Honor Magic 2 first look: A good phone with a bad design

Honor Magic 2 ditches the notch for a sliding design. It's a shame that it's the weakest part of this phone.

Key Features

  • 6.39-inch OLED display
  • 3500mAh battery
  • Sliding mechanism
  • Three rear and three front cameras
  • 40W fast charging

Honor Magic 2 hands-on: A good phone with a bad design

2018 was the year of the notch. Apple brought it to the mainstream with the iPhone X (and then felt embarrassed by it with the iPhone XS), and was later followed by pretty much every Android manufacturer – Samsung and Sony aside – in introducing the feature to their devices too. The notch was a necessary evil  to achieve the “all-screen” look that everyone hankers after.

Going into 2019, it looks like we might not have to deal with the notch too much longer though. Well, not in its current incarnation anyway.

Honor Magic 2 UK price and release date

There’s no official release date for the Honor Magic 2 outside of China; however, it is possible to get the device shipped to the UK from a reseller. In China, the phone is available now for 3799 yuan, roughly £434.

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Huawei and Samsung have both announced devices that feature what they refer to as “punch-out” notches (basically just a punched-out hole for the camera sensor), while Vivo is adding an extra screen to the rear of its phone. Honor is taking some retro inspiration, however, and is trying to bring back the once-iconic slider form factor.

It’s not going to catch on.

Slider phones of the late 1990s and early noughties hid their keypads behind their screens; Honor uses a similar mechanism to conceal the device’s front camera. Sliding down the screen you’ll hear a satisfying click and out pops a primary 16-megapixel f/2.0 camera, flanked by two depth-sensing 2-megapixel sensors.

I’ll admit that the sliding mechanism is addictive, especially since it’s accompanied by a swooshing sound that really gets in your head. Get past that initial “quirkiness”, though, and you’ll soon come to realise that the overall design just doesn’t work.

The Honor Magic 2 is a thick-feeling phone. It’s heavy, too, and the seam created by the sliding portion rubs against your hand when you’re using it. Most phones these days, no matter how generously sized, feel comfortable in the hand – the Honor Magic 2 just doesn’t.

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This device also lacks wireless charging and an IP rating. Such sacrifices simply to rid the notch just don’t seem worth it. 

Honor also mimics the colour-changing shiny rear of its parent company Huawei’s P20 Pro handset. I love the P20 Pro but I’m not a fan of the back of that phone. In the Honor Magic 2, the rear appears to pick up smudges even more easily than its sibling, with the device becoming a grimy mess soon after unboxing. You’ll also notice that plenty of dirt and dust becomes trapped in the portion of the device that slides.

Design aside, the majority of the Honor Magic 2’s DNA comes from the Huawei Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro.

It features an in-display fingerprint sensor that works fine, however, it’s nowhere near as reliable or quick as a traditional sensor. You have to really push your thumb against the panel for it to recognise your digit; often it just does nothing. Don’t get me wrong – I like the idea, but the execution is poor; it just doesn’t appear ready yet.

You’ll be pleased to learn, then, that you’re not restricted to the in-display tech. Those depth-sensing cameras on the front of the Honor Magic 2 enable face unlock. This is by far the quickest way of accessing the phone.

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Honor uses Huawei’s EMUI as the base for its software, which is built upon Android 9. Check out our Huawei Mate 20 Pro review for a full overview of the software – which, in my opinion, remains the same here.

It’s a software skin that tries to do too much, altering nearly every aspect of Google’s base software. Even with the speedy Kirin 980 chip powering the Magic 2, I’ve noticed frequent bouts of sluggishness when switching between apps. I won’t be too harsh on the performance: the version I’ve been using is designed specifically for use in China, and as such, the software has some additions that wouldn’t be included in a Western release.

What the sliding mechanism does bring is a screen free of any distraction. The 6.39-inch OLED panel is rounded in the corners and runs pretty much edge-to-edge – aside from a slight chin at the bottom. It’s a nice-looking display, with full DCI-P3 coverage and a 1080 x 2340 resolution.

From my short time with the Honor Magic 2, the camera appears to be pretty decent too. There’s a 24-megapixel black and white sensor, along with two 16-megapixel colour sensors – and, of course, Honor’s “AI Vision”. The front cameras include many features, too, with a faux-bokeh blur mode and a heavy beauty mode.

There are plenty of tools to make your photos appear better: boosting colours, smoothing out skin and sharpening. Personally, I think the shots look better with the AI tweaking turned off but your mileage may vary. I’ll have some more camera comparisons in the full review.

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Battery is an area that’s hard to judge with a phone lacking software designed for a particular region. While my 3 SIM works, I’ve found that it struggles to consistently retain a 4G signal. As a result, it’s constantly jumping between networks and so the battery can drain very quickly. Considering there’s a 3500mAh cell inside, plus an efficient 7nm chipset, the longevity should be better. There’s 40w fast-charging too.

First impressions

There’s plenty that’s good about the Honor Magic 2: it’s fast, has a decent screen and fast charging.

It’s a shame then that the design feels like it’s been built to generate headlines rather than offer a good user experience.