Current Huawei smartphones come without Google services such as Play Store & Co. We show commercially successful alternatives from Europe.
In recent years, Huawei has convinced its buyers and the trade press with the mostly above-average price-performance ratio of their smartphones. Thanks to its very broad portfolio and the additional sub-brand Honor, which is also affected by the US ban, the company covers the entire market spectrum from beginners to high-end. The Chinese not only clumsily copy the competition, but also do their own research. The result is evident in products such as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (test report) and the Huawei P30 Pro (test report), which each earned us a grade of 1. It was not for nothing that Huawei grew strongly in 2018 and in the fourth quarter of 2018 – in terms of smartphone sales – came just behind Apple and Samsung on the third place. Also 2019 was a good year for HuaweiHowever, the forecasts for 2020 are bleak.
The Huawei Mate 30 Pro (test report) presented at the end of 2019 is the first smartphone of the Chinese to completely do without US software and hardware. While custom elements adequately replace the US hardware, the lack of Google services makes the Mate 30 Pro in its current form largely uninteresting for the average user who is spoiled by the extensive and free Google services package. Sideloading the Google apps carries risks, like the heise contribution Huawei phones without an Android license: Google does not recommend app sideloading shows.
If you own a Huawei or Honor smartphone from before the US ban, you don't have to worry much for now. The Google services should continue to be used there unchanged. Huawei also plans to continue delivering security updates. However, you do not have to have high hopes for new version updates.
Alternatives to Huawei smartphones
There are virtually no smartphones without the participation of Chinese or American companies. A modem from the US company Qualcomm works in almost every smartphone; almost every smartphone comes with US software like Android or iOS. For this purpose, the vast majority of phones in China's high-tech metropolis Shenzhen are glued together.
If not prevent it, you can still reduce the participation of the two world powers in your own smartphone, for example by using European brands. We have identified Nokia, Gigaset, BQ, Archos, Wiko and Cat as the most popular smartphone manufacturers for the German-speaking countries. Of the six brands, Nokia is the manufacturer with the most popular smartphones.
We do not know whether and to what extent there is anything wrong with the allegations of espionage. Nor can we assess whether US authorities have keys to Android backdoors. It would be possible. Finally, in 2013, Edward Snowden put extensive surveillance by US intelligence agencies with the Code name Prism open.
Anyone who knows something can largely avoid it with regional hardware and software. For example, there is the European operating system Sailfish OS (more in the c't). But there is with the Dutch Fairphone 3 (heise + test report) and the German Shiftphone (c't contribution) also supposedly fair and sustainable hardware solutions. However, there can be no talk of commercially successful alternatives.
Smartphones with high-end specs from European manufacturers are in short supply. The Nokia 9 Pureview (test report) from HMD Global, which was presented at MWC 2019, comes closest here. It offers a proud five cameras on its back, a QHD + OLED display, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 with 6 GB RAM, 128 GB memory and Android One, version 10 since the end of 2019, but the model cannot fully convince.
Basically that's it. All others come with weaker processors, less memory, poorer displays and cameras. If you want real luxury, there is no way around non-European brands. To avoid Chinese companies, you can still take a look at the Galaxy S20 series from the South Koreans Samsung. But a representative of the S10 series such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 + (test report) is also worth a look thanks to the massive drop in prices. We recommend our contribution Samsung Galaxy S20: Cheap alternatives to the top model. But Apple is also an option. After all, Apple takes data protection more seriously than many other US companies, more information in the heise article Apple 2019: full privacy and confrontation course.
In the mid-range segment, the selection of European smartphones is becoming almost confusing. The Nokia 7.2 (test report) is one of the most popular models. It has a lot of memory, is noble workmanship and scores with a pleasant design language. The overall technical package is impressive for its affordable price. The Nokia 6.2 is comparable in price and features. It has a Full HD Plus IPS touchscreen, a Snapdragon 636 with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. Typical for Nokia, it relies on Android One.
In general, it is worthwhile to use Nokia devices with Android One, a modified version of the universal operating system Android, in the middle class. Devices equipped with Android One go through a Google certification process. Only then are they allowed to enter the market and receive at least two of the annual upgrades to new Android versions and three years of security updates. Here are the top 5 best smartphones running Android One.
We can also recommend the Wiko View 3 Pro (test report), which has now fallen significantly in price. With a little luck, it changes hands for less than 200 euros. It offers a triple camera, 128 GB of memory, 6 GB of RAM and a powerful 4000 mAh battery. The first German smartphone on our list is the one we tested with the grade Very good rated Gigaset GS290 (test report). The outdoor smartphone brings a very suitable everyday performance with a chic display and a really large 6200 mAh battery. However, the internal memory is quite small at 32 GB.
The Caterpillar Cat S52 scratches the price of the upper class, but its components clearly locate it in the middle class. What is special about the Cat S52 is its very robust workmanship with an elegant appearance. The outdoor smartphone Cat S61 (test report) is also popular with buyers despite its high price. It is one of the very few smartphones on the market with an integrated thermal imaging camera.
Nokia also dominates the entry-level class, led by the Nokia 4.2 (test report). The affordable entry-level smartphone shines with a lot of glass and metal, despite the lowest price. Even the power button is illuminated. We don't like the low memory and long charging time in the test. The Nokia 2.2 is one of the cheapest smartphones on the market with Android, more precisely Android One. The dual SIM smartphone has a 5.7-inch HD display, a Mediatek MT6761 processor with 2 GB of RAM, a 13 megapixel camera and a removable 3000 mAh battery. The Nokia 6.1 (review) also made it onto our list. Strictly speaking, it belongs to the middle class, but thanks to the low price of well under 200 euros, we assign it to the entry-level class. Clearly the entry level is the Nokia 3.2, the successor of the Nokia 3.1 (test report).
The Wiko View 4 is the first entry-level smartphone from Europe that is not from Nokia. It is still quite fresh on the market, we expect a price drop to well below 150 euros from mid-2020. It is well equipped for this, especially the large battery with a capacity of 5000 mAh impresses.
The segment ends with two smartphones from Gigaset, the GS110 and the GS195 (test report). The Gigaset GS195 is available for a surcharge and with the LS addition as a senior smartphone (test report).
There are European smartphones that could serve as an alternative to Huawei and Co. However, the air in the high-end area is thin. Only the Nokia 9 Pureview (test report) can actually keep up, at least in parts. If you want more, you can use Samsung and Apple.
What was striking during the research was that Nokia is by far the most popular European smartphone manufacturer. The Finns' most popular smartphone is the Nokia 7.2 (test report), followed by the entry-level Nokia 4.2 (test report). But the Gigaset GS290 (test report) and the Wiko View 3 Pro (test report) are popular and really good smartphones, which we recommend to everyone who has a European smartphone and wants to spend around 300 euros.
It should nevertheless be clear to everyone that the choice of a European smartphone does not lock out any secret service, regardless of which nation.