I spent a year using a phone with no Google Mobile Services. Is it worth it?

Edwin Chabuka Avatar

I used a phone with no Google mobile services for a year so I try and answer the question of whether or not it is possible. I’ll be honest when I started this I never thought I would survive a whole year, and if I did make it, I expected it to either be a resounding yes or no. But it is actually more nuanced than that.

Huawei trade ban 2019

Ok, so a little back story. Huawei was put under trade sanctions by the US in 2019 and one of the effects of this was that they were denied Google Mobile Services. Google Mobile Services are essentially background software features in Android that make it very easy for Android services to seamlessly be integrated into 3rd party apps. An example is a ride-hailing app like Hwindi getting access to Google Maps for directions instead of Hwindi developing its own maps and keeping them up to date.

Since I am a stubborn Huawei fanatic, I went in head first and bought a Huawei Mate 40 Pro. A very high-end Huawei smartphone that does not support Google Mobile Services. And the first thing you do with a new phone is download all your favorite apps. Without GMS you don’t have access to Google Play Store. So how do you get your apps?

Getting some of your apps

Huawei already had its own app store called Huawei App Gallery so this became the default place to get your apps. You can get most of the popular apps on it like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok but beyond these, things start to get tricky.

Huawei’s app gallery is severely understocked and to further add to the shortage of apps, some mainstream apps were actually disappearing from the Huawei App Gallery. The ones I remember vividly are Spotify, Zoom, and Duolingo. These are just some of the apps I use, I am sure there were plenty of other apps that went the way of the ghost.

3rd party app store and Petal search

Huawei was aware of this and they developed 2 very interesting workarounds. Workaround number one involved 3rd party app stores. How this worked is that, for the popular apps that are not available in the App Gallery, Huawei will give the option to download or update the app but via a link to a 3rd party app store like APK Pure. So when you click on the app to download it or update it, you will be clicking a link that will take you to the 3rd party store where the app is located. 

Workaround number 2 is a Huawei app called petal search. This one has a better collection of apps that it can natively download and update. But it still does require a 3rd party app store for some apps just like the App Gallery.

Local apps are a nightmare

The situation was very much a disaster when it came to local apps. They are not popular enough to be listed even on 3rd party app stores so finding your local bank’s app or local ride-hailing app was near impossible. Some of the sites I ended up downloading these apps did not feel safe at all. This sideloading process is also not recommended because you may actually download a virus instead of the app you intended to download in the 1st place.

Some apps just won’t work

A good number of Android apps rely on Google Mobile Services for them to work correctly. So the sort of apps that you will find and download within Huawei’s App Gallery are apps that do not require Google Mobile Services for them to run. Spoiler alert. Is a very short list.

Local bank apps, local food delivery apps, and Google apps all did not work. They would all give the error “This app cannot run without google play services”. Some apps would even be dramatic and fail to install. Which then was complicated when it came time for me to test out an app that relied on Google Mobile Services.

You can get Google Services working. But there is a catch

There is however a solution for about 95% of the problems arising from a lack of GMS. It’s an app called Gbox which is a virtual machine running on top of the phone’s OS. If you have ever used Bluestacks, it’s the exact same concept. If you have not used bluestacks then let me describe Gbox for you.

It’s an app that operates like a virtual smartphone running on your actual phone. It will mimic a random smartphone with GMS giving you access to the google play store which will allow you to install and run all the Google apps and almost all the apps that require GMS.

I say almost because, as much as I got apps like food delivery services and ride-hailing apps to work perfectly with this tool, somehow banking apps still refused to work. The Google Play Services error disappeared but some banking apps preferred getting the OTP code from the notifications instead of me entering it manually which didn’t work because Gbox could not read the contents of the notifications.

App notifications of all the apps running in Gbox were also not working properly. This was not a deal breaker at all but it did reduce the quality of experience I had with the apps. Sometimes I would get notifications late or they would not arrive at all.

Some stuff Gbox can’t do and the workarounds

Then we have certain Google services that just did not work at all even with Gbox. Google Assistant prefers being installed at the system level but since it is running in Gbox which does not have that level of access to the system, it could not be set up. Nearby share also did not work for the same reasons so I had to then look for alternatives.

The alternative assistant apps were Huawei’s Celia and Amazon’s Alexa. I have to say Huawei’s Celia is VERY far from being useful at all. Alexa is much better and quite useful with IoT hardware like my smart bulb and smart home security system but when operating my headphones it was utterly useless versus what I could do with Google Assistant. I love how with google assistant, my headphones can read out notifications and I can respond to them through voice prompts on the headphones without touching my phone. It’s like I am operating Ironman’s suit. Far beyond what Alexa can do.

The alternative for Nearby Share was Shareit which I am not much of a fan of with the many ads. In the odd case that I found someone using a Huawei as well, I used Huawei Share to send or receive files.

As for banking apps, I was using USSD banking to access those services which is a process that lacks finesse but given network challenges in Zimbabwe, it was the more reliable option anyway so there was at least an upside.

Can you survive without Google Services? Yes, No, Maybe?

So can you survive without Google Mobile Services? Because personally, I feel Huawei’s hardware is top-tier. But is it top-tier enough to compel you to ignore the shortcomings in software? I would say there are 3 levels to this.

Level 1: You won’t even notice

You are a general user and you won’t even notice. A typical smartphone user really is looking for general social media apps and some casual games. They will use the phone for WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, and the like. Those are working flawlessly since such a user’s smartphone habits do not revolve around Google Mobile services. Such a smartphone user will be very happy with the device and will not even notice something is missing in the software. 

Level 2: You’ll notice but the workarounds are sufficient

You will face an issue here and there but it’s not a deal breaker given the workarounds. You have the option of accessing some of the services via the browser. This can be google docs or YouTube. It is not the ideal experience but it works and it’s not a deal breaker. And don’t forget Gbox which again will make plenty more apps available further making life easier. You can feel it that getting some stuff to work takes just a bit more effort but it’s within your tolerance limits.

Level 3: You cannot function without Google Services

You cannot function without GMS. So you rely heavily on GMS because it is a work device requirement, it’s where your game progress is saved, Google Assistant is your way of life and you are big on mobile and internet banking. You are not invested in any particular brand and you want something that works fuss-free. I would say for this person it is a complete deal breaker. They just cannot invest in the mental capacity to figure out these workarounds when a Google Pixel or Samsung can just have everything set up for them fuss-free.

It is possible to live without GMS but at the end of the day, it will all depend on your software needs and habits. I could live with it…but to a point. And now I am using a Google Pixel 6.

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  1. 007

    Isu we are Samsung’s Loyal fans so we won’t bother ourselves Leaving our very own S23 for something else

  2. Anonymous

    I think huawei should just invest further into becoming independant of GMS,i believe in China they use huawei devices with noproblem so its sad that google has monopolized

    1. Edwin Chabuka

      Huawei has it’s own framework called HMS which is actually pretty good. But if you want to install apps that use GMS then it’s a problem. And app developers are the ones that determine if an app will need GMS or not

      1. Fanny

        Can you survive without Google Services? Yes, No, Maybe. Zvichimboitirwei, unless kana munhu wacho arikushandisa phone isina google services asina kudzidza ipapo we can say yes, kwete munhu wakaenda kuchikoro tokuona uchitoshandisa phone isina google services, AAA ahhh inzwa kutya, munhu uchinyatsoziva basa re google services in your phone, wototora risk mmmmmm 🤣🤣🤣
        Handisikidzikisira Huawei or akatenga but Huawei company ipapo yafanira kupagadzirisa guys.

        1. Art Professor zw


        2. Simba

          I agree with you

        3. Simba

          I am a Huawei Fan, but I haven’t upgraded from my P30 pro because later models didn’t have Google Services. It’s almost impossible using a phone without Google services unless if you’re not well informed. Like old guys, our dads etc

    2. Well

      In your dream. Until now they still using Android. You think they are able to make a new os out of scratch? And also their hardware is abysmal. No 5g and lag behind competitors for more than 2 years.

  3. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

    Huawei should just write a GMS compatibility layer. P40 Pro is a great phone, but without Google Services it was a no for me.

    1. Edwin Chabuka

      It may violate the terms of use they have with Google which might then force Google to sue Huawei out of existence

    2. ASK

      The final answer is Yes since at the end of it all you opted for a Google pixel 6

  4. Google Indoctrinated

    I think I’d feel too exposed to use the workarounds freely. I know just enough about the threat space to know I’m utterly unprepared to handle the side loading/3rd party store life! More power to those that can handle it though. It’s just not worth it for me

    1. Google Indoctrinated

      😂 that last hit and run sentence though!!! But for sure, after 1 whole year you deserve a Google break

      1. Edwin Chabuka

        Lol. I’ll suffer so you don’t have to

  5. Tsigo

    Are you saying WhatsApp is now available on AppGallery?

    1. Edwin Chabuka

      Yes it is

      1. Anonymous

        Some people just need the basic social media apps and since they’re all available on the app gallery huawei wont be much of a drag,that coupled with those top tier specs in their flagships its a bonus,one question though whats the deal with these huawei devices not supporting 5G,is that another implication of the trade ban

      2. Wekwa

        I still have my Mate 10 for those few apps that require GMS. With GBox I have been able to survive too. I dont miss GMS

    2. Hoho

      Why would it be there? You can’t even use it in China.

  6. Anonymous

    i use huawei since p9 curently on mate 50 pro…i have gspace and all the app i need…i had a crappy samsung s23 ultra…utter garbage phone same as apple aka crapple…milions and milions of ppl are using huawei and the lack of google services doesen’t bother them

    1. Anonymous

      Crappy S23?please share what exacty sucked about that experience,though i have never used one a friend of mine had an s22 which was amazing in my opinion,samsung rarely ever goes wrong especially with its flagships

    2. Art Professor zw

      U had a fake Samsung 😂😂😂 now u think that the best phone is crap 🤣🤣🤣🤣 huawei🚮🚮🚮

  7. Ma1

    Reading all these comments about people complaining about the latest Huawei’s and some even disusing their Samsung S23 Ultra and I’m just here reading from a Huawei Honor 6Plus, Android Version 4.2.2 with 16 GB space. Life😂

    1. Anonymous

      Really grts you to think,im all for the diversity in people’s opinions and tastes but who really trashes a flagship Samsung

  8. Grandpa Rick

    Im using NOVA9. At first after moving from p30 it was bit of a hustle but now I’m kind of used to working without Google services. Though I, have challenges in getting some apps which I, used in P30 regular.

    Huawei is great USA so a threat in its market over apple and other devices ut Huawei is really a good phone eventually they will perfect their HMS to function just like GMS.
    Eventually all apps will be found on AppGalary

    1. Hoho

      That’s just a excuse china like to use. They just stealing too much thing so us gov need to put stop on it.

  9. SamD

    Xiaomi is the new King of Android

    1. Anonymous

      Xiaomi,really😂😂theyre good devices i bet but still Samsung takes the crown for me when we’re tqlking about qndroid user experience

  10. Felix

    Hey guys, just a sugestion for the Huawei fans such as myself. I know there are many who don’t want to leave the Huawei goodies. There is a way to do so. It’s called Honor. I have a Honor Magic 4 pro for a year now and recently bought the 5 pro version. So, search scope, screen gestures (scrollshot, magic cut, screen recording), desktop mode, multi tasking with more apps (up to 15), screen collaboration (multi tasking pc), notepad (hand writing, drawing, inserting recordings, videos and pics), a super video editor, text extraction from anything, IR blaster, hand gestures (without touching the phone), log/lut video, vlog mode, 3d face unlock, reverse charging and just everything you could want and Huawei has, but with GMS. You can find the Honor Magic 5 pro at under 1000 euros (usually with a smartwatch, ear buds or even a tablet included). In the box it has the 66W charger and a case. On of the best batteries (the best according to some), best screen out there in my opinion and a glorious camera with unbelievable shutter speed (even faster than yhe iphone’s). Believe me, it captures hair of moving animals. Anyway, hope this helps. I’m literally hooked on this.

  11. KingDonyHuios

    I have been using huawei without google for a long period of time and to be honest the work arounds have improved so much e.g u can now directly download youtube and Gmail directly from the app gallery wch run in a gbox sandbox…
    But if u a huawei die hard fun and require google service u can use the current Honor devices which still use google

  12. Edgar pelo

    If you want apps with many commercial go for huawei

  13. SLC

    One question: What’s with Huawei phone that makes you a stubborn fanatic of it? I have never yet owned a Huawei phone so I am very keen to know. I am afraid to get one because I am just so used to Google and am attached to it’s services.

  14. Fiekie

    Banking apps work in South Africa. Strange that banks in Zim didn’t get on board with the App Gallery. Maybe it’s still coming. I’ve been using my P40 pro without Google for over 2 years now. No issues really. I do miss the Google assistant though.

  15. Ash

    Hmm I think for most users, probably the younger generations, will prefer having a hassle-free phones. Some of the Google apps, like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube can be important to some users and will be used on a daily basis, so using a Huawei phone seems not to be a wise decision. Huawei phone does have impressive camera hardware, but there are other phones, such as Google Pixel or Samsung, offering decent camera hardwares as well, which are also worth the consideration.

    1. Blasius Honorath Tibwakawa

      Things are going to change in in our claster and world at all

  16. Blasius Honorath Tibwakawa

    Can I change my details from google to app gallery?

  17. Scott

    I have same phone and with new gbox install on factory reset phone. Google app does not work. Google maps, youtube all work fine. The Google app will not open. Any solution?

  18. cavi

    Can I run banking applications such as skrill, wise, neteller with gbox?

  19. MOhan Ranawade

    This is a very nice article , kept very simple and hence readable. .
    I was eyeing the Huawei P60 Pro after my P30 broke after 4 years of constant usage .
    The only thing holding me was the usage of apps ,especially the banking apps( which I gather I might not be able to use ). With GBox I learnt hat downloading Gmail was not a problem and hence syncing contacts shouldn’t be an issue .
    The rest i could sacrifice , since i don’t use Uber , food apps , WhatsApp , Instagram or Facebook .

    Thanks for the lovely article.

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