Honor Magic 5 Pro Review: The Camera Is The Focus Of This Hocus Pocus

  • Outstanding hardware
  • Fast and long-lasting
  • Great camera
  • Solid software
  • Wasted TOF sensor on the front
  • Minor nighttime camera hiccups

There are a lot of great phones available to buy in the United States. You have offerings from Apple, Motorola, Samsung, OnePlus, and more, many of which are quite good. But when you move across the pond to Europe, India, China, and so forth, your options increase exponentially. There are a lot of good phones in the world that aren't readily available to consumers in the United States.

Such is the case with the Honor Magic 5 Pro. Of course, since it was never intended to work in the United States, it's important to note that while this phone works on T-Mobile's network (the one used for testing in this review), its signal reception is not great compared to other phones tested under the same circumstances. Even the Honor Magic Vs worked better than the Honor Magic Pro under effectively identical circumstances.

Beyond that, this is a great phone in almost every way, but it has a huge asterisk next to it that says "U.S. readers need not apply." The Honor Magic 5 Pro has some very good technology packed inside it that compares very favorably to a certain popular phone here in the States. I have been using an Honor Magic 5 Pro review phone provided by Honor for two weeks on T-Mobile's network in the Chicagoland area, and this is my full review.

Welcome to the island

In terms of the hardware for the phone, we'll start on the back, because the most distinctive feature of this phone has to be the gigantic camera island that houses the device's triple camera setup. If you thought the camera circle on the back of the OnePlus 11 was large, this camera bump is so big it comes with its own zip code. What makes this camera bump better is that it's centered on the back of the phone, so the device doesn't lean to the side when it's on its back.

However, the camera bump is so large that part of it overlaps the wireless charging coils in the phone. Despite this, the Honor Magic 5 Pro is capable of 66W wired charging and 50W Wireless charging, for its 5,100 mAh battery.

On the front, you get a 6.81-inch LTPO 120Hz variable refresh rate panel, which sits over a Qualcomm SnapDragon 8 Gen 2 Processor, 12GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage. The device has a 2.5D rounded display which, in past Honor devices with similar rounded displays, has had issues with phantom touches. Fortunately, Honor has seemingly solved that problem. Indeed, the phone is a joy to hold, and the camera bump serves as a nice anchor point for your fingers on the back of the phone.

Magic operating system

The software on the phone is Honor's MagicOS 7.1 which is based on Android 13. Honor built in some neat software tricks, including the edge bar where you swipe in from either side and hold to open up a quick access panel of apps you designate, which opens in a floating window. This is just like the implementation on the Honor Magic Vs, but also slightly less useful since you only have one screen to play with. All the same, it was convenient for quickly opening a webpage or a youtube video.

Creating folders is also pretty easy, but the user interface shows some contradictory information. When you drag two apps together, you create a folder, and inside that folder, you can tap a button to add additional apps. At the top of the interface, it says, "Add to (folder name) XX/135 where 135 = the total number of apps you have on the phone. However, the add-to folder interface only shows you apps on the home screen that have not yet been added to a different folder, so while the counter shows XX out of 135 apps, in reality, you may only be able to add a few dozen more.

Honor needs to pick one or the other here — either display all 135 apps to add to the folder (regardless of whether they're in another folder or not) or only display the number of eligible apps. It's a minor point, but it can be confusing, especially for those with a folder-heavy workflow.

Battery and performance

It shouldn't come as a surprise that with a 5,100 mAh battery and Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, battery life and processing power are top-tier. For the most part, everything is coming up roses. The phone collects Geekbench scores of 1,445 single-core and 4,736 multi-core tests. Games like "Genshin Impact" and "Asphalt 9" perform beautifully with the latter on second-to-highest graphic settings. Oddly enough, snapping photos at night could be a little laggy when pressing the shutter button. It only happened a couple of times out of the dozens of photos taken at night, but it's still worth mentioning.

As for the battery, this is basically a two-day phone. If you play any games on the phone, you'll naturally reduce battery life. But if you keep gaming to a minimum and only use the phone for everything else, you can easily get two days here, though you will be close to 10% by the end of the second day. Of course, that's my work-from-home, always-on-Wi-Fi experience talking, so your results may vary, but this phone is easily a battery champ.

Magic Moments

Before we get into the camera hardware, which is great by the way, there's one feature that earns the spotlight. It's cool, but also a little freaky. Honor calls it "Motion sensing capture" and it is really trippy. The photo above of shows my daughter back in the swing of her former gymnastics career. In this particular photo, she is in the middle of a back handspring. As a proud papa, I think that's cool, but it's not as cool as how that photo was taken.

You see, I never pressed the shutter button to take that photo. I just held the phone up and the AI in the phone captured that moment and said, "Here ya go." Mind = blown. Now, on the one hand, that's pretty amazing. The camera automatically figured out what the subject was, and captured a moment when the subject was moving, and in this case, did so when the subject was in a really cool position.

On the other hand, this photo relies on the camera to know when to take the shot. It does so by itself without any user intervention, which is neat, but you'll have to bury your trust issues. Will this feature work as desired every time? Some may not be ready to give up so much control.

All that being said, this is a pretty awesome feature and more phone makers should work on something like this. Being able to just hold up the phone and let it capture amazing moments like that while you are enjoying them with your own eyes would be remarkable, and I'm here for it. So now, let's talk about that camera.

Photography power

Judging from the size of the camera bump on the back, Honor really wants the conversation to be about the camera. It should be because the cameras are impressive. Honor packs in three 50-megapixel sensors into that enormous hump including a 50 MP sensor with f/1.6 aperture, a 50 MP telephoto sensor with f/3.0 aperture, a 3.5x optical zoom, and a 50 MP ultrawide camera with f/2.0 aperture and a 122-degree field of view. The results are splendid.

It's refreshing having three cameras of the same size on the back. It also seems to be a trend in devices released this year. The main criticism of the camera comes from the color science between the lenses. Normally, especially on a flagship phone, you should expect the same colors regardless of what lens you choose. With the Honor Magic 5 Pro, you don't always get that. Often, you do, but in certain lights, the colors can start to vary. This is mostly nitpicky stuff, but when other flagships don't vary color science, regardless of lighting, it becomes a strike.

But, having the same size sensor for all three lenses is great because you get a ton of detail no matter which camera you pick, and that consistency is key even if it comes with a slight variance in color under certain circumstances.

Turn it around

On the front, you get a single 12 MP selfie camera, enclosed in a punch hole that is large enough for two cameras. The second "camera" is a Time of Flight sensor which is a shame because honestly, it's a waste of space. It's the biggest problem with this phone overall because it's set off to the left, and it pushes all notification icons to the right. It's frankly not attractive.

The selfie camera itself is fine, if a bit slow with moving subjects. I tried to take a group selfie with a bunch of friends at a restaurant, and half of them came out blurry. If the second sensor offered a wider field of view, at least that would be understandable. But adding a time of flight sensor, presumably for portrait mode or bokeh is a waste, as demonstrated by any number of other flagship cameras that handle selfie bokeh just fine with a single sensor and software processing.

If the portrait mode on the selfie camera was amazing, and ... it's not ... then at least it's easier to justify. Right now there's a giant blank hole in the upper left corner of the screen, and there's no really good explanation for it.

Night and video

At night, the main camera performs well, except for a bit of overexposure in the highlights. As for the other cameras, it's a bit of a mixed bag. Typically one of them will perform better than the other. Don't use the telephoto camera to get close to a subject — it doesn't end well. Don't use the ultrawide camera to try to get back from a subject that's already far away because you'll get a similar problem.

But you can get pretty respectable shots from the main shooter, and that includes video, which is fun. Video capture doesn't display the usual amount of judder that typically presents with footsteps, and this is especially true when there is a subject moving along with the camera since it's easier for the software to compensate.

During the day, both the front and rear cameras have excellent stability, so it looks like the phone is running on a track. It's super steady, on par with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra or the iPhone 14 Pro. Put simply, the cameras are a major asset on this phone.

A word on 100X zoom

One of the more notable claims that Honor makes is that it is capable of 100x zoom, similar to how Samsung can get 100x zoom on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. That claim is mostly true, but not in the way that Honor would like it to be. The fact of the matter is that nobody (currently) does 100x zoom well. 

I took the Honor Magic 5 Pro (examples here shown on the left) alongside the S23 Ultra (on the right) to compare 100x shots. All told Honor did what it presumably set out to do — it matched Samsung in that department. Unfortunately, that means that both phones did equally bad jobs at 100x zoom. 

Take for example these two shots of firefighters in a lift. In both shots, Samsung on the left and Honor on the right, you can tell that those are humans in the bucket, but you can't tell anything beyond that. They look like paint-by-number paintings.

On a more forgiving shot, these clock towers were taken from approximately 50 yards away. While the angular clock face with straight lines should be easier for the algorithms to sort out and correct, the result is left looking flat and featureless, more like a watercolor painting than anything resembling a photograph. Again, that's on both phones. The simple fact is that no phone captures 100x photos that anyone will want to use. The technology just isn't there yet.

The Honor Magic 5 Pro did a better job with 30x, but it fell short of matching what Samsung could do. Then again, Samsung has been at this for years now, so it's not surprising that Samsung has a leg up, but the fact is, no one gets it right.

Wrapping it up

This is a great phone, and it's a shame that it will never see U.S. shores. It's not perfect, especially in the States, but Samsung needs to sit up and take notice because if someone is in the market for a flagship phone outside of the U.S., there's no reason why this can't be that phone. It's fast, it's beautiful, it's long-lasting, and it has a great camera. There's too much there to ignore.

Honor could have made a different call on the front-facing camera, and a little tweaking of the camera might get the phone to reduce overexposing highlights at night. But those are two tiny, easy-to-ignore qualms in an otherwise complete package, and one by the way that is slimmer, lighter, and probably cheaper (depending on the deal you find) than the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra. That's good for the U.S. because as long as this phone competes on the international stage, Samsung will have to react, and if these two continue to go head to head, that's only going to make things better.

The Honor Magic 5 Pro launched in the U.K. on April 11, 2023, and can be purchased for £949.99 from Honor's online store. Editor's note: The direct pounds-to-dollars conversion would put this price at around $1180. If this phone were to launch in the U.S., it's highly likely it'd be priced around $950.