Honor View10 Review: The budget flagship king?

If you’re looking for a premium smartphone in 2018, you have two choices.  You can walk into a carrier store and throw down $800+ on a name you know like Samsung, LG, or Apple. Or, you can save a bit of dough, go with someone you may not have heard of and reap the rewards.

Today, we’re talking about one of those less known phone companies, Huawei. Huawei is a Chinese company that produces some of the best phones in the world, even if you don’t know it. Huawei has a sub-brand, named Honor, that focuses on producing value devices. If Huawei is putting out the $800 flagship, Honor is putting out the $500 premium midrange device.

That premium mid-range device is named the Honor View10 and it can be picked up for about $499 here in the US and similar prices in the EU. It features flagship specs, performance, and features- which leaves us wondering why you’d want to grab anything else. Why donate $300 to a huge corporation?

We spent the last four weeks with the Honor View10 and here’s what we found out.

Key Specs

  • Display: 5.99-inch 1080p IPS LCD
  • Processor: HiSilicon Kirin 970
  • GPU: Mali-G72 MP12
  • RAM: 6 GB
  • Storage: 64/128 GB (expandable)
  • Battery: 3,750 mAh
  • Camera: Rear dual 16 MP (f/1.8) + 20 MP Monochrome, front 13 MP (f/2.0)
  • Software: Android 8.1 with EMUI 8.1
  • Headphone jack: Yes0

Hardware

The Honor View10 isn’t following a trend. If every phone out there today is a glass sandwich, the Honor View10 is an aluminum beast. The back of the device is a anodized aluminum with antenna lines tracing the top and bottom. Two big cameras stick out near the top and that’s it besides some branding. While others are focused on the premium look and feel of glass, Honor went with a much more durable material and, for my money, it feels fantastic too. You’ll never need to worry about back glass shattering or dealing with fingerprints here. That gives peace of mind that we haven’t felt for a while.

The front of the device houses a  5.99-inch 1080p IPS LCD panel. Notably, the panel that Honor used has an 18:9 aspect ratio like most phones released today. It gets incredibly bright while maintaining close to true colors. You’re not going to get the massive blown out colors like you’d see on something from Samsung. We do miss the AMOLED technology here, but if Honor is going to with an LCD display, we’re glad they went with a really good one.

While some may lament the lack of a 2K display, I think Honor made the right choice here. Not only does the display look fantastic with no obvious pixels poking out, it saves power. Sure, an AMOLED panel would save more, but by dropping down to a 1080p resolution, the phone doesn’t have to work as hard to power the display. So, not only do you get a quality display, but there are some battery benefits too. That’s a win-win in my book.

Just under the display is something we’re seeing less and less of today: a button. The fingerprint scanner resides just below the display in one of the only instances of an 18:9 display with a physical button on the front. We appreciate what Honor was trying to do here, but playing finger gymnastics to hit the scanner sometimes doesn’t feel great.

That fingerprint scanner isn’t just a scanner, though. Through the software, you can turn on gestures that will allow you to get rid of the software keys and just swipe and tap the scanner to perform your back, home, and multitasking functions. We love it when OEMs add this into a device, but the long and tall nature of the Honor View10 can make it a bit difficult to use. I eventually went back to software keys.

Here’s something that most reviews won’t point out, but the power button and volume keys are awesome. Not only are they placed in a perfect position, but they’re so clicky too. I just love pressing these things and Honor made the power button textured so it’s easy to tell what you’re pressing before you do. It’s a real turnoff when a phone comes with mushy, unsatisfying buttons. Sure, we’d never not recommend a phone for that reason, but it’s little details like this that make it easy to fall in love with this phone.

Internals

The biggest question I get when I tell people about this phone is, where did the cut corners? That’s a fair question because you can’t expect an $800 product for $500. When I tell people to take a guess, they ask if Honor used an older or underpowered processor, that it lacks the RAM and storage of a 2018 flagship, or perhaps doesn’t have great battery life.

They’re always shocked to find out that, amazingly, every word of what they just said was wrong.

The Honor View10 has a HiSilicon Kirin 970 SoC. That’s another name that won’t be familiar to the vast majority of consumers out there. The Kirin 970 is Huawei’s own SoC produced in-house and it comes with a Neural Processing Unit (more on that later). It compares favorably to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, 2017’s favorite processor.

Now, sure, the Kirin 970 isn’t the most powerful SoC out there today, but ask yourself if you heard anyone complain about last years flagship processors. I didn’t think so. The story is the exact same thing here. In my day-to-day usage of the Honor View10, I experienced almost no stuttering at all. That can be the death knell of a great smartphone experience, but interestingly the only time I had problems was in the Google pane to the left of your home screen. Everywhere else was perfect.

We also see a healthy amount of RAM and storage here too. Our review unit has 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. It also includes a hybrid SIM/microSD card tray that allows you to either use two SIM cards or one SIM and one microSD for up to an additional 256 GB of storage. In everyday usage, we saw excellent multitasking with apps that we opened days ago still being held in RAM. The storage obviously speaks for itself, but in a day and age where we’re pinning more music playlists to our phone and saving movies to local storage, it’s always excellent to have more storage than you need.

Battery life is always a concern as we’re getting more demanding applications and always-on services. Luckily, Honor was able to stuff in a 3,750 mAh battery somehow. The phone is still incredibly thin. It measures in at .28 in, leading phones like the LG V30 (.29 in) and Google Pixel 2 XL (.31 in). But, Honor somehow managed to pack in one of the largest batteries on the market today.

Not only is the battery huge, but it charges up quickly too. We depleted the battery on our review unit then charged it for 30 minutes to end up with an impressive 44% of our battery. We repeated this test three times and ended up with 44% twice and 43% once. While not the most scientifically rigorous test, it does indicate that even if you forget to charge your phone overnight, you can throw your phone on the charger while you’re getting ready for work and have enough juice to get through the workday.

We can’t rave enough about how good the battery life on the Honor View10 is. Battery life in phones has been getting better in the last few years, but this phone takes it to a new level. Instead of the standard full day of battery life and three to four hours of screen on time you can expect out of most phones, the Honor View10 can easily get you two days of battery.

Throughout our test period, there was only one day where I needed to charge up before the end of the day and that was because I was watching movies on it all day in the car. You should expect at least six hours of screen on time with decent usage.

Software

The Honor View10 has a software has Android 8.1 with EMUI 8.1 atop. EMUI is one of the heaviest Android skins out there today and might make Android purists recoil a bit. While EMUI isn’t for everyone, it definitely has some strengths that I think get overlooked when people are looking for a new device.

Yes, the skin does feel like Mountain View and Cupertino got drunk one night and had a baby, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Where in past iterations EMUI might have gotten the worst traits of this bastardization, we’ve seen a subtle shift and refinement recently. We still hate some things like the share menu, but there’s more to like here than dislike.

You’ll find a please color pallet that doesn’t mirror stock Android but does incorporate some elements. We see lots of blues and whites here that look pleasing to the eye. If you don’t like what comes on the device, you can easily change it with the included theme app. It isn’t the most powerful theme engine we’ve seen on a device but it should get the job done for most.

We were also pleased by some of the small but smart software additions. Actions like swiping up from the bottom of the lock screen to reveal a toolbar with the flashlight, a calculator and more that feels natural. Additionally, we appreciate the ability to run a second instance of some apps. This comes in handy for monitoring multiple social media accounts, among other things.

Going back to the lockscreen, there’s one more thing we love, and one we miss. First off, we definitely miss the inclusion of an always-on display. The Honor View10 has an IPS LCD display instead of an AMOLED, so we understand why Huawei might have omitted this here. But, we have seen others with LCD displays include this feature and so it might be something Huawei should consider adding later.

Instead of an always-on display, you can enable raise-to-wake the device. Removing the phone from your pocket or picking it up off a table will activate the display and give you a rundown of your notifications and the time. It’s a nice consolation prize if we’re not going to get an always-on display.

Face unlock is becoming a trendy feature with a ton of different device makers adding it into their devices. Huawei has included it with the View10 and has done a great job with it. I generally have issues with Face Unlock with most devices but the Honor View10 recognizes me and unlocks in less than a second.

Camera

We’ve been trained to expect poor cameras on budget devices, but that’s not the case here. We loved our time with the Honor View10 if for no other reason than the pictures we were able to snap.

In well-lit conditions, the Honor View10 can stand up to other cameras on much more expensive phones. While we did some blown out bright spots in extremely bright conditions like our day at the ballpark, these were few and far between. It’s always disappointing to take a bad picture, but even when the Honor View10 fell behind other devices, it did a good job.

Where the phone struggles is in very poorly lit situations. Low-light photography is a challenge for almost every device maker, but Huawei chose to not include optical image stabilization in the View10. This hurts low-light performance and video camera stability and it showed in our low-light shots. You can still get usable pictures, and you’ll have more success if you know what you’re doing in Photoshop, but we were disappointed.

We mentioned the Neural Processing Unit earlier, and the camera is where we see that used the most. Huawei says that the NPU helps capture pictures faster and create better pictures in the process. It also helps with real-time text translation in apps like the Microsoft Translator app. Since it’s impossible to turn the NPU off, we can’t test how it really functions, but it’s handy to have none-the-less.

A.I. is a huge buzzword right now Huawei is solidly on that bandwagon. While we can’t remember a time where we picked up our phone and were wowed by the A.I. capabilities, we do have hope for the future. Right now this feels like an answer to a problem we never had, but we can definitely see the potential of the technology. Huawei might be in the driver seat by including the NPU in their SoC.

Only time will tell.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to love about the Honor View10. It’s incredibly well built, there are some great software features, and camera performance is pretty decent. Sure, there are things we feel that are missing or could be improved but since there are no perfect phones on the market today, you could say that about anything.

The Honor View10 is one of the first phones that I don’t feel like I need a case for. The body is fantastic and I honestly feel like if I get some scrapes, dents, or scratches that it’ll add to the character of the phone. In an age where we try to keep something looking pristine and perfect, this is a fantastic departure from the norm.

My big question is how the software will age over time. Huawei has been in the limelight in 2018 a few times and most of them weren’t positive. A potential carrier deal with AT&T and Verizon for the Mate 10 Pro fell through because of pressure from Congress. Even now, Capitol Hill is probing the relationship between Google and Huawei.

To recommend this device is to go in knowing that Huawei may pull out of the country altogether at some point. While the US Government seems to favor protectionism in the new administration, Chinese companies could feel the heat more than ever. If you don’t think it could happen, just ask ZTE.

What does that mean for the future of Chinese phones like the Honor View10? We could see a future where the device sees no software updates because the mess going on right now.

But for the device strictly by itself, we love it. It feels fantastic in the hand, performs like a champ, and you don’t have to pay flagship prices. If you’re comfortable with an uncertain future, we recommend it.

Read next: HUAWEI Watch 2 Classic Review

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Build Quality
Display
Camera
Sound
Perfomance
Software
Features
Value
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Matt is an avid sports and technology fan and Managing Editor for AndroidGuys.com. You can get in touch with him by email at matt[email protected]