Honor Magic 4 Pro Review: A swing and a near-miss
Honor’s back, and they are better than ever. Following the company’s split from Huawei towards the end of 2020, we saw its first solo venture arrive in the form of the decidedly mid-range Honor 50 series. Now the company’s back with a flagship smartphone in the west, the Honor Magic 4 Pro, and it shows that Honor means business in its great western return.
The Honor Magic 4 Pro has just been officially unveiled in the United Kingdom, and you can also purchase it from other European countries too. The Honor 20 Pro was one of my favorite phones when it came out, and with the Honor 50, I said I’d like to reserve judgment until the company releases a flagship to see if it’s well and truly back. While I’m a big fan of the Honor Magic 4 Pro and see potential, sadly I don’t quite think this quite stands up to the Honor flagships of old.
The Honor Magic 4 Pro will go on sale for £949.99 on May 27th in the United Kingdom, and for €1,099 in Europe.
About this review: I received the Honor Magic 4 Pro for review from Honor on the 3rd of May, 2022. Honor did not have any input into the contents of this article.
Honor Magic 4 Pro: Specifications
|Specification||Honor Magic 4 Pro|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Port(s)||USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port|
|Software||Magic UI 6.0 based on Android 12|
Honor Magic 4 Pro: Design
- Big and bright
- Obnoxious pill selfie camera
- Quad curved
If there ever was a polarizing smartphone design, then this is it. Featuring a massive circular camera on the back wasn’t bold enough for Honor, as it also packs in a pill-shaped cut-out on the top left of the display. It’s not a design for everyone, but in a sea of similar glass slabs, I appreciate what Honor is going for.
To be clear, I like the Honor Magic 4 Pro’s design overall, and I find that the camera on the back (affectionately dubbed the “eye of muse”) goes a long way in giving it that unique look. It’s symmetrical and it’s bold, and that’s something that stands out. The flash being at the bottom of that massive circle can be annoying, as I find that my finger on the back of the phone can block it a little bit.
What I don’t like is the pill camera cut-out on the front. It’s too long, it takes up a lot of space, and it’s so far from the left-hand side that notification icons nearly get pushed to the center of the display. I understand that it’s long because it houses additional camera hardware, but it’s something that I would find myself getting frustrated with in the long term.
The display of the Honor Magic 4 Pro is a quad-curved 120Hz AMOLED panel with a maximum brightness of 1000 nits, a resolution of 2848 x 1312 pixels, and 460 PPI pixel density. The reason for the pill-shaped cutout is that it houses a 3D ToF sensor alongside the front-facing camera for better face unlock, and it does work well. Nevertheless, it’s still an eyesore, so it really depends on how important face unlocking is to you.
Haptics-wise, the best way I can describe it is that I’m able to feel notifications in my pockets and it’s nice to type on, which is more than enough for me. Other design aspects of the phone include dual-firing speakers, an IR blaster at the top for infra-red-controlled devices, and a pretty drastically curved screen. There’s also a single USB 3.1 USB-C port, a SIM tray, and no headphone jack. Finally, there’s an in-display fingerprint scanner too, and it’s ultrasonic so it doesn’t blind me in the dark when I go to unlock my phone.
Overall, the Honor Magic 4 Pro’s design is beautiful, but also extremely polarizing. It comes with a pre-applied screen protector which feels extremely low quality, but the clear case that you get in the box is decent enough to cover up the slippery back glass.
Honor Magic 4 Pro: Camera
- Very good primary sensor
- Struggles to focus at times
- 100x zoom is a marketing gimmick
When Honor split from Huawei, it was always likely that one of the biggest casualties was going to be the camera. Huawei’s camera smarts were always at the top of the game, and while Honor no longer seems to have all the chops to compete with the best of the best, this camera hardware does have flashes of brilliance. It’s packed to the gills with premium sensors to cover all your bases, and as an all-around contender, it does an excellent job.
Honor Magic 4 Pro: Magic UI 6
- Lacks essential features like VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling
- Magic UI 6 is fine
- Honor launcher is terrible
Honor’s Android smartphones run Magic UI, the company’s own variant of Android. Previous iterations were built on Huawei’s EMUI, but now, it looks a little bit different. Not different enough to say it actually is different as a whole, though. Nevertheless, the headlining feature in the software department is again the inclusion of Google Play Services, as previous Honor smartphones were preloaded with Huawei Mobile Services. This is the first flagship phone of Honor’s in the west since the split to come with them.
We’ve seen how Huawei Mobile Services have improved leaps and bounds over their initial iterations in the case of the Huawei P50 Pro, but nothing beats Google Play Services for me. The problem with Huawei Mobile Services wasn’t just that it wasn’t Google, it’s that there were still some teething issues that couldn’t really be solved. Any apps that used the Google Maps API couldn’t actually show the map, as it needed that integration. Installing apps that were not on the AppGallery was also often a cumbersome process, even if tools like Petal Search helped a little bit. It was difficult to hand an Honor phone to just anyone, as it definitely wasn’t what many consumers would be familiar with from an Android smartphone. I use a ton of Google services in my day-to-day life, and it’s a blessing to be able to use them on Honor’s smartphone without needing to jump through hoops or look for alternatives. I don’t have to think about using a Google service, or any of my favorite apps — they just work now as they do on the hundreds and thousands of other phones out there.
On the Honor Magic 4 Pro, there’s a significant amount of bloatware pre-installed, enough that even I noticed when I typically don’t. There are first-party Honor apps, alongside the likes of WPS Office and Booking.com.
Overall, Magic UI 6 is fine. I’ve had a lot of issues with the phone lacking essential features, including no VoLTE or Wi-Fi calling. I rely on Wi-Fi calling a significant amount, as I don’t get a signal in my apartment, and VoLTE is nice so that apps in the background retain a high-speed connection. I also can’t share Wi-Fi QR codes from the settings, something that pretty much every phone can do at this point.
The launcher, though, is absolutely terrible. There’s no app drawer option, and swiping down to search apps lags the entire phone. I believe it’s because it searches with every letter typed, but the entire phone slows to a crawl when typing and can even miss letters. It’s a terrible experience in that regard, and it’s one of the worst launchers that I’ve ever used on a modern smartphone. It’s just not worth using it, and you should definitely consider switching to some other good launcher.
- Really low performance for what it should be
- Poor camera speed
- Refresh rate dips below 120Hz frequently
The Honor Magic 4 Pro is the first Honor smartphone in the west to pack flagship specifications in a long, long time. Normally, I’d be content with saying that this phone will perform the same as any other Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-powered smartphone, but that just isn’t the case. In fact, I had high expectations given that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is capable of being a top performer, and with Magic UI in tow, I genuinely thought that this phone would be capable of so much more. I was saddened to find that the phone struggled with a lot of basic tasks, and my findings were supported by the benchmarks that I ran.
For context, Huawei and Honor have both been known to be rather heavy-handed when it comes to software optimizations, often to the detriment of notifications and the like. While I haven’t run into problems with notifications, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of those optimization decisions had bled into Magic UI 6’s engineering.
The phone feels laggy at random points — from switching between apps to launching the camera — it just feels slow. A phone with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and 8GB of RAM should not perform this poorly, yet here we are. However, what’s interesting is that this performance is reflected in the battery life, as on this device, the battery life is pretty decent. My theory is that Honor has overdone the optimizations for the chipset, resulting in a laggy experience.
Even worse is that launching the camera can take several seconds to launch and take a photo, and switching apps will occasionally result in weird stuttering. I’ve already mentioned the launcher lag, too. The phone just isn’t enjoyable to use in the software department, and I haven’t a clue why. Sometimes the refresh rate visibly dips below 120Hz when I’m scrolling, and that’s not good enough for a phone that costs this much.
As for benchmarks, I was extremely surprised. Topping out at just over 240,000 GIPS (billion instructions per second), it throttled to 71% of its max performance over half an hour. This isn’t great, considering the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 can go as high as 280,000 GIPS from our testing. I noticed that the phone doesn’t appear to heat up much at all, again suggesting that Honor is deliberately limiting this chipset’s performance. You can enable a performance mode in the battery settings, but it doesn’t improve the camera or the laggy launcher, and I didn’t score higher in benchmarks, either.
Overall, I’m extremely disappointed in the software here. I expected better, and hopefully, with software updates, it does actually get better.
Honor Magic 4 Pro: Battery & Charging
- Very fast charging
- Good battery life
- Terrible battery stat reporting
The Honor Magic 4 Pro has some of the best battery life I’ve experienced in a smartphone with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, though I don’t think the reason is without compromise. I think part of the cause of that is the software optimizations done by Honor in order to tame the chipset; after all, we’ve heard that manufacturers are struggling to really handle Qualcomm’s latest chipset.
As a result, battery life is pretty good, and I reckon I’m hitting about five hours of screen on time a day. The problem is that Honor has implemented Google’s AOSP choices when it comes to displaying battery stats in your phone’s settings, as it will reset after the clock strikes midnight. You can no longer just view your stats from when your phone was last charged — instead, it’s from whenever it crosses into the next day.
The charger you get in the box is a 100W charger too, which should hopefully make up for any battery shortcomings you may face. We were able to charge from 0% to 100% in exactly 40 minutes, which seems a bit slow on the surface. The company also sent us a wireless charger capable of 100W charging, too, and we were able to charge from 0% to 100% in 41 minutes.
The Honor Magic 4 Pro has a massive focus on charging, and it does a pretty good job at that. It’s faster at charging than most competitors in the west, though merely stands amongst the rest of the big offerings from Chinese brands like OnePlus and Xiaomi.
The fingerprint scanner is a fast enough scanner that uses ultrasonic technology to scan. Ultrasonic sensors are typically a little bit slower than optical scanners, but not by much, and it works with reasonable accuracy. It also doesn’t blind me when I’m unlocking my phone at night, which is a major plus.
Phone calls, signal strength, and 5G
There’s no VoLTE nor Wi-Fi Calling, though signal strength has been impressive enough. It can be difficult for some phones to get a signal in my apartment, but the Honor Magic 4 Pro was noticeably better than most that I’ve used in this department.
The bootloader cannot be unlocked on Honor smartphones.
Software Update Promise
Honor promises 2 generations of Android updates and 3 years of security updates. This definitely lags behind the promises that many others make at this point.
Is the Honor Magic 4 Pro worth your money?
The Honor Magic 4 Pro is in a weird spot because while it pulls off some things spectacularly well, it falters in others. The cameras are good though have major autofocus issues, the battery life is good at the expense of computation, and the software is good though lacking in some features. Every positive has an associated negative, and for the money, that’s a lot of sacrifices.
While I’m glad that Honor is back, there’s a lot of work that needs to go into the company’s software before I can wholeheartedly recommend this phone. It’s a shame that the smartphone landscape is the way that it is currently, as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 seems to be a key cause of a lot of the issues smartphone makers are facing currently. Given the launch of the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 though, maybe things will get better for the second half of the year.