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What’s this, a mobile phone review? 2018 is the year where mobile devices are now aiming for the ever-growing gaming market, and with a strong mobile esports scene here in Malaysia, it was a matter of time we have to cover it.
The folks at Huawei Malaysia are jumping in this new market with the M5 Mediapad, which was promoted to be a good tablet for productivity use and also gaming. But that’s not the end of it. Now, via its sister brand Honor, it now has a gaming phone. The first of which to carry that banner is the newly released Honor Play.
While it is only now available in the Malaysia markets, we had a review unit in our hands in advance in the past three weeks. It’s a brilliant smartphone, one I easily recommend to folks who wants a new upgrade. Plus, it can play games well.
If you somehow have an irrational bias against Chinese-made smartphones like I did, let me tell you this. They make really good phones now. The Honor Play is likewise.
It uses a metal unibody which is in vogue right now. Also in vogue now is the notch on the 2340x1080p display with a 19.5:9 ratio. It’s a tall device- one-handed use is difficult- but fits nicely in pockets.
The Honor Play feels good to hold and touch. It does feel weighty at 176g. But in a good way. It’s the right kind of heftiness you expect from a quality device in the hands.
Besides that, the Honor Play also has a big battery at 3750mAh which can last a full 8am-8pm day of everyday usage (mobile data on, browsing social media) and squeeze in some hours of gaming to boot. It is equipped with the latest Kirin 970 processor, the best of Huawei’s in-house offering right now, 4GB of RAM and 64GB internal memory.
All the ports are situated on the bottom. It uses the USB Type-C port, embracing new tech while still keeping a 3.5mm jack, which are slowly being abandoned but not without backlash. The one speaker is also on the bottom, but more on that later.
As a daily driver, the Honor Play is a superb package. The camera’s pretty solid for quick snapshots, even if you are not a fan of the “AI” colour enhancement feature. The fingerprint sensor at the back works effortlessly and it looks sleek and subtle, perfect for those that don’t really want to flaunt their gamer credentials too much.
Speaking of the camera, here’s some example shots all taken with the Honor Play:
Some shots from the Honor Play. pic.twitter.com/yYhZ0tzjbw
— Amirul Ashraf (@meckronos) August 7, 2018
Obligatory shots of cats. pic.twitter.com/ijKMERwBeB
— Amirul Ashraf (@meckronos) August 7, 2018
— Amirul Ashraf (@meckronos) August 18, 2018
Honor Play runs on the EMUI version 8.2.0, based on Android 8.1.0 Oreo. There’s tons of custom apps by Huawei. The default launcher definitely wants to imitate the iPhone- there’s even a navigational button to toggle on to imitate that iPhone experience.
A lot of these custom Huawei apps requires you to sign-up a Huawei ID to make use of it, which is bothersome for new users like me but should not be an issue for loyal users of the brand. Thankfully, most of these apps are supplementary to your experience.
The phone comes pre-installed with several games which are:
- Asphalt Nitro
- Puzzle Pets
- Disney Magic Kingdom
- Dragon Mania
- Spider-Man: Ultimate Power
- Sonic Runners
- Lords Mobile
The user experience is pretty snappy. Apps load quickly and if you’ve used an Android device before, you’re pretty much at home. You can turn the launcher to have an app drawer rather than having them all on the home screen, or even install your own launcher.
The Honor Play has a Game Suite app that has two (actually three) main functions. You can have notifications to go completely silent (except for very important ones like an incoming call) when you launch a game.
Also, there’s a game accelaration function. It basically boosts the phone’s performance at a cost of using more battery and possibly heating up the device. When tested early on the device can get uncomfortably warm in extended sessions of gaming- like a 30-minute round of a PUBG Mobile match. After a software update, the heat is not as noticeable as before. Though I suggest to use it sparingly with regular breaks to keep it cool.
Also, there’s a screen recording function accessible by pressing volume up and the power button together. Recording gameplay videos is easy and accessible thanks to this.Though the video output are all exported in portrait orientation for some reason.
And here’s why you are reading this review. Honor Play is being promoted as a gaming phone for everyone and has been boasting that it can provide a better experience than other more expensive gaming phones.
The Honor Play is the first Honor device to have GPU Turbo built-in, a software-side enhancement that allows games to run better by improving how the CPU and GPU communicate. Honestly, the performance gains here are marginal. It’s not really a game-changer right now. But hey, every fps gain is still good to see. And if you’re a competitive gamer where any margin of advantage counts, then this is all good stuff.
When playing the latest games, the Honor Play excels. Most games I tested with graphical settings defaults to High. Of the games I tested, Real Racing 3 has the most benefit where it can reach the 60fps mark at times.
Games load super fast as well. I didn’t notice the loading times for Asphalt 9 Legends at all until I played the same game on my personal, less powerful phone. Mobile Legends ran pretty decently too. The simple artstyle stands out quite well thanks to the sharp display and rock-solid framerate. There is still some hitching and lag spikes on some unoptimised games but usually, games run smoothly.
However, I do notice some games may not work as well. Thanks to the notched display, some games will not use the game in full screen natively. While you can force it to do so, it sometimes would not work. Shin Megami Tensei Dx2 Liberation is just one example of a game that could not run properly, either the buttons do not register correctly or the rendering looked odd. Though this is an exception rather than the norm, no other games I tested have the same issue.
Honor has an extensive partnership with Tencent to include extra features when you play PUBG Mobile on an Honor Play, namely the AI 4D Smart Shock. It’s a fancy way of saying vibration support and at first glance I can barely feel its presence. There should be 30 different interactions that the vibration will react to. From the 3-4 hours of playing the battle royale shooter I still can’t tell if its vibration from the game or indirect vibration thanks to the loud speaker.
Until I discovered that the AI 4D Smart Shock is buried inside the Game suite app, under settings which is easy to miss. This is the third function in the Game Suite app.
Once enabled, it’s a cool, but subtle enhancement. There are indeed many degrees of vibrations that helps make gameplay feel a bit better.
However, the 4D enhancements are limited. Honor needs to work together with developers to enable this. So don’t expect to be blown away with this feature in many other games. So far, only PUBG Mobile supports this.
The 3D surround sound feature? It’s great. You can tell which direction a sound comes from, especially when you have headphones jacked in. Now that’s a working selling point and a big competitive advantage too for games like PUBG Mobile.
Due to its tall form factor, holding it in landscape mode can be a bit fiddly due to the limited space in the sides, more so when you plug in headphones with the 3.5mm port. The screen is wide enough that your thumbs won’t be blocking the centre of the screen a lot during gameplay, that’s good. But since the display makes use of most of the front-side real estate, some of the on-screen buttons are tucked near the edges, which is hard to reach if you grip the phone like you how you would on a controller.
Price and Value
Now, the price. The Honor Play is a mid-ranger, priced at RM1,249. In comparison, the other gaming phones goes over RM2,000. It does not have any bespoke hardware and features that really makes it on the levels of the expensive gaming phones, which enables it to be priced in the mid-range.
This means the Honor Play is now the benchmark for what a gaming smartphone should be at its bare essentials.
Interestingly, the Honor Play’s spec sheet is almost similar to the flagship model, the Honor 10. The differences are that the Play has a bigger and taller screen, a bigger battery, a lower-spec forward camera, a more muted color choice (Navy Blue and Ultra Violet is offered in Malaysia) and a lower price point- around RM300 of difference. That’s a good trade-off if you ask me, especially if you consider playing a lot of mobile games.
The Honor Play is an astoundingly well-built phone. The hardware is really great for what you are paying for. It has well-rounded features across the board making it a good choice as a daily driver. As long as you are okay with investing into the Huawei ecosystem.
But when seen from a gaming perspective, the Honor Play may not live up to the marketing bullet points.
That said, it can run games run buttery smooth and look amazing but don’t expect it to be leaps and bounds better than any other smartphone. It is going in the right direction however, ticking the right boxes when it comes to gaming features. And it”s way cheaper than any other gaming smartphones out there.
The Honor Play is proof that you don’t need to spend a premium to have the best mobile gaming experience. This is the benchmark for any other gaming smartphone to live up to.
Review unit provided in advance by Honor Malaysia