It’s been almost two years since Honor split from parent company Huawei. That means — unlike Huawei — it can sell phones with Google apps and services pre-installed, which means they’re actually worth considering if you live in a country where Honor phones are sold. It includes several European markets but not the US, at least not yet.
However, while this change has allowed Honor’s recent phones, like last year’s Honor 50 and Magic4 Pro, to compete in the crowded Android smartphone market, the brand has yet to find its unique selling point. Its phones don’t exceed expectations in any area, be it camera or screen quality, performance or length of software support.
That doesn’t change with Honor’s latest international phone, the Honor 70. I’ve been using the phone for the past week and haven’t found anything that I’d consider a deal breaker. Everything is good: battery life is great, performance and camera quality are adequate, and overall performance is solid. But there’s nothing extraordinary here to recommend the Honor 70 over other cheap midrange phones released this year. The Honor 70 needs a showstopping feature to stand out, and it doesn’t quite have it.
The Honor 70 starts at £480 (approx. $566 USD) for the model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Stepping up to £530 (about $625 USD) gets you 256GB of storage. I am using the last 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 has a 1080p resolution, an always-on display with a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate and. The in-display fingerprint sensor is fast and reliable enough that I hardly noticed using it.
I have a problem with the phone being curved as the sides of the display disappear on the left and right sides. 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 side of the screen appear smaller than they actually are. But the sides of the display have a bit of a shadow to them because you’re always looking at them off-axis, and the curved edges have a habit of focusing light reflections into bright lines at 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 to a much lesser purpose.
On the back, the design of the Honor 70 is slightly sleeker than the Honor 50. The two distinct circular camera bumps are no longer connected by one raised section, giving the back of the phone a simpler, cleaner look. In the UK, the phone is available in three colours: silver, black and the green version I’m 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 on top of it. I eventually liked the Magic UI, but it took a bit of work to get there — uninstalling the ugly and cluttered SwiftKey software keyboard for Gboard (which kept trying to capitalize my all-lowercase username), uninstalling half a dozen bloatware apps (sorry, TrainPal, Booking.com, Lord’s Mobile, Game of Sultanset al.), and restarting the app drawer.
Once I got it set up the way I liked it, I found Magic UI to be a nice, clean Android launcher that didn’t bother me too much. Yes, it has a couple of built-in ecosystem features that I suspect many people will use for things like Honor Share, which is designed to quickly transfer files to other Honor devices. However, these are made up for by additions such as a small shortcuts menu that can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the lock screen. If you’re using Face Unlock, note that the swiping gesture used to access this menu is the same one used to access the home screen, which can be frustrating. I recommend sticking to fingerprint unlock.
Honor 70’s Snapdragon 778G Plus processor handles daily tasks with ease. Scrolling through visually dense apps like Twitter is lovely and smooth on the phone’s 120Hz display, and I didn’t notice any noticeable hits when swiping between apps. Compared to the refined clicks you’ll experience with other handsets, the phone’s haptics are a sore spot.
Speaker quality is mediocre, with audio produced by the phone’s single set of downward-firing speakers. They were loud enough that I could listen to a podcast while washing up, but overall they sounded thin and hollow, and I found it harder than usual to pick out dialogue with the high background noise in some YouTube videos.
Honor says the Honor 70 will get two years of Android updates and three years of security updates. This is a fairly common software support period for Android handsets and matches what OnePlus offers with its mid-range Nord 2T, for example. But elsewhere in the Android ecosystem, Google and Samsung are taking things further. The Pixel 6A gets five years of security updates and is more affordable at £399 (around $466), but strangely Google refuses to detail how many OS updates it gets, while Samsung promises four years of OS updates and five years of security. Patches for its recent £399 Galaxy A53. The £399 Nothing Phone 1 is also due to receive three years of Android updates and four years of security updates (eventually). I don’t think we’re at the point where only three years of security updates is a deal breaker, but we’re close.
That’s a lot of complaints, so let’s talk about what I really like about the Honor 70 – its battery life. I averaged less than 6.5 hours a day with the screen on from the phone and kept it steady to charge at 50 percent charge in the evening. During a day of heavy use, the phone’s screen stayed on for 90 minutes when I used it for cycling directions Also Streaming music to Bluetooth headphones, I ended the day with a 35 percent charge.
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 couldn’t charge my MacBook. I found it charged the phone from empty to 52 percent in 20 minutes, to 72 percent in 30, and fully charged in under 50 minutes. It’s not quite as fast as the less expensive £369 OnePlus Nord 2T (about $431), which can charge up to 100 percent in half an hour, but it’s still fast enough for most people. There’s no wireless charging, which is still rare at this price outside of devices like the £419 ($429) iPhone SE 5G or the Nothing Phone 1.
The Honor 70 has a 32-megapixel selfie camera and three rear cameras on the back: a 54-megapixel main camera, a 50-megapixel ultrawide and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. This is one less than the Honor 50 as the Honor now has macro photography capabilities at ultrawide. The company deserves some credit for including a reasonably high-resolution sensor for the phone’s secondary ultrawide camera, something most other companies haven’t specified. But at this price, the Honor 70 faces stiff competition from the more affordable Pixel 6A, and it struggles to compete with Google’s low-light photography smarts.
In good lighting, the Honor 70’s camera is on par with most modern smartphones. Images are nicely detailed, and Honor’s software results in colorful, well-saturated images that don’t look unnatural like we see with Samsung smartphone cameras. Honor specifically advertises that the cameras are tuned to deal better with well-backlit subjects, and sure enough, when I took my photo in front of a bright window, Honor’s software let me light it well without ruining the rest of the shot. But the flip side of this is that images can sometimes look a little flat because the phone’s software doesn’t let the shadows get too dark. Switch to ultrawide and, thanks to the 50-megapixel sensor, the level of detail is broadly consistent, although the colors in the photos it takes aren’t as accurate as the main camera.
For videos, the phone supports shooting up to 4K 30fps. Video quality is good but not great, and trying to shoot in 4K produces some noticeable judder. There’s also some interesting video software features that Honor calls “Solo Cut Mode,” which can shoot landscape video while shooting zoomed-in video in portrait, tracking a given subject in the frame. It’s just about the writing, but I don’t find it very convincing and it often tracks me down in a given scene. It’s hard to think of many situations where I’d want to use the feature, but it’s a very interesting innovation.
In previous reviews of Honor phones I noted that its software over-brightened photos of faces, and that continued here, even with all of its software-processing beauty modes turned off. The effect is even more apparent in photographs taken with the phone’s selfie camera, which all look like you’re using a filter.
If you’re careful, you can get some okay low-light shots from the Honor 70. By default, in its primary photography mode, its camera demands that you hold a shot still for a few beats so it can collect some. Additional light data. It’s fine with static scenes, but the second you try to photograph a moving subject like a person, the Honor 70 struggles to keep the shot steady for as long as it asks. This meant that many of my attempts to take my handheld photographs in low light turned out to be a blurry mess.
Most of the features of the Honor 70 are adequate. Its cameras are good enough, its software is good enough, and the length of its software support is good enough. The phone also has some better-than-good aspects like battery life, charging speed and the responsiveness of its display. (I wish it wasn’t crooked.)
But with a starting price of £480, which is £80 more expensive than many other highly capable midrange handsets released this year, “good enough” isn’t really 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 long software support period and a stunning, flat display. The iPhone SE 5G is more affordable and offers access to the iOS app ecosystem and wireless charging. Nothing Phone 1 has fun flashing lights.
Unless you absolutely need the IP rating, I don’t think the Honor 70 has any serious flaws or deal breakers. But there aren’t any showstopping features to justify its price premium.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge