Honor 50 review: lose a Huawei, get a Google

It’s rare that you need to get into geopolitics at the beginning of a smartphone review, but it’s impossible to avoid with the Honor 50. It’s the first Honor-labeled device released outside of China since the brand was spun off from parent company Huawei last year. This means that despite Huawei’s continued presence on the US device list, Honor is now able to include Google’s apps and services on a new phone.

Having access to these services, which include critical parts of the Android ecosystem like Google Play in addition to apps like Google Maps and YouTube, means the Honor 50 is the first Honor phone in years to actually have a chance at being a viable purchases for customers outside China. Its mid-range starting price of € 529 (approx. $ 616) does not hurt either.

But while leaving its former parent company has opened a Google-shaped window for Honor, it has also closed a Huawei-shaped door. Honor is now on its own without the support of one of the most resourceful technology companies in the world. As a result, even though it’s not a bad phone, the Honor 50 ends up not feeling competitive with other handsets in its price range.

Honor 50 starts at € 529 (about $ 616) for 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal memory, which is the version I used, but by going up to € 599 (about $ 698) you get 8GB of RAM and 256 GB storage space. Whichever option you go for, you get the same Snapdragon 778G processor and a 4,300mAh battery that can be quickly charged with up to 66W.

Honor phones have always been available with high designs and Honor 50 is no different. My model came in a shiny white color variant with the letters “HONOR” lined across the back, and there is also a screaming sparkling silver color available along with more conventional black and green options. Although I do not love the color options, I think the Honor deserves credit for its approach to the dual ring camera on the Honor 50, which is much more interesting than the generic rectangles found on the back of most devices (Huawei’s Nova 9 uses a very similar design, which Honor says is due to the fact that the design was developed before the division).

On the front, the Honor 50 has a 6.57-inch 1080p OLED screen with a 19.5: 9 aspect ratio and a small centrally oriented hole notch for the phone’s 32-megapixel selfie camera, which curves moderately around the left and right edges of the phone. I can not go wrong with the rich black or vibrant colors of the screen, and the fingerprint sensor under the screen is fast and responsive. If you do not like curved screens, you will not like the Honor 50s, but at least the phone does not suffer from palm rejection issues.

A curved screen may not be to everyone’s liking.

I like the camera bulge better than the color.

The Honor 50’s screen has a refresh rate of 120Hz, which makes it feel fast to use and smooth to look at, and the Snapdragon 778G processor follows happily, even while the screen quickly scrolls through visually intensive apps like Twitter. I had no issues with performance during my time with the phone.

The rest of the specifications are more basic. There is no IP rating for dust and water resistance and no wireless charging, and when it comes to sound, the phone emits sound from a basic downward speaker. It’s loud enough to listen around the house, but you will reach out for a pair of headphones in a noisier setting. Honor includes a pair of USB-C headphones in the box, which is quite unusual these days, and almost outweighs the lack of a headphone jack.

Honors Magic UI software, which runs on top of Android 11 on Honor 50, is largely harmless. However, it has its annoyances and is by default set up in a way that I think most people will want to adjust. To begin with, it uses Microsoft’s SwiftKey rather than Google’s Gboard keyboard, which I think most Android users will be more familiar with. There’s also a ton of stock Honor apps that I disabled in my first few days with the phone, and I don’t like the way Honor software by default avoids Android’s typical app drawer for an iOS-like home screen. It’s easy enough to fix with some tweaks, but it feels a little awkward.

The phone has four rear cameras in its camera bump.

I had no complaints about the battery life of the Honor 50, averaging just over seven hours of screen time between charges. I never had to put the phone on to charge at the end of the day with less than 40 percent charge left. The Honor 50 supports 66W fast charging via an included charger, which is marked as Honor’s own “SuperCharge” charging standard, which is not compatible with third-party chargers. Honor claims that the included charger can get the phone from 0 to 100 percent charge in 45 minutes (unfortunately, my review test came with an EU plug, so I was not able to confirm this claim myself). But a full charge in less than an hour is nothing to sniff at.

The overall camera specs on the Honor 50 seem impressive at first glance, but the devil is in the detail. Yes, it is a 108-megapixel quad-camera array, but there is no telephoto camera, and in addition to the main sensor, the three additional cameras are a relatively low resolution 8-megapixel ultra-wide angle, a 2-megapixel macro and a 2-megapixel depth sensor.

Things do not get off to a good start with the Honor 50’s main camera. Even in daylight, there may be a clear lack of detail in its images, as in the image of the black cat above, where there is very little definition or texture in its fur. The colors are vibrant with the risk of becoming a little oversaturated, and the faces look a little too bright and textured. White balance is at least pretty natural, and I think selfies generally look OK, helped by the fact that there is an easily accessible shortcut to turn on background blur and a slider for beauty mode (if that’s a feature you are interested in).

Low light performance leaves a lot to be desired, with the Honor 50 producing images that are dark and muddy. But the bigger problem is that the phone takes way too long to take pictures in low light. When they tried to take a picture of a group of people at a party, Honor 50 refused to take a picture for several painful moments, which is much longer than people at a party are willing to wait to have their picture taken.

A USB-C and bottom speaker, but no headphone jack.

The 120Hz screen is hard to fail.

At its starting price, the Honor 50 is a comfortable midrange device. But there are a lot of accomplished smartphones available at similar prices. Phones like the OnePlus Nord 2 (€ 499 for its step-up 12GB RAM / 256GB storage model) or the iPhone SE (€ 539 for its 128GB storage variant) are both excellent phones that offer a much more rounded experience than the Honor 50. And if you consider Honor 50 with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB storage space, then you are only 50 € away from the recently announced Pixel 6.

It’s a crowded part of the market, and simply having access to Google’s apps and services is not enough to make an impact. Honor’s software may feel inflated and the camera is sluggish and lacks detail. Fast 66W fast charging and a smart 120Hz screen are not enough to distract from the fact that the Honor 50 has some weak points compared to the best mid-range handsets available.

Honor can be a viable purchase now that it can once again include Google’s apps and services on its devices. But it has more work to do if it wants to be really competitive.

Leave a Comment