When it comes to seriously impressive smartphones, it’s hard to beat Huawei. Their ever-evolving camera technology continues to leave other phone makers in the dust, they’re doing really exciting things with artificial intelligence and they have the almost magical ability to make desirable smartphones that don’t cost a fortune. But of course, even the most incredible hardware – and Huawei makes some truly incredible hardware – needs equally incredible software. So what happens to your Android device when Google can’t play ball?
As you’re probably aware, US legislation means that Google can no longer offer Google Services to phone manufacturers from some other countries. Huawei’s been caught up in that. Its response? Double down on the hardware innovation and invest heavily in software and services. We think it’s a winning combination.
Let’s talk about the hardware first. The new Huawei P40 Pro (opens in new tab) is spectacular, with a 6.58-inch OLED display, 8GB of RAM, a super-speedy Kirin 990 chip and both 5G and Wi-Fi 6. As if that wasn’t impressive enough it has not two, not three, but four cameras on the back: a 50 megapixel Ultra Vision, a 40 megapixel ultra wide lens, a 12 megapixels telephoto lens and a 3D depth of field camera. That means great photography and 4K video even in really rubbish lighting conditions. The 32MP front-facing camera is great too.
To get the best from that hardware, you need equally powerful software. Huawei uses the very latest AOSP (Android Open Source Project) with its own EMUI interface on top, and its neural processing hardware enables it to bring artificial intelligence algorithms to key apps such as the camera app. But it no longer uses Google Play Services.
Whether that’s a big deal depends on how invested you are in Google’s own software and subscription services. That’s because Google Play Services includes Google’s notification system and its key apps: Maps, Gmail, Chrome and so on. Those apps will still work in your phone’s browser – which of course is what Google’s various apps were designed to do in the first place – and be saved as bookmarks, but they won’t be available as stand-alone apps.
That might be a problem if Huawei didn’t have a huge App Store of its own, the Huawei AppGallery, which hosts a wealth of apps or, in some cases, gives you a link to the developer’s website to download it from there. Take Google Maps, for example: alternatives in the gallery include Waze, TomTom, Sygic and HERE WeGo; there’s no Google Docs but there’s the full suite of Microsoft Office apps. The AppGallery also includes lots of big-name apps (opens in new tab) from other household names: TikTok, WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Deezer, Amazon, Telegram, Zoom and many more, and it’s growing dramatically with new apps being added daily.
Huawei also has its own often excellent alternatives to key Google products including Huawei Music, and Huawei Video. There’s even an alternative to Google Assistant called Celia, which can control your device, tell you the news and weather and identify the things you point your phone at. It can even tell you how many calories are in your dinner.
Huawei has just announced a brand new search tool for Huawei Mobile Services users (opens in new tab): Petal Search – Find Apps (opens in new tab). Petal is a safe and secure way to find any app you’re looking for, not just from the Huawei AppGallery but from other trusted third party app stores and from app publishers’ websites, too. It enables you to find everything you need from a single search, and it’s right there on your home screen.
Huawei has another useful feature to help you with your apps: PhoneClone, which you can use to copy your apps and your data from your existing device to your Huawei one. It does a great job of copying almost anything: our friends at Android Central found it worked with 111 out of 123 apps they tested, with the exceptions largely being banking and finance apps that won’t allow transfers for security reasons. As with Google’s online apps, you can of course still use normal online banking in your browser.
Let’s be honest: an Android phone without Google’s apps and services is a different kind of Android phone, and if you’re a huge fan of Google’s apps and the integration between them then Huawei’s AppGallery and own apps may not be for you. But when you consider the range of apps available to you, the fact that you can still use Google apps in the browser and the incredible specifications of phones such as the Huawei P40 Pro (opens in new tab), Huawei remains one of the most interesting smartphone manufacturers with some of the most advanced and desirable phones you can buy. Huawei may be taking a different path to other Android firms, but we can’t wait to see where it takes us.