Huawei’s Google-free foldable is a class act, but software worries remain
- Unique “Dual-Ring” design
- Colour-accurate inner display
- Great camera offering
- Lacks 5G
- More expensive than Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G
- Software restrictions apply
It seems every manufacturer wants to launch a folding phone at the moment. And with the news that Huawei’s mobile division is re-entering the UK market after a brief absence, the upcoming P50 Pocket has a chance to be a great alternative to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G.
As always, however, Huawei would prefer to focus all of your attention on hardware. To that end, the P50 Pocket mostly succeeds, but of course that isn’t the complete picture.
Yet again, restrictive software and the lack of Google apps tarnishes an otherwise exemplary experience. It’s such a gigantic thorn in Huawei’s side that it massively impacts whether you’d want to buy a P50 Pocket or not. The Z Flip 3, after all, comes with full-fat Android, so why take the hit?
Huawei P50 Pocket review: What you need to know
But, just like the P50 Pro, that decision rests entirely on how you use a smartphone. If you’re already embedded in Google’s mobile ecosystem, there’s a chance you’re going to want to give the P50 Pocket a miss.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to switch to Huawei’s alternative apps and fully divorce yourself from that Google lifestyle, there’s no doubt that you’ll be rewarded with one of the most feature-rich and uniquely interesting smartphones that 2022 has to offer.
The Huawei P50 Pocket, like the Z Flip 3, is a flip-to-open clamshell handset. What this means is that rather than being a regular-sized smartphone that transforms into a tablet when unfolded – like the previous Mate X2 – instead, the Pocket folds into a half-sized handheld when closed, revealing a typical smartphone display once opened.
The Pocket includes a small 1.04in circular display on the cover, too, with a much larger 120Hz 6.9in OLED panel on the inside. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (although 4G-only, sadly) and comes with 8GB or 12GB of RAM. There’s also a choice of 256GB or 512GB of expandable storage, depending on how much cash you have to spend.
Huawei P50 Pocket review: Price and competition
While we’re yet to receive UK price and availability information, what we do know is that the Huawei P50 Pocket costs €1,299 in the rest of Europe. Convert this figure to UK money and you’re looking at around £1,100.
If this currency conversion holds true when it eventually shows up on UK shores, the P50 Pocket will cost £150 more than the Z Flip 3. This is the best-case scenario, of course, which even at this optimistic price is quite hard to recommend. Why would you want to pay more for less?
For this much money, you’re also looking at facing off against the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which admittedly doesn’t fold but is the phone we currently recommend if you’ve got this much cash burning a hole in your pocket. Apple’s top-end handset starts at £1,049.
There’s also the upcoming Galaxy S22 Ultra to consider. And while Samsung’s freshest flagships are yet to be revealed, rumoured pricing puts the S22 Ultra at €1,249 (or £1,041).
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Huawei P50 Pocket review: Design and key features
Folding into a half-size handheld – as the “Pocket” in the name suggests – and transforming into a regular-sized smartphone when unfolded, the P50 Pocket is significantly smaller in size than the Huawei Mate X2. And it’s much cheaper, too.
What this means is that, like the Z Flip 3, the P50 Pocket can not only squeeze into smaller spaces, such as a clutch bag or a tiny inner coat pocket, but it also costs less than folding phones with tablet-sized inner screens, such as the Surface Duo 2 and Galaxy Z Fold 3.
When closed, the P50 Pocket’s unusual “Dual-Ring” design is the first thing you’ll notice, consisting of a pair of large circles on the phone’s lid. The top circle contains the camera array, while the other is a simple screen, sitting just underneath. It looks a bit like a pair of induction hobs, although nowhere near as boring in the new textured, shimmering, diamond-like white colour. A gold “Premium Edition” model is also available, although this costs €300 more.
Like the Flip, this small screen on the front can be used as a camera viewfinder or to view notifications and various widgets without opening the phone, and you can apply a list of dynamic themes, including various animated cartoon animals. Intriguingly, Huawei also says that this screen can show you whether you’ve applied an even layer of sunscreen or not, using the new “Ultra Spectrum” camera sensor. However, this feature wasn’t available in early testing.
Measuring just 15.3mm when folded, the P50 Pocket is ever so slightly thinner than the Galaxy Z Flip 3, although it’s a bit heavier at 190g. It’s supposedly 62% more impact-resistant and 33% more crush-resistant than previous Huawei foldables, too, and it uses a brand-new “multi-dimensional” hinge, although this didn’t feel quite as sturdy in testing as Samsung’s equivalent.
When aligned at a 90-degree angle with the phone placed on a flat surface, the upper part of the screen had a tendency to fall flat, rather than stay firmly in place. Meanwhile, the Z Flip 3’s upper half, even after multiple months of heavy use, still holds its position, no matter what angle you place it at.
And while the Flip achieved an IPX8 rating for water ingress protection, the P50 Pocket did not. Huawei hasn’t discussed the durability of the P50 Pocket’s inner display, either. Like any folding phone, the inner flexible screen is more prone to scratches and scrapes than standard smartphone displays, so it might not look as pristine six months down the road.
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One big bonus is that the P50 Pocket supports wired USB-C charging speeds up to 40W, while the Flip 3 has to make do with a maximum of 15W. The phone’s internal storage can also be expanded up to a further 256GB if you insert one of Huawei’s proprietary Nano Memory cards. These are more expensive than the standard microSD, but at least you get the option to boost the space; you don’t with the Flip.
Huawei P50 Pocket review: Displays
Unfold the P50 Pocket and there’s a large 6.9in, 21:9 Flexible OLED display on the inside, which supports a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz, with a 300Hz touch sampling rate and a total resolution of 2,798 x 1,188.
This inner screen is calibrated to the Display P3 colour gamut and there’s a small hole-punch notch at the top, which incorporates the 10.7MP selfie camera. Colour accuracy is absolutely up to snuff, measuring an average Delta E of 1.2 using my X-rite Colormunki display calibrator.
In fact, aside from a slight oversaturation in red tones, each and every colour is bang on the money. Everything from scrolling social media feeds to watching Netflix looked as good as you could possibly want and maximum brightness was also rather good, peaking at 545cd/m² in my tests.
Huawei P50 Pocket review: Performance and battery life
When it comes to internal specifications, the UK model shares the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 of the Chinese version, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. The Premium Edition, which I mentioned earlier, comes with more RAM (12GB) and 512GB of starting space. Both models have a 4,000mAh battery.
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I was sent the cheapest model for review, which performed well enough in our tests. It’s fast in operation, with an added layer of fluidity aided by that 120Hz panel, but weirdly its Geekbench scores were a bit lower than I expected. It could be that the Pocket isn’t as optimised for performance testing, but the Z Flip 3’s multicore scores were actually 11% faster.
The same is true with the Pocket’s gaming benchmarks. The GFXBench Manhattan 3 scores aren’t too bad, but again the recorded average frame rates just aren’t as good as the Flip’s – or even those of the last-gen P40 Pro.
Another huge disappointment is that the P50 Pocket, like the P50 Pro, is unable to connect to the 5G network. The Snapdragon 888’s 5G modem has vanished and Huawei hasn’t provided an explanation as to why this is. Even some budget phones are 5G-ready these days, so this decision doesn’t make a lick of sense.
What’s even worse is that battery life is quite poor. Lasting for just 13hrs 46mins when playing a looped video at 120Hz at native resolution, Huawei’s foldable is much more power-hungry than the Flip, which outlasted the Pocket by over two hours. Enable the smart resolution setting and drop the frame rate to 60Hz, and things slightly improved, reaching 16hrs 9mins.
Huawei P50 Pocket review: Software
Software is an area Huawei isn’t boasting about. In the past few years, every new Huawei handset has been forced to launch without full-fat Android, instead using a pared-back version reskinned as Huawei’s EMUI.
Sadly, the Huawei P50 Pocket’s prospects haven’t changed, and what this means is that you won’t be able to use Google services – such as Google Maps, YouTube and Google Drive – on the P50 Pocket.
You also have to make do with Huawei’s own app store, AppGallery. Despite the list of applications, services and games steadily increasing in recent times, it’s still not a match for the breadth of stuff offered by Google’s Play store and it’s just nowhere near as good as a result.
Huawei P50 Pocket review: Cameras
Camera-wise, the P50 Pocket squeezes in a selection of three sensors in that camera ring on the handset’s lid. These consist of a main 40MP (f/1.8) camera, a secondary 13MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide unit and a special Ultra Spectrum 32MP camera, which allows for new fluorescent photographs of flowers and foliage – although, as it turns out, this is very hard to test in the middle of winter.
And now for some good news. The P50 Pocket’s cameras are excellent. Photographs are richly detailed with well-judged auto exposure levels and a pleasingly refined colour representation. I was particularly impressed with the way the cameras captured landscape photos at night, with light bloom kept to a minimum and darker areas brightened without adding an unusually warm tint.
The selfie camera is also rather good, but I would still recommend using the main cameras when taking portraits. Being a folding phone, this is pretty easy to do – you just fold it in half and use the outer screen as a camera viewfinder. Blurred background portraits are terrific: there’s plenty of detail in facial features and crisp, defined lines around your subject.
When it comes to video, the Huawei P50 Pro shoots at a maximum resolution of 4K at 60fps. This is fully stabilised, too, and video footage was mostly bounce-free. In playback, the Pocket’s footage would judder occasionally when panning across a scene, but this issue wasn’t quite as common as with the P50 Pro.
Huawei P50 Pocket review: Verdict
All things considered, Huawei’s first clamshell foldable is a tragic story of mixed results. There’s no arguing that the P50 Pocket is a bit of a design statement, with a great screen and a wonderful set of cameras. But, on the flip side, glaring oversights such as the lack of 5G and poor battery efficiency – not to mention the usual software woes – make for an increasingly difficult smartphone to recommend.
After all, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 not only costs less, but it performs better, comes with full-fat Android and connects to the 5G network. If you’ve got this much money to spend and you have your heart set on a folding smartphone, Samsung’s foldy flagship is still the one to get.