Huawei's youth brand Honor has cut the ribbon on its 2018 flagship smartphone, and it's a beauty. The Honor 10 was launched at a glossy event in London's Billingsgate, with the strapline 'Beauty in AI'. That refers to the dedicated neural processing unit (NPU) which powers the artificial intelligence in the dual rear camera.
We've already seen an AI camera from parent company Huawei in the P20, which works out what you're pointing the camera at and adjusts the settings accordingly (although it insists my pet budgerigar is 'food', which is a little alarming), and Honor previously launched one in the View 10.
However, the Honor 10's AI has more photo categories than ever, meaning it can identify and optimise images of not just obvious things like your face and a plate of ribs, but cats, dogs, fireworks, text, greenery and, erm, pandas. It can recognise more than 500 scenarios in 22 categories, apparently, and Honor also talked up the phone's ability to separate different layers of the same photo and optimise them, giving a demo that correctly identified a person, white horse, greenery in the background and the blue sky above, working its magic to make them all look as good as possible.
"This means you or anyone can take photos like me!" declared the ever-charming George Zhao, President of Honor (what a job title).
The rear dual camera has 24 and 16MP sensors working together, both f/1.8 with dual-core phase detection autofocus. Meanwhile, the front-facing 24MP selfie camera includes AI capabilities and multi-frame image processing. Zhao also talked up the phone's ability to accurately apply bokeh (the trendy background blur effect) to the correct bits of the image, while pointing out that the iPhone X can't handle bokeh in group photos.
This was one of many favourable comparisons during the launch between the Honor 10 and the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S9+, which was somewhat at odds with Zhao's repeated assertion in the group interview afterwards that "Honor's biggest competitor is itself." However, he did also restate the company's ambition to become one of the top three smartphone brands globally.
"Makes other smartphones look so boring"
Alongside the AI camera, Honor's big focus for the 10 is the duochrome effect on the glass-backed handset. The headline colour is 'Phantom Blue,' a metallic high-shine sapphire blue that turns purple as you move the handset in the light. It's a really beautiful effect, and likely to attract attention from the young and young-at-heart crowd Honor is pursuing.
There's also 'Phantom Green,' based on the aurora borealis, plus a blue-grey shade and Midnight Black. The rest of the handset is nicely designed too, with an under-glass ultrasonic fingerprint sensor on the front below the screen, a headphone jack (unlike the P20) and a USB-C charging port with fast charging to 50% in 25 minutes.
Purists will be put off by the notch and the EMUI software overlay on top of Android 8.1 Oreo, but the notch is 'removable' (in the sense that you can turn it off in the software, which adds a black bar on either side, as with the OnePlus 6) and EMUI has come a very long way since the bad old days.
However, Honor did spend a good while talking up all the 'beautiful' themes they've had designed for the 10, many of which would have pleased me immensely as a teenage girl. This is not a good thing.
The 5.84-inch 'FullView' FHD (2280p x 1080p) screen and overall shape and size of the handset have apparently been designed for "perfect one-handed use" (*ahem*) and with the "nano-scale optical engineering" on the "dynamic colour" back panel, Zhao says it "makes other smartphones look so boring." It's hard to disagree that it's a beautiful phone, though the obvious issue is that anyone with any sense immediately slaps a case over the back panel, and some of those cases are cooler than the Honor 10's back. Even the official clear case that comes with the phone considerably diminishes its cats-in-space-with-lasers aesthetic.
Specs-wise, you get a Huawei Kirin 970 chipset (4 x 2.36GHz + 4 x 1.8GHz), 4GB of RAM, 3400 mAh battery, fingerprint scanner, NFC, dual SIM capability, and a choice of either 64GB or 128GB of storage globally. However, it looks like only the 128 is available in the UK, which costs £399.99.
Currently, it doesn't look like we're getting the Phantom Green colour either, but Honor has announced an exclusive partnership with Three where the Honor 10 will be available from tomorrow, so we may see Phantom Green pop up there as a network perk. You can also buy the Honor 10 directly from Honor now, or from third party retailers in the UK soon including Argos, Carphone Warehouse, Amazon and others. You'll probably have to go to a zoo to test panda mode, though.