Foldable smartphones are already exciting. The dual-purpose devices give you both a small and a large screen all in one handy package, and it’s down to you whether you want that unfolded screen to be tablet-like, or smartphone-like.
Samsung has control of the market at the moment, but challengers are beginning to emerge — and the latest is Honor with the Honor Magic Vs. It’s going to be released globally next year, and this is why you should pay attention.
Meet the Honor Magic Vs
The Honor Magic Vs (which we take as being pronounced Magic V S, and not Honor Magic Vzz) manages to push the folding smartphone game forward, not just parrot what we’ve seen from Samsung, Oppo, and Huawei already. It’s not a giant leap, but this is still new territory for most manufacturers, and any advancement is impressive. Particularly so from Honor, not because it’s inexperienced, but because it’s a relatively new brand in this guise (having been sold by Huawei in 2019), and this is only its second foldable smartphone.
Let’s introduce the Magic Vs before going any further. It’s a big-screen folding smartphone along the same lines as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4. It has a wide 7.9-inch screen when unfolded, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor with up to 12GB of RAM inside, and a triple camera on the back. This contains a 54-megapixel main camera, a 50MP wide-angle, and an 8MP telephoto with a 3x optical zoom. A 5,000mAh battery provides power, and it fast charges to 100% in 46 minutes.
Nothing here is really moving foldables forward, but the general specification isn’t what makes the Honor Magic Vs interesting. To understand where Honor has innovated, you have to see and feel the phone, and I’ve had the chance to do that with one of the first models.
At this point, I can only report on the hardware itself, as the device does not have the final software installed. Therefore the operating system and camera aren’t ready for evaluation. That’s fine, because what I am seeing is very exciting.
Doing something new
The Magic Vs is 12.9mm folded up, and that makes it several millimeters thinner than the 15.8mm thick Galaxy Z Fold 4 and the 15.9mm thick Oppo Find N. Unfolded it’s 6.1mm thick, again thinner than the 6.3mm unfolded Galaxy Z Fold 4 and the 8mm thick Find N. It’s lighter than both at 261 grams. Some of the differences are small and may sound trivial, but they’re not when you hold the phone. It’s noticeably thinner than the Z Fold 4, and that makes it feel more “normal” in your hand.
Adding to this is the size and aspect ratio of the outer screen. It’s 6.45 inches with a 90% screen-to-body ratio, and a 21:9 aspect ratio. The Galaxy Z Fold 4’s outer screen may have slimmer bezels, but the 23.1:9 aspect ratio means it’s tall and thin. The Magic Vs’s outer screen is still tall, but it’s not so thin, and in your hand, it’s much closer to other non-folding phones. It’s not as “standard” feeling as the Huawei Mate Xs 2, but it definitely feels less cramped than the Z Fold 4’s.
This answers a big complaint about big-screen foldables, that they’re only really suitable for use when the phone is open, and that’s not always convenient. While the complaint is still applicable to the Magic Vs, it’s a lot less noticeable, and I think more people will be prepared to compromise because of it. The keyboard on the Magic Vs is wide and comfortable to type on, increasing its everyday usefulness when closed.
The downside of the Magic Vs’s screen technology seems to be the refresh rate. While the outer screen has a 120Hz refresh rate, the inner screen appears to have a standard 60Hz refresh rate. It’s disappointing when its rivals include 120Hz refresh rates on the inner screen too. There is also a plastic frame around the entire open screen that’s larger than the Z Fold 4’s, and you do notice it at first. It’s not disruptive to using the phone, though.
Unfolding the Magic Vs
A gear-less hinge holds the two sections of the Magic Vs together, and when it’s closed there’s no visible gap between them, which means that 12.9mm thickness remains uniform. This is different from the Galaxy Z Fold 4, which has a slight taper and a gap between the top and bottom sections at its thickest point. What is noticeable is the screen is not absolutely flat when it’s open, unlike the Galaxy Z Fold 4.
The other thing is the camera module on the back of the phone is large and protrudes out of the body by a considerable amount. Leaving aside the impact this has on the actual thickness of the phone, it means the device does not lay flat when it’s closed either. Honor claims the screen does not have a crease, but this isn’t entirely accurate. You don’t notice it with the screen on, but it’s clearly there when the screen is off, and you can feel it when you swipe across the center of the panel.
The motion when you open the phone is smooth, fluid, and free of creaks — showing it doesn’t need to be bedded in like the Z Fold 4. I recently opened a brand-new Z Fold 4 and the clever hinge is still adjusting to being used, meaning I can hear and feel the gears working. It’s not that noticeable or evidence something is wrong with the phone, but this is missing from the Honor Magic Vs, which apparently uses fewer parts inside the hinge than other foldables. It snaps shut with a satisfying clunk.
Honor boasts about the durability, saying the hinge has been tested to 400,000 folds, enough to open and close the phone 100 times a day for the next 10 years. However, there’s no mention of water or dust resistance, something Samsung has worked hard to achieve with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Z Fold 4. That’s an important part of keeping any device safe from harm, in particular, a foldable.
Coming soon, at a low price?
The Honor Magic Vs is a very exciting smartphone. It’s suitably different from the established leader in the space, the Galaxy Z Fold 4, and solves some of the issues people have with folding devices. Namely the more usable screen on the outside and a thinner body. It also may remove another barrier from ownership when it eventually goes on sale early next year too.
It’s launching in China this week and will apparently cost the local equivalent of $1,046, or about 850 British pounds. In early 2023 the Honor Magic Vs will have a wider international release, including in the U.K., but not in the U.S. It will inevitably cost more than it does in China when it launches internationally, but even if it reaches 1,500 pounds or $1,500, it’ll still significantly undercut the Galaxy Z Fold 4. While not what you’d call affordable, it’s closer to what we pay now for the top iPhone 14 Pro Max or Galaxy S22 Ultra, and that’s another crucial step forward in the world of folding smartphones.
To recap, the Honor Magic Vs is shaping up to be a pretty, well-designed, durable big-screen foldable smartphone with a more normal-sized outside screen, a thin profile, and the best processor of 2022 inside. It will have Android 12 and Google Mobile Services installed, it’ll be sold outside China very soon, and will potentially go for a competitive price.
Since going it alone at the end of 2020, Honor has impressed us with its new hardware, like the Magic4 Pro, but the ghost of Huawei has always been present in some way. The Magic Vs’s hardware isn’t like any Huawei phone, and is suitably different from other major folding smartphones too, making it feel much more like a true Honor phone. If it can nail the software, camera performance, and — crucially — the price when it launches in 2023, The Magic Vs will go from being initially exciting to potentially having a serious impact on the wide appeal of folding phones. And that’s a very big deal indeed.