I bought a Huawei phone with no Google services – how I got on

I bought a Huawei phone with no Google services – how I got on

Last September, Huawei launched the nova 8i in South Africa. The 8i is the pared-back version of the nova 8 and is marketed as a phone that’s perfect for content creators. And I got myself one.

On paper, it’s a great device: it has an excellent camera system, ample storage (128GB, paired with 6GB or 8GB of RAM) and a fast-charging battery that lasts all day.

I’ve been using the nova 8i for almost a month now and it’s certainly one of the best midrange smartphones in the market. It comes with Android 10 and EMUI 11 (Huawei’s skin on top of Android), has a good selection of software and has sleek design around its 6.7-inch screen.

The phone, which retails for R6 299, has a midrange Qualcomm SM6115 Snapdragon 662 system on chip, which plays games with no problem and offers excellent power consumption.

There’s just one (rather big) catch: like many other modern Huawei smartphones, it doesn’t have access to Google Mobile Services. That means no Play store, no Google Maps, no Google search. You get the picture.

The sanctions imposed by the Donald Trump administration on Huawei have continued under Joe Biden. The pressure on Huawei has been immense.

The sanctions haven’t stopped Huawei from selling its products in markets such as Europe, Africa and the Middle East, but the phones are somewhat crippled without access to Google Mobile Services.

I bought a Huawei phone with no Google services – how I got on

Sideloading APKs

This means apps such as Chrome, Google Docs and YouTube, as well as social media apps such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, are not immediately available to consumers like they are on most other smartphones.

Instead, installing them requires using a browser to download/sideload them (or finding them in the official Huawei search engine Petal Search). You can send them to yourself using apps such as Shareit, too.

Because new Huawei phones run the open-source version of Android, consumers can get these apps by installing their APK (Android Package). But this is not without security risks.

APK is the file format used by the Android operating system. But installing them outside the Play store means bypassing Google’s security measures. The phone will still perform a basic security check when installing an APK and, if no harmful files are found, the app will be ready for installation within seconds. On Huawei phones, APKs can be installed using Huawei AppGallery, the company’s alternative to the Play store.

While many apps are available on AppGallery, apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Netflix are not. These can be found in Petal Search and sideloaded. Google apps are suggested as APK apps and are easily linked on AppGallery but are not available for immediate download, which makes getting them a bit of a process.

The other downside of not having the Google Play store is that keeping up with app updates is much more difficult. You must go onto AppGallery (if the app was installed there) to check for updates, or – and this is much more painful – use the browser or Petal Search to check for updates manually.

The Huawei nova 8i ticks a lot of boxes and is hugely impressive as a midrange phone. But everyday consumers will not be happy about the lack of Play store support, especially if they are already locked into the Google ecosystem – as most are.

If it was not for the lack of Google services, the nova 8i would be an easy sell. As it stands, it’s difficult to recommend — from both a practical and security perspective. Which really is a great pity.– © 2022 NewsCentral Media