Prior to the Huawei/Honor split, I had my hands on almost every model or flagship that Honor made. The co-design with Huawei, along with a good high-middle market for those flagships, made them competitive products. However, Honor was sold to essentially run standalone, which meant it was no longer under the US entity list bans, and could leverage Google services again. The Honor 50 is one of these devices, offering a full Google experience, and opting to pair a 700-series Snapdragon SoC with a 108 MP camera and a 6.57-inch OLED display. We had some hands-on with the Honor 50 ahead of the launch next month in October.
As part of our briefing, we also learned that Honor is expanding its employee base, with now over 10,000+ staff globally, half of which are in R&D, product development, and focused on creating devices. We spoke with the UK team, which are similarly expanding as part of Honor’s initiative to grow its global footprint by establishing partnerships. Recently Honor signed an agreement with Microsoft to offer some of the first notebooks (the Honor Magicbook) to ship with Windows 11 as standard.
Honor 50: The Vlogger’s Phone
The device as presented to us is aiming as a mid-to-high range device suitable for users that rely on photos and videos recorded on device for their content creation. Normally the response to that would be ‘well, isn’t every phone?’, however Honor is tackling that use case in multiple ways.
First up is the camera solution. The front facing camera is a similar specification to a number of 2019 flagship rear cameras, with additional AI algorithms in place to take advantage of photo or video in the traditional vlogging style. The front facing camera also works in cooperation with the rear cameras in a multi-video recording format. Through the software, a user can select side-by-side or picture-in-picture between any two cameras front and back, with independent per-camera zoom, or a 3-way multi-camera record. The idea here is that the type of user who might want this phone may want to record an event but also their reaction at the same time, and by building on a number of multi-video phones in the past, Honor wants the Honor 50 to go above and beyond everything else in the market.
Second is the actual camera hardware – the punch-hole front facing camera is a 32 MP design with additional AI algorithms to enable a ‘wide-angle’ front facing shot through digital adjustment. On the rear, the highlight is a 108 MP camera with a 1/1.52-inch sensor at F1.9, however by using 9-in-1 pixel fusion, this allows for a sensor with an effective 2.1 micron pixel size. The rear also includes an 8MP wide angle camera, a 55mm-equivalent Bokeh camera, and a 2MP Macro camera. Building on several generations of AI integration with the native camera app, several cameras can be used at once for a combined photo.
Third is more technical specifications – built on the Snapdragon 778G, Honor says that it is using as many of the video and AI accelerators as it is able inside the Qualcomm processor to speed up many of the camera options. Honor also plies the battery with a 66 W Supercharge mode (11V @ 6A), which it claims can charge the dual-cell battery with 70% in 20 minutes.
Another interesting feature to the smartphone is the display – the 6.57-inch OLED at a 2340×1080 resolution. Honor says that this supports 100% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, 1.07 billion colors (we’re waiting on confirmation if this is 10-bit or 8-bit+FRC), and a 120 Hz refresh rate. At the time of our briefing, our contacts were unsure if this was a variable refresh rate display offering a range of refresh rates, or if it was simply a binary 60 Hz to 120 Hz mode. We were told that it does support refresh rates below 60 Hz for on-screen idle, to save battery.
Honor didn’t state the peak brightness, but did say it had a 5,000,000:1 contrast ratio, because of those OLED blacks. The display has a 75-degree curve on both edges, which is enough to remove a distinct edge from the eyes when holding it, but still makes it relatively easy to grip. Our test units on the day had transparent cases in the box, although we weren’t able to confirm if retailers will include these (apparently some retailers don’t like them?).
The software is based on Android 11, although our PR representatives weren’t too sure about support for future versions, and would get back to us. Other features include dual SIM, although no micro-SD support. There is no 3.5mm audio jack either, but Bluetooth and a Type-C to 3.5mm are supported.
The phone will be marketed as the Honor 50 or Honor 50 5G, however there is no difference between the two – 5G will be supported, at least for Sub 6 GHz. We’re awaiting further details as to which bands.
We were also told about a second device, the Honor 50 lite, which will be a cut down version and 4G only. This is similar to previous Honor launches. The Honor 50 lite will also use a 64 MP rear camera instead, and more details will be given on October 27th.
Emerald Green, Midnight Black, and Frost Crystal (with a yellow backlight, sorry…)
Because we were being briefed by the UK team, we were told that the Honor 50 will have three colors coming to the UK, which are Midnight Black, Emerald Green, and a special Frost Crystal. The official launch of the phone will be on the 27th October, at which time the exact specifications of memory/storage and pricing will be disclosed. We were also told that the software we tested in this hands-on was not final, and the camera software is expecting at least two updates between now and launch.
In the short time we had with the devices, the display was clearly very vibrant when cranked up to the max. The camera app was very typical compared to previous Honor devices used, including a Pro mode and several camera features such as multi-video, document, and Slo-mo. The video mode also allows users to adjust between slow modes and time lapse modes during recording as well. The device was ultimately easy to hold, and I didn’t feel that it was ghost touching with my hand which has been a problem on some curved devices.
A quick blast with side-by-side multi-video
Just on looks, the Frost Crystal in my opinion looks the best, and because the special color it will be interesting to see if it comes at the same price as the others. In the right light, it has a prismatic effect and shows a rainbow of color.
Honor 50 Technically Launched in China
It should be noted that the Honor 50 launched in China earlier this year starting at 2699RMB ($357 pre-tax), and a fourth Amber Red color was offered. The Honor 50 in China was launched alongside an Honor 50 Pro (larger, dual front cameras, 100W supercharge, all else equal) and an SE (larger, Mediatek SoC). It looks like neither the Pro nor the SE are not coming to the west – the lite as part of this launch seems to be a new model entirely.
The Future of Honor
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the recent murmurings about the US considering adding Honor to the entity list. Honor is currently majority owned by a state-owned enterprise controlled by the municipal government of Shenzhen. Huawei reportedly owns zero stake in Honor, and does not participate in management and decision making processes. In the past, Honor has leveraged Huawei’s manufacturing scale, as well as software expertise – it was stated that when the split was made, it would be difficult to separate the two on that level, and GizChina is quoting Honor’s CEO as having a target of 100 million smartphone sales in 2021. With Honor pivoting to partners such as Qualcomm and Mediatek for its processors, moving back onto the entity list might make that 100 million smartphone goal a bit harder to achieve. At least for now, with Honor 50 having Google’s services, the major restriction to the west in using these phones has been lifted. How that changes for future devices will depend on how the US views Honor in light of its other connections.