It’s not the features Huawei has packed into its latest phone that has arrested everyone’s attention – 5G mobile technology, a four-lens camera and a wraparound screen – but rather, those it has left out.
The continuing trade war between the US and China has placed the firm on President Trump’s backlist, which means it is denied access to the usual Google apps on which the Android system relies. These include its maps, app store, Gmail and YouTube.
Instead, Huawei has included its own “app gallery” and a suite of other programs to handle email and all the essentials. It will also be possible to bypass the usual channels and “sideload” some official Google apps, albeit with some compromises to their functionality.
Does this matter? One email client is largely the same as any other, after all.
The short answer is that it might. If, for instance, you want the phone to access your business account, you might find it unable to penetrate the Google “security profile” that protects it. Connectivity with your other devices may also be compromised.
If this were a £100 handset, that might not matter. But the Huawei Mate 30 Pro will cost around £970 without 5G, and £1,050 with it. That’s if you can get it at all, since availability in the UK is likely to be through unofficial channels. For the money, you get 8GB of memory and a colossal 256GB of storage, plus a circular array of rear cameras including a 3x optical zoom lens and a depth sensor which taken together are capable of producing stunning stills and video. But you may need to find somewhere other than Google Photos to store them all.
Huawei also says its 5G technology is faster than that of even the Samsung Galaxy S10. Not only that, but it can support two 5G Sim cards at once, on different networks.
There is no doubt it’s a stunning piece of kit. And in its home markets in the far east, where Google apps are not universal, it will knock the competition for six.
Here, though, Huawei faces the challenge of selling a premium product which, for all its excellence, does not deliver much of what potential buyers will expect.
The product’s launch event three weeks ago, ahead of its appearance on the shelves, raised more questions than it answered about what exactly the phone will and won’t do. Huawei had been widely expected, at the very least, to reassure potential buyers about its functionality – but as it was, Google was the elephant in the room, its name not even invoked until well into the proceedings. A glimpse at Huawei’s app gallery revealed further omissions, Instagram and WhatsApp among them.
Huawei executives said that shop staff would be able to assist buyers in sideloading certain apps – but that’s no use if you’re buying online.
Sideloading is actually not difficult – it’s much the same as installing software on a PC – but it’s inherently less secure than using the official channels.
Significantly for Huawei’s existing user base, the launch event raised questions about its ability to support its other models through their lifetime. Those that were on sale before the Google ban remain fully functional and are continuing to get updates through the Play Store – but there isn’t a cast iron guarantee that the situation won’t change.
It is entirely possible that within the lifetime of the Mate 30 Pro, the trade dispute will be resolved and Google Play reinstated, and of course the phone is perfectly usable with Google or without. But the bottom line is that without it, no-one will recommend you to buy.