It’s been almost two years since Honor split from parent company Huawei. That means that — unlike Huawei — it can sell phones with Google apps and services preinstalled, which means they’re actually worth considering if you live in a country where Honor sells phones. That includes several European markets but not the US, at least not yet.
But while the change has allowed Honor’s recent phones, like last year’s Honor 50 and the Magic4 Pro, to compete in the crowded Android smartphone market, the brand hasn’t yet found its unique selling point. Its phones haven’t exceeded expectations in any one area, whether it’s camera or screen quality, performance, or length of software support.
Offering a choice of either 128 or 256GB of storage
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 I’d consider a deal-breaker. It’s all just fine: battery life is great, performance and camera quality are good enough, and performance is solid overall. But there’s also nothing here that’s exceptional enough for me to recommend the Honor 70 over any number of other cheaper midrange phones that have been released this year. The Honor 70 needs a showstopping feature to stand out, and it doesn’t quite have one.
The Honor 70 starts at £480 (roughly $566 USD) for a model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Stepping up to £530 (roughly $625 USD) gets you 256GB of storage. I’ve been using the latter model.
With its 6.67-inch curved OLED display and hole-punch front camera cutout, the front of the Honor 70 looks very similar to last year’s Honor 50. It’s an always-on display with a 1080p resolution, dynamic 120Hz refresh rate, and it has an in-display fingerprint sensor that was speedy and reliable enough that I barely noticed using it.
What I did have an issue with is the fact that it’s curved, with the sides of the display disappearing around the left and right sides of the phone. Yes, it gives the phone a premium look similar to flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Pixel 6 Pro and makes the bezels on the left and right sides of the screen appear smaller than they actually are. But it means the sides of the display have a slight shadowy tint to them because you’re always viewing them off-axis, and the curved edges have a habit of concentrating light reflections into bright lines on the edges of the display. I’ve been more forgiving of curved displays in the past, but in the case of the Honor 70, it makes the phone’s screen less functional, reducing usable space for very little benefit.
Around back, the Honor 70’s design is a little more elegant than the Honor 50. The two distinct circular camera bumps are no longer connected by a raised section, which gives the rear of the phone a simpler, cleaner look. In the UK, the phone is available in three colors: silver, black, and the green version that I’ve been using. There’s no official IP rating for dust and water resistance, no headphone jack, and no expandable storage.
Out of the box, the Honor 70 runs Android 12, with Honor’s own Magic UI 6.1 software running atop it. I liked Magic UI eventually, but it took a little work to get there — swapping the ugly and cluttered SwiftKey software keyboard (which kept trying to capitalize my all-lowercase username) for Gboard, uninstalling half a dozen bloatware apps (sorry, TrainPal, Booking.com, Lords Mobile, Game of Sultans, et al.), and reenabling the app drawer.
Once I had it set up the way I like, 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 a use for, like Honor Share, which is designed to quickly transfer files to other Honor devices. However, these are made up for by inclusions like a small shortcuts menu that’s accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the lock screen. Just note that the swiping gesture used to access this menu is the same as the one used to access the homescreen if you’re using face unlock, which can be frustrating. I’d recommend sticking to fingerprint unlock.
The Honor 70’s Snapdragon 778G Plus processor easily keeps up with daily tasks. Scrolling through visually dense apps like Twitter is lovely and smooth on the phone’s 120Hz display, and I didn’t notice any notable hitches as I swiped between apps. One sore spot is the phone’s haptics, which can be overly aggressive and cheap-feeling compared to the refined clicks you feel with other handsets.
Speaker quality is middling, with audio produced by the phone’s single set of downward-firing speakers. They get loud enough that I was able to listen to a podcast out loud while doing the washing up, but overall they sound tinny and hollow, and I found it harder than normal to pick out dialogue in some YouTube videos with excessive background noise.
Honor says that the Honor 70 will get two years of Android updates and three years of security updates. That’s a fairly typical software support period for Android handsets and matches what OnePlus offers with its midrange Nord 2T, for example. But elsewhere in the Android ecosystem, Google and Samsung are pushing things a lot further. The Pixel 6A will get five years of security updates and it’s more affordable at £399 (around $466) though oddly Google is declining to detail how many OS updates it’ll get, while Samsung promises four years of OS updates and five years of security patches for its recent £399 Galaxy A53. Even the £399 Nothing Phone 1 is due to (eventually) receive three years of Android updates and four years of security updates. I don’t think we’re quite at the point where only offering three years of security updates should be considered a deal-breaker, but we’re getting close.
That’s a lot of complaining, so let’s talk about something I genuinely liked about the Honor 70 — its battery life. I averaged a little under 6.5 hours of screen-on time per day from the phone and consistently put it on to charge with upward of 50 percent charge left in the evening. On one day of heavy use, which involved having the phone’s screen turned on for 90 minutes while I used it for cycling directions while also streaming music to Bluetooth headphones, I ended 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 support for Power Delivery (PD), which might explain why it wasn’t able to charge my MacBook. I found that it could get the phone from empty to 52 percent in 20 minutes, to 72 percent in 30, and that it was fully charged in a little under 50 minutes. That’s not quite as speedy as the less expensive £369 OnePlus Nord 2T (around $431) which can charge to 100 percent in under half an hour, but it’ll still be more than fast enough for most people. There’s no wireless charging, which is still a relative rarity at this price point outside of devices like the £419 ($429) iPhone SE 5G or Nothing Phone 1.
The Honor 70 has a 32-megapixel selfie camera, and around back, there is a trio of rear cameras: a 54-megapixel main camera, a 50-megapixel ultrawide, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. That’s one less than the Honor 50 because Honor now includes macrophotography capabilities in the ultrawide. The company deserves some credit for including a reasonably high-resolution sensor for the phone’s secondary ultrawide camera, when a lot of other companies under-spec it. But at this price point, the Honor 70 faces stiff competition from the more affordable Pixel 6A, and it struggles to compete with Google’s low-light photography smarts.
With good lighting, the Honor 70’s camera is on par with most modern smartphones. Images are nicely detailed, and Honor’s software tends to result in nicely saturated images that are colorful without looking unnatural, similar to what we tend to see with Samsung’s smartphone cameras. Honor specifically advertises that it’s tuned its cameras to deal better with strongly backlit subjects, and sure enough, when I took a photo of myself in front of a brightly lit window, Honor’s software kept me well lit without ruining the rest of the shot. But the flip side of this is that images can sometimes appear a little flat because the phone’s software doesn’t let shadows get too dark. Switch to the ultrawide, and thanks to the 50-megapixel sensor, the level of detail remains broadly consistent, although I think the colors in the photos it takes aren’t quite as accurate as the main camera.
For videos, the phone supports filming at up to 4K 30fps. Video quality is fine but not great, and attempting to film in 4K produces some noticeable judder. There are also a few interesting video software features including one Honor is calling “Solo Cut Mode” which is able to film a landscape video while simultaneously filming a zoomed-in video in portrait that tracks a given subject across the frame. It just about works, but I didn’t find it super reliable, and it often lost track of me in a given scene. I struggle to think of many situations where I’d use the feature, but it’s an interesting enough novelty.
Solo Cut Mode is a fun video-recording novelty
I’ve noted in previous reviews of Honor’s phones that its software tends to over-brighten photos of faces, and that continues to be the case here, even with all its software-processing beauty modes turned off. The effect is even more pronounced in photographs taken with the phone’s selfie camera, which all look as though you’re using a filter.
If you’re careful, you can get some okay low-light shots out of the Honor 70. By default, in its primary photography mode, its camera will demand that you hold a shot still for a couple of beats so it can gather some additional light data. That’s fine with static scenes, but the second you try to take a photo of a moving subject, like a person, it becomes difficult to hold a shot steady for as long as the Honor 70 asks. And that means that plenty of my attempts to take handheld photographs of myself in low light ended up a blurry mess.
Most of the Honor 70’s features are good enough. Its cameras are good enough, its software is good enough, and its length of software support is good enough. There are even some aspects of the phone that are better than good enough, like battery life, charging speeds, and the responsiveness of its display. (Although I wish it weren’t curved.)
But with a starting price of £480, £80 more expensive than several other very capable midrange handsets that have been released this year, “good enough” isn’t really good enough to justify a purchase. Google’s Pixel 6A is more affordable, with better cameras, longer software support, and an official IP rating for dust and water resistance. Samsung’s Galaxy A53 is more affordable and offers a similarly lengthy software support period and a fantastic, flat display. 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 nor does it have any showstopping features to justify its price premium.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge