With most 2018 flagship phones bearing the notch - that black-out dip to the top of the display, where the camera is housed - what's the next step for maximising screen-to-body ratio without interruption? If the Honor Magic 2 and Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 are to be believed then its all about slider phones.
Both Honor and Xiaomi have developed independent slider systems which leave the front-facing cameras concealed, while a firm press down on the screen sees the full panel move in order to expose the lenses. Honor uses what it calls a 'butterfly multi-track sliding system', while Xiaomi doesn't reach for any fancy words or labels in its different but ultimately similar patented approach.
But which is best?
- Xiaomi: 157.9 x 74.7 x 8.5mm, 218g
- Honor: 157.3 x 75.1 x 8.3mm, 206g
Right off the bat we'll say the two devices' slider mechanisms feel almost identical in operation. A firm press is all that does it, with the screen moving down and cameras popping up in a flash. It's not too loose, no excess force is needed, it just works in both instances.
However, the Xiaomi setup has greater customisation. It can be used to accept/end calls, different apps can be assigned to its sliding action, while the sound effect made upon sliding can be customised with even your own sounds. By comparison the Honor - at the time of writing - lacks the full-on levels of customisation. At launch it will offer camera activation (not present at the time of writing) or Yoyo voice assistant only.
The finish and look of the two handsets is quite different, despite the design overlap with a slider solution. We're not fond of the little speaker presence at the top of the Honor, while the antenna bands cut through the sides rather prominently. By comparison the Xiaomi has a cleaner top edge of screen, less bezel overall (but barely) and looks a little tidier.
Colour options will depend on your tastes: the Xiaomi colours sound like they'd be striking and full of hue, but the blue and green options are a little subdued. Honor's take in the Magic is to offer gradient only designs, with a purple-to-red, black-to-silver and deep-blue-to-blue being its three staples.
- Xiaomi: 6.39-inch AMOLED screen, 2340 x 1080 resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio
- Honor: 6.39-inch AMOLED screen, 2340 x 1080 resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio
In terms of display there isn't an iota of difference in terms of source: both phones use the 6.39-inch Samsung AMOLED panel to deliver deep blacks, lots of brightness and rich colours. There will be some software customisation differences - such as the Honor's smart resolution option - but otherwise there's little to call between the two.
Both devices are a very similar size too.
- Xiaomi: Rear positioned fingerprint scanner, wireless charging
- Honor: In-screen fingerprint scanner
Here's an area where the Honor clearly steps ahead: it uses the same in-screen fingerprint scanner as the Huawei Mate 20 which, as we've seen in use, is the best current solution on the market. It actually works - without sign-in or payment difficulties. The one on the rear of the Xiaomi is fine, but we think the design would look better uninterrupted.
On the flip side, the Xiaomi is the only handset to offer Qi wireless charging, if that appeals. The Honor doesn't, despite using a glass back, presumably as a means to keep the price from sky-rocketing.
- Xiaomi: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 6GB/8GB RAM, 3200mAh battery, Quick Charge 4.0
- Honor: Kirin 980, 6GB/8GB RAM, 3400mAh battery, 40W fast-charging, microSD
In terms of power, it's six of one half a dozen of the other. The Qualcomm versus Kirin debate will rage on, but for most day-to-day users there's no notable benefit of one nor other any more.
Honor will lay claims that its artificial intelligence setup is more efficient – as it operates on a 'small, medium, big' principal with sharing workload to its eight cores – but that will depend on application on a case-by-case basis.
All you need to know if that they're both super powerful and will propel apps at lightning speed.
The base models from both manufacturers offer 6GB RAM, boosting to 8GB when buying the step-up models. Xiaomi offers a 10GB special edition model, but you won't ever see it outside of China and we doubt it matters in any practical sense. One practical advantage from Honor is microSD card support.
- Xiaomi: Dual front (24MP f/2.2, 2MP depth); Dual rear (12MP f/1.8, 12MP tele)
- Honor: Three front (16MP f/2.0, dual 2MP depth); Three rear (16MP f/1.8, ultra-wide 16MP f/2.2, 24MP monochrome f/1.8)
At its launch conference Xiaomi went on and on about how the Mi Mix 3 is "better than iPhone" because it scored one point more in DxO Mark. We don't think that tells the whole story, however, as the Xiaomi camera app isn't as smooth and snappy as it could be and the front camera is rather p0or, as revealed in our full review.
The better of the camera setups is the Honor, which pulls a few pages out of Huawei's book in delivering a great trio of lenses. There's an ultra-wide lens (the same as Mate 20 Pro), paired with wide-angle lenses in mono and colour formats for the utmost quality. Its operation is swift, just like the Huawei Mate series, making the Honor's camera setup the better and quicker all-rounder.
- Xiaomi: MIUI 10 software over Android 9, £449
- Honor: EMUI 9 software over Android 9, £TBC
So the Xiaomi has the better design subtleties and adds Qi wireless charging. The Honor wins in the camera department and its in-screen fingerprint scanner is the preferable option. Between the two handsets the actual motion of the sliding mechanism is too close to call - although the Xiaomi was more customisable than the Honor (which, we're assured, will change via software updates).
So which is actually best? Well, it doesn't come down to the marginal power loadout differences or having more cameras than one another. The thing that sells the Honor above and beyond the Xiaomi is the software experience: EMUI 9 is more like Android than MIUI, which will make a big difference for a western market in our view. Within China, however, devout fans of each user interface setup will have their own preference.
And, but of course, there's the price. The Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 will sell for a ¥3299 starting price (£499/€499), while the Honor asks for more with its ¥3799 starting price (£TBC/€TBC/$TBC). There's a little more tech in the latter on the cameras and fingerprint scanner front, but the margin between the two is minimal.
Of course, a big factor is availability. In the UK, the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 will be available from 16 January, but there's no word on Honor Magic 2 international availability.