Honor's latest in the flagship department can't be ignored, even if you are more prone to pick up something with a Samsung or Apple logo plastered on the back. It'll save you a few thousand bucks and features a great display, decent performance, and a battery that'll see you through the day without any hassles. It slips at the finish line with a sub-par camera that can be corralled if you know what you're doing, but won't hold up to other mid-rangers out there.
We’ve been big fans of Honor ever since it freed itself from Huawei and began building its own brand, far away from the sanctions that plague its former parent company to this day. That means Honor has the honour of using 5G chipsets and Google’s Mobile Services in its devices. This is almost a requisite for any Android smartphone hoping to compete.
The Honor 90 continues the trend of delivering high-quality tech for a fraction of what you’d pay at, say, Apple’s storefront. Sure, it’s missing some things, but for the R14,500 price point, you won’t hear us complaining. Okay, maybe a little…
A usual suspect
We’d forgive you for mistaking the Honor 90 for its predecessor, the Honor 70. That’s because it’s rocking all the usual Honor trademarks; a large, curved display with some narrow bezels to back it all up, a massively peculiar camera array in the rear shrouded by almost-shimmering plastic backing that’s slightly marred by the tacky “AI Matrix Camera” moniker under the cameras.
Branding aside, the Honor 90 is a pretty phone. And we do love a pretty phone. What we love more is a phone free of fingerprints, which isn’t something the Honor 90 can brag about. You’ll find a plastic case in the box to relieve you of those issues, but it does hamper your ability to fiddle with the tactile backing.
Our biggest complaint turned up when we got a look at those boulders Honor calls cameras. If your first thought was “That’s going to have some wobble,” as it was ours, you’re exactly right. Throwing on the included plastic cover helped mitigate this somewhat, but didn’t alleviate the problem entirely. Extra-protuberant cameras aren’t anything new in the smartphone industry. Sadly, we don’t see Honor changing its mindset anytime soon. Sigh.
You won’t find any sort of IP certification here – at least, not according to the phone’s specs page and we’ll take their word for it – meaning you’ll want to be extra careful when handling the thing near water or any sort of hard surface. That might sound like a given, but when it comes to the Honor 90, we mean it.
A colourful personality
Honor fitted the 90 with a flagship-level display, almost instantly making us forget our qualms with its slightly lacking design. It’s got a 2,664 x 1,200 6.7-inch AMOLED panel that’s capable of a dynamic refresh rate of up to 120Hz and 1,600 nits of brightness, more than enough for a trip to The Outside™.
The 3,840Hz PWM dimming rate that Honor spouts on about is supposedly meant to help reduce eye strain, though we never noticed much of a difference. It’s supposedly the fastest PWM dimming rate in the biz (according to Honor). Do with that information what you will. It wasn’t much use to us.
For the stuff we could keep track of, the Honor 90 stood up relatively well to the test. Those tests involved firing up a game or twelve to see if that 120Hz refresh rate was up to scratch. It held up well on Call of Duty: Mobile, with our low k/d being nobody’s fault but our own. It played nicely with the HDR10+ support, which really became noticeable during our time with some of the more colourful games out there.
Unfortunately, it didn’t do much for the Honor 90’s battery, which suffered when the processor got more involved with the more demanding games. But we’ll get to that later.
Playing to its strengths
We had no complaints about Honor’s choice of chipset, which is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 Accelerated Edition chipset, coupled with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, though beefier (or punier) models are also available if you’ve got (or lack) the dough. It’s also 5G-capable, but you already knew that.
There was hardly any jealousy for the more powerful 16GB model, with our review unit sticking the landing where performance was concerned. More grueling games caused the occasional stutter, though these weren’t noticeable enough to hamper the experience. Take the games away and you’ll struggle to make this thing stutter, with the Honor 90 breezing through everyday tasks.
This was after we purged the smartphone of its 30-something-plus pieces of bloatware, of course. It’s not an issue unique to Honor, but it is more prevalent here. It’ll require a solid ten minutes of scrubbing to get the Honor 90 close to resembling a fresh smartphone. Once you’ve climbed that hill, you’ll be free to roam around Android 13 with Honor’s MagicOS (7.1) skin thrown on top.
Mid-rangers are usually at their best when it comes to battery life, and Honor keeps that tradition alive. It’s got the same 5,000mAh battery you’d find in most places, and a 66W wired charger that’ll make you forget the Honor 90’s lack of wireless charging. It handled well when tasked with everyday usage, before promptly turning into a power-hungry little machine the second it started rendering some headshots. Stick close to a source of power and you’ll do just fine.
Make that AI work
On paper, the Honor 90’s promise of a 200MP rear sensor sounds promising. Unfortunately, that triple-digit figure is doing most of the heavy lifting, with real-life performance suffering. Bigger doesn’t always mean better. Not by a long shot. It’ll do okay, though. That’s if you know what you’re doing with the accompanying 12MP ultrawide and 2MP depth sensors and can get some vitamin D flowing through them.
Lose any of that skill or lighting, and things descend into chaos real quick. It tended to oversaturate colours, giving new meaning to the phrase “the grass is always greener…” which, in the Honor 90’s case, was always the issue. It often tried to overcompensate and oversaturate, often giving grass an unnatural look.
While the Honor 90 can produce a decent image under the right conditions, nighttime pictures are out of the question. Unless you’re a fan of grain and a slight loss in detail which creates some sort of in-real-life filter we weren’t too fond of.
It’s not all bad. Flip the thing around, and you’ll find the phone’s 50MP camera for taking selfies. Colours felt natural, and the images we took were sharp. That’s possibly thanks to the help of Honor’s AI beauty mode and numerous filters, which did their best to turn our faces into something worth looking at.
Honor 90 5G verdict
The Honor 90 left a good taste in our mouths. Apart from an inconsistent camera array and a few personal issues on the design front, that is. The Honor 90 is at its best when it’s making use of the massive AMOLED display and kept us happy where its performance and battery were concerned. If you’re not too fussed about camera quality and have R14,500 just lying around, we’d recommend checking out the Honor 90. If photography is essential you’d do best to look elsewhere.