Update Jan 28: We've held a camera shoot-out between the P50 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Take a look to see which one is best in which situation.
The Huawei P50 Pocket and P50 Pro are finally going on sale in the U.K., which is handy if you need a foldable that tells you where to apply sunblock.
After it stayed quiet for basically the whole of 2021, we wondered if Huawei's smartphone division had given up on the U.K. as a result of the difficulties it's been facing in the U.S.
Fortunately, that's not the case, as these two new phones are now on their way to Europe. Sure, they still lack Google apps and the Play Store, and some of the hardware is coming up to a year old now, but if you don't mind using Huawei's default apps and App Gallery store (or know how to install APK files), these phones could be a welcome alternative to the more tried and true equivalents from Samsung, OnePlus and the rest.
Huawei P50 Pocket
Huawei's most interesting new phone is the P50 Pocket, its first clamshell-style foldable phone. While it won't be coming to the U.S., it may still attract users in the U.K. and elsewhere who fancy a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 but would prefer something even more unusual. It's a 1,299 euro phone though, which is about 130 euro more than the Z Flip 3, meaning it'll likely cost more than the Z Flip 3's £949 start price in the U.K.
As we saw from previous leaks, the phone uses a dual-ring design on the outside, with one housing the phone's rear cameras and the other being an external display. We're not sure having a circular screen is the best way to interact with a smartphone, but Huawei looks to have optimized all its default apps to play nicely with it, plus it's a little touchscreen you can actually interact with to change your music, check a map or take a selfie with the rear cameras, without opening the phone.
That rear camera array features 40MP main and 13MP ultrawide cameras, which bring with them Huawei's new XD Optics and XD Fusion Pro systems. These are both photo processing methods that take place within the camera sensor to improve image detail and color that supposedly can't be restored later in the processing pipeline.
However, more eye-catching than that is the inclusion of a 32MP "Ultra Spectrum" camera, that can pick up non-visible light, such as that given out by the phone's ultra-spectrum illuminator. This supposedly enhances photos by accounting for lighting effects that other phones can't, or allows you to take what Huawei calls "fluorescence mode" photos. It can also detect if you're wearing your sunscreen properly through the use of the phone's Mirror app with the phone closed. If that works as advertised, it could be invaluable for people who want to make sure their face is fully covered in sunblock when in sunny climes.
Opening up the phone, there's a 6.9-inch, 120Hz display with a 10.7MP punch-hole selfie camera. That's a little larger than the one on the Galaxy Z Flip 3, but that size difference is more noticeably felt in the P50 Pocket's 4,000 mAh battery. That's pretty sizeable for a clamshell foldable, and should go some way to addressing the common folding phone issue of poor battery life.
Other features worth checking out are the phone's power button-mounted fingerprint reader, currently the standard security method for folding phones, and its imposing design. The back of the phone features micro-sculpted diamond shapes, which combined with the pearly white paint job give the phone a luxurious look. There's also a Premium Edition (which costs 1,599 euro) that comes with a gold back, inspired by the work of collaborating fashion designer Iris Van Herpen.
Huawei also makes the bold promise that its new hinge design means no visible crease in the unfolded display. We've heard claims like this before with other foldable phones, so we'll have to get some hands-on time with the phone before we can confirm this.
Huawei P50 Pro
The Huawei P50 Pro is the more sensible and familiar of the company's two new phones, but it's still got some intriguing features of its own. It will sell for 1,199 euro, a price that puts it between the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus and the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
First, the basics. The P50 Pro's a phone with a 6.6-inch, 120Hz AMOLED display, four Leica-tuned rear cameras and a single 13MP hole-punch selfie camera. It's IP68 rated for water/dust resistance, comes in either black or gold, uses a Snapdragon 888 chipset (although there's no 5G) and has a 4,360 mAh battery that can charge at 66W wired or 50W wirelessly, for a rapid refueling when you need it.
However, things get weird when you look at the cameras in that enormous double camera bump in detail. While there are four camera sensors on the back of the phone, one of them, a 40MP mono camera, doesn't take photos by itself. Instead, it works with the 50MP main camera as a pair (similar to a depth sensor on other phones) to make more vivid and accurate photos, using the same XD Optics and Fusion Pro post-processing as the P50 Pocket. Does that work? Take a look at our P50 Pro vs iPhone 13 Pro Max camera shoot-out to find out.
As for the rest of the camera array, that's taken up by much more traditional 13MP ultrawide and 64MP 3.5x optical zoom telephoto cameras. The camera app itself also features a couple of new tricks in the form of True-Focus Fast Capture mode for taking photos of fast-moving objects, and Cinematograph mode, which lets you produce images with select moving parts.
Huawei P50 Pocket and Huawei P50 Pro outlook
It's still hard to recommend Huawei phones to the average user since Google was forced to withdraw support for the Play Store, but thanks to the company's continued efforts you can use them with almost any Android app you like with relative ease. Plus, as always, Huawei's hardware is some of the best in the business, even if some of the features, like the P50 Pocket's circular display and sunblock detection, seem of limited use.
What's perhaps more concerning for Huawei is that the P50 Pro's main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S22, is about to launch. This will come with a newer Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset that offers increased performance, 5G connectivity plus all the Google apps you could ever want. At least the P50 Pocket probably won't get a new Z Flip to contend with until this fall, but the next Samsung foldables will still have the advantage of Play Store access and 5G.
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Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.