It’s been a while since I reviewed a laptop here on MobileTechTalk, so when the opportunity came to review the Honor MagicBook 14, I had to jump at the chance. This is, for the most part, a rebrand of the Huawei Matebook D14, but that’s not an issue as that is also a great laptop. What does £550 get you in 2020? Well, a damn good laptop that doesn’t look like crap, for starters.
- Surprisingly good performance
- Good I/O
- Lovely design
- 65w USB-C charger
- MagicLink is very useful
- Keyboard and trackpad are really nice
- Screen is Dim
- Webcam placement not ideal
- RAM appears to be soldered on.
- Ryzen 3000 series when 4000 series are already on the market.
- Ryzen 5 3500U
- 4 cores / 8 threads
- Zen+ Architecture
- 12nm GlobalFoundries
- 15w TDP
- Vega 8 iGPU
- 14” 1080p screen
- 250 nits max brightness
- 15.9mm thick
- 8GB DDR4 RAM
- 256GB NVMe SSD (upgradeable)
- 56Wh Battery
- 1x USB-C USB 3.2 Gen1 + DP + Charging
- 1x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1
- 1x USB-A 2.0
- 1x HDMI 2.0b
- 1x 3.5mm audio combo jack
- Windows Hello compatible Fingerprint reader with Caching
I must give Huawei/Honor props here for deciding to go with a metal chassis here. The Aluminium shell does make this feel more rigid and premium than other, predominantly plastic laptops in its price range, then you get the multiple cherries on top of this aluminium frame, you get the screen with tiny bezels, roughly 5mm on 3 of the 4 sides. You get the relatively large trackpad for a windows machine, and, one of my favourite touches, is the blue anodised diamond cut edges on the lid of the laptop, a subtle yet elegant and classy addition.
When you open the laptop you’re immediately greeted with this screen, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. You do get a larger screen in a smaller, roughly 13” chassis, but to make the £550 price tag, corners were cut, and the screen was definitely one of them. At a rated 250 nits of brightness (that Ian at AnandTech measured at barely over 240), this is not a bright screen, nor is it a very colour accurate one out of the box. I do not currently have the equipment capable of measuring the luminance of screens as well as their accuracy, so once again I will cite AnandTech and their findings that whilst this is not an accurate screen, it can be calibrated to a decent one, though the low max brightness does hinder this laptop in bright light or outdoor use. On the plus side, it is a matte screen, none of that glossy rubbish here.
Something else you’ll notice about the screen, or rather around it, is the lack of a webcam. This laptop does indeed have a webcam, but in a less than common location, in the keyboard. Between F6 and F7 Huawei/Honor placed a key that when pressed opens up a little door that shows a webcam. This is not a great angle, nor is it a great webcam, but in Honor’s research, people don’t use a webcam all that often (though with the current Climate and WFH that might change) but they’d rather have one for the odd case they might need it, even if it does look up their nose and show their fingernails when typing.
Speaking about the keyboard, it’s actually nice. It definitely takes inspiration from Apple, with the larger keycaps, limited travel and annoyingly spaced arrow keys, but this is still just a normal scissor switch, and I found myself rather enjoying typing on this after a few days of getting used to it. It’s not all that loud, and I still bottom out most times but my fingers don’t hurt, and I’m making far fewer typos than I would have expected given the keyboard is very different than the custom Kailh Box Brown mechanical keyboard I use on the daily, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Book 12 that I was using before this.
To the top right of the keyboard, we have the separate power button which doubles up as a Windows Hello Fingerprint scanner. I’m assuming this is a Goodix fingerprint scanner as most Windows Hello ones are, but also as this has a neat trick, it caches your fingerprint. What that means is, if the laptop is fully powered off, and you press the power button with the finger you have registered in Windows, it remembers that fingerprint, so when Windows lock screen shows up it logs you in, and then the fingerprint reader forgets it as it is not needed anymore, how neat! I’m also a fan of the fact the power button is separated from the main keyboard deck, which aesthetically I prefer the power button being integrated, the amount of times I’ve put a laptop to sleep when I try to hit delete or backspace is remarkably high.
Below the keyboard is the trackpad, which is thankfully a Windows precision trackpad, and honestly, Microsoft should make this mandatory at this point, their drivers are better than anything Synaptics or Elan could provide, and they’ve had a lot longer than Microsoft to perfect this. It’s also rather large for a Windows device. Not quite XPS 15 2020 or Razer Blade 15 level or stupid big, but surprisingly large, and honestly, I think if It were any bigger, I’d have issues with palm rejection. To the right of the trackpad, we have the Ryzen sticker, but also, much more importantly, the Honor Magic-Link sticker, which is an NFC enabled sticker with some special software that I’ll speak more about later.
Taking a tour around the sides of the device, on the left we have the USB-C port, this is a USB 3.2 Gen1 5Gbps port, but also a DisplayPort 1.2 capable port, but also the charger, capable of juicing up at 65w, of which one is included in the box. Here is one of the USB-A ports, and next to it a full-sized HDMI port. On the right-hand side there is the other USB-A port as well as the 3.5mm audio combo jack. Upfront is interesting, in the divot where you put your finger to open the laptop, is actually where Honor has placed the microphones for the laptop, and you read that correctly, microphones, plural, there are two to capture stereo sound, how cool. There is nothing on the rear other than the hinge, no extra ports back here.
On the lid there isn’t a whole lot, there is the aforementioned Azure Blue anodisation on the chamfer, but on the left-hand side of the lid (when closed) there is the new Honor branding, much neater, cleaner and more professional than the Honor logo of old, also in the azure blue finish, very pretty. On the bottom, there is a very large vent that runs almost the entire width of the laptop. Upfront there are speaker grilles either side, they are serviceable, and I’d maybe watch a film on them when I’m out and about for work, but a good pair of headphones will be better than these. There are also rubber strips for stability and raising the laptop up slightly, two smaller ones at the front flanking the rear of the trackpad, and one large one running with the large vent.
Overall, the hardware on the MagicBook 14 is impressive, the Aluminium chassis gives it a nice cool feel in the hand and helps wick away heat, not that much is generated. It also contributes to a remarkably stiff screen with little to no flex unless really trying (unlike the Acer Swift 7 I reviewed last year). The keyboard, after a day or so of use is really nice for me to type on despite the lower than average key travel. The Screen is where it all falls apart a little bit. I could do with the inaccurate screen out of the box, but the low brightness is really killer. Even in the UK where the sun is almost a myth for most of the year, twice this quarantine I’ve tried to work out of my garden, and with the brightness maxed out and me squinting at the screen so hard I gave myself a mild headache, I gave up. Which is annoying because anywhere not in sunlight the screen is entirely serviceable and is one of the only hardware compromises made on this entire laptop.
This is a simple one, it is great. The Ryzen 5 3500U isn’t the latest or greatest mobility APU from AMD, heck it’s not even the top dog from this generation, but for the majority of things I did on this laptop I was impressed. The AMD Zen+ architecture isn’t as good as the competing Intel uArch for this generation, but the GPU in this is remarkably good and with 8 Vega GPU Compute Units at its disposal, the 3500U handles a load of tasks swimmingly, whether that be the standard web browsing and office work which is boring but real life, or the harder editing video in MAGIX Movie Studio Platinum 16 (which doesn’t even support the GPU for all of it yet) the MagicBook 14 took it all with ease, and whilst they fan noise did become noticeable when pushing it harder, it was definitely quieter than I was expecting, but don’t fool yourself, this is still mildly audible.
The 3500U from AMD is usually a 15w TDP chip, you can run it TDP down to 12w or TDP up to 35w, whilst with the cooler on this and the vents along the bottom I feel that this could have been run at, at least 20-25w. Huawei/Honor felt the opposite and actually run it TDP down to 12w which does reduce performance a little but also lets the chip run cooler and provides better battery life.
One of the reasons this system feels so snappy is that Huawei/Honor omitted any spinning rust (mechanical hard drive) from the unit, no space for one either, and good riddance. Not only is this an SSD only machine, but it is also actually a pretty great SSD, a Samsung PM981 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD. This is a fast, reliable and well respected SSD. It would have been very easy for Honor to put a DRAM-less SATA only SSD in here, save a few quid, and massively lower performance, they didn’t, and I’m glad. The other benefit this has is that it’s a Dual-Channel config, which massively helps performance on all systems, but AMD ones specifically. Bizarrely, although desktop Zen+ CPUs can support RAM at up to 2933Mhz, Zen+ on mobile-only supports 2400Mhz, and this is a bottleneck for Ryzen mobile for sure. Ryzen Mobile is also not supported by Ryzen Master (AMDs Overclocking tool) and the BIOS/UEFI on the MagicBook is far too basic to support overclocking the memory, so 2400Mhz is it, and as far as I can see, the RAM is not upgradeable, so if 8GB is not enough for you, look elsewhere. As I said, the SSD is also fully replaceable with an M.2 slot easily accessible once removing the bottom panel, and a single screw retains the SSD, then you can replace it with whatever your heart desires, a high capacity QLC drive or a blazing fast Optane one, who cares.
For benchmarking, we’re using what we have on hand, a copy of DOOM 2016, video editing on Movie Studio Platinum 16, CrystalDiskMark, Cinebench R20, GeekBench 5.2 and Handbrake.
Starting with Cinebench, using R20 I got a score of 1368, which on Cinebench shows it a little bit behind an i7 4850HQ from a few generations back, not mind-blowing, not close to what Comet Lake/Ice Lake can do, or even what Zen 2 can do. Using CrystalDiskMark the Samsung SSD managed 3578.86MB/s on Sequential Reads, and 1798.59MB/s Sequential Writes which is pretty impressive on a cheap laptop and a 3-year-old SSD.
For Geekbench, we saw a 547 in Single Core, and 2318 in multi-core, a 547 is pretty close to the i7 7500U from a few years back, although that was clocked at 2.7Ghz compared to the 2.1Ghz of the Ryzen 5 3500U, Multicore got it close to the Intel i5 8365U. On the Compute Benchmark on Geekbench we tested both OpenCL and Vulkan, the OpenCL score was 10508, and the Vulkan score was 3399.
Because I am what is known as “Bad at video games” and Doom doesn’t have a benchmarking mode, this is a shorter run than most. So I set up DOOM on “I’m too young to die” mode (easiest) I rendered at 720p with Vulkan, Medium settings, and was getting the high 60s for frame rates, when more demons were on-screen and shooting and explosions etc came in the frame rate dropped considerably down to below 50, sometimes as low as 45FPS. What is amazing is the performance difference between OpenGL and Vulkan here, the frame rates in OpenGL were significantly lower, close to the 30FPS mark which, ouch.
Lastly, is Video editing. I need to point out that this isn’t an ideal scenario. Ideally, I would be using the newest version of Movie Studio Platinum, which has hardware acceleration for both encoding and rendering (the recent update brought HW acceleration for NVidia and AMD GPUs to add to the software supporting QuickSync from Intel) Aside from scaling issues in Windows that made the UI look a little odd, this was actually a somewhat enjoyable process, scrubbing through the timeline wasn’t flawless, and the more clips I added it did start to chug a little, but cutting and movie video tracks was quick and easy, text and graphic overlays popped up in no time, and for the parts of the render that supported the AMD VCE, usage was at 100%. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, sadly there are parts of the render that aren’t hardware accelerated so seeing the Video encoder in the Task manager drop from 90+% of usage down to 7% for a few minutes was strange and upsetting to see. Overall, my test video was 6 minutes and 30 seconds, being encoded as a 4K 25fps (no idea why It won’t allow 24) using the AMD VCE option. This took roughly 17 minutes or 3 times slower than real-time. I wouldn’t be using this as my main editing machine that’s for sure, but it is leaps and bounds ahead of my old Galaxy Book 12 and Lenovo YogaBook. But this is just one program, the one I happen to edit in, If I used DaVinci Resolve I’m sure export times would have been lower and hardware usage would have been better utilised, but I don’t know how to use Resolve, and I’m not Paying adobe money to test Premiere Pro.
Again, I know these aren’t scientific or “proper” benchmarks for testing performance, but aside from the gaming, this is what I do on Laptops, I watch films, I render videos, I re-encode videos to new formats, and for a lot of this, the Ryzen 5 3500U in the MagicBook 14 is impressive in how well it keeps up, even if it doesn’t lead the pack.
The 56Wh battery in the MagicBook 14, Honor claim, is able to provide up to 10 hours of productivity, but looking at the little asterisk after that, we find out that this was done at only 150 nits and using a benchmark system from 2014. Whilst that figure is not accurate, it’s also not too far off from accurate.
Once again, I do not currently have the testing methodology in place to test batteries in a repeatable and scientific way like other publications but I am working on it. So for the MagicBook, I turn the performance/battery slider to ¾, play a copy of Avengers Endgame through VLC with brightness at 100% (the film is dark enough thank you very much), then a 1.3GB 4K video through Handbrake to a 1080p H.265, Export a small video project in Movie Studio Platinum* and measure how much battery if left after that. I know this isn’t very objective and cannot easily be mapped to others, but as I said, I’m working on something better.
*The video project with include 5 4K clips, image overlays and text overlays, with no effects or stabilisers. Rendered using the AMD VCE.
So how is the battery? It’s a bit of a mixed bag really. Watching Avengers Endgame from beginning to when the end credits finish rolling took a whopping 37% of the battery, going from 100% to 63%. Running the Handbrake test took that down to 48%, this was a bit more troubling as this took the battery down 15% in 14 minutes. Lastly the video editing test. I know Movie Studio Platinum 16 is older and does not have the full hardware acceleration that MSP17 has, but it is what I use currently. In Movie Studio Platinum 16 rendering out a 4K 24fps video took 16% of battery and took roughly 17 minutes.
Once again, I know this isn’t the most technical battery test. You might not shoot in 4K or edit with movie studio. You may not watch films in VLC or at full brightness, this is just something that is easy for me to replicate and have a baseline. All of these “tests” were performed 3 times, this is the average.
Magic-link. The sticker I spoke about earlier on the palm rest? This is that section. Magic-Link is the Honor branded version of Huawei’s Huawei Share One-Hop, honestly, I think Magic-Link is a better name, but what does it do? Well, a little, that allows you to do a lot.
With the inclusion of the PC Manager software and I’m told some other low-level applications, when you tap your EMUI10/MagicUI 3.0 NFC enabled phone to the sticker, and accept the pairing notification, your phone screen becomes a little interactive window on your computer. One that you can click and drag and swipe to use the phone, but that’s boring, the really interesting and useful part for me, as someone who uses their phone for images at events sometimes, I can drag and drop images from the phone window onto the computer using WiFi direct and then they reside on the computer for me to edit and publish. This works with almost any file type as well, very useful and had gotten me out of a pinch even in this quarantine time.
Because it is an interactive window, you can also respond to calls and texts as well, and this all works in reverse as well, so you can transfer stuff to your phone from the PC over WiFi Direct, it’s a really nifty feature that I’ve used a lot more than I was expecting to, but If you want to learn a bit more, head on over to the Honor website here showing you more.
My time with the Honor MagicBook 14 has genuinely been great. It is an incredibly snappy laptop, with good battery life, a decent amount of ports, a fully-featured USB-C port, a good keyboard and trackpad and some innovate multi-screen features for your phone. It’s only really let down by the screen brightness and the webcam location.
But something I’ve not really mentioned here is the price. The Honor MagicBook 14 is retailing for £649.00, except it isn’t really. Ever since it went on sale there has been a promo for £549.00, which gets you the 8GB/256GB MagicBook in either Mystic Silver or Space Grey, but in that, you also get an Honor Band 5 and a MagicBook sleeve to carry this in, some Promos for the £550 even swapped those out for an Honor MagicWatch for the same price, so at £550, before the deluge of Ryzen 4000 laptops come in, this is an insanely good value laptop I’ll be sad to see go.