Honor 10 review

Note: We’ve spent almost two weeks with the Honor 10, but it doesn’t yet have final software onboard so we haven’t given the phone our final verdict or score; we’ll add these once our handset has been upgraded to the launch software.

Honor always aims to produce flagship devices that offer top-end specs for a lower price than the competition, and the company succeeded in creating a great phone with the 4.5-star Honor 9 last year.

A lot has happened in smartphone world since last year though. The notch has become a staple of top-end devices, as has the 18:9 aspect ratio display, and that’s not to mention new processors with AI built in, and recent Android upgrades.

Other than having a lower price, the Honor 10 has a lot in common with another recently launched flagship, the Huawei P20. That’s because Huawei is the parent company of Honor, and that means a lot of what you see on the flagship Huawei phones makes its way to the headline Honor devices.

If we had to describe its relationship to the Huawei P20, we’d say the Honor 10 is its cousin rather than a sibling – it looks similar but is missing a few features, and has that lower price to make up for it.

You can watch our hands on video review of the Honor 10 below.

Honor 10 price and release date

In some markets you’ll be able to buy the Honor 10 from May 15. Exactly what time the phone will be on sale is unclear, but we know it’s set to be available in the UK, and you’ll be able to buy directly from Honor as well as a variety of third-party retailers and Three UK.

SIM-free the phone will cost £399.99 (about $540, AU$720) in the UK, and we don’t expect the phone to launch in either the US or Australia as previous Honor flagships haven’t always made it to those countries.

The UK price is £20 more than the Honor 9, which launched at £379.99, but you may consider the spec upgrade here is worth the markup, and it’s still a lot cheaper than other flagship devices; the Huawei P20, for example, is a third more expensive in the UK at £599.99.

Design and display

Honor is putting a lot of focus on the design of the Honor 10, and there’s no denying this is a beautiful-looking device.

It inherits a similar look to the Twilight gradient-effect Huawei P20, but it’s slightly different here, giving you a different shade and look depending on what angle you view the back of the device from.

We’ve found it to be a bold look, which we love, although it's a look that's likely to prove divisive as it's fairly unconventional.

This shade is called Phantom Blue, while there’s also a Phantom Green option that we haven’t seen in real life but which, in press images, looks remarkably similar to the Blue.

If you don’t want these more exotic color choices there are always the more traditional-looking Black and Glacier Grey options. 

Despite having a much larger screen the Honor 10 isn’t much bigger overall than the Honor 9, and it sits comfortably in the hand. This isn’t a huge phone, and it’s the perfect option for someone who wants a large screen but can’t comfortably get their mitts around a device like the iPhone 8 Plus.

The rear’s glass is the other big highlight design-wise as it uses 15 layers of glass to get a striking effect where light beams bounce across it. According to Honor, it takes twice as long to make than the Honor 9 did. The extra effort is well worth it though, as the rear of the phone feels premium.

There's a metal trim along the edges of the Honor 10, which adds to the premium look and feel with a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB-C port on the bottom and the volume rocker / power button on the right-hand side.

Honor is going for a minimalist look here, and the device feels good in the hand for that. Contributing to this is the redesigned fingerprint scanner, which, instead of being on the rear or indented on the front of the phone, now sits in the lower bezel but under the glass, so it’s flush with the display.

This isn’t like in-display scanners we’ve seen on some phones, like the new VIVO X20 Plus concept device, but it does mean the sensor doesn’t interrupt the clean lines of the Honor 10.

There’s a subtle lozenge-shaped outline so you know where to place your finger to hit the scanner, and we found it to work accurately and fast – it doesn’t appear to be any less accurate as a result of being under the glass.

That said, we didn’t find ourselves using the fingerprint scanner very much, as there’s also face-unlock technology, which identifies you mere seconds after you press the on button.

We found this to work really well, identifying our face from different angles and when we were wearing sunglasses, and it wouldn’t unlock for other people.

The display itself is very different to the one on the Honor 9, and similar to phones we’ve seen this year and last year’s iPhone X. It’s a 5.84-inch 19:9 display, with a notch at the top to house the front-facing camera and face-scanning tech.

The resolution of the screen is Full HD+, which essentially means you’ll get a Full HD resolution plus a few bonus pixels, as the screen is longer than previous Honor devices.

Honor’s screen here is bright, clear, and nice and vibrant, and the maximum resolution is particularly impressive. 

There’s relatively little bezel around the device (apart from at the bottom, but that’s still trim) and the notch is small considering what we’ve seen on some other flagship devices. If you don’t like the notch look, you can hide it by having a black bar on either side, which will slightly reduce your screen real estate.

You won’t waste the space if you do this, as those bars still house the clock, notifications and more. There’s a lot to like about the screen.

Battery life

Honor has increased the battery size on the Honor 10 over the Honor 9, from 3200mAh to 3400mAh. While that may look like an improvement, however, it’s worth noting that the screen is bigger here, so there are more pixels to power.

That said, as with the Honor 9, we’ve found the phone will generally last a full day on a single charge. We used the device for 10 days at the time of writing, and on the couple of occasions when it didn’t last the full day that was with extensive usage.

We’ve yet to use the final software on the Honor 10, however, so we can’t promise that the battery life will be the same for the handset that goes on sale.

We’d prefer the phone to last a little longer; we'd like to tell you that we didn’t get the stage where the phone died around 10PM, but that did happen on a few occasions and we’ll be sure to test this efficiently at the time of our full review with the final software.

The Honor 10 does come with fast-charging though, and we found this could fully charge the phone in under two hours. This is particularly useful if you need to just pump up your phone with a few hours of charge in half an hour or so.

There’s no wireless charging on the Honor 10, but that’s an extra feature we wouldn’t always expect to see on this kind of cheaper flagship device.

Camera

Like previous Huawei and Honor phones, the Honor 10 comes with a dual rear camera. One sensor is a 24MP monochrome shooter while the other is a 16MP color one.

When you take a photo on the rear camera in auto mode, the camera will take the same shot with both sensors, and combine the images for a photo with more detail than you’d get from a single camera.

The quality here is great, and while the Honor 10’s camera may not have as many features as the camera on the Huawei P20 it still looks like it does a great job in auto mode.

Honor’s processing tech will use artificial intelligence to automatically improve the shots you’ve taken. That means the camera software will use algorithms to brighten areas of a shot, or change the focus, to create what it believes will be the best result.

Honor says the phone can identify 22 different scenes, including greenery or pets, so the phone will detect what you’re shooting and work out how to improve the shot. Below you can see an example of a greenery shot with AI turned on and then off.

This feature worked well in our testing, and usefully you can press a button and see what the photo looks like without the AI enhancements. If the phone hasn’t enhanced the photo to your liking, you can then revert to the original.

There are also lots of pro mode features, so if you want to more control over the settings for the best results with different subjects you can deep-dive and play around with these.

Our experience with shooting video on the Honor 10 has been limited so far, but the footage we have captured looks good – it’s smooth, and both the image quality and audio quality are high.

On the front of the phone is a powerful 24MP selfie camera capable of taking high-quality shots that are more than good enough for social media use.

One new feature of the portrait mode is that you can set the lighting effect for your selfies. This is something you can also do the rear camera, but it’s particularly useful for selfies. There are five different options: soft lighting, butterfly lighting, split lighting, stage lighting and classic lighting.

The final two modes will focus just on your face. The classic lighting will give you a black and white filter, while the stage lighting is a dramatic, brighter effect that cuts out the background and focuses just on your face.

It works in a similar way to stage light and stage light mono on the iPhone X.

Selfies without these lighting modes also look good, but in poor lighting the first two modes in particularly will help you capture a better-quality selfie, while the final two effects look to be pretty much unique to the Honor 10.

The other useful element is you can fiddle with the lighting after you’ve taken the photo.

This is all done through the Portrait mode within the camera app, that also allows you put on a beauty mode with ten different levels so you can smooth out imperfections on your skin as well as bokeh. That way you can automatically blur the background behind your shots, like on the rear camera.

Interface and reliability

The Honor 10 comes with the latest Android 8.1 Oreo software on board, but it’s hidden behind Huawei’s own custom overlay, Emotion UI 8.1.

That means the interface will look quite different to what you’ve seen on other phones (unless you’ve had a Huawei or Honor in the past) and it may take some getting used to.

For example, by default there isn’t an app drawer on the Honor 10. Instead you have to scroll through the main screens to organize your apps. You can tinker with the settings to add an app drawer, but it takes some know-how to find and enable the option.

Emotion UI 8.1 looks much better than it did on Honor devices a few years ago, and there are plenty of customization options, so you can make it look how you want it to by changing your background, theme and more.

Google Pay didn’t work on the device we’ve been using, but the phone does come with NFC so it should be able to support it. We’ll be sure to test this again at the time of our full review when the phone should be running its final software.

Movies, music and gaming

The crisp display on the Honor 10 makes watching video an enjoyable experience, but we’ve found that a lot of apps don’t make use of the full display.

The notch doesn’t get in the way of the action, but the areas of screen either side of the notch at the top of the display (or the side, depending on how you’re holding it) are blacked out when you’re watching video, so are effectively wasted.

Video looks good thanks to the bright and clear screen, and the viewing angles are particularly impressive, which is useful if you’re watch a video with someone else.

You can connect a Bluetooth headset to listen to audio, but a welcome feature of the Honor 10 is that there’s still a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the phone. A lot of flagship devices are losing that tech now, but if you have a wired headset you’ll be pleased to know that it’ll work here without an adapter.

There’s a single speaker at the bottom of the phone, and that means it’s quiet easy to cover it when you’re holding the device. The speaker delivers sufficient volume and the audio quality is okay, but if you want a device with kick-ass speakers this isn’t it.

We’ve done a little gaming on the phone and found that Injustice 2, which is a very graphically intensive fighting game, ran very well. The graphics looked great and levels loaded quickly, so we expect this to be a top gaming phone, as the Honor 9 was – again we’ll put this to the test for our full review.

Performance and benchmarks

The latest and greatest chipset from Huawei is inside the Honor 10. It’s called the Hisilicon Kirin 970, and it is the powerhouse processor we saw inside the Huawei P20 when that was released earlier this year.

We’ve found that it provides plenty of grunt here too, with the Honor 10 doing everything we’ve asked of it. We haven’t had any noticeable performance issues with the phone and we haven’t had any noticeable performance issues in our time with the phone.

Honor has announced the phone with either 4GB or RAM or 6GB for markets around the world. We’ve used the 4GB version and not experienced any issues, and we don’t expect you’ll find any either if you buy this phone.

We’ve yet to complete benchmarking on this phone as we want to wait until we’re using it with the final software, so check back for those results soon.

We particularly like that the standard version of the Honor 10 comes with 128GB of storage onboard. In some markets you’ll also be able to buy it with 64GB, but we recommend opting for the larger capacity, as it’s very unlikely that you’ll fill it up even with all your media and apps onboard.

It’s worth emphasising here that there’s no microSD support, so there’s no way of increasing your phone’s storage if you go for the smaller version.

Early verdict

There are a few elements of the Honor 10 that we want to test more fully before we give our final verdict on the phone, but going on our initial findings everything seems to be up to scratch, and it looks like Honor has once again delivered a device that’s cheaper than a lot of the competition, while offering a similar level of spec.

The big highlights are the camera, the design, and the display, while we’re yet to be convinced when it comes to battery life and the software onboard. We’ll offer our final opinion in our full review in the coming weeks. 

First reviewed: May 2018

James Peckham
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