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Living a Google-free life with a Huawei phone

Living a Google-free life with a Huawei phone

Tomorrow, Huawei will launch its latest flagship phones, the P40 series, at an event that will be released online. There won’t be a crowd in the audience, of course, but even if there were, the atmosphere would be pretty bizarre. Indeed, it is impossible to separate Huawei’s consumer products from the political assaults it has faced in the past two years.

Whether you think Huawei is a threat to national security in the West or not, the ripple effects of its phone business are real. Google does not have the right to do business with Huawei, which means that the Chinese giant is unable to obtain an Android license. And that means that until further notice, any new Huawei phone should be delivered without Google apps and services.

You don’t have to be the most hardcore Google fan in the world to see how likely this is to be a dealbreaker for most people. Heck, you don’t even have to be an Android user. Google’s services are so widespread and ubiquitous that if you really don’t use them regularly, it’s probably because you’re actively avoiding them. And Huawei charges very high prices for high-end smartphones that, at least officially, can’t make them work at all.

Partly out of personal curiosity and partly to put the P40 launch in a better context, I decided to take Huawei’s newest flagship phone, the Mate 30 Pro, and see if I could live with it for a while. time. (Huawei declined to provide a review unit when it is released.) The Mate 30 Pro is the company’s high-end phone right now, running the same internal Kirin 990 processor that will no doubt be in the P40. How is it inside Huawei’s walls today?

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The Huawei Mate 30 Pro.

That’s not really the point of this story, but the first thing I will say about the Mate 30 Pro is that it is absolutely beautiful. Honestly, I don’t think there was a better phone released last year. In the photos, you can look at the notch and chin and write it, but in person, the phone looks bold, balanced, and futuristic.

The aggressive display of the “waterfall” is as striking as on the Vivo Nex 3, and I had no problem with accidental touch input. The back panel of the phone looks gorgeous, going from a rough matte finish at the bottom to a brighter feel at the top, with an even brighter ring surrounding the camera modules. And this camera setup is as good as what you’ll find in a phone, with excellent low-light capabilities, a 3x telephoto lens and a unique 40-megapixel ultra wide lens.

Huawei’s hardware and software integration is on another level for most other Android phone manufacturers. Aside from Google, very few offer a comparable 3D face unlock system, and Huawei does so with a smaller notch than the iPhone – not to mention the giant forehead of the Pixel 4. The Mate 30 Pro also has a neat solution to the lack Space for the volume buttons offered by the cascade display: you just have to double tap on the edge of the phone and a cursor appears on the side. I think I prefer Vivo’s capacitive virtual rocker because it is easier to use without looking at the screen, but Huawei’s approach also works quite well.

All in all, I would say that if, hypothetically, there were an incredible piece of smartphone hardware for which you would be prepared to face a small software drawback, the Huawei Mate 30 Pro would have a case as good as anything else on the planet. But let’s just say that you really would be, really, I must want it.

Living a Google-free life with a Huawei phone

The Mate 30 Pro “waterfall” screen.

The Mate 30 Pro, and probably the next P40 phones, use EMUI 10, which is based on Android 10. I have never been a big fan of EMUI even when it had Google apps and services to back it up; Of all the considerable efforts made by Chinese phone manufacturers to transform Android into iOS, that of Huawei has often been one of the most restrictive. However, the latest version is pretty nice. While the remnants of iOS cloning remain in some elements such as the over-designed sharing sheet, EMUI 10 is simple and clean and usually gets out of your way.

A smartphone user interface isn’t very useful without apps, of course, and that’s where Huawei hits its first hurdle. Huawei has its own store called AppGallery, which it says is the third largest in the world based on its more than 400 million monthly active users. The vast majority of these users will of course be in China, where the Google Play Store has never been included alongside AppGallery. If you buy a Mate 30 Pro now all over the world, however, AppGallery is what you take out of the box.

To be frank, it’s not great. I wouldn’t say it’s sterile – there is the support of big American companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Snap. You can’t get Chrome, of course, but Opera is there if you want something with desktop sync. But much of its content is destined for China, with other big western names like Facebook, Slack, Netflix and Twitter missing, which puts the Mate 30 Pro in a more precarious application situation than even on ordinary days. Windows Phone’s nastiest. Huawei has announced a billion dollar plan to help store the AppGallery shelves, but it has its work cut out for it.

That said, AppGallery isn’t the only native way to get apps. Huawei offers a tool called Phone Clone as part of the Mate 30 Pro configuration process, and it is rather neat. You will need to download Phone Clone from the Play Store on another Android phone with the apps you want to send; then the two phones pair and establish a fast local Wi-Fi connection. You can’t transfer major Google apps this way, but most other third-party software should work fine.

Within minutes, I had almost everything I needed in AppGallery. My Japanese dictionary, NBA League Pass, Twitter, Pokemon Go, Instagram, Apple Music, The Athletic, Slack… all the things that I basically use on my phone everyday, and all the things that I would need to have access to on any phone that I would seriously consider buying. He even sent out a few random Google apps like YouTube Music and Lens. Phone Clone is the difference between the Mate 30 Pro being completely unusable and a somewhat viable option.

But it is not a panacea. For one thing, it’s obviously impossible to expect most people to stay with another phone to download the Play Store apps, and then transfer them whenever they need something new. You also won’t get regular updates this way. Phone Clone also doesn’t solve the lack of Google services. You can of course bookmark Google Search in a browser, and Huawei’s built-in messaging app works with Gmail accounts, but good luck working in Docs or doing anything in the ecosystem. In my personal situation, I would not be able to use it as a business phone on a daily basis, because our business runs on G Suite.

Living a Google-free life with a Huawei phone

Huawei AppGallery store.

There is a more subtle problem, however, that not all apps will work properly even if you are able to install it. Indeed, what Huawei is actually prohibited from using is Google Mobile Services (GMS), the suite of software and APIs licensed by other Android OEMs. It’s not just the apps themselves, but often the cloud services that power them. For example, Uber uses GMS to determine your location and for its map data. Some other applications, like The Guardian, works more or less normally, but an error message is displayed at startup indicating that Google Play services are required.

The ubiquity of GMS is a big reason why alternative app stores are struggling to take off on Android phones, at least outside of China. Since Android phone makers have no choice but to license Google services due to the popularity of Google apps, third-party developers can use Google’s comprehensive tools to build their software securely , knowing that it will be supported by virtually all Android phones.

Take the Amazon Appstore for Android, for example. Despite Amazon’s giant stature and the popularity of its Kindle tablets – the Fire phone, not so much – many developers have refused to add their apps to the store. Even though Amazon hardware is running a forked version of Android that theoretically should run almost all of the native Play Store apps, anyone who built their app with GMS should find or develop alternative back-end services to run it on a device without a Google license. . (By the way, the Amazon Appstore is worth installing on the Mate 30 Pro. It is not as well supplied as the Play Store, but it is still a better option than AppGallery for Western audiences. – you can at least get things like Facebook and Twitter without using Phone Clone, and the apps will get updates.)

Mapping is perhaps the most striking indicator of the problems Huawei is facing in this regard. The Mate 30 Pro Straight-up does not come with a card application that anyone outside of China could use. As far as I know, the best options in AppGallery are both developed in Russian: there is Yandex Maps, which seems to conveniently stop its coverage just on the edge of my neighborhood, and Maps.me, functional but quite limited, which is based on OpenStreetMap. I tried to use the excellent Japanese map application from Yahoo Japan via Phone Clone, but its dependence on GMS makes it completely unusable.

It is not impossible for advanced users to load GMS on the Mate 30 Pro and install the Play Store. This is something Huawei actually noticed when the phone was first shipped, although any mention of the option has since been removed from the company’s website and Google itself has taken action. to end this practice. It would not be something I would recommend anyone to attempt as a serious option, in any case, as there are security risks and you cannot rely on updates. The lack of a Play Store on the Mate 30 Pro isn’t necessarily as bad as it sounds, but suffice it to say that until things change, you really shouldn’t be buying a Huawei phone if you have need Google services.

Huawei is working to close the GMS gap. The company is developing its own software platform and developer tools, collectively called Huawei Mobile Services, and it has announced a partnership with TomTom to produce its own mapping application, which cannot arrive soon enough. The question, as with all platforms that have attempted to attack Google in the past decade, is whether the developers will find it worthwhile to adapt their work for the new store. And if no one buys Huawei phones, the answer will likely be no.

Living a Google-free life with a Huawei phone

Huawei Phone Clone application transfer system.

The situation is unfortunate for Huawei, to say the least. The Mate 30 Pro would be one of the best phones I would have ever used if the software was there to back it up, but as it stands, it is impossible to recommend use outside of China. It’s hard to imagine that anyone’s phone equipment would become so breathtaking that I would consider spending north of $ 1,000 for something without an appropriate card application.

This is what to watch out for when the P40 series is revealed tomorrow. My experience with the Mate 30 Pro leaves no doubt that Huawei’s next phones will be technically impressive, and I’m sure the company will spend a lot of time demonstrating them. But if Huawei can’t convince people outside of China that it may have improved the software situation, the P40 phones might as well not exist.

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