Honor has been doing a pretty good job of stepping out of Huawei’s shadow, usually helped by the explosively shiny blue it clads its phones in. The Honor 10 is no different and feels every bit an Honor device despite having its parent company’s name stamped on the back.
The phone comes with all the 2018 bells and whistles (Android Oreo, notch, face unlock), high end specs and a price to make OnePlus blush. The Honor 10 could well turn out to be the smartphone deal of the year – as it is certainly the best mid-range phone on offer right now.
Honor 10 price and availability
The Honor 10 costs a stunning £399 in the UK for the 4GB RAM/128GB storage version. This puts it at a whole £100 less than the high-end OnePlus 5T (RIP) and Nokia 8 and exactly half the price of the Huawei P20 Pro.
But Honor is not swindling you – the specs on show are more than worthy of the £599 price point seen in the regular Huawei P20, a phone the Honor 10 shares a lot of similarities with.
Where to buy the Honor 10
Honor 10 design and build
Despite its similarities to Huawei phones, the Honor 10 is pretty unique in look. Also shipping in a grey version, our review unit is in attractive Phantom Blue, a gradient of blue and purple that is actually quite different to the Twilight Huawei P20 Pro of the same shifting shades. We might even prefer the Honor.
The multi-layered glass really does shimmer, with vertical lines refracting light at every angle. It’s awesome if you like the colours and will get people asking you what phone you have. Honor’s blue phones have always stood out, but this is next level.
Around the front is a familiar 2018 story with a notch at the top of a 19:9 display. It’s not the end of the world, and you can black out the status bar and ‘hide’ it if you want, but that does seem defeatist to us – though Honor joins Huawei and LG in offering the option. The phone looks very, very similar from the front to the Huawei P20 Lite rather than the regular P20 or P20 Pro.
All this means the display of the 10 is taller than on the Honor 9 and has an under-glass fingerprint scanner inside the black chin on the front of the phone. We aren’t talking actually in the display like on the Huawei Mate RS, but instead an area subtly marked with a dotted line on the chin where a button sensor might normally be.
It’s a cool touch and the first time we’ve seen it, but the functionality is less responsive than having an actual button as you have to press down harder. It also makes it harder to locate than an actual button would.
There are rear dual cameras, one round the front, USB-C, a headphone jack, bottom firing speaker and a lesser-spotted IR blaster. Not a bad list when most phones double the price this year don’t have all that.
The volume rocker and power key sit on the right in what is a svelte, compact design. You might need to shrink the keyboard to do so, but we found it can be used one hand most of the time. Honor also puts a cheap silicone case in the box to help you grip on and keep the inevitable fingerprints at bay.
Honor 10 features and specifications
So it’s a looker, that’s for sure. Thankfully the Honor 10 also pulls through again with specs way above what you’d expect for £399.
The 19:9 5.84in IPS LCD display has a resolution of 2280x1080p. This equates to a vibrant 432 pixels per inch and it looks great. An LCD rather than an OLED, it struggles in direct sunlight but in every other situation looks very good.
Viewing angles are noticeably excellent and while you aren’t spoiled with the deep blacks of an OLED display, it’s among the best LCDs you’ll find – though it won’t go as amazingly bright as the one on the LG G7.
The display is 19:9 because of the extra room the notch affords. It’s neither here nor there to us about the notch, but we do find it annoying that you lose notification icons and information more often than on a normal screen.
You may also run into scaling issues where the notch accidentally covers up an icon or piece of information. But the software is clever enough that if you turn the phone to watch video in landscape, it hides the notch and displays the video without cutting anything off.
But the notch does cause some issues. The operator name disappears if you have too many notifications, and sometimes icons are obscured by the right edge of the notch. It is only a small thing, but it’s a fault, and it’s annoying.
The chin also contains the fingerprint sensor, which is shown with a dotted outline but is under the glass. It’s a cool touch, but actually makes the feature harder to use. It’s more difficult to locate with no button to feel for and it’s less responsive than we’d like as you have to push down harder.
It looks cool, but it doesn’t work very well. Thankfully, face unlock is super fast and easy to set up, and we found this method preferable.
Processor, memory and storage
The Honor 10 bears a passing resemblance to the cheaper Huawei P20 Lite, but its specs are very much similarly high-end as on the flagship P20. In fact, almost identical.
This means the Honor 10 has the top of the line Huawei Kirin 970 processor found in the P20 Pro and Mate 10 Pro. The Mali-G72 GPU is the same as in the P20 line also, along with 4GB and 128GB storage in the UK (other regions will get other configurations with more of both).
Its notable that this storage, though generous, is not expandable. The Honor 9 was, but the change to a very high 128GB is a good trade off – unless you carry all your music around with you, you won’t run out of space for a long time.
This means the Honor 10 screams along with no issues. We benchmarked its performance against phones of the same price and specs, with the results below:
We compare it to the Huawei P20 for obvious reasons, but also to the LG V30 as another example of a more expensive phone, the Nokia 8 because it currently retails for the same £399, and the previous generation Honor 9.
The Honor 10 has higher scores than the V30 and Nokia 8 in some of the GFXBench graphics tests as those phones have higher resolution displays. Otherwise, the Honor 10 is evidently a very fast phone.
It scores very similarly to the P20 phones and proves Huawei charges a premium price on its products when they can sell on the Honor 10 for at least £200 less.
All you need to know is that for the money, this is a ridiculously capable smartphone. Buying it now will likely have you set for at least the next three years before any noticeable degradation in performance.
Connectivity and audio
Bluetooth support remains at 4.2 rather than 5.0, and drop outs were fairly frequent when paired with wireless headphones, which is a shame considering the aptX codec here means the quality is actually quite good when it works. You do have a headphone jack here, but no headphones in the box.
This is a dual SIM smartphone by default too, and the software allows for granular control of the settings if you want calls and texts on one SIM and data on another, for example.
The dual cameras of the Honor 10 are very good for a mid-range phone – though as we have established by now, this is a flagship that’s simply cheaper than most. The main colour sensor is 16Mp f/1.8 coupled with a 24Mp monochrome sensor that allows better dynamic range and depth sensing for portrait mode and 2x zoom.
Stills look great, and while this isn’t the best camera on a smartphone, Honor has done some good things. More gimmicky is the AI feature in the main camera – and it’s cringey that it actually says ‘AI camera’ on the back of the phone.
However, when on, the feature reads your scene or subject and boosts colour and detail where it thinks the sensors were lacking, using post processing algorithms. For the most part, it actually helps a lot, and will particularly please those who want to post straight to social media.
What is does mean is the photos are then less true to life than they were, but you can flick between the two versions to see which you prefer – just remember to shoot in AI mode in the first place. You can toggle it on and off in the improved and mercifully simpler camera app (compared to previous versions of EMUI).
These features are similar, but not identical, to those AI smarts found on the Huawei P20. The P20 integrates it better, and though the Honor 10 has the same night mode option, it doesn’t perform as well as on the Huawei – so maybe that extra £200 gets you what we do consider an amazing feature (the P20 has a better aperture and OIS where it counts).
Despite the improvements, the camera is where the phone often lags a touch, which is odd considering the decent specs on offer.
Portrait mode is merely OK here – Honor still adds beauty mode to it and the selfie version which is maddening, and even when turned off we feel there is a smoothing and whitening of faces that isn’t to our tastes. Though all these bokeh effects are subjective as to preference, we can still say with confidence that this is not as good as on the Google Pixel 2 or iPhone X.
That selfie camera is a 24Mp f/2.0 sensor is good but nothing special, and you can’t do bokeh despite the ‘portrait’ mode in the app – all you can do is fiddle with the beauty settings, which never look flattering.
All cameras can also do portrait lighting, nicked straight off Apple with no shame. It’s pretty bad – the filters are more fun.
Better are the video capabilities, with the Honor 10 able to shoot in 1080p at 60fps or 4K at 30fps. This is becoming standard, but again is good to see on a mid-range device. Electronic stabilisation at the default resolution setting helps keep the jitters to a minimum.
The real-world battery life of the Honor 10 is one of its downsides. We expected more out of the phone, as in 2018 there aren’t many high-spec phones that get us worried we might run out of power before the end of the day, but the Honor 10 is one of them.
It has a 3400mAh battery – the same as, you guessed it, the Huawei P20 – and like that phone we were skirting with 20% left warnings earlier in the day than we’d have liked. While we didn’t get caught short with the Honor 10, it again shows that as the specs are better than the price suggests and therefore work the phone hard, it doesn’t excel in battery life where other cheaper phones do.
In the Geekbench 4 battery test with the phone brightness set to 120cd/m2, the phone scored 2340, lasting for only 3 hours 54 minutes. The P20 lasted 5 hours 17 minutes with the same 3400mAh battery, so something is amiss with the Honor 10’s battery stamina, and that’s a real shame.
Huawei’s Super Charge has carried over to the Honor 10, and it’s amazingly fast – the fastest charger we have ever seen on a phone bar none. From dead, it charged the Honor 10 to 65% in 30 minutes while turned off, which is nuts. It just about makes up for the subpar battery life.
Honor 10 software
As with Huawei phones, whether or not you buy the Honor 10 may depend if you like the look of EMUI. Thankfully as an Android skin it is a lot less horrible than it once was, but it’s still change for change sake in some cases with menus, notification panels and icons very different from stock.
In fact, it’s a little like iOS in how it defaults to a grid of home screen icons, but this is Android – change it to the app drawer. The Honor 10 has been very slick and smooth thanks to the Kirin 970 processor working its magic.
We do like how you can hide the notch, and it oddly actually makes the phone feel quite a bit different. But our only complaints lie in the changes EMUI makes when it doesn’t need to – particularly to Oreo.
Oreo in stock Android handles notifications gracefully and easily, but EMUI contrives to make it all look and feel more like iOS. We wish it wouldn’t, but it’s more forgivable on this £399 Honor phone than on a Huawei phone that hits £800.