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Huawei without Google: is it actually workable?

AndroidPIT honor 9x pro app gallery
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So you have decided to pick up a new Honor or Huawei device because you love the hardware specifications and its ecosystem, although there is the relatively unknown land of living with an Android-powered device sans Google apps. In fact, if you were to use the Phone Clone app to migrate from your G-suite enabled Huawei/Honor device to the new handset, there is no guarantee that all of the previously downloaded or purchased apps from the Play Store will work. I have spent some time with a large number of apps to navigate this tricky labyrinth in order to compile a number of issues that you might run into, and how to solve them. 

Having used the Honor 9X Pro for a fortnight now, I realized that it is possible to live with a Google-less Android device. While many might recoil at such a possibility, I am pleased to report that I faced far fewer frustrations than originally anticipated. I am still able to use some of my older apps, although it required me to do a little extra sleuthing by looking them up in a different app store (very rarely will you find it on the Huawei AppGallery). For instance, I can always replace those with a web app, or use an interesting alternative that fulfills the same function for the task I had in mind. 

Time and again, this proved to be hugely a pleasant user experience. Of course, this would mean spending a fair amount of time on your part, which is a premium for some. Now that I have gotten my hands dirty, let us dive into the different stages. 

Inventory: These were the apps in my list

Prior to reviewing the Honor 9X Pro, I spent time with the Huawei Nova 5T (alongside Google services). This proved to be a useful starting point as it allowed me to maximize the Huawei Phone Clone tool to its full capability when I had to migrate to the higher-end Honor 9X Pro. Apps and the corresponding data will hopefully be transferred from the old to the new smartphone in double-quick time.

The following apps were part of my test and therefore serve as a sample for the average power user:

  • Airbnb
  • Basecamp 3
  • Bring!
  • Coronica
  • eBay
  • eBay classifieds
  • EufyHome (Smart Home Control)
  • Feedly
  • Cheapskate
  • Google Assistant
  • Hangouts
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Maps
  • (Hangouts) Meet
  • Gmail
  • ING Banking
  • Joey (Reddit app)
  • LastPass
  • LinkedIn
  • Nuki
  • PayPal
  • Personio
  • ProtonMail
  • Signal
  • Slack
  • Spotify
  • Swipetimes
  • Syncthing
  • Telegram
  • Threema
  • Trainline
  • winSIM Service
  • Zoom

Apps that just keep working

I was able to transfer the following apps successfully either via Phone Clone from the older handset to the new Honor 9X Pro, and for those apps that did not make the jump, they can be downloaded and used as usual:

  • Airbnb (Phone Clone)
  • Coronica (Phone Clone)
  • eBay Classifieds (Phone Clone)
  • EufyHome (smart home control, Aurora Store)
  • Feedly (website)
  • Cheapskate (Phone Clone)
  • ING Banking (Aurora Store)
  • LastPass (Aurora Store)
  • LinkedIn (Phone Clone)
  • Nuki (Phone Clone)
  • PayPal (Phone Clone)
  • Personio (Phone Clone)
  • ProtonMail (website)
  • Signal (APK Pure)
  • Slack (Aurora Store)
  • Spotify (Aurora Store)
  • Syncthing (F-Droid)
  • Telegram (F-Droid)
  • Threema (Website)
  • Trainline (Phone Clone)
  • winSIM Service (Phone Clone)
  • Zoom (Phone Clone)

In the AppGallery, Airbnb is as a "Quick App". A peek at the official documentation reveals that this was set up to be Huawei's counterpart to Google's "Instant Apps". It must be noted that the version installed via Phone Clone or Play Store alternatives works perfectly.

In the AppGallery itself, the Miser, Telegram and Trainline apps were available for direct download. The Spotify entry required me to download from APK Pure. If I searched for Google Maps, the extremely capable alternative known as appeared.

huawei wo google push error
Without Google services, be prepared to suffer from constant notifications. / © NextPit

ING's banking app obtained from the Aurora Store works perfectly. It is only when I try to activate notifications for bank transfers in the settings does an error message appear. This is attributed to the app's reluctance to access the GMS core that is missing on the Honor 9X Pro, as the HMS core is not recognized by the app.

ProtonMail behaves in a similar manner and warns me every time I open the app, informing me that I will not be notified of incoming e-mails. The same warning will also show up when I download the app from the official website.

For Telegram, however, I use the variant from F-Droid. This has been optimized for use without Google services as it informs you of that via a notification. Hence, the app remains active in the background and will check the server for new messages at regular intervals.

Signal also offers its app on its website for APK download. Unfortunately, the version available there is often older than the Play Store version. When you migrate your chats to the new smartphone, an error message will pop up, informing you that the backup is from a newer version and thus cannot be restored. The quick workaround? The latest version can be downloaded from APK Pure.

Conclusion: Is it worth the hassle?

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. However, just how much inventive talent can a smartphone manufacturer trust among its users? Android has a history of being more complicated to use compared to iOS. However, just as there are two sides to a coin, so too, does this complication appeal to hobbyists who express their appreciation by participating in its development. It is a license to say, "I can do whatever I want with the device."

Just how much drive for discovery can Huawei and Honor expect from their new customers? Speaking as a relatively experienced smartphone user, the missing Play Store proved to be a medium-sized challenge. If I were to place myself in a new customer's shoes who has to manually download and update commonplace apps such as WhatsApp, I would end up being very frustrated and disappointed.

Things get even more complicated whenever Google services are the de facto standard used in professional and private circles. In the second part of this series of articles, I will describe how you are able to continue using Google services such as the calendar, Hangouts, or Gmail as web services; in addition to great alternatives for popular apps. There is one thing that I look forward to, is when everything will eventually work out in the end in its own, special way, and the journey gets less bumpy to boot.

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Eric Ferrari-Herrmann

Eric Ferrari-Herrmann
Senior Editor

Eric has been with AndroidPIT since 2014. He’s writing articles and reviews for the German website. Topics are mostly privacy and new technology but there's also the occasional piece on environmental sustainability.

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  • 1
    Jusstone Apr 19, 2020 Link to comment

    All this time I've been redirecting to anything but Google: microG, vanced and invidious and ROMS and roots. Open street maps too. I don't like Google because of the lack of privacy and lack of respect given. So, how is Hauwei better in regards to privacy and respect of the users? If it is better than if I get a new phone that might be what I get. I doubt it but maybe. Anything but Google , Apple or Microsoft.

  • 1
    Anonymous Apr 13, 2020 Link to comment

    Another alternative to Google maps is Here Maps. It can be installed from app gallery.

  • 3
    Kevin Apr 12, 2020 Link to comment

    It is not even an issue not having GMS. It is actually preferable not to have it if you care about privacy. I have installed /e/ from e foundation on my phone which is privacy centruc ungoogled android. It is great to know that Google cannot collect my location data or emails.

  • marco sarli 39
    marco sarli
    • Admin
    Apr 11, 2020 Link to comment

    Life outside the Google universe is possible. That is good news


  • 49
    storm Apr 11, 2020 Link to comment

    The app that would really make or break it for me is Evernote. Joplin is an interesting open source replacement but its mobile operation isn't good enough for me yet. They're on the right path though.

    Signal would be the other app though there are more alternatives there.

    Sorinmarco sarli

    • 49
      storm Apr 12, 2020 Link to comment

      Where Evernote is planning on releasing a Linux client this year, a Linux phone like Pinephone or Librem 5 become much more realistic options for me too.

  • 11
    Chris Laarman Apr 10, 2020 Link to comment

    Congratulations! You have also given me hope to put my two MediaPad M6 to good use.


    • 11
      Chris Laarman Apr 12, 2020 Link to comment

      Addition after one day:

      I have just done a Phone Copy from my Huawei Mate 20 Pro to one of my Huawei MediaPad M6. It had me update the tablet to Android 10 first.

      It's a mixed bag. Some apps seemed to have an uphill struggle to start, and some (of the few that I tried) didn't come past starting, like Google Maps. Spark did work, but my e-mail accounts (all six with American companies) kept asking me to log in again.
      Google Play Services needed to be updated to work - but no way to do so, and it was up to date on the "old" phone.

      At least Concepts worked, and let me use pressure sensitivity of the M-Pen Lite.

      Apart from that, the smoothness of the user interface disappointed. And in some cases I couldn't avoid the Chinese keyboard. In tablet mode, that is, and I may need to develop more schizofrenia to master the schism between tablet mode and (with the keyboard cover attached) Windows-like desktop mode.

      I intend to "Phone Copy" this M6 to the other in due course.


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