These are the Best Huawei Phones you can buy in 2021: Mate X2, P40 Pro, and more!
It’s hard to talk about Huawei smartphones without addressing the elephant in the room, so we might as well get it out of the way immediately. Any Huawei smartphone released in the last two years or so cannot run basic Google apps like YouTube and Google Docs due to ongoing US sanctions. The accusations thrown in Huawei’s way by the US government are pretty damning, so if you believe even half of them, you’d want nothing to do with a Huawei device. If you belong in that camp, this article isn’t for you; go check out our Best Android phones or Best Smartphones list for a bunch of options from other brands instead.
However, if you’ve decided you don’t quite agree with the American assessment of Huawei, or if you’re willing to take some risks in order to explore cutting edge smartphone hardware — and make no mistake, Huawei does make some of the very best smartphone hardware around — then this guide is for you. We’ve tested every Huawei smartphone released in the last few years and this is our breakdown of which one to get depending on your wants and needs.
Navigate this guide:
- Best Bleeding-Edge Hardware: Huawei Mate X2
- Best with HMS: Huawei P40 Pro
- Best with Google Apps: Huawei P30 Pro
- Best Features: Huawei Mate 20 Pro
- Best for Most People: Huawei P30
- Best Mid-Range: Huawei Nova 5T
- Best Budget with HMS: Huawei P Smart 2021
- Best Budget with Google Apps: Huawei P30 Lite
- Best Large: Huawei Mate 20 X
Best Bleeding-Edge Hardware: Huawei Mate X2
The Huawei Mate X2 is a phone most of you reading this will not buy. It’s not just that it can’t run Google Mobile Services (GMS). It’s also the fact that it only sells officially in China and has an official retail price equivalent to $2,700 — but due to shortage of supply, it can only be bought at a marked up reseller price of $3,500.
Still, if you’re a mobile tech enthusiast with an interest in foldable tech, the Mate X2 is noteworthy because it’s clearly the best foldable hardware on the market right now. I’ve had the privilege of testing every mainstream foldable phone released so far, and the Huawei Mate X2’s hardware is just a generation ahead of other foldable phones on the market right now.
All the previous shortcomings that we saw in foldable phones like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Xiaomi Mix Fold, such as the noticeable crease down the middle of the screen, a not-quite-flagship camera system, and a hinge that leaves a slight gap when folded, have all been eliminated in the Mate X2.
When it’s folded, the Mate X2 feels almost like a regular slab phone, just thicker and heavier. Unfolded, the screen is more seamless than the screens seen in the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold. The camera system is mostly identical to the system seen in the Huawei P40 Pro Plus, so you’re getting a 10x optical zoom lens that just blows away the zoom lenses in other foldables.
Again, not having GMS and its wild pricing means this phone has almost zero mainstream appeal, but if you want the absolute most cutting edge smartphone hardware right now, the Huawei Mate X2 is it.
Best with HMS: Huawei P40 Pro
The Huawei P40 Pro is well over a year old now, but it’s still currently among the best Huawei has to offer, since the Mate 40 Pro mostly just improved via an SoC upgrade, and the P50 series hasn’t seen the light of day. The P40 Pro has a beefy Kirin 990 processor that, while a year old, still performs very well by 2021 standards. The P40 Pro’s camera system, which consists of a 50MP camera with a large image sensor, a 5X optical Periscope zoom lens, and a 40MP ultra-wide, was in some opinions the best camera system at the time of release a year ago. So even now it’s still among one of the top performers.
Let’s put it this way — if you want a great zoom camera, there are only two phones on the market that beat what P40 Pro can do (and one of those is the Mate X2 listed above).
Unfortunately, the P40 Pro is still stuck on Android 10 but at least its EMUI Android skin has been updated to the latest version 11. Also, the 4,200 mAh battery can power the phone all day with ease since the display is “only” a 90Hz panel and not the more power-hungry 120Hz.
But of course, the lack of Google apps will make this phone quite hard to use for some. While Huawei’s Petal Search has made searching for and downloading major apps like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp relatively easy, it’s still not as seamless as just downloading from the Google Play Store. Most of Google’s core apps, from Gmail, Google Keep, Google Pay to Google Calendar, will not run on this phone. However, it’s worth mentioning that Gmail and Google Calendar can function if you’re using a third-party app like Microsoft Outlook.
If you don’t mind dealing with a lack of Google apps and you’re ready to fully embrace the Huawei ecosystem, or you don’t mind going through weird hoops to get them installed on your phone, then the P40 Pro is still one of the best Huawei phones right now.
Yes, this category is not selecting any of the new Mate 40 devices. The Mate 40 Pro as well as other phones in this new series are scarcely available in China, Huawei’s home market, and no plans have been announced for other regions. That makes the phone incredibly difficult to buy, and consequently, not the best option within the scope of this list.
Best with Google Apps: Huawei P30 Pro
If you really need Google Mobile Services and still want to use a Huawei phone, the P30 Pro is the one to get. Released two months before the announcement of the ban, it has full Google support even today. Even though the P30 Pro is over two years old now, it’s still capable today because it was pretty groundbreaking at the time of release. It had the world’s first Periscope zoom lens — beating the OPPO Reno to the market by a month — and had at-the-time unmatched low light capability thanks to the RYYB array.
The Kirin 980 chip still performs fine today and the rest of the specs don’t fall behind too much compared to 2021 flagships — except the OLED screen’s refresh rate is just 60Hz. But this phone can be had at some low prices right now, so if you want Google services on a Huawei phone, it’s definitely worth a look.
Best Features: Huawei Mate 20 Pro
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the oldest phone on this list, having been released in the fall of 2018. At the time, it was a stunner of a phone with more features than any of its Android peers — it was the first non-LG phone to use an ultra-wide angle camera, the first phone anywhere to offer reverse wireless charging, and the first Android phone to use 3D face unlock.
So how does the Mate 20 Pro hold up today? Of course it can’t be called cutting-edge or powerful anymore, but it’s still capable enough to handle all your daily computing tasks. It runs on the same Kirin 980 chip as the above Huawei P30 Pro, its OLED panel still looks punchy and bright by today’s standards (although it’s just 60Hz), and this phone supports Google Mobile Services. So if the P30 Pro’s price is still a bit high for you, the Mate 20 Pro will shave some more off the price tag for a very affordable device.
Best for Most People: Huawei P30
The Huawei P30 is a good middle ground for people who don’t need all of the camera fluff that comes with the Pro model — there is no Periscope zoom lens, for example. But otherwise, a lot of what we said about the P30 Pro that still made it a great device today stands with the standard P30, including that Kirin 980 SoC, 8GB of RAM and a really strong main camera.
- The Huawei P30 was the company's mid-tier flagship for 2019, packing most of the goodies in the Huawei P30 Pro, such as the same Kirin 980 SoC, while cutting down on other aspects like the camera, the display, and more. It's an option worth considering if you want close-to-flagship performance at a lower price.
Best Mid-Range: Huawei Nova 5T
The Huawei Nova 5T was a good deal even at the time of release because it was a mid-range phone that used Huawei’s flagship chip (Kirin 980). So right now this phone is a downright bargain, considering it also supports Google Mobile Services, thanks to its release timing. Of course, being a mid-tier device, the Nova 5T lacks the usual Leica 40-megapixel camera used in Huawei’s flagships in favor of a more generic 48-megapixel sensor, and its 3,740 mAh battery is considered small by Huawei standards. But you’re still getting a large and vibrant Full HD display, even if it’s an LCD panel.
Best Budget with HMS: Huawei P Smart 2021
The Huawei P Smart 2021 is one of the newest devices on this list, and it actually has more in common with other devices than you might think. Looking at it from the front gives off strong Xiaomi/Samsung vibes with a centered punch-hole display, something that Huawei has yet to use on other devices. But it’s a decidedly budget smartphone. The device is powered by the Kirin 710A with up to 4 GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. It fares better in other departments, such as the camera, providing an amazing (in budget terms) and versatile experience with a quad 48MP panel. You also get a 5,000 mAh battery, which paired with the Kirin 710A should provide all-day battery life.
Of course, it doesn’t have Google apps so you’re subject to the same restrictions as some devices in this list. But if you’re curious about dipping your toes in the HMS ecosystem and you don’t have money to splurge on a flagship, this is your best bet.
Best Budget with Google Apps: Huawei P30 Lite
Again, yes this phone has had successors in the form of the Huawei Mate 30 Lite and the Huawei P40 Lite. But we’re again focusing on phones that can actually be used in the Western market — plus we’ve already mentioned a budget HMS alternative and the P30 Lite is as good as it gets. It features a Kirin 710 processor which performs pretty similarly to some devices in the lower-end segment of the Snapdragon 600 series. It also features up to 8 GB of RAM and up to 256 GB of storage for good measure. It has a 48MP rear-facing camera setup with both ultrawide as well as depth sensors and can be updated up to Android 10 with EMUI 10 on top.
It’s not an amazing device in terms of specifications, but you can easily grab one for under $200. It should be able to take on the most essential tasks and more, which is why it earns a spot on our list of best Huawei phones.
Best Huge Huawei phone: Huawei Mate 20 X
Featuring a 7.2-inch screen, the Huawei Mate X2 is a giant phone for those who want a large screen experience. While a bit unwieldy, I can confirm it still fits into my most adult male pant pockets and thanks to Huawei’s excellent one-hand mode, is not impossible to use one-handed. Elsewhere, you’re getting almost all the same features of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, so expect a capable camera system covering wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto focal length, that Kirin 980 SoC, and really long battery life. This phone even support some 5G bands in the US so this would come in handy as a movie streaming, mobile gaming machine.
Huawei phones have always offered exciting hardware, but the Google ban has made software a big problem for many users in the West. If you’re choosing a device that doesn’t support Google (like the P40 Pro), we suggest you do some research and understand what you can and can’t run before clicking buy.
However, if you’re buying an older Huawei phone with Google Mobile Services support, or if you’re okay with not using Google’s eco-system of apps, then the phones listed here offer great hardware and photography prowess at a lower price than Apple or Samsung products.
We personally think the Huawei P30 Pro is the best purchase here since it still runs Google Mobile Services perfectly and it was so ahead of its time when it was released that, even today, it doesn’t feel too outdated when compared to 2021 slab flagships. If you want a phablet, the Mate 20X is one of the largest phones around regardless of brands.
What do you think about our choices here? Let us know down in the comments.