Honor 10 has got to the be most surprising phone launch I have attended in Singapore. Its retail price of S$579 changes the price perception of premium midrange phones, because beneath the Honor 10 is a flagship processor, Kirin 970, that is found on the Huawei Mate 10 series and the Huawei P20 series. This processor is the equivalent of the Snapdragon 845.
I received a loan unit on the very same night of the launch, and after a few days of using it, I come to appreciate why the Honor 10 successfully delivers a premium product at a value price.
Aurora 3D Glass Effect
Honor claims that the multi-colour effect on the rear glass took as long time to manufacture as the rest of the components. It is made up of 15 layers of 3D glass to create the radiance from every angle, in natural light and shade. Sadly, the black colour review unit fails to show that brilliance.
The glossiness of the glass goes around even to the aluminium sides, achieving a seamless feel on the hands, similar to how the Samsung Galaxy S-series provides.
Ultrasonic Fingerprint Sensor Under the Glass
Honor introduced the industry-first front-placing fingerprint sensor underneath the glass, achieving a single seamless feel. However, with the pre-applied screen protector with a cut-out around the sensor area, the seamlessness fails to be appreciated, unless one removes the screen protector.
The advantage of this new sensor is that it works even if the finger is wet. This is probably the only phone that you can unlock with a wet finger. Unfortunately, the phone is not IP-rated. I also felt the ultrasonic sensor is not as responsive as normal sensors.
AI 2.0 Camera
Kirin 970 has a built-in NPU processor that recognises over 500 scenarios in 22 categories. With Semantic Image Segmentation technology, the camera can recognise multiple objects in one single image. All these capabilities translate to images that are intelligently processed. The best part is that the AI result can be toggled from the gallery app to enable or disable.
What I do find is that most of the time, the AI camera over-processes the photos, resulting in high saturation. In other cases, the AI applies HDR to brighten up the darker areas on the scene. The other common AI effect is to blur the background when faces are detected on the scene.
Apart from AI, the Honor 10 also supports 3D Portrait Lighting effect. Post-adjustments can be done. Wide aperture mode is also available, and only in this shoot mode can you adjust the background blur as well as focusing area.
Photos are captured with the rear dual cameras of 24MP + 16MP f/1.8, and front camera in 24MP f/2.0. With the built-in neural processing unit (NPU), the AI recognition is fast and does not cause any shoot lags. This is probably one of the reasons why the phone can unlock with face recognition at lightning speed too.
Kirin 970 and EMUI 8.1
It runs on the latest EMUI 8.1 OS based on Android 8.1, and comes with several useful and premium hardware, like Kirin 970 processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB ROM, NFC, infrared port, even the 3.5mm audio port that Huawei P20 lacks. The phone performs smooth, though I encounter occasional response hiccups, something that I also observe on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. It may be a subtle observation, but I feel the Kirin 960 runs better than the Kirin 970.
There are great levels of monitoring and controls over the data consumption and permission management against each app. The notch can be hidden completely with a black bar. Honor 10 also supports colour mode and calibrating the colour temperature. It supports fingerprint sensor gestures, eliminating the need for on-screen navigation keys. However, just like previous Huawei models, the side-swipe gestures are not reliable.
Battery is sufficient for the entire day, though I was expecting longer with the large 3400 mAh capacity. The phone usually dips to below 20% before I go to bed, after a 16-hour run time.
The above features put Honor 10 in a great light considering the S$579 retail price. But there are several handicaps that I find on Honor 10, naturally, so that it does not outshine the Huawei P20.
Old-Gen Camera App
With the exception of the new AI mode toggle and new 3D Lighting effect features, the Honor 10 still runs on the older camera app UI. Night mode cannot be shot handheld, there is no 960fps super slow-motion, and the AI does not auto-convert text or detect portraits like how it does brilliantly on the Huawei P20.
No AOD, LCD Display Panel
The Honor 10 lacks an Always-on Display feature, possibly because its display is LCD. Speaking of which, the 5.84″ display quality is definitely less spectacular than the Huawei P20, and the touch sensitivity is just not as responsive, though it is just as usable for a midrange smartphone. I thought the transition animation was a tad slow. I was rather shocked at myself when I find the phone too “small” for on-screen typing, having gotten so used to larger smartphones. But it is compact enough for one-hand operations and the long display shows more information without scrolling.
Honor 10 runs on Kirin processor, and given my prior experience with other Huawei and Honor smartphones, some apps and wireless devices does not work well. On the Honor 10 review unit, the Samsung Gear app fails to work at all, the Boomerang app video clips appear off-colour. I did not experience these bugs on when I reviewed the Huawei P20 Pro previously.
After experiencing one of the most impressive smartphones, the Huawei P20 Pro, it is natural that I feel somewhat underwhelmed with the Honor 10. Somehow, Huawei manages to achieve a calculated compromise, putting together some of the best hardware while cutting back on others. For S$579, the Honor 10 looks fabulous (except the conservative black), captures photo images that pop, and a top-of-the-line processor that delivers performance beyond midrange level. If you are looking for a true flagship smartphone package, you won’t find it on the Honor 10, but if you are looking for a contemporary-designed flagship-level smartphone at a budget, you will sure to be elated.