Many years ago, Huawei was a king amongst smartphone OEMs in both China and in Europe. With fantastic devices packed with premium hardware and a decent software experience, the company’s phones were, to some, the pinnacle of what Android could be. Rocked by sanctions imposed by the US government, the company has struggled to find its footing over the years, with a pivot towards wearables and the introduction of “HarmonyOS”, the company’s answer to no longer being able to use Google Services. With the launch of the Huawei P50 Pro though, it feels like the company is finally beginning to find its footing, as we explore in this review.
Anyone who has read my previous reviews of the Huawei MatePad Pro, the Huawei MatePad 11, or even the Honor 50 will know that without Google Services, I’ve always found it hard to recommend Huawei’s devices. It’s hard to download apps, it’s annoying to try and avail of the services we all know and love on our phones, and it’s just not convenient overall. While that last part is still certainly true, a combination of a growing AppGallery, the improvement of Petal Search, and alternative app stores has meant that, for the first time in years, I’ve been able to use a Huawei phone as a daily driver — my main phone — with minimal issue.
Is it the case that, for most people, the Huawei P50 Pro will be hard to recommend? Sure, it might be. If you rely on Google services and can’t imagine yourself wanting to rely on workarounds and alternative apps to access your emails consistently, then yeah, definitely. However, if you think you might be happy to use a smartphone without Google’s services while still getting push notifications for emails and calendar events with a little bit of work, then the Huawei P50 Pro might actually be a smartphone to consider — especially if you can get it for cheap.
Huawei P50 Pro: Specifications
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About this review: I received the Huawei P50 Pro from Huawei on the 25th of January, 2022, in Cocoa Gold with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Huawei did not have any input into the contents of this review.
The Huawei P50 Pro’s camera bump is certainly unique
The Huawei P50 Pro has a unique design that can’t be found on any other phone, with two large circles containing the quad-camera setup on this device. It’s bold and stands out, but not in a bad way even if it takes some getting used to. The model we received is in “Cocoa Gold”, though it changes color in different lighting. Sometimes it looks gray, sometimes it looks gold, and sometimes it looks brown. This is definitely a fingerprint magnet, though aside from the smudges, it’s one of my favorite devices that I currently have in terms of looks, and it’s incredibly stylish.
Even better, the phone itself is comfortable in hand, fitting nicely for one-handed usage despite its size. The curved edges definitely help with that, but it does result in accidental touches occasionally. It’s light too and isn’t too slippery when out of the included case.
As for the display, it’s impeded by a singular front-facing punch hole camera and has curved edges on both the left and the right. The in-display fingerprint sensor is a little bit low on the display (though it’s fine when using the phone one-handed), and the top and bottom bezels of the 6.6-inch display are nearly completely even.
Finally, the bottom and bottom of the phone’s chassis are completely flat. There’s an IR sensor, microphone, and speaker at the top, and there’s another speaker, a USB-C port for 66W wired charging, and the SIM tray at the bottom. The right-hand side has the volume rocker and the power button.
Really, just like the Huawei MatePad 11, this is a great design and the phone looks fantastic. As far as phones go, the Huawei P50 Pro looks incredible, especially in person. I can definitely see the camera arrangement being a negative for some people, but I honestly do think that it works well here. It gives the phone a unique look and personality, different from everything else in the market right now.
AppGallery continues to improve
Huawei’s biggest issue will always be in the software department, and just like every other Huawei device in recent memory, the Huawei P50 Pro makes use of the AppGallery to distribute apps to users. It lacks a lot of apps, and some apps have to be installed through third-party APK websites. You can’t sign in to the likes of YouTube without making use of something like YouTube Vanced and MicroG, and other apps, such as Gmail, won’t work either.
The Huawei P50 Pro is the first Huawei device that I have completely used as a daily driver since the incident, but my reliance on Google services made it difficult. I couldn’t use Gmail, so I took a look at some of the best email apps on Android and settled on Nine. It works, but push notifications are every fifteen minutes — a far cry away from receiving a notification as soon as an email comes in.
What’s more, the apps that were on AppGallery were sometimes not usable in Ireland. The Just Eat app, for example, is an app for takeaways in Ireland (some users may know it as Lieferando, GrubHub, Takeaway.com, etc), but it’s a region-specific app. The app that’s distributed in Ireland officially through AppGallery is the U.K. app, not the Irish app, and doesn’t work here. I had to sideload the Irish app on my phone, and only then would it work.
As for contactless payments, Huawei’s solution was to team up with payment provider Curve. Curve is a payment provider that you can link up your existing cards with, and it has a number of other cool features that basically mean substituting all of your cards for one card, then using the app to swap which card is currently active. It’s pretty neat and a service that I already used, so it was mostly trivial to configure on the Huawei P50 Pro. I had a couple of issues setting it up that eventually fixed themselves (possibly because the phone was unreleased at the time), but it fails to actually work for contactless payments.
Curve tells me to hold my phone to an NFC reader, but it doesn’t work. I have confirmed that it can read NFC tags, and even putting the phone against another phone launches the Huawei Wallet app.
To be honest, the biggest issue that I’ve found with AppGallery is the lack of apps. While the company’s Petal Search does the hard work for you in finding APK files to install, there are some surprising omissions. There’s no Twitter app aside from Twitter Lite (not even Petal Search can surface one, for some reason), and obviously, there are no automatic updates for apps that you install either. You may miss out on your favorite apps if you’re not going out of your way to sideload them. I installed Aurora Store, a FOSS alternative to the Google Play Store which works with most apps, but some apps that rely on Google services still don’t work. Sadly there’s no way around that, and it seems that what we currently have on Huawei phones is the best that it’s going to get.
HarmonyOS? No, EMUI
Remember when Huawei was supposed to be bringing HarmonyOS to western devices, and even did so with its tablets and when upgrading some of its older phones? Yeah… about that. The Huawei P50 Pro has EMUI 12 in the west, despite looking the exact same as HarmonyOS. I compared it side-by-side to my Huawei MatePad 11, and it looks the exact same — sans the few tablet-specific changes.
To be honest, it definitely feels like EMUI, and that’s not always a good thing. Despite excluding apps from battery optimizations, some of them (such as Facebook Messenger and Slack) struggle to notify me in time when a message comes through. It can take several minutes for a message to pop up on the Huawei P50 Pro that my Google Pixel 6 Pro notified me of within five seconds of the message being sent.
I like how EMUI looks, and there are a couple of quality life improvements that I enjoy. For example, there’s a control center that can be accessed when swiping down from the right side of the display (just like on MIUI… or an iPhone), and the animations look nice. Multi-window support for apps works just fine, and I don’t really have any complaints about what’s present.
Sadly, a lot of the software issues aren’t really in Huwaei’s control thanks to sanctions, and it would be unfair to criticize many of the company’s software woes based on that. The company’s own AI voice translation services come preloaded on the phone, along with an AI lens that works similarly to Google Lens. You can also use it to scan items near you to purchase them online, but it always seems to give preferential treatment to websites such as AliExpress. It’s a valiant effort, but I can’t see it being used by a lot of people in Europe.
Overall, it’s the same EMUI you’ve come to expect… from HarmonyOS. It’s more or less the same experience but on a smartphone. Essentially, if you like the look of HarmonyOS, you’ll like EMUI 12.
When it comes to cameras, Huawei’s still got it
The Huawei P50 Pro backs a quad-camera array on the back, comprised of a 50MP primary sensor, a 64MP 3.5x telephoto lens, a 13MP ultra-wide camera, and a 40MP monochrome camera. The camera system is designed in partnership with Leica — as has been the case with the company’s previous phones too — and it’s the exact type of camera system you’ve come to expect from Huawei. Crisp, clean photos.
Huawei has always had camera smarts, and their phones have been capable of some of the best shots in the business. This time around it’s no different, as the Huawei P50 Pro can produce excellent shots that are sharp with accurate colors, completely effortlessly. It’s a true point-and-shoot camera. My one major gripe is that it’s not great with moving animals and people, but it handles everything else superbly. What makes the P50 Pro’s cameras shine is the new XD Optics camera algorithm that debuted with this phone. Essentially, XD Optics is Huawei’s version of computational photography and it does a magnificent job of producing punchy colors that remain true to life.
On a software note, another issue I’ve found (though certainly not a dealbreaker) is that with the Huawei P50 Pro, night mode doesn’t turn on automatically and that it needs to be enabled manually. Nearly every phone that I use nowadays will automatically enable night mode when taking photos in darker settings, but the Huawei P50 Pro is an exception to that rule. It’s definitely a small issue, though.
Snapdragon 888, but make it 4G
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 is the last generation’s flagship chipset. It’s obviously a bit behind the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, but it’s a perfectly viable chipset that many people will be using for years to come yet. However, the reason Huawei has to use Snapdragon chipsets is that the company’s Kirin-made chipsets can no longer be manufactured by TSMC. The Kirin 9000 was the last Huawei chipset that we saw powering a flagship device, but since then, we’ve seen a mixture of Snapdragon and Kirin chips being used.
That’s another problem though, too. Qualcomm can only sell 4G chipsets to Huawei, not 5G chipsets. It seems a bit nonsensical for this to be the case considering it likely doesn’t even make a huge amount of difference for the value of the smartphones that Huawei sells, but it’s yet another measure taken to make the company’s phones as unappealing as possible. I don’t have a 5G data plan, so it made no difference to me. When it comes to mobile data, phone calls, texts, signal reception, etc, it just felt like a normal smartphone to me.
Where Huawei phones have particularly shone in the past is their battery life, but this time around, it’s just the middle of the road. The battery lasts me about the day, but it’s not as if it’s a world-beater like previous Huawei phones were capable of. That’s likely in part due to the Qualcomm chipset being used, but it’s yet another downgrade that Huawei can’t really get around. I’m surprised Huawei didn’t use its Kirin 9000 chipsets in global versions of this phone as it did in China, especially as it did so with the MatePad Pro that it launched last year.
Huawei as a daily driver in Google-land
As I’ve said previously, Huawei is trapped. Even as a tech enthusiast who is able to get around restrictions imposed on the installation of Google apps, it is pretty difficult for me to use the Huawei P50 Pro. Aurora Store and Petal Search work fine for installing apps outside of Google’s ecosystem, but anything belonging to or relying on Google is pretty much never going to work.
It can only buy 4G chips from Qualcomm, it can’t produce its own HiSilicon Kirin chipsets anymore, and without Google, it’s hard to sell these products in a market outside of China. Even in China, Huawei’s influence has been slowly dropping, which is why we’ve seen a pivot to excellent fitness bands and the like in recent years.
It’s a shame because the Huawei P50 Pro has the potential to be one of the best phones of the year. It performs well, it looks fantastic, and the company provides great hardware in its phones. If not for software woes, this would be such an easy smartphone to recommend.
Huawei is yet again in a pretty tough spot, and I’m not sure what the company can really do to overcome the hurdles that it faces in software. This is the first Huawei phone I’ve ever been able to use as an actual daily driver since the sanctions, and while it was doable, it’s not convenient. If you don’t use a lot of Google services or even want to move away from Google then the Huawei P50 Pro might even be a convenient purchase, but otherwise, it’s hard to recommend this device.
To make matters worse, the price tag on this device shows that Huawei isn’t ready to let go of its premium pricing. Even the Huawei P50 Pocket is more expensive than the Galaxy Z Flip 3 despite having less to offer. The Huawei P50 Pro comes in at €1199 in Europe, a rather steep asking price for the last generation’s mobile chipset, and a lack of software services that many consumers rely on.
Huawei P50 Pro
- The Huawei P50 Pro is the latest and greatest flagship smartphone from Huawei. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 4G chipset, a 120Hz OLED panel, and the company’s best cameras yet.
The Huawei P50 Pro is a fantastic smartphone in its own right, and with Google services, I could only imagine it being one of the top phones of 2022. In its current state though, I’m not really in a position to recommend it to basically anyone. I can’t use it long-term as a daily driver for the reasons that I’ve already stated, and if you’re in any way like me — a western-based user who makes use of a ton of Google apps — then you’re likely going to be in the same boat.
Having said all of that, I truly believe that this is the best phone the company has ever released since sanctions were imposed. Sadly, the best is not enough for what so many users based outside of China rely on. Nevertheless, the Huawei P50 Pro is a flagship smartphone that Huawei can be proud of. It’s the best smartphone that it could have been, and the company is restricted from tapping into some of the features that consumers really need and want.