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Honor MagicBook 14 (2021) review: An honourable refresh

1 Dec 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,030
inc VAT

Pricier and more powerful than last year's Honor MagicBook 14, but not the same killer value

Pros 
Solid and compact
Good matte-finish display
Improved battery life
Cons 
Expensive
Silly webcam positioning
Limited connectivity
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Save a massive £300 on the Honor MagicBook 14

This year's MagicBook 14 was a decent update on the 2020 model but a bit pricey, which makes this hefty discount extra tempting. Right now you can save a whopping £300, reducing the price from £800 down to just £500.
Honor
£800
£500

The latest pitch into the highly competitive ultra-compact notebook arena is the MagicBook 14 from Honor, a company that was formerly Huawei’s sister brand but has been an “independent” business entity since November 2020. 

We were impressed by the 2020 model MagicBook 14 – you can read our full review here – so the latest incarnation has a lot to live up to, as well as some fierce competition.

READ NEXT: The best laptops to buy right now

Honor MagicBook 14 (2021) review: What you need to know

Globally, the new MagicBook is available in four versions powered by 11th generation Intel Core i5 chips or Core  i7 chips and with or without a discrete Nvidia MX450 graphics chip.

There’s also a 15.6in version called, unsurprisingly, the MagicBook 15. Technically, it’s identical to the 14in machine, although it has a smaller battery capacity. The model we were sent to test for this review is the 14in Core i7 machine without the MX450 GPU.

Honor MagicBook 14 (2021): Price and competition

In fact, none of the European offerings has discrete graphics, which is fine as it will likely keep the cost down. The Core i5-1135G7 and Core i7-1165G7 14in models cost €850 (£730) and €1,200 (£1,030) respectively, while the Core i5 15.6in model will set you back €950 (£817).

If you have that sort of money burning a hole in your pocket and you want a good, small laptop, there are a lot of choices. Lenovo’s Yoga Slim 7 is one of our favourites thanks to its powerhouse Ryzen 7 chipset and excellent sound system. At £849, it’s superb value.

Acer’s Swift 5 also deserves a mention. Technically similar to the MagicBook 14 thanks to its 11th-gen Core i7 underpinnings, it has a touchscreen and is lighter and around the same price (£899), plus it comes with Intel’s Evo certification as well.

The Huawei MateBook 13, meanwhile, lags behind with a 10th-gen Core i7 CPU but adds a discrete Nvidia MX250 GPU and a touchscreen for just £875.

Of course, we can’t overlook Apple’s MacBook Air, which is a thing of beauty with a superb display and great battery life. And thanks to Apple’s M1 chip, it’s also one seriously powerful notebook.

I should mention, too, that the AMD-powered MagicBook 14 is still available from the Honor online store in the UK for the tempting price of £549 for the Ryzen 5 3500U/256GB model and £669 for the Ryzen 5 4500U/512GB model.

Honor MagicBook 14 (2021): Design and key features

With the latest MagicBook 14, Honor has done what Huawei did with the new MateBook X Pro and produced a machine physically indistinguishable from its predecessor.

That’s nothing to get too bent out of shape over, however, as the aluminium alloy body has been retained, so it’s still a pretty solid machine. It’s also compact (323 x 215 x 15.9mm) and light (1.25kg) and looks very smart in its dark Space Grey livery.

The keyboard gets a thumbs up. The key action is perhaps a little shallow, but it’s nicely damped, positive and quiet. It’s spacious, too, with no layout peculiarities and has a uniform, two-stage backlight. The fingerprint scanner-cum-power button is thoughtfully positioned, fast and reliable. The trackpad on the outgoing MagicBook felt a bit rattly in the corners, but that has been addressed and the new one has a more clinical action.

When it comes to ports, Honor appears to have rather dropped the soap. You get two Type-A ports and one Type-C which does duty as the DC-in and an HDMI 2.0 connector, but one of the Type-A ports is only USB 2.0 spec (the other is 3.2 Gen 1) while the Type-C port doesn’t support DisplayPort video out.

Wireless connectivity is managed by Intel's AX201 2x2 card, which supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1. If you fancy upgrading any of the internals, apart from the SSD, you’re out of luck. Once you’ve undone the 10 Torx screws holding it in place, the rear panel is easy enough to remove, but the SSD slot is the only thing even remotely accessible.

Like most Huawei notebooks, the MagicBook 14 has an NFC chip in the palm wrest. Tap it with your Android smartphone and you can mirror your phone display on the desktop and share files. Called Honor Magic-link, this seems like a great idea until you discover that it only works with Huawei and Honor phones.

READ NEXT: Our guide to buying a refurbished laptop

Honor MagicBook 14 (2021): Display, webcam and audio

On paper, the new MagicBook has a screen much like the previous version – a 14in, 1,920 x 1,080, matte-finish, 60Hz IPS affair. However, at 362cd/m² it’s brighter and sRGB coverage is much better (91.6% vs 57.9%) than its predecessor.

Its Delta E colour accuracy of 1.43 is pretty impressive too, although the contrast ratio is slightly down on last year at 1,256:1 versus 1,328:1. The only disappointment is that it isn’t a touchscreen.

Another letdown is that this is yet another laptop from the Huawei/Honor stable that has the webcam housed in a pop-up mounting between the F6 and F7 keys. It’s a silly idea that gives people you are calling a clear view up your nose and of your knuckles bouncing into view as you type. Sitting at my desk the camera even cut off the top quarter of my head. To make matters worse, the 720p camera is rather grainy and dull, too. 

The downward-firing speakers sounded rather mediocre until I stumbled across the Nahimic sound management control panel. Once I’d turned the bass up to the maximum and engaged the surround-sound emulator, everything sounded much more impressive, albeit heavily processed. The MagicBook’s audio system can’t match the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7, but it is at least average.

Honor MagicBook 14 (2021): Performance

The big change between the 2020 and 2021 MagicBooks is the processor. The old model ran on an AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor with Radeon Vega 8 graphics and 8GB of RAM. Now you get a quad-core Intel Core i7 1165G7 processor, integrated Iris XE graphics and 16GB (2 x 8GB DDR4-3200MHz soldered onto the board) of RAM. 

Even lacking discrete graphics, the new model is more powerful. In our 4K media benchmark, the new MagicBook scored 122 to the Ryzen-powered machine’s 109. Its victory in the GeekBench 5 test was more emphatic.

In short, the Honor MagicBook 14 has more than enough power to chew through everyday computing tasks with ease, and you can even run reasonably demanding games such as Doom just as long as you are prepared to knock the resolution back to 1,280 x 720 to get close to 60fps. 

What’s more, the MagicBook ran both cool and quiet throughout testing, and the fan, when it does fire up, is impressively unobtrusive.

The Western Digital SN730 NVMe SSD proved a decent performer, recording average sequential read and write speeds of 3,018MB/sec and 2,513MB/sec respectively.

Even battery life is improved, with our battery run-down test turning in a result of 11hrs 6mins – a considerable advance on the 8hrs 15mins of the Ryzen 5 model. Considering the MagicBook has a pretty substantial 56Wh (7,330mAh) battery I’d call that a good rather than a great result, though.

READ NEXT: The best budget gaming laptops

Honor MagicBook 14 (2021): Verdict

A decent if unambitious update, the introduction of a Core i7 processor and integrated graphics could be seen as a bit of a step sideways from the Ryzen 5 system it replaces, especially as the price has increased at the same time.

So while the new MagicBook is a powerful, stylish and well-made laptop with improved battery life, the high price, Type-A 2.0 port, half-baked Type-C connector and daft webcam positioning all count against it, preventing a full recommendation.

Save £200 on the 2021 Honor MagicBook 14

This Cyber Monday deal sees a huge £300 knocked off the price of the Core i5 MagicBook 14. When we reviewed it originally, we thought it was a decent update but a bit too expensive; this deal rectifies that issue and then some. A cracking deal well worth considering. You can buy it on its own or with an Honor MagicWatch ES for an extra £40.
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Was £800
Now £500

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