming
Cons: no water resistance, no wireless charging, AI often makes the camera worse, no Bluetooth 5 support, only Android 8.1 Oreo
- Honor 10 review: premium phone that punches above its price
- Honor 10 View review: cut-price top smartphone with two-day battery life
- OnePlus 6 review: top-end smartphone for half cost of iPhone X
- Huawei P20 Pro review – the three-camera iPhone killer
- Huawei Mate 10 Pro review: say hello to two-day battery life
- Samsung Galaxy S9+ review: the best big-screen smartphone by miles
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010