Huawei has fast risen to become one of the world's biggest mobile players, ousting Apple for the number two spot in global smartphone sales in 2019. Just as it was getting going, however, the US-imposed ban took hold and has since hindered the company's otherwise unrelenting march towards the top.
Huawei was placed on the US’ Entity List back in 2019, effectively banning trade between Huawei and any American company. This caused Google to cease trade with Huawei, and although the Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro run open-source Android, they were the first of the company's handsets that didn't come with Google Mobile Services (or GMS) preinstalled.
Sadly, even with the election of the Biden administration, we don't see this changing anytime soon, and that's bad news for the Huawei P40 range, the Mate 40 series, the Mate X2 foldable and the forthcoming P50 series. They're all clearly capable phones but the lack of Google Play is a dealbreaker for many in Western markets.
Huawei does offer its own alternative store, dubbed the App Gallery, but it pales in comparison to Google's offerings. There's also the move from Android to HarmonyOS, the process for which Huawei formalised on 2 June, however, there's at this stage to suggest that will be able to reverse the fortunes of its device's appeal outside of non-Google markets.
The good news is that all Huawei phones that originally shipped with Google Play Services will continue to get access to security updates, Google apps and services. That includes essentially everything up to the Mate 30 range, which arrived at the tail end of 2019.
Android drama aside, here's a selection of what we consider to be the best Huawei phones available to buy in 2021.
Best Huawei phones 2021
Huawei P30 Pro - Best overall
We love the P30 Pro. The design is still top-drawer stuff, the display is outstanding and the cameras are truly some of the best ever seen on a phone, even two years on.
Prices have dropped since it launched early in 2019 and it’s great value compared to many rival flagships.
If you want to spend less (and get a little less), there's the Huawei P30 to consider too.
Do note that the P30 was announced before Huawei was put on the US trade blocklist and Google announced its decision to pull support; therefore, it continues to have full access to Google apps, services and security updates.
Read our full Huawei P30 Pro review
Huawei Mate 20 Pro - Great design
The Mate 20 Pro is a very good phone, and it's even better at the current discounted prices.
The cameras will be the highlight for many people, but it really is a fantastic all-rounder with a top-quality screen, fast charging, wireless charging and excellent battery life.
Read our full Huawei Mate 20 Pro review
Huawei P30 - Great value
Huawei's pitch for the P30 is all about its camera, and it's fair to say that the company has delivered. The Pro model may be one step ahead, but this version is still a match for plenty of high-end phones out there.
Low light and long-distance shots are where Huawei has really thrown down the gauntlet, with a combination of three great lenses and some software tricks that even Google's Pixel phones have struggled to match in the past.
The P30 also looks stunning, with a big display (and small notch), some lovely colourful finishes, and a seriously slim body. Plus, there's even a headphone jack.
Do note that the P30 was announced before Huawei was put on the US trade blocklist and Google announced its decision to pull support, and as such, continues to have full access to Google apps, services and security updates.
Read our full Huawei P30 review
Huawei Mate 20 X - Best for gaming
The largest Huawei phone you can buy is every bit as good as the Mate 20 Pro, with practically the same specs.
You miss out on the same fidelity of display, water-resistance and wireless charging, but gain a headphone jack, physical fingerprint sensor and it has a much larger battery.
If you watch a lot of videos or game on-the-go, then the X is a premium media dream. At 7.2in, it's too big for most people (and many pockets) but don't dismiss this Mate because of its size - we ended up loving it.
Read our full Huawei Mate 20 X review
Huawei P20 Pro - Great camera
Although two generations old at this point, the P20 Pro is still a stunning phone. There are some niggles - such as a lack of stabilisation when shooting 4K video, no headphone jack and no wireless charging - but if your priority is photography then the P20 Pro does not disappoint.
Add in the long battery life, dual SIM slots and a great screen and you've got the complete package: this was one of the best phones of 2018 and is still a smart discount buy today.
Read our full Huawei P20 Pro review
Huawei Mate X2 - Best foldable
Huawei's had a little practice at making foldables at this stage and the Mate X2 is a clear indication of the company's mastery of this still-burgeoning form factor.
The Mate X2 boasts a beautiful vertical folding design that's packed with power, from both a performance and photography standpoint. In fact, this device also happens to have the best camera in a foldable right now, by a clear margin.
If only GMS was able to be part of the equation, this would be a near-perfect device, save for its extortionate price tag.
Read our full Huawei Mate X2 review
Huawei P40 Pro - Best for photography
A superb follow-up to one of 2019's best smartphones. The Huawei P40 Pro excels in every area, offering top-tier performance with the latest 5G and WiFi 6 networking technologies, superb battery life and fast charging, a stupendous camera setup on both the front and back, plus an eye-catching 90Hz 'Overflow' display.
For everything the P40 Pro brings to the table, though, the experience is tarnished by the absence of Google Mobile Services and the workarounds needed to make the phone as easy or as enjoyable to use without GMS aren't all that accessible to the average user.
Read our full Huawei P40 Pro review
Huawei Mate 40 Pro - Best for videography
The Mate 40 Pro boasts fantastic hardware and takes incredible photos and videos - potentially the best out there, it also totes an gorgeous eye-catching design and top-tier performance, but all of this praise is moot if you're looking to buy this device for use outside of China.
The situation with apps means that warnings are plastered all over the place. Even Huawei’s own site forces you to click an 'Agree' button on a warning message relating to GMS' absence before you can buy one.
As such, while we'd love to recommend the Mate 40 Pro wholeheartedly, like its predecessor, there's still too much missing from the software experience that Huawei won't be able to fix on its own.
Read our full Huawei Mate 40 Pro review
Huawei P40 - Well-rounded
The P40 is a great bit of the kit that, although missing out on some of the high-end features of the Pro and Pro+ variants, can still take on most 2020 flagships in terms of photography and raw performance; beating the likes of the Galaxy S20 Ultra in most benchmark tests.
It's also a good-looking smartphone with a unique matte glass finish on the rear that leaves a soft-touch sheen, plus there's a bright, crisp 6.1in OLED display to enjoy too.
Of course, the real issue is the lack of Google Play services. Huawei has undercut its rivals, offering a significant saving on flagship-level hardware, but you won't be able to properly access apps like Google Maps and YouTube.
If you're a confident techie that doesn't mind side-loading apps and working around a Google-less ecosystem, the P40 is a phenomenal phone at a great price, but if you just want something that works out of the box, we'd suggest going for another option.
Read our full Huawei P40 review
Huawei P40 Pro+ - Most powerful
The P40 Pro+ is a fantastic phone with some of the best cameras of any phone we’ve tested. This makes it all the harder to say that it’s not one we can recommend you buy unless you simply want it for those cameras and have a second device that allows you to use the apps which you can’t get on the Pro+.
Read our full Huawei P40 Pro Plus review
What should I look for from a Huawei phone?
The company has flagship devices in its P and Mate lines that are among the best smartphones out there - still true globally even now - in terms of hardware. The P series is slightly more mainstream in its thinking, while the Mates are often photo-minded phablets with undertones of business and productivity. That said, the lines are beginning to blur. Luckily, you're left with excellent phones either way.
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