Honor launched their latest flagship, the Honor 10, a month ago. Since then it has been with me night and day. It’s about time for a review then, I guess.
Has it really been a month? Well, May 15th saw the UK unveiling of Honor’s well-priced top-of-the-line phone. At under £400 SIM free it finds itself half the price of other flagship phones, including the amazingly adept Huawei P20 Pro from its parent company. The question is, is it half as good or is it “Good? Not half!”
There has to be some concessions though, surely?
Well, a quick glance over the spec sheets and, it’s quicker and easier to say what you don’t get. The Honor 10 lacks optical image stabilisation.
That’s it if you are comparing it with the standard Huawei P20; and that’s still another couple-hundred pounds more expensive.
However, looking at other brands, such as Samsung, they offer OLED displays, super slow mo at 960fps, waterproofing, and wireless charging.
This is the point where you have to ask yourself, are those extras actually worth an extra £300 to you?
Honor once again made a great song and dance (literally) about their flagships’s super-polished, ridiculously blue finish. This was achieved by them cleverly stacking more than 15 layers of glass over each other. It does look gorgeous though.
However, if you look past the shiny, you still get a metal and glass design similar to every other handset released this year. Basically, you have metal sides and a shiny 2.5D glass back.
But, oh so shiny!
The 10’s 5.8-inch IPS HD+ (2280 x 1080) display takes up 78% of the front surface. Additionally, it also has the now ubiquitous ‘notch’ that’s become increasingly common since the launch of the Essential PH-1 (not, as fruity fans will state, the £1,000 Apple iPhone X). This is a consequence of the phone’s near-bezel-free 19:9 design.
In that notch you will find a 24 megapixel selfie snapper.
Whilst, over on the left side, you’ll find the dual SIM tray.
In a nifty bit of cleverness, Honor have slipped the fingerprint scanner into the home button just under the screen. It’s ultrasonic, you know. Admittedly, I would have been much more impressed had they put the fingerprint sensor under the viewable display area. Maybe next time, huh?
Still, having the scanner/home button under the screen certainly gives the 10 a seamless look.
The only branding on the rear of the phone is the Honor logo and “AI Camera” legend. Thankfully, there’s also the dual lens set up featuring a 24-megapixel and 16-megapixel sensor to distract you from the AI tramp-stamp.
The design is solid and ticks all the right boxes when it comes to functionality. Also, and quite importantly, it gives the phone a much more premium feel than your average £400 handset.
It isn’t overly heavy at 153g but there is enough about it to feel sturdy.
In short, build quality is excellent.
Honor 10 performance
The Honor 10 is loaded with a HiSilicon Kirin 970 octocore chip mated with 4GB RAM. This is the same chip as found on the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro, by the way. The Honor 10 must be the most affordable phone loaded with this tech.
We’ve lost the microSD card slot but are compensated with 128GB of built-in memory.
The whole thing runs on Android 8.1 Oreo, skinned with EMUI 8.1.
I dare say that the Honor 10’s 5.8-inch IPS display is one of the best you’ll find at this price. Granted, you don’t get the inky, leathery blacks of AMOLED screens, but colours are nicely calibrated and whites are super clean.
Naturally, you can tweak the colour temperature and contrast in the phone’s settings. However, I have had it running in the out-of-the-box Vivid mode.
The screen’s maximum brightness level is more than bright enough. On a sunny day traipsing through London the screen remains legible in everything but direct, very bright sunlight. Let’s face it, we don’t get in those situations that often in the UK.
The HD+ 2280 x 1080 resolution isn’t noticeably higher than regular FHD. That said, it is mainly there to accommodate the phone’s longer 19:9 aspect ratio. In daily use, both text and icons look sharp and are readable. I have not noticed any blurring or haziness at any point.
Extra points to Honor for supplying the phone fitted with a screen protector all ready to go!
Android P is set to support notched screens, but as it stands Honor’s set it to display incoming notifications as well as battery life and network availability. If this is not to your liking, you can nudge the notch in the settings and leave a plain black bar.
Just like its high-end sibling, the Huawei P20 Pro, the Honor 10 runs Android 8.1 wrapped in Emotion UI (EMUI) 8.1 skin. I have to add here that I also downloaded one of the new themes announced at the launch event.
The EMUI software is considerably better than it was when I first met it. It does have some additions, but I’m still not convinced that it’s better than stock Android or on a par yet with other skins. Huawei/Honor still doubles up on apps that already feature in Android too which is more a niggle than a deal breaker.
Face unlock is quick and, until we got a software update, the fingerprint sensor was slow and would take me at least a couple of tries to to unlock the device. However, I am pleased to say that, along with Party Mode, all that’s sorted. It even works with wet fingers.
The bundled SwiftKey keyboard is familiar to me but might take some getting used to if you’re coming from a stock Google board. It does work well and swipe-typing is generally quick. Although some of the words presented can be a tad odd.
Honor gives you four options for navigation. You can opt to have the traditional soft navigation bar, draw a virtual home button which takes multiple navigation gestures, use the under-glass sensor (with multiple navigation gestures), or an onscreen blob. Option 3 retains more screen real estate and has been my choice.
You get dual-sensor imaging, with a decent stab at the fun effects of this year’s iPhone and Galaxy S-class: portrait photos that isolate and enhance the subject, and the wacky real-time AR stickers that kids love for about a day and never use again.
On the front, the phone has a 24 MP sensor which has a large, 1.8 micron pixel size. The front camera also supports 3D portrait lighting as seen in the gorgeous shot of yours truly 😉
Beauty in AI
Honor is touting the AI chops of the cameras on the Honor 10. These features enable the cameras to intelligently optimise their settings to capture “500+ scenarios in 22 categories” in real time. Those categories include a ‘Panda’ mode and, as I discovered, one specifically for bicycles; note the bike icon just above where it says Photo.
These features aren’t at all unique to Honor or Huawei. Qualcomm’s been making a similar move via its latest line of Snapdragon CPUs and you’ll struggle to find a mid-to-top-tier handset that’s not boasting something similar. The only difference being the addition of Huawei’s “Semantic Image Segmentation technology”, which apparently lets Kirin 970 phones recognise more than one object in photos.
The AI processing is turned off by default, and can be turned on by a big AI button on the default camera app’s main screen.
The software tends to brighten dark areas a lot. Additionally, it also ramps up saturation and contrast. These are great if you’re uploading eye-catching snaps to social media. However, I’d rather start with something more natural and then, if I want to, boost the settings in post. This is where I have to remember Honor’s target market – the young and the brave.
Taking snaps of green fields or trees does produce *very* green things, almost to the point of bleeding the colour. Focusing is quick though. In fact, I have very few complaints during daylight photography. Monochrome mode is also pretty great.
The AI mode also adds a little bit of processing time. That said, it does a decent job fixing blemishes and adding minor bokeh effects to photos. Also, if the result is not to your taste the camera does automatically save a non-optimised version you can check just by tapping the top AI icon on the top right of the camera app UI.
The dedicated aperture mode is a nice touch, especially as it’s separate to the Pro mode. Portrait mode was good most of the time. I do like the 3D lighting but not sure how often I would actually use it. Beautification mode doesn’t take much before the images look unreal.
In low-light and mixed-lighting, the Honor 10 still seemed to bump up the saturation too much. This can cause skin tones to look unnatural.
In terms of video, the phone will shoot 4K (3,840 x 2,160) at 24fps, FHD+ (2,160 x 1,064) 18:9 at 30fps, and Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) at 60fps. Conveniently, it can also record using the H.265 (or HEVC) codec, which produces much smaller files than H.264.
Video footage is OK. Daylight footage is good so long as you are not panning vigorously, and the microphones capture sound well.
Overall, the camera is excellent considering the Honor 10’s price tag. It was never going to be on a par with the Huawei P20 Pro but then they are both at different price brackets too.
In every sense of the word, it is the successor to the Honor 8 Pro, which impressed with its camera performance.
Call quality and radio reception are, of course, first rate. Both SIM slots support LTE and the Honor offers to keep your internet data going on one SIM while you talk on the other. The free case is also a welcomed addition.
Honor 10 review conclusion
Honor continues to impress me with each new handset. The company has rolled out a series of great phones thus far and the Honor 10 is its strongest showing yet.
The phone certainly nails the basics. Furthermore, I can’t readily think of a device that offers quite as much value at this price point.
Granted, the phone may not have the same camera capabilities as the P20 Pro, and while OIS would have made it a superb all-rounder, it still offers one of the better shooters in this bracket.
Price and availability
You can buy the Honor 10 right now for £399 outright. There are also a multitude of contract options through Three.