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Honor 10: the second round of attacks on the smartphone top 5

Dominik Bärlocher
Zurich, on 15.05.2018
Responsible for translation: Eva Francis
Is it a pale imitation of the Huawei P20 or is it a different phone in its own right? The Honor 10 raises a number of questions, but it looks bloody good and delivers a lot for the price tag.

We’re in London and today part of the city is all about the Chinese smartphone brand Honor. That’s because the manufacturer is unveiling the Honor 10 near London Bridge. The phone is the follow-up to the Honor 9, which video producer Manuel Wenk still carts about with him every day. The new phone is set to be the equivalent of the Huawei P20 and the P20 Pro, which are both like extra limbs for me.

This time Honor is adamant everything is better with laser. That’s why a battery laser light on the river Thames is accompanying the booming bass of the ad music and the track that’s probably called «We are the Brave». It later transpired it’s supposed to be reminiscent of the aurora borealis.

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10 (64GB, Magic Night Black, 5.84", Dual SIM, 16Mpx)
Honor 10 (64GB, Magic Night Black, 5.84", Dual SIM, 16Mpx)
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10 (64GB, Phantom Green, 5.84", Dual SIM, 16Mpx)
Honor 10 (64GB, Phantom Green, 5.84", Dual SIM, 16Mpx)

The Honor 10 slogan is Beauty in AI, or hashtagged as #beautyInAI.

Honor does itself the honour

Honor’s president, George Zhao, takes to the stage. His English still isn’t the best but his enthusiasm for his phone remains unabated. He starts by talking about the company’s strategy. In the global stakes, Honor wants to be one of the top five smartphone brands within three years. And in five years, it wants to be brushing shoulders in the top three.

Their aggressive strategy dates back to December and is rather ambitious but Zhao reckons it will pay off. In the UK the brand is meant to have grown 200% since the strategy was announced. The View 10 has to take credit for that.

  • Russia: third place, 11.5% market share
  • India: fifth place
  • Globally: 100% growth

    In China, Honor occupies the top spot in the smartphone e-brands sector. For the uninitiated, an e-brand is a company that only sells products online. I know what you’re thinking. It is quite a small market segment. This calls to mind something Simone Giertz, the inventor of useless robots, once said.

“ ...because as we all know, the easiest way to be at the top of your field is to choose a very small field. ”
Simone Giertz, Ted Talk, 2018

A few words about design

Pierre-François Dubois now takes to the stage. According to Zhao, he’s the one responsible for moving the market away from the black/white/gold colours. At Honor, the colour blue was always symbolic, but over the years even that became run-of-the-mill. The company needed something fresh.

This new idea came in the form of their mirage design. Or mirage blue and mirage purple, to be more precise. It’s a blue and purple shade that changes colour when the light hits it. But Dubois up there on the stage isn’t entirely sure whether the thing is now called aurora or mirage.

The problem with the colour name is no one will ever call the phone aurora blue, will they?. Or mirage blue, for that matter. «The phone is just blue.». It doesn’t matter if the colours can gleam in 36 different shades. The handset is also supposed to be even more break-proof both at the front and back, even though it’s made of glass.

George Zhao clears up the colour chaos. The phones are available in «phantom blue» and other phantom colours, such as phantom green, midnight black and glacier grey.

The camera gets clever

Like the Huawei phones this quarter, the Honor 10 features a more intelligent camera and artificial intelligence. Huawei déjà vu, anyone? The promo is the spitting image of the sister company, which could also be the parent company.

As before, it’s not entirely clear what Honor is trying to achieve with its aggressive strategy. What is it people say? «Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.» Well, it seems Honor has its mouth open wide, ready to take a chunk out of Huawei. I mean, Honor is using Huawei’s hardware and software; it then made a phone that can be compared to Huawei’s and is charging half the price for it. If that’s not biting a hand that feeds, I don’t know what is.

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But the strategy is obviously working. So we’re researching it. Editor Livia Gamper is going to be doing a direct comparison of the P20 and the Honor 10. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, George Zhao tells us that photographer Ray Collins, whose trademark is wave photography – yes, that’s a thing – was involved in developing the camera. After all, his job is about capturing a millisecond, a brief moment that won’t come again.

As in the Huawei P20, the Honor 10 uses the neural processing unit (NPU) to achieve artificial intelligence (AI). George Zhao explains the benefits of AI, including the fact the colours get richer. According to Zhao, the Honor 10 could generate a type of green screen live. The same app on a Samsung Galaxy S9, as Zhao shows on the projection behind him, apparently can’t keep up.

The camera still makes mistakes around a dancer and keeps showing the room they’re dancing in as the background rather than a forest fire. But only where the young man is dancing. In other words, the phone fails because it doesn’t recognise the young man’s movements quick enough. Is it really footage from a Galaxy S9 up on the screen? All we can do is take Zhao’s word for it. But what certainly can’t be disputed is Honor’s results.

Hardware at a glance:

  • 24 megapixel main camera with f/1.8 aperture and a 16 MP second camera
  • 24 megapixel selfie cam
  • Automatic recognition of more than 500 scenes in 22 categories and automatic image optimisation

    But that’s not all. The Honor 10 also segments images shot with the camera. That means the camera doesn’t just recognise one scene per image but several several scenes per image. Everything from the sky to animals, people and green meadows can be recognised on a photo. The phone then optimises the images in segments to deliver more stunning images.

    The headphone jack is back

    As far as hardware goes, the Honor 10 hardly differs from the P20 – apart from the colour scheme, that is. The notch and fingerprint scanner are on the front. But we’re also seeing the return of the headphone jack so missed by lovers of the past.

    Honor is also opening the doors to distinct designs. In the Honor app store, there’ll be downloadable themes to give your phone a whole new look. The designs showcased on stage are obviously meant to go with the phantom phone colours, as they’re trying to emulate the Northern Lights. But it’s not a success. You can’t put it down to the colour not being nice or the iridescent effect not being impressive. The fact is, you just can’t replicate the Northern Lights.

When you see the aurora borealis, you feel something. They’re not just pretty colours in the sky; they’re something in you. The sky that you think you know just looks wrong. You expect a sound but you don’t hear one. And yet there you are, standing in the middle of an Icelandic night, staring up at the green sky, thinking it’s beautiful and seeing the world differently. The sky will never be the same. No matter how much any designer tries, they can’t compete with that effect on a smartphone.

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Reminiscing about Iceland aside, I still think the colours are pretty impressive. In terms of smartphone colours, it’s definitely an eye-catcher. If you’re sick and tired of the usual black/white/gold offerings, then you’ve struck lucky with Honor. Unless, of course, you’re after twilight, the colour Huawei was getting everyone talking about a few months ago.

I’m pleased to see the smartphone scene getting a bit more gutsy. Manufacturers are going out on a limb with their technology as well as their designs. That’s what makes the market interesting and ensures your phone isn’t just a rectangular thing with rounded edges.

The robot apocalypse is nigh

Once George Zhao had talked a bit more about the camera, he let the forerunners of the robot apocalypse say a few words. Robot Sophia tells us about the Honor 10. According to her manufacturer, the Chinese company Hanson Electronics, she’s the most lifelike robot. Have you heard of uncanny valley? It’s a concept where something looks very human but isn’t quite humanoid. You can tell straight away and it gives you the creeps. I can’t think of a better way to describe Sophia. It’s not her bald head and the visible head plates that gross you out but more her movements. They’re just wrong. That being said, the harbinger of Skynet is raving about the Honor 10. Meanwhile, I’m raving about electromagnetic pulses.

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Sophia seems robotically unperturbed by my goosebumps and carries on talking about the selfie cam. This is also linked to the functions of the NPU and it is high performance in terms of face recognition. It recognises eyes; notices when hair falls across your face and optimises selfies accordingly. Sophia hasn’t gone up in flames yet but her eerie robot mug has been replaced by great selfies.

Other specs at a glance

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The fingerprint scanner works using ultrasound
  • Face unlock
  • Motions on the fingerprint scanner
  • Ultrasound fingerprint scanner that also works with wet fingers
  • Games on the lock screen
  • Android 8.1
  • EMUI 8.1
  • Party mode 2.0: up to seven phones can be connected via Bluetooth to create an ad hoc audio network
  • 64 or 128 GB internal memory

    At the end we were treated to a short test in the Honor hands-on area. I hardly need to say the phone looks amazing. Although it is rather drab, which I find hard to understand especially given the Honor 10’s colour effects. I mean, the phone looks fabulous outside. Our demo is phantom green and it glints in all kinds of colours, from red to yellow and green.

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You know what? I like it.

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Dominik Bärlocher
Dominik Bärlocher
Senior Editor, Zurich
Journalist. Author. Hacker. A storyteller searching for boundaries, secrets and taboos – putting the world to paper. Not because I can but because I can’t not.

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