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Huawei P50 Pro review: Beating the Galaxy S22 to the punch

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,000
inc VAT (converted from €1,199)

After a long wait, the P50 Pro is finally here, but has Huawei done enough to win the hearts and minds of entrenched Google users?

Pros 
Dazzling 120Hz display
Superb set of cameras
AppGallery is (slowly) improving
Cons 
Still no Google apps
Lacks 5G
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It’s been a long time coming, but the Huawei P50 Pro is finally launching in the UK. After having originally been released in China back in August 2021, Huawei’s newest (can I still call it that?) flagship smartphone is at long last entering international markets, alongside the firm’s first clamshell foldable, the Huawei P50 Pocket.

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And it’s been a while since a Huawei smartphone arrived on UK shores. Remember how optimistic we were two years ago when we thought the Covid-19 lockdown was just going to last a few weeks? Well, that’s when we last reviewed a Huawei phone – and the P40 Pro is all we’ve had from Huawei’s mobile division ever since.

Huawei P50 Pro review: What you need to know

The P50 Pro, like its predecessor, is Huawei’s all-singing, all-dancing flagship. You won’t be surprised to learn that, hardware-wise at least, the P50 Pro embodies all of the best bits and pieces we’ve come to expect from Huawei up to this point, and it’s a flagship that can just about rub shoulders with the very best in the business.

Receiving a fresh lick of paint, as well as improved internals, the Huawei P50 Pro’s biggest selling point is its photographic capabilities. With a selection of cameras at your disposal – including a main 50MP lens, 64MP 3.5x zoom, 13MP ultrawide and a 40MP monochrome sensor – Huawei says that the P50 Pro is its most complete photography package yet.

In a first for Huawei, the P50 Pro doesn’t include one of the company’s own Kirin chipsets, instead using a Snapdragon 888 this time around. It’ll be interesting to see how Qualcomm’s high-end CPU compares in our review tests, but with 8GB or 12GB of RAM onboard and a selection of storage options (256GB and 512GB), there’s no doubt that the P50 Pro is as spec-packed as it gets.

The usual caveats still apply, however. Huawei’s smartphones continue to launch without Google services, which means you won’t have access to applications such as Maps, YouTube and Gmail, and you can’t download apps and games from the Google Play store, either. Huawei’s AppGallery alternative, while steadily improving, isn’t anywhere near as comprehensive.

Huawei P50 Pro review: Price and competition

While there’s no word yet on UK pricing, we do know that the Huawei P50 Pro starts at €1,199 in the rest of Europe. This translates to just under £1,000 in UK money at the time of writing this review, and presumably, this is for the model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage – we don’t know how much the other variants will cost.

If this currency conversion holds true, the Huawei P50 Pro will find itself up against Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro (£949) and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (£949), although it’s worth noting that the Galaxy S22 is due to be released very soon. If you were after something off the beaten path, Samsung’s folding Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G costs a similar amount (£999).

Huawei P50 Pro review: Design and key features

Starting things off, the P50 Pro has an intriguing look this year. This new “Dual-Ring” design consists of a pair of large circles on the rear of the handset, which look a bit like a set of sci-fi binoculars, or perhaps two induction hobs. Inside these two circles, you’ll find all of the P50 Pro’s cameras, and it comes in a choice of two colours: Cocoa Gold and Golden Black.

It’s certainly an interesting design decision on Huawei’s part, and while it’s probably going to be a bit of a divisive look, there’s no denying that it stands out from the usual lineup of iPhone copycats. On that note, Huawei is keen to point out that the P50 Pro is lighter than the iPhone 13 Pro Max, weighing just 190g to the iPhone’s 240g.

That’s despite the P50 Pro’s curved OLED display being slightly larger from corner to corner, too. Measuring 6.6in, a fingerprint scanner is placed underneath the screen (alongside the usual face and PIN unlock methods) and a small hole-punch notch is placed at the top-middle portion, incorporating the 13MP selfie snapper.

While the phone is IP68-rated against dust and water, there’s no protective layer of Gorilla Glass this year. This either means that it won’t be as protected against scratches and scrapes as other flagship handsets, or Huawei has instead incorporated its own screen-protecting solution with the P50 Pro (which it hasn’t disclosed). Still, at least it comes with a pre-applied plastic screen protector.

On a positive note, the P50 Pro has enough space for two nano-SIM cards, with the second SIM sharing the proprietary Nano Memory card slot, which supports up to 256GB of added storage. A USB-C port is located at the bottom of the handset, now supporting 66W wired charging (the P40 Pro was 40W), with wireless speeds increasing from 40W to 50W.

Huawei P50 Pro review: Display

The Huawei P50 Pro’s large 6.6in screen supports a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz, with a resolution of 2,700 x 1,228. By default, the P50 Pro adjusts screen resolution and refresh rate automatically depending on the application and remaining battery level, but you get the option to toggle both in the phone’s settings menu.

Calibrated to Display P3, the quality of the P50 Pro’s display is nothing short of exceptional. In the Normal colour mode, Huawei’s newest flagship achieved an average Delta E (colour variance) score of 0.99. Anything less (or close to) one is as good as you could possibly ask for, with the P50 Pro displaying remarkably accurate colours across the palette.

The phone’s Vivid mode, on the other hand, is much less subdued, with Huawei instead boosting the saturation of colours to an eye-straining degree. It’s not the nicest thing to look at, so it’s definitely worth switching to Normal mode as soon as you get the chance.

Maximum brightness is rather good, too, with the screen pushing out a peak luminance of 597cd/m². My only slight complaint with the P50 Pro’s screen is that peak HDR brightness is rather low – we measured the iPhone 13 Pro at 1,200 cd/m², which is almost double what the P50 Pro managed in our tests.

Huawei P50 Pro review: Performance and battery life

Unsurprisingly, the P50 Pro in the UK gets the same configuration of core componentry as the Chinese version, consisting of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. There’s no Huawei-made Kirin chipset this year, which is a rather strange decision, but what’s even weirder is that this is the 4G-only Snapdragon.

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Partying like it’s 2018, we have a high-priced flagship that’s unable to connect to the 5G network in the UK. Why Huawei stripped the P50 Pro of its 5G capabilities is anyone’s guess, especially when the previous P40 Pro (which launched in 2019) didn’t have such restrictions. It’s utterly bizarre.

The good news, however, is that the P50 Pro isn’t held back when it comes to raw performance. As rapid as every other Android flagship we’ve reviewed thus far (although next-gen Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 flagships are on the way), the P50 Pro’s Geekbench 5 multicore speeds are 13% faster than its predecessor.

Graphics processing is equally good. Pushing out an average frame rate of 78fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 onscreen test (at native resolution), the embedded Adreno 660 GPU works nicely with the phone’s high refresh display.

However, as you might have spotted in the above graphs, the iPhone 13 Pro remains the performance champion in the early stages of 2022. Roughly 42% faster than the P50 Pro’s CPU speeds, with an increase of 110% in the off-screen graphics benchmark, the iPhone 13 Pro is the flagship to buy if you’re hoping to push your phone to its limits.

This year, the size of the P50 Pro’s battery has increased from 4,200mAh to 4,360mAh, although as you can see from the graph below, in testing it’s actually taken a significant battery life hit.

Lasting 16hrs 47mins in our video rundown test at native 120Hz, last year’s model beats the P50 Pro by almost five hours in the same test. Drop the refresh rate to 60Hz and enable the “Smart Resolution” setting and you can almost squeeze out an extra two hours on a single charge (19hrs 39mins), but whichever setting you go for, neither result is particularly great.

Huawei P50 Pro review: Software

As for software, the P50 Pro comes with EMUI 12, albeit without the fully licensed version of Android. As I mentioned earlier, this means you won’t have access to Google’s core suite of applications and services such as Gmail and Google Maps, and you have to make do with Huawei’s own (somewhat lacking) AppGallery storefront.

Admittedly, this isn’t as barren as it once was. To Huawei’s credit, the number of popular apps used in western markets has increased quite a bit since the last time I tested a Huawei smartphone, and that list now includes TikTok, Telegram and the dating app Tinder. It’s still lacking big guns such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, however.

The AppGallery also does a decent job at pointing you in the direction of installable APKs if the app you’ve searched for isn’t available on the store. It doesn’t work for everything, but it basically searches the web for an APK file, taking you directly to the web page when you tap the “get” button. You have to make sure to allow app downloads from external sources in the phone’s settings, though.

Another caveat with this Google-free lifestyle is that, without the backing of full-fat Android, there’s no guarantee that the P50 Pro will receive regular security updates and OS upgrades throughout its lifespan. Huawei doesn’t provide any details on its website, although in the week or so since receiving the handset, a couple of OTA updates did appear.

Huawei P50 Pro review: Cameras

On to the cameras, which, as is typical of a Huawei flagship, are the headline act. This year, we have four cameras at our disposal: a main 50MP (f/1.8) sensor, a 40MP (f/1.6) mono camera, a 13MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide unit and a 64MP telephoto snapper with 3.5x optical zoom and a max hybrid zoom of 100x.

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This combination of cameras comes with a new AI image engine, which Huawei calls “True-Chroma”. According to the company, this new engine enables the P50 Pro to capture 50% more of the ambient light spectrum compared to the P40 Pro, with 20% greater hue accuracy. A new XD Fusion Pro colour filter system helps boost light intake by 103% as well, with an enhanced dynamic range of 28%.

The 13MP 100-degree selfie camera sits in a small cutout and benefits from a new minimum focus distance of just 14cm. Huawei says this can be quite useful for applying eyeliner without a mirror, among other things. Selfie quality is decent and the ability to squeeze more stuff into the frame of the image is always useful.

Quality-wise, the P50 Pro’s cameras are great. There’s plenty of detail in each shot, no matter the light levels, and colour rendition is generally bang on. I found myself using the 3.5x zoom lens more often than any of the others, and as you can see from the below picture of Margate beach at sunset, it did a great job at painting the scene in its best light.

However, I did sometimes find that the colour temperature and tint were a bit inconsistent, doubly so when switching between lenses and shooting the same scene. Some of my zoomed images overlooking Greenwich looked much too warm, and the colour cast was unusually purple in some instances. Luckily, this mostly seems to stem from the algorithmic side of things, so I’m certain it’s something that Huawei can tweak via a software update in the near future.

Blurred background images are as good, if not slightly better, than the iPhone 12 Pro’s. The P50 Pro’s rear camera was more effective at separating my subject from the backdrop and there’s a smidge more detail – just make sure you switch off all face-smoothing beauty features beforehand.

Video is shot at a maximum 4K resolution at 60fps, fully stabilised. The quality of the footage is lovely, although the P50 Pro’s footage would sometimes appear quite juddery when slowly panning across a scene.

Huawei P50 Pro review: Verdict

The burning question remains: can the Huawei P50 Pro manage to stand on its own two feet without having the sort of far-reaching, comprehensive software experience we’ve come to expect from a flagship handset in 2022?

To that end, I do think that top-end hardware and componentry (as impressive as it may be) still isn’t quite enough to sell a smartphone, despite what Huawei would want you to believe. In every respect, the P50 Pro is as lavish as a four-figured flagship could possibly be, but yet again the lack of Google services pulls it back from the halls of greatness.

It’s a shame, too, since if it wasn’t for this particular shortcoming, there’s no doubt that Huawei would have a proper Galaxy S22 rival on its hands.

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