Honor Magic4 Pro review: Hardware yay, software nay

Cindy F. Cape

Honor began life as Huawei’s budget sub-brand, but the company has successfully emancipated itself from its heavily sanctioned former parent. This means that Honor now has the chance to create proper flagship phones with Google services, and following up on the Magic3 Pro, the Honor Magic4 Pro might just be the headlining handset the company wants to use to make clear that it is now playing with the big boys. The ~$1,000 Magic4 Pro is certainly a phone of superlatives, but does it have everything it takes to break into the market?

The Honor Magic4 Pro is a beautiful device that offers quite some bells and whistles. It’s one of only a few Android smartphones to offer secure biometric face unlock. Honor’s take on Android and the display are a letdown, though, tainting the otherwise great impression this phone makes.

Specifications

  • CPU: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
  • Display: 6.81-inch LTPO 120Hz OLED, 1312 x 2848
  • RAM: 8/12GB LPDDR5
  • Storage: 256/512GB
  • Battery: 4,600mAh, 100W wired/wireless charging
  • Ports: USB-C
  • Operating System: Magic UI 6.0 / Android 12
  • Front camera: 12MP ultrawide
  • Rear camera: 50MP wide, 50MP ultrawide, 64MP periscope zoom
  • Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC
  • Others: 3D face unlock, in-display fingerprint sensor
  • Dimensions: 163.6 x 74.7 x 9.15mm / 215g
  • Colors: Cyan, Gold, White, Black (glass); Orange (PU)
  • IP Rating: IP68 water and dust resistance
  • Price: £950 / €1099
Pros

  • Sleek, high-end industrial design
  • 100W wired and wireless charging takes the hassle out of topping up the battery
  • Both biometric face unlock and an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner on board
Cons

  • Uneven display colors, especially when dealing with shades of gray in dark mode
  • Magic UI changes too much of Android just for the sake of it, and feels buggy at times
  • Background apps are heavily throttled by default
  • Only two Android updates and two years of security patches

Buy This Product

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

The Honor Magic4 Pro screams premium at a glance. It’s a hefty device that comes in about the same footprint as the Pixel 6 Pro, with a display that curves around the edges. Honor claims it’s a “quad-curved” design, though this only applies to the glass, which curves smoothly towards all four edges of the phone. The 6.81-inch 120Hz LTPO display itself is only curved to the sides with small bezels at the top and bottom. Nevertheless, the design makes for a stunning, weightless look, comparable to a more extreme take on 2.5D glass you see on many smartwatches, including the Apple Watch.

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The only thing that breaks the aesthetics is the cutout for the selfie camera in the top left corner. Honor opted for a pill-shaped cutout that connects two lenses that are pretty far apart. That’s because the company has added a 3D scanning array in the middle to enable biometric face recognition in addition to the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner in the bottom third of the display — with that in mind, the elongated camera cutout is a small price to pay. What’s your move, Apple?

Looking at the other parts of the phone, the positive first impression is just further cemented. The frame is made of polished metal that almost serves as a mirror, separating the two glass panels at the front and back from each other. There’s a USB Type-C 3.1 port and a dual SIM card slot at the bottom, a power button and a volume rocker on the right, and an infrared blaster at the top. There are also speaker grills for the stereo sound setup at the top and bottom. The device also sports IP68 dust and water resistance certification.

The back itself is basically a carbon copy of the front, with a similarly curved glass setup, save for the huge circular camera array dominating the top third. It houses a total of five sensors, with the 64MP periscope zoom camera in the center dominating the look. The primary 50MP wide camera, meanwhile, sits in the top left corner. They’re joined by a 50MP ultrawide and a ToF depth camera, with the software intelligently switching between them depending on your zoom level and how much light you get.

The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, joined by 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage in the most affordable configuration, which is the one we have here for review. You can get up to 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage if you’re ready to pay more. As for colors, you can choose black, white, cyan (the one we have here), gold, or orange, with availability varying based on market. In the box, you’ll find a 100W USB Type-A fast charging brick with a USB Type-C to A cable as well as a translucent plastic case. A screen protector is pre-applied to the unit, too.

Overall, I’m left impressed with the physical hardware and the touch and feel of the Magic4 Pro, despite some display issues I’ll get into below. It’s definitely a well-built phone that can stand right in line with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, the Pixel 6 Pro, and other flagships.

Display

The display performs well in most circumstances, too. According to Ross Young, it’s the first LTPO panel to be sourced from Chinese suppliers rather than Samsung. It gets decently bright in the sun, and the dynamic high-refresh rate makes it a pleasure to look at, with accurate colors rounding out the experience. The display additionally offers PWM dimming, which is supposed to help cause less eye-strain when using it in the dark.

The panel does have some issues, though. The viewing angles aren’t the best, with a noticeable drop in brightness and a slight discoloration noticeable at the curved edges when looking at the phone front on. In low brightness situations, I’ve also noticed awfully uneven colors in dark gray backgrounds in the form of vertical stripes going through the screen, almost as though individual pixels are lit at different brightness levels or slightly varying color values. The issue is definitely there for even white backgrounds, too, but you’ll have to hold the phone uncomfortably close to your eyes to notice it.

Left & right: Two Honor Magic4 Pro units. Middle: Google Pixel 6.

Honor sent us another unit, saying that the problem was not to be expected, but the second unit exhibited the same problem, albeit not as severely as the first one.At least the problem isn’t too noticeable in brighter environments, but given that this is Honor’s top-of-the-line product, it absolutely needs to nail these basics to be a worthy contender in the battle for the best Android smartphone.

Software and performance

When it comes to software, the picture isn’t quite as rosy. Honor’s Magic UI, still clearly based in large part on Huawei’s EMUI, is a big departure from other Android skins. It makes seemingly arbitrary changes that will challenge the muscle memory you’ve developed from using other Android phones. The default Magic UI launcher is a prime example. It comes without an app drawer by default, but that’s easily changed in settings. There are some quirks you cannot address, like long-pressing app icons to access the app info screen or widgets — you’ll have to head to system settings or the recent apps overview for the former, and you’ll have to pinch to zoom out on the home screen to access the latter from there. Strangely enough, you can access widgets (or “cards”) for Honor’s first-party apps the usual way by tapping and holding app icons on the home screen, which seem to be privileged in many ways compared to regular widgets.

This trend of changing up standard usage paradigms continues across the system. You can’t tap and hold notifications to change settings—instead, you have to swipe a little to the left to bring up a cog with notification settings. Notifications are hidden from the lockscreen once you’ve seen them for the first time, with no option to change this behavior. There are also myriad smaller changes that get in your way, like Honor moving network symbols to the left of the status bar and the clock and further status symbols to the right. If you don’t like using auto rotate, Honor has also removed the quick rotating shortcut that usually shows up in the bottom corner of the screen on other Android phones.

On top of all this, it’s a shame that Honor doesn’t offer the same long-term support for its flagship phone as Samsung, Apple, and Google do. Honor only promises to update the Honor Magic4 Pro to Android 14, which is due to be released next year, and two years of security updates.

Honor is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to aggressively killing background app activity. Benchmarking the Magic4 Pro with dontkillmyapp.com’s app, it gets one of the lowest scores, and using standard battery settings, I have indeed missed many notifications, be it Duolingo’s lesson reminders, direct messages in Instagram, or links shared via Pushbullet. A public transit app like Citymapper that keeps track of your route in the background also doesn’t properly work with Honor’s standard settings. Thankfully, you can turn off many of these restrictions in system settings, though I will have to test how this affects battery life in a longer-term review — stay tuned for that.

These small and big problems make it hard to like Magic UI, which is frustrating because Honor can create genuinely thoughtful software features when it tries. Like many other OEMs, the company has included a floating sidebar panel you can use to bring up floating windows of other apps. There is also a smart privacy mode for phone calls that is supposed to intelligently adjust the volume based on surrounding sounds.


Battery life

Using Honor’s default settings when it comes to background apps and the display’s dynamic refresh rate and resolution, battery life was average at best for me. When I’m connected to my home Wi-Fi all day, I can easily get five hours of screen time out of the phone, but once I’m out and about, battery life suffers drastically. On a particularly busy weekend of navigating public transit, taking many pictures and videos, and spending time in an area with bad mobile internet connectivity, I had to top off the completely empty phone before heading out for the night again, after no more than three hours of screen-on time.

Thankfully, the Magic4 Pro makes recharging a breeze. Its 100W fast charger helps you go from zero to 100 percent within not much more than 30 to 40 minutes. It also supports 100W wireless Qi charging when using Honor’s proprietary charger, sold separately. The Magic4 Pro really takes the hassle out of charging, so I can look past the middling battery life.

The Honor Magic4 Pro’s performance also offsets some of its battery issues. As you would expect from a top-of-the-line flagship with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip, you can throw almost anything you could imagine at it. Thanks to Honor’s “superconductive hexagonal graphene” cooling system, the phone also hasn’t gotten uncomfortably hot during everyday usage—in fact, not even while charging.

Cameras

Honor makes a big deal out of its “eye of the muse” camera setup, and the system is indeed incredibly versatile. The three cameras, comprising a 50MP wide, a 50MP ultrawide, and a 64MP periscope zoom camera offer a seamless experience across a multitude of focal lengths and zoom levels — thankfully, the company got rid of the useless 64MP monochrome camera from the Magic3 Pro. The Magic4 Pro’s cameras can technically go all the way up to 100x zoom, just like its predecessor. The results are of questionable quality at the highest zoom level, though. For great shots, you’re better off going to a maximum of 10x only, and you might just be fine with 30x in some cases. Even when you’re not zooming, Honor still says that it’s using multiple cameras at the same time to create the perfect shot under its “Ultra Fusion Photography” moniker.

The camera app isn’t a disaster (compared to some of Honor’s budget phones), but it isn’t great, either. As you pinch to zoom, there is noticeable lag and discoloration when the software switches between the different cameras on the phone. I’ve also noticed substantial shutter lag, with the frozen viewfinder showing me a different result than the finished image, which sometimes feels like it was taken a solid second later. For fast moving subjects, this can make all the difference. I’ve even had one instant of a full crash of the app, with the image that I wanted to take completely lost.

However, when you do have the time to frame and zoom and have some fun with all the different camera modes, you’re almost guaranteed to get good results. I’m just miffed that you explicitly have to enable night mode manually, and you still definitely don’t get the same results as what Google and Apple offer. Honor’s night mode is particularly prone to oversmoothing, which becomes particularly visible when you zoom in.

Honor has included a lot of automatic filters and beautifying options with portrait mode. You can easily deactivate them when you don’t want to use them, though. Honor also has another interesting option that it calls “aperture mode.” You can switch between different aperture settings to create more or less bokeh, but keep in mind that this is all done in software. In contrast to bokeh in portrait mode, this is a lot more hit and miss, and it works best when you have a clear subject within two meters of your camera.

The selfie camera is nothing to sneeze at, either, though it only takes up so much space because it doesn’t solely consist of the camera — there is only a single 12MP ultrawide camera in there next to an array of sensors meant for biometric unlocking. While the camera doesn’t offer as wide a view as the good old Pixel 3’s secondary ultrawide lens does, it still gives you just a little more area to work with when you need it to, which is great for group selfies.


Should you buy it?

Only if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. There isn’t really a monetary advantage when it comes to the Honor Magic4 Pro compared to other flagship phones. At €1,099, it’s an incredibly expensive handset that’s right up there with the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro, all while carrying a lot more risk with it.

As beautiful as the hardware is, Magic UI still can’t compete with other Android skins and tries to copy iOS just a little too closely. Further, Apple and Samsung support their devices with software updates for more than four years, and Honor is still a newcomer in this market that doesn’t offer the same promises, stopping at Android 14.

Buy it if…

  • You’re tired of Samsung and Apple flagship phones and have the money to risk trying something new
  • You want an Android phone that Face ID-like biometric unlock

Don’t buy if…

  • You want to be sure to receive updates in the long term
  • You don’t want to spend a lot of money on a phone that doesn’t have a proven track record just yet

FAQ

Q: How does the Honor Magic4 Pro compare to the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra?

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and the Honor Magic4 Pro are both flagship devices. The S22 Ultra is a tad more expensive at $1,200, but it offers a more consistent experience with a better update policy, a more even screen, a more reliable camera, and it even includes a stylus, if you’re so inclined.

Q: How does the Honor Magic4 Pro compare to the Xiaomi 12 Pro?

The Xiaomi 12 Pro carries a similar $1,000 price tag as the Honor Magic4 Pro. The two phones are pretty similar in their deviation from stock Android. I would argue that switching between these two is easier than switching to the Magic4 Pro from a Samsung or Pixel phone. The Xiaomi 12 Pro does provide a more consistent experience and a slightly better update policy than the Honor phone, though. It’s just a bummer that the Xiaomi flagship only offers 2x zoom, which isn’t good enough for a flagship these days anymore.


https://www.androidpolice.com/honor-magic4-pro-review/

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