Honor has lifted the benchmark for mid-range phones and gives the brand a distinctive identity, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
What is it?
The Honor brand has struggled to emerge from under Huawei’s shadow since it was spun off as a separate business in 2020. Although it was able to escape the US ban on Google services, it couldn’t escape ongoing comparisons to devices being produced by its one-time parent brand.
The Honor 90 changes all of that. It has no outward similarities to either the flagship P or the mid-range nova ranges from Huawei. The hardware specs and the insides would also be unrecognisable for Huawei users.
To start with, its Quad-Curved design means it curves off in all directions, which, aside from aesthetic appeal, has the added benefit of reducing the amount of structure around the screen. That in turn brings it in at a weight of only 183g, and a delightfully slim body at mere 7.8mm thick.
A diamond grip texture on the back adds up to its distinctive feel, and would be a great reason not to hide this phone in a cover, if not for the need to make sure it is fully protected.
Let’s get to the real difference, though: this is the first mid-range smartphone I’ve seen with a 200MP rear camera lens. The f/1.9 aperture lens is part of a triple-camera array that incorporates a 12MP ultra wide and macro camera with f/2.2 aperture and a 2MP depth camera at f/2.4. That means it can’t compare for low-light photography with the Huawei P60 Pro’s f/1.4 aperture, or the Samsung S23 Ultra’s f1.7, but then look at the price difference.
In normal light conditions, it’s hard to tell the difference, and the Honor 90 delivers astonishingly detailed images. When I showed a standard garden image taken with the camera to office staff, all assumed it was high-res display wallpaper that had been installed on the handset.
From a design point of view, the camera array uses what Honor calls a Classical Dual Ring Design, with an “axisymmetric dual-ring camera” inspired by high-end jewellery. Indeed, it does have an echo of jewellery but, more important, it sets the array apart from any other smartphone, and reinforces the sense that the Honor has come into its own, with a distinctive identity.
The selfie camera is no less surprising for this price range, with a 50 MP, f/2.4, 100 degree ultrawide that will not only fit in more photobombers, but also capture their faces in finer detail.
The software inside the phone adds another touch of magic: a tool called AI Vlog Master, transforms sequences of images into 15-second video clips that can be used, for example, as TikTok or YouTube videos. We were able to transform something as simple and potentially boring as photos of our office into a cool video.
It is easy to be caught staring at the images or videos one creates on this handset, for hours at a time, which brings up another truly high-end feature: “0-Risk Eye-Comfort Display”, which uses the highest level yet of dimming technology to make for a flicker-free display. The screen’s 3840Hz PWM Dimming technology promises optimal comfort, since it emulates natural light rhythms. It is claimed to reduce eye fatigue significantly, something we could not measure, but it does add up to a more satisfying display.
The large 6.7-inch AMOLED display has a pixel density of 435 ppi, ranking it alongside many flagships. A 120Hz refresh rate makes it a decent handset for gaming, helped along by HDR10+ support for video content.
Its audio features do not match up the cameras, with only a single speaker delivering average sound.
The bottom line about most of these cutting edge features is that they don’t seem to add to, well, the bottom line. Just look at the pricing:
What does it cost?
The Honor 90 5G retails for R14,999 for the 19GB (12+7) RAM+512GB ROM and is bundled with the Honor Watch 4, valued at R3,499.
Why does it matter?
The Honor 90 blows apart any conventional wisdom about the specs of mid-range smartphones, and the value provided by high-end handsets. Anyone buying new devices in either of these segments will have to benchmark their choices against the Honor 90. In effect, it has created a new benchmark.
What are the biggest negatives?
- For a 200MP main lens, the aperture is a little lacking, counting against low-light photography. But that’s still quite a lens!
- Single-speaker, making for limited audio.
- No splash/dust protection rating. Don’t drop this one in the water.
What are the biggest positives?
- Excellent price-to-specs ratio, and incredible value for money
- Ultra light, thin and comfortable.
- An aesthetic delight.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee