Honor, an independent Huawei subsidiary, is well-known and well-loved for offering high-end specs, higher than Xiaomi’s, at lower prices. In some cases, it almost rivals its parent by putting almost the same specs and features as, say, a P or Mate series into a more affordable package with only a few compromises. That said, it also has room for smartphones a little lower down the ladder for those with even tighter budgets. The Honor 10 Lite is the latest in that roster and we take it for a spin to see whether it cuts off too many corners in the process.
To call the Honor 10 Lite a budget version of the Honor 8X which we recently reviewed is neither an exaggeration nor an insult. The two share a common design language and visual appearance, down to the playful gradients on their backs, and the only way you’ll be able to tell them apart just by looking is by their notches. While the Honor 8X was made a time when wide notches were still en vogue, the Honor 10 Lite has its cutout slimmed down to a tiny waterdrop.
Pick up the Honor 10 Lite, however, and the illusion of similarity is immediately shattered. The phone is light to hold and feels almost flimsy, and that’s thanks to generous use of plastic. Despite how it looks, the Honor 10 Lite’s back and sides are all plastic, just with a special coating to give it a metallic sheen. To be fair, plastic is more shatterproof than glass but it’s also more scratch-prone. Fortunately, Honor does ship with a clear silicone case so you can protect the phone while still enjoy its colors. And for good measure, Honor also puts a screen protector on the Honor 10 Lite right out of the box.
With only a waterdrop notch, the screen takes up more space than the Honor 8X. But, yes, there is still a bit of a chin where Honor snuck in a tiny LED indicator for charging and notifications. Some might still find even the tiniest cutout irksome but you get used to it. Especially since it often doesn’t get in the way, except when playing fullscreen content. Even then, given the screen’s aspect ratio, some videos will have a letterbox anyway. Games, on the other hand, are affected.
By virtue of its Snapdragon 710 processor, the Honor 8X is already considered a mid-range phone. The Honor 10 Lite ranks lower only by virtue of its plastic design and a few specs. In some cases, like pixel ratio due to its smaller size, the Honor 10 Lite comes up even higher.
• Operating System: Android 9 Pie (EMUI 9.0)
• CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 710
• RAM: 3 GB
• Storage: 64 GB, expandable with microSD
• Display: 6.2-inch 2340×1080 IPS LCD (415 ppi)
• Main Camera: 13 MP f/1.8 PDAF, 2 MP depth sensor
• Secondary Camera: 24 MP, f/2.0
• Battery: 3,400 mAh, non-removable
Despite having an almost invisible speaker grille on top, the Honor 10 Lite only produces loudspeaker audio from the bottom-facing holes. It is loud but the quality is also sub-par at that level. There is a heavy emphasis on the highs to tthe point that it gets tinny. Fortunately, there’s also a headphone jack for your favorite pair, but the lack of high-quality audio components is sure to disappoint audiophiles.
Performance and Battery Life
The Snapdragon 710 sits between Qualcomm’s 600 and 800 series, a somewhat odd duck in the lineup. It is no pushover, though, as we’ve seen in the Honor 8X. The Honor 10 Lite is able to run graphics extensive games like Asphalt 9 and Darkness Rises with very little problems, though you might sometimes see aliased lines as the games try to automatically adjust for the phone’s hardware. For some odd reason, I wasn’t able to install any of the popular benchmark apps except for 3DMark. The results of that tool, however, are not exactly inspiring.
The bottleneck in this case, however, is the RAM. You’d think that 3 GB would be more than enough even these days but, for one reason or another, it just isn’t so on the Honor 10 Lite. There would be times when the game would randomly drop frames and stutter. Depending on what you’re playing, that could mean the line between victory and defeat. The phone also gets warm to the touch on occasion, which might also cause some throttling to occur.
You won’t be playing all the time, however, and most smartphone tasks are handled without as much as a hiccup. The 3,400 mAh battery life is enough to get you on a day and a bit more, depending on how much you use it, the apps that constantly get notifications, and your network connection. You can drain the battery by 10% with just 30 minutes of gaming while three or so hours on 4G LTE can knock off as much as 30% while in active use.
That wouldn’t be much of a problem if not for the Honor 10 Lite’s use of micro USB instead of USB-C. It’s more than just the port, however. It’s all about the power draw. At its most basic spec, USB-C will draw more power and charge faster than the older standard. Plus, the Honor 10 Lite, just like the Honor 8X, doesn’t even support fast charging. It ships a basic 5V/2A 10W charger in the box.
The Honor 10 Lite is one of the company’s first phones to ship with Android 9 Pie out of the box. That means, of course, it also has Huawei’s EMUI 9.0 custom experience. While Huawei and Honor have somewhat cleaned up their act and matched Google’s standards as much as they can, it’s still a heavily-customized skin with lots of apps pre-installed. On the upside, international models do also have Google Play services and apps pre-installed.
While the UI itself is responsive and fluid, EMUI seems to be rather aggressive when it comes to memory management. Apps and Chrome tabs get unceremoniously killed in the background even when as few as three apps are running, Chrome included. Again, this might be because of that 3 GB for RAM, which may look paltry these days. Still, we’ve survived with just as much not too long ago and the Honor 8X, which only had 4 GB RAM, didn’t exhibit that behavior. Some users might not mind, butt those that are used to keeping some unsaved work in apps should be mindful of that.
Smartphone cameras are where it’s at these days and the Honor 10 Lite isn’t going to be left behind. Or at least it tries not to. On paper, it is what you’d expect from a mid-tier phone. That’s a 13 megapixel f/1.8 PDAF sensor with no OIS, and LED flash, and some help from Huawei’s AI Camera.
In practice, the Honor 10 Lite produces usable photos that might not win any prize. AI scene detection is a hit or miss and the tuning it applies can sometimes leave you wishing you didn’t enable it. Fortunately, you can actually turn that off after the fact. Either way, the Honor 10 Lite’s camera errs on the side of oversaturating images, which can have an unpleasant effect when colors are already strong in the first place. You can go crazy with all the bells and whistles in Pro mode but those using Auto, which will be most of the users, will be left with very bright and sometimes unrealistic colors. The one thing Honor’s camera software seems to be great at is Night mode, which does require your hand to stay still for a few seconds.
The Honor 10 Lite’s camera app is actually quite impressive. In addition to the features you can set before taking a shot, it also lets you retroactively adjust those settings after the fact. Like removing or re-applying AI effects and changing the focus of portrait modes. And, of course, there’s the ever-present Beauty Mode in Chinese phones. Fortunately, it’s less aggressive on the Honor 10 Lite but, despite the large 24 megapixel sensor, the f/2.0 aperture seems to have problems with indoor lighting.
How far will a $250 smartphone take you? Judging by the Honor 10 Lite, quite far actually. You will have in your hand a beautiful, almost all-screen phone that can handle most of your smartphone tasks with no problem and will last your a day or two before needing to plug it in. It also has a serviceable camera, if you prefer lush and vivid colors over realistic ones.
Sadly, Honor also missed quite a few boxes on the phone. Never mind the plastic body or the notch, but the aggressive app killing and slow charging over micro USB could be a deal breaker for those who rely on their phones for everything. In light of those flaws, the Honor 10 Lite might be a hard sell, especially when the Honor 8X isn’t that far away when it comes to price.