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Honor Magic 2 review: A nostalgic sliding phone with ultra-modern internals – and no notch

Christopher Minasians
19 Dec 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
579
inc VAT

The Magic 2’s clever sliding mechanism eliminates the display notch

Pros 
Retro sliding mechanism
Superb performance
Impressive battery life
Cons 
No official UK supplier
No water-resistance, nor headphone jack
Uninspiring camera
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The Honor Magic 2 brings back the good old vibes of sliding phones. But it’s not just about a retro feel: the slide mechanism is used to hide and uncover the front-facing cameras, allowing the display to take up the full front face of the phone with no notch. It’s certainly a different take to the Vivo Nex S smartphone, which stows its front-facing camera in a motorised pop-up module.

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Honor Magic 2 review: What you need to know

The Honor Magic 2 qualifies in all respects as a flagship Android smartphone. Its Kirin 980 CPU is, at the time of writing, the fastest processor you’ll find on an Android smartphone, and it’s backed up with plenty of memory and storage space. It’s well equipped as a snapper too, with three rear- and two front-facing cameras.

There are some caveats, however. It’s hard to find in the UK, it lacks water resistance and there’s no 3.5mm audio jack. What’s more, the distinctive slider is only used for answering calls, accessing the forward cameras – and opening a Chinese voice assistant. There’s definitely room for improvement.

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Honor Magic 2 review: Price and competition

The Magic 2 hasn’t been officially released in the UK, so the most practical way to get one is via grey import, for around £579. If you want a sliding mechanism though there’s nothing to compete with it. The closest rival is probably the £533 Vivo Nex S, with its motorised pop-up selfie camera.

Another phone using the same blisteringly fast Kirin 980 processor is the Huawei Mate 20 Pro at £900; alternatively, Qualcomm’s flagship processor, the Snapdragon 845, is found in the the LG G7, Samsung Galaxy S9 and the OnePlus 6T among others, at prices starting from around £500.

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Honor Magic 2 review: Design and build quality

The Magic 2 looks very elegant. The gradient-coloured rear glass of the phone is to be admired, and its edge-to-edge display has no ugly notch to hinder the viewing experience. As we’ve mentioned, that’s because the front-facing camera is hidden away behind the sliding mechanism; it’s ingenious as well as nostalgic, and it additionally ensures that rogue apps can’t spy on you when the phone’s not in use.

You can also use the slide mechanism to answer incoming calls, just like on a 90s phone, and if you use facial recognition to unlock your phone, it’s effectively slide-to-unlock. On top of this, the slider gives you quick access to the Chinese smart assistant YoYo; as you can imagine, this is rather pointless for people who don’t speak Chinese.

While the slider is satisfying to use, it would be great to see a firmware update add some extra capabilities, such as opening the camera app in selfie mode or launching apps like Instagram or Snapchat. I’d also really like to be able to end calls by closing the slider, which isn’t currently possible.

Other shortcomings include the absence of a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the lack of microSD card expansion – although the included 128GB of internal storage space should suffice for almost everyone. The Magic 2 isn’t water-resistant either, probably thanks to the sliding mechanism. It does, however, have a dual-SIM card slot and NFC capabilities.

There’s also a fingerprint sensor hidden beneath the display. It feels as speedy and accurate as those found in the displays of the Mate 20 Pro and OnePlus 6T, but facial recognition is so slick that this is by far my preferred method of unlocking the Magic 2.

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Honor Magic 2 review: Display

The Magic 2 has a 6.39in display with a resolution of 1,080 x 2,340 and – thanks to its AMOLED technology – an effectively perfect contrast ratio. Viewing angles and colour performance are spectacular, with the screen covering a near-perfect 99.8% of the sRGB colour gamut and an impressive 94.9% of the DCI P3 colour space. It’s ideal for gaming, movies and viewing pictures.

It isn’t the brightest display, however: I measured a maximum brightness of 426cd/m² with standard settings, and a peak of 471cd/m² with auto brightness enabled. That’s fine for everyday use, but some way behind the Samsung Galaxy S9’s HDR screen, which achieves a peak of 810cd/m².

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Honor Magic 2 review: Performance

The Honor Magic 2 is built around the Kirin 980, which is the fastest processor you’ll find in any current Android phone. Coupled with Android 9 and 8GB of RAM, that allows it to fly through intensive tasks. It’s faster than any phone based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, and is beaten only by the Mate 20 Pro, which uses the very same CPU.

^Geekbench 4 benchmark

When it comes to gaming, you can expect class-leading performance. Throw any mobile game at it and the Magic 2 will be able to keep up – and that includes PUBG, which we found initially choppy but which is now rock solid after a recent update. It’s incredibly impressive.

^GFXBench benchmark

The Magic 2 is a winner when it comes to battery life too, outlasting the vast majority of flagship phones. With a run of 18hrs 34mins in the Expert Reviews video rundown test, it’s among the all-time top performers: in its class, only the OnePlus 6T stands in front of it, with 20hrs 52mins.

^Battery life

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Honor Magic 2 review: Camera

The Magic 2 carries six cameras in total: three at the front, three at the back. The rear set consists of a primary 16-megapixel f/1.8 camera with phase-detection autofocus, a 16-megapixel sensor with a f/2.2 wide-angle lens and a dedicated 24-megapixel f/1.8 monochrome camera.

You can switch between the various modes – such as HDR or wide-angle – in the camera app, and there’s also a 2x optical zoom that can be activated at the touch of an onscreen button.

^Normal mode on the Magic 2

^Wide-angle mode on the Magic 2

I was particularly impressed by the Magic 2’s wide-angle mode, which captures great detail and delivers a more true-to-life colour tone. As you can see from the above shots, taken seconds apart, the wide-angle version doesn’t oversaturate the buildings nor the horizon, and the finer details aren’t lost either.

Sadly, low-light images suffer from quite visible smearing and image noise. Our test shots came out with shadows around the leaves, noise around the pens and smudges on the bear – all of which vanished when we switched on the flash.

^Low light, 200% crop

^Taken with flash, 200% crop

At the front of the phone there’s a 16-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 lens, supported by two 2-megapixel f/2.4 depth- and face-scanning sensors. These are fine for casual use, but there’s a lack of fine detail, and background blurring looks rather artificial:

^Selfie on Honor Magic 2

In every aspect, the Magic 2 is beaten by the OnePlus 6T, which produces better colour and composition without needing a wide-angle lens. It also takes more detailed, punchier selfies, and gives cleaner, sharper results in low light.

^Honor Magic 2 vs OnePlus 6T: Outdoor comparison

^Honor Magic 2 vs OnePlus 6T: Selfie comparison

^Honor Magic 2 vs OnePlus 6T: Low-light comparison

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Honor Magic 2 review: Verdict

The Honor Magic 2 smartphone is a break from the norm. Its design is at once both innovative and nostalgic, cleverly eliminating the notch as it rolls back the years. It’s one of the fastest, longest-lasting Android phones of 2018, and it has a stunning display too.

Don’t forget though that it’s not officially available in the UK, which could have implications for support. It lacks a 3.5mm jack, it’s not water-resistant and the camera isn’t up to the standard we’d expect from a flagship phone. It also feels like the sliding feature has the potential to be a lot more than what it is.

Even so, Honor deserves praise for taking a creative leap, and the end product is one that we’re happy to recommend – although if you don’t demand best-in-class performance, and aren’t interested in the sliding mechanism, you should consider the OnePlus 6T or the water-resistant Samsung Galaxy S9 as potential alternatives.

Hardware
Processor2.6GHz Kirin 980
RAM8GB
Screen size6.39in
Screen resolution1,080 x 2,340
Screen typeAMOLED
Front cameraTriple 16+16+24-megapixel
Rear cameraTriple pop-up 16+2+2-megapixel
FlashYes
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)128GB
Memory card slot (supplied)No
Wi-FiDual band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth5
NFCYes
Wireless data4G
Dimensions157.3 x 75.1 x 8.3mm
Weight206g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 9.0
Battery size3500mAh
Buying information
Warranty1 year RTB

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