Honor 50 Review: Marking a welcome return of the original youth phone brand
The launch of the Honor 50 marks the return of Honor in a global market, with Google services back where it belongs. The first offering is fighting in a mid-range market that has become increasingly competitive. Can Honor reclaim its former glory?
Although Honor never completely disappeared from the market, it suffered hugely from political problems created during the Trump Presidency, with a ban that all but killed off the then Huawei-owned company in 2019.
Once Honor broke away from Huawei in 2020, it was free to rebuild and start afresh without the limitations previously placed upon it by the US authorities. This has resulted in the Honor 50 able to ship with Google Mobile Services again, as well as using Qualcomm’s chipsets – and enabling full 5G support.
Despite being independent of Huawei for some time, the Honor 50 (and indeed other handsets announced this year) still have a look and feel that bears many similarities to their Huawei equivalents (the Huawei P50 for this, and the Mate 40 series for the Magic 3 series). Phones have lead times of around 18 months from the design phase to going on sale, so this is to be expected.
Honor told me at a pre-briefing last month that we can expect to see more unique designs emerging next year, which is when Honor will be able to start carving out its own niche as an entirely separate busines.
Of course, having a phone based on the Huawei P-series is no bad thing, and given that won’t be released globally, the Honor 50 is the next best thing.
Honor versions of Huawei phones usually compromised in many areas to maintain a more affordable price point, but the Honor 50 retains a class-leading OLED display, an impressive main camera sensor, fast battery charging and a near-flagship chipset.
It won’t break the bank with a starting price of £449.99, but this is aiming for a mid-range segment, and there are some compromises that may or may not be considered important to a purchasing decision.
Look and Feel
First up, the Honor 50 has a good feel in the hand, with a depth of just 7.8mm. With nicely curved edges, rather than straight edges that will soon become a thing again due to Apple’s current use of sharper angles on the iPhone, the Honor 50 is very comfortable to hold, with or without a protective case (one is supplied in the box).
With it being impressively slim, and sporting a large curved, 6.57-inch AMOLED, display with 120Hz refresh rate and one billion colours, the phone looks more like a high-end phone than something that is sub £500.
Flipped over, you’ll see a camera array that you’ll either love or hate. Regardless of your view of the two large circles stacked one upon another, you can’t deny it does make for a very unique look – something that stands out from other manufacturers.
The fingerprint sensor is housed within the display, and there’s a central positioned selfie camera (with a 32-megapixel sensor).
It’s a little surprising to see the camera in the middle, when Honor made a big deal of putting it on the left (with the Honor View 20), so as to help it disappear when held in a landscape orientation for game playing.
At the base of the phone is a single down-firing speaker (no stereo sound here sadly), and a USB-C charge port with USB 2.0 data transfer speeds.
Unlike some earlier Honor phones, there’s no 3.5mm headphone socket or memory card expandability here.
Of the two giant circles on the rear of the phone, the top is for the big primary sensor, a 108-megapixel sensor (without OIS), with three smaller cameras below for ultra-wide, macro and depth. The latter two cameras are just 2-megapixels, which is the biggest compromise you’ll have to accept on this phone.
There’s no telephoto camera (instead the 108-megapixel images are cropped as required) and the ultra-wide camera is just 8-megapixels in resolution, a little on the low side.
When using the Honor 50 camera, it marked a nice return to the camera experience I’ve enjoyed on earlier Huawei and Honor phones, including the classic P30 Pro.
There’s the brilliant night mode, although times have changed and now it seems a little antiquated to wait about 4 seconds to take a photo in low-light, even if the results are still impressive. As long as nothing moves in the first second, you’ll still get a sharp blur-free result.
The lack of a telephoto camera is a bigger issue, as while the 108-megapixel sensor can be cropped to give a near lossless 2x zoom, anything more than this starts to show the limitations of doing things this way – especially in low light where things become very grainy.
With such tiny pixels (0.7µm), a pixel binning approach is utilised to combine image data from multiple pixels. Once you’re cropping things, you lose quality because this pixel binning cannot happen. On a good day, you can do this without any issue (you can even capture at the full 108-megapixel resolution if you so desire), but once the conditions deteriorate you will get more disappointing results. The lack of stabilisation also makes it difficult to get a steady shot beyond 2x zoom.
The ultra-wide camera, at just 8-megapixels, is also not quite good enough to capture a lot of detail. It’s best used for fitting more things in at close distance (e.g. in a room) than for a scenic shot where a lot of things are distant.
Considering the lack of a telephoto camera, this is more a phone for city dwellers and party goers than scenic holiday trips. Given Honor is almost certainly targeting the former over the latter, all of these issues may well not be big issues at all.
The camera works well in specific circumstances, but you’ll want to dabble with the Pro mode to get the best results for faster moving scenes. With no dedicated sports mode, you’ll need to adjust the ISO and shutter speed by hand if you’re trying to capture children or pets that won’t stand still. Turning the AI scene detection off is also advisable to reduce the shutter lag, which is quite noticeable.
Once you adapt and accept the limitations, the Honor 50 proves to be a respectable camera experience. It can’t match the best competition, but it is certainly far from disappointing.
On the video side, the Honor 50 tops out at 4K 30fps, which is sufficient for most people. The electronic stabilisation does a very impressive job keeping things steady here. A dual video mode will be very appealing for many users, allowing a range of setups to utilise both the front and rear cameras at the same time – either side by side videos, or a picture-in-picture arrangement.
Performance & Connectivity
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 778G chip proved to be impressive on the Realme GT Master Edition I recently reviewed, and it performed just as well here – with very similar benchmark results (which can vary from test to test). It’s a very power efficient chipset.
Like the Realme, you have a very similar setup with the base model coming with 6GB of RAM. I never found to be a problem, with apps remaining loaded and allowing fast switching from one to the other. 8GB is available if you need it.
There’s also the same size 4,300mAh battery and a near identical charging speed (65W on the Realme, 66W on the Honor).
Charging the Honor 50 is stated as taking 45 minutes from zero to 100%, which is actually slower than Realme’s claimed 33 minutes. The actual battery performance on the Honor 50 proved to be excellent, with 7 to 8 hours of screen on time being achieved. With the fast charging, there’s no chance of suffering battery anxiety here.
Even under load, the phone didn’t get especially hot until I dared to play Genshin Impact, which did see things heat up quite a bit. Long spells of game playing like this will bring the screen on time down quite a bit, but for more moderate usage the heat is well contained and the phone won’t get uncomfortable to hold.
You can opt for a performance mode for the maximum power, or a power saving mode (that can get you another 6-8 hours of standby time over going all out) and there are a number of things you can adjust to get the most from the battery.
There’s a built in optimisation tool that can suggest ways to improve battery life, including monitoring any background apps that are taking up too much power.
If intensive gaming is preferred, something like the Realme GT, the Xiaomi 11T or OnePlus Nord 2 (the former using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, the latter two MediaTek’s Dimensity 1200) might suit better, but for more casual gaming, the Honor 50 won’t disappoint.
The Honor 50 comes with Wi-Fi 6 (1200Mbps), 5G and Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, ensuring a decent level of future proofing, while on the OS side it comes with Magic (UI) 4.2, based on Android 11. At the time of writing, it was not clear when an Android 12 based version will be released, but it’s likely to be within the first half of 2022.
The Honor 50 is a decent enough phone for Honor to use to (re)enter the market, but it isn’t the best phone it has to offer. The recently announced Magic 3 series will be the models to watch for – but clearly they’ll come at a higher cost, and at this moment in time there is no idea on when one or all models will be released here.
The display is amazing (with the mono speaker being loud and clear) with a slick, near native Android, user interface that’s quick and easy to use and setup. There’s dependable battery life, and the phone is slim and lightweight. It has the added bonus of a protective case and screen protector included out of the box.
None of the near rivals detailed above have a screen as nice as this, although some do have stereo sound. On balance, a good screen probably trumps good audio – especially if you’ll be using headphones for listening to most music and video.
The Honor 50 is available in two memory configurations, but the base model represents the best value for most people. With fast Wi-Fi 6 and 5G connectivity, along with all operators offering huge (or unlimited) data allowances these days, there’s never been a better time to take advantage of cloud storage/streaming services. This makes 128GB ample for most users, with 256GB reserved purely for those that still want instant access to all their media.
However, only the 256GB model comes with 8GB of RAM.
Honor fans of the past will be extremely happy to see its return to the UK, but this isn’t a phone that will appeal to everyone. While there’s a more affordable Honor 50 Lite also coming soon, if £450 seems too expensive, a lot of people will be wanting to see what the company will do at the higher end.
I have to say that I’m definitely in this camp too.
The landscape has changed a lot since 2019, with Honor now up against strong competition from the likes of Realme, Xiaomi, OnePlus and others like Motorola, TCL and Nokia. Even Samsung has begun to compete at more affordable price points.
It’s not going to be easy for Honor to get back to where it once was, but the Honor 50 leaves little doubt that the company is already making the right moves – so 2022 should be very interesting.
Pricing and Availability
The Honor 50 comes in a choice of colours (midnight black, emerald green (as reviewed here), frost crystal and a limited edition Honor Code), with two configurations; 6+128GB and 8+256GB, for £449.99 and £529.99 respectively.
It goes on general sale on November 12th, from Honor direct, Currys, Argos, Amazon, AO.Com, Very, JD Williams, Fonehouse and others to be announced.
Between now and November 11th, those who pre-order can get a MagicWatch 2 worth £119.99 included – which represents excellent value because even today it’s still a great watch with excellent battery life and features.
When this offer ends, you can be certain of other deals in the future – especially around Black Friday and in the run up to Christmas (or after) so the Honor 50 should definitely remain a phone to keep a close eye on.
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