Premium looks, stunning display, but underpowered for the price

After a hiatus of about three years, Honor is back in India with a spanking new smartphone launch! The smartphone in question is the Honor 90 – a mid-range smartphone that serves looks. The brand’s approach to advertising the Honor 90 – the company’s comeback device in India – has been three-fold. It surrounds the design, display, and cameras – the three main USPs that are extremely hyped by the company. However, unlike several global markets, the sub ₹40K price bracket is ludicrously competitive in India. You’ve got absolute monster performers such as the iQOO Neo 7 Pro (review), POCO F5 (review), and OnePlus Nord 3 (review) inhabiting this price segment, so let’s see if the new Honor 90 can actually give these a run for their money. If you’re wondering if you should buy the new Honor 90, read my detailed review to find out if it is right for you.

Honor 90 Review: Build and Design

The Honor 90 is absolutely stunning. All three colours have different textures and designs; and they each have their own charm, in my opinion. I got the Emerald Green variant which has an eye-catching and classy frosted matte curved rear panel. It curves beautifully against the contours of my hand and the overall feel of using the phone is fantastic because of how thin and lightweight it is. The weight distribution is also excellent.

Honor 90 Build and Design

You also get a Diamond Silver variant which has an ornate design at the bottom inspired by jewellery and then there’s the classic Midnight Black variant. The Midnight Black and Diamond Silver variants are glossy and attract some fingerprints, however, it is a lot less visible on the Silver variant because of the colour and design.

Honor 90 Build and Design

The two circular camera modules have a lot of design flair as well. They’re inspired by eclipses and look different from the drones of similarly designed camera modules in the market. Two cameras are placed inside the top module, while the flash and another camera inhabit the bottom camera module. 

Honor 90 Build and Design

The front of the phone looks like a work of art as well because Honor has curved the display from all four sides. The top and bottom have a slightly less pronounced curve, but it still makes the phone look more premium than most competitors in this price bracket. Honor calls this the “Quad-curved floating display”. 

Honor 90 Build and Design

The sides of the phone are made out of plastic and the buttons on the right side are well-built and tactile. Where the Honor 90 loses out on points in the build and design category is the lack of any official rating for the glass protecting the display. However, the company has claimed that this glass is extremely tough. I myself have tested it out by cracking a walnut shell (encouraged by Honor’s ‘Walnut challenge’) with it and dropping it from waist height – no damage was done. Sadly though, there’s no IP rating, which is disappointing because it would take the phone’s survivability to the next level.

Honor 90 Build and Design

The phone also misses out on stereo speakers, which I think, is almost inexcusable at its ₹37,999 price point. Immersiveness during content consumption takes a serious hit because of this since the sole speaker is simply not capable of outputting impactful sound. Speaker and display protection aside, I think this is my favourite design on a phone in and around this price. The company has not defaulted to having a leather back for the premium appeal, instead, they’ve taken time to craft an absolutely stunning glass slab that is easy on the eyes and the hands. 

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Honor 90 Review: Display

Honor has made some tall claims about the Honor 90’s display. They claim it is the best display in this price range from a user’s perspective owing to the fact that it comes with 3,840 Hz PWM Dimming, which they claim is the highest in the industry. It is certified by TÜV Rheinland with the Flicker-Free certification for its PWM dimming level – meaning it should flicker much less and avoid unnecessary strain on the eyes, especially in low light.

There’s not a lot of medical discourse yet about the harms of low PWM levels and how they affect our eyes in the long-term, but this feature anticipates unnecessary eye strain low PWM dimming phones could cause and attempts to avoid that. I applaud Honor for caring about this when many flagships in the market don’t, but we won’t know the full extent of the benefits until the harmful effects have been studied further.

Honor 90 Display Review

Now PWM dimming aside, this is a feature-packed display. It is a 6.7-inch curved AMOLED display with 1.5K resolution and 435 PPI. The content watched on this screen looks extremely crisp and quite vibrant. Viewing angles are fantastic and sunlight visibility is excellent as well. I tested 1,524 nits of peak brightness under sunlight, which is superb. The display is also HDR10+ certified and supports 10-bit colour. You can also watch HDR content on Netflix and YouTube, and it looks stunning.

Honor 90 Display Review

There’s also fast 120 Hz refresh rate support along with the option to choose Adaptive refresh rate where the phone changes it according to the task and its demand. However, you must note that the 3,840 Hz PWM dimming is only active when the display is on 120 Hz, so you won’t get the full benefit of this feature if you stick to 60 Hz or if the phone lowers the refresh rate from time to time automatically. Keeping the display at 120 Hz all the time will negatively impact the battery life. So, there’s a choice to be made there. What I would do is change the refresh rate to 120 Hz at nighttime, since the flicker of the display usually strains your eyes in low light.

Honor 90 Review: Performance

Now here’s where the Honor 90 falters a bit. The sub ₹40,000 smartphone market in India has a considerable number of speed monsters equipped with powerful flagship-grade SoCs. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 Accelerated Edition on the Honor 90 is in no way a slow processor, but it is slightly underpowered compared to the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 on the iQOO Neo 7 Pro, the Dimensity 9000 on the OnePlus Nord 3, and the Snapdragon 7+ Gen 2 on the POCO F5. 

Honor 90 Performance Review

With the Honor 90, you get two storage options – 8 GB + 256 GB and 12 GB + 512 GB. So, that’s plenty of storage and RAM for most people’s needs. You also get fast LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage that performed exceedingly well in our storage benchmarks. So, app opening times are expectedly blazing fast.

Moving on to CPU benchmarks, the Honor 90 scores lower than most of its competitors. The OnePlus Nord 3, POCO F5, and iQOO Neo 7 Pro blaze past the Honor 90, but the Moto Edge 40 lags behind. Sadly, the lead the Honor 90 had on the Moto Edge 40 (review) didn’t carry over to GeekBench with the phone coming in last amongst its competitors around the ₹30-40K price mark. The Honor 90 is around the middle of the pack in PCMark Work with a good score of 12,460.

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Honor 90 Performance Review

Honor 90 Performance Review

Honor 90 Performance Review

In GPU benchmarks, the Honor 90 lags behind yet again in both 3D Mark Wild Life Extreme and the GFXBench tests. So, this is definitely not the best phone for power users and gamers. When I played Call of Duty: Mobile on the Honor 90, I got pretty stable frame rates in the beginning on High Graphics, however, after about 10-15 minutes the phone started heating up and throttling, making some frame skips happen along the way. 

Honor 90 Performance Review

Honor 90 Performance Review

To test throttling, I fired up the CPU Throttling Test where the Honor 90 throttled to 60 per cent of its maximum performance in merely 15 minutes – this is pretty poor throttling performance and you’re going to feel the performance drop when the phone performs intensive tasks for longer periods. 

Honor 90 Performance Review

In normal day-to-day usage though the phone serves you pretty well. It is smooth and fluid for the most part, and multitasking is a breeze with 12 GB of RAM, however, like I said, if you’re performing heavy-duty tasks such as recording video, editing photos, or gaming for longer periods, the phone will end up heating and you will feel some lag and stutters.

The phone ships with Android 13 with MagicOS 7.1 on top. The company promises two years of software updates and three years of security patches which is on the lower side. In my opinion, three years should be standard, especially on phones above ₹30K. MagicOS 7.1 comes with the full suite of Google services, if any of you were worried about that. There are some Honor apps and third-party apps preinstalled, but the amount of bloatware is relatively low compared to some Xiaomi and Realme phones. Most third-party apps can be uninstalled, but Honor apps stay put. MagicOS also feels a bit clunky and overcrowded but there are a plethora of features and customisation options that are fun to play around with.

Honor 90 Review: Camera

The Honor features a 200 MP Samsung ISOCELL HP3 primary camera with f/1.9 aperture but sadly, there’s no optical image stabilisation. This is a bummer since many mid-range phones today come packing OIS that helps achieve shake-free shots in daylight and low light. That aside, you’ve got a 12 MP ultrawide lens with autofocus, and a 2 MP depth shooter. The ultrawide lens also doubles as a pretty capable macro camera that you can get some really usable shots out of. On the front, the Honor 90 rocks a 50 MP selfie shooter. Both the front and rear cameras are capable of 4K at 30 fps video capture, which is fantastic and quite rare at this price, to be honest.

Honor 90 Camera Review

The main camera on the Honor 90 captures 12.5 MP pixel-binned photos by default. The pictures captured in ideal lighting look impressive – the detail is good, the colours are natural, and even the dynamic range is nice and controlled. Some shots can look a tad oversharpened but it’s not done in an excessively distasteful manner. If the lighting gets a bit tricky though, the dynamic range takes a hit. Highlights can get blown out at times, which brings down the detail levels in the photo. You can also take 200 MP shots on this phone, and while the image is more detailed, the colours are slightly off in this mode. There’s no telephoto lens but the 2x zoom shots almost look identical in detail to the 1x ones with great detail and colour. Here are some camera samples, please note they’ve been compressed for the web.

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Honor 90 Camera Samples

Honor 90 Camera Samples

Honor 90 Camera Samples

Portrait shots on the Honor 90 look good – the colours are vibrant, and edge detection is excellent. However, the phone smooths skin textures and white-washes Indian subjects a bit. As for the ultrawide camera, I actually found it quite impressive in ideal lighting. The detail – especially in the centre of the photo – and the colour consistency are great. Barrel distortion is also pretty low.

Honor 90 Camera Samples

The 50 MP selfie camera boasts great resolution but it lacks autofocus. You get 12.5 MP binned photos from this camera by default and they look pretty good. The skin detail is, once again, lacking but overall colour reproduction, detail retention and dynamic range are decent enough. 

Moving on to low-light photography, the Honor 90 produces some decent shots. Honor has gone down the route of maintaining the ‘night’ look of low light shots, so the shadows are crushed quite a bit in most nighttime pictures and there is some lens flare as well, but the overall picture is serviceable for the price. Ultrawide low-light shots could be better though as there’s too much noise and low levels of detail. 

Honor 90 Camera Samples

Honor 90 Camera Samples

Overall though, I don’t dislike the camera quality of the Honor 90. Sure, it’s not perfect, but for casual use and social media posts, it does more than enough at this price. The main camera can click some particularly gorgeous shots in ideal lighting, which is when the majority of the users will click pictures. There are some AI camera features as well that will attract Gen Z and Millennials such as Instant Movie, Emoji Creation, and more. 

Honor 90 Review: Battery Life

The Honor 90 features a 5,000 mAh cell on board, which is impressive given its slim form factor. Sadly, the chipset used in the phone doesn’t have the best endurance so the battery life of the Honor 90 is nothing to write home about. It’s a one-day battery phone for light users but heavy users will have to plug the phone in before the end of the day. In our 4K video loop test, the Honor 90 only lasted a paltry 12 hours and 20 minutes. This is nowhere close to the best battery life in the segment.

Honor 90 Battery Review

I saw the phone drop battery levels pretty rapidly when I played games. 30 minutes of COD: Mobile dropped the battery by 11 per cent, which is quite a lot. I also noticed that the phone’s battery only dropped by 4 per cent in the first 15 minutes of Call of Duty but as the phone got hotter, the battery levels started dropping faster. So, battery life could…

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