Honor MagicBook 14 review: Budget brilliance

A finely-crafted Windows 10 ultraportable with premium power, all for less than some Chromebooks

IT Pro Value
Price
£458 exc VAT
  • Affordable
  • Great design
  • Very high performance for the price
  • Underwhelming display

The MagicBook 14 is Honor’s first laptop to launch worldwide, and like many of the Chinese firm’s smartphones, it arrives with a rather attractive price: just £458 excluding VAT.

Of course, Honor is a subsidiary of Huawei, which has produced a fair few quality ultraportables of its own, like the MateBook X Pro and MateBook 14. Huawei also has the less encouraging distinction of being involved in an ongoing tussle with the US government, which has led to its most recent phones lacking Google apps.

Nonetheless, in terms of software limitations the MagicBook 14 has appeared to escape unscathed: this laptop offers the full Windows 10 Home experience and much, much more besides.

Honor MagicBook 14 review: Design

There’s more than a touch of MateBook in the MagicBook 14, and that’s no bad thing. Besides a generally slim and smart-looking aluminium chassis, there’s a familiar, minimalist power button/fingerprint sensor to the right of the keyboard; this works quickly and reliably, as it does on the MateBook family. 

The Honor Magic-link feature also functions identically to the MateBook’s OneHop: by holding a compatible smartphone against the MagicBook 14, you can transfer files from the handset to the laptop without a wired connection. It’s a neat trick, though its requirement for the phone to be a Honor or Huawei model limits its usefulness.

Still, as a piece of physical design work, the MagicBook 14 is seriously impressive. Thin bezels keep the dimensions to a more-than-manageable 323 x 215 x 15.9mm, and at 1.38kg, it’s only slightly weightier than the most dainty 14in laptops.

You’d have to look extremely closely for clues that this device costs as little as it does. The only possible giveaway is some basic black plastic on the hinge, but that’s petty compared to the build quality elsewhere. There’s no creaking or undue flexing to the chassis, and aesthetically, it’s really rather lovely: the Honor logo on the lid is nice and simple, and both the Mystic Silver and Space Grey (pictured here) models have a slick yet subtle metallic blue trim. 

Honor MagicBook 14 review: Display

The screen is altogether less successful at hiding the low price. In many regards, it’s fine: the 1920 x 1080 resolution keeps it sharp enough, and 14in is a good size for work and play alike. We also recorded a high contrast ratio of 1,382:1, which helps maintain the stark difference between light and dark shades.

It’s hardly the most vibrant of laptop displays, though. With sRGB gamut coverage of just 58.5%, it’s nowhere near the performance level required of photo and video editing, even before taking into account its poor accuracy - average delta-E comes in at a rather poor 4.49. Its peak brightness of 278cd/m2 could be higher too, as although the matte finish deals reasonably well with reflections, the screen still struggles with glare in direct sunlight.

As an IPS screen, though, it benefits from wide viewing angles, and there’s no backlight bleed to speak of. You’ll find the MateBook 14’s display fine for general office software and web browsing -- just don’t expect much more from it.

Honor MagicBook 14 review: Keyboard and trackpad

The keyboard is another aspect of the MagicBook 14 that could feasibly make it onto a far more expensive ultraportable. Even with a somewhat shallow travel depth, each stroke of the chiclet-style keys feels decisive, fast and satisfyingly firm, and keycap sizing and spacing have both been judged to perfection. It’s even got a backlight, which can be toggled between two levels of brightness or switched off if you’d rather save battery.

The trackpad, too, is good overall. It’s very wide, as tall as the chassis could sensibly accommodate and responds well to multi-touch gestures. We’ve gladly been using it in place of a mouse.

Honor MagicBook 14 review: Specs and performance

Colour aside, there aren’t multiple models to pick from; your only option is a quad-core AMD Ryzen 5 3500U, 8GB of RAM and integrated Radeon Vega 8 graphics, along with a 256GB SSD.

Don’t feel like you’re losing out, though, as that Ryzen chip is surprisingly spry in the well-cooled MagicBook 14. By scoring 109 overall in our 4K benchmarks, it not only outpaces the similarly cheap Lenovo ThinkBook 13s but manages to edge ahead of the Core i7-powered Microsoft Surface Laptop 3.

Even the HP Elite Dragonfly G1 and HP Spectre 13 scored lower, and both of these cost over £1,400 excluding VAT. The MagicBook 14 might not be a mobile workstation, but there’s a fantastic amount of computing power here for the price. It probably helps that the Ryzen 5 3500U has eight total threads to play with, not just its four physical cores.

The SSD, an NVMe model from Samsung, keeps up the theme. With sequential read and write speeds of 2,456MB/sec and 1,273MB/sec respectively, storage is as fast as you could expect from a £1,000-plus laptop, let alone a sub-£500 one.

Battery life is more middling. The MagicBook 14 lasted 8hrs 15mins in our video playback test, a few minutes more than the ThinkBook 13s but nothing special in the grander scheme. 

Honor MagicBook 14 review: Ports and features

There’s better news for heavy laptop users in the port variety: not only has Honor avoided the modern laptop trend of ditching full-size USB ports, but you get two on the MagicBook 14. That’s one USB 2.0 on the right edge, alongside a 3.5mm headphone jack, plus one USB 3.0 on the right, sitting next to a full-side HDMI output and a smaller USB-C port.

Unlike the USB-C socket on the ThinkBook 13s, this one does have Thunderbolt 3 support, though it’s also the charging port - so you’ll need to think ahead if you want to use it to output video for extended periods.

Even so, this is a fine assortment of physical connections by ultraportable standards, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 are on hand for wireless duties. Wi-Fi 6 support would have been nice, but until the requisite 802.11ax routers become more commonplace, it’s not essential either.

Features-wise, the aforementioned fingerprint reader and Magic-link make a unique combination in this price bracket, even if one is useless without a compatible handset. The final party trick is the pop-up webcam, which (as with the MateBook X Pro) is nestled between the F6 and F7 keys, dutifully popping up with a press of its function key disguise. 

This positioning is a smart method of maintaining the slimness of the top screen bezel, and capture quality is at least decent. However, we’re not convinced a slightly thinner border is worth the issues with having the camera so low down: besides the unflattering, up-the-nose angle, typing on the keyboard during a video call will mainly just give anyone on the other end a close-up of your fingernails.

Lastly, there’s the PC Manager software. This, to be frank, doesn’t offer much in the way of value - its most useful utility is providing an at-a-glance list of which drivers have available updates, and its hardware monitoring data is less detailed than that of Window’s own Task Manager. Still, for bloatware it’s not massively intrusive, and unlike the camera problems can be largely ignored.

Honor MagicBook 14 review: Verdict

For a measly £458, though, it’s easy to forgive a questionable webcam position - and, for that matter, some imperfections with the display quality and battery life. Or, to be more specific, it’s easy to overlook these faults when you can enjoy such a high standard of performance, build quality, styling and connectivity.

The ThinkBook 13s has more of an enterprise focus with its TPM processor and Windows 10 Pro OS, as well as a better screen, but in almost every other way the MagicBook 14 is the superior laptop. It’s an absolute bargain and, geopolitics allowing, it will be exciting to see how Honor builds on this success with future devices.

Honor MagicBook 14 specifications

Processor

AMD Ryzen 5 5300U

RAM

8GB

Additional memory slots

N/A

Max memory

8GB

Graphics adapter

AMD Radeon Vega 8

Graphics memory

N/A

Storage

256GB SSD

Screen size (in)

14

Screen resolution

1920 x 1080

Pixel density

157

Screen type

IPS

Touchscreen

N/A

Pointing devices

Trackpad

Optical drive

N/A

Memory card slot

N/A

3.5mm audio jack

Yes

Graphics outputs

1x HDMI 1.4b, 1x USB-C Gen2

Other ports

1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0

Webcam

HD 720p

Speakers

2x Dolby Atmos

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi 5

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 5.0

NFC

Yes (Honor and Huawei smartphones only)

Dimensions, mm (WDH)

323 x 215 x 15.9mm

Weight

139kg

Battery size

56WHr

Operating system

Windows 10 Home

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