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At this day and age, gaming phones are the next big thing. We know this. The industry knows this. That's why we can see a lot of gaming phones appearing left and right since the launch of Razer Phone – and now, the HONOR Play arrives. Is it worth your money? Let's take a look.
Thanks to HONOR Malaysia for this opportunity to review the HONOR Play.
Firstly, the box. It's simple and I like it. It's not flashy – just white throughout with a stylish logo that writes "HONOR Play" with the AI branding beside. Very clean packaging design.
Opening it up reveals the HONOR Play wrapped in plastic.
Further down, a box shows up. This box houses the included TPU case and documentation alongside with the SIM ejector tool.
At the bottom of the packaging we were greeted by the charger and USB-C cable. That's pretty much it.
Honestly speaking, the things included with the HONOR Play is quite good. Albeit without earphones included, the TPU case is a great addition where many customers will actually use it.
I honestly think HONOR should've included earphones in the box as well since the HONOR Play is advertised as a gaming smartphone. Playing games like PUBG Mobile, it's always better to wear earphones to hear where your enemies are coming from.
To be honest, the design of the HONOR Play is nothing extraordinary – but its simplicity and geometry makes it really good to hold and use.
From the front, we can see that the HONOR Play uses a notched display that has rounded corners around the edges. It looks like the design has been tweaked from the HONOR 10.
The back is kept clean and surprisingly, the HONOR branding and AI Camera feature highlight is printed in landscape orientation. One big difference between the HONOR Play and all of its similarly-specced brethren, the HONOR Play has its fingerprint scanner placed at the back of the phone.
The antenna lines on the phone looks clean and sleek as it just rounds around the top and bottom of the phone.
The included TPU case has little dots to prevent direct contact between the case and the back of the phone, and has little lip for the camera and the screen as well. The small lip does provide a bit of extra height to prevent scratches. And the TPU case accentuates the buttons as well.
The HONOR 10 still has the necessary ports and connections that we've come to expect. At the bottom we can find the 3.5mm audio jack, a USB-C port, and a single bottom-firing loudspeaker. Good to see that HONOR is still retaining the 3.5mm audio jack.
The loudspeaker is something that I can say is quite pleasant to listen music with. It's loud and surprisingly, doesn't have the annoying high-pitch sound signature that many other smartphone loudspeaker has.
Nano SIM 1 + hybrid slot
The card tray on the HONOR 10 is nothing special. It uses a nano SIM 1 + hybrid slot tray which is surprisingly common among smartphones in the market these days. At least the HONOR Play has microSD card slot, unlike the HONOR 10. Still, I hope that one day, we can see dedicated SIM1 + SIM2 + microSD card in every smartphone.
In terms of other connectivity, the HONOR Play comes with 802.11ac WiFi and also NFC. What's funny is that the NFC receiver on the HONOR 10 is shown to be at the top of the phone instead of somewhere around the fingerprint scanner like most smartphones.
The HONOR Play has a 6.3-inch notched IPS LCD display with 2340×1080 pixels.
Colors on the screen is looking good with vivid colors and it has the "eye comfort" feature as well. Essentially, it's a blue light filter technology.
You can also change the screen's resolution. However, being a 1080p display, the HONOR Play can only toggle between 720p and 1080p. There's also an option to have the software to automatically switch between 1080p and 720p to maximize battery life.
Another neat feature that it has is the smart rotate. The auto rotation follows the orientation of my face. Has a bit of a delay but works pretty well.
Despite being a "gaming phone", the HONOR Play does come with some of the AI camera features as found in other HONOR smartphones. Here is the list of camera specs on the HONOR Play:
The cameras are also the main differentiation between its similarly-specced brothers – the HONOR 10 and HONOR View 10. Comparing the cameras of these 3 smartphones on paper, it seems like the HONOR Play has the worst rear-facing cameras.
2MP on the left, 16MP on the right.
Specs doesn't tell the full story – so let's take a look at the pictures taken with the HONOR Play.
First off, some clarification. Most pictures here are taken with the AI mode enabled, and while the HONOR Play does have a button to disable AI enhancements after the picture is taken. there is no way to "save" another copy of the picture without the said AI enhancement. Thus, there are duplicated pictures with and without AI mode.
Let's start off with this little tree. Without AI mode, it looks dull and everything around it is rather washed out in terms of color saturation. However, once AI mode is turned on, everything is more vivid and has a mix of HDR in it.
Without AI mode.
With AI mode.
In terms of colors, I'd say there is no real representation of the real colors. It just seems like the camera algorithms deliberately desaturates the colors if AI mode is turned off, and oversaturates the picture once it's turned on.
Take a look at these 3 pictures taken without AI mode, without AI mode but with HDR, and with AI mode. The major difference here are the shadows, the sky, the brown buildings across the street, and also the colors of the entire image. You tell me which one you like.
HDR and AI mode turned off.
AI mode turned off but HDR turned on.
AI turned on.
There are a few disadvantages when it comes to the AI mode as well. A patch of grass which I snapped a picture of, looks bluish and the details are just gone. The AI enhacement brightened up the shadows way too much and oversaturated the green colors. The end result looks really unnatural.
Here are a few more pictures to showcase the images taken with the HONOR Play. Honestly speaking, not my cup of tea with its oversaturation and over-brightening. Especially the shadows.
It does support RAW format but only for manual mode. If you have the time, then take pictures in manual mode and edit it yourself for a more true to life color saturation. It'll surely look better than what the AI mode is doing.
Starting with the camera UI on the HONOR Play, I can summarize it with one word – abysmal. The camera modes are laid out nicely – but everything else is gathered together in a list where you need to scroll from one end to another.
The manual mode on the HONOR Play is using the same UI style as well. Imagine having to scroll through from one end to another while the spacing between each shutter speed is extremely far away. It's a frustrating UI for me.
Little AI button to toggle it on and off.
The HONOR Play comes with AI features as well – and surprisingly, it gives users the option to disable or enable the AI photography. Any picture taken with AI will has a button in the Gallery app. This button allows the user to compare the images with and without AI photo optimization.
There are a few different modes in the camera modes, and the manual mode – caled Pro Mode – is stuffed in this list as well.
The EMUI 8.2.0 is a reskinned and customized system with lots of services built into it. It's quite ironic considering that HONOR is considered two different entities in the end user's eyes.
From the initial boot and throughout overall user experience, the EMUI 8.2.0 has nothing spectacular to offer.
The amount of bloatware shipped with the HONOR Play is quite insane as well. There are 2 folders worth of bloatware, called Top Apps and Games. It consists of a lot of games that I don't play at all, and apps that I don't even use – except for Facebook Messenger and perhaps Netflix for some.
There are a few of HONOR apps like App Gallery, HiCare, Tips, Party Mode, and a literal icon called HONOR that links you to HONOR's online store.
The HONOR Play comes packed with HiSilicon Kirin 970 SoC that made its first debut since late November 2017. Here is the full list of specs of the HONOR Play.
While we were running 3DMark continuously, we encountered something rather strange. 3DMark was closed abruptly and an overheating notice showed up. If it is not cooled down, I can't launch any other apps.
Surprisingly, this is the first time I've seen this overheating warning. This does not happen to other Snapdragon 845 smartphones
I was lucky enough to get the HONOR Play in time for the Summer Event in Honkai Impact 3. That event has a few different parts – and the one we're focusing here today is the Sakura Festival event, particularly Impact 1 and Impact 2 challenges.
Impact 1 has a lot of beach balls spawned that bounces around when they are hit. Impact 2 has a lot of enemies that run around the map. In our test – particularly Impact 1 – the Kirin 970's CPU couldn't keep up and lags terribly. If we're not playing the event, Honkai Impact 3 runs fine on the HONOR Play.
The HONOR Play is supposedly shipped with GPU Turbo. Since there isn't any method to test with/without GPU Turbo, we're stuck with GPU Turbo supposedly turned on. There is no method to check if GPU Turbo is enabled in the first place.
We were also briefed that GPU Turbo is supposed to have some special features with PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends. PUBG Mobile has some vibrations where it'll vibrate according to where you have been shot. While that was what is shown, we did not experience any vibration during our PUBG Mobile gameplay.
The overall PUBG Mobile experience on HONOR Play is relatively fine with these settings.
With the 3,750mAh battery in the HONOR Play, we expect longer battery life in our test. And there's no surprise either. In our battery test, the HONOR Play's battery life is pretty much in line with other series products that have a 3,400mAh battery.
Also, since the HONOR Play does have a switch to change to 720p, we tried that as well and we got about 1.5 hours of extra battery life.
If you are using a slower 5V 2A charger, then it'll take 38 minutes to reach 50% battery and 68 minutes to reach 75% battery. That's quite a stark difference.
Honestly speaking, the HONOR Play is not really a special smartphone, per se. It's more of a rebrand of their existing HONOR 10 (and HONOR View10 for that matter) with some tweaks, presumably to target towards the upcoming "gaming smartphone" market and hence the name. The HONOR Play is, honestly, a great gaming smartphone in terms of raw performance for its price.
The camera on the HONOR Play just isn't my cup of tea, with its camera algorithms oversaturating the pictures and also losing details with over-brightening of shadows. And there's a blue tint to the patch of green grass too.
While we think that the HONOR Play is a great gaming smartphone for its price of only RM1,249, it's not really got for any other thing.