Against all odds, Huawei is still making smartphones for the global market. And they’re making what look to be really good smartphones on paper too. Their latest phone, the Huawei Mate 50 Pro, is right up there with the best of them when it comes to on-paper specifications. In fact, it even has a brand new camera trick up its sleeve.
Yes, it’s immediately obvious when you pick this phone up what kind of device it is. it looks a lot like the Mate 40 Pro it succeeds, and the orange colourway looks nearly identical to the one from the Mate 30. But, these are not points against the way this device is built. It looks and feels like a well put together smartphone the way flagships should.
This orange one that I have with me has a vegan leather back that feels really nice in the hand. It’s grippy and does not pick up fingerprints, yet still blends almost seamlessly into the gold (rose gold?) frame. In a way, the textural contrast in your hand feels a lot like what other phone makers try to achieve with a combination of glossy frame and frosted glass, but you get way more traction which is nice.
Despite the leather back, this phone is still IP68 dust and water resistant down to a claimed 6 metres which is mighty impressive. The buttons along the frame also have a satisfying click to them which definitely helps the phone feel upmarket.
Inside, the device is powered by a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor with 8GB of RAM and either 256GB (black) or 512GB (orange) of storage. Top specs, certainly, but the caveat here is that it is still a 4G smartphone despite using Qualcomm’s latest silicone. My only gripe with the specs of this phone is the 4,700 mAh battery. I’ve said this before and I’ll probably keep saying it again: make 5,000 mAh batteries standard across the board! Especially on massive flagship devices like this. It does support 66W fast wired charging and 50W fast wireless charging which is nice, but there is no replacement for…capacity.
Speaking of size, the phone features a 6.74″ 120Hz OLED display up front that pushes a crisp 2616×1212 pixels which makes it a little more high res than Full HD+ but not quite entering the Quad HD territory. It’s also curved on both edges, which is a plus for me but I know a bunch of people have issues with screens like these and palm rejection. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, I don’t think you can deny the fact that this is a nice screen. It’s punchy, has good viewing angles and is just really crisp.
What’s even more interesting is something Huawei is calling Kunlun glass. No, not the mystical mountain where Iron Fist got his powers. It is named after the actual Kunlun mountain range in China. What this is, is basically an alternative way to protect your screen compared to something like Gorilla Glass or Ceramic Shield.
Huawei says that it’s the most durable glass on a smartphone right now, and were happily demonstrating its capabilities to the media in attendance by dropping it on solid marble floors from a height of about 1.5m (around shoulder height). It was fun, for sure, and I have to say I was impressed with how many times the glass was able to take those drops because the sounds the phone was making as it fell face first onto the floor hurt my soul.
But, that might have been a bit short lived because a day later I noticed a pretty deep scratch on the phone’s display. Still, you’re not supposed to intentionally drop your phone on hard marble tiles a while bunch of times so I won’t hold this against the phone.
The unique thing about the Huawei Mate 50 Pro isn’t its specs or display or mediocre stereo speakers. This year’s selling point is the camera—which is interesting since Huawei usually saves that for their P series of devices. On paper, it looks kind of meh. A triple camera setup with a 50MP main camera, a 13MP ultra-wide camera and a 64MP telephoto camera with 3.5x optical zooming.
However, if you take a closer look at the main camera, you’ll notice that it has a variable aperture lens. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this tech on a device before. The last time I had the chance to use a phone with something like this, it was the Samsung Galaxy S9+, but that variable aperture lens could only switch between two fixed apertures, f/1.5 and f/2.4. Huawei’s tech is a little more sophisticated.
This “Ultra Aperture Camera” is able to adjust its aperture from a maximum f/1.4 aperture to an f/4.0 aperture automatically when you take photos. But, if you switch it to the Pro mode, you can manually pick from between 10 different aperture stops. From my brief testing, it doesn’t look like the aperture blades contract with every adjustment so there’s probably some software wizardry going on to fill in the gaps.
But it’s hard to argue with how well it seems to work. Aperture has two main functions in a camera: it controls the amount of light gets into your sensor and it adjusts how shallow your depth of field is. Naturally, with tiny smartphone sensors, you’d want as big of an aperture as you can afford to let in as much light as you can, but big apertures have razor thin depth of fields which makes it challenging to shoot long objects in sort of the close to medium range photography you usually find smartphones in. That’s why having an adjustable aperture makes sense because you can in theory have the best of both worlds.
When you stop up and down you can see the light change and the depth of field shift, something I don’t get from other smartphones. There’s quite a natural looking roll off from the bits that are in focus to the bits that aren’t, and you can see that shift as you stop down or up in the Pro mode. If you don’t care about manually adjusting your aperture, the phone will do it for you when you shoot in regular photo mode—adjusting the aperture depending on the light that comes in.
It seems like an incredibly capable camera in my brief time with it, though I’m not sure if that’s solely down to the new variable aperture. Then again, Huawei’s flagships since the P9 have always had some of the best cameras in their class. It’s more about whether you like the Huawei aesthetic of high contrast and punchy colours over the more muted tones of something like an iPhone.
Huawei’s main problem of late is the distinct lack of GMS (Google Mobile Services) which basically restricts access to key Google apps and the Play Store. This phone also doesn’t have 5G connectivity despite featuring Qualcomm’s latest and greatest chip, though this isn’t that big of an issue in Malaysia yet.
The Mate 50 Pro has all of those limitations. Yes, Huawei has worked hard on populating their very own Huawei App Gallery and they’ve even ventured into the grey area with Petal Search (something I can’t professionally recommend), but it’s definitely not as fully-featured as the Play Store. And for someone like me who uses a lot of Google Apps all of the time, I don’t think I could make the switch.
I think to convince the general public to give this phone a go, you’d have to either have a really good price point that severely undercuts the competition, or a solution to the lack of Google apps. Right now, I don’t have information on either because this phone hasn’t officially launched in Malaysia yet. So I guess time will tell.