Review Honor Play: Gaming smartphone from the Huawei subsidiary from $245.99

The Red Magic by Nubia is not the only gaming smartphone that celebrated its premiere in 2018. Like almost every manufacturer, the Huawei subsidiary has also presented a new smartphone, which is aimed specifically at gaming enthusiasts. With Honor Play, the name says it all – you’d think.

Honor Play Smartphone

Technical data

Display 6,3″ IPS-LCD, 2340 x 1080p, 19.5:9 aspect ratio
Processor HiSilicon Kirin 970 @2,36 GHz & 1,8 GHz
Graphics chip Mali G72 MP12 @ 850 MHz, GPU Turbo
Memory 4 GB / 6 GB LPDDR4X Dual Channel @ 1.833 MHz
Internal memory 64 GB
Main camera 16 MP + 2 MP sensor
Front camera 26 MP
Battery 3.750 mAh with 9V/2A
Connectivity LTE Band 1,3,5,7,8,20, WLAN AC, GPS/BDS, BT 4.2, Hybrid SIM
Features Fingerprint Sensor | USB Type-C | Headphone Jack | NFC
Operating system EMUI 8.1 , Android 8.1
Dimensions 157,91 x 74,27 x 7,48 mm

Packaging & Scope of delivery

The Honor Play comes in a rather simple white smartphone box with the inscription “Honor Play”. Inside you will find the smartphone itself, a Quick Start Guide, the SIM needle, a transparent silicone case, a white USB type C charging cable with 1m length and the Huawei Fast Charge Adapter. It offers an output power of up to 18W, so fast charging of the smartphone is no problem. The biggest surprise for me was a pair of headphones with 3.5 mm jacks in the style of Apple EarPods. Such an accessory is now really rare, so we are positively surprised at this point!

Honor Play Smartphone Packaging

Gaming smartphone without a gaming look

In contrast to its competitors, Honor Play does not appear to be a gaming smartphone at first glance. In fact, it meets the optical criteria of a smartphone of 2018. The front design originates from the company’s own flagship, Honor 10, but is enlarged here. Because with a display diagonal of 6.3 inches, the Play is significantly larger than the Honor 10. To keep the form factor low, Honor again relies on a Notch, which accommodates the front camera and auricle.

Honor Play Smartphone from above

With dimensions of 157.91 x 74.27 x 7.48 mm, it is about as large as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5, despite the larger display area. True to the motto “The device is the display”, a strong screen-to-body ratio is used here. In direct comparison to the Honor 10, the play isn’t that much bigger, the difference is 8 mm. The fact that the difference is so small is probably also due to the fact that Honor now dispenses with the home button on the lower front. Instead, we only find the Honor branding there.

On the back side, a gaming smartphone is relatively unobtrusive. The aluminium unibody accommodates a dual camera with flash as well as the fingerprint sensor. In addition, there is again the Honor branding, CE mark and the reference to the AI camera. These lettering runs parallel to the long side of the back. We know this from the Huawei P20 Pro, for example.

Honor Play backside workmanship

The antenna strips are positioned along the upper and lower edges of the screen, the power button and volume rocker find their place on the right side and on the left side you can insert your SIM cards.

You can choose between black, blue and violet. If you didn’t like the Twilight back of the Honor 10, you might like this classic design a bit more. However, this design is only available in the standard version. The Players Edition is much more eye-catching and available in black or red. There the manufacturer has worked with laser engravings and creates a unique design. It doesn’t correspond to the typical gaming design in my eyes, but I like it – maybe because of that – very much.

First-class workmanship

It is no secret that Honor is now an established manufacturer. The expertise can be seen above all in the excellent workmanship of the Honor Play. Even the first impression during the unboxing was great and this was only confirmed in the course of the test. The aforementioned aluminium unibody looks very high-quality, provides good ergonomics and I like it visually better than the Twilight back of the Honor 10. The transition to the display glass is virtually seamless, gap dimensions are hardly recognizable, everything has been precisely milled out and the keys have a good pressure point.

Honor Play Smartphone

I not only like the matt finish of the back, it also makes a very robust impression. Especially people who don’t like to experiment so much will like the Honor Play. A big praise from me!

Middle class display

The screen is equipped with an aspect ratio of 19.5:9 and has a resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels. With a screen diagonal of 6.3 inches, this results in a pixel density of 409 ppi, i.e. pixels per inch – a good value. And not only in theory, no, the display of the Honor Play can also prove itself in practice. There is the functionality, which is of course very good. There are no delays in input and the multi-touch support of up to ten fingers at the same time is given.

Honor Play Smartphone Display

The high pixel density is definitely noticeable, the display is sharp and the contrast is more than satisfactory. I find the color representation very well done, at times the operating system EMUI leaves some adjustment possibilities for it. Under “Display” you can choose between a normal and a lively colour mode and adjust the colour temperature of both by means of the colour palette. Alternatively there are presets for “Warm” and “Cold”. In addition, there is an eye-protecting mode and one can even adjust the screen resolution. Honors Smarter mode adjusts the resolution independently and can therefore save power.

Pleasant Notch

You can also deactivate the Notch if necessary. Of course, the LCD black is not dark enough to adapt completely to the black of the notch. However, the “off” display area is still used for information such as LTE, time and battery status. The “missing” notch is no longer necessary as soon as you open the quick settings at the latest. The Huawei daughter succeeds in making the notch relatively native, so that you quickly get used to it. Nevertheless: it remains a controversial topic.

Honor Play Smartphone Notch

Honor Play with GPU Turbo

Smooth gaming with many frames requires a certain level of hardware, as 3D games in particular often consume a lot of resources. That’s why the Honor Play also uses the Kirin 970 processor of the in-house manufacturer HiSilicon. This is not only used in Honor 10, but also in Huaweis Flagship, the Huawei P20 Pro. Even though it can’t keep up with a Snapdragon 845 in terms of pure power, it shines especially with its AI capabilities. In the case of Honor Play, however, the GPU Turbo also comes into its own. So the Mali G72 MP12 graphics chip has been optimized by the software, which is supposed to be especially noticeable in games.

There is a 4 GB internal memory edition or 6 GB. In addition, there is 64 GB of internal memory, which can be expanded with a microSD card.

Honor Play Gaming
Truthfully: Testing gaming smartphones is still the most fun!

It’s a gaming smartphone, so it should do the job. So accordingly we installed PUBG, created a character and went on the battlefield. And that’s really something to be proud of, the graphics settings are set to maximum and the game runs smoothly. I couldn’t notice a noticeable difference to a Xiaomi Mi 8 or Pocophone F1. Despite a relatively small 4 GB RAM in our test model, I was able to play fluently, even though more than ten other apps were running in the background. Only the minimal heat development of the back side was noticeable, but it was definitely limited and not unpleasant.

In the Game Suite you can also activate for which games the GPU Turbo should be activated. With this software they tried to compensate the rather mediocre performance of the Mali G72 MP12 GPU. Compared to the Honor 10, this worked for my terms, even if the difference is not too significant.

Gaming Features

In addition to the GPU Turbo, there are other gaming features that should set Honor Play apart from the competition. Especially interesting is Smart Shock. This is a vibration feedback, which causes the smartphone to vibrate in certain situations, for example when shooting with weapons. You know this at the latest from the Dual Shock Controllers from Sony and in my eyes it’s a very cool, if not innovative idea. Currently, only PUBG supports this feature, but other blockbusters will follow little by little. In practice this was a cool extra, but to call it “4D” is a bit high.

Honor Play Gaming PUBG Smart Shock

To activate the Smart Shock feature you need to update your software. Then you have to go to the settings in the App Game Suite (3 points in the top right corner) and there you will find a slider that you have to activate. There you will also find a hint that it only works with PUBG.

The sound is also important. Here the gaming smartphone offers a 3D gaming sound effect, which is also supported by wired headphones. And here you really have to let Honor for having done all the work. Only with the Meizu 16 I was so impressed by the sound of a smartphone lately. While gaming you get the right acoustic background, but listening to music through the speaker is also fun. The sound is powerful, clear and really loud.

Honor Play Benchmarks

If these experiences have not yet completely convinced you, you can still orient yourself on the benchmark results. They are better than the Honor 10 with the same processor. The improvement is probably due to the new GPU Turbo, which was able to tickle out a few extra points in the benchmarks. Nevertheless, these values are still relatively far away from a OnePlus 6 or Pocophone F1. Nevertheless: in daily practice this shouldn’t weigh too much.

Camera causes confusion

Although the Honor Play also combines two cameras directly on the back, photography is given a somewhat lower status in the Honor Play. After all, the secondary sensor with 2 megapixels turns out to be more of a dummy, and it is a gaming smartphone and not a camera smartphone like the Honor 10. The 16 megapixel main sensor ensures satisfactory results overall.

Honor Play Smartphone Camera

The camera is definitely not the highlight of the Honor Play, but it basically takes good pictures. The colors don’t look quite as strong as in the competition from Xiaomi, but the sharpness is right and thanks to 16 megapixels the resolution is also good. If the lighting conditions are right, the camera triggers quickly and the autofocus works reliably. I wouldn’t print the photos, but they’re good enough for the smartphone.

Honor Play Test photo Main camera Sky

Honor Play Test photo Main camera Indoor

Honor Play Test photo Main camera

Honor Play Test photo Main camera Portrait Comparison

You definitely have to say a word about the camera app. Because you could call it optimistically “extensive” or otherwise very overtaxing. Basically, I welcome a variety of options and modes, but that’s what pushes Honor to the top. “A little too much of a good thing” one would like to say. Here is an overview of all settings and modes.

Honor Play Camera App Functions
Somewhat too much of a good thing – Honor offers countless modes in the camera app. That can quickly confuse.

I would like to emphasize positively the electronic picture stabilization with the videos. At 30 fps and a resolution of 1080p this works really well – but unfortunately only then. At 4K shots or at 1080p with 60 frames per second the EIS doesn’t work. The videos are nevertheless only really usable on the mobile phone itself, on a larger screen the picture noise is not pleasant to talk about.

On the front, a 16 megapixel sensor provides Selfies with AI support. The front camera performs its work on the same level as the main camera. That’s quite enough, but I like the portrait mode much better with Xiaomi.

Honor Play Front Camera Portrait Comparison

The battery – the biggest surprise

But at least the battery has been enlarged. So now 3,750 mAh battery capacity is added to the Honor Play, which according to the manufacturer should be 1.5 days of heavy use. And this manufacturer’s information is not even that wrong. In our benchmark, the Play reaches a really good value of 10 hours and 30 minutes, which, depending on use, can actually be achieved in 1.5 days.

Honor Play Battery Benchmark Screenshot

Honor includes a Huawei “Quick Charge” adapter in the scope of delivery, but this is a bit strange. It’s only a Quick Charge if a Qualcomm processor is installed and Huawei actually has its own quick charge standard called “Super Charge”. Despite 9V2A, i.e. 18 W output power, a complete charging of the device takes 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Competition for the Pocophone thanks to NFC

The Honor Play is published consistently for the European market, whereby all LTE bands are represented in the global version. At home you can connect to the local internet via 802.11 b/g/n (2,4GHz) and 802.11 a/n/ac (5GHz) WiFi. Bluetooth 4.2 and of course GPS are used. Also pleasing: the Honor Play is equipped with NFC. Nothing stands in the way of using Google Pay. This is an interesting advantage, especially in comparison with the Pocophone F1, as the Poco gets by without NFC.

Honor Play Smartphone USB-C Slot

On the physical level, Honor Play offers a 3.5 mm jack plug. The other connections are limited to a USB type C slot and the hybrid SIM slot, which supports two SIM cards or one SIM card plus microSD card.

Honor Play Smartphone headphone jack

Netflix in HD streaming no problem

The famous “Netflix problem” has caused many critical voices with the release of the Pocophone F1. This means that you cannot use the Pocophone to stream Netflix & Co. videos in Full HD. However, this is the case with every Xiaomi smartphone. Honor is in a better location. Because Honor Play also supports Widevine Level 1 and so you can stream Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in Full HD, without any problems.

Honor Play DRM Info Netflix

EMUI = continuous commercials

Although the operating system of Honor’s gaming smartphone is based on Android 8.1, it is far from Stock Android. If you have ever held a Honor or Huawei smartphone in your hands, you might have noticed the strongly adapted EMUI operating system. EMUI 8.2 is used in Honor Play. This means that we don’t just have a skin here, but that the changes have a deep impact on the system, similar to MIUI. Whether you like it now or not, you can adjust the look by themes and another launcher.

Honor Play EMUI Software

I’m not the biggest fan of EMUI, but I like the variety of settings and with a minimum of time you can customize it to your needs. The big problem with the operating system is the sheer amount of pre-installed software. Of course, this includes all Google services, some Honor own apps like party mode, Honor or the game suite, which is understandable, but also some more apps.

Honor Play Software Advertising

These include Facebook, Netflix and games like Spider-Man or Asphalt. Sure, these are apps that you’ll probably end up using, but this unsolicited installation still makes a very bad impression. Although these apps can be uninstalled quickly, it still leaves a bland aftertaste. The business model behind it is clear: simple advertising. This allows Honor to reduce the price and Facebook & Co. are happy about the installations. Win-win for the companies and that at the expense of the customers – a pity!

Conclusion

In my eyes, Honor Play is not really a gaming smartphone. In my opinion, the concept has not been implemented completely enough. The design does not allow the assumption that it is such a phone. Also the performance is not on the level of a high-end device. A Pocophone for the same price simply delivers more performance! If you want a real gaming smartphone, you are better served with a Xiaomi Black Shark or Razer Phone in my eyes.

But don’t get me wrong: Honor Play is simply a good smartphone all around! The design is contemporary, the workmanship is excellent, the performance is not at a top level, but very good. With the display you are well served and also the battery as well as the camera are above average. The Honor Play earns extra points with its really good loudspeakers, a wide range of connection options including NFC and small gaming features such as Smart Shock and the GPU Turbo. I can only really criticize the pre-installed Bloatware.

Honor Play is a victim of Honors Marketing. The gaming features are so unobtrusive that this existence as a gaming smartphone runs under the radar. If you get a good price, I can really recommend Honor Play. The true, and in some categories better, alternative is of course the Pocophone F1.

To the gadget
Profile picture from Thorben

Thorben

My special interests are smartphones from China and I am always keen to discover new smartphone accessories like smartwatches and headphones. 

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