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Honor 70 review: a good phone that I can’t recommend

The Honor 70 held in a mans hand, seen from the back.
Honor 70
MSRP $625.00
“The Honor 70 relies on its main camera, performance, and reasonable price to standout, but unfortunately it doesn't impress enough elsewhere to compete with more competent rivals.”
  • Lightweight
  • Main camera is good
  • Two-day battery life
  • No wireless charging
  • No water resistance
  • Uncertain software update schedule

The Honor 70 faces a seriously difficult task. It’s a midrange phone that follows the global release of the impressive, high-end Honor Magic4 Pro, and now joins a lot of similar phones available today. Honor has a strong history, but it has been away from the limelight over the past couple of years. It really needs the Honor 70 to grab our attention if it’s to compete with its many rivals. Let’s see what it has got.

Honor 70: design

The Honor 70 looks and feels quite a lot like the Honor 50. It’s basically the same size and has a not-too-dissimilar design, plus it’s made of glass with a pleasing symmetrical curve that tapers to a sharp edge. It’s not all that comfortable to hold for long periods, but the 178-gram weight is really welcome when many high-end phones come in at 200 grams or more these days. The dual circular camera module protrudes from the back panel quite a lot.

The back of the Honor 70, resting on a table.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

While the Honor 70 is a pretty phone and I like the design, it’s not exactly new-looking. The Honor 50 received some goodwill due to the cool reflective design on the back (and for it being Honor’s return to the global market), but it also shared basically the same design outside of the camera module as the Honor 30 Pro and was even closer to the Huawei Nova 9. Because there’s little deviation from the formula for the Honor 70, it does feel like more of the same, just in a different color.

The phone I’ve been using is in Emerald Green (you can also get it in black or silver). I really like the way it glints in the sun, but green seems to be the color of choice for smartphone makers recently — Samsung’s new color for the Galaxy Z Fold 4 is green, the OnePlus 10T comes in green, as does the Oppo Reno 8 Pro  — and it fails to make the Honor 70 stand out.

The side of the Honor 70, held in a mans hand.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

What you’ve got is an attractive, well-made, lightweight smartphone that is entirely fine, but doesn’t bring attention to itself at all. There’s nothing here that makes it appear like a truly new phone either, just last year’s phone in a different color. That’s not great when phones like the Nothing Phone 1 and aforementioned Reno 8 Pro are out there.

Honor 70: camera

The Honor 70 is the first to use Sony’s IMX800 54MP main camera sensor, and it’s joined by a 50MP wide-angle camera, a 2MP depth camera, and a 32MP selfie camera on the front.

The Honor 70's camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Use the main camera, and you’ll be very pleased with the Honor 70. It has a lovely tone, a subtle HDR effect in the right circumstances, a willingness to take detailed up-close photos with natural bokeh, and beautiful colors. I’ve confidently taken photos in all environments, knowing that the unedited image will look good, but also that it can be taken to the next level with some careful editing. I really like that in a phone camera.

Unfortunately, the wide-angle camera’s photos are a little soft, there’s definite evidence of digital enhancement, and there’s distortion at the edge of images too. The camera only has electronic image stabilization (EIS) and not optical, and there’s no optical zoom either. Selfies have a good level of detail and decent skin tones, but often blow out the background. Photos taken using Night mode look atmospheric, but the shutter takes three to four seconds to take an image, far longer than most other cameras in the same conditions.

Honor’s big new camera feature is called Solo Cut, and it’s an odd picture-in-picture video mode where, when shooting a group of people, you can focus on one and show them moving around in a breakout picture. It uses AI to remain focused on the person, even if they leave and re-enter the frame, and both the main and Solo Cut videos are in 1080p and 30 frames per second (fps). I wanted to try it with animals and vehicles, but it only recognizes people.

Is it any good? I’m not entirely sure, because although I’ve had the Honor 70 for a bit of time, I’ve not come across a situation where I’d actually want to use it. While this may speak to my boring lifestyle, it also speaks to just how niche this feature’s appeal is, and that the times I have thought it may work well, the moment has passed by the time I’ve tried to make it work.

Who’s the star? You decide. #HONOR70 Solo Cut Mode puts the focus where you want it. #IFA2022 #HONORConnectedFuture

— HONOR (@Honorglobal) August 29, 2022

Honor is promoting the feature using a wedding where Solo Cut highlights someone other than the bride and groom dancing. It’s indicative of a feature looking for a use — if the other person was the more interesting subject, wouldn’t you just film them normally to see their antics full screen anyway?

Smartphones with good main cameras aren’t rare, and because the Honor 70’s additional cameras are nothing more than fine and Solo Cut is something you may use once or twice, there’s not that much here to make the phone a must-buy over any of the competition.

Does anything else make the Honor 70 special?

Usually, it’s the design or the camera that makes a smartphone stand out. But recently, the performance, battery, and especially the charging have been used to give phones a leg up in the market. The Honor 70 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G processor, but as various other phones, including the old Honor 50, also use this chip, it’s not going to win many people over.

The Honor 70's charging port.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

A 66W fast charger is included in the box, and Honor says it takes the 4,800mAh cell from zero to 100% in 45 minutes. It does indeed meet this target, and it’s fast, but not the fastest you can get. You don’t have to spend that much more on a phone that will fully charge in 30 minutes. While I don’t think an extra 15 minutes away from the charger will make that much difference to everyday use, it’s one more “average” feature on the Honor 70’s spec list. The lack of wireless charging hurts it more, as several rivals have this feature.

I played Asphalt 9: Legends and the Snapdragon 778G performs really well, and for casual gaming for short periods of time, the Honor 70 is good. The lightweight design means it’s not cumbersome, and the screen is bright and colorful. The single speaker is a letdown and stops the phone from excelling at gaming or video watching. Play for 30 minutes, and you’ll only lose about 7% from the battery, and overall it will last for two days of use before a recharge.

The software is Android 12 with MagicUI 6.1 installed, and although Honor has said MagicOS 7.0 is coming before the end of the year, it hasn’t said when (or if) the Honor 70 will receive the update. So that doesn’t make the phone interesting either. The software has been reliable in terms of notifications and app use, there’s an easy-to-use multitasking mode, the design is uniform, and it looks great on the 120Hz refresh rate screen. I could do without all the pre-installed apps, though, but this isn’t new for Honor.

Honor 70: price and availability

You can pre-order the Honor 70 in the U.K. and Europe now, and it’s 480 British pounds (about $570) for the 8GB/128GB model or 530 pounds (about $625) for the 8GB/256GB version. Honor does not sell its smartphones in the U.S., but the Honor 70 could be imported if you really wanted one.

The Honor 70 is a hard sell

There’s nothing wrong with the Honor 70 at all, but I really can’t find a reason to recommend it over any other similarly priced phone. It’s even quite difficult to recommend it over the currently much cheaper Honor 50 if you really must have an Honor phone. The saturated smartphone market makes it hard for brands to do something different, but the Honor 70 is the company on autopilot.

It doesn’t do anything particularly badly, but it doesn’t make much of an effort to really compete either, with missing wireless charging and water resistance being particularly unfortunate omissions, and therefore it becomes unremarkable.

The Honor 70 on a table showing the screen.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

If you’ve got 500 pounds or around $600 to spend on a new phone, the choice is huge. We’d recommend the Google Pixel 6, to wait to see the Google Pixel 7, or to spend less and get the Google Pixel 6a. The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G is a great buy, I recently liked the Oppo Reno 8 Pro, the OnePlus Nord 2T and the Realme GT Neo 3T are well priced, and the Nothing Phone 1 is totally different from anything else out there at the moment. Shop around or trade in a phone with Samsung directly, and the Galaxy S22 even becomes an option too.

When I swap my SIM card from the Honor 70 into another phone, I don’t think I’ll remember the Honor 70, and that’s probably the harshest criticism of any current device.

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