Allow me to pull the curtain back on something that happens when you get to spend some time with a very early phone prototype: Often, there’s a list of conditions that mean you can’t really talk about your experiences in a specific manner. Bear this in mind when I talk about this prototype Honor Magic VS that I’ve been diddling around with for the last few days. I’m actually pretty impressed by it, although I’ve been asked not to make any solid conclusions about its non-final hardware, software, imaging, performance and display quality.

The Magic VS is the company’s second folding phone, albeit the first that’ll be available on sale outside of China when it hits selected global markets at the start of 2023. It’s a close cousin of Honor’s first folder, the Magic V, which was first released at the start of 2022, and this feels like a polish, rather than an evolution, of the existing model. The major difference is a vastly redesigned hinge with far fewer parts, which should make it more reliable. And the company promises that the handset will withstand 400,000 folds, or more than 100 per day for the better part of a decade. It’s also two grams lighter than Samsung’s Z Fold 4, which Honor is very proud of, but it’s still only two grams.

The rest of the differences between the Magic VS and the Magic V are all fairly minor; a 5,000mAh battery, up from the last model’s 4,750mAh. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 gets swapped for an 8+, and there’s one major change on the imaging front. Whereas the V was packing a trio of 50-megapixel lenses, the VS dropped the third in favor of an 8-megapixel, f/2.4 3x optical zoom. Of course, I can’t talk about the power of those beefy zoom lenses, or the speed at which it takes an image. Or that, much like many other Android handsets, you do wish that images weren’t so washed out.

As for the displays, you’ll find the 6.45-inch exterior OLED screen is no slouch, especially since it has a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. Honor knows that most people will default to the external display for the bulk of their smartphone use, and so it’s almost the first thought here. The 21:9 ratio is still cramped, and initially disorientating, but it’s hardly a deal breaker. And, if I’m honest, you’ll accept a slightly narrow external display in order to get at that 7.9-inch, foldable OLED inside. Now, it’s not as high-res, or as fast (it tops out at 90Hz) but it’s just so much bigger that you’ll want to use it as much as you possibly can.

Image of the Honor Magic VS closed on a table.
Daniel Cooper

Honor says that the display is “creaseless,” a term which I’ll take a small amount of issue with, if only because there’s no such thing. Hold the device face-on and, when watching video or browsing, you’ll barely notice the crease unless you catch the light at a bad angle. Sit anywhere off center, and you can see the bumps in the terrain just fine – but that’s not to say that this is a dealbreaker at all. Just that some promises sound better on paper than they do when you’re looking at a very faint ridge in a flexible OLED display.

One thing I can talk about is the hinge, which helps the two halves of the handset fold flat (except for the dreaded camera bump) and sit very comfortably in my pocket. No doubt, this is still a hulking slab of a device, with a 6.45-inch display that’ll be uncomfortable if you’ve a penchant for ultra-skinny jeans. But if you’re looking for something that’ll pull double duty as a slate, this feels like the most elegant in the admittedly limited pantheon.

I probably can’t draw conclusions about the speed of the power button-mounted fingerprint sensor, or the camera face unlock. Certainly, you wouldn’t expect a Snapdragon 8+ handset to stutter, especially when it’s paired with 12GB storage, as is the case here. Honor gave strict instructions not to test app performance on the device, but I can’t imagine that – given the performance of what’s pre-loaded, this device will struggle to deal with much. I did try out a very popular Battle Royale-type game, that I won’t name to respect Honor’s wishes, and it ran beautifully.

The Magic VS won’t ship with, but does support, Honor’s Magic Pen stylus input, which I’d say is a good start, but not really what this device should be about. After all, the benefit of a device like this is in what it can offer you when you need to get a little blast of focused work done when you’re out and about. (Okay, that’s my interest, I’m sure others just want a bigger screen to play Fortnite on, and that’s absolutely okay.) If Honor shipped this thing with a little stand and a matching wireless keyboard (or both) then I can see it becoming every commuter’s dream purchase.

Now, here’s something that I think should make the folks over at Samsung feel just a little bit jittery. It’s an imperfect comparison, but imagine you’re keeping an eye on the Z Fold 4, currently retailing for $1,700 in the US. Honor’s planning on selling the Magic VS for 7,499RMB in China, which shakes out to around $1,048. Now, for one, Honor probably won’t sell to the US market, and taxes and exchange rates will play their part. But if the final version of this handset can offer something very similar to the Z Fold 4 for a significantly lower price, I can imagine it turning plenty of would-be Fold owners’ heads.

Now, as I said, I can’t make any solid conclusions about this device, but what I can say is that I really think it’s worthy of a full review when it hits global markets early next year. And that there’s enough here to say that Honor may be making a very compelling case to be spoken about as a fair competitor to Samsung at the highest end of the Android space.