Honor Play: An affordable gaming phone that’s also a great smartphone for anyone


Honor has been building phones for almost everyone, but did it have one especially for gamers? Well, it does now!

The Honor Play is Honor’s latest offering that aims to offer avid mobile gamers the best mobile experience, and I’ve had one for just over a week to try out.

Here are my thoughts and first impressions.

Update: Pricing now announced – see below.

Honor Play – with Huawei’s flagship Kirin 970 AI Processor and GPU Turbo software running out of the box

There certainly seems to be a trend for manufacturers to release phones dedicated towards gamers, with a number of quite premium-priced examples to choose from.

Gamers are often considered a good source of revenue from manufacturers that know they’ll pay top-dollar for the fastest, and most stylish, gaming rigs.

It seems Honor isn’t out to rinse gamers for all they’re worth, selling the Honor Play at what the company promises will be a highly competitive price. As of now, that price hasn’t been revealed so you’ll need to wait until the official European press launch on August 30th (to be held at IFA in Berlin; I’ll be there).

The Honor Play comes with Huawei’s current flagship processor (Kirin 970) and 4GB of RAM, along with the GPU Turbo update out of the box, which has recently begun rolling out to other handsets, including the Honor 10.

It’s worth noting that the same chipset is what powers Huawei’s flagship P20 Pro.

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The Phone

First up is the Honor Play’s 6.3-inch ‘FullView’ FHD+ display, which comes with the now obligatory notch (and the equally obligatory ability to hide it, reserving the top area for icons and the time).

The display isn’t OLED (that’s reserved for the one Honor phone not coming to Europe; the Note 10) but it is still very bright and colourful. With the hidden notch mode enabled, you are left with a screen that is nicely centred in landscape mode. Ideal for games, movie watching or even using in a VR-headset.

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The rear of the phone has given up glass for a matte metal body, which Honor states is to improve grip. It also means it is likely more durable, and there’s a clear plastic casing supplied in the box so you can still show off the phone in either the blue or black colour variants that will be sold in the UK.

For those who wish to stand out even more, Honor will offer two Player Edition models designed in partnership with Audi Sport, with an etched back design and coloured accents around the camera lens. These will be available exclusively via Honor’s online store.

HonorPlayAudiSport

Besides the different design, Honor stresses that there is only the one hardware spec whatever the colour you go for.

That includes the already mentioned 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and a hybrid SIM tray that can take two 4G SIM cards or a single SIM and microSDXC card for a further storage boost.

Android Oreo ships with the phone from launch, but it is expected that an upgrade to Android Pie will be announced imminently after launch, possibly within weeks. Like the price, this will be announced at the launch event on August 30th.

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Honor Play vs Honor 10

You might at this point be thinking the phone seems rather a lot like an Honor 10 with a bigger screen. In many ways that is true.

However, instead of the in-glass fingerprint reader on the front, the Honor Play has it in the more traditional rear-mounted position.

The camera is also a lower spec, although as you can see in my separate photo gallery, the 16-megapixel camera is unlikely to disappoint even if it lacks things like the hybrid zoom that the higher pixel count Honor 10 camera allows.

There’s a second 2-megapixel camera to assist with depth-perception (for the various portrait/bokeh effects), while the selfie camera is another 16-megapixel snapper.

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You won’t get things like the super slow motion mode, but you do still get 4K video recording and the large array of AI assisted camera functions that were introduced on the Honor 10. That means it can detect 22 different objects, and 500 other scenarios (including overcast, sunset, beach etc).

There are load of fun AR filters, 3D facial recognition to improve bokeh effects and 3D portrait lighting. The AI Stabilisation mode that allows P20 Pro users to take photos at night without the need for a tripod is also present here.

Sample photos

Gaming

Getting back to gaming, the Honor Play comes with a range of 3D gaming ‘shock’ effects, which will vibrate the phone in different gaming scenarios. There’s also 7.1 channel virtual surround sound, and a game suite app that allows you to turn off all notifications and direct all processing power to your game, so you’ll get maximum performance with no interruptions.

The 3750mAh battery advertises up to 1.5 days of heavy usage. Even though battery life claims are always incredibly subjective, with the existing power saving functions of Emotion UI (the Honor Play comes with EMUI 8.2), a full day of usage should be easily achievable for most use.

Gaming will have a heavy impact though, as it does on any phone. But at my handset briefing, Honor claimed the Honor Play outperforms an iPhone X with like-for-like gaming. The Honor Play can manage four hours 36 minutes of gameplay, compared to just four hours on the iPhone.

Other stats showed showed that, for optimised games, the Honor Play averages a higher frame rate than that of the Samsung Galaxy S9+.

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It should be noted that for GPU Turbo to work its magic, game developers will need to modify their games accordingly. So far the choice of games are fairly limited, such as Asphalt 9, PUBG and MOBA.

If you’re worried that developers won’t be particularly interested in adding support in their games for just one phone, bear in mind that the GPU Update is rolling out to most Honor phones released in the last year or two, as well as many Huawei handsets.

Going forward GPU Turbo will be a standard feature of all new Honor and Huawei phones. Combine all of these devices and it’s very likely more games will be optimised. However, every other game will run just fine given the fact Kirin 970 is not a bargain basement chip to begin with.

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My thoughts

Honor has been covering the needs for more budget-conscious phone buyers for some time, and its new device aimed at gamers seems like a natural progression.

Clearly all the marketing for the Honor Play will be around games, but the canny buyer may also see this as an excellent all-rounder even if you’re more of a casual gamer, or not even a gamer at all!

The large screen will have just as much appeal for those who want to enjoy looking at photos, watching films, or even just using social media and the bigger battery is another bonus for users who want to keep battery anxiety to a minimum.

Even the fingerprint sensor location may prove to be a major deciding factor.

Once again, Honor has come up with another great all-round smartphone that makes it affordable to enjoy premium features.

All we need to know now is the price, and further information will be revealed on August 30th around midday UK time, so please check here or follow me on Twitter to get the final pieces of the jigsaw!

Update: The price has now been confirmed as £279 and the phone is available to buy now. The price and availability for the Player Edition will follow later.

More info: Honor Play

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