Honor has been on a roll recently. Their new releases have been an instant hit to smartphone fans and enthusiasts, thanks to the good value they offer for the money.
And just recently, the company almost single-handedly revolutionized the midrange segment when they launched the Honor Play, a budget-friendly device equipped with high-end level hardware.
From the name itself, you can already tell that it’s meant for those who love to play games on their smartphones. Mobile gaming has become bigger and more competitive in the recent months, so more and more gamers are looking for an affordable gear to play with.
I’ll say it right away, the Honor Play is definitely one of the fastest devices in its category in terms of performance. However, there’s more to a smartphone than its processing power. So, here in our Honor Play review, we’re about to see what other things this device has to offer. Let’s start!
Honor Play Specs
- Android 8.1 Oreo, EMUI 8.2
- Dual SIM, Dual Standby (Hybrid)
- 6.3-inch Full HD+ 19.5:9 aspect ratio Display, 2340 × 1080 pixel resolution, ~409ppi
- 2.4GHz HiSilicon Kirin 970 octa-core processor
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB internal storage, expandable via microSD up to 256GB
- 16-megapixel (f/2.2) + 2-megapixel (f/2.4) rear cameras with PDAF, Dual tone LED flash
- 16-megapixel (f/2.0, 2.0µm) front camera, 3D Portrait Lighting
- HSPA+, 4G, LTE, VoLTE
- Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi hotspot, Dual-band
- Bluetooth, NFC
- GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS
- USB Type-C
- Fingerprint sensor
- Histen audio
- Dimensions: 157.9 x 74.3 x 7.5 mm
- Weight: 176 g
- 3,750mAh non-removable battery with fast charging
Design and Build Quality
As stated earlier, the Honor Play packs some pretty incredible hardware inside. But despite all of the resources that were put in on the internals, the company was still able to dress the device really well.
It’s not the flashiest, most eye-catching device around, but it sure is built to last. The phone is made from a unibody metal, with a matte paint job that’s reminiscent to the famous Huawei Nova 2i of last year.
At 7.5mm, Honor Play is certainly a thin device. Partnered with its curved corners and edges, the Honor Play is a comfortable handset to grip. However, weighing 176g, it’s not the lightest smartphone around.
Overall, the Honor Play’s design compliments its target market. It’s meant for people who want a straightforward smartphone that does the job. And its durable and stealthy look screams just that.
Taking a tour, we have the 6.3-inch FHD+ IPS screen on the front. It has a noticeable chin with the Honor logo printed on it. On the top we have the display notch that houses the selfie camera, earpiece, and the LED notification indicator.
The left side houses a hybrid SIM card slot, while on the left there’s the volume controls right above the lock/power button. The buttons themselves feel really tactile and clicky.
At the top, we only have the noise-canceling microphone and the antenna band that stretches from the back to the sides — an identical look to the iPhone 7.
You can also see the same antenna strip on the bottom, together with the 3.5mm headphone jack, the primary microphone, USB Type-C port, and the loudspeakers.
Flipping it up we have the dual cameras on the back, encaged in an acceptably-large camera bump. We also have the fingerprint scanner in the middle for easy reachability, as well as the Honor branding and other information in the far left.
The Honor Play has a 6.3-inch FHD+ IPS screen, with a 2340 x 1080 pixel resolution, and 19:9 aspect ratio. That’s definitely a sweet set of numbers for a display specification. Not flagship grade, but good enough for a midrange smartphone.
I have no complaints regarding its display quality. It can project decent colors, the contrast is okay, and the sharpness is absolutely fine.
However, if you put it side by side with some top-caliber smartphones around, you’d notice that the Honor Play’s screen lacks a tiny bit of contrast. Plus, the colors look relatively washed out.
But then again, we’re stacking it up with some smartphones that are double (or even triple) its price tag. And besides, all by itself, the screen can already deliver an acceptable performance, so we’re okay with it.
Of course, this part would not end with us not talking about the screen notch, so here it is. Just like most devices with this feature, the Honor Play faces some of the pros and cons of having screen notch. For the pros, having a 19:9 aspect ratio means that you have more screen estate to work on. It also provides more immersiveness when watching videos and playing games. Plus, in case you haven’t noticed, the screen notch is starting to become a status symbol nowadays.
However, since most YouTube videos are shot in 18:9, taking full advantage of the 19:9 aspect ratio means that there will be cropped frames on the top and bottom. Not to mention the details that the display notch would cover.
Thankfully, you can switch between full screen and regular aspect ration by doing the pinch-to-zoom gesture on select video streaming apps. You can also easily hide the notch on the settings menu.
The Honor Play has a lot of good things going on with it. But then again, this handset only belongs in the midrange segment which means that there had been compromises made that were necessary to keep the price down. One of those trade-offs is in the sound quality.
First off, I’m not saying it outputs terrible sound, but I think it could have been a tad bit better.
Honor Play’s bottom-firing loudspeaker can deliver sound with decent volume, just enough for private listening. The quality itself is definitely not the best — the highs/treble can get distorted at max volume, while the lows/bass is almost inaudible.
If you want the best experience, especially when gaming, you might need to plug in a pair of headphones. Unlike most Android smartphones, it can blasts music through your cans with good volume. The clarity is also decent.
The Honor Play also comes with Histen sound effects, a software-level audio optimization that mimics different sound modes ( 3D Audio, Natural, Standard). You can also let it know what type of listening device you’re using for a more optimized experience.
Performance and Hardware
Now, we head on to what everyone is waiting for, the Honor Play’s performance. Like I said earlier, this device comes with a flagship-level hardware. It sports a HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor, the same chipset that we can find on more expensive smartphones today.
It also comes with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and Mali-G72 MP12 GPU with GPU Turbo Technology.
With that, it goes without saying that the Honor Play provides a really impressive performance. Everything with this device is fast and snappy. Apps load fast, the camera can take photos in a snap, and browsing through the entire interface is really a fluid experience.
The Kirin 970’s dedicated NPU assists the Honor Play’s AI-powered features. You can see it in action in the camera department, which we’ll be talking more about later.
We did a separate and more comprehensive gaming review of the Honor Play, which you can check out here. But to spare you some time, the Honor Play is without a doubt, an impressive gaming smartphone. However, the device gets really warm when playing for an extended period of time.
The GPU Turbo Technology helped games like PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang to reach the seamless and steady frame rates. That’s even with the graphics settings set to High.
And with the GPU Turbo 2.0 just around the horizon, we expect more games to be compatible with this technology. But even without that feature, the CPU and GPU was still able to handle unsupported games impressively.
To sum it up, the Honor Play is definitely one of the most powerful smartphones in its category. So if performance is your top priority, the Honor Play is ahead of the competition aside from the Pocophone F1.
Just like most smartphones today, the Honor Play comes with both fingerprint scanner and face unlock as its security features. The fingerprint sensor is placed on the back, right within reach of your index finger.
As expected, the said sensor works really fast and accurate. This technology has been on smartphones for a couple of years now, so we surely expect it to work quite well.
The face unlock feature also worked as it should. It can immediately recognize your face and unlock the Honor Play right when you pull it up. The interesting part is, it also works well in low-light scenarios, which is not plausible in other devices that have this feature.
Other than its biometric scanners, the Honor Play also comes with security features in the software level. There’s the Find My Device feature in case it gets missing or stolen. There’s also the PrivateSpace that creates another division on your device that only you can access.
App lock is also present, File Safe and there are constant security updates from both Honor and Android.
Software and User Interface
The Honor Play runs on Android 8.1 Oreo with EMUI 8.2 interface on top. That’s the same interface found other Honor and Huawei devices like the Honor 8X, 8X Max, as well as the Nova 3 and Nova 3i (read our review).
Since it’s dressed in Honor’s custom UI, its looks are far from the standard interface of stock Android. In fact, EMUI is one of the most decked-out interfaces around. However, Honor tried its best to declutter the new 8.2 version from its predecessors.
Everything looks more simplified and straightforward, some of the non-sense features were also removed. And since it still runs in 8.1 Oreo, it comes with some features that Android has developed for their OS.
The Notification Dots are here. A tiny dot on top of the app icon shows up if there’s an unseen notification. The AutoFill function that automatically types in your account on a particular app is also here. This is perfect for users like me who uses different devices from time to time.
Honor Play also has One-handed UI for easy one-finger reachability, motion controls, Raise to ear to automatically answer/make calls and more, and three-finger screenshot.
EMUI 8.1 uses a customized SwiftKey keyboard. I personally like this keyboard as it’s easy to type on. Plus, its settings are accessible right from the keyboard itself. No need to dig in on the settings menu.
Since it’s already 2018, the Honor Play doesn’t have too much bloatware apps, which means you’d only be using Google’s messaging app, Huawei’s camera app, gallery, and Chrome as the only browser pre-installed.
However, some of the Google apps that come with it are uninstallable. Softwares like the Google Photos, Play Music, and more will stay there, although you can disable them.
Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the Honor Play’s interface. EMUI 8.2 might have drastically altered Android’s standard look, but it does have tons of features that improve the overall user experience.
As if its design and performance didn’t impress us enough, the Honor Play continues to wow us with its capable set of cameras. This phone sports a 16-megapixel and 2-megapixel dual-camera setup on the back, which can surprisingly take good pictures.
Honor Play is definitely not the best camera phone for the price, but for what you’re already getting with its other top-caliber features, the Honor Play was able to exceed my low expectations with its camera prowess.
The 16-megapixel sensor can take images with Instagram-worthy colors, the contrast is a bit lacking but is still acceptable, and its dynamic range performance is not the worst that I have seen. It can even take decent photos in low-light scenarios.
Turn on the AI Scene Detection mode and you’d get even better results. The Honor Play can really enhance any images that you’re taking as it can instantly distinguish the kind of subject that you’re taking, and automatically adjusts the settings to improve it.
The Portrait Mode feature also works well, thanks to the depth-sensing 2-megapixel sensor. It can intelligently separate the foreground from the background, providing a DSLR-like depth of field. It also had a 3D Lighting mode, which replicated different studio lighting styles.
It also has a few gimmicks up its sleeves. The AR Lens provides different cool ways for you to enjoy its camera. There’s the 3D Object, which adds cool animations on the scene in real-time as if it’s actually there in real life.
Moving on, we also have a 16-megapixel camera on the front. By itself, the front sensor can take well-lit self-portraits. However, the fun really starts when you use its novelty features.
The AR lens feature from the Honor Play’s rear camera also works here. We have the Snapchat-like face filters, collage animations with background music, and a background changer that also adds an apt music to the scene chosen.
Also, despite the lack of a depth-sensing sensor, the Portrait Mode works surprisingly well on this camera.
Again, the Honor Play is not the best camera phone around. But for the price you’d be paying for its processor and other high-end components — plus the jam-packed camera novelty features — it is still a fine device to take pictures with.
The Honor Play is rigged with a 3,750mAh battery, which offers stellar battery performance if you’re a gamer or just a casual user.
My day usually consists of browsing through my Facebook and Instagram feed, replying to messages, and casually taking pictures and playing games. With that type of usage, the device was able to easily last me through the entire day, with around 10% to 15% charge left before bedtime.
As a standard procedure, I also ran PCMark’s battery stress test. The Honor Play garnered a score of 9 hours and 51 minutes of screen-on time before reaching 20%. For a perspective, the average score that we get in our reviews is 8 hours and 30 minutess, so it’s a good figure.
The Honor Play is, without a doubt, one of the fastest smartphones in its category. As stated earlier, the HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor is the same chipset found on the devices that are way more expensive.
With said, one might expect that Honor focused all their limited resources on the device’s processor. But surprisingly enough, they were still able to equip the device with decent specs and features in other departments.
For starters, the screen is large and sharp. It also has a reliable battery life, which is quite good if you play tons of games every time. Moreover, it can surprisingly take good photos, which I wasn’t expecting on a smartphone that focuses on performance.
All of those features are housed in a sturdy, well-designed body and it feels like it would last for a long time.
Overall, the Honor Play is definitely one of the best smartphones that you can get for the price. But if we were to nitpick, I do wish that this device has a more effective cooling system, since it does accumulate heat when you play for a long time.
But other than that, everything is tip-top about this device. We’re quite not sure how Honor was able to come up with a good device such as this at an affordable price point, but I’m really glad that they did.
Pricing and availability of Honor Play
As stated earlier, one of the Honor Play’s biggest features is its price. This handset is available for only Php15,990. You can get it at select Honor retail shops nationwide, and online via Honor’s official stores in Shopee and Lazada.
Alternatively, if you can still stretch your budget a bit more, you might want to check the Xiaomi Pocophone F1. Much like the Honor Play, the Pocophone F1 also comes with high-end specs, for only a price of Php17,990. Other competitors also include the Vivo V11 and OPPO F9.
- Solid performance
- Sturdy build
- Decent cameras
- Reliable battery life
- Overheating issues
- Boring design