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Huawei's flagship P50 Pro is the best phone you definitely shouldn't buy

This phone's got style and a fantastic screen, but the drawbacks are deal-breakers.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Huawei's flagship P50 Pro actually launched last year in China, but it's finally arrived in the UK and wider Europe. It will not be on sale in the US due to the ongoing restrictions imposed by the US government. And it's those same restrictions that make this phone so problematic.

There are no Google services for one thing, meaning no Gmail, no YouTube and, crucially, no access to the Google Play Store. There's also no 5G connectivity, which is certainly a deal-breaker for a flagship phone in 2022. We're seeing some type of 5G on even budget handsets now

That might be more forgivable if the P50 Pro were cheap, but at 1,199 euros (which converts to about $1,335 or £1,000) the Huawei P50 Pro is more expensive than the iPhone 13 Pro and quite a bit more than the superb Google Pixel 6 Pro. It's hundreds of dollars more than the excellent OnePlus 9, too; a phone that does have 5G and Google services, and has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor as the P50 Pro, along with a great camera and awesome battery life. 

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So while the P50 Pro does have some good points, it demands you make two gigantic sacrifices and it doesn't even try and tempt you to do so with a more affordable price. 

But to not be a total negative Nellie, there are some things I like. For one thing, it looks pretty awesome. It's got a great glass-and-metal design and I really like the two big circles on the back that help make the phone stand out among its competitors. It's also IP68-rated, so spilled drinks are no concern and the display is beautiful.

Its screen is 6.6 inches with a 120Hz refresh rate, and looks pin-sharp and vibrant as the day is long. And I love how it curves at the edges in a way that just oozes premium charm. Or as much as a display can actually ooze anything, I suppose. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's got a meaty 4,000-mAh battery that'll keep on chugging all day long and there's a pretty wild camera setup on the back. You get a 50-megapixel main camera, a 40-megapixel monochrome camera, a 13-megapixel ultrawide camera and a 64-megapixel telephoto camera. Huawei promises all kinds of improved image processing to make its shots even better and indeed I found images from all its lenses to be sharp and well exposed.

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Taken with the main camera, this outdoor image looking over Edinburgh is well exposed and packed with detail.

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This nighttime shot of the city is a touch blurry but it's impressively bright.

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Taken with the main camera, this rather gray scene nonetheless has plenty of detail.

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Switching to the ultrawide lens has also resulted in a noticeable shift to a warmer white balance.

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Taken at 10x zoom, the P50 Pro has captured a sharper, more detailed shot here than Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra managed at the same zoom level (see below).

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Taken on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra at 10x zoom. This phone has always been the zoom king, but the P50 Pro's results here are noticeably better.

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And that zoom is superb too, with better-looking 10x shots than I've even been able to get from Samsung's Galaxy S21 Ultra, which has typically been the phone zoom king. So the camera is certainly great, but it's not so great as to make up for the rest of phone's huge failings.

The lack of the Google Play Store means you'll have to use Huawei's own App Gallery, and while there are some notable names on its shelves, it's generally slim pickings. Snapchat is there, as is Fortnite (via the Epic Games downloader), as well as Telegram, Tinder, Amazon and a growing variety of others. 

And there are workarounds and alternatives for missing apps. Petal Maps -- Huawei's own maps app -- is nigh on identical to Google Maps, for example. There's no Gmail app but Gmail users can still add their accounts to Huawei's email app and access their accounts as normal. There's no YouTube app but you can load YouTube in the web browser, which technically works. And while apps like Instagram or Adobe Lightroom aren't available officially in Huawei's store, you can download the APK files from third-party websites and install them manually. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

And that's the case for many other apps too, but keep in mind that installing apps by downloading the APK from random websites can be risky, and is a major way that all kinds of bad nonsense can worm its way onto your phone.

The other issue is that the phone lacks 5G connectivity -- again, due to the restrictions. 5G might not yet be the standard for phone service everywhere you go, but this is still an expensive phone that should ideally last three years or more for anyone that buys it. Missing out on 5G connectivity, and the faster speeds that will come with it, is a big setback for this phone once those networks do roll out.

So no 5G and no Google services -- two huge issues for any phone, but particularly as this one costs so much. There are some compromises you may be happy to make. Maybe you don't care about 5G. Maybe you don't even care about having the latest apps and just want something to tackle your everyday essentials.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

But those are compromises you might make in order to keep the price down, to get a more affordable phone when you don't fancy spending flagship levels of money. Whereas this much cash should score you the best phone around. The most dazzling piece of hardware that satisfies everything you would want from it, and hold its own even as newer phones hit the market in the years to come.

And that is far from the case here. Yes, the hardware is great -- the luscious design is premium all the way and the camera is excellent. But its combination of missing features and sky-high price means the Huawei P50 Pro is a phone you'd do well to avoid.