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Huawei’s $1,800 folding P50 Pocket isn’t expensive enough

Huawei should charge more for the P50 Pocket, its Galaxy Z Flip 3-like folding smartphone. This may sound like a strange statement, especially since $1,800 isn’t exactly cheap — quite the opposite actually. But I’m suggesting Huawei should have used even better materials to make it, gone overboard with luxury accouterments, and even got the designer of the Premium Edition to sign the device personally — then jacked up the price accordingly.

Why would anyone ask to pay more for a phone? Huawei continues to face immense technical challenges, and the P50 Pocket was the perfect device for Huawei to reinvent itself as a modern-day Vertu by making a super-luxurious smartphone that’s so desirable, people will want to use it alongside another phone.

Vertu knew luxury

If you aren’t familiar with Vertu, in its heyday, it made hyper-luxurious, mega-expensive, handbuilt smartphones for the wealthy. Each phone had the signature of the person who built it behind the SIM card door, the leather was the finest you could get, the build quality and methods used owed more to Swiss watches than to mobile tech, and owners had their own special Vertu personal assistant on speed dial to help organize their lives. Unfortunately, the company ceased to be in 2017.

The Huawei P50 Pocket with the screen on.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Vertu phones were never about technology. The phones usually had passable cameras, often used an older processor, and rarely had the most up-to-date version of Android. It actually took a while for the company to adopt Android at all, and its most popular phones used a version of the feature phone operating system found on a $50 Nokia. In its early days, it concentrated on tech that mattered to the people who could afford one — superb call quality, unmatched global connectivity, and high levels of security.

On several occasionswhen  speaking to Vertu executives, I was told many owners used another phone alongside the Vertu. The exclusivity, build quality, and ownership experience were so desirable they were prepared to accept the technological downsides of that device, but modern life dictated a more modern device was still necessary, so the average Vertu owner would also pack a mainstream mobile phone. It was like wearing a Rolex Daytona, but checking the time on your iPhone.

What about the P50 Pocket?

Where does all this fit in with Huawei and the P50 Pocket? I’ve been using the P50 Pocket Premium Edition for a few days now, and while it’s very nice, the technological downsides are quite serious and can’t permanently pull me away from the convenience of an iPhone 13 Pro, Pixel 6 Pro, or Galaxy Z Fold 3.

The back view of the Huawei P50 Pocket when open.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It doesn’t have the Google Play Store or Google apps, so you use the Huawei App Gallery and other third-party options, and the process is fraught with issues. If you have any link to Google services at all, it’s a massive pain to swap, and if you want an app that’s not in the App Gallery, it’s a serious security concern.

I use Outlook and Microsoft Teams for work, and as they aren’t in the App Gallery, Huawei recommends you use its Petal Search app to find alternative sources. It points you to APKPure, where you can download the source file. Sites like this are relatively safe, but security issues have been reported over the past year. Giving apps downloaded from it passwords and access to sensitive content doesn’t seem like the best idea to me.

My bank app is not in the App Gallery either, and the Petal Search app recommends I get a web app, which leads to a bizarre URL that’s not my bank or even APKPure, and that tells me to accept a download for an APK file. I’ve no idea where this file comes from, but I do know I won’t be signing into it. I can download WhatsApp directly, but would have to use a third-party app to transfer over my chat history. It all requires you to put a lot of trust into apps from different, and usually unknown. companies.

The HarmonyOS app situation is only part of the problem. Due to restrictions placed on Huawei by the U.S. government, it cannot build 5G smartphones at the moment, so the P50 Pocket is a 4G smartphone. It’s powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, not a Huawei-made Kirin processor like the Huawei Mate X2.

The P50 Pocket just doesn’t feel like a sensible long-term prospect on the technology front.

Not having 5G isn’t a massive problem as it still isn’t an essential feature, but that is rapidly changing, and as smartphones are expensive purchases, we’re right to expect it to last well into the future. Without 5G, longevity suffers. The same is true for the Snapdragon 888. It’s still very capable, but it’s also now found in upper-midrange phones that cost a lot less than the P50 Pocket. The P50 Pocket just doesn’t feel like a sensible long-term prospect on the technology front, and the app situation doesn’t inspire confidence.

Where the P50 Pocket gets it right

The P50 Pocket Premium Edition’s design is exactly right. Apart from it being a very desirable folding smartphone, it has been styled with the help of Iris Van Herpen, a fashion designer known for incorporating technology and cutting-edge methods of production into her creations. She is an excellent partner in this respect, and the Premium Edition looks striking and unusual. The flowing lines have texture and make the P50 Pocket feel more like a very expensive makeup compact than a folded-up smartphone.

A man holds a half-closed Huawei P50 Pocket.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Huawei has made several folding smartphones, and its experience shows. Folded up, there’s no discernible gap between the sections, while the in-hand balance is just right when it’s open. The hinge has a lot more movement built into it than the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3, and is not as stiff either. But it’s also noisier and more floppy, and I’d like to see how it alters and settles over the coming weeks.

I like the main camera. The 40-megapixel True-Chroma camera takes lovely, detailed, bright, and colorful photos, just like I expect from Huawei. White balance is delicate and precise, and the way it handles color makes your photos look natural but never dull. It’s a fine balance between eye-catching, natural-looking pictures and oversaturated or hyper-real ones, but the P50 Pocket’s main camera never crosses the line. Florescence Mode, which adds a black light effect to photos, is gimmicky and a bit weird, and I doubt I’d use the test mode to see how effectively I’ve put on sunscreen.

Folded up, the P50 Pocket’s cute circular cover touchscreen provides notifications and a way to use the main camera for selfies, and while you can add a few additional screens for your calendar and so on, you have to open the phone to do anything meaningful. The whole thing is light at 190 grams and thin at 7.2mm when open and a modest 15.2mm when folded up. Aside from the hinge being a little floppy for my liking, it’s a great piece of hardware with a strong main camera.

Time to go full Vertu

When you look at the corner Huawei has been forced into, and the route it has had to take with HarmonyOS and the App Gallery, it’s very difficult to see audiences outside China — by which I mean, those most likely to use Google services — actively embrace its modern phones. The lack of 5G is a problem on a phone that costs the equivalent of $1,800, so the P50 Pocket’s technology and software aren’t a reason to buy it.

The Huawei P50 Pocket open and seen from the back.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Vertu faced the same problem, but Huawei can succeed where it failed. It understands luxury, and now is the time to embrace it properly. Go the whole way with everything that makes me want a Huawei phone on a personal level, as a thing I aspire to own. Huawei has the manufacturing ability, proven power to make great partnerships (Iris Van Herpen, Leica, and Porsche Design, to name just a few), and a talented design division. This, along with the excellent main camera, plus it being a generally good smartphone, would give a true luxury Huawei phone the edge over a Vertu of old.

As it stands, the P50 Pocket feels like a second phone in the same way a Vertu once did. I can’t live without my banking app, so I’d almost be forced to continue using another phone alongside the P50 Pocket. I can picture doing that with a Vertu Signature, but the P50 Pocket isn’t quite as special as it needs to be for me to do the same. It’s very close due to it being a foldable, but it needs more. Make it from ceramic or titanium, have the designer sign it, make it a limited edition, put it in innovative environmentally conscious packaging, bundle a beautiful handmade leather pouch, and add a standout feature like the Vertu personal assistant, and it would become something very different. It’d be special.

Yes, that would bump up the price, but for once, it wouldn’t matter. Huawei dabbles with luxury products already, and now is the time to fully embrace the Vertu way.

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