If you are heavily dependent on Google services for your business or personal use, new Huawei and Honor smartphones will cause you difficulties. Nevertheless, you can use or replace Gmail, Google Maps, Hangouts Meet, Google Calendar, and Co. How to do that, I explain here.
In the first installment, Huawei without Google: is it actually workable?, I showed a gratifyingly long list of apps that continued to run smoothly when switching to a Google-less Honor smartphone. A few, however, caused problems during operation. Here's how I fixed them.
- Apps that I had to replace with a web app
- Alternatives to known apps
- Apps and features you will lose
- Basecamp 3
- Google Hangouts
- Google Hangouts Meet
If apps do not start at all, it is often due to the persistent programming of Google services. Some of them you can simply use as web apps. Without any problems, you can do this with...
Others, however, you will have to cheat. Because some websites recognize that you open them with a smartphone. Then they suggest you download the app from the Google Play Store instead. Don't let that discourage you.
In the pre-installed browser, you can set single URLs (like https://hangouts.google.com) that they will always be opened in the desktop version. Afterward, the services will start in the usual way. Unfortunately, using the desktop website on a smartphone is extremely complicated due to the small fonts and buttons. Furthermore, you will not receive any notifications. Actually web notifications do exist, but the Huawei browser did not want to allow them. Anyway, the video chat app Hangouts Meet worked perfectly with both the camera and microphone.
You can place links to the web apps on the home screen. This way it feels like you have actually installed the app. Unfortunately, the default browser opens a new tab every time you do this, but the Firefox browser (available as "Fennec" in F-Droid) solves this much more elegantly by loading web apps in separate instances and thus avoiding those duplications. I use Twitter exclusively in this form now.
Google does not want to play ball
Regarding Hangouts, I have to say that the move is a disaster for various reasons. Fortunately, Hangouts will be shut down soon, so the grief is limited. However, I would have wished for a third party client. It was in the making in the form of HangupsDroid, but was discontinued a year ago. A log-in is no longer possible. The workaround with the Hangouts web app explained above only works with the desktop mode trick. So you won't get notifications about new messages anymore.
- Google Assistant ➣ Alexa (Amazon Store), AntennaPod (F-Droid)
- Google Calendar ➣ Business Calendar 2 (AppGallery)
- Google Maps ➣ Maps.me (AppGallery)
- Gmail ➣ E-mail (pre-installed)
- Joey ➣ Reddit (APK Pure)
- Threema ➣ Threema (new purchase on Threema.ch)
I had used Google Assistant mainly to listen to the news podcasts ("Okay Google, play news"). Alexa can do the same thing, so I tried his app. But it shows considerable problems with the Honor 9X Pro. Sometimes the playback freezes, sometimes streams don't load, other times I can't resume a stream after the pause. In no case, can I control the playback and jump to a certain position in the stream. I needed a real podcast player. AntennaPod from F-Droid is the perfect replacement. I am really glad about this new discovery.
Alexa, on the other hand, is a good replacement for the smart home control, if you had relied on Google so far. Of course, for data protection reasons, it is recommended to go for open source solutions like hass.io or OpenHAB. However, their voice control is not that far developed.
Fortunately, we can replace Google Calendar with the Business Calendar 2 developed in Berlin. There you log in with your Google account (confirmation in two steps is no problem) and within seconds all your appointments are synchronized - of course in both directions. If you create an appointment, your colleagues will also receive it.
Google Calendar is actually not a team player
If your job requires you to use Google Calendar as an online service, you should actually consider using another provider. Google does not use the calendar standard CalDAV (or the contacts standard CardDAV). This massively limits the choice of compatible calendar apps and provides a kind of vendor lock-in.
I use Google Maps primarily for cycling. Maps.me proved to be a suitable replacement, but there are other alternatives. Here Maps is probably more interesting for car drivers. I haven't noticed much of Huawei's supposed TomTom cooperation yet. That will probably come later.
The original Google Maps is available at APKPure and works surprisingly well. You just can't log in and there is a Google Play warning when you try to find your location. But you can ignore it and still continue with an accurate location.
I was able to set up Gmail in the pre-installed email app without any difficulties. Also, the verification in two steps was no hurdle, as it is often the case with Google log-in in third-party apps. The app only loads a few dozen emails per mailbox. I was still able to search older emails because the app shows a "search on server" button below empty search results. This worked surprisingly well.
From the list of sample apps mentioned in the first part I could not replace the following ones:
So I would have to look for a replacement for the time tracking app or find another solution.
The notification system is broken
I also lost a lot of functionality. Almost all notifications fell silent. Only occasional emails and - with much delay - new Telegram messages made my smartphone vibrate. Otherwise, there was silence. eBay auctions passed, Slack messages remained unanswered and appointments from the Google calendar took place without me until someone called me annoyed.
But this is also due to the aggressive energy management of EMUI. This stops all background activity of apps, but this is exactly what the notification management does. Without Google's Firebase or an equivalent from Huawei as a mediator, each app would have to ask its headquarters individually if there is anything new. But since this consumes a lot of energy, Huawei software kills such processes, much to the chagrin of those seeking your attention.
So Huawei should immediately set up a central system that puts an end to this usability flaw. Ideally, it should be 1:1 compatible with Google's Firebase interface, so app developers don't have to customize apps. When such an app is then installed on a Huawei smartphone, it automatically accesses HMS. Energy is saved, messages arrive quickly, everyone is happy. Bonus goal: This new system is open-source, decentralized and subject to public monitoring.
Google Cast is missing
If you have a FireTV stick, a Chromecast or cast-capable speakers, you won't find a cast-button in streaming apps with Google-less smartphones. This is annoying in that some Wi-Fi speakers can be easily connected via Google Cast as a multi-room system. Such speakers could be replaced by Alexa-compatible ones.
There is an app called LocalCast (AppGallery), where you can - as the name suggests - send local streams from your smartphone to Google Cast receivers. The app also attempts to redirect web streams to cast recipients via the Share menu, URL input, and in-app browser. The cast-function via a simple button in streaming apps like Netflix cannot replace this.
Contactless payments are not yet possible
Huawei should immediately start looking for a partnership in contactless payment. I am looking at Wirecard and PayPal as potential partners, but I am happy to be surprised. Google Pay has a big advantage thanks to extensive bank integration plus PayPal trick. Mountain View in neophobic Europe has struggled to gain this advantage. If Huawei wants to catch up here, the Chinese would have to make the banks an offer they cannot refuse.
Many apps outside the sample
In a separate article, I had already tested the user experience with a deliberately de-googled smartphone. Especially car-sharing apps, many games, and some streaming apps only worked with tricks. In the third part of this series, I would have to find out if the MicroG framework alleviates the Google dependency of those apps and if I would be able to install Google Apps on the Honor 9X Pro afterward. That would be the boss battle of this article trilogy, so to speak.
In the first article, I concluded with the words: "Everything works somehow. And it tends to get easier." In fact, the fight against old habits is connected with various joyful new discoveries and aha-experiences. However, I am eager for knowledge and especially in the field of smartphones.
I can understand if someone doesn't want to put up this doggedness for a device that is actually supposed to make life easier. Therefore I hope all the more that the hints of this article series will help you and lower the threshold a bit. For further questions and suggestions please use the comments box below.