Huawei Mate 50 Pro review: The best smartphone you either can’t buy or probably won’t buy

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Pros

  • Smart design, solid build quality
  • Excellent 120Hz OLED screen
  • Innovative and very effective camera system
  • High-end chipset delivers good performance
  • IP68 dust/water resistance

Cons

  • No Google Mobile Services
  • No 5G
  • Durable Kunlun glass on Orange version only
  • Expensive

Huawei’s Mate smartphones regularly showcase cutting-edge design, build and features, and this year’s Mate 50 Pro is no exception. The headline feature is a superb 50MP Ultra Aperture XMAGE camera with a 10-size adjustable physical aperture, although we must also note the absence of Google Mobile Services (GMS) and lack of 5G support thanks to ongoing US sanctions. 

Those omissions may well make the Mate 50 Pro’s price tag – £1,199.99 in the UK, €1,199 in Europe – hard to swallow, especially when there’s plenty of GMS/5G-equipped competition in the four-figure ‘ultra-premium’ smartphone sector. Needless to say, the Huawei Mate 50 Pro is not available in the US.

Even so, it’s well worth examining how the Mate 50 Pro’s benefits and drawbacks play out. 

Huawei Mate 50 Pro

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Design

In terms of look and feel, the Huawei Mate 50 Pro is every inch the ultra-premium smartphone. Rather than being a regulation slab of metal and glass, the Mate 50 Pro has some distinctive features in the shape of the curved glass overlaying its 6.74-inch display and the circular ‘Space Ring’ housing for the rear cameras. There’s a slim notch at the top of the screen to house the front camera array, but it’s not overly intrusive.

We had the Silver model for review. A Black version is also available in the UK and Europe, but there’s no sign of the Orange variant, which as well as having a striking vegan leather back uses durable Kunlun Glass to protect the screen. Huawei does not disclose the type of glass used on the front and back of the Silver and Black models, but it’s a shame that tougher Kunlun Glass is not used throughout the range. 

The Space Ring is a large central raised circle containing what looks like four rear cameras. In fact, there are three, plus a laser autofocus system. The Space Ring does protrude by a couple of millimetres, but its central location makes for good stability when the handset is on a flat surface. You get a clear bumper case in the box, which helps with grip and protects the rear of the handset.

The power button and volume rocker are both on the right edge, leaving the left edge free. The top edge has an infrared sensor and a microphone, while the bottom edge houses a SIM/Nano Memory (NM) card slot, a USB-C port and a speaker grille. You can unlock the Mate 50 Pro using face or fingerprint recognition: the front camera array includes a 3D depth sensing camera for face recognition, while the fingerprint sensor is a quick and capable in-display unit.

Like most current flagship-class smartphones, the Mate 50 Pro has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance. That means the handset is ‘dust tight’ and can handle immersion in static water at up to two meters (Silver and Black models) or six meters (Orange variant) for 30 minutes.

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: Orange & Black models

Image: Huawei

The extra features on the Orange version – vegan leather back, 512GB of internal storage (vs 256GB), Kunlun Glass, better water resistance – account for the €200 price difference compared to the Silver and Black models. 

Features

Outside China, the Huawei Mate 50 Pro runs open-source Android-based EMUI 13 on Qualcomm’s current top-end Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset – with 4G but not 5G support, thanks to the US sanctions mentioned earlier (next year’s flagship phones will be powered by the recently announced Snapdragon 8 Gen 2). All models come with 8GB of RAM, while the Silver and Black versions have 256GB of internal storage and the Orange variant has 512GB. Storage expansion is available via Huawei’s proprietary NM cards. 

Other wireless capabilities are up to date, with Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.2, NFC and infrared all supported. Location technologies include dual-band GPS, AGPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, GALILEO, QZSS and NavIC. Unfortunately, the European version of the Mate 50 Pro lacks the ability to send text messages via a satellite connection, as is the case with the Chinese model. The extent to which the lack of 5G will trouble you will depend on coverage in your area: where I live (a rural area 40 miles north of London) there is currently no 5G coverage from any of the UK’s four mobile networks – O2VodafoneEE and Three. Still, if I’m paying a four-figure sum for a phone I’d plan to keep for at least a couple of years, I’d want it to be future-proofed with 5G support.

The 6.74-inch display is an OLED panel with 2616 by 1212 resolution (19.5:9 aspect ratio, 428ppi), 10-bit colour (1.07 billion colours) and HDR10+ support, and an impressive screen-to-body ratio of 91.4%. It has a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz for smooth scrolling and animation, a 300Hz touch sampling rate and supports 1440Hz PWM (Pulse-Width Modulation) dimming, which reduces flicker when screen brightness is low.  

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: screen settings

Screenshots: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Multiple display adjustments are available, many allowing you to trade off image quality against power consumption. You can run the screen at high (2616×1212) or low (1744×808) resolution, or have it automatically adjust (the default setting). The refresh rate is handled similarly, with high (120Hz), standard (60Hz) or dynamic (default) settings. You can also specify whether an always-on display is enabled and how it’s accessed (tap-to-show, scheduled or all day), have brightness adjusted automatically or manually, select and schedule Dark and Eye Comfort modes, and select colour mode (Normal or Vivid) and colour temperature (default, warm or cool). Bottom line: it’s an excellent screen. 

There are two speakers – the earpiece in the screen notch and a second speaker on the bottom edge. Between them, these deliver plenty of volume, with good treble, which is no surprise, but also good bass response, which is rarer. There’s no 3.5mm audio jack. 

Cameras

With its previous camera partner Leica having jumped ship to rival smartphone vendor Xiaomi, Huawei announced its own imaging brand – XMAGE – in July and launched it in September with the Mate 50 Pro. 

The key feature of the Mate 50 Pro’s XMAGE camera system is the OIS-equipped 50MP Ultra Aperture camera, which uses an adjustable SLR-style physical aperture, with six blades offering 10 selectable steps – in Pro mode – from f/1.4 (more light, shallower depth of field) to f/4.0 (less light, broader depth of field).

This is accompanied by a 13MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle (120˚ field of view) camera with macro capability and a 64MP f/3.5 periscope telephoto (3.5x optical zoom) with OIS. Also at the back is a laser autofocus unit, a multispectral sensor to help enhance colour accuracy and a dual LED flash.

Huawei’s Mate 50 Pro currently sits atop the smartphone camera rankings at DXOMARK, closely followed by the Google Pixel 7 Pro. Since we had a Pixel Pro 7 to hand, we decided to make some side-by-side comparisons, where relevant.

Variable physical aperture

Huawei Mate 50 Pro

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: Variable aperture

Left to right: f/1.4, f/2.0, f/4.0

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Telephoto

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: 1x

 Huawei Mate 50 Pro: 1x

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Google Pixel 7 Pro: 1x

Google Pixel 7 Pro: 1x

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: 3.5x (optical) zoom

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: 3.5x

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Google Pixel 7 Pro: 3.5x (optical) zoom

Google Pixel 7 Pro: 3.5x

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: 10x (hybrid) zoom

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: 10x

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Google Pixel 7 Pro: 10x (hybrid) zoom

Google Pixel 7 Pro: 10x

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Wide angle

Huawei Mate 50 Pro

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: wide angle

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Google Pixel 7 Pro

Google Pixel 7 Pro: wide angle

Image: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Macro 

Huawei Mate 50 Pro (left), Google Pixel 7 Pro (right)

Huawei Mate 50 Pro vs Google Pixel 7 Pro: Macro

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Low light & Night mode 

Huawei Mate 50 Pro

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: low light & night mode

Left: normal mode / Right: Night mode

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Google Pixel 7 Pro 

Google Pixel 7 Pro: low light & night mode

Left: normal mode / Right: Night mode  

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

The Mate 50 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro both perform very well, delivering good detail at 10x zoom, satisfying wide angle and macro images, and good night mode shooting. Where the Huawei Mate 50 Pro has the edge is its variable physical aperture functionality, which gives good creative control and, along with the main camera’s RYYB sensor, allows for excellent low-light performance.

The front camera array in the on-screen notch comprises a 13MP f/2.4 camera and a 3D depth sensor for face recognition. You can select 1x, 0.8x or wide angle, and apply beauty mode and various effects in order to make the most of your selfies. Both rear and front cameras can shoot video at up to [email protected], with image stabilisation available on the former.

Performance & battery life

Qualcomm’s 2022 flagship Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset, backed up by 8GB of RAM, helps the Mate 50 Pro deliver impressive all-round performance. It also beats Huawei’s erstwhile performance champ, the P50 Pro, which is based on the 2021 Snapdragon 888 chipset. 

Geekbench 5 CPU performance of 925 (single core) and 4072 (multi core) puts the Mate 50 Pro in the front rank of Android handsets. If you engage the Mate 50 Pro’s performance mode, you’ll get a significant boost to single-core performance (1286, +39%) and a slight dip in multi-core speed (3894, -4.4%), according to our tests.

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: Geekbench 5 CPU

Data & chart: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

The Adreno 730 GPU also delivers a decent boost over the P50 Pro in the Geekbench 5 Compute (GPU) tests: 

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: Geekbench 5 Compute (GPU)

Data & chart: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

The PCMark for Android Work 3.0 benchmark evaluates handsets on a range of everyday activities — web browsing, video editing, writing, photo editing and data manipulation. Both of Huawei’s handsets perform well overall, but the Mate 50 Pro comes out on top, with photo-editing performance standing out at 21.3% ahead of the P50 Pro. 

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: PCMark for Android Work 3.0

Data & chart: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

The Mate 50 Pro runs on a 4700mah battery, which is considerably more capacity than the 4360mAh battery in the P50 Pro. This is reflected in the PCMark for Android Work 3.0 battery life benchmark, which reported 15 hours 44 minutes for the Mate 50 Pro versus 11h 38m for the P50 Pro. 

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: PCMark for Android Work 3.0 battery life

Data & chart: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Although Huawei doesn’t support the very fast charging speeds of some manufacturers (Realme [150W] and Xiaomi [120W], for example), the Mate 50 Pro’s battery charges quickly enough at 66W using the supplied USB-C adapter. Wireless (50W) and reverse wireless (7.5W) charging are also supported. If you need to eke out battery life, you can adjust things like screen brightness, resolution and refresh rate to keep power consumption to a minimum. Also helpful is a new Low-Battery Emergency Mode, where ‘optimal’ power management automatically kicks in when the battery level reaches 1%, delivering another three hours of standby time or 12 minutes of talk time, Huawei claims.

User experience

As noted earlier, the Huawei Mate 50 Pro runs on open-source Android and Huawei’s EMUI 13 user interface, replacing Google Mobile Services (GMS) with Huawei Mobile Services (HMS). Instead of Google Play Store you get Huawei AppGallery, which will find some, but probably not all, of the native apps you require. Google apps and third-party apps that use GMS are missing, of course, but Huawei has worked hard to provide alternatives such as Petal Maps and Petal Search. In the absence of a requested app, AppGallery will direct you to the relevant website, or to a third-party app store such as APKPure. As of July 2022, Huawei claims that the HMS ecosystem encompasses 5.4 million registered developers and 203,000 apps. Be that as it may, users outside China will have to accept some extra hassle compared to a regular Android/GMS experience, or look elsewhere.

If you do embrace the Huawei ecosystem, you’ll discover plenty of useful functionality in EMUI 13. Widgets have been enhanced, for example: app icons that are underlined can be swiped upwards to access a widget, which can either be used in situ or pinned to the home screen. Widgets can be combined or, if the same size, stacked. Also, Smart folders, which can hold up to nine small (active) app icons, now offer more resizing options. These and other features, such as Multi-Window and One-Handed modes, allow you to arrange and navigate the user interface in just the way that works for you. There’s even a Senior mode that sets up larger text and icons.

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: home screens

Screenshots: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

Notifications are accessed by swiping down from the top of the left two-thirds of the screen, with the control panel appearing when you swipe the right-hand third. Swiping downwards from anywhere else on the screen brings up search (Bing by default, with options for Qwant, Petal and Seznam). Huawei has its own digital assistant too, in the shape of Celia.

Huawei Mate 50 Pro: notifications & control panel

Screenshots: Charles McLellan / ZDNET

New features in EMUI 13 include SuperStorage (accessed via Settings/Storage/Clean up), which deduplicates and compresses files, and compresses rarely used apps (decompressing them when invoked). Another useful feature is SuperHub, a cross-application and, potentially, cross-device file transfer system: you long-press on files, drag them to the SuperHub floating window, from where they can be accessed from another app, or – if you’re logged into your Huawei account – copied to another wireless-connected Huawei device via the company’s Super Device system.

Elsewhere, there’s an enhanced Privacy Centre that shows the number of times different apps have accessed information like location, camera and microphone, and allows you to manage permissions. Another new privacy feature, Image Privacy Protection, removes metadata such as location and time stamps from images that you upload to social media apps.

Conclusions

The bottom line as regards Huawei’s Mate 50 Pro is a familiar refrain: great phone, shame about the lack of Google Mobile Services and 5G. In this case it’s a double shame, because with GMS and 5G, the Mate 50 Pro would rival the best on offer from competitors such as Samsung, Apple, Google and Xiaomi. Some users, particularly keen photographers, may be willing to overlook these drawbacks and pay the four-figure asking price, but we suspect that most won’t.


Huawei Mate 50 Pro specifications

Dimensions 75.5mm x 162.1mm x 8.5mm
Weight 209g (glass back), 205g (vegan leather back)
Colours silver, black (glass back), orange (vegan leather back)
Display 6.74-inch OLED, 2616 x 1212 pixels (428ppi), 120Hz refresh, 300Hz touch sampling, 10-bit colour (1.07bn colours), 100% DCI-P3
Dust & water resistance IP68
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 4G
RAM 8GB
Internal storage 256GB, 512GB
External storage Huawei NM slot (shared with SIM)
OS open-source Android + EMUI 13
Google Mobile Services no (Huawei Mobile Services instead)
Rear cameras 50MP Ultra Aperture (f/1.4-f/4, OIS)• 13MP Ultra Wide Angle (f/2.2) • 64MP Telephoto (f/3.5, OIS)
Front cameras 13MP Ultra Wide Angle (f/2.4) • 3D Depth Sensing Camera
Audio stereo speakers, 3 mics, no 3.5mm headset jack
Battery capacity 4700mAh
Battery charging 66W wired • 50W wireless • 7.5W reverse wireless
Price €1199 (8GB/256GB, silver/black) • €1399 (8GB/512GB, orange leather)

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