When Honor announced its gaming phone, the Honor Play in China, I wasn’t too impressed at first, because it does not really look like a gaming phone, but then, I took a look at the specs and the price and that’s when it hit me that this could be the perfect budget phone for gamers. Well, the Honor Play is finally here in India and at a starting price Rs. 19,999, the Honor Play seems like the perfect “Play” from Honor, with high-end specs like the Kirin 970 and the new GPU Turbo tech. So, should you buy the Honor Play and is it the best budget phone for gamers? Well, let’s find out in our Honor Play review.
Honor Play Specs
Note: The Honor Play is available in a 4GB RAM and 6GB RAM variant. We are reviewing the 4GB RAM variant of the phone.
Before we dive into our Honor Play review, here’s what the smartphone offers on paper:
|Display||6.3 inch, Full View FHD + (1080 x 2340 pixels) IPS LCD|
|Memory||4/6 GB RAM|
|Storage||64GB ROM + MicroSD, up to 256 GB (uses SIM 2 slot)|
|Processor||Huawei Kirin 970, Octa-Core (4*2.36Ghz + 4*1.8Ghz) with GPU Turbo|
|Camera||16MP f/2.2 + 2MP f/2.4,
LED Flash, 4K Support
|Front||16 MP f/2.0,
|OS+UI||Android 8.1 + EMUI 8.2|
|Battery||3750mAh with Quick Charge support|
|Sensor||Fingerprint sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, compass
|WiFi||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band|
What’s in the Box
The Honor Play comes in a usual box and there’s no special accessory here but here’s what the box offers:
- Honor Play (duh!)
- USB-C cable
- Huawei Quick Charge adapter
- SIM ejector tool
- TPU transparent case
- Manuals and pamphlets no one reads
Design and Build Quality
When I first saw the Honor Play, I had a couple of thoughts. First was, hey, this does not look like a gaming phone, this looks like your usual smartphone. Yes, there’s no fancy lights, or anything fancy about the Honor Play. Anyway, the second thought was that although it does not have a fancy gamer design, this is a good looking phone. I mean, the Midnight Black variant that we have looks classy and premium. I like the fact that Honor has gone with a metal back on this phone because honestly, I am a little bored with all the glass back phones these days. Also, since it has a matte finish, the phone feels nice and grippy in the hands and that’s important because this is a large phone.
From the front, the Honor Play looks like any other phone these days. There’s the notch, which packs in the sensors, the front camera, the notification LED etc.; the chin with the Honor branding, an 18:9 display, a 19.5:9 to be more precise. So ya, it’s all pretty usual on the front.
Apart from that, there’s the fingerprint scanner on the back, which is placed a little higher than usual, so I always had to extend my fingers to reach it. It’s a little problematic at first but once you get used to it, it shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, it helps that it’s very fast and accurate. Then, there are the usual buttons on the right, which are tactile enough and the hybrid SIM slot on the left side. The bottom is where the most action lies. It features the USB-C port (yay!), the headphone jack (yay yay!) and the speaker.
Overall, I like the design of the Honor Play. It’s not a very attractive looking device but it feels premium and looks understated.
The Honor Play comes with a single speaker at the bottom, which is a little disappointing because it’s a gaming phone. I mean, we generally expect gaming phones to come with stereo speakers, but the Honor Play as I have mentioned is a budget gaming phone, so the single speakers are a compromise they have gone ahead with. Anyway, the single speaker here is nothing to rave about. It isn’t very loud and it can get easily muffled while using the phone in the landscape mode, which is the case with most games.
So yes, the speakers on the Honor Play are rather average and I wish they could have included a louder speaker or at least placed it in a different location.
The Honor Play comes with a 6.3-inch Full HD+ IPS LCD display, which results in a high pixel density of 409 ppi density. There’s no Gorilla Glass here but Honor says there is Huawei’s proprietary tough glass. Our unit has a few minor scratches, so it should be decent enough.
Coming to the display quality, the IPS LCD panel here gets adequately bright, which means outdoor visibility is not a problem. It’s also vibrant, and produces nice colors, which I really like. The best thing about the Honor Play display is the accurate color reproduction. The whites look perfectly white and just the way I like them. There’s an option to change the color temperature in EMUI, so you can always set things to your liking.
Overall, the display on the Honor Play is great. It’s right up there with the very best in this price range.
Moving on to things which make this a gaming phone. Yes, the performance! The Honor Play comes with the Huawei’s flagship Kirin 970 chipset and 4 or 6GB of RAM and 64GB of UFS 2.1 storage. The Kirin 970 chipset is the most impressive thing here because this is a processor that you get in the Honor 10, the Nova 3 and the P20 Pro, which is more than 3x the price of the Honor Play, so it’s impressive to see the flagship chipset on a budget smartphone. Anyway, let’s start off by taking a look at its benchmarks.
The real world performance has been impressive too. I have been using this phone extensively and there have been no issues whatsover. The app loading is fast, multitasking works like a breeze and the gaming performance is what you would expect from a flagship, which of course is enhanced by the GPU Turbo tech here.
Yes, the Honor Play comes with the new GPU Turbo tech and that’s what makes it a gaming phone. The GPU Turbo tech, why by the way is coming to more Honor phones soon, is said to improve the graphics processing efficiency by 60% while reducing the energy consumption by 30%.
This means, theoretically, the optimised games like PUBG will have smoother gameplay and better and consistent frame rates. Right now, there are only two games optimised for GPU Turbo, PUBG obviously and Mobile Legends. Some websites claim that even Asphalt 9 is optimized for GPU Turbo but we contacted Honor and according to them, it’s just the aforementioned two games.
So, I have been playing PUBG a lot on this phone, and it’s probably the only phone in this price range that lets you play PUBG at ultra graphics and ultra frame rates, which in itself is a great feat. Plus, the performance of the game in this phone is great and it’s not just GPU Turbo optimized games. I played games like Marvel Strike Force and Dragonball Legends and the performance was great.
Coming back to GPU Turbo, does it really up the gaming performance and lower the battery consumption. Well, we checked it out. So, we used GameBench to check the frame rates on the Honor Play, the Huawei Nova 3, which has the Kirin 970 but no GPU Turbo, the OnePlus 6 with Snapdragon 845, Mi 8 SE with Snapdragon 710 and the Redmi Note 5 Pro, which is the Play’s biggest competitor at its price. So, here are the results.
As you can see, the Honor Play’s frame rates are high and pretty consistent as you can make out from the variability index but it does fall short against the OnePlus 6 and even the Nova 3 which packs in the same processor. So, I am not sure if GPU Turbo is doing any good here. Having said that, the Kirin 970 on the Honor Play makes sure the frame rates are better than the Mi 8 SE and ahead of the Redmi Note 5 Pro. It’s not a huge difference but you can only play PUBG at medium settings on Redmi Note 5 Pro, so that’s something you need to consider.
The GPU Turbo tech also promises to lower power consumption by 30%, so we checked that out too. We handed over the Honor Play, the Nova 3, the OnePlus 6 and the S9 Plus to the best PUBG players in our office to see if GPU Turbo does make a difference in battery.
So, we started the test with all the phones at 100% and connected to the same WiFi network. After 30 minutes of continuously playing PUBG, the Honor Play with GPU Turbo was at 83% battery, the Nova 3 with the same battery size but no GPU Turbo was at 86%, the OnePlus 6 was at 79% but it has a lower battery capacity and the S9 Plus was the best of the lot at 89% even though it has a lower battery capacity as compared to the Honor Play.
Personally, I thought 30 mins of testing was enough but these guys could not enough of PUBG, so we decided to take it up to 60 mins. Well, after 1 hour of continuously playing PUBG, the Honor Play was at 69%, the Nova 3 at 73%, OnePlus 6 at 64% and S9+ at 78%.
Well, it’s pretty obvious that GPU Turbo does not help the battery, in fact, it might actually be messing it up.
To sum things up, the Honor Play is definitely great for gaming. I mean, the performance is flagship worthy at a price where we don’t really expect that. However, I really think that it’s all because of the Kirin 970 and not because of GPU Turbo, because the Nova 3 has the same processor without the GPU Turbo tech and it works almost the same. So ya, GPU Turbo doesn’t look like it’s actually making a difference here.
That said, the Honor Play is the best performing phone in this price and it will be getting an AI Gaming feature in a future update, that will bring Honor’s 4D gaming tech, which is basically intelligent vibration and 3D sound effects on wired headphones. So ya, things will get even better.
Now, talking about the software here. The Honor Play comes with EMUI 8.2 on top of Android 8.1 and ya, like most skins, this one is feature packed. First of all, I like the fact that EMUI lets you choose if you want an app drawer or not because I just hate not having an app drawer.
Then, there are the various features, like a native app locker, a Private space for, you know, private things, HiTouch which lets you point at objects to and shop on Amazon. There’s also Face Unlock, which is really fast and I definitely like it.
There are also navigation gestures, which bring this pill like design. It kind of looks like Android P’s pill but it does not work like that. You press hold on the pill to go to homescreen, tap on the pill to go back and slide the pill to see the recents screen. Honestly, I don’t like this implementation much, because press hold to go home is just annoying.
The point is, EMUI is a feature packed skin and yes, it can be a little overwhelming but if you are okay with it, I don’t think it should be a problem.
Moving on to the cameras on the Honor Play. First, let’s talk about the dual camera setup on the back.
The Honor Play comes with a 16MP f/2.2 + 2MP f/2.4 dual camera 16MP primary sensor plus a 2MP depth sensor on the back with AI scene detection and a host of other features. Anyway, here are some shots we took from the Honor Play. As you can see, the Honor Play takes some very good photos when there is ample lighting. There’s also the AI option here, which oversaturates the photos and sometimes brightens things up. Honestly, don’t turn it. It mostly ruins the photos.
In low light, photos get a little noisy and ya, as you can make out from the photos, it’s okay-ish but if you can look past low light photos, there’s the pretty good portrait mode. Look at these shots.
The portrait shots taken from the Honor Play are pretty great. The edge detection is nice, the blur is good enough. So ya, I like it.
When compared to the Redmi Note 5 Pro and the Mi A2, the Honor Play is definitely great in good light and portrait mode, but in low light, it does fall short of the Mi A2 but ya, it’s definitely better than the Redmi Note 5 Pro.
Overall, the Honor Play has decent cameras for the price.
When it comes to the selfies, the Honor Play comes with a 16MP f/2.0 camera and there’s portrait mode and portrait light effects too, if that’s something you like. Anyway, here are some selfies I have taken with the Honor Play:
Well, as you can see, the Honor Play’s front camera takes some decent selfies. I mean, I don’t like the overshapening at times and the fact that there are times when the background gets overexposed but other that these factors, the Honor Play captures some nice selfies. So, as far as selfie cameras go in this price range, the Honor Play is decent enough.
The Honor Play comes with support for 4K@30FPS and 1080p@60FPS videos. There’s also EIS, which only works in 1080p mode and AIS is said to be coming soon. 4K videos shot from the Honor Play look nice and crisp but they are a bit dull at times. Also, since there’s no OIS here, the videos aren’t very stable. 1080p videos shot from the phone are stable, although the camera has some problems focusing and the colors look dull. So overall, the video recording performance of the Honor Play is rather average.
Lastly, there’s the battery. The Honor Play comes with a 3750 mAh battery, which is pretty good In my usage, the device would easily last a day. I’d usually start the day at 100% battery and at the end of the day, it would be around 50% on extensive usage which is very nice. The battery does drain quickly when you are playing games, but that’s the case with most phones. On moderate usage, you can expect the device to last you for 1 and a half days and that’s great. Plus, I like how fast the phone charges.
There’s Huawei’s Quick Charge fast charger in the box, which charges the phone from 10 to 60% in around 45 minutes, and charges the phone to 100 percent in 1 hour 35 minutes, which is really good, especially when you consider the fact that the Note 5 Pro that although packs a 4000 mAh battery goes from 10 to 100% in 2 hours 10 minutes with a fast charger.
On the connectivity front, the Honor Play brings in everything we have come to expect from modern day smartphones. There’s Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5GHz support), Bluetooth 4.2, hybrid dual SIM slot, which means you can also use one of the slots to put in a microSD card up to 256GB.
On the sensors front, there’s the proximity sensor, gyroscope, digital compass, ambient light sensor and a gravity sensor.
Honor Play Review: The Budget Gaming Phone We’ve Been Waiting for?
The Honor Play recently launched in India and it’s available for a starting price of Rs. 19,999 on Amazon and at that price, this is a power packed smartphone for gamers and non-gamers alike. If you are a gamer and you are looking for a budget phone that can handle intensive games like PUBG, Asphalt 9, Marvel Strike Force etc, at high graphics and high frame rates, the Honor Play is the perfect budget phone for you. Even if you are not a gamer, but you are looking for a phone that brings flagship level performance at around Rs. 20,000, the Honor Play is the phone to get. There’s just no phone in this price range that can really take on the Honor Play when it comes to the performance.
Plus, what really impressed me about the Honor Play is the fact that it’s not just performance where it excels it, it has a solid metal design, a nice display, a long lasting and fast charging battery and a decent set of cameras. Sure, the low light camera performance and the fingerprint scanner placement could have been better but they aren’t deal breakers. There’s also EMUI, which might not impress you much if you are a stock Android lover, but if you can live with EMUI, this is a phone that I will recommend wholeheartedly.
- Impressive performance
- Flagship grade gaming (no thanks to GPU Turbo)
- Great display
- Good battery life and fast charging
- Solid functional design
- Great camera performance in good light
- USB-C port, 3.5mm jack
- Average video recording performance
- Fingerprint scanner location is weird
- EMUI can be overwhelming
- No stereo speakers
Buy Honor Play from Amazon: (starts at Rs. 19,999)
Honor Play: The Budget Performance Champ!
Well, that was my review of the new Honor Play and as you might be able to tell, I do like the device because of the performance it brings. It’s definitely the performance champ in its price range but that’s what I think, what about you? What are your thoughts on the Honor Play? Tell us in the comments section below. Also let us know if you have any questions regarding the Honor Play that we might have missed out on in our review.