After opting to release its 2021 foldable phone, the Huawei Mate X2, in mainland China only, Huawei is back on the global stage (that would be Europe and chunks of Asia) with a new foldable, the Huwei P50 Pocket. Just like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3, it is a clamshell-style foldable that transforms from a small makeup compactor-shaped square to a rectangular slab.
As expected by those familiar with Huawei flagships, the hardware craftsmanship is impeccable: the screen doesn’t show signs of creasing; the hinge folds completely flat; and the main camera on this phone is almost on par with the excellent Huawei P50 Pro main camera — which makes it better than the Galaxy Z Flip 3’s cameras in my opinion. But there are the usual US sanctions-caused shortcomings that have plagued Huawei’s international releases in the past couple of years: there’s no Google Mobile Services support and the phone runs on a 4G version of Snapdragon 888.
Factor in the relatively high price of €1,299 in Europe (which converts to $1,466) and about a hundred dollars cheaper in Asian regions like Singapore and Hong Kong, the Huawei P50 Pocket can be seen as a niche luxury or collector’s item. In fact, there is a “Premium Edition,” with a gold-colored design by Dutch haute couture designer Iris van Herpen that retails for €1599 ($1,750). Clearly, Huawei is aiming at a specific market. That’s wise, because to average consumers in the west, the P50 Pocket has a very tough case to make against the cheaper, 5G and Google-ready Galaxy Z Flip 3.
The Huawei P50 Pocket was released in China last December, but its international launch is just beginning now alongside the Huawei P50 Pro in markets including the UK, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, among others. Check Huawei’s consumer website to find out if and when it will be available in your region. The Huawei P50 comes in black, white, or gold options — with the latter being the aforementioned pricier “Premium Edition.” The black and white models come with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, while the gold comes in 12GB RAM and 512GB storage.
|Specification||Huawei P50 Pocket|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 4G|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Security||Side-mounted fingerprint sensor|
|Front Camera(s)||10.7MP, f/2.2 front-facing camera|
|Port(s)||USB Type-C 3.1|
|Audio||Dual Stereo Speakers|
About this review: Huawei sent me a P50 Pocket in white to test on January 18th. Huawei did not have input in this article.
When it’s unfolded, the Huawei P50 Pocket — at least my white color model — looks similar to the Huawei P50 Pocket, with the same striking double-ring camera module design and an immersive screen with a small hole-punch wrapped by minimal bezels. The 6.9-inch, 21:9 display is slightly more elongated than a typical slab smartphone, but for the most part, it feels very similar, unlike larger foldables like Huawei’s own Mate X2 or the Samsung Z Fold 3 which feels like an entirely different beast in the hand.
Despite the fold, the Huawei P50 Pocket’s screen has a very hard-to-see/find crease. From most angles, you won’t be able to see it, and when you run your finger through the folding part of the screen, you only feel a slight indentation. This is a major improvement over the Galaxy Z Flip 3, whose crease is noticeable when viewed at even a slightly off-angle, and has a deep groove that can be felt at all times.
The 120Hz display looks great — bright enough to use under direct sunlight, with zippy animations and colors that pop. Just like the Huawei Mate X2, the P50 Pocket also has a hinge that can fold completely flat, without leaving a gap like the Galaxy Z Flip 3. This allows the P50 Pocket to be slightly thinner than the Galaxy Z Flip 3 when folded (15.2mm to 15.9mm). There’s a side-mounted fingerprint reader on the right side, along with a volume rocker.
That aforementioned double-ring camera module is actually just one camera module, the bottom circle is actually a 1-inch secondary screen that allows the phone to be used even when folded. Unfortunately, because the screen is so small, it is not as useful as the Galaxy Z Flip 3’s larger screen. Here on the P50 Pocket, you can use the screen as a camera viewfinder so you can take selfies with the main camera system; as well as check things like calendar, notifications, and control music playback. Ultimately, because of the size and shape, you can only get limited utility out of this, similar to the issues we had on the earlier generation of clamshell foldables.
The P50 Pocket is just well constructed all around, the hinge is sturdy and can stay in place mid-fold into this laptop-shaped setup with half of the screen upright. The P50 Pocket’s software really only takes advantage of this setup in the camera app, as the viewfinder will move up to the top half of the screen, with the bottom half showing camera controls. This allows for hands-free selfies or time-lapse videos.
The P50 Pocket’s main camera system consists of a 40MP “True-Chroma” main camera, a 13MP ultra-wide camera, and a 32MP “Super Spectrum” camera. The main camera is named after Huawei’s True-Chroma Image Engine, a software/hardware solution that supposedly allows the phone to recreate accurate colors that are seen by the human eye. Meanwhile, the Super Spectrum camera is a color temperature sensor that helps the XD Fusion Pro Image Engine, which helps the phone produce shots with more depth and image information.
Does any of this XD and Chroma marketing speak really mean anything in the real world? Yes, the Huawei P50 Pro’s main camera produces shots with punchy colors and great sharpness. Let’s take a look at some samples.
P50 Pocket (left); iPhone 13 Pro (right)
Here, I can say the P50 Pro shot does indeed have more accurate colors — the light blue shade of the water bottle and the white sheet of paper on the left side.
Here’s another 100% crop of the same shot on another part of the room.
P50 Pocket (left); iPhone 13 Pro (right), 100% crops.
Everything, from the banana to the brown cardboard coffee cupholder to the tiny bit of ocean in the upper right corner of the shot, has more accurate colors in Huawei’s shot than Apple’s shot.
Let’s compare the P50 Pro to other phones. Here’s a night city shot pitting the Huawei P50 Pocket against the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Google Pixel 6 Pro.
All three shots are excellent, and it’s really up to nitpicking. The Galaxy S21 Ultra and Pixel 6 Pro are better illuminated overall, with the top quarter of the shot a bit dark in the P50 Pocket image. But then the P50 Pocket’s reds are much more vivid and the lights better exposed, particularly in the lantern and the stop sign near the bottom right quadrant of the shot. Let’s zoom in 100%.
P50 Pocket (left); Galaxy S21 Ultra (middle); Pixel 6 Pro (right), 100% crops.
Overall, the P50 Pocket’s main camera is strong and on par with the Huawei P50 Pro, which I tested a few months ago. Notice I said the main camera, because the ultra-wide camera doesn’t bring the same high standards. It’s definitely inferior to the P50 Pro’s ultra-wide sensor. The big problem is colors are inconsistent between main and ultra-wide photos. The below two images were captured back to back within a second apart.
Here’s another set, and if we zoom in 100%, the ultra-wide shot is nowhere near as sharp as the main camera. This is a shame because Huawei arguably pioneered the idea (back in 2019’s Mate 30 Pro) that the ultra-wide camera should not be significantly inferior to the main camera.
P50 Pocket main camera (left); ultra-wide (right), 100% crops.
I took the P50 Pocket on a camping trip over the weekend, which was a good time to test the phone’s low light capabilities. Because Huawei has moved away from its RYYB sensor (where the extra yellow pixel helped it pull in a lot of light), and the 40MP sensor here doesn’t have those huge sensors used in the Huawei P40 Pro, the P50 Pocket really needs night mode to get a great shot in really dark scenes.
As you can see, without night mode, the photo captured blows out the lights, but with night mode, the P50 Pocket was able to churn out a Pixel-like well-balanced shot. Here’s another night mode on/off sample.
And unlike Apple, Google, and Samsung phones, the P50 Pocket does not turn on night mode automatically, you have to switch to the mode yourself. There are pros and cons to phones automating everything, but here, I’d prefer the phone just automatically use night mode if the shot quality is going to differ that much.
Selfies are fine. The actual front-facing camera is a bit soft on details, so if you shoot with the main camera, you get a much sharper shot. And at night, it will be a brighter shot too.
The P50 Pocket’s video capabilities are below par for a phone that costs well into four-digit Euros. Everything from stabilization to dynamic range is below par for Huawei. The P50 Pro, by comparison, has a much, much better video camera.
The Huawei P50 Pocket runs on EMUI 12 instead of HarmonyOS. Huawei declined to say why they haven’t rolled out HarmonyOS to its smartphones globally yet, but as someone who has used HarmonyOS on a phone, I can say the general experience won’t be too different. For the most part, EMUI here still behaves like Android, except Huawei has split the notification panel and control center into two separate panes. And there’s no app tray, so all apps sit on the homescreen. But I like the slide-over menu that allows the launch of apps in floating windows quickly.
Speaking of apps — by now most people reading will know that Huawei phones cannot run Google Mobile Services, which include Google’s core apps such as Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, etc. Whether or not this makes the phone unusable depends on who you are and what you need. For some, this is a complete non-starter.
For me, I can say that this is definitely not ideal, but it is not unusable. The reality is there are a lot of workarounds to access those Google apps. Gmail, for example, can still work via a third-party mail app like Microsoft Outlook. Google Calendar, too, can sync with Outlook without issues. Google Maps works on the phone outright, with the only exception being you can’t log in so you can’t save locations or write reviews of businesses. But otherwise, if you want to navigate from point A to point B on Google Maps, you can. YouTube can be accessed directly via the web browser — in fact, Huawei’s native web browser has YouTube bookmarked.
Most major apps westerners know, like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter work absolutely fine with zero issues. And while these apps are not available on Huawei’s AppGallery, Huawei has a workaround known as Petal Search. Essentially, Petal Search directs your app search to trusted sources like APK Mirror, APK Pure, or if it’s available, the official source of download like Facebook dot com.
The P50 Pocket also has its own voice assistant to make up for not having Google’s. Named Celia, this was introduced a couple of years ago, but as far as I know, I don’t recall Celia being available internationally until recently. This is my first experience using Celia, and the experience is okay. It can be triggered by saying “Hey Celia” or long-pressing the power button. It can help me set an alarm 0r launch a first-party Huawei app without problems. When I ask it to set an alarm she even knows to confirm the time and wait for my response. But Celia misunderstands words more often than Siri or Google Assistant, and sometimes when I ask it a straightforward question (like converting currency), it will bring me to a web search instead of just giving me the answer.
Having Celia is better than having no voice assistant at all, and maybe with time, it will improve. But chances of it ever surpassing Google Assistant, at least in the English-speaking parts of the world, is slim to none.
The Huawei P50 Pocket shipping with a 4G version of the Snapdragon 888 in 2022 when the 5G ready Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is around the corner will hurt its appeal, but in a vacuum, is the Snapdragon 888 4G lacking in power? Absolutely not. Throughout my week of use, the Huawei P50 Pocket operated smoothly, and 5G connectivity is still in its infancy and barely offers faster speeds. I have spent the past three months using 5G data plans in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, two major cities with some of the best mobile infrastructure, and I’d be lying if I said 5G really made any practical difference in my life. Yes, this does affect the “futreproof” value of the phone, but if this really does look appetizing to you, there’s a chance that you are willing to look past this.
The 4,000 mAh battery also gives the phone excellent battery life. Huawei has always been able to do wonders if its battery optimization and that 4,000mAh cell can really go far here. On the day I went camping, I was out hiking through mountains and using the phone heavily, and after a 16-hour day, I went to sleep with the P50 Pocket still at 18% battery.
Of course, most of what I said in this review will be moot points without two main considerations: the price, and the GMS situation. The reality is, Huawei’s €1,299 ($1,466) pricing, plus not having access to Google Mobile Services really limit the P50 Pocket’s mainstream appeal.
It’s worth wondering why Huawei didn’t price this phone lower, especially with the Galaxy Z Flip 3 available right now with 5G connectivity, unrestricted software, and a lower price tag. If I have to take a guess, it’s that Huawei’s consumer group isn’t willing to let go of its premium brand status just because of sanctions that are beyond the group’s control. In mainland China, Malaysia, and parts of Hong Kong, Huawei is seen as a luxury brand whose gadgets are a notch above other Chinese manufacturers. “Huawei is considered the Rolex of mobile phones by Chinese people,” a popular phone importer in Hong Kong told me few months ago, when I expressed surprise that all his China model P50 Pros were sold out on day one. Some people will buy Huawei products even if it’s more expensive, even if it doesn’t have Google. The $2,700 Huawei Mate X2, for example, was out of stock for most of 2021.
Can Huawei achieve this same status with European consumers? That it can be seen as a luxury brand whose products deserve to be higher price? Huawei very well was on its way there before the sanctions, when the company’s phones were setting sales record and garnering rave reviews all throughout Europe. Now with obstacles, it’s going to be an uphill battle. But Huawei is nothing if not persistent.