It’s been nearly two years since Honor split from parent company Huawei. This means that – unlike Huawei – it can sell phones with pre-installed Google apps and services, which means it’s really worth considering if you live in a country where Honor sells phones. That includes many European markets but not the US, at least for now.
But while the change has allowed recent Honor phones, such as last year’s Honor 50 and Magic4 Pro, to compete in the crowded Android smartphone market, the brand has yet to find a unique selling point. Its phones have not exceeded expectations in any area, be it camera or screen quality, performance, or length of software support.
That doesn’t change with Honor’s latest international phone, the Honor 70. In the past week I’ve been using the phone, I haven’t found anything that I consider deal-breakers. Everything is fine: battery life is great, performance and camera quality are good enough, and performance is solid overall. But there’s also nothing exceptional enough here for me to recommend the Honor 70 over any number of other cheaper mid-range phones released this year. The Honor 70 needs a display feature to stand out, and it totally doesn’t have one.
The Honor 70 starts at £480 (about $566) for a model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Up to £530 (about $625) gives you 256GB of storage. I have been using the last form.
With a 6.67-inch curved OLED display and a punch-hole front camera, the front of the Honor 70 looks very similar to last year’s Honor 50. It’s an always-on display at 1080p, a dynamic refresh rate of 120Hz, and it has an in-display fingerprint sensor that was fast and reliable enough that I barely noticed using it.
What I am experiencing is the fact that it is curved, with the sides of the screen disappearing around the right and left sides of the phone. Yes, it gives the phone a premium look similar to flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Pixel 6 Pro and makes the bezels on the left and right sides of the screen look smaller than they actually are. But this does mean that the sides of the screen have a slight dark tint because you always see them off-axis, and the curved edges have the habit of focusing light reflections into bright lines at the edges of the screen. I’ve been more tolerant of curved displays in the past, but in the case of the Honor 70, they make the phone’s screen less functional, reducing usable space for very little benefit.
On the back, the Honor 70’s design is a little more elegant than the Honor 50’s. The two rounded camera bumps are no longer connected by a raised section, giving the back of the phone a simpler and cleaner look. In the UK, the phone is available in three colors: silver, black, and the green version I’ve been using. There is no official IP rating for dust and water resistance, no headphone jack, and no expandable storage space.
Out of the box, the Honor 70 runs Android 12, with Honor’s own Magic UI 6.1 running on top of it. I liked the Magic UI in the end, but it took a little work to get there – swapping out the ugly and cluttered SwiftKey keyboard (which kept trying to type the username in all lowercase) for Gboard, and uninstalling half a dozen bloatware (sorry, TrainPal) , Booking.com, Lords MobileAnd the Sultans gameet al), and re-enable the app drawer.
Once I set it up the way I like it, I found Magic UI to be a nice, clean Android launcher that doesn’t get in the way too much. Yes, it has a couple of built-in ecosystem features that I doubt many people will find use for, such as Honor Share, which is designed to quickly transfer files to other Honor devices. However, they are configured through entries such as a small shortcut menu that can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the lock screen. Just note that the swipe gesture used to access this menu is the same as that used to access the home screen if you’re using the Face Unlock feature, which can be frustrating. I recommend sticking with fingerprint unlock.
Honor 70’s Snapdragon 778G Plus processor keeps up with everyday tasks with ease. Scrolling through visually dense apps like Twitter is nice and smooth on the phone’s 120Hz screen, and I didn’t notice any noticeable snags while navigating between apps. One sore point is the phone’s touches, which can be overly aggressive and cheap compared to the repeated taps you feel with other phones.
The quality of the speakers is average, as the sound is produced through the phone’s single speaker array. They sound loud enough that I was able to listen to the podcast out loud while I was doing laundry, but overall they sound tinny and hollow, and I found it more difficult than usual to pick up dialogue in some YouTube videos with excessive background noise.
Honor says the Honor 70 will get two years of Android updates and three years of security updates. This is a fairly typical software support period for Android devices and matches what OnePlus offers with the mid-range of the Nord 2T, for example. But elsewhere in the Android ecosystem, Google and Samsung are pushing things further. The Pixel 6A will get five years of security updates and be affordable at £399 (about $466) although Google strangely declined to give details on how many operating system updates it will get, while Samsung promises four years of system updates. Operation and five years of security patches for the recent £399 Galaxy A53. Up to £399 Nothing Phone 1 is set to (eventually) receive three years of Android updates and four years of security updates. I don’t think we’ve quite come to the point where offering just three years of security updates should be considered a deal breaker, but we’re getting close to it.
That’s a lot of complaining, so let’s talk about something I really liked about the Honor 70 – the battery life. My average screen time was just under 6.5 hours per day on the phone and I ran it constantly to charge well over 50 percent of the remaining charge in the evening. In one day of heavy use, which included turning on the phone screen for 90 minutes while using it for cycling directions while also Streaming music to bluetooth headphones, you finished the day with 35 percent charge left.
Honor includes a 66W fast charger in the box. It supports Honor’s SuperCharge standard as well as Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0, but there’s no mention of Power Delivery (PD) support, which might explain why it couldn’t charge my MacBook. I’ve found that the phone can go from empty to 52 percent in 20 minutes, to 72 percent in 30, and that it got fully charged in just under 50 minutes. That’s not quite as fast as the cheaper £369 (about $431) OnePlus Nord 2T which can charge to 100 percent in less than half an hour, but it’ll still be fast enough for most people. No wireless charging, which is still relatively rare at this price point outside of devices like the £419 ($429) iPhone SE 5G or Nothing Phone 1.
The Honor 70 has a 32MP selfie camera, and on the back there are three rear cameras: a 54MP main camera, a 50MP ultra-wide camera, and a 2MP depth sensor. This is lower than the Honor 50 because Honor now includes macro photography capabilities in the ultra-wide range. The company deserves some credit for including a reasonably high-resolution sensor for the phone’s ultra-fast secondary camera, when a lot of other companies don’t make the specs. But at this price point, the Honor 70 faces stiff competition from the less expensive Pixel 6A, and it’s struggling to compete with Google’s smart low-light photography.
With good lighting, the Honor 70’s camera is on par with most modern smartphones. The images are well detailed, and Honor tends to produce images that are well saturated and colorful without looking unnatural, similar to what we see on Samsung smartphone cameras. Honor specifically advertises that its cameras are set to better handle strongly backlit subjects, and sure enough, when I took a picture of myself in front of a brightly lit window, Honor kept me well lit without spoiling the rest of the shot. But the flip side of this is that photos can sometimes appear a bit flat because the phone software doesn’t allow the shadows to get too dark. Switch to the ultrawide, and thanks to the 50MP sensor, the level of detail remains broadly consistent, although I think the colors in the photos you take aren’t quite as accurate as the main camera.
For videos, the phone supports shooting at up to 4K 30 frames per second. Video quality is good but not great, and trying to shoot in 4K produces some noticeable shake. There are also some interesting video software features, including one of Honor called “Solo Cut Mode” which can shoot landscape video while at the same time shooting a zoomed-in video in an image that tracks a specific subject across the frame. It’s just business, but I haven’t found it very reliable, often losing track of it in a particular scene. I find it hard to think of many situations in which I would use the feature, but it’s an interesting enough novelty.
I’ve noticed in previous reviews of Honor phones that its software tends to brighten up portraits of faces, and that’s still the case here, even with all of the software’s processing beauty modes turned off. The effect is most noticeable in photos taken with the phone’s selfie camera, which all look as if you were using a filter.
If you’re careful, you can get some good low-light shots out of the Honor 70. By default, in basic shooting mode, the camera will ask to take a still shot for a few beats so you can collect some extra light data. This is fine with still scenes, but the second time you try to take a picture of a moving subject, such as a person, it becomes difficult to keep a steady shot for as long as the Honor 70 asks. This means that a lot of my attempts to take photographs of myself in low light ended up in a mess. blurry;
Most of the Honor 70 features are good enough. Its cameras are good enough, its software is good enough, and its length of support is good enough. There are even some aspects of the phone that are better than good enough, like battery life, charging speeds, and screen responsiveness. (Although I wish it wasn’t curved.)
But at a starting price of £480, £80 more expensive than many other mid-range phones released this year, “good enough” isn’t good enough to warrant a purchase. Google’s Pixel 6A is more expensive, with better cameras, longer software support, and an official IP rating for dust and water resistance. The Galaxy A53 from Samsung is more expensive, offers a similarly long software support period, and a nice flat screen. The iPhone SE 5G is more affordable and offers access to the iOS app ecosystem and wireless charging. The Nothing Phone 1 has fun flashing lights.
Unless you definitely need an IP rating, I don’t think the Honor 70 has any serious flaws or deal breakers. But it doesn’t have any display features to justify the price premium.
Photo by John Porter/The Verge
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