Honor Magic 2: notch-free slider phone with six cameras and serious power – first impressions

  • Phone’s 6.4-inch OLED screen slides up to reveal a triple selfie camera set-up to go with three strong main shooters on the back
  • 3,799 yuan price tag makes it a good deal right now
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 10:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 10:50am

Less than a week after Xiaomi introduced an all-screen slider phone, Huawei has launched one of its own under its sub-brand Honor.

Named the Magic 2, this smartphone is a follow-up in name only to the original Magic, an experimental device with lots of out-of-the-box design and software quirks that wasn’t meant for mainstream use.

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The Magic 2, other than the sliding form factor, is a much more mainstream device with plenty in common with Huawei’s recently released top dog phone, the Mate 20 Pro.

For starters, the Magic 2 uses the same seven-nanometre mobile chipset, the Kirin 980, as the Mate 20 phones. This alone makes the Magic 2 noteworthy, because the Kirin 980 is currently the most powerful SoC (system on a chip) in Android phones right now, besting the 10-nanometre Snapdragon 845 in neural and graphical processing.

That the Magic 2 – true to Honor’s mid-tier roots – starts at 3,799 yuan (US$545) makes it one of the better deals right now.

The phone has an OLED display (6.4 inches, apparently the new size du jour) that comes with an in-display fingerprint reader underneath it.

The sliding mechanism works like the one on the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 – you simply press against the screen with a thumb and pull down with a bit of force. Honor’s mechanism, however, feels smoother, softer and less snappy. Personally, I prefer the clicky feel of the Xiaomi, but others may like the more subtle, gliding screen action of the Magic 2.

Pulling down the screen to expose the back panel reveals three front-firing cameras: a main 16-megapixel selfie lens flanked by a pair of two-megapixel depth sensors. Along with the triple-lens set-up on the back of the phone means the Magic 2 has six cameras.

Honor says the two depth sensors are needed for face scanning and to produce selfie portraits with the depth-of-field effect. I’m not quite buying it. I think, at most, one depth sensor along with the main selfie lens is enough. This whole triple-selfie-camera thing appears to be a case of a brand gunning for headlines.

The good news is the triple camera on the back is no gimmick. It features a strong 16-megapixel main shooter, a secondary 24-megapixel monochrome sensor which helps capture more light, and a third wide-angle lens offering an equivalent of 17mm focal length. This is similar to the Mate 20 Pro’s set-up, but lacks that flagship phone’s crazy 40-megapixel lens.

From brief testing, the Magic 2 can produce sharp, vibrant images during the day. At night it’s great for a mid-tier device, but obviously a step below what the Mate 20 Pro, iPhone XS, and LG V40 can do.

Many of Huawei’s AI-centric features powered by its NPU (neural processing unit) have also made the jump to the Magic 2, which really helps camera performance. The P20 Pro’s “Night Mode”, which allows the phone to capture a long exposure shot without a tripod, is also on the Magic 2 and it works well, producing light out of nowhere in dark scenes.

Performance everywhere else is, of course, marvellous, considering the powerful chipset.

Ultimately, everything goes back to that sliding design, which eliminates the need for a notch. I have never minded the notch that much, and when I use a notched phone I get used to it within a day. But the Honor Magic 2 helps remind me that the notch is ultimately a design compromise. And a notch-less screen just looks more immersive and full.

When I got my hands on the Mate 20 Pro, I called it likely the phone of the year, considering it packed in every feature you could ask for in 2018. I still think that device is overall the closest to a total package phone at this point, but I am surprised that Honor has sort of undercut its big brother just two weeks later.

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What the Magic 2 lacks compared to the Mate 20 Pro – wireless charging, waterproofing, optical image stabilisation for videos, 40-megapixel main lens – are all things for heavy users and tech geeks. For casual users it is almost the same phone with a cool slider design and a price tag that’s 30 to 40 per cent cheaper.

The Honor Magic 2 goes on sale on November 6 in China starting at 3,799 yuan for the base configuration with 6GB RAM and 128GB ROM, and goes up to 4,799 yuan for the 8GB RAM, 256GB ROM version.