Honor 50 review: A solid midrange phone designed for content creators
Plus, it's got Google Mobile Services back up and running.
Updated Oct. 27, 2021 1:00 a.m. PT
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Sareena DayaramSenior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
The Honor 50 phone lineup was revealed Wednesday. After years of being written off outside of the Chinese market, there's a compelling reason to consider it. It's among the first in the series to have access to Google Mobile Services after having lost access in 2019 due to sweeping sanctions leveled by Donald Trump's administration at then-parent company Huawei. That all changed with Huawei's sale of Honor to an independent group of buyers last year, which let the phones regain access to GMS. Honor phones can now be equipped with the Google Play Store, Gmail and Google Maps.
With the political drama out of the way (at least for the time being), I began testing the Honor 50 for about a week. I found it to be a midrange 5G phone with a lot of features that work well for its price. The phone has a 6.57-inch OLED display with a 120Hz high refresh rate, an impressive selfie camera, an ultra-fast 66W charger and stereo speakers, all at a price that's lower than comparable rivals like Samsung's Galaxy line. But the Honor 50 lacks an IP rating for water and dust resistance and doesn't have wireless charging. It's powered by the more midrange Snapdragon 778G processor, though there's hardly a perceptible difference in day-to-day use from something like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which runs on the flagship Snapdragon 888.
With a 32-megapixels selfie camera, Honor designed this for those who like to create content on a budget, and it comes amid the meteoric rise of TikTok and its China-equivalent Douyin. But even if you don't see yourself partaking in TikTok's dry scooping challenge anytime soon (or ever), this phone is worth looking at, especially if you're in the market for an affordable 5G Android phone that covers the basics. It might also be a good option if you jump on a lot of Zoom meetings on your phone -- its impressive selfie camera is backed with decent battery life and a fantastic warp-like charging speed comparable to OnePlus. The speakers were loud enough, too.
The Honor 50's base model includes 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage to start. A step-up model is also available with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Pricing for the phones start at 529 euros for the 6GB model, which roughly converts to £445, AU$820 and $610 (you'll pay 599 euros for the 8GB). Both phones are set to release in Europe before getting a wider global rollout, but there are no plans to release the phone in the US.
In addition to the Honor 50 that I review here, an Honor 50 Lite phone is planned for release. That step-down model should be a bit cheaper, but pricing isn't yet available.
Honor 50 design: Business on the front, party on the back
With its sleek build and modern aesthetic, the Honor 50 looks like a premium phone. It's also refreshingly lightweight compared to the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which might be partly due to the Honor 50's plastic frame. Honor says the back is made of glass, and my model came in a white and silver color. This phone features a holographic-like Honor logo on the back, along with a dual-circle camera bump.
Though perhaps not as elegant as Huawei's P50 Pro, the design of the camera looks similar, despite each company's assertion that Honor is an independent unit.
The rest of the phone includes familiar features like the volume rockers and power button on the right. The bottom of the phone includes a USB-C connector along with one of the stereo speakers. As for the color scheme, the Honor 50 is anything but subtle. If that louder white and silver isn't to your liking, you can check out other color options.
Honor 50 display: Solid all-around
The Honor 50 features a 6.57-inch OLED display with Full HD Plus resolution (2340x1080 pixels) and a zippy 120Hz display. Though it's become more commonplace in midrange phones, it's still nice to see smoothly scrolling web pages and breezy app transitions made possible with the 120Hz refresh rate. That's the same refresh rate as the Galaxy S21 and the Pixel 6 Pro, along with Xiaomi's flagship Mi 11. Like the Galaxy S21 and the iPhone 13 Pro, the Honor 50 makes use of an adaptive screen refresh that can intelligently switch to a lower refresh rate while performing a less essential activity -- for example, viewing a still image.
Honor 50 camera: 108-megapixel lens leads the pack
Honor boasts a revamped camera bump, taking the form of a "dual-circle" and a reshuffled camera array consisting of four rear lenses: an 108-megapixel main shooter, 8-megapixel (wide-angle), 2-megapixel (bokeh) and 2-megapixel (macro). The main camera, which relies on a 1/1.52" large sensor and a f/1.9 wide aperture, took mostly solid shots. But the macro images weren't anything special, and it made me wonder why Honor bothered to include a macro lens at all.
Apart from the camera setup, a number of camera modes are at your disposal, such as "picture in picture," which lets you overlay the view of the front camera onto the bigger view of the rear camera or vice versa. Though I enjoy creating content, these modes are a bit gimmicky to me. However, I can see how others might appreciate having so many content-creating tools easily available from the camera's viewfinder.
Honor 50 camera: Spotlight on selfies
Honor put a lot of emphasis on its selfie camera -- yet another sign Honor wants you to create content with this device. The front-facing camera uses a 32-megapixel lens housed in a circular notch on the top-center of the display. It also comes with a 90-degree viewing angle, allowing you to fit a bit more scenery than usual in your selfies.
I was impressed with the selfie camera. Photos turned out considerably realistic and detailed. When I compared selfies to the much pricier iPhone 12 Pro Max, I was impressed by how the Honor stacked up. I also discovered that the Honor 50 photo had whitened my face slightly, but I didn't look unnatural. Much like how Apple, Google and Samsung phones seem to have their own style of photo-taking, whether or not you like Honor's probably comes down to personal preference.
As you can see, the photos were crisp and detail-filled and at times a tad sharper than I would have liked thanks to AI processing. The 10x digital zoom allowed me to capture images -- even on foggy days -- of faraway objects, though their images turned out blurry. Still, they hadn't been visible to the naked eye. Overall, I think the cameras took decent-enough pictures for the price point.
Honor 50 software: Magic UI 4.2 runs on Android 11
I didn't notice a ton of changes on Magic UI, though it was a functional user experience. There were a bunch of extra aspects to explore, such as battery settings and always-on-display settings. Overall, it was clean and user-friendly without feeling bloated, except maybe in the aforementioned camera app's many modes and tools.
Honor 50 battery and performance: Dependable
The battery lasted me about a day and half with very minimal use: I made a few calls, sent some emails, watched a couple of YouTube videos and browsed the internet. Even when you eventually run out of juice, recharging the Honor's 4,300-mAh battery is quick thanks in part to the 66-watt wired charger. Honor says that you'll get a 70% charge in just 20 minutes -- and for the most part that claim proved to be true. Based on my tests, the battery juiced up more than 50% in just 15 minutes, and it took about an hour to recharge completely. Even without including wireless charging, it's safe to say that battery anxiety will be a thing of the past when you're using the Honor 50.
The Honor 50 runs on a Snapdragon 778G, which is respectable for a midrange phone. In day-to-day use, the phone sailed through tasks, and I didn't notice any sluggishness or lags even when I tested out games or watched YouTube videos.