Even if it was absent from the Romanian market for a good period of time, the Honor brand proved last year that the public has not forgotten about it, managing to quickly enter the offers of specialty stores and telecom operators. This year, first on the launch list for the company is the very model that could have the biggest sales in its portfolio, an affordable mid-range that also brings some “premium” capabilities in the 300-400 euro price range. That, of course, is the Magic5 Lite, the cheapest model in the company’s flagship series.
Honor’s Magic5 Lite is one of the few mid-range models with a curved screen
The Magic5 Lite isn’t exactly a new phone, however, having been available in Asian markets under the Honor X9a name for several months now. This is the best-performing model in the mid-range, positioned just below the Honor 80 variant, which climbs to the next performance rung.
However, if you just look at the Magic5 Lite from the outside, you wouldn’t exactly call it a cheap phone. It has a “flagship” look, mainly responsible for this “look” being the OLED screen with curved edges. Until not long ago, only phones in the €800-1,000 area were equipped with something like this, but Honor has managed to bring it to a mid-range device at half the price. Of course, much of the production cost went into this screen, so other elements aren’t as “premium”.
For example, the case on the back is made of plastic. Also, despite the circle on the back framing the three cameras, they’re not exactly ones that promise top performance. What’s more, on the inside, the hardware behind this phone doesn’t aim at all beyond the limits of this range of devices.
I have to admit, though, that this is one of the thinnest devices I’ve used lately, and Honor especially boasts that they’ve managed to pack a large 5,100 mAh battery into such a compact device. What it failed to include in the phone’s package, however, are any kind of accessories besides a charging cable. The charger is conspicuously missing, and even the case, something we were used to finding alongside Honor’s mid-range phones, has been removed. Good news, however, is that the phone at least comes with a factory-applied screen wrap.
The screen is definitely this model’s biggest draw
Some phones are considered “camera phones”, others “gaming phones”, but the Magic5 Lite is clearly a “screen phone”, because this is its most important feature by far. We’re dealing with a 6.67″ display with Full HD+ resolution at 120 Hz, with good but not flagship brightness at 800 nits. Still, the screen is comparable to what other companies still deliver in the flagship area.
The fact that the screen is curved at the edges, however, does not have any advantage in use, it is, in my opinion, actually a disadvantage. However, because of this design, the Magic5 Lite will give you the feeling that you’re using a significantly more expensive device. I admit that sometimes curved edges on phones can make the device more comfortable to use, especially at larger sizes. At the same time, I can’t help but consider that certain buttons can be hard to press when displayed on the curved area, or that you can accidentally press them with your fingers or the palm of your hand trying to touch other areas of the screen. But I most dislike the light reflections when they fall squarely on the curved area. Some manufacturers have started moving towards flatter screens in the last few years, and the Magic5 Lite seems to be even more curved than other models with similar screens on the market.
The Honor Magic5 Lite’s performance falls within expectations for this hardware configuration
Performance-wise I didn’t have very high expectations, as I had previously consulted the specs list and pretty much knew what to expect. The Snapdragon 695 has never been a chipset that delivers high performance in games or complex applications. In fact, this chipset is also the reason why the phone can’t shoot in 4K, being limited to 1080p only.
On the other hand, this is a pretty power efficient chipset, as we’ve seen on other models, while it hardly gets hot in use, even after dozens of minutes of gaming use. This is particularly evidenced by the 3DMark stress test, which demonstrates near-perfect stability in 30 minutes of use. Of course, the performance offered is not impressive, but for most games, on low settings, it should be enough.
- AnTutu – 396.231
- GeekBench – Single-Core: 667 / Multi-Core: 1,907
- GeekBench Vulkan – 1.181
- 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited – 1.200
- 3DMark Wild Life Stress Test – Best loop: 1.205 / Lowest loop: 1.196 / Stability: 99.3%
- PCMark – 10.111
Autonomy, the second major advantage
I said earlier that this is a true “screen phone”, offering a large, bright and fast screen, but another important feature is the battery life. We’re talking about a phone with a mid-range chipset that doesn’t consume much power, coupled with a large 5,100 mAh battery. The result is a two-day phone that probably won’t need extra charging except in emergencies. And if you need to conserve power, you can set the screen to 60 Hz and adopt a darker UI, this being an OLED screen device.
Unfortunately, even if the phone does indeed support fast charging at 40W, the fact that the charger isn’t in the box will limit many users’ access to this feature. Honor will sell a compatible charger separately, and those who already have chargers of similar power from other Honor or Huawei models will be able to use those.
MagicUI comes with an iOS-inspired design
Magic UI was once just an alternate version of Huawei’s EMUI, and the origins of the two software versions certainly share the same basis. In fact, Huawei’s HarmonyOS also inherited many of the common elements of Magic UI and EMUI, and these software versions still resemble each other.
So if you don’t mind the interface clearly inspired by Apple’s iOS, the MagicUI on the Honor Magic5 Lite is actually quite pleasant and surprisingly fluid, given the not-so-powerful processor. Something that caught my eye, and which is really to be appreciated, is that there are no longer two drawers at the top. Whether you pull from the center or the right corner, you’ll see the same drawer for notifications and quick settings, without a “control center” like on iOS.
With built-in Google services, you can enjoy the Play Store, YouTube, Gmail and even the Google Discover screen on the left of the main menu. However, Honor dubs many of these apps with proprietary services or apps, including an app store, Honor Market. This is very similar to Huawei’s App Gallery, but includes apps that that one doesn’t. Last but not least, we’re dealing with some bloatware on first setup. There are “top apps” and “top games” ads, but also pre-installed apps like Netflix, Facebook, Booking and TikTok. Given that most users install these anyway, I don’t think it’s such a big problem.
What we don’t know though is how many system updates Honor will offer on this model. Presumably at least Android 14 will be coming to the Magic5 Lite, but the competition (i.e. Samsung with their Galaxy A models), is offering four major updates and five years of security updates in this price range. During testing, Honor shipped a few GB update on this model, which I installed, so the phone’s software is getting some attention already.
The fingerprint sensor and speaker are clearly out of the average area
I was glad to see that Honor has kept the tradition of integrating quality fingerprint sensors on their phones, including mid-range phones. The Magic5 Lite has an optical sensor integrated into the screen and I rarely encountered finger recognition errors. And when it happened it was because I wasn’t perfectly targeting the area on the screen. I’ve noticed that sometimes the unlock time can vary. However, probably because of the processor, the unlock time is variable. Sometimes it’s instant, other times it takes even a second for finger recognition.
One “premium” capability I would have liked to see alongside the large, fluid screen would have been a stereo audio system. Unfortunately, the Magic5 Lite only comes with one speaker, at the bottom. It’s not very “powerful”, but at least it’s loud. You’ll definitely hear the ringtones in the next room, but the audio quality is only average. It’s not the kind of phone you want to listen to music on speakerphone. Nor is it the kind of phone to put wired headphones on, as it doesn’t have a 3.5mm jack. Put a pair of wireless headphones in the basket next to your phone if you choose this model.
Magic5 Lite is not a “camera phone”
We won’t dwell too much on the photo chapter because the Magic5 Lite is clearly not a “camera phone”. Daytime photos taken with the main camera are decent, being processed with AI. Incidentally, the algorithms that detect the scene are similar to those we encountered a few years ago on Huawei phones, and are even slightly better calibrated on the Magic5 Lite. However, the phone is limited by the camera hardware it integrates.
The 64-megapixel main camera doesn’t have optical stabilization, so in low light many frames come out shaky, and on night mode only the main camera is available, with decent results as long as you only “consume” them on smaller, phone-like screens. On a PC or laptop monitor, the noise and lack of detail is obvious. Exposure times are also very long on night mode.
The ultrawide camera can only be used during the day, but the 5 megapixel resolution means we’re not dealing with too much detail. There’s also a 2-megapixel macro macro camera, which probably no one will use, since the function in the camera app is listed under “other”. The phone also zooms 2x via crop on the 64 megapixel main sensor. The results are decent in daytime, but not as good in night mode.
One issue we identified on the Honor Magic5 Lite that could be true of all of the company’s phones is that the zoom buttons are placed in positions that are hard to reach with one hand. In portrait mode, they are on the right side, and in landscape mode they appear at the bottom. All other manufacturers have agreed that keeping the buttons in the area above the shutter release is easiest. Honor seems to be going against the grain and this decision could result in the loss of some frames.
It’s good that Honor is bringing the Magic5 Lite to Romania at a price under 2,000 lei, as this will finally see some real competition for Samsung, which has been dominating this area for a few years now, especially since Huawei’s models aren’t as competitive due to lack of Google services. Sure, it’s possible that Samsung will offer better cameras on the upcoming A54, but the screen on the Honor Magic might be preferred by some users, and the design is clearly a nicer one than the simplistic matte plastic we’ve seen in past years on Galaxy mid-rangers.
Where the Honor Magic5 Lite certainly seems to lose points is in the raw performance department. Games and photo or video editing apps won’t run as well as on other devices in this price range that use more powerful processors. The upside is that you get a great screen for video playback and a bigger battery instead.
What’s certain is that the Magic5 Lite represents a good start to the mid-range year in 2023 and suggests that Honor will offer competitive devices in other market segments this year. Next up is the launch of the flagship Magic5 Pro and the debut of the brand’s first “international” foldable, the Magic Vs, which we’ll most likely see at Mobile World Congress.