Since being frozen out of dealings with US companies, Huawei phones and other gadgets have been unable to run the full-fat version of Android, complete with Google apps and the Play Store. Now it’s launched its own competitor: HarmonyOS.
Technically speaking, this is actually HarmonyOS 2, because the software has previously been used on smart home devices. Now though, HarmonyOS is arriving on consumer gadgets, with updated MatePad tablet models and the Huawei Watch 3 helping to mark the occasion.
HarmonyOS has a very Android-like feel to it – Huawei hasn’t commented on reports that it shares a lot of code with the stripped-down, open source, Google-free version of Android that it’s had to use on recent devices such as the Huawei P40.
You’re still going to have problems getting the apps you want on HarmonyOS, with the same workarounds in place – sideloading unofficial versions of apps or cloning them from an existing device. Huawei now has its own app store, but it’s lacking in many of the most common and popular apps that you can get on Android.
Even if HarmonyOS looks and works a lot like basic Android at the moment, it gives Huawei a foundation to build on top of and gradually break links with the software that Google largely controls. The plan is for the software to reach more and more devices, and even attract other manufacturers.
As for the hardware, the new Huawei MatePad tablets come in three sizes and carry three different processors: the 10.95-inch MatePad (running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865), the 10.8-inch MatePad Pro (with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 870) and the 12.6-inch MatePad Pro (with Huawei’s own Kirin 9000E chipset).
The 12.6-inch model uses the superior OLED display technology, but has a refresh rate of 60 Hz; the smaller models settle for LCD but should look more fluid with a 120-Hz refresh rate. All three tablets sport a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, and come with accompanying smart keyboards and styluses if you want to spend extra. Both wired and wireless charging are supported on all three models.
While HarmonyOS might be very much based on Android, it has a definite iPadOS look on the MatePad tablets – there’s a dock of app icons at the bottom for example, and the home screen can be configured with a range of widgets for easy access to information. Apple is due to announce its own annual round of software updates, including new versions for iOS and iPadOS, at its WWDC conference next week.
Pricing for the standard 10.95-inch MatePad starts at €399 for 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage – that’s the equivalent of about US$485, though the tablets are unlikely to be widely available outside of Europe and Asia. The 12.6-inch MatePad Pro retails for €799 (about $975) with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, though as yet there’s no pricing for the 10.8-inch Pro model.
There’s also a brand new smartwatch, the Huawei Watch 3, with HarmonyOS on board. The wearable features a 1.43-inch OLED display running at a 60-Hz refresh rate, and all of the usual fitness and health tracking features are built in (including support for a hundred workout modes). Heart rate, SpO2 and sleep tracking are included as well. Huawei is promising a minimum of three days of battery life, and there will be the option of 4G connectivity if you want to leave your phone behind.
As with the tablets, the question marks will be over app support, but the Huawei Watch 3 looks as polished as Huawei’s previous smartwatches. A Pro model is available in more premium materials and with more accurate GPS as well.
With the watches, we’ve only got UK prices at the moment: £349.99 (about $495) for the standard model, and £499.99 (about $710) for the Pro, so it’s quite a markup for those premium materials. All the devices we’ve mentioned go on sale in select markets later this month.