Huawei's new smartphones will still run Android, but will no longer ship with any apps made by Google. But what exactly does this have to do with daily use? We tested the Mate 30 Pro, the first Huawei smartphone without GWS for a week to try to deliver the most objective advice possible …
It’s hard to imagine what an Android smartphone would look like without Google’s apps. In Europe, almost all smartphones sold come with “Google Web Services” – a software suite that brings together the Google Play Store, Google Maps, Youtube, Gmail, Google Drive, Duo, Docs or Google Translate. In Asia, most commercially available Android smartphones are without Google Web Services. For good reason: Android is a free operating system, but manufacturers have to pay a license to install Google’s tools on their terminals. If the Chinese are therefore used to using devices without Google services, Europeans have had plenty of time to get used to Google's products to the point that it has become almost unthinkable to market an Android smartphone without the Play Store or Google Maps on the old continent.
A smartphone “guaranteed without Google”
Huawei’s case is unique because in recent months, the standoff between the US administration and China has prevented the Chinese group from selling Android smartphones with Google Web Services. The Chinese group had managed to delay the implementation of US sanctions by extending the life cycles of its old smartphones, but this funny little game could not last forever. The Mate 30 Pro is its first smartphone “guaranteed without Google”.
Not only is no “Google” software pre-installed on the smartphone, it is also impossible to install them legally. The Play Store simply cannot be installed and even by going through a third-party application store to recover an APK, an installation file that allows you to reinstall Google software, you realize that the system systematically blocks their installation.
It’s therefore impossible to install Gmail, YouTube, the Play Store, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Play Music, Google Maps, Google Translate or Google Drive on your Mate 30 Pro. We will have to be satisfied with the software preinstalled by Huawei, which in some cases offers some pretty alternatives. To download new applications, you will need to either go through the official Huawei store, or go through a “legally very gray” store, such as Aptoide.
A clean transition
The good news is that Huawei has thought of everything with its Phone Clone application, which allows you to transfer all your data from your old smartphone to your new one: from contacts to photos and videos, through its applications. If you choose to start from scratch, relying on the magic of the cloud you may leave a few feathers on the other hand since the cloud does not work here… No Google backup of the phone, no contacts recovered in the system, everything must be entered manually … Phone Clone is therefore essential.
After the data transfer, we take stock of what works and what doesn't. Of the 120 applications transferred, 105 work perfectly: Twitter, Messenger, Facebook, Instagram, SNCB, Spotify, Prime Video, FaceApp, eBay, Viber or even Shazam are no problem. The essential is there, but some software is problematic, and no need to rely on the Store (very stripped) of Huawei to save the deal: Outlook, Netflix and Facebook are not there yet! Fortunately, there are workarounds for problematic apps: in the case of Outlook, all you have to do is re-download the software to Aptoide for it to work. In the case of Netflix, however, we had to go look for an old version of the app on Aptoide, after doing some research on the internet, so that it finally works correctly …
Compatibility on more than 90% of applications
As for Google services, we quickly realize that most can be replaced quickly: Outlook instead of Gmail, HERE WeGo to replace Google Maps, Opera or Firefox to replace Chrome, Aptoide to replace the Play Store and Microsoft Translator to replace Google Translations. Life without Google is possible.
But Google is so implanted everywhere that there are some problems with other third-party software like Deliveroo or Uber Eats or Sports Tracker, which use all the APIs of Google Maps and are therefore unusable on the Mate 30 Pro. The tracking apps for athletes and online orders are the most affected. It will be necessary to do without.
The other big problem encountered concerns games: online backups via the Google Play Games service do not work, most of the games bought on the Play Store will not run and even some headlines, like HearthStone, will refuse to launch. . Fortnite did not pose any problems, however. Gamers will therefore be moderately convinced.
Then there are the special cases. Impossible for example to play streaming on your Xbox – for completely unknown reasons the service does not work on the new Huawei smartphone. It’s also impossible to launch the Tado app to control its heating. You will have to create a shortcut to the mobile website to get there … We are losing a lot of comfort. Many connected objects seem to be impacted as a result of the Google Maps APIs. During our tests, it was also impossible to launch Nest, owned by the way from Google. Waking up is therefore painful if you have invested in connected objects.
In total, around 15 applications will therefore have been problematic, out of a total of 120. After a few hacks, we found “viable” alternatives for 8 of them. 7 remained completely on the floor.
Not ready for the general public
While it’s not all that difficult to live “without Google”, the experience is still daunting for the general public. Data transfer must go through Phone Clone, otherwise you will lose a lot of time when starting up. It will then be necessary to review the list of applications that pass and do not pass… and try to find workarounds to make those that block work. Given the price of the smartphone (more than € 1,000), the experience is far from satisfactory. Especially since some big fish are still not on Huawei's store – like Netflix or Outlook. Budding hackers should do much better, and could even find some pretty selling points at all without Google: from superior autonomy to guaranteeing more secure data …
We can feel it, Huawei is putting the means to make its system functional and the results are there. There are already many local apps on its store, from Bpost, Immoweb and Lidl. There is no doubt that within a few months, the Huawei store will be much better stocked than today. In the meantime, we will preferably reserve this model for well-informed consumers who are a bit hackers, for whom a few tweaks are child's play.