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Honor MagicBook review: It’s not magic, it’s real

I certainly didn’t expect it, but it seems like Honor‘s really good at making affordable laptops too. While they’ve built their name on making really good affordable and affordable flagship smartphones, the new Honor MagicBook may be the only device from them you should consider getting this year. At least, until they sort out the whole no-GMS situation.

Obviously, Honor has made laptops before, but this MagicBook is the first one that we’ve seen come into Malaysia. And after spending a few days with it, I have to say that I’m very impressed with it especially if you consider its value proposition.

Looking the part

The MagicBook is a 14-inch laptop that’s designed to occupy the affordable segment of the laptop market, but looking at it, I don’t think many would be able to tell. I really like the way this device looks for a budget laptop. The Space Gray finish on the chassis is understated but not entirely boring. 

I’m not entirely sure what the chassis is made of, but judging by the small dent on my review unit (I promise, it was already there when they sent it to me) and the shell’s excellent rigidity, I’d hazard a guess that it is some kind of the aluminium compound. That means I already like this way more than its cousin over at Huawei, the MateBook D 15.

However, the keyboard deck does flex quite a bit when you apply pressure, which isn’t something I’m thrilled about. Still, as a whole, I think the build is good enough for the price point. I understand that in Europe, the MagicBook has a newer, lighter, and cooler-looking body so it is a bit of a shame that Malaysia only gets this 1.45kg variant.

Now, that’s not necessarily bad because I think that the MagicBook definitely punches above its weight in build and design. It’s just that you have to live with the fact that there’s another identical MagicBook out there with a little bit more pizzazz and a little less weight.

Just about enough power

Performance, however, should be the same. The unit that’s available in Malaysia comes in one configuration and that’s one with a Ryzen 5 3500U with integrated Vega 8 graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD for storage. Personally, I like the fact that instead of using a small SSD plus a slow HDD combo to save cost, Honor just straight up gives you a half terabyte of fast SSD storage. I definitely prefer the faster onboard storage option because if I need to perform backups or offload old files, I can always pick up a cheap external hard disk for that.

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And the MagicBook runs smooth. Boot times are fast, and I found that it was capable enough for my daily tasks. I do a lot of writing with some photo processing (Photoshop and Lightroom) throughout my day and the MagicBook was able to keep up. Of course, when I start processing large numbers of photos in Lightroom, it will start to slow but for my workflow the experience was good enough.

It’ll even handle eSports titles like League of Legends at playable frame rates in Full HD so you can squeeze in a quick gaming session if you want. Don’t expect it to run AAA titles, though. It is not a gaming laptop. 

I also didn’t notice any significant thermal throttling which is nice. The deck where you rest your palm gets really hot however, so it doesn’t score very high when it comes to comfort.

I haven’t done any video editing on the MagicBook, but in my experience, if you want to process a lot of videos through Adobe Premiere Pro, you might want to up your budget and invest in an Intel Core i7 or Ryzen 7-powered machine instead. I would also like to see the MagicBook get updated with the new Ryzen 4000 series processors because from what I understand those represent a significant improvement in performance over the 3000 series. 

It sounds good

While the build is good and the performance is good enough, probably my favourite thing about the MagicBook has to be its quad speakers. For laptop speakers, especially affordable ones, I think they’re really good. Now, they’re definitely not as good as MacBook Pro speakers. And they do lack in the low end so you won’t feel any of that satisfying rumbling. But, vocals are crisp and they do get really loud which is often all I really need from built-in laptop speakers, especially at this price point.

In fact, I think they outperform most other Windows laptops I’ve heard so far, including the ones that cost twice (or maybe even three times) as much as the MagicBook.

Normally, that would make the MagicBook a great laptop for content consumption, but I have to say that in this regard, the screen is a little bit of a letdown. It’s not bad but it’s not great either. The 14” IPS panel pushes a nice Full HD resolution with good viewing angles, but it definitely lacks when it comes to vibrancy. Colours don’t look particularly punchy or accurate to my eye so I wouldn’t really trust this for any kind of colour work. 

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But, for regular use, I think it’s good enough. The matte surface over the top of the display does a good job of reducing reflections, and the hinge will let you open the laptop all the way to 180-degrees so you have lots of freedom for adjustment.

On top of that, the MagicBook also comes with a solid selection of ports. You get two USB-A ports (one USB3.0 the other USB2.0), a full sized HDMI port, a 3.5mm audio jack as well as a USB-C port. I’m not entirely sure if it’s a Thunderbolt 3 port because I haven’t found official documentation stating that, but the USB-C port supports power delivery and can also push display, which is nice. 

Plus, I like that it charges via the USB-C port too so you get a smaller brick, and your laptop’s charger can also charge your other USB-C devices which is useful on-the-go.

A little out of touch

Probably one of the most unfortunate things about this laptop is its trackpad. I am glad that it has a precision touchpad so all your gestures will work, but the texture and accuracy of it leaves a lot to be desired. I would definitely recommend using a mouse whenever you can.

Thankfully, the keyboard it comes with is pretty solid. You get nicely spaced keys with a good layout and almost all the function keys you’d want, plus the option to enable function lock. I would have liked media playback keys, but that’s almost impossible to find on keyboards these days, for whatever reason. Key travel is a little short and I wish there was more tactility, but the keys also don’t have a lot of wobble so the overall experience is still good enough for me.

You’ll also get a nice clicky power button that’s not part of the keyboard (thank goodness) which also doubles as a fingerprint scanner. While I would have preferred Windows Hello facial recognition, having a fingerprint scanner is still greatly appreciated. Being forced to key in a pin just feels so 2007 to me.

That being said, the battery life did feel a little old-fashioned to me. Honor promises up to 10 hours of battery life but in my experience using the standard “Better Battery” preset on Windows 10, I was only able to get about 6 hours. My workflow mostly consisted of composing articles and scripts, with the occasional photo processing in Lightroom. Oh, and I did have Spotify playing in the background with the keyboard backlight turned on. 

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I guess if you turn off the backlight and limit yourself to browser work you could get close to a full day’s use, but that’s not really something I’d be willing to do on a daily basis. The good news is that the power brick is small, so it’s not a hassle to bring around.

So, what have we learned here? 

Well, to me, the Honor MagicBook definitely has clear strengths and weaknesses. I think it has a good build, solid speakers, good performance, good I/O, an OK screen and a good-enough keyboard with cool quality of life features like a fingerprint scanner and a classy look. If you have an Honor smartphone, you can also make use of the Honor Magic-link sticker to connect your phone with your laptop—just make sure you don’t peel that sticker off.

However, you should also know that this device has a slightly older processor, a poor trackpad and quite a bit of weight for something you’d want to lug around on the daily. What’s more, I don’t think you’d be able to get a full day’s worth out of this device without bringing your charger with you.

Considering the price though, I think it definitely has the chops to compete with some of the best in its RM2,299 price tag. Digging around Lazada, I was hard pressed to find another laptop at the same price with all of the things I liked on the MagicBook.

As a result, I think the MagicBook is a really solid choice for someone looking to get their first laptop or a laptop for office/college work. If you’re a creator on-the-go, I’d say up your budget and get something closer to the MateBook 13 which I’ve been using as a daily driver that has a better balance between performance and portability. Plus, the MateBook 13 has a much nicer 2K panel.

What do you peeps think? Got a better laptop suggestion? Leave them in the comments below!

Photography by Rory Lee with the Fujifilm X-T20.