India isn’t privileged enough to get the Asus Zenfone 10 - a small smartphone that is appreciated by many - in the country. Thankfully, Honor (recently separated from Huawei, and trying to create its own brand identity) is relaunching in India. Their first device is the Honor 90.
The Honor 90 is a mid-range smartphone that feels premium. It may not be the perfect mid-range smartphone, as the software and camera performance let it down, but it’s one of the best phones to hold and use for long periods. This is a sleek, compact smartphone.
I’ve been using this smartphone for over a week and there is much to like about it. Nonetheless, it is far from being the perfect value-for-money smartphone in today’s market. Much of that concerns its pricing which comes in at ₹37,999 (8GB RAM +256GB storage) and ₹39,999 (12GB+512GB). The Honor 90 is a direct competitor to Google’s Pixel 7a and OnePlus’ 11R.
I don’t say this lightly. The Honor 90 has the best in-hand feel of any smartphone (barring the flagships) of 2023. Couple that with some great battery life and you have a winner on your hands.
A 6.7-inch smartphone that isn’t bulky? Yes. The Honor 90 comes with a 6.7-inch AMOLED display (1,200x2,664) that is easy on the eyes. The display is rated for 1,600 nits, which means it has no readability problems in harsh sunlight. The viewing angle is par excellence. It features an aspect ratio of 20:9, minimal bezels and a hole-punch that houses the 50MP selfie camera.
The kicker is the super high PWM 3,840Hz risk-free dimming. This means that you shouldn’t have to strain your eyes when viewing content on your smartphone. Simply put, this is the best display on a mid-range smartphone that I’ve seen so far. It can handle bright environments as much as it can deal with dim rooms. Add to this is the 120Hz refresh rate which makes the display even better.
Honor managed to make the smartphone lighter and thinner using a higher-density silicon carbon battery and other thinner components. The smartphone comes with a thickness of just 7.88mm and weighs 183g. That’s thinner and lighter than 95% of the competition out there. This is in part due to the plastic backplate. Thankfully, there’s the matte, grippy texture, that aids the in-hand experience.
The optical in-display fingerprint sensor worked as intended. It was fast and accurate.
Despite a thin profile, Honor has managed to fit a 5,000mAh battery in the phone. There’s also Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 chip (a good mid-range chip nowadays) and 8GB or 12GB of RAM. There’s 128GB or 256GB of storage depending on the variant you choose.
The Honor 90 comes with MagicOS 7.1 (based on Android 13). The software looks and feels like that of Huawei’s EMUI, despite being separated from them nearly three years ago. There are some quirks in the software deparment: like the lack of an app drawer. Furthermore, the long-press of the app icon from the home screen does not bring up app information. These two are basic Android features. Hopefully, Honor takes feedback seriously and includes these in a future update.
Once you get past the software, you realise that the phone’s performance is great. The Snapdragon chip is snappy and very capable. The phone never lagged upon opening and closing and multitasking was a breeze. This isn’t a gaming smartphone, but gaming on the Honor 90 was fine with absolutely no issues.
The rear of the smartphone houses the main 200MP main sensor, a 12MP ultrawide and a 2MP depth sensor.
Upping the megapixel count doesn’t always result in better photos. What a 200MP camera allows for is better software image processing as there is more room for fine-tuning. Thankfully, the main sensor delivers fantastic photos in daylight with rich colours and excellent dynamic range. There’s just one issue. The HDR performance on the Honor 90 was a step behind the Pixel smartphones, including the Pixel 7a, which is in a similar price range and beats the Honor 90 in the post-processing department. Then again, Pixel is the best of the best these days. Against the OnePlus 11R, the Honor 90 puts up a commendable performance and in a blind test that I did, came out on top.
While the Honor 90 struggles with low-light photography and the inconsistent colour science of the ultrawide camera, it's the macro shots and the video performance where it truly shines. In fact, one of the most stable videos I have taken on any mid-range smartphone has been with the Honor 90.
The 50MP selfie camera offers good contrast and colours and I liked the way the photos came out. They weren’t overexposed and were great for putting up on social media.
I was surprised by the 5,000mAh battery on the Honor 90. I didn’t think it would be as good as it is. I routinely got upwards of 5 hours of screen-on-time and the smartphone easily lasted me a heavy workday. It’s not the best battery of a smartphone in this price range (that award goes to the OnePlus 11R), but it is quite good.
The battery supports 66W charging speeds (no brick included just yet as the company is trying to figure out how to localise manufacturing) but there are no wireless charging capabilities. Honor has said that it will provide a brick free of charge to those who purchase an Honor 90 device.
The curious case of leaving these out. Let’s run down the list:
- No IP rating: I know this is a cost-cutting exercise but still this should be a prerequisite in a ₹40,000 smartphone.
- No stereo speakers: With such an immersive display, it’s a shame that there is only a single speaker. It takes away from the audio experience.
- No OIS, optical image stabilisation, on the cameras: Many competing smartphones’ cameras come with OIS.
If display and style are what you’re going for in a smartphone, then the Honor 90 tops the list. It’s one of the best displays I’ve seen in a mid-range smartphone.
Honor has made a worthy comeback in the mid-range segment. The Honor 90 has got a great design, excellent battery life, a solid display, and reliable (but nothing exceptional) cameras.
But it’s those odd omissions, in a smartphone that feels slightly overpriced, that are worrisome. Couple that with some questionable software decisions and this phone doesn’t become an instant recommendation. At ₹37,999 for the base variant, this is a hard sell. However, at the introductory price of ₹27,999 (with various offers), this becomes a great choice for consumers.
Sahil Bhalla is a Delhi-based journalist. He posts @IMSahilBhalla.