Huawei and Honor’s smartphones are going through a tough time outside of China, so it’s only logical for the companies to seek other revenue streams to keep the ship stead. And with the Windows license secured, laptops are an obvious candidate to fill a part of the void. But are they competitive enough to get a sizeable chunk of that market?
We now have the Honor MagicBook 14 for a review and we are about to see if its real-life performance matches the excellent value for money promised by its specs sheet.
If the MagicBook 14 look familiar it’s because it’s mostly a re-branded MateBook D 14 laptop but at a slightly lower price. Which means that it should offer even better value that the parent company’s offering.
It’s already available in western markets and can be configured with AMD’s Ryzen 5 3500U or 3700U CPUs both with a TDP of around 15W. While not quite gaming laptop-worthy, these processors have already proven a solid choice for office work, browsing and multimedia consumption.
The MagicBook 14 also surprises with an excellent IPS panel with 1080p resolution and great-sounding stereo speakers. Additionally, the laptop boasts all-aluminum design and a decent amount of ports. None of those things sound particularly impressive on its own, but finding them all in this price range (€550 to €600 in Europe) is virtually impossible. Let’s see what else this elegant working-class hero has to offer.
Design and input devices
The MagicBook 14 is definitely one of the sturdy guys in its class. The whole chassis is made of aluminum, save for the plastic bezels around the screen. The downside to that is that the laptop is a bit on the heavy side. 1.4kg isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things but it’s definitely not among the lightest laptops of this size either.
The extra weight, however, comes with extra sturdiness. We didn’t find any flex points – the area next to the hinge feels tough, the palm rest area is rigid and the middle of the keyboard is the only spot where the chassis gives in but only after great amount of force is applied.
Even the lid feels rigid enough with minimal flex while the hinge is perhaps even a bit too tight. You can’t open the notebook with one hand so you always have to hold the base when opening it. On the upside, there’s no wobble when the laptop is placed on unstable surface, the lid can open all the way to 180 degrees and the base has a big indentation so you can open the lid easier.
Other small but cool design choices are the chamfered edges around lid, the fingerprint integration with the power button and, of course, the pop-up camera integrated into the F-row. Which in turn has enabled razor-thin bezels all-around. Despite its mid-range standing the notebook really has a premium and modern feel.
The keyboard has well sized keys with nice and clicky feedback. They are well spaced too and LED illumination is discreet with two adjustable levels. We felt we could get up to our normal typing speed while the sound coming from the keyboard can be described more as a “gentle rattle”. The touchpad is responsive, it’s slightly wider than usual (it gives us a bit of an HP vibe), clicky and accurate.
We would have appreciated a slightly longer key and the touchpad is rather hard to press in the upper half. Also, the LED illumination could be just a tad brighter. Of course, this is mostly nitpicking as we can’t immediately point to a better alternative without going up several market segments.
Finally, let’s talk about port placement. The I/O capabilities on the MagicBook 14 are solid and the connectors are evenly distributed on both sides. The left houses the USB-C connector used for charging and data transfer, USB-A 3.0 and HDMI connector sit right next to it.
On the right, you will find the 3.5mm audio jack and another USB-A 2.0 port. For the vast majority of users, this port distribution should be fitting because the charging cable and the HDMI cable won’t get in the way when using the laptop with an external monitor and a mouse in a tight working space. We only wished the second USB-A port to be 3.0 instead of 2.0.
Display and sound
One of the key selling points of the MagicBook 14 is the display. And not just because of the thin bezels. The notebook easily stands out among its peers with an excellent 1920 x 1080px IPS LCD panel. We did a quick background check and the screen is manufactured by BOE with model number TV140FHM-NH1. The previous iteration of the device had a similar TV140FHM-NH0 panel from BOE, so it’s probably safe to assume that the former is a revision with minor changes.
The screen reaches a respectable 277 nits of brightness with high contrast and lively colors. The matte surface does help with the reflectiveness and it does well in most conditions. Still, if you take it out to the park on a bright sunny day it will start to struggle.
The sound is another great aspect of this notebook. As opposed to the previous generation where the speaker grilles were on each side of the keyboard, this time they are placed on the bottom of the chassis near the edges. And to our surprise, this didn’t take away the great audio experience. The sound coming out of the stereo loudspeakers is full, punchy and even speech doesn’t sound muffled. Not to mention that it also has solid bass.
Of course, this will also be affected by the surface you place the notebook on. After all, it’s intended to be used on a desk so if you place it on your lap, the sound will be slightly distorted.
All in all, the multimedia experience on the MagicBook 14 is impressive. The display is great for the asking price while the sound quality and loudness are unrivaled at this price point and form factor. We are quite baffled by the sound coming out of this small chassis.
Honor promises the MagicBook 14 will last a full working day away from the plug, which means around 8 hours of normal usage. We did get similar endurance but “normal usage” is highly subjective.
Suffice to say that for office work you will either get the advertised 8 hours uptime or at least come very close.
Honor was able to fit in a fairly big 56Wh unit that supports fast charging over the USB-C connector. Honor markets that the included 65W charger can replenish about 46% in just 30 minutes and our simple 30-minute charging test confirms that claim.
Another interesting thing to note is that the 14-inch version of the MagicBook that we’ve reviewed has bigger battery than the 15-inch flavor. So if endurance is what you are after it’s strongly advisable that you go for the smaller model.
Hardware, performance and upgradability
As we said earlier, the new Honor MagicBook 14 gives you a choice only between AMD CPUs and in markets outside of China and a rather limited choice between Ryzen 5 3500U and Ryzen 5 3700U.
We got the Ryzen 5 3500U for our review, but and we can’t imagine the overall experience being a lot different than on the Ryzen 5 3700U. The Ryzen 5 3500U offers four cores with a base clock of 2.2 GHz and boost of up to 3.7 GHz. There is multi-threading so you get 8 threads.
The cores are based on the Zen+ architecture using the improved 12nm manufacturing process. It’s a small step up from the previous generation CPUs based on the 14nm node and utilizing the original Zen architecture. The performance per clock has been bumped up a little allowing for slightly higher clock speeds as well while keeping things in the 15W TDP ballpark.
An imporntat side-note here is that AMD is about to bring its 15W Zen2 CPUs (the 4000U series) based on the considerably more efficient 7nm manufacturing process. However with the current pandemic chances are it won’t be broadly available for a few more months at least.
That’s a long time in the technology world though so it’s only relevant to those in no hurry to get a new machine. And the good thing is the current MagicBook 14 configuration is already doing a fine job, perforamnce wise.
Since the 14-inch model doesn’t have discrete GPU, the system will rely on the built-in Radeon RX Vega 8 with eight CUs (512 shaders) and is running at 1200MHz.
8GB of DDR4 memory tags along, which should be enough for most users but we wished there was a 16GB configuration available. Unfortunately you can’t upgrade it yourself either as the RAM chip is soldered to the motherboard.
The good news is this is not the case with the storage. There’s a standard M.2 stick mounted running on the latest PCIe NVMe interface. The available storage variants are 256GB and 512GB.
So what about system stability and temperatures? We ran a standard CPU + GPU stress test for about an hour to check how the cooling system handles high loads over time. Do keep in mind that this is not an accurate representation of real-life use. It tests the hardware in extreme scenarios that wouldn’t normally occur. After all, no one will utilize 100% of the CPU and GPU for such a long time.
Using the FurMark stress test tool, we put the CPU under an hour-long 100% burn test. The CPU ran at its maximum 3.7GHz frequency for a while before going down to 3.0-3.1GHz and staying there for the remainder of the test. At this point, the CPU’s temperatures were around 70 °C.
After an hour had passed, we ran the GPU stress test as well. At 100% load, the integrated GPU managed to keep the 1200MHz core clock speeds with some minor fluctuations while temperatures didn’t go beyond 61 °C.
We can conclude that the cooling system design is sufficient for the hardware and can handle extremely high loads for extended periods of time without any risk of overheating. The CPU and GPU implementation is also excellent as both chips managed to utilize its full clock speeds. The temperature on the surface around the keyboard was also more than okay.
It’s needless to say that we did our testing on the pre-installed Windows 10 with all of the latest drivers and updates installed. Honestly, there’s not much to talk about – the system runs smoothly, it boots really fast and the fingerprint reader scans your fingertips when turning on the PC and logs you in super fast. No issues with the fingerprint or the OS whatsoever.
The only pre-installed third-party software we found is the PC Manager software that can be used for pairing your Honor or Huawei smartphone with the NFC and sync your messages, data and even take calls from the MagicBook. The PC Manager also offers a clean and easy way to keep your drivers for your devices up to date.
It’s definitely refreshing to see an OEM not pre-install a bunch of bloatware and keeping things simple with just this one app. Sure, it’s debatable whether you really need the PC Manager but if you are invested in the Honor/Huawei ecosystem, you probably want that anyway.
Verdict and alternatives
The Honor MagicBook 14 is a unicorn of some sort. The Chinese manufacturer was able to find a really nice, comfortable spot in the laptop market where the device not only beats the few rivals it has but it also punches above its class.
Surely, if you try hard enough, you can find some good 14-inch notebooks for roughly the same price with either nice input devices, or long battery, or nice IPS screen. But matching the entire package that is the Honor MagicBook 14 is next to impossible. And that’s before you look to match competitive performance, amazing speakers and excellent build.
Things that might make you look elsewhere inlcude the somewhat heavy chassis (1.4kg), the moderately shallow keyboard and the fact that it has a USB 2.0 connector on one side. If you have €600 to spend however it won’t be easy finding an alternative that is not majorly compromised elsewhere.
One such is the Acer Swift 3 laptop with the new 10th Generation Intel chips and a very good IPS panel. But it is even heavier despite its smaller battery and isn’t as nicely build as this one. Plus, it becomes considerably more expensive when you match the CPU and storage. You would be getting a wider range of connectivity options with the Swift 3 though.
So if you are able to get your hands on a Honor MagicBook 14, you are unlikely to regret its purchase.
- Premium feel, elegant design, solid construction.
- Really nice IPS panel.
- Good price/performance ratio.
- Battery life is great and fast charging is a nice bonus.
- Loud and great-sounding loudspeakers.
- I/O could be better.
- Keyboard is just a tad shallow.
- A bit heavy for a 14-incher.