Honor, the smartphone manufacturer that was, until late last year, Huawei’s budget division, is back. Not that it ever really went away, you understand, since it’s already released the View 40 and Honor 50 in its homeland while under its new owners. But today marks the first time that it is launching a flagship phone to the global market as an independent company. Free from the US sanctions that rocked its former parent, Honor is once again able to use American software (hello, Android 11) and silicon (hello, Qualcomm). This then, is the start of Honor’s second life, which is beginning with the launch of the Magic3, its first — well, “first” — flagship.
Historically, Honor was Huawei’s budget play, offering a surprising level of quality and tech for relatively low prices. The Honor 20, for instance, was the sort of phone that made you forget about the need to buy a flagship handset despite its modest sticker. Now, of course, with the freedom (read: obligation) to create high-end handsets, Honor is shuffling its brands. The high end will now be dominated by Magic-branded handsets, while the numbered line (like the Honor 50) will sit in the middle, and the low end now the domain of the X-Series.
Design-wise, Honor’s apple did not fall far from Huawei’s tree. From several angles, the Magic3 looks like a Huawei Mate, and this is not the only time I’ll bring this up. Given the sharing of IP and technology between the two companies before the split, this is not a huge surprise. I’m sure that many of the handsets Honor releases over the next couple of years will have that whiff of shared DNA, and like the Mate this phone has a waterfall display, with an 89-degree curve down both sides of the screen.
There are three Magic3 handsets in the range, the vanilla Magic3, Magic3 Pro, and the Magic3 Pro+. Every member of this trio is packing a 6.67-inch, 2,272 x 1,344, always-on flexible OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate and HDR 10+. There’s a 94.82 screen-to-body ratio, the ideal fact to wheel out when you need to impress folks in bars, too. The cut-out for imaging plays host to a 13-megapixel, f/2.4 wide camera with a 100-degree wide-angle lens no matter what model you opt for. Although the higher end Pro and Pro+ models are the only ones that pair it with a 3D Time of Flight sensor for face unlocking.
The real interest, however, is in the lenses on the back of the phone, and Honor is throwing all but the dishwasher at this phone. Arranged in a setup the company is calling "The Eye of Muse," the regular handsets get a 50-megapixel, f/1.9 lens with Sony's IMX766 image sensor, a 64-megapixel, f/2.2 monochrome camera and a 13-megapixel, 120-degree f/2.2 ultra-wide camera.
The Pro, meanwhile, adds a 64-megapixel, f/3.5 OIS telephoto camera with a 3.5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid zoom and 100x digital zoom. The Pro+, meanwhile, swaps out that IMX766 for the larger, f/1.9 1/1.28-inch IMX700 with OIS. You'll get that 64-megapixel monochrome camera with an f/1.8 aperture, a 64-megapixel 126-degree, f/2.4 ultra-wide camera and that same telephoto lens. (You'll also get a TOF sensor and color temperature sensor for more accurate imaging.)
Honor also said that this IMAX-enhanced camera can be used to shoot your own cinema-quality films, a boast previously used to sell Huawei’s Mate 30 and Mate 40 (told you I’d mention this again). Honor says that, unlike those handsets, it has developed a custom, mobile-friendly version of the filming standard Log, dubbed MagicLog, which is designed to shoot high-quality video.
Broadly speaking, Log is a way of recording footage that preserves as much of the dynamic range and tone as possible. When viewed straight from the camera, the footage looks weird and it requires a lot of post-processing and grading. In order to save ordinary users from that agony, Honor teamed up with professional colorist Bryan McMahan to create eight pre-set grades which work like Instagram filters.
Honor said that one minute of MagicLog footage will take up around 500MB of memory, so if you want to shoot a film with one of these, invest in one with lots of storage. And this is a feature that we’d love to test in depth in future, because if this in some crazy way does turn out to work, it could be a very big deal.
Beyond imaging, Honor wanted to talk up the various software engines that it has designed to help squeeze better performance out of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888+ 5G SoC found in the Pro and Pro+. (The regular Magic3 is using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888.) Long story short, Honor (and Huawei before it) uses an AI layer which has been trained to monitor for challenging processes and adjust power to compensate. It says that, for the Magic3, you can expect to see faster and more stable 5G and gaming performance when using the phone. Then there is OS Turbo X (Apple’s lawyers, I’m sure, will be taking notes) which, it’s claimed, will be able to keep the system running at peak performance for longer. Honor’s representatives said that this system alone will ensure that, after using it for 36 months, you’ll only experience a 3.8 percent drop in performance compared to the day you bought the phone.
And then there’s “Smart RAM,” which sounds like the sort of RAM-doubling scamware that we saw back in the days of Windows 3.1. Honor’s representatives said that, in times of need, the Magic3 can bounce some of the data from its RAM to the phone’s flash memory. Now it’s not clear if the company is trying to pass virtual memory off as some sort of new-fangled innovation or if there’s some clever new implementation here. Honor says that, no matter if you have the 8GB or 12GB variant, you can expect this system to offer you an additional 2GB of headroom when required. I have no idea if file transfer speeds between the SoC and flash memory are fast enough to make this a viable, boastworthy feature for a new flagship handset.
The company has also offered some smart privacy features, like obscuring message notifications when you cast video to a TV, as well as the ability to strip metadata from images before you share them to social media.
Honor hasn’t said how long this device will last on a single charge, but that 4,600mAh battery should have plenty of staying power. All three variants support 66W wired SuperCharge, and you can get up to 50 percent of your battery re-juiced with just 15 minutes of connection. In addition, the Pro and Pro+ models both support 50W wireless charging, should you feel the need.
Magic3 is available in four colors: Black, White, "Golden Hour" and "Blue Hour," the latter pair are a pinkish-orangey hue, and a deep royal blue. The standard colors are available in Honor's usual coating, while the two hours are available in vegan leather. The 3 Pro+, meanwhile, comes in either a ceramic black or white ceramic body with pinstripe texturing which, at first blush, looks extraordinary. All of the handsets are IP68-rated for water and dust resistance, which is about the minimum you can expect from a phone these days.
The Honor Magic3 series will make its debut in Mainland China, with news about arrivals in western markets coming in short order. CEO George Zhao did, however, reveal pricing for the handset when it reaches Europe, at the very least. The Magic3, with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, will retail for €899 ($1,054), while the Magic 3 Pro (8GB + 256GB) will set you back €1,099 ($1,289). Flagship-lovers, looking to grab the Magic3 Pro+ with 12GB RAM and 512GB Storage, meanwhile, will have to fork over at least €1,499 ($1,758).