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Surviving without the Google Play Store? – A look at life as a Huawei user

The Google Play store is no more — at least for Huawei devices. The ongoing trade war between the US and China has made it so that the app store synonymous with Android is not included within the Huawei family of mobile products (including the latest P40 series), for now.

While there are ways to get the Google Play store on a Huawei phone, it can be a hassle especially for those who aren’t tech-savvy. But Huawei has its own answer to app distribution: AppGallery. 

Huawei AppGallery Guide Featured Image

So does the experience adequately fill the void left out by Google? That is the question we want to answer, to see if people can continue to enjoy the apps they know and love, or can live with the alternatives on offer.

A major part of the focus will be on Huawei’s AppGallery, but if an app is available to download from a first-party source via other means, we will make mention.

Google Apps

Let’s get this out of the way, you won’t be able to find Google-branded on AppGallery. That means no Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive etc. So, if you are already fully immersed in the Google ecosystem, what does Huawei have to keep you on your routine?

For Gmail, Huawei has their native email app pre-installed where you can link up your account. Visually, it is very bland, lacking in comparison to the original Gmail app and it also doesn’t bring over labels you have categorised beforehand. But if you just need something to quickly read and respond to your emails, it functions as intended.

Huawei AppGallery Guide Email

If you are opposed to using Huawei’s native email app, there are several third-party email applications available on AppGallery, though it is fair to say that many of them look suspect (a recurring theme you’d see for the rest of this article). 

One of the more convincing-looking applications I tried out was BlueMail. It is better than the native app, being visually more appealing and also brings over the labels that you’ve saved. However, it still does not reach the proprietary Gmail app’s standard. For whatever reason, emails need an additional click before you view the content. Another feature that it touts also is being able to sync your Google Calendar to its in-built calendar, but it does not work! 

Huawei AppGallery Guide BlueMail

Speaking of Google Calendar, the pre-installed calendar app can sync with your calendar schedule via Huawei ID if you use Gmail. Bizarrely, it does not track public holidays, so you have to manually insert them in yourself. Don’t bother searching for third-party options on AppGallery to see if they would work better, I’ve found more ones tracking women’s periods than actual calendar applications.

Huawei AppGallery Guide Calendar Search

For Google Drive, Google Docs and Google Sheets, there aren’t any good alternatives on offer from Huawei’s AppGallery. You’re stuck to using the mobile browser version of them, which offers limited functionality. 

Social media

Social media is a big part of everybody’s lives, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to predict that you at least have an account on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, if not all. But unfortunately, most of these platforms don’t have their respective apps on Huawei’s AppGallery.

Twitter and Instagram are only accessible via the device’s web browser, and while the mobile web versions for both are still able to do the job, it is a little less snappy compared to their dedicated app counterparts.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a little different. While the AppGallery store does not contain the app itself, it does redirect you to a page where you can download the apk file for it. Once you’ve downloaded and installed the file, the bona fide Facebook app appears right there on your home screen; now you can continue viewing and sharing whatever memes your friends have posted on your timeline. It is strange though why the same could not be done for Instagram since Facebook owns it.

Huawei AppGallery Guide Facebook Install

While the AppGallery does not offer those three platforms in its store, it does have other social media apps to download. TikTok is one of those and a big one at that considering how much it has been trending over the last year. Snapchat is there as well, so now you won’t have to worry about missing any videos from your friends before they expire.

Lastly, while Twitter itself is not available they do have the Chinese equivalent of it, Weibo. If you have an account for it to follow the news out of China or your favourite Chinese stars, rest assured that Huawei has you covered.

Communication

With the number of communication apps available, many have opted to migrate to their preferred platform to chat with friends and family instead of using the default messaging service that comes with every smartphone.

Though WhatsApp continues to be one of the top messaging apps, its popularity has seemingly not guaranteed its inclusion onto Huawei’s AppGallery, at least not officially anyway. Likewise with Facebook, searching WhatsApp on the store will direct you to a page on the web browser to download the apk file for the application. Once installed, WhatsApp appears on your home screen and you can start resuming your chats again.

Huawei AppGallery Guide WhatsApp Install

The situation is the same for Telegram, though it requires some extra steps. Searching the name on the store garners lots of hits for Telegram companion apps, but not the app itself. You’d have to manually venture onto the official site itself to download the apk file before installing it to get the official app. 

Huawei AppGallery Guide TelegramInstall

Discord, unfortunately, does not have the app available on AppGallery or through their website. The site simply redirects you to the Google Play Store website where, as you might expect, installation is not possible.

Those on work communication platforms like Slack might have to be stuck to using the desktop version; it can’t be found on AppGallery and the website doesn’t provide a direct download to getting an apk file for easy installation.

The messaging apps that Huawei does have officially within its catalogue are unsurprisingly Chinese-based. Both WeChat and LINE are available in AppGallery to download for people who use those platforms.

Video Streaming

We all love a good video to watch when we want to pass the time. The amount of video content available across several platforms also gives us a great variety of options to choose from depending on our mood. But how does Huawei stack up?

With YouTube being part of Google’s family of services, it is no surprise that you won’t be able to find the popular video streaming service on AppGallery. Instead, you will be guided to the web browser version when you do search it on the store. It does sync up with your Google account immediately though through Huawei ID, so there won’t be any need to go through the login process manually.

What’s more interesting is the YouTube app alternatives I found on the store. There is a swarm of YouTube downloading apps on the store, which while mostly touted as a video downloading service, can also be used as a pseudo-YouTube app on its own. Most of these apps are basically knock-offs from each other, and that means that they share the same functionality.

Huawei AppGallery Guide YouTube alternatives

Aside from being able to view YouTube videos on the app itself, you can also minimise the video to a small window, just like in the original YouTube app. Captions and adding to playlists are also features available to the user.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature they have is being able to continue the video in the background, almost like a music player. It’s a feature that YouTube asks you to pay for in their app, but here, you are freely able to use it. 

Huawei AppGallery Guide YouTube alternative background playback

The only real downside to these apps is the seamless navigation aspect. Despite having the option of importing your subscriptions over, they aren’t easily accessible to view compared to YouTube’s app and mobile browser. Instead, your ‘home’ screen is a list of trending videos. If you want to see the latest videos from your subscriptions, you’ll have to navigate to another tab before clicking on the channel one by one just to view them; there isn’t a way to view all at once.

Netflix users are completely out of luck on Huawei though. Not only is the app unavailable on the AppGallery store, but it is also impossible to watch anything if you were to go to Netflix’s website on the web browser; you have no choice but to get the official app if you want to watch shows on your Huawei smartphone.

Huawei AppGallery Guide Netflix

At the very least, the situation isn’t as bad for people who follow game streamers. Popular game streaming platforms Twitch and Mixer may not have their dedicated apps on the AppGallery store, but you can still use their mobile versions on the web browser to watch your favourite streamers.

The only video streaming option that AppGallery does have is YouKu. While originally a YouTube clone for China during its inception in the mid-2000s, it has grown to become almost like Netflix; you can find various movies and anime proudly showcased on the home screen. Of course, being a China-based site, everything is in Mandarin so do take note.

Music

Music is also a big part of what we use on our smartphones. And now likewise with video streaming, music streaming is quickly becoming people’s go-to option to listening to their favourite artists and songs.

Spotify is probably the most popular music streaming service among users, but it seems not popular enough for Huawei since it does not appear on its app store. You can still use the web browser version of it to stream music on your phone; it even plays in the background as well. This mobile web version is clunky though, making it hard to find playlists if you’ve got many saved.

Huawei AppGallery Guide Spotify Web

Perhaps Huawei is channelling their inner millennial, rebelling against the popular option and choosing the lesser-known brands, because that is exactly what happened for TIDAL and Deezer.

Despite Spotify having a vastly larger user base compared to the two, both TIDAL and Deezer are somehow on Huawei’s AppGallery instead. As alternatives, they are decent options considering they have more songs available compared to Spotify and offer identical pricing for their premium version.

Do note though that TIDAL does not have a free version on offer, you’d need to purchase the premium version to listen to music but you can always use a free trial to test out the service first.

Shopping

Online shopping has become such a big deal in the world, so much so that now you can even do it on the go through smartphone apps. Huawei seemingly knows the importance of this and has included a healthy list of options for people.

You’d be glad to know that the big e-commerce platforms are available on Huawei’s AppGallery. That’s right — Shopee, Lazada and Qoo10 all have dedicated mobile apps readily accessible for your online shopping needs.

Huawei AppGallery Guide Shopee App

Popular community online marketplace Carousell also has their app on the store, so you can get right on to buying or selling to your fellow citizens through the app.

If you’re looking for clothing-specialised online shopping platforms, Zalora also has their mobile app on the AppGallery store, but that seems to be the extent of it. Other popular ones like Asos aren’t available.

Banking and cashless payment

There are many different banks in Singapore that people use, so is Huawei able to satiate our banking needs? For the most part, yes.

The good news is that most of the local banks in Singapore can be found on AppGallery. DBS, OCBC and UOB all have their respective apps on the platform POSB is missing from the line-up but since they are part DBS, you can still effectively access your account from the DBS app.

Huawei AppGallery Guide UOB Mighty App

On the apps themselves. UOB and OCBC have their official UOB Mighty Singapore and OCBC SG Mobile Banking on AppGallery, though the latter requires a little more digging to find. Searching it will only redirect you to the web app version; to get the official app, you have to find it under the editor’s recommended list for Singapore. 

What is more perplexing instead is DBS’s version of the app on the store. Instead of getting the usual DBS digibank SG app, it is the DBS ideal Mobile app that is found instead. It generally has the same functionality as the digibank app but with a different layout, so users might have to re-learn navigating the app. An odd choice indeed.

Other popular banking platforms that can be found on the AppGallery store are MayBank, Standard Chartered and Bank of China; all using their official apps. Citibank and HSBC, unfortunately, aren’t available yet.

Those who utilise the cashless payment have limited options. People frequenting the OCBC PayAnyone or DBSPayLah! apps will be disappointed to know that they aren’t available on AppGallery. None of FavePay, Google Pay and Razer Pay are on the store as well.

Your options instead are Singtel Dash and GrabPay, though there is more hassle involved for Grab. Searching for Grab garners no results on AppGallery for some reason. Instead, you have to go to their website on the web browser whereby a small pop-up will then redirect to the app page on AppGallery. It is a confusing implementation, to say the least.

Huawei AppGallery Guide Grab

As evidenced by some notable exclusions in its app store, Huawei’s AppGallery is still a work in progress. That is not to say that users won’t be able to cope without these apps, many of them have working mobile versions to fall back on. But not all will be pleased with the experience found on mobile browsers.

There are some very competent alternatives on offer though, opening a new world of apps to discover which has made digging through AppGallery an enlightening experience. Now might be a little early if you want to use your favourite apps on a Huawei phone, but perhaps take the time to look through the app store, you might just find some gems.

Have any questions you’d like us to answer? Write in: [email protected]

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Russell Matthew Loh

Yes I have two names. no I'm not Eurasian. Self-professed David Fincher fan.

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