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HONOR 50 hands-on preview: Breaking away from HUAWEI

The HONOR 50 is the brand's first GMS-equipped smartphone since gaining independence from HUAWEI.

Published onOctober 14, 2021

HONOR 50 back lying on tree stump
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

HUAWEI sold off its Honor sub-brand last year, allowing the latter to forge out as its own independent company. Importantly, the move enables HONOR to revisit old partnerships, such as Google and Qualcomm, which were sorely lacking from some of the brand’s recent releases.

The HONOR 50 series, first launched in China, is making its way to global markets this month. It will be the brand’s first phone to land for global audiences with Google services installed since gaining its independence. Although HONOR and HUAWEI may be separate entities, their intertwined legacy remains evident across the HONOR 50. Well get into that later, but first, let’s dive into what HONOR can do with its newfound control and direction.

A design very much of its own

HONOR 50 special edition colorway in hand
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The special edition HONOR Code colorway of the HONOR 50 we were sent isn’t afraid to make a statement. Although I’m not exactly sure what that statement is. If you like gaudy branding or just want to look like you’re owned by a dystopian megacorporation, then this might be the look for you. If not, the HONOR 50, fortunately, comes in more conventional Frost Crystal, Emerald Green, and Midnight Black colorways too.

The HONOR 50 is eye-catching, though not necessarily in a good way.

The phone’s camera housing is equally eye-catching, although again not necessarily in a good way. The two large circles, or Symmetric Dual-ring as HONOR calls it, actually houses four cameras and a flash. There’s the 108MP large main camera located in the top ring and three smaller apertures for the 2MP depth, 2MP micro, and 8MP ultra-wide cameras in the lower ring. But we’ll get into those in our full HONOR 50 review where we’ll take a closer look at what these shooters can do.

I’m not sure the symmetrical design certainly is as elegant as, say, HUAWEI’s Mate 40. You’ll find a large 32MP selfie camera cutout in the display that’s notably larger than Samsung’s Galaxy cutouts. But the front-facing camera does take some pretty good selfies.

Speaking of, the display package boasts a 2,340 x 1,080 OLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate for buttery smooth animations and scrolling. This is set to dynamic out of the box, which switches to 60Hz regularly to save on power. There are options to lock in either 120Hz or 60Hz modes in the settings, should you prefer. The panel looks good to the eye although it’s perhaps not quite bright enough for flawless outdoor viewing, even with the brightness cranked all the way up. We’ll confirm more in our full review coming soon.

Still, the build quality is decent for a more affordable handset. It’s light and thin in the hand, owing to the predominant use of what feels like plastic. The power and volume rockers offer a sturdy and satisfying click and sit neatly into the lovely curved chassis that frames the edge of the phone. The dual speakers sound okay but the bulk of the volume emanates from the bottom of the handset, producing what sounds like a lopsided presentation. There’s a responsive in-display fingerprint scanner but no IP rating for dust or water resistance here.

See also: The best HONOR phones you can buy

Early impressions of the HONOR 50’s design suggest a bigger focus on style, although the package isn’t exactly lacking substance either. However, there are clearly a few corners being cut to keep the price down. Just please, please, don’t buy the special edition colorway unless you really love bling.

Software: Return of the Google

HONOR 50 software
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

If you’ve used a recent HONOR or even HUAWEI smartphone, you’ll feel right at home with the HONOR 50’s Magic UI 4.2 software based on Android 11. Although I’m not sure why the phone doesn’t come with HONOR’s newer Magic UI 5 software, which will be available on the HONOR Magic 3 when it finally arrives. HONOR notes that we’re not running the final software on this phone yet, so some of what you read here could well change by the time we’re ready with our full review.

Unlike newer HUAWEI smartphones and pre-breakup HONOR phones, you'll have no problem running third-party applications built using Google's API library.

While HONOR and HUAWEI may have gone their separate ways, Magic UI hasn’t meaningfully changed for a little while now and is still embued with many features from the old partnership. Settings menus, quick toggles, navigation gestures, and even the selection of wallpapers are identical to existing smartphones from either brand. Greater differences between the two are clearly going to take longer to manifest. Still, Magic UI is very functional with plenty of extra settings to dive into, such as always-on-display configuration, various power settings, and wireless projection capabilities. Yet the UI keeps out of the way well enough to avoid feeling bloated.

Importantly, the handset comes with Google Mobile Services (GMS) installed, giving you access to the Play Store, Gmail, Maps, and Google’s wide range of other services. Unlike newer HUAWEI smartphones, this means you’ll also have no problem running third-party applications built using Google’s API library either and won’t have to deal with third-party stores to find popular applications. There is an HONOR Store installed on the phone but this looks to upsell you on HONOR’s growing portfolio of laptops, smartwatches, and the like, rather than apps.

It can’t be understated how much of an important return to form GMS support is for HONOR. We previously found the brand’s phones sans-GMS, such as the HONOR 9X Pro and HONOR 30 Pro Plus, virtually impossible to recommend to global audiences. Fortunately, the HONOR 50 series has no such caveat this time around. Although we don’t yet know what the update schedule will be for the 50 series.

What about the core specs?

Another benefit of HONOR’s ability to do business with Western companies is that it’s able to buy chips from Qualcomm again. Packing an upper mid-tier Snapdragon 778G chipset, there’s little to complain about when it comes to the HONOR 50’s performance based on our early tests. That chipset isn’t built to offer cutting-edge flagship performance, but it’s as solid as the best chips from a year or two ago. So there should be plenty of performance on offer when paired with 6, 8, or 12GB of RAM.

We can’t fairly talk benchmarks until it’s running retail software, but sufficient to say that day-to-day apps, such as Chrome, email, and accessing social media all run silky smooth. I’ve been running the 6GB of RAM model and even this is sufficient for multitasking. Switching back and forth between a few apps didn’t cause them to reload. The chipset is also a reasonable gamer too, running Call of Duty: Mobile without any hitches and stutters.

Charging is fast providing you use HONOR's bundled charger.

Speaking of speed, the HONOR 50 ships with a 66W charger in the box based on its proprietary SuperCharge technology. It’s blazingly fast even running on pre-production software, topping up the phone to 50% in just over 10 minutes and 75% in about half an hour. We’ll have more detailed figures in our full review.

However, you won’t want to misplace the bundled brick. The HONOR 50 is much slower to charge when using third-party plugs. I couldn’t obtain more than 10W using a selection of other chargers. It’s also worth noting that HONOR’s charger still uses an old USB-A connector and includes a USB-A to USB-C cable in the box.

HONOR 50 specs

6.57 inches, 120Hz, OLED
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
19.5:9 aspect ratio
Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G 5G
6GB, 8GB, 12GB
128GB or 256GB
Quad rear cameras:
180MP wide, f/1.9, 1/1.52" sensor, PDAF
8MP ultra-wide, f/2.2, 112˚
2MP macro, f/2.4
2MP depth, f/2.4

32MP, f/2.2, 1/3.14"
66W wired charging
IP Rating
Ships with Android 11
Magic UI 4.2
160 x 73.8 x 7.8mm
Emerald Green, Frost Crystal, Midnight Black, HONOR Code
Face recognition
In-display fingerprint scanner

HONOR 50 preview: The early verdict

HONOR 50 camera housing colorful
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Despite only spending a short time with the HONOR 50, I feel like I know what to expect. And so will anyone else who’s used an HONOR phone in the past. HONOR focuses on its familiar strengths — AI selfies, a unique design, and compatibility with its extended product portfolio. But that leaves the phone with a few familiar flaws, such as gimmicky camera features, finicky charging, and software that hasn’t changed in years.

HONOR returns to form with a little help from Google and Qualcomm.

Gaudy special editions aside, it doesn’t feel that HONOR is really striking out on its own with the 50 series. Rather it’s a continuation of the HONOR/HUAWEI formula before the US Entity List got in the way. That’s no bad thing but those, myself included, who had hoped that brand independence would lead to some interesting new ideas from the company may be a little disappointed. Although it’s only been a year and things could well change in the not too distant future.

Speaking of the future, HONOR’s global product ambitions aren’t in the clear just yet. Reports continue to circulate that HONOR could rejoin HUAWEI on the US Entity List, which would leave the brand back in the Google-free zone. Nothing is certain at this point but, hopefully, any developments won’t impact the handset’s longer-term support.

The HONOR 50 is set to launch to global audiences on October 26th. Keep an eye out for our full review then.

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