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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Honor Magic 4 Pro Review

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(Pocket-lint) – When Honor announced the Magic 4 Pro in February 2022, it came just six months after the supposed international launch of the Honor Magic 3. And, indeed, if you were to look at the two smartphones, you might not immediately spot the differences. 

It’s been a confusing launch cycle, but one that perhaps stems from the company’s newfound ambitions. Honor appears very keen to be taken seriously – no sooner had the Magic 4 Pro been announced was it also joined by the Honor Magic 4 Ultimate, more or less replacing the Magic 3 Pro+ position.

As the company looks to forge a new life for itself away from Huawei, then, the Magic 4 Pro represents its first serious offering – and there’s a lot to consider. Let’s see how it compares to the other flagship phones on the market.

Our quick take

There’s a lot to love about the Honor Magic 4 Pro: it features a great design, it’s powerful and it has a great display – and a very impressive camera system rounds out the package.

However, it’s let down by the overall software experience. Honor seems to have undone some of the good work that Android 12 has worked towards and degrades the experience with aggressive background management.

While the phone runs smoothly enough, it’s the details that let it down – and, once you get past the bloatware, the frustrations really hit home when that video doorbell notification arrives 10 minutes after the caller has walked away. That, and limited future upgrade plans, mean that you need to think carefully if you’re planning on investing in this phone.

If you’ve generally been happy with Honor devices in the past – or you were once a fan of the experience that Huawei offered – then you may well find that this is a phone that serves you well. The hardware sings and that fast charging, especially if you invest in Honor’s SuperCharge wireless charger, will blow you away.

Ultimately, the Honor Magic 4 Pro is a phone of many positive experiences. You just have to decide if the concessions are worth it.

Honor Magic 4 Pro review: All the makings of a great flagship phone

For

  • Quality construction
  • Appealing selection of cameras
  • 100W charging speed
  • Powerful hardware
  • Hangs on to that Huawei vibe
Against

  • Camera design may be divisive
  • Intrusive front camera cut-out
  • Only gets two years of software support
  • App bloat and excessive changes to Android

Design and build

  • 163.6 x 74.7 x 9.15mm; 215g
  • IP68 protection
  • Curved glass finish
  • Cyan or Black

The Magic 4 Pro looks a lot like the Magic 3, defined by the huge camera on the rear. And, as we alluded to up top, some might be wondering what exactly has happened to the Honor Magic 3 has got to. Having been confirmed for an international launch back in October 2021, we’re still waiting – meaning all attention has turned to the Honor Magic 4 Pro, instead.

Pocket-lintHonor Magic 4 Pro photo 5

What the Magic 4 Pro gives Honor is a veritable flagship phone. Designed to be at the top of its game, with build quality that reflects this aim, it also has more than just a passing resemblance to the Huawei Mate 40 Pro. These companies may be separate, but the design of the phones hasn’t totally diverged just yet.

That’s a double-edged sword. If you were looking for something unique, then the Honor Magic 4 Pro isn’t quite it; conversely, if you’re looking to relive those Huawei vibes from a few years ago (were you a fan of the Huawei P30 Pro?), then the Honor Magic 4 Pro is about as close as you’ll get.

There’s an IP68 protection rating, and a curved glass front and back that ensures the large phone can fit in your hand. Honor is very much running from the flagship phone playbook here.

It looks great, too – especially when that rear Cyan colour shimmers in the sunshine. It’s a little slippery, as a big device, but there’s also a case in the box that will make it a little more grippy and provide a modicum of protection.

Pocket-lintHonor Magic 4 Pro photo 12

The frame encompasses the power button and volume rocker on the side, while there are neat apertures for the speaker grilles on the flattened top and bottom. It all comes together nicely.

Still, there’s no avoiding the excessive show of cameras on the rear of the phone. Rather than discreet packaging, the camera sits in a huge round unit on the back, so there’s really no missing it – and that plays into Honor’s pitch for this phone, wanting to be the ultimate smartphone camera out there. 

Again, that follows the ambition laid down by Huawei some years back, and Huawei isn’t alone in offering this sort of camera – the Vivo X80 Pro is similar.

There are some good stereo speakers packed into the frame, as well, offering decent quality when turned up – ideal for ad-hoc video watching or when making conference calls.

Display

  • 6.81-inch LTPO OLED; 1-120Hz
  • 2848 x 1312 pixels; 460ppi
  • HDR10+; IMAX Enhanced

There’s a big display on the Magic 4 Pro, measuring in at 6.81-inches, but it does curve towards the edges. That aids handling on what is a large device, ensuring it’s a little easier to use one-handed when swiping around the display.

The downside of the curved display is that the edges tend to be a little less useful, less responsive to touch and sometimes lead to content flowing over the edges where you can’t really see it. Certainly, if you’re a gamer, then a flat display is better for overall performance, but there’s still some wow factor in curved edges, and, in general use, it poses very few problems.

There’s an elongated pill-shaped cut-out for the front cameras, as well, but we’re really not fans of this arrangement. It just takes up too much space for too little return – and also means notifications are pushed across the top of the phone. More importantly, you’ll find that content in that corner is obscured, and that might include some game elements.

However, what you do get is biometric face unlocking via the system – whether you value that enough to put up with the display sacrifice is a separate consideration, but, from a photography point of view, it’s not worth it.

Pocket-lintHonor Magic 4 Pro photo 7

The display is a high resolution, resulting in 460ppi, and supports a variable refresh rate up to 120Hz, which means it can compete with just about any display out there. The advantage that adaptive refresh rates claim to offer is lowering the power consumption on static content while being able to step up and keep faster scrolling smooth.

It’s bright and vibrant, and we’ve had no problems seeing the display in full sunshine. Sometimes, things can get a little gloomy when it comes to watching content in darker conditions, needing a bump to lift the images so you can see what’s going on.

There’s also an ultrasonic under-display fingerprint scanner, which is nice and fast, and we had no problems unlocking the phone using this system.

Overall, we’ve found the Honor Magic 4 Pro to offer a great display – but that massive front camera cut-out remains a divisive inclusion.

Hardware specs

  • Snapdragon 8 Gen 1; 8GB RAM
  • 256GB storage
  • 4600mAh battery; 100W wired and wireless charging

Let’s start with the wow news: the Honor Magic 4 Pro supports 100W charging both wired and wireless. That’s right, it will recharge the 4600mAh battery at a blistering pace – although you’ll have to buy a wireless charger that’s compatible to take full advantage.

Honor offers such a charger – the so-called Honor SuperCharge Wireless Charger Stand – that incorporates a cooling fan to keep things in check when you drop the phone onto it. With wired or wireless charging at such a pace, it really does take away any concerns about battery life – you can recharge it to a useable level in the time it takes to make a coffee, making everything else you own start to feel very slow, by comparison.

For a phone of this size, the battery isn’t huge, but that partly comes down to the need to keep it cool when fast charging. We’ve found the overall runtime to be competitive, however, lasting the day easily enough. And, as we said, with charging as fast as 100W available, there’s no need to charge overnight – you can just charge it in a flash when it’s running low.

Pocket-lintHonor Magic 4 Pro photo 2

This phone is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 with 8GB RAM, and that sets it at a flagship level. From a performance point of view, we’ve found it competitive with other flagship devices out there. It’s fast to open apps and has no problems powering through demanding games, showing no signs of lag or slowdown. 

That’s not the end of the story, however, because some of the performance comes down to the software, and this phone runs on Android 12 with Magic UI 6.0. There’s a fairly extensive workover of Android, which is worth unpicking to get things running the way you want, but it does have the full suite of Google Mobile Services, so there are no concerns on that front.

There are a number of preinstalled apps, so it’s a bloaty device, but you can uninstall a lot of them, so it’s not a huge problem. It’s more a case of tedious management – and you will be left with some duplication of core Google apps.

The most irksome side to the software is the aggressive background management of apps, in some cases meaning things don’t work exactly as they should. This might mean that some apps won’t give you the notifications you expect – especially if they’re designed to remain connected in the background. 

Honor has also taken it on itself to change the notifications management, both from notifications themselves and in the settings menus. Stock Android offers a neat system where you can go and see recent notifications and manage them, but Honor has dispensed with that.


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And notifications are a problem – doorbell notifications are a little random, sometimes not arriving until you unlock the phone, and we found the same thing with some banking apps, too. It’s just degradation of the system that’s come from unnecessary tinkering.

However, there’s another software problem, and it’s one that’s a little more important. Honor is only offering 2 years of support for this phone, which is about half the time of other Android flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra or the Google Pixel 6 Pro. That’s a real downside for anyone looking to invest in this phone. Unless you’re planning on switching phones within a couple of years, you’ll find yourself with no software support.  

That’s likely to affect the long-term value of the phone, too, compared to its rivals.

Cameras

  • Triple camera system
    • Main: 50MP, f/1.8, 1/1.56in sensor
    • Ultra-wide: 50MP, f/2.2, 1/2.5in sensor, 122 degrees
    • Telephoto: 64MP, f/3.5, 3.5x optical zoom, OIS, 1/2in sensor
  • Dual front camera

There’s a wide selection of cameras on the rear of the Honor Magic 4 Pro, packing in three serious sensors around the back. We have a 50-megapixel main camera and a 50-megapixel ultra-wide camera, while there’s a proper telephoto offering, too.

Like Samsung, Honor is moving to a periscope-style lens, meaning it can offer a 3.5x optical zoom on the back of the phone, while digital zoom will extend to 100x. Don’t get too excited about that figure, however  – as we’ve seen from other phones, by the time you get to 100x you’re looking at a pretty mushy picture.

There’s some smart control of these cameras, as well. For example – just like Samsung – if the scene is too dark, Honor uses the main camera at 3.5x zoom, rather than the periscope, because the results would be just too dark. This is just one of the tricks playing out in the background as you get on with taking photos.

You can do a lot with these cameras, though – especially when you combine some of them with the AI processing that cleans up images, as well as a really effective night mode. While night modes on other devices often turn night into day, we’ve got some great results from the Honor Magic 4 Pro. It preserves the night balance expertly, handling the light sources in a scene to keep things realistic.

The main camera also offers great performance, throwing out 12.6-megapixel images and capturing plenty of detail while also offering that good AI handling to deliver HDR scenes with accuracy. There’s no doubting that Honor has one of the most compelling camera systems on the market in this phone; it can turn its hand to just about anything.

In addition to the main cameras, Honor has also packed in a flicker sensor and a TOF focusing system, aiming to deliver better results in all conditions. However, it misses out on the Spectrum Camera of the Magic 4 Ultimate, which claims to be able to gather even more information to enhance photo quality. Exactly what difference that would make in the real world, of course, remains to be seen. 

The selfie camera, meanwhile, is a 12-megapixel unit that sits alongside a second camera used for 3D depth and face unlocking, rather than bokeh images (which doesn’t need a second lens). 

The thing we dislike about the front camera is that it defaults to portrait mode when you switch to it. Portrait mode is pretty good, but it can be a chore to turn it off every time you just want to grab a quick photo of yourself with a normal background.

The performance of the front camera isn’t the best, either, easily being the weakest part of this system. In bright conditions, it can completely lose control of exposure and blow out (there’s an example in the gallery above). In low light conditions, it gets grainy rather quickly – especially compared to the rear cameras, which are much better. 

The portrait mode is pretty good, as we say, although the edge detection needs some work to move it into contention with the likes of the Google Pixel. Still, we’ve seen some great HDR rebalancing of images: you take the shot, it looks terrible and then it processes to a photo that’s useable, suggesting Honor could get better results overall from this front camera with a little more work.

Overall, then, the Honor Magic 4 Pro is an impressive camera system: you point, you shoot and you get results – it’s hard to see how anyone wouldn’t be impressed by the performance.

To recap

The Magic 4 Pro is a flagship-grade phone from Honor that comes packed with power and very fast charging rates. There’s a compelling camera selection around the back of the phone and a great display on the front. However, asking flagship prices and only offering two years of updates – on top of a software experience that’s mixed – means it needs to be approached with caution.

Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Conor Allison.



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