After breaking from Huawei, Honor has made the case that, in Europe at least, it is Samsung’s true rival in the Android space. In the last three years, it has offered flagship phones that are spec-for-spec the equal of whatever that year’s S-series is packing. Sadly, it’s also doing this at a time when the spec arms race is all but done, and it’s harder than ever to actually stand out amongst the crowd. The Magic 5 Pro doesn’t deviate from the template laid down by its two predecessors, so Honor can’t play on your neophilia as a reason to buy it. But there might be something in the sheer muscularity of its offering that could tempt you into making the switch.
The Magic 5 Pro is making its debut at MWC in Barcelona, and will be sold in both Europe and China. Design-wise, it’s close to its predecessor, but Honor says the new handset apes the sweeping, organic curves favored by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Where the Magic 4 Pro had a fairly hard line around its camera hump – sorry, Eye of Muse – here the back cover pours itself into the bump quite seamlessly. It’s comfortable enough in your hand and light enough to hold, but you’ll need the case to keep things pristine. It’s available in fingerprint-magnet piano Black and Meadow Green, which looks nicer in person than it does in photos.
A sense of evolution, rather than revolution, continues along the rest of the spec list, with little major difference between the Magic 4 and its replacement. The “Quad Curved Floating Screen” is, like the Magic 4, a 6.81-inch, 120Hz, LTPO OLED display with a 2,848 x 1,312 resolution that curves into the frame. Honor says that the enhancements are mostly behind the scenes, with a new discrete display chipset for better video quality and better brightness. Whereas the Magic 4 could muster up 1,000 nits, its successor can crank out 1,300 nits, or 1,800 nits at peak.
Nestled inside is a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, up from the Gen 1 found on the Magic 4, matching the silicon inside the S23, which is paired with 12GB RAM and 512GB storage. Although Honor can’t call upon the same overclocking magic found in Samsung’s handset, it does say its AI-infused performance software will do a similar job. Sadly, I had all of ten minutes to spend with the handset and so there wasn’t the chance to do any serious stress testing. But history tells us that a handset this chock-full of gear is hardly going to be a slouch.
A 5,100mAh battery is powering the show here, a significantly bigger battery than the 4,500 found on the 4. This, I suspect, is the reason this handset is four grams heavier than the last one, but what’s a couple of grams between friends, eh? That cell will accept 66W wired or 50W wireless charging, if you have the necessary Honor SuperCharge stand in your home. As I said above, this is more or less what you’d expect with any Android flagship these days.
The major selling point for a handset like this is the camera, and Honor is doing its usual job here. Magic 5 Pro comes with a “Star Wheel” version of its “Eye of Muse” camera ring, packed with three beefy lenses jutting out from the back. First is a 50-megapixel, f/1.6 lens with a custom 1/1.12-inch sensor, the manufacturer of which I don’t yet know. That’s paired with a 50-megapixel, f/2.0 ultra-wide camera with a 122-degree field of view and a 50-megapixel, f/3.0 periscope telephoto with a 3.5x optical zoom and 100x digital zoom connected to Sony’s IMX858 image sensor. Less attention is given to the forward facing camera, which is probably the same 12-megapixel, f/2.4 unit paired with a 3D depth camera as found in the Magic 4 Pro.
(Those with long memories, or access to Google, will recall that the Magic 4 Pro’s telephoto lens had a quoted resolution of 64-megapixels. An Honor spokesperson said that the switch is down to an improvement in sensor size, and the new image engine will offer “far better light sensing.”)
Supporting the headline trio is, again, an 8x8 Direct Time of Flight Sensor for laser focusing, a multi-spectrum color temperature and flicker sensor. Those will all add muscle to the handset’s upgraded image engine, promising faster capture, better HDR and higher quality computational photography. The company hinted about further improvements to the stills shooting, and while the video-shooting abilities garnered nary a mention, it’ll still output (compressed) “Log” footage using Honor’s proprietary Magic-Log format.
As for what you can do with those lenses, Honor is making the same noises it’s always made about its class-leading imaging. As well as a Dxomark score of 152, the company — before the handset was even announced – bragged that the Magic 5 Pro’s camera was good enough to capture a Guinness World Record in the making. And that its AI smarts were capable of plucking a single, perfect frame of a basketballer mid-dunk that was worthy of sharing.
— Guinness World Records (@GWR) February 13, 2023
Now, we must always treat these pledges as they’re intended, knowing that they mean nothing until we’ve tried to replicate those results ourselves. As we learned last year when we really tested the Magic 4 Pro’s promise of 4K video shooting, promises are cheaper than delivering.
One thing that’s clear about so many handsets these days is that companies are looking for marginal gains all over the package. For instance, Honor says the Magic 5 Pro has discrete Bluetooth and WiFi antennas which should boost download speeds and improve the reliability of your Bluetooth connection. It’s hard to see if those are current gripes with a wide number of users, but it’s good to see some thought put to improving matters.
And Honor has also revived a much-ballyhooed, rarely-loved
gimmick feature in the form of air gestures. Now, you can control elements of your phone’s UI from a foot over the top of the front facing camera, when you’re trying to browse recipes with messy hands. Honor says that their return is thanks to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2’s additional power, which is capable of watching your hand movements without putting too much pressure on the system-on-chip.
Now, I only had about ten minutes of time with the handset, and there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff I could do to put it through its paces. I will say that I’m expecting the imaging performance to be a lot snappier than what was available on the demo unit, which felt a little sluggish. And that while nobody’s expecting any smartphone maker to reinvent the wheel, there’s fewer marks on offer for polish. As I said at the top, my initial impression of Honor’s Magic 5 Pro is of a handset that doesn’t deviate from the template laid down by its two immediate predecessors, but one that’s been polished to a very high shine.
As well as the Magic 5 Pro, the company also announced the European arrival of the Magic 5, a less expansive version of the same handset. Both will be available at some point in the second quarter of the year, with the Magic 5 — with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, priced at €899 ($950), while the Magic 5 Pro with 12GB RAM and 512GB storage will set you back €1,199 ($1,267). But I suspect that Honor might need to trim that asking price down a little if it really wants to tempt away folks who, right now, have sworn their brand allegiance to Samsung.