Phones

Honor Play: Affordable gaming smartphone

Huawei has overtaken Apple to become the world's second-largest smartphone vendor, according to market research firm IDC.

While its top flagship devices like the P20 Pro contributed to this impressive showing, much of Huawei's strong growth came from its budget-friendly Honor sub-brand.

Its latest model, the Honor Play, exemplifies Huawei's aggressive strategy to win market share. At $429, the Honor Play is attractively priced for a mid-range smartphone. Yet it is powered by Huawei's top processor, the same Kirin 970 chip found in the Huawei P20 Pro.

Thanks to this processor, the Play runs as well as flagship smartphones in mobile games - hence its Play moniker. The Kirin 970 chip in the Honor Play also supports Huawei's new GPU Turbo technology, a software-based solution that claims to improve graphics performance and efficiency.

This claim seems to bear out in my tests. For instance, in the popular online survival shooter PUBG Mobile, the Play churned out 30 frames per second (fps) 98 per cent of the time, according to the GameBench testing tool.

This result is virtually identical to that of the Exynos-powered Samsung Galaxy S9+, which scored 30 fps 97 per cent of the time. Of course, the S9+ is at least twice as expensive as the Honor Play.

  • SPECS 

    PRICE: $429

    PROCESSOR: Kirin 970 (Quad-core 2.36GHz, quad-core 1.8GHz)

    DISPLAY: 6.3-inch LCD 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 409 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: EMUI 8.2 (Android 8.1)

    MEMORY: 64GB (microSD expandable up to 256GB), 4GB RAM

    REAR CAMERA: 16MP (f/2.2) and 2MP depth sensor (f/2.4)

    FRONT CAMERA: 16MP (f/2.0)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,750mAh

  • RATING 

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

But processor aside, the Play is not as game-centric as it is marketed. It lacks an ultra-responsive 120Hz screen like Razer's gaming smartphone. Nor does it have stereo, front-facing speakers. In fact, I found the Play's bottom-firing speaker to be easily muffled by my palm.

Instead, it is very similar to the mid-range Huawei nova 3i ($398). Both smartphones sport identical 6.3-inch notched LCD screens. The buttons, dual rear cameras and the fingerprint sensor are placed in the same location for both devices.

But the Play has a sleek metal chassis that is less slippery than the nova's glass back. It also has a more powerful processor and a larger battery that lasts around 10 hours in the video-loop battery test.

The rear cameras are good enough in well-lit conditions, though like most non-flagship smartphone cameras, they produce grainy, noisy images in low light.

I found its Portrait mode a tad too dramatic, with the background overly soft, though the segmentation between the sharp and blurred areas looked accurate enough.

As a bonus, it has the same artificial intelligence mode as Huawei's high-end smartphones that recognise specific scenes, like food and greenery, and adjusts the settings for the best picture.

Its EMUI interface runs smoothly, though; like many other custom Android interfaces, it has its own system apps like the clock or calendar instead of using the stock Android or Google version.

Adding to the clutter are the numerous preloaded games on the Honor Play. Only PUBG Mobile caught my eye - I uninstalled the others promptly.

• Verdict: This mid-range smartphone matches the gaming performance of more expensive models.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2018, with the headline 'Honor Play: Affordable gaming smartphone '. Print Edition | Subscribe