It’s time for a health check on Huawei, everyone’s favorite worn-out Chinese smartphone vendor. The company is dealing with all sorts of export restrictions and declining market share, but somehow it still ships phones. The company’s latest devices are the Huawei P50 Pro and P50 Pocket, which are finally getting a wider international release after being launched in China earlier.
With this international launch, Huawei is positioning the P50 Pro and P50 Pocket as a pair of devices. The P50 Pro is a plain old record phone, while the P50 Pocket is a foldable phone. When we reviewed Samsung’s foldable flip phone, the Galaxy Z Flip, our main conclusion was that it felt exactly like a regular smartphone, but it folded in half like a fun gimmick. Huawei now offers two similar phones: one that can be folded in half and one that does not. It would be like Samsung selling the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 side by side.
That is not to say that the phones have the same dimensions. The P50 Pro is a 6.6-inch device (158.8 × 72.8 × 8.5 mm) and costs €1,199 (~$1,353), while the Pocket 6.9-inch (170 × 75.5 × 7.2mm) and costs €1,299 (~$1,465). Huawei says the two phones will be available in “key markets in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, Europe and Latin America.”
Both devices are flagship smartphones that use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 SoC. Huawei got permission to buy Qualcomm chips at the end of 2020, but not 5G Qualcomm chips, as if a negligible increase in mobile data speeds is some kind of incredible feature. Perhaps the intent of this restriction was to saddle Huawei with older chips, but the reality is that Huawei uses the same Snapdragon 888 as everyone else, only with 5G disabled to comply with regulations. Most people won’t notice a difference.
Making these two phones compete with each other emphasizes the difficulty of creating foldable designs. The Pocket variant has a larger screen and a smaller battery than the P50 Pro, thanks to the hinge that takes up space. Huawei also had to reduce the thickness of the Pocket so that it is not as bulky when folded. The Pocket has a 6.9-inch screen, 7.2mm thickness and a 4000mAh battery, while the P50 Pro gets away with a 6.6-inch screen, 8.5mm thickness and a battery of 4000mAh. 4360mAh.
The Pocket variant is also packaged in a round show cover. There are two large circles on the back of both phones and on the P50 Pro they are both camera bumps. The Pocket swaps out the bottom camera bump for a round 340×340 OLED notification display that looks like it was pulled from a smartwatch parts bin.
Huawei is still in a very strange position with Android. When the P50 was released in China, it shipped with HarmonyOS, an operating system that Huawei has called a domestically developed alternative to Android. Huawei has never been exactly honest about what HarmonyOS is, but we dug in and found that it was nothing more than a fork of Android swapping Google’s apps and services for Huawei versions. Instead of shipping HarmonyOS internationally, Huawei is branding the software as EMUI, the brand it has used for its regular, skinned (with Google apps) version of Android. What is the difference between EMUI without Google apps and HarmonyOS? I really think the answer is “nothing”.
Huawei keeps fighting, but these phones are a terrible deal. Samsung’s equivalent of the $1,465 P50 Pocket is the dramatically cheaper $999 Galaxy Z Flip 3, while the $1,353 P50 Pro is close to the Galaxy S21+, which is also $999. Huawei phones, with their lack of Google apps and generally murky future when it comes to updates, should be cheaper than the offerings of major OEMs, not 35 percent more expensive.