Honor 10 review

Buy the Honor 10 for its camera. Love it for that kaleidoscopic glass back

The colorful Honor 10’s camera is the reason to buy this well-priced phone.
The colorful Honor 10’s camera is the reason to buy this well-priced phone.
The colorful Honor 10’s camera is the reason to buy this well-priced phone.

Highs

  • Phantom blue color scheme looks fantastic
  • Excellent camera
  • Decent battery life
  • Low price

Lows

  • Performance doesn’t always impress
  • Fingerprint sensor can be slow

The line between budget and premium smartphones continues to blur, when even phones that cost around $200, such as the Motorola Moto G6, have glass bodies and dual-lens cameras. The fight for your dollar gets stronger the more money you have to spend, with Honor being one of the most up front about the incredible value for money its hardware represents. The Honor 10 is its latest phone, and it definitely is one of the hardest to resist when you see the beautiful reflective blue finish on its glass rear panel.

We’ve been testing it for a few days, giving us plenty of experience for a strong preliminary review. Here’s how the new Honor 10 stacks up.

Glass design, 5.8-inch screen

If you buy a premium smartphone in 2018, it’s going to be made of glass, complete with  reflection, and probably a splash of color too. Just look at the Samsung Galaxy S9, the Huawei P20 Pro, and the LG G7 ThinQ for proof. The Honor 10 continues the trend with a soft-touch glass rear panel, which looks stunning in the phantom blue color. Twist the phone around in the light and the blue changes to purple, with occasional hints of green and flashes of crisp sky blue.

The glass curves around the sides, blending into the screen for superb in-hand comfort. Honor gets how to make a phone feel good when you’re holding it, and the Honor 10 has just the right amount of an edge to make it easy to grip. You need this, because the glass body is slippery, and it will make a bid for freedom if you don’t hold on tight. A case is definitely in order. Also, just because the Honor 10 has a glass body, don’t expect wireless charging.

Honor has turned to the iPhone X for inspiration on the Honor 10’s size. It’s close to being exactly the same in height and width, and the 5.8-inch screen is identical in size but slightly lower in resolution. It also has a notch containing the front camera and the speaker. If you hate the notch trend, you can hide it using the phone’s software. The Honor 10 displays time, battery, and some connectivity details on the right of the notch, while notifications and network connections live on the left.

While the notch itself doesn’t bother us too much, it’s quite deep on the Honor 10, stretching further down into the display than other phones we have seen. At the opposite end of the notch is the fingerprint sensor, which is slim and mounted under glass. It’s not under the screen itself, but still under the single pane of glass covering the display. It’s neat, but it may be a little elusive to find without looking. You’ll also need to hold your finger on it for longer than some other devices to unlock the phone.

Twist the phone around in the light and the blue changes to purple.

The Honor 10 has a 5.8-inch screen with a 2,280 x 1,080 pixel resolution. While this is an 18:9 aspect ratio, which is commonly associated with bezel-less designs, the bezels on the Honor 10 are quite pronounced. Think of it more like the LG G6, than the Samsung Galaxy S9. Is this a bad thing? Not really, the screen looks great for watching video; but the Honor 10 will no doubt annoy those who dislike a screen notch, especially when it’s accompanied by noticeable bezels and a chin.

There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack alongside a USB Type-C charging port, both of which are welcome additions, although the single downward firing speaker is uninspiring. There are some other aspects we don’t like. The AI Camera logo in the top right of the rear panel cheapens the style, looking like a nasty “Stereo Sound” sticker emblazoned on an ‘80s cassette player. Also, when you place the phone down on a hard surface the volume rocker rattles, lessening the premium feel.

The Honor 10 is pretty; you’ll catch yourself staring at it for a moment longer than usual. It’s pleasing to hold, and the size is just about right for most hands out there. While it can’t quite reach the build quality we’re used to on phones that cost $800 or more, it comes incredibly close. No-one will be disappointed with the Honor 10.

Performance and software

Honor is a sub-brand of Huawei, and there’s some crossover between them, especially on internal components and the software. The Honor 10 has Huawei’s own Kirin 970 processor — seen in the Mate 10 Pro, the P20 Pro, and Honor’s own View 10 — as well as the EMUI 8.1 user interface over Android 8.1 Oreo. Our review Honor 10 has 4GB of RAM, and a sizable 128GB of storage space.

Here’s how it performed in our benchmarking tests:

  • AnTuTu 3D Bench: 204,539
  • Geekbench 4: 1,883 single-core; 6,593 multi-core
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 2,894

These figures are slightly below the Huawei P20 Pro, and considerably lower than the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. However, scores are equal to or better than the OnePlus 5T, a situation repeated with the Honor View 10.

Playing a series of games, including Riptide GP2, Reckless Racing 3, and Asphalt Nitro, the phone ran smoothly and gameplay was fun. It’s worth forcing apps to switch to the full screen display — its offered on screen — as controls were sometimes confused without stretching the image.

Huawei’s EMUI software will always split opinion, despite the recent improvements to the user interface; it’s far less likely to win new fans on the Honor 10. There is a noticeable lag when opening apps, the app drawer, or navigating around the operating system, due to the app opening animation. It’s just a tiny bit too long, and not always absolutely smooth.

Despite having almost the same amount of power as the P20 Pro and View 10, the Honor 10’s performance isn’t quite so sparkling.

Once you’re in an app, the phone isn’t slow at all. That initial screen tap will affect a lot of people’s opinion about the Honor 10. We’ve looked for a way to turn off the animation, or lessen its effect, and there is none. We also noted some jerkiness in opening pictures in the gallery, and in certain spots elsewhere. It’s not a deal-breaker, because for the vast majority of the time, the software is not slow at all; but the Honor 10 definitely feels like it could do with some software polish to improve the experience. Honor hasn’t held back on pre-installed apps either, and there’s a variety of game demos and apps like Booking.com.

Despite having almost the same amount of power as the P20 Pro and View 10, the Honor 10’s performance isn’t quite so sparkling. Most people may not notice, but hardcore users may get frustrated.

Camera

It’s a dual-lens f/1.8 aperture camera on the back of the Honor 10, with an 24-megapixel RGB lens and an 16-megapixel monochrome lens, with the latter being able to be used separately for some beautiful, natural black and white photographs. Artificial intelligence plays a big part too, just like it does on the P20 Pro and View 10. Here, it’s apparently clever enough to recognize differences in a scene — it has a library of 22 scenes — such as a blue sky, texture of grass, and so on. It can tune the image on all its aspects, rather than just one.

It’s surprisingly effective, with even the most ordinary scenes benefitting from the AI enhancements. A quick photo shot over Brighton beach on a sunny evening shows how much more detail it can reveal. Look at the flowers on the table and the paving, and it doesn’t overpower with a vivid blue sky, or overly blue water. It can still tip over into a hyper real world, as the effect comes close to the strongest HDR filters in third-party apps. Handily, it’s very easy to switch the AI on and off.

The interface is the same as the updated EMUI camera app on the P20 Pro, which has been refined for ease of use, and it makes all but one feature easy to access. Annoyingly, Huawei hides the monochrome mode under the More setting, instead of adding it to the main feature bar. The selfie camera has 24-megapixels and a portrait mode, complete with a studio lighting system which replicates what we’ve seen on the P20 Pro, and the iPhone X. The portrait lighting needs some skill, and the right environment to shine; but the bokeh-effect works well with the single selfie camera lens.

Amazingly, the Honor 10 squeezes in 80 percent of what made us love the P20 Pro, for half the price, and that’s the kind of math we like. No, it doesn’t have a third camera lens, 5x zoom, slow-mo video, or the astonishing low-light ability; but it’s still a fantastic performer that inspires you to go out and take photos.

Solid battery life

The Honor 10 has a 3,400mAh battery inside, and it’s a strong performer in our early tests. A day with photos, two 45 minute GPS sessions, and some general use saw around 30 percent remaining in the late evening. When we ran the benchmarks and played some games, the battery reduced from 80 percent down to 44 percent over a couple of hours, and the phone did get quite warm to hold during this period. We’re confident the phone’s battery will run for a day and a half with normal use.

Availability, price, and warranty

The Honor 10 has been announced for the U.K., and parts of Europe, and was recently released in China as the Glory 10. It’s not known if the phone will be released in the U.S., although some Honor phones have been in the past. However, Huawei’s continued problems with selling hardware in the U.S. may impact Honor’s ability to do so as well.

It will cost 400 British pounds, or around $540. Honor provides a year’s warranty on its phones in the U.K., with six months on the battery and charger.

Our Take

We’ve fallen for the deliciously-styled, kaleidoscopically-colored Honor 10 because of its enviable camera, and tempting price.

Are there any better alternatives?

The Honor 10 carves itself a very strong niche at the 400 British pound price, undercutting the OnePlus 5T (and forthcoming OnePlus 6), along with its larger sister phone the Honor View 10. The LG G6 can be purchased for around the same amount, and the new Moto G6 Plus is a potential contender too. The HTC U11 Life comes in a little cheaper, and for an even lower price, the Honor 7X and the Nokia 6.1 should be considered. However, the Honor 10’s camera stands apart from the competition, and it’s a strong reason to buy the phone.

How long will it last?

The well-priced Honor 10 carves itself a very strong niche.

It’s made from glass, so it’s quite slippery, and it’s not water-resistant — you best be careful if you want the Honor 10 to last. Huawei doesn’t always have the best track record with software updates either, and it’s only just up to date now — Android 8.1 and the April 2018 security patch — which means if you want Android P promptly later this year, the Honor 10 may not be for you.

If you’re not worried about this, and will use a case, the Honor 10 will last at least two years before you’d need to contemplate an upgrade.

Should you buy one?

Yes. The camera is top-notch, the body is a beauty, and the price is incredibly tempting. The software and performance issues are minimal, and unless you’re coming from much more powerful hardware, may not even be noticeable.

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