Honor Magic: Our first take

Now, that's Magic: Honor's new phone has stunningly fast facial recognition

Honor’s Magic lives up to its name thanks to clever and beneficial use of AI, and a stunning design.

There’s something mystical happening inside the Honor Magic. Beneath the utterly stunning body is a clever artificial intelligence program that, along with a host of sensors and cameras, turns the already desirable device into a truly smart phone. We got a jaw-dropping demonstration of its abilities at CES 2017, and the great news is that although the Magic is only for sale in China, the tech is expected to arrive in an Honor phone we’ll actually be able to buy in the future.

Here’s an example of what makes the Magic, well, magic. The front facing camera uses facial recognition technology to ensure your lock screen notifications are safe from prying eyes, with the least interference to you. After setting the Magic up to recognize my face, a text message arrived and when looked at by anyone but me, the lock screen notification simply read “text message.” The moment I looked at the screen, the Magic instantly knew it was me, and revealed the number and the contents of the message.

The action is so fast, so seamless, that the Magic really lives up to its name. In our short test, the facial recognition was 100 percent accurate each time, refusing to reveal the message to my colleague, and happily giving up the information to me, even when changing faces immediately. It’s genuinely impressive to see, and a feature that most will consider beneficial.

Artificial intelligence

It doesn’t stop there. The Magic uses AI in a similar way to how Facebook and others are using chat bots in messenger platforms. The phone observes your actions, and will make recommendations at opportune moments. For example, if you’re texting about making plans to see a movie, the Magic will chime in with suggestions on movies available nearby, and options to book tickets. This works throughout, with the Magic offering to help with transportation, simplify messaging and emails, deal with contacts, and much more. If there are any sections where you’d rather the phone didn’t intrude, there are settings to disable its omnipresent gaze.

Much of the personalized information is collated onto a separate home screen, accessed with a swipe to the right, giving you quick access to key details when you need them. Here, you’ll also find recommendations for music and entertainment, based on your existing choices and preferences. The style is reminiscent of LG’s Smart Bulletin installed on the G4.

The Honor Magic runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and instead of Huawei’s EMUI (Emotion UI) over the top, it has Magic Live UI. This is way more customized than we’re used to seeing, moving away from stock Android and even EMUI 5.0 installed on the Mate 9, for a very different experience. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen and you get an iOS-like shortcut screen, plus a few interface adjustments. Swipe down from the top and you’ll find fitness tracking stats. Apps are spread across multiple home screens, also like iOS. While EMUI is moving away from such drastic changes, and toward standard Android, Magic Live UI has gone in the opposite direction.

Beautiful design

Also headed in a new direction is design. The Honor Magic looks unlike any other phone on sale, and that’s a pretty unusual statement to make today, when so many devices imitate the iPhone or Samsung’s Galaxy devices. The front and back are covered in curved glass, giving the phone a lozenge-like shape that’s both pleasing (if a little slippery) to hold, and absolutely stunning to look at. The screen isn’t curved, but is a manageable 5.1-inches in size, with a large 2,560 x 1,440 pixel resolution. It looks equally as stunning as the phone itself.

On the back is a centrally mounted dual-camera lens, built into the body itself, without any bump or modification to the sleek glass shell. Both have 12 megapixels and can shoot bokeh-style pictures (photos with background blurring). We tried it out and the effect not only looks great — as you’d expect, both Honor and Huawei have considerable experience here — but is very fast, with the software just creating the best image without any delay. The front camera is 8 megapixel.

This compact size makes the Magic very light at 145 grams, and incredibly pocket friendly. Honor has consistently made attractive phones, but this is a real step beyond. Take this out anywhere, and it’s going to grab plenty of attention. Huawei’s Kirin 950 processor also seen in the P9 powers the Honor Magic, with 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage space. The battery has a 2,900mAh battery with fast charging, which may be a little small to power the phone for more than a day.

In China, where the Magic is already on sale, it costs around $400. This marks it as a real bargain, putting it alongside the Axon 7 and OnePlus 3T. Although the Magic itself may not arrive in the United States, the artificial intelligence technology onboard will make it to the States in a future Honor phone. We’re excited about that, and hope the Magic itself is a hint of the direction Honor will take with future designs.

Highs

  • Clever, beneficial AI
  • Beautiful design
  • Reasonable price

Lows

  • Only available in China
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