Honor 50 review: lose a Huawei, gain a Google

It's not often that you have to dive into geopolitics right away when reviewing a smartphone, but it is impossible with the Honor 50. This is the first Honor-branded smartphone to be released outside of China since it was launched by parent company Huawei last January. This means that Honor can now include Google's apps and services in a new phone, despite Huawei's continued presence on USAs entity lists.
These services include essential parts of Android's ecosystem such as Google Play and apps like YouTube and Google Maps. The Honor 50 is the first Honor smartphone in years that customers outside China can actually afford to buy. The mid-range price of 529 (roughly $616) is not a bad deal.

While Honor's departure from its parent company has created a Google-shaped market for Honor, it also shut down a Huawei-shaped market. Honor is now independent, and without the support of one of most highly-resourced technology companies around the globe. The Honor 50 is not a great phone but it does not feel competitive with other handsets within its price range.

Our review of Honor50 Verge Score 7 of 10 Good Stuff 120Hz LED screen

Perform well

Camera with good battery life.

Many Honor bloatware

Not available everywhere

The Honor 50 is priced at 529, or around $616, for 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage. This is the version I have been using. However, if you want 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, 599 will get you that. No matter which option you choose, the Honor 50 comes with the Snapdragon 778G processor as well as a 4,300mAh battery. It can also be charged quickly at up to 66W.

You have the option of either 6GB or 8GB RAM

Honor phones are known for their loud designs. The model I received came in a shiny white option with the letters HONOR etched across the back. There is also a bright, sparkly silver option, as well as more traditional black and green options. Although I don't love the colors, Honor deserves credit for the unique dual-ring camera bump found on the Honor 50. This is much more interesting than the standard rectangles on most devices. Honor claims that the design is similar to that used by the Huaweis Nova 9, which Honor said was because it was created before the split.

The Honor 50's front has a 6.57 inch 1080p OLED screen with a 19.5 to9 aspect ratio. There is also a small hole-punch notch in the middle for the 32-megapixel phone's selfie camera. It moderately curves around the edges. The screens are vibrant and rich in blacks, and the under-display fingerprint scanner is responsive and fast. The Honor 50s is not for you if you don't like curved displays. However, the phone does not suffer from any hand-rejection problems.

The Honor 50s screen is 120Hz in refresh rate. This makes it feel quick to use and easy to view. The Snapdragon 778G processor keeps up with the display even when scrolling through visually demanding apps such as Twitter. During my time with it, I had no issues with its performance.

Wireless charging is not supported and IP-rating is not available

Other specs are less important. The phone does not have an IP rating for dust or water resistance, nor wireless charging. Audio outputs are from a simple downward-firing speaker. The phone is loud enough to be used in quiet areas, but it will not sound as loud as you would like. Honor comes with a pair USB-C headphones, which is quite unusual these days and almost compensates for the absence of a headphone socket.

The Honors MagicUI software runs on top of Android 11 on the Honor 50 and is generally inoffensive. It does have its quirks, and is defaulted in a way most people will want to modify. It uses Microsoft's SwiftKey instead of Google's Gboard keyboard, which I believe most Android users will be familiar with. In addition, there are a lot of stock Honor apps I had to disable in my first few days of using the phone. I also don't like the default Honors software that eschews Androids app drawer for an iOS-like homescreen. Although it is easy to fix with some tweaks, it can feel a bit cumbersome.

The battery life of my Honor 50 was excellent, with an average of just over seven hours screen time between charges. I have never had to turn the phone on for charging with less than 40% remaining. Honor 50 supports fast charging at 66W via an included charger. This charger is not compatible with third-party chargers. Honor claims that the charger can charge the phone to 100% in just 45 minutes. Unfortunately, the review sample I received came with an EU plug so I couldn't verify this claim. However, a full charge in less than an hour is not something to be taken lightly.

Although the Honor 50's headline camera specs look impressive, the details are what make it truly special. It has a quad-camera array of 108 megapixels, but it doesn't have a telephoto camera. The three additional cameras, which are all comparatively low-resolution (8-megapixel ultra-wide angle and macro and a depth sensor of 2-megapixel each, are also comparatively low-resolution.

Grid View

The Honor 50's main camera doesn't do a good job. The main camera can sometimes show a lack of detail even in daylight. This is evident in the above shot of the black cat, which has very little texture and definition. The vibrant colors can make faces look too bright and texturless. White balance looks at most natural and selfies look good. This is due to the easy access shortcut that allows you to toggle background blurring or a beauty mode slider (if this is something you are interested in).

The Honor 50's low light performance leaves much to be desired. It produces dark, muddy shots. The bigger problem is the fact that the phone takes too much time to take photos in low light. The Honor 50 was unable to capture a group shot at a party. It took the Honor 50 several hours to take a photo, much longer than most people are willing to wait.

The Honor 50 starts at a reasonable price and is considered a mid-range smartphone. There are many other capable smartphones at comparable prices. The OnePlus Nord 2 (4999 for its 12GB RAM/256GB storage model) and the iPhone SE (539 each for its 128GB storage version) are excellent phones that provide a more complete experience than the Honor 50. The Honor 50, with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, is just 50 away.

This market is crowded and having access to Google's apps and services wont suffice to make an impact. The software is heavy and slow, and the camera is lacking in detail. The Honor 50's fast charging at 66W and 120Hz display are not enough to mask the fact that it has some weaknesses when compared to other midrange smartphones.

Honor may be an attractive option now that Google's apps and services are available on its devices. It still has a lot to do to become truly competitive.