The Honor 10 is out to challenge the idea we should spend £800 or more on our next phone. It costs £399 but has virtually every hardware extra that usually characterises a top-end model.
Is it a spec list trick that doesn’t play out in reality? No. The Honor 10’s only obvious failings are occasional lapses in taste not generally seen in Samsung or Apple phones. Like the Honor 9, the Honor 10 should be considered seriously by anyone who has worked out, with a sense of creeping horror, the cost of a top-end phone over a two-year contract.
It’s difficult to argue the Honor 10 is anything but great value. The UK version has a huge 128GB storage, it uses a high-end Kirin 970 processor where bigger-name phones at the price often have mid-range CPUs. And while display notches like the Honor 10’s may one day be remembered as the tech equivalent of Crocs, they’re on trend right now, and this phone’s notch is reassuringly small.
It’s a demonstration of what can be done for £400 when you give up the idea of owning a mobile from a top-three prestige brand.
This is, to an extent, the point of Honor. It is a subsidiary of Huawei and offers us value-focused devices now that Huawei produces phones closer in price to direct rivals from Samsung. This might lead you to expect the Honor 10 to be a watered-down Huawei P20, its most recent flagship. However, if anything it seems more experimental.
The most obvious of its bold features is a front fingerprint scanner built into the glass below the display. There’s no depression, no button. The panel is simply lightly outlined so you can tell where it is. It uses an ultrasonic sensor that is almost as fast as the Huawei P20’s, one of the fastest phone finger scanners in the world.
The Honor 10’s design is also provocative, to an extent that may put off some people. It uses curved glass on the back, 2.5D glass on the front and colour-matched aluminium on its sides. Its blue finish is very bright, eye-catching and uses a 15-layer “Aurora glass” finish that reacts to light. This is not a low-key phone, and makes the rival Samsung Galaxy A8 appear very plain.
Its rear also turns purple at a more extreme angle. Such dynamic finishes are not normally seen at the price. You’ll have to decide whether Honor has gone too far, but there’s nothing cheap about it.
The AI camera offers a more empirical test for Honor’s taste level. Huawei started using the concept of “AI” photography with the Huawei P20 family. It uses a neural processing unit in the phones’ Kirin 970 CPU to constantly monitor the camera sensor feed and analyse the scene to recognise objects.
The Honor 10 has an AI shooting mode that acts like the P20’s AI mode with the training wheels removed. Honor says it can recognise and react to several objects or scene elements in the same image. Some of its results are great, like extreme retrieval of shadow detail. However, it also tends to radically oversaturate colour and pushes highlights a little too far in an attempt to make images look brighter, more lively.
Honor’s AI shooting mode is over-seasoned. At times it goes too far and turns your shots into photographic junk food. There’s great stuff going on behind the scenes when dissected, though.
Like other Honor phones, the Honor 10 runs Huawei’s EMUI interface, and some of its themes are also a little tacky-looking. But themes are just skins on the software’s surface, and can be changed in a few seconds.
The Honor 10 lacks the restraint of the coming OnePlus 6, Nokia 7 Plus and Motorola Moto G6 Plus. But what it packs-in for the price is quite remarkable, and its design is otherwise accessible.
It has a 5.84-inch screen but is actually a little narrower, and therefore slightly easier to handle, than the Moto G6. Don’t like the notch? The Honor 10 can hide it with a black bar at the top.
The Honor 10 does not have the clever handheld low-light mode of the Huawei P20 Pro. In its place is Huawei’s old night mode that takes, say, 20 seconds to capture a night shot. It’s useless handheld.
However, low-light performance is good considering the Honor 10 has a 16-megapixel main rear camera that does not have ultra-large sensor pixels. Like other Huawei and Honor phones, it uses a secondary black and white sensor to improve performance and offer near-lossless 2x zooming. While not as effective as a true secondary optical zoom lens, it does work. Shoot using the zoom and you’ll get more detail than the iPhone 8 can capture.
Its front camera is also surprisingly versatile. The Honor 10 has a 24-megapixel selfie camera, which sounds far too high-res. Without radically increasing sensor size, adding more pixels mandates smaller sensor pixels, which are naturally less sensitive to light.
This phone uses pixel binning, though. It’s where the output of multiple sensor pixels is combined to emulate the low-light performance of a much larger sensor pixel. And in a direct comparison with the iPhone 8 the Honor 10 is far more effective at making low-light selfies look clear and properly coloured.
That’s a tasteful use of camera processing. However, it also demonstrates that the more “tasteful” techy improvements are, the more they seem congruous with current state of affairs. And more likely to be taken for granted within five minutes, if not instantly.
Purists may not love every element of the Honor 10. However, it’s playful with emerging tech and is good value for money. As long as you are not after a wallflower of a smartphone, anyway.