They might be much better known as a Huawei subsidiary with an impressive line of great value phones, but when Honor wrote to me last month asking whether I’d like to review their new MagicBook laptop, the timing was opportune. I’m fairly wedded to my Surface Book 2 personally, but I do have someone in the household – my 16 year old daughter – who has been looking for a new laptop to use for her studies, some video editing and general web and social media use.
I’ll be honest, as an iPhone user she’d been pining after a Macbook, but as we know they’re not exactly cheap or good value, so we’d been holding off getting her a machine while we considered the options. Opportune timing indeed.
What is it?
So what is the Magicbook? In the 14” guise I’m looking at here, it’s a silver or grey (I have the grey version) laptop packing an AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor built on the 12nm process with Vega 8 graphics, 8GB DDR4 dual channel RAM, 256GB NVMe SSD, built in fingerprint reader, FHD (1920x1080) anti-glare IPS display, pop up webcam and dual speakers. The laptop has a metallic finish, weighs in at 1.38kg and is extremely compact thanks to 4.8mm top and side bezels. It’s less than 16mm thick despite the fact that it still manages to include dual USB A ports, a HDMI port, a 3.5mm jack and a single USB C port for use with the supplied 65W charger. The laptop is priced at £549 and available from multiple retailers including Amazon and Argos.
Before I handed the laptop over to my daughter, of course I had to give it a good go myself. The machine certainly looks the part – it could be easily mistaken for a Macbook save for the blue ‘Honor’ logo on the lid (and matching edging), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once you open it up and turn it on, the differences to the Apple machine are more noticeable. The screen has an anti-glare matte finish and surround to match. This is a real plus. Glossy screens seem to be everywhere nowadays, often mandated by the addition of touch support, but they come with their downsides. I am sitting in the garden using the Magicbook right now, in the sunshine, and I can see the screen no problem at all. Had I been using my Surface, it would have been effectively useless. Chalk up a win for the Honor! The screen brightness in general isn’t eye-searing, but it is perfectly adequate, particularly at this mid-range price point.
Another strong point of the Magicbook is its keyboard and trackpad. The keys are relatively shallow as you’ll often find on ultrabook style devices, however they have a good overall feel to them and as a touch typist my accuracy is excellent. As with the rest of the device, it just feels fantastically put together. I can’t see a cookie crumb breaking the keyboard here. Keyboard backlighting is included, although it’s fairly dim. The trackpad is large and responsive – despite the fact I switch between the Microsoft machine and a Dell XPS 13 which both have really great trackpads, I have no complaints here at all.
I do have to talk about performance. AMD have been winning fans across the board with their latest chips and it really shows when you fire up the Magicbook. After completing the Windows 10 setup, the machine positively flies. Almost unnaturally so! DDR4 dual channel RAM and a NVMe SSD will certainly be helping, but honestly, it feels faster pinging around the OS than my XPS. That doesn’t seem right! Only when you really throw intensive tasks at the laptop will things start to slow down. I don’t see this being an issue for the majority of users. The cooling fan kicks in very rarely and is subtle when it does.
While the Magicbook utilises a Vega 8 graphics processor which is superior to the equivalent Intel offerings, a true gaming machine this is not. I’ll let Lucie talk about the gaming experience, but I’d describe this as a machine designed for general use with a little light gaming on the side.
Battery life is excellent, the fingerprint reader is very fast and I think Honor have produced an incredibly well rounded machine at a fantastic price. But now to hand over to our resident teenager…
I know that dad said I wanted a Macbook, but there’s a good reason for that – as he mentioned, I use an iPhone and the integration with my phone is just handy. More importantly than that though, I edit videos and I like the idea of being able to use iMovie. I’m a realist though and I know the Apple machines are super expensive, so of course I was very keen to try out the Magicbook!
It definitely looks and feels nice. It’s pretty light - I can easily imagine carrying it in my school bag for sixth form (when schools finally open again) and it’s ready to go as soon as I open the lid and scan my finger. I’m already thinking about how I can customise it, perhaps with a nice custom shell and some stickers, but the dark grey colour is very sophisticated.
I tried the basics first. Chrome, Word, Powerpoint, Google Classroom – they all run very smoothly, at least as well as my desktop PC which (I’m told) uses a Ryzen 5 2400G and also has a SSD. I installed Minecraft and SIMS 4 to see how they run and while I can’t enable as much detail as I do on my other machine, performance is more than OK and, well, I can’t take my desktop out in the garden can I! The speakers on the laptop are easily loud enough to annoy the other occupants of the house, with Dolby Atmos support which enables different profiles for different situations.
I feared that the video editing situation was going to be an issue, but I’ve now been introduced to PowerDirector for Windows, which is actually very good (albeit not free). I’ve used OBS Studio with a Razer Ripsaw HD to capture gaming footage and edited it in PowerDirector with no issues at all. This laptop might be half the price of a Macbook, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a compromise.
I’ll be honest, I like everything about this laptop except one thing – the webcam. It’s great if you’re paranoid about privacy as it pops up on a button between the F6 and F7 keys, but it means that the resulting image points at your hands and up your nose, something I know annoys dad on his Dell. Of course, if you’re typing when on a video call, they can see your hands moving and hear you typing too. Not ideal, especially for our current times when keeping in contact with friends and family using video is so important. With a proper USB socket on each side, plugging in a separate webcam is pretty easy, so that’s an option, but perhaps something you need to factor into the price when purchasing. I’ve used a Razer Kiyo with the Magicbook and to be honest, quality is far superior to what you’d get from most laptops anyway.
Would I buy a Magicbook? Yes, I think it ticks the right boxes. The battery lasts for ages (over 5 hours in regular use and it charges fast too), I can do everything I need on it and it doesn’t slow down regardless of how many windows and apps I have open. I’d love to see a repositioned webcam for the next generation model, but I don’t think it’s a show-stopper.
On the wrist rest of the Magicbook, alongside the Ryzen 5 sticker, you'll see a HONOR Magic-link logo. If you happen to use a Honor Smartphone, you can connect your phone to the laptop simply by tapping on the sticker. This loads an app on the phone providing simple transfer between the two devices.
It's very effective, but I feel there is also a missed opportunity here - Honor could definitely promote sales of the machine by opening up the platform to all devices.
I’m not sure you’ll find a better built laptop for the price and the impressive turn of speed in general use makes this a laptop that’s easy to recommend. Provided you’re not a hardcore gamer, it’s ideal for most people.
As an added bonus, Honor are currently offering a deal in their store where you get a free MagicWatch 2 (which is excellent too with crazy good battery life) and a backpack.