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Huawei

Review: Honor Magic smartphone that goes into sleep mode when you look away from screen

Huawei sub-brand Honor’ snew Magic handset serves up artificial-intelligence-driven software as a taste of things to come from Chinese manufacturer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 6:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 9:33am

For years, Huawei’s sub-brand Honor was known as the little brother of the Chinese tech giant, with a budget price point and clearly middle-of-the-pack features and specs. But with the Honor Magic, the younger sibling is looking to steal the spotlight and become the star of the family.

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Design and hardware

Think the dual-curved sides on the Samsung Galaxy S series are cool? The Honor Magic takes the idea and goes crazy, unleashing a glass-and-metal unibody phone with eight curves (on all four edges of the phone, front and back). The device is completely symmetrical front and back, with both sides connected by a tiny gold metal frame. The smooth glossy front and back with no visible markings make the device resemble a black pebble. The 5.1 display here is an AMOLED panel, which is a marked improvement over the cheaper, inferior LCD panel found on the Huawei P10.

Software and features

But Honor knows good looks can only get you so far. What makes the Magic a true keeper is its inner beauty: artificial-intelligence-driven software that behaves differently according to context.

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For example, the Magic’s screen turns on automatically whenever it’s picked up from a table, but from there the Magic can tell whether the person holding it is the device owner or a stranger. If it’s the former, the Magic will display relevant notifications: WhatsApp messages, urgent e-mails and so on. If it’s the latter, the person will see nothing.

Another trick the Magic can do is it knows when your eyes are on the screen. As long as you’re glaring at it, the display won’t turn off, but turn your head away for 10 seconds, the screen goes to sleep to conserve battery.

How does the phone do this? With a front-facing infrared sensor and a face- and eye-tracking algorithm written into the software. This is just one of several AI features.

The Magic will also learn your habits over time and behave accordingly. For example, the lock screen app short-cut icon on the left corner changes based on the user’s habits. If you always listen to Spotify on your morning commute to work, expect the phone to have Spotify as a short cut after a week or two. If you’re in a dark room, that short cut links to a flashlight. If you are about to board a flight, your e-ticket might pop up when you arrive at the airport. I’ve tried all of these except for the e-ticket trick and they work as advertised.

Performance and battery life

There are two odd shortcomings in this department. The chipset is a Kirin 950, which is more than a year old (the just-released Huawei P10 runs a Kirin 960). It’ll still be enough to get almost any task done, just don’t expect to be as fast as 2017 phones.

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The Android version here is also just 6.0 (Android is about halfway through the 7.0 era already, with Android 8.0 scheduled for release this autumn). The older chipset can be rationalised by the fact that the phone (3,699 renminbi/HK$4,170) isn’t priced in the premium range, but the dated Android version is quite disappointing.

But the good news is Honor has brought over the superb and practical dual-camera set-up from the Huawei P series. The two shooters work together in every shot, producing either bokeh effects or pumping in more light in a dimly lit setting. The cameras on the Magic are, just like on the P10, excellent all around.

The 2,900 mAh battery is on the small side, but this is a small phone. I’ve had no issues with power during two weeks of use. The phone never ran out of juice on me once.

Conclusion

A Huawei executive told me the company let Honor build the Magic as a “concept phone” mainly to test “futuristic features” that may still be a bit ahead of their time. If these features work well, expect them to be ported over to Huawei’s “mainstream” phones in the future.

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So far, the AI features have worked pretty smoothly. Some may think they’re gimmicky – do you really need to save that half a second to have Spotify on your lock screen short cut instead of on your main device home screen? – but any device that attempts to push boundaries should be applauded, since the smartphone industry is just so flooded with products.

The device is officially on sale only in China, and Honor has no plans to release it elsewhere. But in Hong Kong’s independent phone stores, the phone can be had for HK$4,000. That’s a pretty reasonable price for a beautiful-looking device with a strong camera and smart, quirky software experience.

SPECIFICATIONS

Dimensions: 146.1mm x 69.9mm x 7.8 mm

Weight: 145 grams

Display: 5.1 inches

Battery: 2,900 mAh

OS version reviewed: Magic Live UI over Android 6.0

Processor: Kirin 950

Cameras: dual 12-megapixel lens with f/2.2 aperture, 8-megapixel front-facing lens

Memory: 64GB ROM and 4GB RAM

Colours: black

Price: 3,699 yuan or HK$4,000