It’s time for a wellness check on Huawei, everyone’s favorite beat-up Chinese smartphone vendor. The company is dealing with all sorts of export restrictions and plummeting market share, but it’s somehow still shipping phones and still in a very weird place when it comes to its Android situation. The company’s latest devices are the Huawei P50 Pro and P50 Pocket, which are finally getting a wider international release after launching in China earlier.
With this international launch, I really like how Huawei is positioning the P50 Pro and P50 Pocket as a pair of devices. The P50 Pro is a regular-old slab phone, while the P50 Pocket is a flip-phone-style foldable. When we reviewed Samsung’s foldable flip phone, the Galaxy Z Flip, our main takeaway was that it felt exactly like a regular smartphone when open, and it just folded in half as a neat gimmick. Huawei is building that similarity right into its product lineup and offering two similar phones—one folds in half, one doesn’t. It’s as if Samsung sold the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 next to each other.
That’s not to say the phones are the same sizes. 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 is 6.9-inches (170×75.5×7.2 mm) and costs €1,299 (~$1,465). Huawei says the two phones will be available in “key markets across Asia Pacific, the Middle East & Africa, Europe, and Latin America.”
Both devices are flagship smartphones, using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 SoC. Huawei was granted 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. Maybe the intent of this restriction was to saddle Huawei with older chips, but the reality is that Huawei is using the same Snapdragon 888 as everyone else, just with 5G specially disabled to meet the regulations. Most people probably won’t notice any difference at all.
Having these two phones go up against each other highlights the difficulty of a foldable design. The Pocket variant has a bigger screen and a smaller battery than the P50 Pro, thanks to the hinge taking up a ton of space and to Huawei needing to shave down the Pocket’s thickness so it’s not as bulky when it’s folded over. The Pocket has a 6.9-inch display, 7.2 mm thickness, and a 4000 mAh battery, while the P50 Pro gets away with a 6.6-inch display, 8.5 mm thickness, and a 4360 mAh battery.
The Pocket variant also packs in a round cover display. There are two big circles on the back of both phones, and on the P50 Pro, these are both camera bumps. The Pocket swaps out the bottom camera bump for a round 340×340 OLED notification display that seems like it was pulled from a smartwatch parts bin.
Huawei is still in a very strange position with Android. When the P50 launched in China, it shipped with HarmonyOS, an OS Huawei has called a home-grown alternative to Android. Huawei has never been exactly honest about what HarmonyOS is, but we dug into it and found it to be nothing more than a fork of Android that swaps out Google’s apps and services for Huawei versions. Instead of shipping HarmonyOS internationally, Huawei is branding the software as EMUI, which is the brand it has used for its normal, 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 continues to battle with the world against it, but we need to emphasize that these phones are a terrible deal. Samsung’s equivalent to 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, need to be cheaper than the major OEMs, not ~35 percent more expensive. These phones are not an attractive offer.