The Honor 10 smartphone has just launched in London. It is a higher-end handset than the Honor View 10 we reviewed in December. The Honor 10 is part of the N-Series, which is the flagship series that is created to bring “the best of fashion, craftsmanship, and engineering together,” according to Honor. Part of the engineering effort is the new AI Camera that powers this handset. Let’s take a deep dive into the Honor 10 technology.
Important: this review has been put together based on pre-retail units that may not have the final firmware, so small changes are possible. We will update it as we spend more time with the handset.
With price as the main selector, we lined-up a good number of smartphones which may be alternatives to assess how the Honor 10 fits in its immediate smartphone landscape: Essential PH-1 (499 USD), OnePlus OnePlus 5 (479 USD), Huawei Mate 10 (550 USD), Samsung Galaxy S8(600 USD), Google Pixel 2 (600 USD),
- 5.84” LCD Display (2280×1080)
- 16 MP Main Camera, f/1.8 aperture
- 24 MP Selfie Camera
- HiSilicon Kirin 970 platform 4GB RAM, 64-128 GB of internal storage
- 3400 mAh battery capacity
- Android 8.1
- Price: not revealed yet. Assumed to be ~$499
The Honor 10 has a very nice and clean design, with glass on the front + back (2.5D glass in the back) and a metal frame going all around the sides. The back’s curved glass feels a little like the Galaxy S and this manufacturing process is quite complicated. Honor has managed to bring it into the Premium segment, and users will appreciate it.
We have a black version of the handset, but the colored ones are much nicer (and easier to take photos of). In many ways, these are reminiscent of the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro smartphones we looked at recently. The multi-layer glass looks very Premium, and the multi-tone version will be the most popular one, we predict.
Fortunately, there’s a 3.5mm audio connector, which is everyone’s favorite, despite what OEMs keep saying. Sync/charge happens over USB-C which is the prominent option these days.
This time, Honor has integrated an ultra-sonic fingerprint sensor. It uses ultrasounds like a radar to sense the ridges and valleys of your fingerprint. And because it does not need a direct contact, it can be hidden under the tempered glass where it will be protected from scratches.
The Honor 10 is not protected from water (no IP Rating), nor it has passed some of the U.S Military MIL-STD 810G certification tests. While nearly all high-end phones ($600+) are water-resistant, in the Premium segment ($500+), this is not yet a must-have. For example, the Galaxy S8 and Pixel 2 are IP68 or IP67, and the Essential PH-1 has an IP55 rating.
Since the design has glass on both sides, and because the back’s glass curves slightly onto the edges, the odds of having a crack if dropped on a hard surface is quite high. This is inherent to this kind of design, and you should consider using a case.
This smartphone feels very comfortable in hand because it has a width of 71.2mm and a thickness of approximately ~0.3 inches. For reference, this is based on a medium size hand (US M gloves). You can try guessing based on this. The weight of 153 grams (5.4 oz) makes it a reasonably light smartphone for a screen size of 5.84”.
Finally, the handset design packs good performance in relation to its size. From another viewpoint, the amount of battery capacity the buyer gets is excellent for a device of this size, besting even the Galaxy S8 by 12%. Huawei’s Mate 10 is the only phone in this selection to have more battery per Cubic Inches (17% more).
Honor 10 has an LCD display. It is not as great as OLED, but visual inspection of the panel shows good color saturation. A brightness of 470 NITs is very decent although not impressive. It is sufficient to beat the OnePlus 5 (394 NITs), but not quite enough to challenge the rest of the line-up. Recent phones like the LG G7 can peak at 1000 NITs for a bright and comfortable viewing experience in high-brightness environments.
Black levels cannot rival OLED displays, neither will it challenge high-end phones’ LCD displays. However, within its price range, the Honor 10 can hold competitors at bay. The Essential PH-1 has arguably better black levels, and its brightness tops 590 NITs.
The screen display-to-body ratio of 79.9% is also very good and higher than the Pixel 2 (67.9%) or the OnePlus 5 (73%) but below the PH-1 (84.9%) the Mate 10 (82%) and the Galaxy S8 (84.2%).
There is a notch that allows for the earpiece speaker and the selfie camera to be positioned at the top of the phone. Users who don’t want the notch can disable the extra pixels to get a straight band at the top.
In conclusion, the display fares reasonably well, but it could have used a higher brightness for outdoors situations. The color seems reasonable enough that most people won’t notice, but the black levels are noticeably not as good as OLED.
Camera : very good
The image quality of the Honor 10 camera is high. In our synthetic tests, we found it most relevant to compare it to the OnePlus 5, which is its main competitor although we also took photos with an S9+ and a Mate 10 Pro, for curiosity’s sake.
In good lighting (300 LUX), the Honor 10 camera performs slightly better than the OnePlus 5, by doing a better job with exposure, color balance and details preservation. The OnePlus 5 was over-exposing a bit, making the image too bright and losing some of the texture details.
In low-light (8 LUX), the Honor 10 is a bit less noisy than the OnePlus 5, but it was challenged by the white balance. The white of our subject turned a bit pink, and while people would not know, this should not happen. Color balance changes at every scene, so it’s hard to tell if it happens often, but both the OnePlus 5 and the Galaxy S9+ did not suffer from it in similar conditions. Still, the Honor 10 managed low-light photography very well.
Slide to compare: low-light photo shot with 8 LUX of luminosity
Slide to compare: low-light photo shot with 8 LUX of luminosity
Compared to the Mate 10 Pro and the Galaxy S9+ and in good lighting, the differences were subtle, and we suspect that people won’t tell the difference. In low-light, the more expensive phones won, because they have slightly better optics. Low-light is where every little advantage will tend to show.
In the Honor 10, the camera aperture of f/1.8 is decent, but there are f/1.7 (S7, OnePlus 5) or f/1.6 (Mate 10) apertures within striking distance. The sensor size of ~20.3 mm2 would be considered quite good for a smartphone in this market segment. It is comparable to the OnePlus 5 sensor size, and ~16% smaller than the Galaxy S8.
OIS helps to achieve better image clarity and higher low-light performance by offsetting tiny hand-shaking motion. OIS makes it possible to leave the shutter open longer to capture more light (more extended exposure). Optical and digital stabilization are entirely different. Digital stabilization is suitable only to improve video recording smoothness.
The autofocus of the camera is based on Phase Detection technology. Phase-detection AF that was initially built into discrete AF sensor chips in the DSLR days. Then it got integrated into the camera image sensor. It works by having specialized AF pixels sensors that would tell if specific points in the image were in-focus.
This method is very advanced, and the AF capabilities work well in most cases. AF performance is somewhat proportional to the number of hardware AF sensels. Typically this number can go from dozens to hundreds of Phase-Detection AF points. Phase detection AF is an excellent system, which is only inferior to Dual-Pixel AF.
AI Camera: the most advanced
The software and Artificial Intelligence aspect of the Honor 10 is perhaps the most important differentiator, especially in this price range. Honor’s parent company Huawei has introduced AI with the Mate 10, then pushed it further with the P20/P20 Pro. The Honor 10 is the first phone of its category to feature this level of A.I photography.
The Honor 10 A.I camera has a long list of A.I Camera features. Some will seem familiar, such as the recognition of typical scenes (sunset, food, people..) and switch to optimum settings for these. But this handset could be smarter about recognizing what’s in the photo, in order to make better choices.
For example, if the A.I sees a sunset and a selfie, it should be capable of figuring out exactly which pixels belong to the person and which belongs to the background. With that information, it will apply slightly different image processing to both, to have the human subject look good. As far as I know, no other handset use A.I Image Segmentation for a similar purpose."THE HONOR 10 AI CAMERA IS EXTREMELY ADVANCED"
The Honor 10 AI Camera can effectively “dig deeper” into the image and have a better understanding of the different parts of the scene. With this, it can go beyond “switching” between modes such as “nature, or low-light,” and apply different filters to different subjects in the image. The Honor 10 AI Camera is extremely advanced.
Honor seems to have a use for many types AI neural networks. For example, it has an AI feature that can extract the 3D features of a face for Portrait Lighting. By doing so, it doesn’t need to have a 3D infra-red camera (and a colossal notch), as the iPhone X does. Now, the 3D face might not be as precise, but it could get the job done and save precious space and lower the bill of material. How far off is it? It’s hard to tell because there isn’t a benchmark for this. Further tests will tell.
On paper, the Honor 10 has the most advanced AI Camera features on the market, and the metric of success is whether users will be happy with the results.
It is quite difficult to measure the effect of AI in the context of a camera. We could take a bunch of pictures with and without, but AI mostly affects settings that are in the “artistic” domain, such as color saturation, contrast, etc… I think that the real success for AI photos happens when you no longer want to edit your photos.
Selfie Camera: very good, but over-exposes"BETTER THAN THE GALAXY S9 SELFIE CAM, EVEN IN LOW-LIGHT"
The 24 Megapixel selfie is impressive in absolute terms, even when compared to high-end phones. For example, the Galaxy S9’s front selfie camera has a sensor size that is HALF the Honor 10’s. As a result, the Honor 10 front camera is better than the Galaxy S9 selfie cam, even in low-light.
Selfies are extremely important in Asia, and Honor is no stranger to that market. The technical data we have shows that Honor treats selfies as being nearly equal to the primary camera system, and it should get it a boost in some markets. The large camera sensor (in surface area) shows that Honor is willing to spend money to have better selfies.
Perhaps, the weakness of this front camera is the color precision. With the pre-release firmware, I noticed that my Honor 10 selfie camera tends to overexpose the photos, making them a bit washed out.
The battery capacity of the Honor 10 is 3400 mAh, which is excellent in general, and in the upper-tiers of its own category. The Pixel 2 has 20.5% less capcity. The Galaxy S8 has 12% less. The OnePlus 5 is close but has 3% less battery.
Battery life can be affected by a great many factors, but the main ones are the central processor aka SoC, display and wireless radios (LTE broadband, WiFi, the cell towers location and more). It is impossible to accurately estimate through benchmarks how much energy drain YOUR unique usage pattern will generate. However, two things are surly always good:
- A larger battery capacity
- High-speed charging
It is fair to say that the Honor 10 has both, especially with a charging speed of 66 mAh/mn (measured), it not only has a lot of juice but can be replenished 24% faster than a Galaxy S8.
It is generally impossible to predict real-life battery life by running synthetic tests. Factors such as display brightness, (LTE/WiFi) radio usage and distance to access points will change too much. Also, the number of apps on-board and their usage is unpredictable. Battery capacity is the most crucial battery-life indicator for YOUR usage.
This product does NOT have a detachable battery, which is the norm for a smartphone nowadays. Closed batteries cannot be swapped or easily exchanged, but they do allow for smaller designs and slightly larger battery size within the same product design.
Since this product has a huge screen, keep in mind that larger screens tend to require more power to accommodate the bigger surface area to light up. It depends on the brightness levels screens are being used at, but the potential for higher energy is there, so higher battery capacity is better.
This handset has a relatively common screen resolution. Although this may be a weakness from a display quality point of view, having fewer pixels to deal with is a positive point for battery life. Finally, there is, unfortunately, no wireless charging.
This handset’s main processor is a HiSilicon Kirin 970 (8 Cores, 2.36 GHz) which has access to 4 GB of memory (RAM).
The amount of RAM is essential for heavy users, or for having many apps/services on the device. When the memory is tight, the phone may become less responsive if the OS has to read/write from the slower Flash storage instead. This has been one of the significant differences between lower and higher tiers phones, but this line is more blurry now.
You can look at detailed benchmarks results below, but in our estimation, this smartphone’s performance puts it in the Premium category of products. In general, the Honor 10 will do very well with general computing tasks and graphics apps, but it is not the absolute fastest for 3D games or VR applications.
Honor is being very aggressive in choosing the most powerful mobile processor from HiSilicon (a Huawei Subsidiary) to power a ~$500 handset. This is the same chip found inside the new Huawei P20 and P20 Pro!
Before you focus on the charts, it is critical to understand that most benchmarks are only loose indicators, usually for system or graphics performance. It is possible to notice sharp performance deltas between different classes of devices (entry-level, mid-range vs. high-end), but it is much more difficult to do so within handsets of the same class. Benchmarks alone should NOT lead to a purchase decision. To learn more, read our Are Benchmarks Important? article.
Conclusion: a very competitive Premium phone
The Honor 10 is a very good Premium handset that is well positioned, even against the top contenders we threw at it. Off the three ~$500 handsets (Honor 10, Essential PH-1, OnePlus 5), this handset would come out ahead in so many aspects: screen-size, screen-body ratio, battery size, Ai Camera and selfie details.
These points are precisely what Honor was aiming for when designing this phone. But there are also areas that could be improved, such as the waterproofing or better display.
One could be tempted to pay a bit more (+$50 to $100) to get a slight upgrade. The Huawei Mate 10 and the Pixel 2 are worthy contenders, with the Pixel 2 having very good HDR photography capabilities and a pure Android experience. The Mate 10 has a larger battery capacity as well.
At $600, the Galaxy S8 stands far away. Of course, it has an excellent industrial design, display, and camera. However, the battery is smaller. I have added it in here because many people use this phone as a frame of reference. The S8 is 20% more expensive, so that seems like a significant leap.
We will update the review as we spend more time with the handset, but this review should give you an excellent idea of what to expect.