Huawei smartphones had a great product strategy since the collaboration of Leica with P9 in 2016. It developed an impressive camera system with artificial bokeh which works really well. It then follows the launch of Mate 9 which I identified 30 interesting features on the Android, many of which were fondly copied by competitors. The P10 series cemented the status as a smartphone with powerful camera system that can create professional-looking images. Then the P20 series launched which I boldly claim as the best smartphone camera in 2018. Along with the P-series is the Mate series for executives, a strategy which follows Samsung’s S-series and Note series. The P30 series (my current daily phone) became one of the last few Huawei smartphones that fully support Google Mobile Service (GMS), an essential component to allow Google apps to work, like Play Store, Drive, Photos, Gmail, Maps. Any third party that uses the API may also not work in its entirety.
Kudos to Huawei, for after the unfortunate event of banning US companies from working with Huawei, Huawei has to re-strategise their smartphone software and hardware. They had to build their own Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) and the ecosystem to support every aspect of the user experience, not unlike Samsung and Apple. The initial years were tough and they took a massive beating in market share and the overall usability experience on the smartphones.
After going hands-on with the Huawei P50 Pro for over a month, I can say that the smartphone usability is almost on par with a normal Android phone with GMS. Weighing 195 grams and 8.5mm thin, the 6.6-inch 2700×1228 OLED display with 120Hz refresh rate and 300Hz touch sampling rate is great to look at and interact with. Running on Snapdragon 888, consumers can enjoy a full suite of experience, like App store, cloud storage, health tracking, home automation, smart voice assistant, location assistant, gaming centrre, content editing, media services. To access my Gmail, I can use the Email app and sync. For image and storage backup, For photo and cloud storage, I have to switch to other apps like Dropbox, OneDrive, Qsync Pro, since Google Photos and Google Drive are not able to sync (but existing data can still be accessed). Huawei also has its on Cloud Backup solution, which offers free 5GB space. You can upgrade to 50GB with an annual subscription of S$15.36, or 200GB at S$47.76.
When you set the P50 Pro for the first time, you are required to go through dozens of screens to get your permission so that the smartphone can open up to all the services and recommendations. It can be daunting for first-timers, as it seems to suggest that you will give away all your privacy. But actually, all new smartphone set ups go through similar process to get your approval to activate services and apps. Huawei has a lot of services and so they are also being upfront about giving consumers the option to enable them. My thought is that as long as you want to benefit from the built-in intelligence, you should enable them. Else, you may not enjoy the Huawei ecosystem experience.
Once the initial set up is completed, the P50 Pro works just like any other Android devices. You get all the apps that you needed on Android, except by Huawei. You can swipe right to see the Huawei Assistant: TODAY with app suggestions, news and location-based suggestions.
Some UX are different from other Android smartphones though: when you turn off the screen, the wallpaper animates into a clock standby screen instead of immediate display-off. Swipe down from the right of the front camera to see Control Panel while the swipe down from the left shows the notification cards. On the home screen, I can create large folders so that I can click the apps immediate within the folder instead of having to expand. One minor issue is that if the folder has more than 9 items, I can only see 9 and if I want to expand the folder, I need to tap somewhere in the folder but not touching the app icons. It’s tricky to get it, so my advise is to keep larger folders to 9 apps.
While Huawei AppGallery is the official store, not all apps are available. The easiest way to search for your familiar apps is to use Petal Search, and it will return results from all the popular APK platforms, and upon downloading, the file will be checked for security threats. So far, I managed to find over 95% of my commonly-used apps. Some apps like Carousell require Google Play Services to receive push notification, so in the absence of it, I have to check the app for incoming messages once a while. Also, paid apps bought from Google Play Store cannot be used on P50 Pro unless the license can be verified in another method.
Try as they might, it is not possible to support 100% of all Android apps. Given the rampant cybersecurity concerns, side-loading apps from non-official platforms run the risk of encountering malware. Right now, Huawei smartphone users would have to put their trust on these third party app stores and Huawei’s security detection system to catch any suspicious apps.
Notice I did not lament about the lack of Google Maps. That’s because the Huawei Petal Maps seems to work rather well, as it is based on TomTom. The navigation UI is clearer given the wealth of experience by TomTom. Location-based landmark and food suggestions are also adequate, and it also has the similar gamification through award of badges and contribution posts. Just like Google Maps, the more you use, the more data the system gathers, the better auto-suggestion it offers.
But ultimately, there is only one big reason for getting the Huawei P50 Pro: the camera system. The dual round design creates a distinct look, and in it fits 4 lenses:
- 50MP f/1.8 OIS wide angle
- 40MP f1.6 monochrome
- 13MPf/2.2 ultra-wide angle
- 64MP f/3.5 OIS telephoto
The front camera features 13MP f/2.4 wide angle AF lens.
The image quality has a unique analog warm flavour that does not look over-processed. There are assisted scene modes for real-time processing which enhances the images for instant sharing. For instance, the evening photo taken during twilight applies HDR to bring out the clouds.
The wide-angle lenses are wider for both front and rear compared to the P30 Pro, allowing me to capture more. But the shadow details on the wide-angle lens is a bit dark.
The 100x zoom never fails to amaze me. While the images at full 100x zoom looks rather patchy, this means 50x zoom image quality is double the quality which is doubly better than the P30 Pro which maxes at 50x. Below images are taken indoors.
In general, the camera auto-exposure retains the sky details, while the zoom lens aptly sharpens the shots without excessive pixelation.
The balanced exposure prevents lost image information and allows any post-processing to be done effectively.
With a retail price of S$1,548 (8/256GB) in Singapore, the Huawei P50 Pro is a smartphone that will attract photographers with its LEICA camera system, a feature good enough to sway consumers from other smartphones. Nevertheless, without a complete compatibility of Google services, Huawei smartphone owners will encounter some hiccups during the course of usage, albeit minor. For most cases, there are alternative apps and solutions in place of Google apps. If you do not have any attachment to Google apps, then Huawei P50 Pro should not be much of a hurdle to get on board.