Here’s our much-awaited review of the Honor Play
Looking for a bang-for-the-buck phone is easy nowadays. With processors being more powerful (not to mention cheaper), brands find ways to make their mid-range offerings powerful and feature-packed while keeping the prices as low as possible.
Among these brands, Honor is the mad scientist among the crowd: Instead of using a 2017 or 2018 mid-range processor, they decided to utilize a Kirin 970 processor—which is a late 2017 flagship processor—and price it at a hair under Php 16,000. The result of this crazy combination is the Honor Play: a metal-clad mid-range phone that is literally a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
What is it?
The Honor Play is Honor’s gaming-centric mid-range offering. While it is priced like a typical mid-range phone, the Honor Play comes with a flagship processor found on its more expensive siblings—namely the Honor 10, Honor Note 10, and Honor View 10.
How does it feel?
It is slim and sleek. Since Honor chose to use an aluminum unibody rather than the more popular glass back, the Honor Play feels like a mid-range phone from 2017. Don’t underestimate its rather dated look: Up front, you have a trendy, notch-sporting 6.3-inch Full HD+ display that has decent viewing angles and good color reproduction.
In addition, the Honor Play is indeed a 2018 phone as it ditches MicroUSB for USB-C—a rare treat considering most of its rivals for the mid-range segment still settle for the aging MicroUSB port.
Is the aluminum build a deal breaker?
Unless you love gradient-sporting glass backs, the Honor Play’s aluminum unibody is no deal breaker. Honestly, it is a good move for Honor to do so for three reasons: first, it keeps costs down, as an aluminum unibody is usually cheaper than a glass back, regardless if it is the 2.5D or 3D variety. Second, since it is a gaming-centric phone, Honor understands that gamers on a budget do not really mind the cold feel of aluminum.
Lastly, aluminum, by all means, is more durable than glass. You may not have wireless charging capabilities or funky gradient colors, but having a utilitarian look that is tough and resilient is preferred by most people over glass. After all, aluminum has a better chance of surviving drops—whether accidental or intentional—compared to glass.
Does it slay the competition performance-wise?
Without a sweat! The fact that this sub-Php 16k phone comes with a flagship-grade processor makes it an automatic mid-range killer. Running AnTuTu, the Honor Play scored over 206k points—the highest AnTuTu score ever in any mid-range phone.
The RAM and storage configuration—which is 4GB and 64GB for the Philippine market (the 6GB/128GB is not coming to our shores officially)—is not that shabby either. The 4GB RAM is enough for multitasking and several gaming sessions, and the 64GB is sufficient for downloading large games or storing multiple media files.
Speaking of games, the Honor Play comes with GPU Turbo out of the box, and the said tech does deliver as we have explained in an earlier article.
We compared both beta and retail versions of the Honor Play, and the retail version does a better job at running PUBG Mobile at maximum settings for a prolonged period while keeping temperatures stable.
How’s the rest of the phone?
It is zippy and snappy just like any Kirin 970-equipped phone. Since it uses a flagship processor that is equipped with an NPU (in fact, it is one of the first processors to have a dedicated NPU), overall usage is a breeze, and it basically feels like using a flagship phone.
The Honor Play’s Game Suite app organizes your games in one app, and its game acceleration and uninterrupted gaming features help you stay focused on your game. You also have Histen audio for 3D surround sound and for enhancing the sound quality of your music files, and the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner comes with gesture controls for added convenience.
Face unlock is quick and snappy, and works well as an alternative to the fingerprint scanner.
Are the cameras impressive?
While the Honor Play comes with a flagship-grade processor, let’s not forget that it is still technically a mid-range phone. That shows with its camera setup that consists of a 16-megapixel f/2.2 and 2-megapixel depth sensor for the back, and 16-megapixel f/2.0 for the front. While the cameras are potentially the Honor Play’s Achilles heel, the seemingly basic setup is compensated with the Kirin 970’s processing power.
This is evident with its variety of extra features such as RAW shooting, Slo-Mo Videos, EIS at Full HD video, and night mode, along with unusual modes like 3D Creator and Artist mode. The Honor Play’s AI photography feature can be a hit or miss since there are times that it oversaturates the colors. Thankfully, you can choose to turn off those AI enhancements even after taking the photo.
If we were to nitpick the Honor Play’s cameras, it has to be how clunky is its UI: most of the modes we mentioned earlier are found at the “more” tab. If we were to be asked, we’d rather swap Aperture and AR Lens for instant access to Night mode, Pro mode, and Slo-Mo. We hope Honor listens to our suggestion, as some tweaks in the Honor Play’s camera UI will help it further bolster its reputation as the ultimate mid-range killer.
Is it really battery efficient?
Definitely! The combination of a power-efficient, NPU-equipped Kirin 970 processor, and a generous 3750mAh battery helps the Honor Play last you through the day. On PCMark, we got a score of almost 10 hours of battery life, which means that you can casually use the Honor Play for the whole day and go home with adequate juice for some late-night gaming or binge-watching.
If you need to juice it up, the Honor Play comes with quick charging, but not of the SuperCharge variety. Considering that it is a sub-16k phone and it has quick charging and USB-C, the Honor Play is still a great deal on this aspect.
Should you buy it?
Honestly, we’d rather change that phrase to “why should you not buy it?” and we can’t think of a solid reason. While some would nitpick by saying that it has ordinary cameras and a rather boring aluminum unibody, Honor is aware that the main market of the Honor Play is those that are looking for pure performance without spending a fortune.
The Honor Play is a sleeper, and for a good reason: while it looks ordinary on the outside, it is the internals that really matters. As of this writing, the recently-launched POCO F1 attempts to steal the Honor Play’s throne for its highly capable specs—at least on paper.
Nonetheless, the Honor Play is still a great deal if you are looking for a mid-range phone equipped with a flagship processor.
Honor Play Specs
- HiSilicon Kirin 970 octa-core processor
- 4GB RAM
- 6.3-inch Full HD+ display, 2160×1080 resolution
- 64GB of expandable storage (up to 128GB)
- 16-megapixel f/2.2 and 2-megapixel rear cameras with PDAF, Dual Tone LED flash, and AI Camera
- 16-megapixel f/2.0 front camera with 3D Portrait Lighting
- Dual SIM (Hybrid Tray)
- 4G, LTE, VoLTE
- WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC
- GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
- Fingerprint sensor, GPU Turbo, Histen audio
- USB Type-C
- 3750mAh battery
- Android 8.1 Oreo with EMUI 8.2