How’s this for irony? Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro is arguably the world’s best Android smartphone, but it lacks the core and also-arguably vital ingredient for most buyers – the ability to run most Android apps.
Launched overnight and due for local release in the next few months (price TBA, and only in the dual-SIM 4G version – no 5G, alas), the Mate 30 Pro could even turn out to be the best smartphone you won’t buy.
The Mate 30 Pro couples a 4200mAh battery with a super-efficient Kirin 990 processor to deliver more than two days of solid usage plus fast-charging – ideal for the business traveller on the go. But the Mate 30 Pro can’t run Google Maps, Uber, Android Auto or the apps of most airlines, or Google Pay or PayPal or most banking and card apps.
Huawei has blessed the Mate 30 Pro with a large, lush and incredibly vivid 6.53-inch (16.5cm) curved display which wraps around the edges like an infinity pool, making the phone seamlessly all-screen – but it can’t run the YouTube or Netflix apps.
The rear panel camera bump packs a pair of insane 40MP Leica lenses (one for video and ultra-wide snaps at 18mm, the other for standard 27mm shots) plus an 8MP telephoto lens with 3x optimal zoom and 30x digital zoom, plus a front-facing 32MP ‘super selfie’ camera.
And it captures an extraordinary amount of detail even in low-light shots, thanks to claimed "dSLR-level image noise reduction" circuitry and AI smarts.
But the Mate 30 Pro can’t run Google Photos, Instagram, Photoshop Express or probably any other handy photo app you’re currently using.
The large responsive screen, 16-core graphics processor and on-screen touch controls would make the Mate 30 Pro a superb companion for a little gaming on the go. But – you can see this one coming – it can’t download any games from the Google app store.
Don’t blame Huawei for creating a cutting-edge Android phone which can’t run most Android apps.
A White House ban on US companies supplying goods or services to the Chinese tech colossus means that while the Mate 30 Pro runs on Google’s free open-source Android operating system, Huawei can’t add any of the core Google apps which most users rely on every day.
Can replacement apps replace Google?
And while there are equivalents for email, managing your calendar and even GPS-based maps, the more you rely on Google – including synchronising your desktop and smartphone Chrome browsers, or sending Google Maps locations from your desktop to your phone – the harder your life will be in Huawei’s Google-less Mate 30 Pro.
Even more crucially, this ban extends to the Google Play store which is the source for all other Android apps, from big-hitters such as Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and Slack to utilities and games.
It also impacts apps which rely on underlying Google services (such as using Google Maps for location data, or app notifications via Google’s Play Services foundation).
“We didn't want to do this,” says Huawei CEO Richard Yu. “We were forced to do this. We have a good relationship with Google, but the US government has forced us to do this and we have no other option.”
The company has its own app store – the Huawei App Gallery – but to date this has been geared towards the Chinese audience of its home market. Yu says the company will invest US$1 billion to encourage developers to create Huawei App Gallery versions of their Android apps, but this will take time, and there’s no guarantee of which apps will make the journey from GoogleWorld to HuaweiWorld.
Some power users and propeller-heads will experiment with ways to ‘sideload’ Google app but it’s doubtful the pain will be worth the gain, especially as Google itself has been cracking down on those back-channel workarounds.
For now, the best case scenario for anybody who’d look longingly at the Mate 30 Pro will be to wait and hope that the US Government’s Huawei ban is lifted or at least made less onerous and more smartphone-friendly.
A Huawei Australia spokesperson tells Executive Traveller that if those planets align, the Mate 30 Pro would be upgraded in around 48 hours with an over-the-air software update adding full Google support including access to the Google Play app store.
Should that happen, the Mate 30 Pro will prove a smartphone worth waiting for.