It is getting increasingly difficult to stand out in the extremely competitive smartphone market. Just ask Honor, Huawei’s sister brand, which has been on a launch spree of late, and has had to deal with not just devices from competing brands but also Huawei (but that is another story). With its latest device, the Honor Play, the brand has decided to focus on gaming prowess, and that too without charging a bomb. The smartphone has been launched in India, offering flagship-level specifications at a surprisingly affordable price (Rs 19,999 for the 4 GB/ 64 GB edition, and Rs 23,999 for the 6 GB/ 64 GB edition) and even as we get into review mode, here are our first impressions of the device.
Solidly built, but no “play” angle in design
The world may be going ga-ga over glass but Honor has decided to put metal on the Play’s back. The front of the smartphone is majorly dominated by a 6.3-inch full HD+ display with a resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels with a 19:5:9 aspect ratio. The smartphone measures 157.91 x 74.27 x 7.48 mm and weighs 176 grams – making it slim enough if slightly on the heavier side. It comes with rounded sides and edges, making it easier hold and carry. The metal back also gives the device a sturdy feel – something that is welcome in this glassy era. There is no water and dust resistance, though.
It may have taken a metal road instead of a glass one but there are a few trendy routes that the Honor Play has stuck to. The device comes with a notch on top of the display (as you might have guessed from that aspect ratio) that carries the front facing camera, the earpiece and a proximity sensor. While there are minimum bezels around three sides of the screen, there is a pretty thick chin which sports the company’s logo. The display seems vibrant and responsive. There are no capacitive buttons on the chin but the device comes with on-screen buttons for navigation.
The back of the Honor Play is a matte metal sheet. We received the black unit which sports dark gray antenna bands near the top and the base of the smartphone. The capsule-shaped dual primary camera unit is vertically aligned and slightly raised on the top left side of the back, and has a circular LED flash just below it. A little to the east from that is the recessed fingerprint scanner which has a reflective circular outline. There is “AI camera” branding just below the flash while the Honor logo is in the same line near the base in dark grey color. Also on the back is the round fingerprint scanner, which is just to the center slightly below the cameras.
The base of the smartphone carries the speaker grille, the USB Type C port and the 3.5 mm audio jack*yes, there’s one) while the top of the smartphone is clean. The left side of the Honor Play houses the hybrid dual SIM card slot while the right side carries the volume rocker and the power/ lock button. We would call the smartphone a good looking amalgamation of glass and metal. There is just one catch, though – it looks far too similar in general shape and design to its siblings from Huawei to Honor, which is not a bad thing, considering they have a very distinct design as compared to others, but makes it stand out just a little bit less in its own brand’s portfolio. We honestly thought that the “Play” moniker would have led to some gaming inspired design touches, but yet Honor Play pretty much looks like a routine smartphone. A smart and solidly built one, but with no indication that it is meant for the gaming crowd.
Numbers to play for!
The Honor Play scores great numbers in the specs department. As mentioned earlier, the device comes with a 6.3 inch full HD+ display with 19.5:9 aspect ratio (thanks to the notch), and it is powered by the same HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor which we have seen in high-end flagship’ devices from both Honor and Huawei – the P20 Pro and the Honor 10. The processor comes with the much talked about GPU Turbo which Huawei claims leads to much more efficient gaming and better handling of graphics. The phone also has the ability to recognize different gaming scenarios and react accordingly – so you would get different vibrations for firing a gun and for driving a car, for instance. Just how much a killer proposition that would be remains to be seen, but it certainly adds a different spin on gaming matters.
The processor is coupled with 4 GB RAM (a 6 GB version will also be released later, we are told) and 64 GB storage, which is expandable upto 256 GB via microSD card (you will have to give up one of the two SIM slots though). In the optics zone, the Play comes with a combination of a 16-megapixel sensor (f/2.2 aperture) and 2-megapixel sensor on the rear, while on the front, there is 16-megapixel sensor (f/2.0 aperture) for selfies and video calls. The primary camera comes with EIS and PDAF, while the front facing camera supports face unlock. There is AI support for the camera for better scene recognition and sharper shots, although it can be tuned off if needed (we certainly did in previous editions). The cameras are decent enough, but in spec terms are definitely not on the same level as those seen on the View 10 and Honor 10.
The device is powered by a 3750 mAh battery and comes with a support for fast charging. It runs on Android 8.1, topped with Honor’s in-house UI EMUI 8.2, which is a step up from the 8.1 we saw on the P20 Pro. The Honor Play comes with a hybrid SIM card slot, supporting either two SIMs or one SIM, one microSD card at a time. The connectivity options on the device include 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS. The sensors include the fingerprint scanner, the proximity sensor, the gyroscope and digital compass. Cameras apart, the spec sheet is right up there with flagship level phones from Huawei and Honor.
All set to play…even against its own
The Honor Play ticks a lot of boxes in both specs and looks departments. Targeted at gaming audience initially in China (hence the name Play), the smartphone comes with flagship level specifications, but its biggest attraction is likely to be its price point, starting at Rs 19,999, which makes it perhaps the most affordable flagship level device out there, even though the Kirin 970 is a little long in the tooth (the 980 is being expected any time now). A lot we suspect is dependent on the GPU Turbo angle, which the company claims improves the performance of the device by 60 percent and the battery performance by 30 percent. No, it does not have any clear “gaming” angle (we would so have liked stereo speakers) on the outside, but the Honor Play does bring high-end specs at a surprisingly low price. It has the potential to give some serious competition not just to the OnePlus 6 and Asus Zenfone 5Z in the budget flagship segment, but also its own siblings, the View 10 and Honor 10. Will it do so? Stay tuned for our detailed review to find out.