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The gaming smartphone trend continues with new HONOR Play

So what makes the HONOR Play worth getting over phones from ASUS, Razer, nubia, and Xiaomi?

Published onJune 6, 2018

The HONOR Play smartphone.
  • The HONOR Play has been announced, offering a few gaming-focused features and a flagship chipset.
  • The new phone sports a GPU Turbo feature for smoother gameplay, as well as “4D” haptic feedback.
  • Expect to pay the equivalent of $312 for the new phone when it launches.

It seems like gaming smartphones have well and truly become a thing again, as ASUS joined Razer, Xiaomi, and Nubia in launching the ROG Phone yesterday. The week isn’t over yet though, but it’s brought us another gaming-themed phone in the form of the HONOR Play.

Launched in China today, the HONOR Play certainly packs enough power to deliver a top-flight visual experience. There’s HUAWEI’s flagship Kirin 970 chipset with NPU for AI smarts, 4GB or 6GB of RAM, 64GB of expandable storage, and a well-sized 3,750mAh battery to drive the action. This all powers a notched 6.3-inch, 2,340 x 1,080 LCD screen.

Don’t expect a P20-style photography experience here, as you’ll have to settle for a 16MP f/2.2 and 2MP f/2.4 dual camera pairing and 16MP f/2.0 selfie camera. There’s no optical image stabilization either, so keep that in mind when shooting video or low-light shots. Nevertheless, the HONOR brand is touting AI-powered scene/object recognition and segmentation tech akin the HONOR 10 for better shots.

Other noteworthy features include USB Type-C support, a headphone jack, hybrid SIM slots, and EMUI 8.2 atop of Android 8.1.

Gaming features?

So what warrants calling this a gaming smartphone? For one, it packs some interesting “GPU Turbo” technology. It’s unclear exactly what this entails, but it seems to be a software-related tweak to get more out of the phone’s internals and maintain a smooth framerate.

The other gaming-focused move is the decision to add “4D” haptic feedback of sorts when playing games. This takes the form of different vibrations for specific actions in-game, such as explosions and gunfire. Hopefully it’s more Xbox One impulse trigger vibration and less generic smartphone vibration.

That’s really it as far as gaming-related features go. I can’t really see mobile gamers with loads of money getting this over the ASUS ROG Phone, Razer Phone or even Xiaomi’s Black Shark.

HONOR Play promo featuring a tank coming out of the screen.

The ASUS device stands out from other recent gaming phones by offering three AirTrigger haptic sensors, serving as shoulder buttons in games. Meanwhile, Xiaomi’s phone offers a liquid cooling system of sorts and half a gamepad (seriously). The Razer Phone might be losing its edge (heh) in the power stakes, but that 120Hz display is certainly unique too. So it’s going to take more than powerful internals to compete against these players.

Nevertheless, people looking for a cheaper phone with flagship-level graphics should definitely keep an eye on the HONOR Play. It starts off at just 1,999 yuan (~$312) for the 4GB+64GB version, increasing to 2,399 yuan (~$375) for the 6GB+64GB variant.

HONOR 9i gets launched too

The HONOR 9i.

The HUAWEI sub-brand had another phone to announce today in the form of the HONOR 9i. Truth be told, this seems like every recent mid-range HONOR device — but with a notch, this time.

So that means a middle-of-the-pack Kirin 659 chipset, 4GB of RAM, a 13MP+2MP dual camera pairing, a full HD+ LCD screen (5.84-inches), 3,000mAh battery, a rear fingerprint scanner, and microUSB port.

We do see a few changes compared to the HONOR 7X and HONOR 9 Lite though, such as a 16MP selfie camera and 64GB or 128GB storage options. Otherwise, if you just bought your HONOR 7X, HONOR 9 Lite, HUAWEI P Smart or P20 Lite, you aren’t missing out on anything massive.

The HONOR 9i starts off at 1,399 yuan (~$218) for the 4GB+64GB variant, escalating to 1,699 yuan (~$265) for the 4GB+128GB model.

We’ve asked HONOR representatives about wider availability of the HONOR Play and will update the article accordingly. Meanwhile, hit the buttons below to view the Chinese store listings.

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