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9 June 2021

Should I buy a Huawei mobile phone?

Newer Huawei phones are missing Google services. Find out what this means for you and if Huawei is still a smartphone brand to consider.
Alice Williams
Huawei mobiles

It’s hard to imagine how a global trade deal can affect something as small as the phone in your pocket, but that’s exactly what’s happened following the fallout between the US and China. 

In May 2019, Huawei was put on an entity list by the US government, essentially banning US companies, including Google, from doing business with it.

Read on to find out what a life without Google means, what the alternatives are and how we treat Huawei phones that we review. 

Want to see what else is on test? Follow the link for all our mobile phone reviews.

What happened with Huawei and Google?

The souring relationship between China and the US came to a head in 2019. This followed years of rumours over Huawei’s potential links to the Chinese government and suspicions over its role in the 5G rollout.

Huawei and Google timeline

  • May 15, 2019 - Huawei is added to the entity list by the US government. This means that any US companies wanting to do business with it have to obtain government approval.
  • May 19, 2019 - Google releases a statement of its intent to comply with the government order.
  • August 9, 2019 - Huawei launches Harmony OS, its own operating system. Huawei currently still uses Android in its smartphones, but it’s expected that Harmony will roll out to phones fairly soon.
  • August 19, 2019 - The original 30-day reprieve of the ban is extended. It ended up being extended three consecutive times.
  • June 2019 - Huawei issues an unsuccessful lawsuit against the US Department of Commerce.
  • April 1 2020 - Ban takes full effect. From now, all new Huawei devices don't have access to Google services. Older models remained unaffected.
  • November 2020 - Huawei sells its Honor brand, stating ongoing tensions with the US as the main reason.

Which Google apps are Huawei no longer allowed to use?

Any Huawei devices released after the ban took effect are unable to access Google-owned apps, or apps that rely on elements of Google's software. These include:

  • Google Drive (including Docs, Sheets and Slides)
  • Google Photos
  • Google Home
  • Google Maps
  • Google Calendar
  • Gmail
  • Google Hangouts
  • YouTube

 These services should still be accessible via your browser, although functionality may be limited.

Google’s reach doesn’t only extend to its own apps. Google APIs (application programming interfaces) provide the infrastructure behind many popular apps, including most major banks, catch-up TV services and navigation apps. You may find that some apps keep crashing when they try to load, or they refuse to download at all.

Why is Which? no longer allowing Huawei phones to be Best Buys?

Huawei p20 mobile 475585
In November 2020, we asked 1,012 Which? members about how much they rely on Google Services. More than half answered ‘I couldn’t live without it’ in relation to at least one Google app. And two thirds of members surveyed wouldn’t buy the otherwise perfect phone if it was lacking their preferred banking, navigation or TV streaming app.

We also conducted a lab test of a Huawei phone without Google services and found some major issues with setting up the phone, installing apps, receiving notifications and using map apps. For these reasons, we've decided not to endorse any Huawei phone without Google services, regardless of how well it performs in our tests.

However, for a small proportion of people, Google services aren't important and wouldn't affect their decision to buy a phone. This is why we won’t change the scores the phones receive in our test lab. You can still compare every Huawei phone’s hardware with all the other phones live on our site.

So is it still worth buying a Huawei phone? We think that there are too many compromises on usability, but ultimately the decision is up to you. Click through to compare all the Huawei phones we’ve tested.

Does Huawei have its own alternative apps?

There’s a rather pared-down offering on the Huawei App Gallery compared with the Apple App Store or Google Play. Huawei does have its own email app and a functional, if basic, Calendar.

When it comes to maps, it’s not just Google Maps that’s missing. Lots of navigation services, including CityMapper, use Google APIs in the background, so they won’t work. The Here Maps app is probably your best bet.

Over time, Huawei is likely to gain access to more fully featured apps, making the brand's Google-less phones a more appealing prospect. We'll monitor the situation and might make Huawei phones Best Buys in the future if the situation improves. 

Are there security concerns with Huawei phones?

Huawei confirmed that its phones released before the ban came into effect will still be eligible for Google security updates, until they fall off the (usually two-year) update cycle.

Post-ban handsets will also receive security updates, although they will be pushed out by Huawei itself.

In our reviews we flag phones that have fallen off the update list, so you always know whether your phone is secure and safe to use. Go to our guide on mobile phone security to find out more.

What is Petal Search?

Petal Search is a handy tool on Huawei phones, allowing you to quickly pull out information you need from your email, calendar or apps.

However, it also searches for apps missing from the Huawei App Gallery, which is where you can quickly run into problems. Not all of the results it throws up are for the official versions of apps from legitimate app stores – sometimes it brings up APK files (the Android version of a Windows .exe file – used to run the app) from third-party sites.

Although it might be tempting to fill in the gaps in your app library, doing it in this way involves side-loading – a manual way of unofficially transferring a file onto a device. We don’t recommend side-loading apps or downloading any program files onto your phone. If apps don’t go through the proper channels, they miss crucial screening for malware, and they could potentially put your phone at risk.