Despite Samsung’s Galaxy Fold lineup now being in its fourth generation, it’s so far faced little competition across much of the world. In China, buyers have a choice of tablet-style foldable devices from the likes of Xiaomi, Vivo, and Oppo, but elsewhere, Samsung has been the only serious option for anyone who wants a smartphone-size foldable that can expand to the size of a small tablet.
That’s changing this year. Not only will Google’s Pixel Fold start shipping to customers later this month, but Honor has also released its Magic VS foldable outside of China. While Google’s device is going toe-to-toe with Samsung in terms of price, Honor is attempting to undercut it. The Magic VS retails at £1,399 (€1,599, or roughly $1,738 — though it won’t be sold in the US) versus a £1,649 (€1,799 / $1,799) starting price for Samsung’s Z Fold 4, representing a small but significant discount. Not only that, but the Honor Magic VS is also thinner and rated to survive more folding cycles.
Its specs make the Magic VS look like great value. But despite this technically being Honor’s second swing at a foldable (its first device, the Magic V, was exclusive to China), the Magic VS has a series of rough edges that make its asking price a tough sell.
The single most impressive aspect of the Honor Magic VS is how almost normal it feels to use while folded. Yes, it’s thick, and yes, it’s heavy, but fundamentally, I never felt like I had to open it up to use it for regular smartphone tasks.
Much of that comes down to the size of its 120Hz OLED cover display. It’s 6.45 inches in size, 1080p in resolution, has a 21.3:9 aspect ratio, and the device (including bezels) measures 72.6mm in width and 160.3mm in height when folded. For those keeping track, that makes the Magic VS slightly taller and wider than the Z Fold 4 (67.1mm by 155.1mm), and the folded device is also slightly thinner to boot. It also folds neatly without any obvious gap, so it feels like you’re holding a relatively symmetrical device.
Unfold the Magic VS, and you’ll find a 7.9-inch inner screen that’s slightly higher resolution (2272 × 1984) and slightly bigger than Samsung’s latest foldable but slightly less responsive (it’s 90Hz rather than 120Hz). It’s got a 10.3:9 aspect ratio that makes it technically slightly taller than it is wide (aka portrait), but in practice, it basically feels square. There’s no stylus support here like you get with Samsung’s recent foldables, and the screen crease is pretty obvious when you hold the phone at an angle. But like with other folding smartphones, the crease is far less obvious when you’re actually using the phone, and otherwise, the screen is crisp and colorful.
That said, in their default “dynamic” refresh rate mode, the screens can feel a little sluggish, and I suspect they may have been defaulting to a lower refresh rate to save battery life. The “Medium” 90Hz refresh rate mode felt a lot better and didn’t appear to have much of an impact on battery life. The external screen is technically capable of up to 120Hz but was never wanting for more responsiveness.
Regardless of whether you’re using the Magic VS open or closed, there’s plenty of screen for apps to make use of, but the tradeoff is weight. The Magic VS weighs 267 grams, which makes it four grams heavier than the Galaxy Fold 4 and a lot heavier than most traditional handsets. That’s understandable, considering you’re basically carrying around a small tablet, but has its drawbacks. If you’re someone who likes to throw your phone in a zipped back pocket and go for a run, you might find the Magic VS’s weight annoying.
Both screens are comfortably sized
On the back of the Magic VS is a vertical camera bump for its main, ultrawide, and telephoto cameras; on the side, there’s a speedy fingerprint scanner built into its power button, and on the bottom, there’s a single USB-C port. You don’t get a headphone jack because, obviously, you don’t get a headphone jack, nor is there any support for expandable storage.
Durability remains a concern with any foldable device, and there’s both good and bad news on that front. The good news is Honor’s claim that the Honor Magic VS is rated to survive 400,000 folding cycles, double the number Samsung has historically quoted for its phones. But while Samsung ships its devices with an IPX8 rating for water (but not dust) resistance, there’s no IP rating to be found on Honor’s device.
Unusually for me, I also managed to scratch the cover display on my review device, which doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. (There’s no Gorilla Glass used in the Honor Magic VS, unlike with Samsung, and there’s no folding glass used in its inner display) So you’re left with a choice between a foldable (Honor’s) that’s rated to survive more folds in a lab setting or one (Samsung’s) that has more claimed protection against real-world accidents.
Internally the Honor Magic VS is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor, with 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage (for the record, the base variant of the Z Fold 4 comes with just 256GB). Yes, that means it’s technically powered by last year’s Qualcomm flagship processor (the phone was first announced in China last November), but I never found the phone chugged in everyday usage.
In daily use, the Magic VS feels as fast and responsive to use as any other flagship and feels very usable in its folded state. I consider this both a positive and a negative. Yes, you really can use this like a regular (albeit thick and heavy) smartphone. But it also speaks to the sometimes limited functionality of the larger inner display.
For the most part, this comes down to how inconsistently Android apps treat the larger inner display. Sometimes they work great. WhatsApp is an excellent example of an app that finds good use for the additional horizontal screen real estate, and like with other foldables, you can use the Magic VS while half folded, like a laptop, to watch YouTube on one-half of the screen (even if its stereo speakers are a little quiet).
But the majority of apps I tried were more inconsistent. Many, like Twitter, simply expand to fill the extra screen real estate and end up looking like stretched phone apps. Others, like Instagram, Instapaper, Slack, and the companion app for my Tado smart heating system, appear with black bars on either side of the display to maintain a phone-like aspect ratio.
These aren’t problems exclusive to Honor’s phone, Samsung’s foldables have similar issues, but it’s an important issue to be aware of if you’re thinking of investing in a foldable.
As a result, the larger inner display makes far more sense for multitasking. You can put apps into split-screen mode by swiping a small line icon at the top of the screen to the left or right before picking a second app from an app drawer that appears. It’s also possible to open a third app as a floating window, but by that point, things get so crowded that the apps are hard to use for anything over a couple seconds.
These multitasking moments were when the Magic VS made the most sense to me. It was the time on a train when I could watch a YouTube video while leaving WhatsApp open to respond to messages. Or when I was putting together a weekly shopping list on one side of the screen while browsing recipes I might like to cook on the other. Or when I needed to download an emailed receipt from my dentist to make a claim on my insurance via a website that was in no way optimized for mobile. I don’t need to tell you that big screens can be super handy.
Multitasking is where the inner display becomes most useful
That’s not to say that multitasking works flawlessly on the Honor Magic VS. Google Calendar, for example, refused to open in split screen if I tried to launch it while using another app — instead, I had to remember to launch it first and then open a second app in split screen. Slack’s text compose box would get hidden behind the onscreen keyboard when used in split screen. I also frequently saw an error message if I dared to open or close the phone while using certain apps, warning that it could create errors. I never encountered the problems the error message warned about, but the message itself was pretty annoying.
It’s difficult to say whether these issues are the fault of Honor or app developers. But this distinction could end up being significant if developers choose to optimize their apps for the forthcoming Pixel Fold. All I can say for sure is that the device I used felt rough around the edges.
Elsewhere, Honor’s MagicOS software has quirks that I’ve disliked in its previous phones and continue to dislike now. Sometimes I could customize and tweak things to my liking, like by replacing Honor’s SwiftKey keyboard with Gboard and manually exempting apps from its aggressive power-management options. There are also a lot of preinstalled apps I removed, like Facebook and Booking.com. Elsewhere, however, Honor’s choices are more permanent, like how there’s no option to enable an app drawer, leaving all your apps cluttering up your homescreen (though Honor’s global PR manager Bhavya Siddappa says the company plans to add an app drawer with a future software update).
I will say that it’s good to see Honor offering more years of support with the Magic VS than it has done in the past. Siddappa says the company plans to support the phone with two years of Android updates and four years of security patches for the foldable, though this still falls short of Samsung’s Z Fold 4 (which offers four years of Android updates and five years of security patches, respectively).
The battery life of the Honor Magic VS is good. I averaged about six and a half hours of screen-on time with the phone and routinely put the device on to charge overnight with over 50 percent of its battery capacity remaining, even on a day filled with plenty of YouTube watching, social media, and some heavy WhatsApp usage. Sure, that’s not a tablet’s worth of battery life, but it’s good for a phone. The Magic VS can be fast-charged using a 66W charger that comes in the box (unlike Samsung’s Z Fold 4), but there’s no wireless charging (also unlike Samsung’s Z Fold 4).
The Honor Magic VS has five cameras total. Three of them are built into that large rear camera bump (a 54-megapixel main, 50-megapixel ultrawide, and 8-megapixel telephoto with a 3x optical zoom), and there are also 16-megapixel selfie cameras on the cover and inner displays, both contained within hole-punch notches. There are no under-display selfie cameras here, which, given their shaky reputation, I’m totally fine with.
Overall, however, the Magic VS’s camera performance is never amazing. Yes, daylight photos are bright and colorful, but they can stray into over-processed territory. Look at the plants sitting on the windowsill of the first image in the gallery above, and they’re outlined with a weird bright line that makes them look like an object you’ve selected in a video game. It’s the most obvious example from my photos, but this tendency toward brightening and sharpening is present across most of them. That said, sometimes I like how the processing comes out when it’s applied to people’s faces. Yes, it’s arguably unnatural, but if I were to manually edit a photo, it’s probably close to the look I’d choose.
Shots with the ultrawide and telephoto are generally good so long as you have enough light, but I had a more inconsistent time in low light. Here, the Honor Magic VS struggled to maintain detail with even its main camera, and it had even more of a problem when it came to its telephoto and ultrawide cameras. You can just about get away with a still scene, but the second there’s any moment, there’s a lot of blurriness to contend with. Video performance is okay, with the option to record in up to 4K at 60fps.
Despite commanding prices that put them into the same brackets as the most expensive flagship phones on the market, foldables rarely manage to compete with them in terms of camera performance. And that continues to be the case here. You’re paying for the folding mechanism, not a leading camera system.
So far, no foldable has shipped without compromises. There are still plenty of valid concerns about durability, and there are still too few Android apps that make good use of larger screens. And despite their premium price tags, camera quality continues to fall short of comparably priced non-folding flagships. All of that continues to be the case with the Honor Magic VS.
That’s not to say Honor hasn’t made some progress. I think the extent to which the phone is usable in its folded, smartphone-style form is impressive. I like that Honor is testing the phone to last more folding cycles, and if you’re the kind of person that bristles at the idea of a premium-priced phone coming without a charger in the box, then you’ll like that there’s one here.
I suspect there may be two kinds of people out there who might consider buying the Honor Magic VS. The first are the people who definitely want a foldable and who are considering saving some money by going with the Magic VS over the Z Fold 4 (or, indeed, the upcoming Google Pixel Fold or Z Fold 5 that Samsung is expected to announce this summer). The second are people who wouldn’t normally consider buying a foldable but who are tempted by the more affordable price of the Magic VS.
I’d struggle to enthusiastically recommend the Honor Magic VS for either group. If you’re already sold on the idea of a foldable, I think it makes sense to pay for the higher level of polish of Samsung’s product. And if you haven’t been convinced by foldables in the past, I don’t think the Magic VS does enough to overcome their historical limitations to be convincing.
The Honor Magic VS might be a more affordable foldable option. But when you’re priced at £1,399, “more affordable” isn’t the strongest argument.
Correction June 2nd, 10:40AM ET: This article originally stated, based on public reports, that the Magic VS would receive three years of Android updates and five years of security updates. This is incorrect. Honor has since confirmed the phone will receive two years of Android updates, and four years of security patches.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge