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Honor, Huawei's subsidiary brand that focuses on affordable and value flagship handsets silently announced Honor 10 smartphone in India. Priced at Rs. 32,999, the smartphone has a lot on his shoulders. It is Honor's best take on the popular OnePlus 6, which is easily taking the spotlight in India and in global markets due to its solid performance and brand's cult fan following.
Honor 10 on the other hand is like an underdog who might not get all the attention, but is technically more advanced in almost every aspect. While OnePlus is focusing on speed with its clean software and top-of-the line hardware, Honor follows a more future driven approach and wants you to experience the power of machine learning. AI is deeply integrated into Honor 10 and you will find its traces in camera, battery consumption, user interface, and even while simply making or receiving a call.
This sounds quite interesting and is indeed going to be the future of smartphone industry. But let's talk about present and try to focus on how Honor 10 utilizes machine learning to enhance your overall mobile user experience. During the course of this review, I will also focus on other various aspects of Honor 10's performance such as camera, battery, audio, display and everything else that's of importance. So, let's get started.
Huawei Kirin 970 Chipset- Core of Honor 10’s Artificial Intelligence
Honor 10 is powered by the same Huawei HiSilicon Kirin 970 AI chipset that we tested on the recently launched Honor View 10 smartphone. Notably, we reviewed Honor View 10 in January 2018, which might force you to think why Honor would even introduce the new Honor 10 smartphone when they already have the Honor View 10. Well, that's how the market works and OnePlus 6 deserves a competitor.
Just to give you a brief of what Kirin 970 is all about, it is Huawei's first mobile AI computing platform featuring a dedicated Neural Processing Unit (NPU). Built on 10nm manufacturing process, Kirin 970 integrates 5.5 billion transistors in a single square centimeter.
The chipset is roughly the size of your thumbnail and combines an octa-core CPU, a 12-core Mali GPU, dual ISP, AI computing architecture and other elements required by a modern mobile device. What's important to understand here is the incorporation of a separate hardware unit (NPU) to tackle AI related tasks.
The NPU unit basically takes care of everything you do on the device, Honor 10 in this case. So be it photography, media playback, battery consumption, gaming, or simple tasks such as calling, internet surfing, etc., the machine learning is continuously working in the background to learn your usage patterns to improve the performance over time. So, now when you know what Kirin AI chipset is all about, let's take a look on how it is going to make any difference in everyday performance of Honor 10.
Snappy and Responsive
Honor 10 is fast, really fast. The apps load instantly and switching from one app to another is lag free. Multiple tabs in Chrome makes no difference and even the heavy photo editing apps and games run without any performance issues. I did not come across any app crash or a moment when I had to clear up the memory to speed up the handset.
That said, if you are using Honor 10 without having OnePlus 6 handy with you, it doesn't matter. But if you compare them both by running same apps and games, OnePlus 6 takes the lead. This is due to the fact that OnePlus 6 is powered by the latest Snapdragon 845 CPU and the Kirin 970 AI chipset is technically a rival of 2017's Snapdragon 835 chipset. You are bound to experience some minor performance differences while running the most graphical intensive games as SD845 combined with Adreno 630 is slightly better at handling graphics.
Besides, I also noticed that Kirin 970 AI chipset is tad slower in rendering complex graphics while editing pictures in cloud driven apps such as Prisma, though NPU is also working in its support. The difference is in only in microseconds and is visible when you use both the handsets side by side. Notably, Kirin 970 took the lead in the same tests when we pit it with its direct rival- Snapdragon 835.
Overall, Honor 10 delivers flagship performance in every aspect and leaves nothing to complain about while using it as a daily driver. However, I have to admit that the performance on Snapdragon 845 powered handsets is slightly accelerated and snappy.
AI Smart Dual-Lens Camera Setup
After Honor View 10, Honor 10 is Huawei's second take on AI backed camera and oh boy, the results are excellent. Honor 10 sports a dual-lens camera module, which comprises of 16MP RGB camera working on f/1.8 aperture, alongside a 24MP monochrome sensor. For selfies and video calling, the smartphone features a 24MP sensor that can also create software driven bokeh effect. Both the cameras can record videos in UHD with 4K, which is a great feature to have if you are a content creator.
Enough of specs, let's talk about the AI bit, the machine learning algorithms that makes this camera setup interesting and somehow a bit more usable in everyday scenarios.
Smart Scene Recognition
The NPU unit enables smart scene recognition in Honor 10. The cameras can recognize the scene and optimizes basic settings accordingly to deliver the best possible output. What this means is that you don't need to tap on portrait mode to enable shallow depth of field, or sports or landscape to capture particular scenes, the AI does that for you. And it's quite effective while taking pictures. The smart camera instantly recognizes the objects and scenes and automatically selects relevant camera settings depending on the situation.
Is AI mode useful?
And while I preferred the ease of use provided by the Honor 10's machine learning abilities, I also found that the AI is a bit harsh on colors while producing the final output. The artificial intelligence puts a little too much effort in amplifying colors and thus makes the overall output a bit artificial. In simple words, the pictures you click with AI mode enabled seems like edited and does not require any major tweaking in third party editing apps. This can be a good thing for users who love editing pictures before posting them on social networks, and can be a bad thing for users who prefer natural colors over tweaked and saturated final output. Thankfully, you can disable the AI mode for natural looking pictures. Honor 10's AI camera can detect 22 different types of objects and over 500 types of scenes, which is insane.
Talking about the camera performance, the images captured by Honor 10 look amazing on the phone's crisp Full HD+ screen. The photographs have excellent detailing and plenty of sharpness. The dual-lens camera also captures a very good dynamic range and colors look really vivid. The plenty of modes in the camera app let you experiment with the images you capture. The portrait mode now offers iPhone X like lighting modes such as Classic lighting, Stage lighting, Split lighting, etc. The standard portrait mode is good but then like previous Honor phones, the final outcome is not very natural. This is due to the fact that Honor camera's algorithms are very harsh on edges. The subject in focus somehow seems like those 3D AR characters added into the scene. Honor can tweak the software to refine the results for better portrait photography.
Lastly, Honor's Impact mode in camera settings deserves a special mention as it is by far the best Black and White filter I have used till date on any smartphone. The results are brilliant and the images look too good to be shot from a smartphone.
Design: Eye catchy and Ergonomic
Honor 10, like some of the recent flagship smartphones comes in an eye catching glass metal body. The smartphone has 2.5D curved glass back with extremely reflective surface that reflects every photon falls on it. The rear panel is bound o turn heads but is also a fingerprint magnet. The Blue color variant that I got to test looked simply stunning. Importantly, Honor 10 is the most ergonomic smartphone I have tested in a while, after LG V30+. Unlike OnePlus 6, and some of the top flagship handsets, Honor 10 can easily fit in your palm for one-hand usage. It has an impressive 86.2 percent screen-to-body ratio, which makes it compact enough to hold in one hand. The curved glass back, rounded corners, and curved edges further ease up the handling process.
Some downsides include no microSD card support and just one down firing speaker that can be easily covered while using the handset in landscape mode. Besides, just like OnePlus, Honor has also not included any water-dust resistivity and wireless charging. I don't mind the exclusion of wireless charging but some sort of IP rating would have made a lot more sense at this price-point.
Honor 10 will be available in two colours in the Indian market-Midnight Back, and Phantom Blue.
Problematic fingerprint reader
Honor 10 has one irritating design flaw. The fingerprint reader, which is touted as the Ultrasound under glass fingerprint reader, is placed on the front chin and is completely flushed with the surface. Resultant, there's no major visible separation or LED light to inform you about its placement. Your thumb might not land to correct position which will require you to make multiple attempts to unlock the handset. Honor's previous handsets did a much better job in biometrics. You can bank upon face unlock, which is snappy but has its security limitations.
Display: Crisp notch-shaped Full HD+ screen
To maintain the compact form factor for ease of use, Honor 10 sports a humble 5.84-inch full-HD+ IPS LCD. The screen follows the today's trends and comes with an aspect ratio of 19:9. The good pixel density of 432ppi makes the screen crisp and lively for watching videos, playing games and reading text. The display settings allows you to toggle between FHD+ and HD+ to save battery life in case you don't have a charger handy. We have seen this feature in Samsung's flagship Galaxy handsets. Notably, the AI enabled Honor 10 also allows you to set it to auto where the screen will automatically reduce to HD+ resolution to help save power.
The display is bright and vivid and has impressive viewing angles which make gaming and video playback an enjoyable experience. Outdoor visibility is a minor issue in direct sunlight as the protective glass is bit too reflective.
Honor 10 smart features
Honor's EMUI, 8.1.0 in the case of Honor 10 is lag free for most of the part and is full of features and customizations, which is a reason it's a bit confusing to use at first. The new skin is based on the latest Android 8.1 and allows you to select the home screen layout. The motion control offers some neat tricks such as flip to mute, raise to ear to answer or make a call, three-finger screenshot, etc. You can also enable gestures and change button layout as per your usage preference.
There's an in-built storage cleaner, App twin to let you log in to two different accounts on apps like Facebook, Instagram, etc. You also get Power saving modes, Eye comfort mode, theme store, cloud storage and a lot more than you will us in everyday life.
Overall, the EMUI 8.1 is feature rich and smooth. It comes down to your personal preference of what skin you like to use as a daily driver on your Android device. If you like stock Android experience, this is not the handset you would like.
Battery life and Connectivity
Honor 10 is backed by a 3,400 mAh battery unit, which can last a day on a moderate to heavy usage. The AI enabled chipset did not show any possible tuning to improve the battery life. If you love to play games and stream a lot of videos on your device, you would need a power bank or a charger handy. Technically, Honor 10 supports fast charging but the bundled charger took a considerable time to fully charge the handset.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the smartphone has 3.5mm headphone jack, dual-SIM card slot, USB Type C port, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2. Sadly, there's no microSD card support.
Honor 10 is an excellent value for money deal in its respective price-segment, especially for photography enthusiasts. It is smart, snappy and looks stylish. However, it is not perfect and also has some definite letdowns in the form of no microSD card support and no water-dust resistivity. If you can live up with these two shortcomings, Honor 10 will not disappoint you as it delivers flagship class performance.
You can also consider Nokia 7 Plus, which is being sold at Rs. 26,000 and is a very competent device for a mid-range market.