Despite a global chip shortage, a US export ban and a plummeting market share, Huawei is still plowing on and announcing its next flagship smartphone, the Huawei P50 Pro. The phone, which was teased in June, is the company’s first smartphone to launch with HarmonyOS, Huawei’s internal operating system (though it’s just a fork of Android).
Huawei weathers several storms as best it can, but these storms lead to a lot of wild product decisions with the P50 Pro. Huawei devices are mostly based on the company’s internal “Kirin” SoCs, made by subsidiary HiSilicon. While the first versions of the phones will use the 5nm Kirin 9000 SoC, Huawei says it will switch to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC once its stock runs out. But wait, hasn’t the US government banned companies from exporting US-origin goods to Huawei?
It did, but Qualcomm was licensed to sell chips to Huawei in November 2020.
Qualcomm’s license only covers 4G products, which brings us to the next big quirk of the P50: it doesn’t support 5G. Richard Yu, CEO of the Huawei Consumer Division, blamed the US for this restriction during the presentation, saying (via the official translation): “Due to the four rounds of US restrictions in the past two years, 5G phones are out of our reach. .” The lack of 5G isn’t much of a problem for consumers, who rarely see any practical benefits, but it’s a major problem for the 5G-obsessed smartphone makers and mobile carriers.
The design has a large camera bump with two circles, which looks rather odd. Hopefully one day we’ll get similar designs with huge camera sensors behind each circle, but Huawei fills them with several smaller cameras and sensors, for… a faux-large camera look? The Pro model has a 50MP main camera, a 40MP black and white camera (really?) and a 13MP ultra-wide camera in the top circle. The bottom circle gets a 64MP 3.5x telephoto (with a 200x digital zoom, which should make photos look like mud), an LED flash and a microphone.
There is also the issue of the operating system as this is the first smartphone to be launched by Huawei with HarmonyOS. Huawei executives are presenting HarmonyOS as a completely in-house product and have said it is “not a copy of Android”. However, once you get your hands on the OS, you’ll find it’s just an Android fork, with Huawei services replacing Google services. Since Huawei has forever replaced Google services in China (where Google Play isn’t available) and was later forced to do so internationally thanks to the export ban, there’s really no serious difference between the company’s Android skin, EMUI, and the “in -house” operating system, HarmonyOS. HarmonyOS 2 is based on a newer version of Android compared to EMUI, but otherwise it’s just a name change.
In June, Huawei announced a plan to update 100 older Huawei models in China from Android to HarmonyOS (a move possible only because HarmonyOS is just a newer version of Android), and the P50’s press release says that “more than 40 million users,” the company has taken up that offer so far.
In addition to the above, we have some pretty normal specs: a 6.6-inch, 120Hz, 2700×1228 OLED display; 8GB RAM; 128 GB storage space; and a 4360 mAh battery. In China, the phone starts at $927 (CNY 5,988) for the 128 GB version, with sales starting today. There’s no word on the phone being sold outside of China, and given that Huawei is facing all sorts of delivery issues, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that availability is limited.