The Honor Play comes with GPU Turbo, a software-based enhancement that boosts performance and improves battery life.
The phone is priced at Rs 19,999 for the 4GB RAM variant and Rs 23,999 for the 6GB RAM option.
Thanks to its flagship specifications, the phone is great for gaming.
Games on smartphones have been around for years, but till recently, smartphone gaming has been considered casual at best. We’ve essentially grown up playing games like Snake, Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds on our smartphones, and those kind of games tend to work on most smartphones. But recent times have seen smartphones get much more powerful, and consequently much more capable of running more complex games.
We’ve seen games such as the Asphalt and Need For Speed series get better, both in terms of graphics and gameplay. While it’s clear that mobile games are still far from console and PC games in terms of quality, smartphones are arguably the best hand-held medium for games today. And new games such as PUBG Mobile and Fortnite have shown just how good games on phones can get, while popular full-fledged games from a few years ago such as GTA Vice City and GTA San Andreas have been ported to Android as well.
It’s this very focus on gaming on smartphones that makes the Honor Play a reality. The new phone comes with strong pricing, starting at Rs 19,990 for the 4GB RAM variant and going up to Rs 23,990 for the 6GB RAM option. And for that price, you get a solid specification sheet. But does the Honor Play succeed in establishing itself as a true gaming device, even as Asus, Xiaomi and Razer have better gaming credentials in their devices? We find out in our Honor Play Gaming Review.
WATCH: Honor Play First Look
Honor Play Specifications and Software
Before we get into how the phone performs with games, let’s talk about what gives the Honor Play its gaming chops. The phone sports a large 6.3-inch full-HD+ 19.5:9 aspect ratio IPS LCD screen, complete with the notch at the top. You also get a 3,750mAh battery with Huawei’s in-house fast charging standard that tops up the phone in less than 90 minutes.
The phone is powered by the HiSilicon Kirin 970 SoC, which is the current flagship chipset by Huawei’s own HiSilicon SoC division, which comes with the Mali-G72 MP12 GPU. The chipset has been on Huawei and Honor smartphones for some months now, and is slate to be replaced by the Kirin 980 in a few weeks. Nonetheless, it’s still a solid option, and has enough power to handle the performance requirements of Huawei’s high-end devices. The Honor Play comes with either 4GB or 6GB of LPDDR4X RAM, and 64GB of UFS2.1 internal storage.
The phone runs on Android 8.1 Oreo, with EMUI 8.2 on top. A distinct advantage of Honor using in-house chipsets is that the Kirin 970 is particularly well optimized for EMUI, and performance has traditionally been good as a result. Also worth mentioning is that the Honor Play comes with GPU Turbo. This software-based enhancement has been in the news lately, but we finally see it in practice. GPU Turbo promises better performance, while simultaneously boosting battery life, but currently only works with two games: PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends.
Honor Play Gaming Performance and Experience
We’ve played a handful of games on the Honor Play to test out performance, including PUBG Mobile, which is one of two games currently supporting GPU Turbo mode on the phone. Apart from that, we tried it with Asphalt 9: Legends and Hitman: Sniper, in order to get an idea of just how well different types of games run on the phone. For comparison, we also ran the same games on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845-powered OnePlus 6.
Starting off with PUBG Mobile, we played a few games on the phone. Indeed performance is smooth, and framerates are high with very few dropped frames to report. Even with other apps running in the background on the phone, performance is excellent and the gaming experience is smooth. Performance was similarly clear on the OnePlus 6, and indeed you do get flagship-grade performance on the Honor Play.
Even with Hitman: Sniper and Asphalt 9: Legends, performance is generally top-notch. Asphalt‘s constant movement and fast pace did see the occasional dropped frame, but nothing that severely affected the quality of gameplay. The phone is largely capable of handling motion, graphical intensity, background textures and things as subtle as moving blades of grass with ease and poise.
GPU Turbo itself does seem to have a small impact on gaming when it comes to battery life, although exactly how much can’t be measured very accurately. However, being compatible with only two games limits its usability for now, and indeed with most games you won’t even get to use the software enhancement. In terms of performance on PUBG Mobile, there’s very little to distinguish between the Honor Play and the OnePlus 6, and indeed it’s hard to entirely tell what impact GPU Turbo is making without lab-grade testing.
The presence of the notched screen was initially a cause for concern, but the phone handles its presence in games fairly well. You can choose to have the phone run games entirely under the notch, thereby preventing any part of the gameplay being blocked off by the notch. The software also ensures that games scale properly to the aspect ratio, which even below the notch is still a somewhat awkward 19:9. In terms of heat, despite the phone being all-metal, there isn’t much heat even with intense gaming. You will feel the phone getting slightly warm after prolonged gaming, but not uncomfortably so.
The screen itself, being an IPS LCD display, ensures that things are bright, so that you can clearly see everything even under potentially strong light. The automatic brightness setting is accurate and gets the brightness right, and you always have the option to manually set brightness. Colors aren’t quite as beautiful as on the AMOLED screen of the OnePlus 6, but are good enough to enjoy the game.
For the Honor Play to position itself as a gaming phone might sound a bit odd in hindsight, simply because the device does not come with any special features apart from the fairly-limited GPU Turbo enhancement that set it apart as a gaming smartphone. Other specialized gaming devices sport higher screen refresh rates or special design, none of which is present on the Honor Play.
Instead, it’s simply a top-spec device with the right hardware to allow it to run most current games as smoothly and efficiently as it can. And at its price of Rs 19,999 onwards, there’s very little to complain about as well. Even if you don’t intend to use the Honor Play for games, it’s easily the best performing smartphone in its price category right now, and is well supplemented by good design, a decent screen and flagship-level features.
Perhaps its only shortcoming is the 64GB of storage on both of its variants, which a lot of users may find inadequate. You can use a micro-SD card to expand storage, but this comes at the cost of dual-SIM connectivity, and then also takes away the advantage of the UFS2.1 storage for anything you place on the storage card. However, if this is something you can work around, the Honor Play is a capable smartphone for Android gaming today, especially at its price point.