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Honor 10 Review: Mid-Range Maxed Out?

The latest device from the Huawei backed mid-range smartphone player, the Honor 10, looks to build on Honor’s growing reputation for delivering stellar hardware and near flagship internals, and takes more than a little inspiration from its bigger brother, the Huawei P20, as well as the iPhone X. Let’s take a closer look in our full Honor 10 review.

Honor 10
+ FOR
  • Excellent value
  • Screen-to-body ratio is high
  • Good performance
  • Beautiful design & build quality
  • Good optical package
- AGAINST
  • Fingerprint scanner is lacklustre
  • Average battery at best
  • AI mode is NOT for everyone

Buy on Amazon UK – £399

At a rather elongated event in London, Honor showcased their latest device with pomp and, well, ballerinas, as George Zhao (President of Honor) took to the stage to share the AI, the under-glass fingerprint scanner, and wax lyrical about the ‘Aurora’ design and colour options. Honor are now no strangers to these sorts of events, having cultivated an avid fan base and a keen eye for community-based events.

Honor 10

The Honor 10 is, for most intents and purposes, an iterative upgrade over the Honor 9. The glass back, 1080p IPS display, RAM and storage combinations, and of course, EMUI are all present and carry over from the Honor 9. The main differences here are the 19:9 aspect ratio giving an elongated IPS panel on the front and extending the screen to body ratio up to just shy of 80%, as well as the uplift in processing power to the Kirin 970 which delivers a discreet NPU (Neural-network Processing Unit) which handles tasks such as the cameras’ scene recognition technology. There are also some new colour options in addition to the Glacier Grey and Midnight Black. Phantom Blue and Phantom Green are now also available which give a blended colour hue depending on how the light catches the device and can look truly stunning. If the Honor 9 had not had the hashtag of Lightcatcher, I feel sure the Honor 10 would have.

Other updates see a slightly inflated battery moving up to 3400 mAh from 3200 mAh, a fingerprint scanner situated under the glass, as well as a revised optical package which sees a dual camera setup with 16MP RGB sensor and a 24MP monochrome sensor.

Spec Sheet

  • Display – 5.84-inch Full HD+ (1080 x 2280 pixels)
  • Rear Facing Camera – 16-megapixel (f/1.8) with 24-megapixel B&W sensor
  • Front Facing Camera – 24-megapixel (f/2)
  • Processor – Kirin 970 with NPU
  • Memory – 4GB/6GB
  • Storage – 64GB/128GB
  • Dimensions – 149.6 x 71.2 x 7.7 mm (5.89 x 2.80 x 0.30 in)
  • Battery – 3,400mAh
  • OS – Android 8.0 (Oreo) / EMUI

Overview & Performance

Honor has arguably iteratively enhanced the Honor 10 from the Honor 9 in terms of their design aesthetic. The Honor 9 was monikered LightCatcher, and the Honor 10 is really no different, but with a few additional hues. That’s not to take anything away from the design. It worked a year ago and it still works now. The layered glass finish on the Honor 10 is beautiful and allows the light to lick the glossy surface and create a dancing vista when moving through sunlight. The Phantom Grey was what we plumped for for the review, but arguably the prettiest and most striking option available is the Phantom Green.

Honor 10

An IR blaster adorns the top edge of the Honor 10, something we hardly ever use, but is still nice to have when you’re feeling just that extra bit lazy of a morning, with the volume rocker and power buttons down the right-hand edge. On the opposite edge sits the SIM card tray which this time does not have the option to allow expandable storage in the shape of a microSD card. Given this comes with 64GB and 128GB options, we doubt this will be an issue but some hardcore microSD card users will be crying into their privilege bowls about now.

On the bottom edge we have the Type-C USB port, the welcome addition once again of the 3.5mm audio port, as well as a pinhole microphone and the single speaker cut out. We’ll just throw this in here; the speaker is okay. It’s nothing special, quite tinny, and is very easily covered and muffled when attempting to complete any landscape work on the device.

Finally, on the front we have a 2280 x 1080 display covering over 80% of the body of the device thanks to the 19:9 aspect ratio. We’re happy with the 1080p display (although we understand why others wouldn’t be). The display is crisp and can be very vibrant depending on the colour temperate you set. There’s even an sRGB mode if you enable developer options in Android. Sadly Honor opted for an IPS LCD panel and not an OLED one meaning that there’s no always on display here and the blacks aren’t quite as deep as you’ll find elsewhere.

The device is sleek, a little slippery, but undeniably gorgeous. At this price point we’ll throw it out there, there isn’t another device under £400 that looks this good. There can’t be many under £600 that look this good to be fair.

Looks aside, its build quality is brilliant also. The large screen to body ratio allows it a lovely feel in hand, and there is sufficient heft to make it feel a little more premium than its price point suggests. Honor know how to make gorgeous phones now and they know how to make them feel equally gorgeous. Long gone is the https://mobiletechtalk.co.uk/review-honor-6-plus/Honor 6 Plus aesthetic which looked to steal something of an iPhone fashion sense, and in comes delicious lines and perfectly chosen material choices. We approve.

Processing wiser, the Honor 10 is powered by Huawei’s own silicon, the Kirin 970. We’ve seen this before on the Honor View 10, and more latterly on the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro devices, so nothing specifically groundbreaking here, aside from it’s now appearing in a more budget orientated smartphone. For more information on the Kirin 970, check out our Honor View 10 review, but suffice to say that it breezes through day to day activities and relatively intensive gaming sessions with nary a stutter. We have seemingly arrived at the point (I’d argue we’ve been there for some time though) where hardware has vastly outstripped the majority of smartphone software requirements. Social media, media consumption, camera work, editing photos; nothing caused it an issue.

The special part of the Kirin 970 is in its NPU (Neural Processing Unit) which is thrown in for good measure. There are many practical real-world applications for NPUs in the pipeline so I’m expecting way more to be delivered via updates once the development teams have gotten to grips with it, but on the Honor 10 (as in the Huawei devices) scene recognition is a huge part of the play.

That’s the gushing part out of the way right? So where is the downside? Well, I could have picked this up from almost any other Honor device review we’ve taken on in the last few years and had to change very little. The Honor 10 comes with the EMUI skin atop Android Oreo, and whilst they have made great strides in delivering a more Westernised look and feel, caving and allowing an app drawer mode for example, there are still signs that they should just throw Android One on there and be done.

EMUI is, for me, the one reason I’ll always be keeping another phone on hand. Aesthetically it’s pleasant and is lightning fast to use with no stutters, lag or other legacy Android issues. It’s the Memory management that is just too aggressive for me. I’ll caveat this part of the review by stating that other individuals I’ve spoken to haven’t had these issues, but there are as many who have in my travels. A leftover from their predominantly Asian heritage, EMUI looks to close down applications at the first hint that they are not required, often meaning that messaging applications, even hugely popular ones such as Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and more, notifications can be missed. I experienced this within 24 hours of using the device when missing Hangouts messages. There is a fix for this but it means choosing to manually manage the battery optimisation for the relevant applications. I suggest this is the first thing that anybody does, however where do they stop? Just the messaging applications? What about Instagram and other Social Media platforms? The truth is it’s a mixed bag and is somewhat related to how the developers choose to keep their applications resident also which means that if you use a lot of similar applications, your playing Russian Roulette with your push-notifications.

There’s also quite a lot of bloat that still comes shipped with Honor and Huawei devices. Going through and deleting various beefy games, and dealing with the translucent themed built-in applications such as the File Manager, Phone Manager, HiCare, Phone Clone and perhaps the most annoying one, Mirror, still irks me. I long for a day where pulling a gorgeous Honor out of the box is met with a completely stock Android build. Honor, if you’re listening, there’s little value-add to anything but the theming engine you run, so take a leaf from OnePlus and get your own stock-OS rocking on these devices huh?

Finally, there’s the under-the-glass Fingerprint scanner. This is groundbreaking for a device at this price point, that’s for sure. We only really saw this type of technology debuted in concept phones at/after MWC 2018. The idea is that there is a sensor under the glass display of your device that, when a finger is pressed against it, acts just like any other fingerprint scanner. On the Honor 10, unfortunately, the execution doesn’t quite live up to the hype, although this could be improved with software tweaks moving forward, we’re sure.

Honor 10

The setup process takes a little longer than the usual fingerprint scanner setup, but that’s absolutely fine. This is newer technology and first-generation techs like these do take a little time to iron out. Okay, still in forgiving mode? Good, moving on. Once setup, go ahead and turn that screen off, and tap that front facing fingerprint scanner. Yes, front facing. That’s fine again though right? OnePlus did it (up until the 6) so it can’t be all that bad. Again, agreed. Conceptually fine. The issue here comes in two main areas. The placement of the fingerprint scanner on the front of the device isn’t an issue per say, but the fact that it’s right on the very bottom of the panel, so close to the edge, means it can be a bit finicky when that first fingerprint read doesn’t spring the device into life. And, secondly, that’s an all too often occurrence. In my testing over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had more misreads than I would expect, but more annoyingly, when it is successful, I have sometimes waited up to almost 2 seconds to be brought to my home screen. That’s not an average to be fair though, as it’s usually around the 1 second mark, but even that feels paltry compared to the normal fingerprint scanners we’re now used to. We’re sure to see this improve, either in subsequent devices or, hopefully, with software updates which are quite speedy on the Honor 10. We hope that this is towards the top of their priority list.

If you really have the same issues I do, you can just switch on face unlock and be done with the troublesome fingerprint scanner until a potential fix is delivered. That functions just fine and dandy.

Camera

The dual camera setup on the Honor 10 is capable of some brilliant shots, and thanks to the NPU scene recognition can really help bring out certain subjects. For example, bokeh effects on portraits of human faces is nice, as well as capturing that pet with a Cat/Dog scene recognition is handy too.

Generally though the combination of the 16MP RGB shot with the 24MP monochrome shot delivers a great one-click experience with day shots delivering crisp quality and some good dynamic range. The 24MP monochrome sensor also allows for some decent detail in low light. Check out the FlickR gallery for some samples from both the front and rear cameras. Apologies in advance for the one or two Beauty-Mode-To-11 shots in the list.

As you can see, there are some great shots in that gallery. Arguably, however, the main areas that Mr Zhao spent the most time fawning over are the areas that will prove most divisive in daily use. The AI mode basically throws Samsung-level saturation at almost every picture which, whilst in some circumstances (landscapes for example) can work, leaves my eyes bleeding from the colour exposure. Thankfully the AI correction can be reversed in the gallery app, leaving your original shot intact and allowing you to edit manually.

Honor 10
Yes, it has a notch…

Then there’s the portrait mode which offers the bokeh, or shallow depth of field. The Honor 10 does a decent job of edge detection but can get it completely wrong at times depending on the complexity of the situation at hand. You’ll see from the shots I’ve included in the FlickR gallery above that it can be a mixed bag upon closer inspection.

Overall though the speed of the one-click operation, the decent exposure correction and dynamic range that can be obtained from the package is second to none at this price point. If the Pixel 2 XL, widely thought to have one of the best cameras in any smartphone device, is a 10/10, the Honor 10 is a cool 7/10 in my opinion.

The video clarity on the Honor 10, another key to a mid-range device, is very good also. Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) is a crucial miss here, but the Electronic Image Stabilisation on the rear-facing camera package does an admirable job. OIS would still be preferable and would deliver a more stable video than that which is shot below. I didn’t dare run like some other YouTubers as I didn’t think that anybody with motion sickness would be able to stomach it!

The battery won’t take too much of a kick in when recording 4K video; par for the course we think. Do just be mindful as the device can get a little hot.

Finally, there’s the mainstay of 2018 smartphone marketing departments, the notch. I’ve strayed from saying too much about it, but yes, it’s there, and yes, it can be hidden in the software thankfully. No, I still don’t understand why its such a phenomenon currently. Yes, I hope it disappears as fast as it appeared!

Battery Life

Honor 10A 3400 mAh, plus 1080p display, plus Android Oreo should be a quick maff situation right? With many flagship devices delivering QHD+ displays (that’s 2K to you and me, at an elongated aspect ratio) along with 3000 mAh batteries you’d be forgiven for thinking the Honor 10 would be delivering much better performance in the battery department than some of its peers, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Screen on time can be considered to be one of the most important measurements by which we gauge battery life, and whilst that’s arbitrary unless coupled with the overall battery use during a full discharge (e.g. not just looking at the fact that 5 hours of screen on time was achieved but over what percentage of the overall discharge that time took up) it is still a warranted metric in such reviews. I could only manage 4.5 hours of screen on time during a total battery discharge that took just under 21 hours. That’s not too shabby, but my main complaint is that my usual screen on time, with sporadic screen use rather than a sustained period (2 hours of continuous use in the 4.5 hours measurement) was around the 2.5 – 3 hour mark. Not bad on the surface but when coupled with the battery specifications and the 1080p screen, you’d be expecting a little more.

Honor 10

Luckily, the inclusion of a “Super Charger” in the Honor 10 box means that you can juice your bad boy up in just over 2 hours with a significant amount of juice in under an hour. It’s not OnePlus’ Dash charging which is arguably the fastest charging technology on the planet used in smartphones currently, but it’s good enough here in our opinion.

Conclusion

Honor 10

The Honor 10 launch focused (pardon the pun) on the camera qualities; AI scene recognition, the dual 16MP and 24MP sensors, and beauty and bokeh modes that apparently make your other half more pretty (according to George Zhao – there’s still some way to go with their presentations). This was all pointing to the fact that they were aiming at the big players; the Samsung S9 and the iPhone X. The presentation was littered with speed tests and picture quality comparisons that showed that the Honor 10 was up there with flagship devices.

Based on my review period, and from the discussions I’ve had with the Tech community who attended the same presentation as I did, the overall conclusion is no, it doesn’t compare to those products. Those that cost at least double, and sometimes 3 times as much have an obvious advantage and do deliver superior performance in many areas. What Honor should be focusing on here is the law of diminishing returns when it comes to such increases.

The Honor 10, at the £400 price point, provides everything that the average consumer would want. Relatively regular updates (current generation phones for sure), good optical performance, 4K video recording, fingerprint scanning, bokeh effects, excellent general performance in daily tasks and of course, a notch! It could clearly sit at the top table with many phones in many areas, but none of them in all, and that is still something to write home about for us.

The Honor 10 is an excellent device whilst still making some compromises (no wireless charging for one), but still clearly hold the throne at the sub-£400 price point, and will only get better over the next 6 months with software updates.

About Craig Bradshaw

Tech enthusiast and Editor-in-Chief of MobileTechTalk

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