Review Huawei P50 Pocket: Does the clamshell form factor hold a pearl?

The Huawei P50 Pocket is the first clamshell form factor from the Chinese manufacturer, although not its first attempt at a foldable. It previously released three folding tablets under the Mate X umbrella.

The P50 Pocket, as its name suggests, is a more pocket friendly folding phone that is easy to carry around, making it appealing when compared to how large other smartphones have become. 

The Mail & Guardian was provided with the P50 Pocket Premium Edition to review, a version that was made in collaboration with designer Iris van Herpen. It features a unique embossed pattern on the exterior, in a shiny gold tone, not immune to fingerprints. You’re either going to love it or hate it. 

The P50 Pocket weighs 190g and its dimensions are 170 x 75.5 x 7.2mm, but once folded, it becomes 87.3 x 15.2mm.

It had a 6.9-inch 120Hz foldable OLED display with a multidimensional hinge that leaves a less obvious crease on it when compared to its closest rival, the Samsung Z Flip 3. Unfortunately, the P50 Pocket cannot stay open at any angle as the Flip 3 can.

When folded into a square, there is an external 1.04-inch circular display above the circular camera array to check notifications. At a quick glance, you can view the date, time and battery status. It has a 340×340 resolution display on the cover screen, with a 2790×1188 resolution on the main display. You can also change the wallpaper on the cover screen.

Once unlocked with the fingerprint sensor/power button, you can view notifications with a swipe down gesture. Swiping right gives you access to a music player and swiping left has a list of apps — camera, weather, calendar, and upcoming events. You can take photographs and record videos while it’s folded, but apps are limited to Huawei ones.

Speaking about apps — and this will remain crucial to any Huawei handset as long as it does not have access to Google Mobile Services and the Play Store because it runs barebones version of Android — it requires some technical workaround to get your favourite apps onto it.

I used Phone Clone to carry over apps from a 2022 Samsung handset, but the app kept crashing, making it impossible. I resorted to an old Huawei handset to move across apps such as Instagram, Whatsapp and Twitter, after updating them first. Official apps from Google, such as Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, Drive and Chrome, will not carry over but these can be accessed at a browser level.

If you go into Huawei’s App Gallery and search for Instagram for example, it will provide you with the direct Android APK file to download. This set-up may not be ideal for most people, but it was frustrating because not all Androids are created equal.

The P50 Pocket has a trio of lenses on its rear — 40MP, 13MP and a 32MP ultra spectrum. The 40MP and 13MP lenses are the main shooters, whereas the 32MP ultra spectrum camera doesn’t take photographs. It is used for colour and depth and offers sunscreen detection.

To test this, I applied sunscreen to half of my face and opened the mirror app — it needs to be a shortcut on the cover screen and switched to sunscreen UV test mode — to find half my face was purple. This could be useful after a few hours outdoors to see if your skin is still protected.  

As with the Z Flip 3, folding phones are not about having the best available cameras; they are good for the most part, but they don’t have optical image stabilisation. The selfie-cam is 10.7MP and both front and rear shoot 4K videos, at different frame rates.

Battery life is good on the P50 Pocket and, at 4000mAh, it is larger than the Z Flip 3 and charges faster at up to 40W. But it does not support wireless charging.

The P50 Pocket is powered by a Snapdragon 888 4G chip, 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. It is a dual-SIM phone that supports NFC, has Bluetooth 5.2, USB-C for charging and audio, and features a wide range of sensors.

Huawei did a good job with a phone that is arguably more about looks. The phone is fast enough to handle your everyday tasks but is not aimed at gamers or power users. It also lacks key features found on the Z Flip 3 such as 5G support, a waterproof rating, and wireless charging. And, of course, access to Google Mobile Services and the Play Store. 

It is impossible to avoid bringing this up when reviewing any Huawei device, much less a folding one with a price tag of R28 999. If you’re spending that much on a phone, it needs to compete with what else is out there. The Samsung Z Flip 3 priced at R21 999 makes the P50 Pocket difficult to justify.

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Nafisa Akabor
Nafisa Akabor

Nafisa Akabor is a freelance technology journalist.

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