Honor Play hands-on: Solid hardware for a budget ‘gaming’ phone

Honor Play hands-on hed

Chinese hardware brand Honor is entering the gaming phone arena with its  new Play model, which launched yesterday in India and today in Malaysia. The company is hoping to win over mobile gamers on a budget with a low-key device that, on the surface, is indistinguishable from most other Android handsets with a notched display.

I got a chance to try out the new phone in Kuala Lumpur, and from my brief time with the Honor Play, it seems like a good deal. You’re essentially getting a Huawei P20 Pro – minus the Leica camera systems and 2GB less RAM – for a third of the price (the 4GB/64GB version costs INR 19,999 ($291) and 1,249 MYR in Malaysia).

With Android 8.1 and Huawei’s EMUI version 8.2 skin on top, it’s fairly snappy and easy to navigate – though OnePlus’ OxygenOS feels a bit faster and is certainly more flexible.

There’s a fair bit of bloatware taking up space on the Malaysian edition, including a bunch of games I don’t care to play at all. Incidentally, Honor teamed up with Tencent Games to optimize the device for the popular Battle Royale-style game, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), but that didn’t come pre-installed.

I had trouble installing the title from Google Play on my hotel Wi-Fi, so I’ll only be able to fully test Honor’s claims of a 60 percent performance boost along with a 30 percent reduction in power consumption in my full review later on.

That said, other recent graphics-intensive releases like Darkness Rises and Iron Blade ran smoothly enough, with high frame rates and minimal jitter. So far, so good.

Darkness Rises works great on the Honor Play
Darkness Rises works great on the Honor Play

I wasn’t overly impressed with the camera system: the 16-megapixel snapper that’s paired with a 2-megapixel camera manages decent shots and offers plenty of options for manual shooters, but it simply couldn’t pick up the light shade of green on a pair of apples, no matter how much I fiddled with the settings or turned to the AI mode for help.

The 16-megapixel front camera, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to capture much detail even in well-lit conditions. In multiple selfies, I looked like I’d had my skin smoothened by some sort of beautification mode, but it wasn’t even turned on.

There’s not much else to complain about: the 6.3-inch FHD+ IPS display is bright and vibrant, and the sound from the bottom speaker is surprisingly good. I also love the shade of blue that’s available in most markets – it looks fantastic on the all-metal body, to the point that I’m tempted to use the Play without a case.

I’m also glad the Play supports fast charging over USB-C, comes with a 3.5mm audio jack, and room for dual SIMs.

Minor niggles include the wide notch and the slightly thick chin (which appears larger than it is, thanks to the Honor badge on there), and the bright white interface elements across EMUI.

The chin on the Honor Play isn't overly large, but it's unfortunately accentuated by the badge at the center
The chin on the Honor Play isn’t overly large, but it’s unfortunately accentuated by the badge at the center

At this point, I can say that the Honor Play has a lot going for it at its price, regardless of whether you want to use it to frag baddies or browse Instagram all day – but it’s not the best device a gamer can buy right now. Stay tuned for our full review in a couple of weeks.

Keep an eye out for our new gear and gadget section. It’s launching soon and you are going to like it.

Published August 7, 2018 — 16:09 UTC