Honor Play

Android Advisor - - Contents -

Price: £279 inc VAT from fave.co/2Pv3gBu

The Play is Honor’s lat­est foray into the UK phone mar­ket, and the first in a planned line of de­vices un­der the ‘Play’ brand­ing. As you might be able to guess from the name, the tar­get mar­ket is gamers look­ing for some­thing a lit­tle more af­ford­able than the likes of the Razer Phone.

Honor has a great track record for pro­duc­ing top spec phones at ac­ces­si­ble price points – with­out com­pro­mis­ing on de­sign or build qual­ity along the way – and af­ter a cou­ple of weeks of play­ing with it, the Honor Play looks to be an­other strong ex­am­ple. Read on for our thoughts.

De­sign

The first thing to note about the Play is that it’s big – but not in a bad way. With a 6.3in screen this is close in size to Sam­sung’s Note range, but thanks to the notched de­sign and 89 per­cent screen-to-body ra­tio, it doesn’t feel un­com­fort­ably large in the hand.

There’s a bit of a chin at the bot­tom of the de­vice – just enough space to cram in the Honor logo, though there’s no home but­ton – but oth­er­wise bezels are kept to a minimum. The notch is one of the larger ones around, wider than on the Honor 10, but sim­i­lar to plenty of other de­vices out there.

In con­trast to the Honor 10, the Play has dropped the glass back in favour of a matte metal body. That hope­fully makes the phone a bit stur­dier, but also of­fers bet­ter grip when you’re grab­bing the phone for land­scape gam­ing – the sort of func­tion over form de­ci­sion that is meant in part to dis­tin­guish the Play from Honor’s flag­ship line.

The rear of the phone also in­cludes the dual camera lenses tucked into the corner, the fin­ger­print scan­ner, and a bit more Honor brand­ing, though it’s sub­tle enough to not mind too much.

It all adds to­gether to a phone that feels light and com­fort­able to hold, de­spite the large screen, and the matt fin­ish strikes a nice bal­ance be­tween aes­thet­ics and prac­ti­cal­ity. It’s not a de­sign that’s go­ing to wow any­one in the same way as Honor and Huawei’s colour-shift­ing glass flag­ships, but it’s no slouch ei­ther.

In the UK, the phone will be avail­able in your choice of ei­ther Mid­night Black (pic­tured) or Navy Blue, along with two limited ‘Player Edi­tion’

ver­sions in black and red, avail­able ex­clu­sively from the on­line Honor store in part­ner­ship with Audi. Out­side of the UK there’s also an Ul­tra Vi­o­let model, but we’re not get­ting that one sadly.

Honor also in­cludes a sil­i­con case in the box in case you’re ac­ci­dent prone, though it’s worth not­ing that there’s no wa­ter­proof­ing, and also no wire­less charg­ing – two of the big fea­tures Honor tends to cut to keep prices down.

Dis­play

The 6.3in, 19.5:9 dis­play is big, bright, and beau­ti­ful, with vivid colours and crisp de­tail, along with re­ally im­pres­sive view­ing an­gles.

A peak bright­ness of 387cd/m2 isn’t up there with the very bright­est screens we’ve tested, but it’s very re­spectable. If we had a com­plaint, it’s that

the au­to­matic bright­ness set­tings tended to run a bit dim­mer than we wanted, leav­ing us man­u­ally in­creas­ing the bright­ness more of­ten than on other phones.

One thing that’s worth not­ing is that un­like other phones mar­keted specif­i­cally gam­ing, the Honor Play doesn’t boast a higher re­sponse rate than nor­mal. The Razer Phone of­fers 120Hz and the Asus ROG clocks in at 90Hz, with both tout­ing the re­sponse rate as a key gam­ing fea­ture – and the Play just can’t com­pete on that level.

Sim­i­larly, the res­o­lu­tion caps out at Full HD+ rather than the Quad HD that Razer of­fers. So the Honor Play is never go­ing to the top gam­ing phone when it comes to its dis­play, but given that the price is well below both the Razer and Asus phones, that might be a wise bit of cost-cut­ting on Honor’s part.

As you can tell, it’s got a notch, and no doubt you al­ready have your own firm opin­ions on the mat­ter. For what it’s worth, it’s op­tional, in the sense that you can ob­scure the screen on ei­ther side on a soft­ware level if you find the notch too much of an eye sore.

Oth­er­wise, it mostly works well, with notification icons fill­ing in on ei­ther side. Honor’s EMUI An­droid over­lay also smartly re­duces the size of those icons to help fit more in, so you should still be able to see most of the important ones at a glance.

Pro­ces­sor, mem­ory and stor­age

Honor has al­ways done an im­pres­sive job of fit­ting flag­ship specs into its phones, and the Honor Play is no ex­cep­tion, pow­ered by the Kirin 970 – the same chip as the Honor 10 and Huawei P20. That’s backed up by 4GB of RAM and a slightly low 64GB of stor­age – though that is at least ex­pand­able by mi­croSD.

As you might ex­pect from those spec­i­fi­ca­tions, per­for­mance is a breeze. It per­forms very sim­i­larly to both the Honor 10 and the P20 – no sur­prise given the shared specs – but also keeps up well with the Razer Phone for the most part, and in fact beats its frame rate on the more chal­leng­ing graph­ics tests – a sign per­haps that skip­ping the Quad HD and high re­fresh rate dis­play may help the Play per­form bet­ter in game­play.

Ac­tual in-game per­for­mance could be even bet­ter than those bench­marks sug­gest thanks to GPU Turbo, a soft­ware up­date rolling out across re­cent Huawei and Honor de­vices, but which comes pre­in­stalled on the Play.

De­signed to op­ti­mize gam­ing per­for­mance and frame ren­der­ing, the com­pany claims it boosts graph­ics pro­cess­ing efficiency by 60 per­cent, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­duc­ing power con­sump­tion by 30 per­cent. The boost should kick in on any game, but will be most no­tice­able on games from Huawei’s part­ner de­vel­op­ers, cur­rently in­clud­ing PUBG and As­phalt 9.

With that in mind, those are the games we chose to put it through its paces, with re­spectable re­sults. As­phalt 9 ran as smooth as any­thing, with no frame rate drops at all, and looked fan­tas­tic on the Play’s ex­pan­sive screen. PUBG is a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing for any phone – the Play de­faulted to ‘High’ set­tings – but fell short of ‘Ul­tra’ ac­cord­ing to the au­to­mated sys­tem, and while it ran smoothly the phone did get pretty hot by the end of the round (though I got a Chicken Din­ner, so I was play­ing a fair while, just say­ing).

Con­nec­tiv­ity and au­dio

The Play packs Blue­tooth 4.2 – rather than the more re­cent 5.0 – but aptx HD sup­port means that au­dio qual­ity is strong over wire­less head­phones. Even bet­ter, there’s a head­phone jack along the bot­tom of the phone, though there aren’t any head­phones in­cluded with the phone.

Charg­ing is by USB-C, and the phone is dual-SIM, with gran­u­lar soft­ware con­trols to al­low you flex­i­bil­ity over which SIM han­dles which func­tions – calls on one and data on the other, for ex­am­ple.

There’s a fin­ger­print sen­sor on the rear, which has proved quick and re­li­able, while you can also use

the sim­ple fa­cial recog­ni­tion to un­lock the phone if you don’t mind slightly re­duced se­cu­rity.

The big dis­ap­point­ment here is the omis­sion of NFC, which means there’s no op­tion to use Google Pay, which feels like an over­sight at a time when even bud­get phones are now see­ing NFC in­cluded.

Cam­eras

The cam­eras are one area where Honor has slightly cut cor­ners, clearly re­flect­ing the Play’s spe­cific pri­or­i­ties, with specs that don’t match up to the com­pany’s other de­vices.

There are dual rear cam­eras, and while the main lens is a de­cent enough 16Mp with f/2.2 aper­ture, the sec­ond lens is a much less re­mark­able 2Mp with f/2.4 aper­ture – enough to help pro­vide a bokeh ef­fect in por­trait mode, but not much else.

As you can see from our test shots, pho­tos are good but never great, with vi­brant colour re­pro­duc­tion that’s helped by the in­te­grated AI fea­tures – this is 2018, af­ter all – in­clud­ing scene recog­ni­tion that au­to­mat­i­cally ap­plies post-pro­duc­tion to your pho­tos to boost colour and de­tail.

It’s a trick that ac­tu­ally works very well for the most part, pro­duc­ing so­cial me­dia-ready pho­tos as long as it can rec­og­nize what you’re look­ing at – along with the op­tion to have the phone’s gallery sort pho­tos by those scenes.

The giveaway of how much of the work here is be­ing done on the soft­ware side comes if you switch on HDR, which ac­tu­ally pro­duces pho­tos with a lower dy­namic range than that pro­duced by the AI mode – the soft­ware is clearly work­ing hard to over­come the lim­i­ta­tions of the lenses.

You can see the AI hit its lim­its in low-light pho­tos though, which pro­duce sur­pris­ingly bright colours, but with a grain­i­ness and lack of de­tail through­out that gives away just how much of the re­sult is down to AI post-pro­cess­ing.

The 16Mp f/2.0 front-fac­ing camera is sim­i­larly fine, but not re­mark­able, and of­fers a very overblown (and purely soft­ware-driven) bokeh op­tion, along with por­trait light­ing, beau­ti­fi­ca­tion, and AR op­tions – all of which are avail­able on the rear camera, too.

You can shoot video in 1080p at 60fps or at 4K with a frame rate drop to 30fps. Re­sults are solid – though you miss out on some of the AI beau­ti­fi­ca­tion of the pho­tos – and there’s an op­tion for im­age sta­bi­liza­tion, though only at 1080p 30fps or below.

Bat­tery life

Bat­tery life is one of the few slight dis­ap­point­ments in the Honor Play. The 3,750mAh bat­tery is slightly larger than the Honor 10 and Huawei P20 – mostly to make up for that larger screen – but bat­tery life is sim­i­lar, last­ing just over a day in most of our us­age.

In the Geek­bench 4 bat­tery test with the phone bright­ness set to 120cd/m2 the Play lasted just 4 hours and 21 min­utes – slightly bet­ter than the Honor 10’s 3 hours and 54 min­utes, but still among the low­est scores we’ve recorded this year, with plenty of sim­i­larly priced phones man­ag­ing six or seven hours.

Soft­ware

The Honor Play joins the rest of the Huawei and Honor fam­ily in run­ning EMUI, the com­pany’s An­droid skin, which skews a lit­tle bit closer to ios than stock

An­droid in some of its de­sign choices, in­clud­ing de­fault­ing to a grid of home screen icons (though the clas­sic An­droid app drawer is still an op­tion).

EMUI is one of the less ob­jec­tion­able An­droid skins out there re­ally – and if you’re used to ios you may even find you pre­fer it to the stock ex­pe­ri­ence – so un­less you’re re­ally fussy there’s not too much to com­plain about here.

It is worth not­ing though, that by de­fault it in­cludes Honor’s own suite of core apps, rather than Google’s, and also pre-in­stalls a few games and apps that you may want to clear out when you first get the phone. Ev­ery­thing ex­cept a hand­ful of Honor’s own apps can be unin­stalled thank­fully.

Ver­dict

At £279, it’s very easy to rec­om­mend the Honor Play. The dis­play is no match for the likes of the Razer Phone or Asus ROG, but the Play of­fers top­notch per­for­mance at a far lower price than ei­ther of those, which might make it the ideal phone for gamers on a bud­get.

Even if you’re not a gamer, this is one of the best value phones on the mar­ket, of­fer­ing flag­ship per­for­mance at a frac­tion of the price, so long as you don’t mind miss­ing out on the best photography fea­tures. Do­minic Pre­ston

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 6.3in Full-HD+ (2,340x1,080) 19.5:9 IPS dis­play • An­droid 8.1 Oreo with EMUI 8.2 • Kirin 970 pro­ces­sor (4x 2.4GHz Cor­tex-A73, 4x

1.8GHz Cor­tex-A53) • 4GB RAM • 64GB stor­age • mi­cro SD card slot (up to 256GB) • 4G LTE • Dual-SIM (uses SD slot) • Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi • Blue­tooth 4.2 with aptx HD • Fin­ger­print sen­sor (rear) • GPS • Dual-camera: 16Mp (f/2.2); 2Mp (f/2.4) rear camera • 16Mp (f/2.0) selfie camera • 4K at 30fps video • USB-C • 3,750mAh bat­tery • 157.9x 74.3 x 7.5mm • 176g

The Play’s dis­play is big, bright, and beau­ti­ful

You can ob­scure the notch if you don’t like it

The Honor Play has a fin­ger­print reader on the rear

The Play runs EMUI, Honor’s An­droid skin

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