HONOR Magic 2 Review: An Android-Powered Spellcaster
HONOR delivers a bit of nostalgia with the Magic 2, in bringing back the slider – this time with an all-screen display.
It took HONOR two years to release the successor to its popular (and surprising) Magic smartphone, that debuted in late 2016. The original HONOR Magic, for its time, was a pretty incredible device. Now the HONOR Magic 2 is seeking to fill those shoes, as a device that is going to be available to more consumers and in more regions. The HONOR Magic 2 is full of magic tricks, as you might expect from a device with the word “magic” in the name. This is a sliding phone, with three cameras, and the latest high-end specs. So the expectations for the Magic 2 are pretty high, the only question is whether HONOR can live up to those expectations? Let’s find out in our review.
HONOR has outfitted the Magic 2 with a 6.39-inch display that has a resolution of 2340×1080. That means this is a 19.5:9 aspect ratio device, and this is due to the fact that it is taller and has virtually no bezel included. The display panel is an OLED, which might be a bit surprising, since HONOR typically uses LCD. Under-the-hood, you’ll find the Kirin 980 chipset, with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (there is also two 8GB models with 128GB or 256GB of storage). This is all powered by a relatively large 3500mAh capacity battery inside.
When it comes to the camera setup on the HONOR Magic 2, it’s not quite the same as the Huawei P20 Pro, but similar. The backside has a 16-megapixel main sensor with a f/1.8 aperture. There is also a 16-megapixel ultra-wide angle sensor that sports a f/2.2 aperture and then finally there is the 24-megapixel f/1.8 monochrome sensor. HONOR also did something interesting on the front, giving everyone three front-facing cameras. The main sensor is a 16-megapixel sensor with a f/2.0 aperture. While the other two are two-megapixel sensors with f/2.4 aperture (these are used for 3D facial recognition and for gathering depth data for better Bokeh effects in front-facing pictures).
In the box
The HONOR Magic 2 comes with a few goodies in the box. Of course you get the USB-C cables and a wall adapter, but you also get a pretty nice looking (and feeling) case to go along with it. The case is black and has a soft-touch feel, which gives the Magic 2 some grip, making it less slippery. But it also looks really sharp on the Magic 2. In fact, I spent most of the review period with it on the phone, since I thought it looked better than having it naked. Other than that, you get the typical array of paperwork in the box as well.
Hardware & Design
There’s a lot to talk about here when it comes to hardware and design, and that’s where the “magic” comes into play for the HONOR Magic 2. HONOR was able to give the Magic 2 some pretty thin bezels – though there is still a bit of chine, but I really don’t mind it. So where’s the camera? Well, it is hidden behind the screen. Simply slide down the screen to show the camera – or should we say cameras. Essentially what HONOR has done here is taking the hardware feature that OPPO and vivo have done on its smartphones, and instead of making it mechanical, it’s now just a slider. This means the user controls when the camera pops up, and there’s less chance of it breaking. In fact, HONOR says that it will work for around 200,000 slides, which should last a few years even if you are using face unlock as your main authentication.
With this being a slider phone, it does seem a bit thicker than some of the other smartphones on the market, but after using it for well over a month, I can say it’s a placebo thing. It’s not any thicker than the Pixel 3 XL, but does feel more solid in the hand. The only real complaint about the Magic 2 when it comes to design, is the camera bump on the back-side. The good thing though, is that when the Magic 2 is sitting on a table, it does not rock back and forth when typing. So it shouldn’t bother you that much. On top of that, if you put it in the included case, the camera bump goes away almost entirely.
HONOR is using a gradient color on the Magic 2, this is something it has been doing on other phones in the past as well, and boy does it look sexy. The color we have here is the Gradient Black, but there is also the Gradient Red and Gradient Blue available. The Gradient Black goes from silver – almost like a mirror – at the top, to a light black at the bottom. It leaves a very interesting design on this smartphone, and one that will definitely let it stand out. The Gradient Blue and Red colors do make it stand out a bit more, as expected.
The Magic 2 has an OLED display on-board, which likely helps HONOR get those thinner bezels on this one. But it also provides for a really stunning display on this smartphone. As expected with an OLED, this one does have some really deep blacks, and true-to-life colors all around. This is going to make it a great phone for consuming content, despite the missing headphone jack. OLED panels are known to be brighter than LCD panels, and that is also true on the Magic 2. When viewing it outside in direct sunlight, you can still see the display pretty well. This is a Full HD+ resolution display, so the PPI is not too high, sitting at around 403 pixels per inch. The good thing is that you cannot see the individual pixels, and it also saves battery compared to a QHD+ display. HONOR was able to hit the happy medium with the Magic 2 when it comes to the display.
Performance is phenomenal on the HONOR Magic 2. The model that we have here is the 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage model. So performance might differ a tiny bit on the 6GB of RAM model, but the phone should still be plenty speedy. Inside the Magic 2, there is the aforementioned Kirin 980, which is an incredible chipset from HiSilicon. It’s a 7nm chipset, and that means that it is smaller, using up less space inside the Magic 2, but also generating less heat, all while clocking faster than the Kirin 970 before it. In day-to-day tasks, the Kirin 980 was speedy, it did not slow down one bit, even with many apps opened at the same time. It felt faster than the Snapdragon 845 inside the Pixel 3 XL and Galaxy Note9, but this is also running different software that is likely more optimized for the chipset. If you’re looking for a smartphone with the best performance available right now, the HONOR Magic 2 is one of a few that fit that bill.
There are multiple ways to secure the Magic 2. There is the aforementioned face recognition, which you can slide the phone down to reveal the camera and unlock it with your face. This doesn’t take long, about a second or two. Generally by the time it has slid down, it is already unlocked and on the home screen. Though there was some issues with the Magic 2 for a bit, where it was not able to recognize my face – in fact it said it couldn’t find a face. But that eventually got resolved and works nearly flawlessly now.
The other way to secure the Magic 2 would be with the fingerprint sensor. But there’s no fingerprint sensor on the back. That is because HONOR has put it under the display. On the always-on display, it will show you where you need to put your finger to unlock the device. It works pretty well. We’ve heard loads of complaints on other smartphones that have in-display fingerprint sensors, like the OnePlus 6T, and how slow and inaccurate they are. The Magic 2’s sensor is not that slow, but it is pretty accurate. Though it does take some getting used to, as you do need to press down a bit harder than on a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. Of course, you can also use a PIN or password to protect your device as well – which will be required to use facial recognition or the fingerprint sensor anyways.
Phone Calls & Network
The model of the Magic 2 we have here is a Chinese version, so that it won’t work in the US on our networks here. Unfortunately, we were unable to try out making phone calls on this one. But when connected to a WiFi network, it did perform as you’d expect. It does have 5GHz included, so getting those fast speeds on WiFi is not a problem at all.
If there’s one thing to complain about on the Magic 2, it is the speakers. HONOR has included a single, down-firing speaker on the Magic 2. It is using the earpiece as a speaker, but it’s more of a secondary speaker for the mids and highs. The issue with this speaker is not that it’s a down-firing speaker, we’ve seen plenty of smartphones with great sounding down-firing speakers. The issue is the volume. The Magic 2’s speaker is not very loud at all. When watching YouTube on the Magic 2, with the volume turned all the way up, it’s still difficult to hear what’s happening. And if there’s any background noise, forget about it. The sound quality, on the other hand, is pretty decent. There’s no Dolby Atmos here, but it won’t disappoint either. And as mentioned before, there’s no headphone jack, so that means you’ll likely be using the Magic 2 with headphones, all the time.
HONOR’s smartphones have typically had pretty impressive battery life. Even when they sport smaller capacity batteries compared to its competitors. The Magic 2 is no exception. The Magic 2 has a 3500mAh capacity battery, which seems a bit small in 2019, when the Huawei Mate 20 Pro has a 4200mAh capacity, and the Samsung Galaxy Note9 has a 4000mAh capacity. But the important thing to remember here is that, capacity isn’t everything. Software optimization plays a big role. And HONOR has done a great job optimizing EMUI on the Magic 2 to provide some impressive battery life. You’ll be able to get five to six hours of on-screen time out of the Magic 2, and possibly more, depending on how you are using the phone. Which means it will last all day and for light users, it could even get you through a full two days.
Despite the glass back on the Magic 2, there is no wireless charging. This is unfortunate, but at least there is fast charging available. You can fully recharge the 3500mAh battery pack here in just under two hours. Which is about the same pace as Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 standard. It’s not as fast as OnePlus’ Warp Charge, but it does the trick and does it quickly.
The HONOR Magic is running on Android 9 Pie, but instead of EMUI, it is technically running on Magic UI version 2.0.0. This is a slightly modified version of EMUI for the Magic 2. It’s a bit strange that it is listed as “Magic UI” in the settings, seeing as there aren’t many differences between the software here and what is available on the HONOR 8X that we recently reviewed.
HONOR has included some gestures in the Magic 2, making it easier to get around the operating system, and allowing you to get rid of the bottom bar and get even more screen real estate here. The gestures on the Magic 2 are some of the best in the industry right now. This is because it doesn’t leave a bar at the bottom – like Google does on the Pixel – and it is also very easy to get used to. Swipe up to go home, swipe up and hold for recents, and then swipe in from the left or right to go back. The only issue here is that you can’t use swipe menus in apps like Twitter, because it will go back instead. But that is something that HONOR should be able to address in an upcoming update.
Despite having an OLED display, the HONOR Magic 2 does not have a dark mode. This wouldn’t be surprising, if it weren’t for the fact that other OLED Huawei and HONOR smartphones do have this mode. This mode would provide even better battery life, though the Magic 2 already has pretty good battery life so that’s not an issue. HONOR ships the Magic 2 without an app drawer, but there is an option in the settings to bring it back – this is something that was added to EMUI a few years ago actually. Of course, you can still install a third-party launcher if you aren’t a big fan of the stock launcher here. The software on the Magic 2 is pretty fluid, it’s about what you’d get on any other HONOR or Huawei smartphone, especially with the new Kirin 980 inside.
As mentioned in the specs already, the HONOR Magic 2 has six cameras on-board, which makes it one of the first to sport six cameras. On the rear, there are three cameras, with a 16-megapixel main sensor, a 16-megapixel ultra-wide sensor and then a 24-megapixel monochrome sensor. The front has a 16-megapixel sensor with two 2-megapixel sensors on either side (this is largely for 3D facial recognition, but also works for better Portrait mode photos). With this kind of camera prowess and the changes made in the Kirin 980, you’d expect a pretty impressive camera experience on the Magic 2, and you do get that.
The rear camera does a pretty good job in most lighting situations, where things get a bit hairy is with the front-facing camera. And to be honest, this is really just nitpicking (and using the Pixel 3 XL for a few months). But the Portrait mode on the Magic 2 is not that great. It’s not as sharp as it should be, which is a bit surprising, considering there are three cameras on the front, and a 16-megapixel main sensor. But for everything else, it does a really good job. With AI Cam included, you’re going to get some really great images, without having to mess with the camera. This is also a good thing, seeing as it will provide you with some better pictures. It works by adjusting the colors, ISO and more, to provide the best looking image. On other HONOR smartphones – like the 8X – AI Cam would typically provide us with a more saturated picture. Which did look better, but it wasn’t true-to-life. That seems to have been fixed on the Magic 2, as with the AI Cam mode on, you are able to get true-to-life images that look pretty impressive.
HONOR has been working pretty diligently on the camera of its smartphones for quite a few years now, so it’s no surprise to see it getting better and better. The only real issue, besides the portrait mode on the front-facing camera (which can be fixed with software updates), is the fact that there is a monochrome sensor. Replacing that with a telephoto sensor would have been a better option, similar to what LG has with the V40 ThinQ.
Build quality & design
Camera quality & options
In-display fingerprint sensor
No headphone jack
Finicky facial recognition
The HONOR Magic 2 has a lot of good going for it. There is some bad stuff here, like the headphone jack missing, but that is the case with every smartphone released these days. The Magic 2 brings in some pretty cool features, like a slider to show the front-facing camera, which is arguably much better than a notch, hole punch display, or a motorized camera that pops up when you need it. HONOR has not released the Magic 2 globally yet, but that is expected to happen in the near future.