The Honor Play is all about on-the-go gaming, but is there more to this smartphone than its gaming gimmicks?
I think I’ve seen my fair share of focus-grouped taglines and snappy slogans in my mere two-and-a-half-year stint as a tech journalist. This year alone, almost every major smartphone launch has been filled with marketing-driven waffle and fractious phrases that don’t really do their respective phones much justice. The Honor Play’s silly slogan is another to add to that list.
“Crazy smart, crazy fast”. That’s what Honor thinks is the best way to sum up its latest affordable flagship phone, the Honor Play, in only four mashed-together words. But, and somebody perhaps ought to tell Honor this, there’s actually much more to this smartphone than its nonsense tagline would have you believe.
Honor Play review: What you need to know
From the offset, then, the Honor Play is typical smartphone fare. It’s fitted with everything you should already be nice and familiar with by this point: there’s a 6.3in Full HD screen on the front, complete with an iPhone X-style notch, and the phone is powered by Huawei’s own flagship processor, the Kirin 970. There’s also 4GB of RAM, 64GB of expandable storage and a dual 16- and 2-megapixel camera setup is located on the rear.
The Honor Play is a tempting proposition for gamers, too. Honor’s GPU Turbo, which is essentially a fancy name for a bunch of software optimisations bundled with Kirin-equipped handsets, improves the phone’s efficiency and power consumption while gaming. Is the Play the best smartphone for gaming? Well, you can read my findings below.
Honor Play review: Price and competition
The Honor Play is already shaping up to be quite an interesting handset, that’s abundantly clear. Yet there’s one thing that’s still a bit of mystery. At the time of writing this review, I’m afraid Honor hasn’t told us how much this phone will cost.
Oh, we know the ballpark figure at least. Fitting somewhere between the View 10 and the X-branded lineup, Honor says, we can expect the Play to cost roughly £300 when it first appears on the shelves of your local phone shop. I’ll update this review when I hear more official details, of course.
At that price, we’re looking at pitting the Honor Play against similarly-specced budget titans including Motorola’s Moto G6 – our current well-priced favourite – and the Asus Zenfone 5. That’s not to say the Play is safe from the threat of its own siblings, either: both the Honor 10 and View 10 are still doing the rounds and are excellent alternatives.
Honor Play review: Design
The Honor Play isn’t exactly in a class of its own when it comes to aesthetics. Indeed, it looks almost identical to anything the firm has pumped out in recent months – that’s a lot of phones, by the way. What’s more, it doesn’t look too dissimilar to a lot of other handsets that have launched this year.
That’s not necessarily a negative, and it’s certainly a rather nice phone to look at. Coming in midnight black or navy blue, it really does look like something you’ve paid twice the price for, with a matte aluminium chassis, complete with softly rounded edges and a silky-smooth all-display front.
As for the practicalities, there’s enough here for any aspiring flagship-beater. The volume and power keys sit side-by-side on the right edge of the phone, while a combination microSD and nano-SIM tray is on the left. You’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack placed next to the USB-C charging port and solitary speaker grill on the base. On the rear of the phone, you’ll spot a small circular fingerprint reader, which sits next to a pair of vertically-aligned rear cameras – more on those later.
Honor Play review: Display
The display, too, isn’t particularly special. Sure, I used to let out a little geeky gasp whenever one of these all-display beauties were unveiled but, I’m afraid to say, I think it’s time for a fresh look.
Still, it’s a lovely screen in its own right. Measuring 6.3in from slightly-rounded corner to slightly-rounded corner, Honor’s IPS display managed to produce 91.6% of the sRGB colour gamut on the phone’s default “vibrant” colour mode. Colours were perhaps a little too punchy for my tastes and tended to be rather oversaturated across the palate, but the phone’s alternate “normal” display mode was much more reserved.
Contrast is also up to snuff. Images look rather eye-popping at 1,589:1 and the maximum brightness of 465cd/m2 is perfectly-suited for a game of PUBG when the family BBQ begins to wind down.
Honor Play review: Performance and battery life
Now, the big draw for the Honor Play is its supposed flagship-beating levels of performance. Equipped with the same chipset as the £680 Huawei P20 Pro – an octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor, clocked at 2.4GHz – surely you can save yourself a fortune and buy the Honor Play instead, right?
Well, according to the demanding Geekbench 4 multi- and single-core CPU tests, there’s very little to differentiate between the two phones when it boils down to raw speed. In fact, it’s abundantly clear that the Play is equally well-performing as its expensive competition, and is indeed faster than its similarly-priced rivals.
Now that mobile gaming is big business, with more smartphone manufacturers desperately vying for a slice of that mobile esports pie, the Play is a wonderful gaming tool. The embedded Mali-G72 GPU copes perfectly well with the latest Android games, producing stable frame rates when playing even the most notoriously demanding titles, including PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9.
Speaking of which, the Honor Play has one last trick up its metaphorical sleeves when it comes to gaming. Fire up those last two games I mentioned, and you’ll notice a feature that’s particularly special: something Honor calls “scenario based shocks”. What this feature does is vibrate the phone depending on different scenarios, such as the explosion of a nearby grenade or revving the engines on your high-end sports car.
It’s a similar feature to the one in Sony’s Xperia XZ2 and, while it is perhaps a little gimmicky, it does offer a slightly more immersive gaming experience when you’re competing for that elusive chicken dinner on the morning commute.
And you’ll be playing a game for a good chunk of time on a single charge, too. While it’s far from the best I’ve tested, the Play reached 13hrs 9mins in our continuous video playback test before battery levels plummeted to zero.
Honor Play review: Camera
Dual-camera arrangements aren’t new, not at all, and the Honor Play’s get-up isn’t particularly fanciful. You’ll find a pair of cameras on the back of the phone; one is a bog-standard RGB 16-megapixel f/2.2 effort, while the other is a depth-sensing 2-megapixel f/2.4 camera. The idea is that the secondary camera helps improve your fancy bokeh-effect shots, while the main sensor adds detail and colour information.
Results, as you might expect given the lack of top-level specifications, aren’t all that mind-blowing. Shots in good light, in general, are rather good; there’s plenty of detail and colour reproduction is spot on. When the light fades, however, the Honor Play really starts to struggle.
That’s due to the rather narrow aperture. Simply put, the Play’s pair of cameras don’t let enough light in, and your shots suffer as a result, with murky-looking colours, and images lacking in finer details. Phones are beginning to perform remarkably well in low-light conditions, but unfortunately, this nighttime prowess has yet to trickle down to mid-range handsets, with such excellent Instagram-worthy shots reserved solely for the pricey flagship models.
Honor Play review: Verdict
Tally up the scores, though, and the Honor 9 is, indeed, a fabulous flagship-beater. It may not be the photography companion I was hoping for, and its design is rather uninspired, but in other areas that matter – display quality, battery life and performance – this phone really shines.
Again, I ask the question: why spend upwards of four figures on the latest flagship phone? The Honor Play is a near-perfect, shining example that you can save your pocket money and buy a handset that you might not have previously considered, and be equally impressed with the upgrade.