EMUI 9 Review [Part 2]: Huawei/Honor’s Android Pie Software Packs a Ton of Useful Features Mistaken for Gimmicks

EMUI 9 Review [Part 2]: Huawei/Honor’s Android Pie Software Packs a Ton of Useful Features Mistaken for Gimmicks

Camera App

It’s impossible to deny that Huawei and Honor have radically upped their camera games. Idrees Patel’s review of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro found it to be a class-leader in daylight and low-light photography. Daniel Marchena’s camera review of the less expensive Honor View20 found it to be “one of the best and most dependable shooters around.” My own experience with the Huawei Mate 20 X and Honor View20 mirror Idrees’ and Daniel’s experiences. My opinion on the camera user experience differs from Idrees’, however. Idrees noted that the Master AI has significantly improved in accurately recognizing scenes since his last experience with it on the Huawei P20 Pro. He says that Master AI has gotten to the point where he prefers keeping it on. I disagree; I still think it’s too annoying. Sadly, turning it off significantly degrades the quality of pictures for most people, so you’re forced to deal with the annoyances of Master AI.

If you’ve never heard of Master AI before, it’s basically a helper service that recommends what it thinks is the right camera mode for the current scene. For example, if you point your phone at someone’s face, Master AI will automatically switch the camera app to portrait mode. Unfortunately, Master AI tries to push what it thinks is the best camera mode even if you’re thinking of something else. It can be incredibly annoying to fight, so I often find myself turning it off temporarily so it won’t override what I’m trying to do. In the future, I hope Huawei and Honor give us better control over what modes Master AI tries to recommend. I also hope they turn off beauty mode by default because it makes faces look incredibly unnatural.

One basic feature that the EMUI Camera app gets wrong is the zoom control. The biggest problem with zooming in the EMUI Camera app is that you can’t double tap on the viewfinder to zoom. Instead, you have to tap on the zoom button in the middle right side of the viewfinder. Tapping on the button cycles through the supported zoom modes. For example, the Huawei Mate 20 X cycles through 0.6X (wide-angle), 1X (normal), 3X (max optical zoom), and 5X (max hybrid zoom), while the Honor View20 cycles through 1X and 2X. You can also tap and hold then scroll up and down to choose an exact zoom level, though this isn’t recommended since you’ll be involving digital zoom.

Another issue I have with the camera app is the way you change camera modes. You change camera modes by either tapping on the name of the mode above the shutter button or scrolling the dial below the names left or right. You can’t swipe left or right on the viewfinder itself to change camera modes. This means you have to position your finger in the right spot to change camera modes, while on the iPhone or Google Pixel you don’t have to worry about accuracy as much when swiping to change camera modes. Before the Google Pixel 3, Google didn’t allow you to swipe on the viewfinder to change camera modes. I’m hoping that Huawei and Honor will update the camera app to make it easier to switch modes.

The 3 issues that I just mentioned can all be easily fixed, and I don’t think they ruin the camera experience. While I’m disappointed in the basic camera UX, I think Huawei does a great job at keeping things simple. There are a lot of features and camera modes to play around with, but if you have little experience with photography and need a refresher about what each feature does, you can tap an info button in most camera modes to find out what it does. The settings pages are also really simple so you don’t have to deal with dozens of different toggles. That’s because there’s no single “settings” page that encompasses all of the different modes. Instead, tapping on the settings button in each camera mode will populate the settings that are specific for that mode.

Which camera modes are available on your device depend on the EMUI version and camera hardware. Here’s a list of the camera modes that are on both my Huawei Mate 20 X and my Honor View20:

  • 3D Panorama
  • AR Lens
  • Documents
  • Filter
  • Good Food
  • HDR
  • Light Painting
  • Panorama
  • Slow-mo
  • Time-lapse
  • Watermark

Monochrome and Super Macro are only on my Huawei Mate X while Stickers and Artist Mode are only on my Honor View20. Flagship Huawei and Honor smartphones will probably have access to more camera modes than mid-range and budget devices, so you’ll have to check a review for your specific device to see what camera modes it has.

There is one feature in particular that I want to give a shout out too. It’s called 4D Predictive Focus and it’s available on Kirin 970 and Kirin 980 devices like the Huawei P20 Pro, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Huawei Mate 20 X, and Honor View20. It basically shows a bunch of squares on the object that the auto-focus is currently tracking. When there are a lot of objects in the viewfinder, it can be hard to tell what your phone has decided to focus on, which is where 4D Predictive Focus really comes in handy.

Lastly, if you don’t have time to open the camera app to quickly take a picture, the EMUI camera app offers an “ultra snapshot” option. Enabling it lets you double tap the volume down button when the screen is off to quickly take a picture or open the camera. This provides similar functionality to the double tap power button gesture in stock Android, but EMUI’s ultra snapshot is more limited since it doesn’t work when the screen is on or when music is playing.


Phone Manager

EMUI has a lot of great, useful features, but there are also some features you should avoid like the plague. Phone Manager is one of those apps you should open, change some settings, then never look back. Sure, it provides some useful shortcuts to your mobile data usage, blocked call settings, and battery settings, but everything else is either useless or more trouble than they’re worth. Let me run down the list of features and why I think you should avoid most of them:

  • Optimize: Right smack in the middle is a big “optimize” button. What does it do? It closes some apps to free up memory, cleans up “junk” files, runs an online “virus scan” and updates the associated database, and makes changes to some settings to ostensibly improve battery life. There are multiple problems here. First, clearing up RAM just for the sake of it does not help. Free RAM is used for cached processes, which helps in reloading apps you’ve previously opened. The kernel allocates memory to processes as necessary, so if a process really needs more RAM then the kernel will decide which processes to kill to free up memory. Trust the complex algorithms that were developed over the years for this purpose. Second, the efficacy of virus scanners on Android is hotly contested. While EMUI’s virus scanner is built by Avast, a company that isn’t surrounded by controversy other popular anti-virus solutions, there’s not much it can do to help. Your device is mostly secure from malicious apps thanks to Android’s permission model, while SELinux and verified boot protect the device from tampering. Use common sense when installing apps (ie. don’t install shady-looking apps that suspiciously request sensitive permissions) and you’ll be fine.
  • Cleanup: Also accessed from Settings > Storage, “cleanup” helps you free up storage space by recommending you delete large apps, files from Messenger or WhatsApp, “junk” videos, rarely-played music, APK files, and more. I guess “Cleanup” can be useful if you use it as a starting point to find out what’s taking up so much space on your phone, but apart from the fine-grained Messenger and WhatsApp cleaner, I recommend you use Files by Google to free up space. My biggest issue with Cleanup is its auto-cleaning of “junk” files, which to be fair you do have to opt-in to. Unlike Files by Google, there’s no transparency in what junk files it’s choosing to delete. I would like to think it doesn’t touch anything important so it probably errs on the side of caution, but who knows what it considers “junk.” Next, and perhaps this one is a bit petty, but the feature is powered by 360 Security. Take a look at the company’s Play Store page and decide for yourself whether you think their product seems trustworthy.
  • Dropzone: This is perhaps the most confusing feature in Phone Manager because its name doesn’t tell you what it does while also being identical in functionality to another feature. From what I can tell, giving an app access to show their “dropzone” is basically the same thing as granting it the “display over other apps” permission found in Settings > Apps > Special access. Thus, a “dropzone” is likely a floating bubble or any other floating window. On the rare occasion that EMUI tells you an app has been blocked from showing its “dropzone,” you’ll now know where to find this setting.

My recommendation is to open up Phone Manager, go to its settings, turn off “smart tune-up” and “auto-clean junk files,” then never open Phone Manager again unless you have to deal with a “dropzone.” Don’t fall for the virus scanning snake oil and stick to better storage cleanup apps.


HiTouch/HiVision

Although Huawei has yet to develop its own Google Assistant competitor for international markets, the company did introduce a Google Lens competitor in EMUI 9. Called HiVision, it can scan QR codes, translate text, scan products for shopping, or identify objects or landmarks. The QR code scanner is pretty straightforward, but here’s a detailed breakdown of what the other three features can do:

  • Translation: Powered by Microsoft Translate, HiVision can translate text seen in the camera in real-time. Supported languages are English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, French, Russian, Italian, German, and Portuguese. I’ve found HiVision/Microsoft Translate to actually do a decent job in the few times I’ve used it to translate Chinese to English. There’s even a neat pause button which lets you pause the viewfinder so the translated text doesn’t disappear from you moving the phone!
  • Shopping: Like Google Lens, HiVision will attempt to identify the product you’re looking at so you can shop online at retailers like BestBuy, Walmart, etc. HiVision’s visual shopping AI recognition technology is provided by a company called ViSenze. It’s a hit-and-miss for me. It can recognize products like my Blue microphone but fail at recognizing as many products as Google Lens can identify.
  • Identification: HiVision can identify food, landmarks, paintings, and other things. For food recognition, the Azumio Food Recognition API is used to provide nutritional information, though the accuracy of the calorie and weight detection is a bit off. Smartphones with time-of-flight sensors like the Honor View20 may provide more accurate results, though. Landmark detection is powered by TripAdvisor while painting recognition is powered by Artace Inc. Huawei boasts that HiVision can recognize “nearly 400 Western European landmarks” and “more than 10 million recognized famous paintings.” That sounds nice, but it’s the bare minimum of what I would expect from a Google Lens competitor.

While it’s decent at the use cases that Huawei offers, HiVision is inferior to Google Lens. Google Lens is more accurate, can identify more, and also does everything from a single screen rather than 4. Google Lens is also more useful for archiving. If you want to select some text via OCR, you just point Google Lens at the text. Google Lens can also copy dates and addresses. HiVision can’t do any of that.

You can certainly still use Google Lens on Huawei and Honor devices via Google Assistant or Google Photos, but HiVision is more convenient to access. HiVision can be accessed either from the camera app (the top left icon) or by enabling HiTouch in Settings > Smart assistance. HiTouch provides a shortcut to shopping search in HiVision. By pressing and holding with two fingers on any static image on the screen, HiVision will search for the product online.


Launcher/Huawei Home

Being able to change the default home screen launcher is such a simple feature, but it’s one of the biggest things that sets Android apart from iOS. From the wallpaper to the layout, launchers can be customized to fit your liking. EMUI’s launcher, called Huawei Home, is no different. It’s not as feature filled as the likes of Nova Launcher, Lawnchair, Action Launcher, or some of the other popular third-party launchers on Google Play, but it integrates nicely with EMUI and offers enough features to satisfy casual users.

Default Layout

The default layout of the launcher is simple. At the bottom of the screen is a fixed dock that holds up to 5 app icons. Tapping and holding then dragging on any of the icons in the dock lets you re-arrange the dock or change which apps are shown in the dock. Above the dock but below the app and widget area is an indicator that shows you which home screen page you’re viewing.

All apps are shown on the home screen across one or more pages depending on how many apps you have installed. If you drag an app’s icon on top of another app’s icon, the launcher will automatically add both apps to a new folder called “Folder 1,” which obviously changes as you add more folders. You can customize the folder’s name by tapping on its current name after expanding the folder. You can also add new apps to the folder by either dragging another icon to the folder or by tapping the “add” button in a folder. Lastly, you can re-arrange the apps in any folder by dragging them. Folders can be placed anywhere on a page, even in the dock.

The standard home screen style should feel at home for anyone coming from an iPhone, but if you install a lot of apps and don’t categorize every app into a folder, your home screen will quickly get cluttered, especially if you start adding widgets.

App Drawer Layout

Fortunately, you can change the home screen layout style to show an app drawer. The setting to change the home screen style can be found in Settings > Home screen & wallpaper > Home screen style. (For some reason, EMUI doesn’t surface this setting in the actual Huawei Home settings.) Once enabled, newly installed apps won’t be added to the launcher, which can be a problem if you’re still learning the name of a new app. The OnePlus Launcher adds a dot on top of the icon for newly installed apps to help you find your new apps. This is admittedly a minor issue, but one that can be easily fixed by Huawei.

You access the app drawer by tapping on the icon in the middle of the dock (its position is fixed). Tapping on a button to show the app drawer is already an outdated concept since Google introduced the swipe-up app drawer with the Pixel Launcher Android 7.1 Nougat. The swipe-up app drawer gesture has been added to many other launchers because it feels so natural, and Google’s Pixel Launcher on Android Pie takes things a step further by letting you transition between the app drawer and recent apps overview in one continuous swipe-up gesture. In comparison, Huawei Home offers no integration between the launcher and recent apps overview even though in Android Pie, the launcher itself handles the recent apps overview.

The app drawer itself is rather barebones. At the top is a row of 4 apps that the launcher places for quick access. These are called “app suggestions” and the apps are chosen based on the pattern of your recent device usage. Below that is a vertically scrolling, alphabetized list of all your installed user apps and default EMUI apps. Every app, except for certain system apps, is shown here – you can’t hide apps or add them to folders. You can search for a particular app by using the search bar up top or quickly scroll down to apps that start with a certain letter by dragging the quick scroll bar on the right. However, if you have a lot of apps installed, it can be annoying to scroll through this list to find an app you’re less familiar with.

Shortcuts

Android 7.1 introduced app shortcuts to let developers define commonly used entry points into their app. EMUI 9’s launcher, of course, supports this feature if you long-press on any app icon from the home screen or within a folder. If you have the app drawer layout enabled, long-pressing on an app while on the home screen or in a folder will show a remove option above the app shortcut list. On the other hand, long-pressing on an app while the app drawer is open gives you the option to uninstall the app. The inconsistency in the options is a bit annoying considering other launchers let you uninstall apps or view the app info page from any screen.

Widgets, Transitions, and Settings

Tap and hold on an empty part of a home screen page and you’ll see the home page shrink in size as a row of 4 buttons appears at the bottom of the screen. This is your home screen overview, where you can do the following:

  • Choose the default home screen page: The page with the blue home icon up top is the default page that launches when you tap the home button.
  • Add a new home screen page: Scroll left or right until you reach an empty page with a + symbol in the middle. Tapping on the + symbol adds a new page.
  • Re-arrange home screen pages: Tap and hold then drag left or right on any page to re-arrange the order.
  • Change the home screen wallpaper.
  • Add a widget. Choose from any number of widgets supported by the third-party apps on your device, or from the following EMUI apps:
    • 1×1 Screen Lock shortcut
    • 5×1 resizable or 5×2 non-resizable weather widget. Although the smaller 5×1 widget can be expanded to show more weather information than the larger 5×2 widget (specifically, the minimum and maximum temperature), the larger 5×2 widget can also show upcoming calendar events. Both Weather widgets can be configured to show time and weather information from two different locations if you open the Weather app, tap on “Weather widget” in the overflow menu, and choose a home city that doesn’t match your current location (basically, when you’re traveling.)
    • 5×1 digital, 5×2 dual analog, and 2×2 analog clocks. All 3 options also show the date below the time. The dual clock option lets you choose two different cities to check the time for. You can also change the dual clock option in Date & Time settings.
    • 2×1 resizable music widget. At its default size, it shows the song title, album art in the background, and the standard 3 media playback actions (previous, toggle pause, and next.) If you resize it to its maximum 5×2 size, you can also see the artist name and song duration.
    • 5×3 resizable monthly calendar widget or 5×2 resizable weekly schedule widget. The calendar widget shows a blue dot on any day that you’ve defined an event for, but the widget does not specify if there are multiple events. If you resize the widget to 5×6, up to two events from today’s agenda can be shown. Otherwise, you can tap on any day in the widget to open the calendar app to that specific day to see what events you have scheduled. The schedule widget can be resized all the way to 5×6, but it’s also scrollable so you can see events for up to a week from today.
    • 3×1 resizable gallery widget, which can show cycle through an album of images or permanently show a single image. Each image in the album is shown for about 15 seconds. You can resize this widget up to 5×6 in size.
    • 1×1 contact, speed dial, and quick message widgets.
    • 5×2 resizable notepad widget. It shows you your recent notes with their title, the date it was last edited, and a thumbnail of the note. You can tap on any note preview to view the full note or tap the + icon in the top right to add a new note.
    • 5×4 resizable email widget to show emails from an account of your choosing.
    • 5×1 non-resizable power control widget to toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Location access, Auto-sync, and Brightness.
    • 1×1 widget shortcut to start the “optimizer” function in Phone Manager. The widget shows the current RAM usage as a percent of total RAM.
  • Change the transition animation between home screen pages. Choose from the default, perspective, squeeze, box, flip over, rotate, page, or windmill animations.
  • Open home screen settings to do the following:
    • Change the home screen grid size from as low as 3×3 to as high as 5×6.
    • Lock the current home screen layout from any changes.
    • Enable automatic alignment to fill empty spaces in the home screen when you remove an app.
    • Enable a shake gesture to realign home screen icons.
    • Change settings for app icon badges to show either a dot for new notifications or a number for unread notifications. Showing the number of unread notifications is only supported for certain apps like Google Duo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Messenger, Telegram, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc, while notification dots can be shown for any app.
    • Disable app suggestions from showing in the app drawer and unified search.
    • Enable home screen looping so you can continue swiping left or right to return to the default home page. Enabling this option turns off HiBoard.
    • Toggle HiBoard, Huawei Home’s launcher feed for news and shortcuts.

Unified Search

If you swipe down on any home screen page or tap the search bar in HiBoard, you’ll open up the unified search bar for Huawei Home. Here you can search through your apps, contacts, files, or calendar. If you don’t get a match, you can tap the “search online” option to open Google search with that search query pre-filled.

HiBoard

HiBoard takes up the home screen page to the very left if enabled. It can show an overview of your fitness data from Huawei Health, specifically your current step count, calories burned, and kilometers walked. It can also give you shortcuts to see your favorites gallery, see your latest photos, add a new note, open your to-do list, or start an audio recording. All of these features are integrated with the stock gallery, notepad, and voice recorder apps respectively. Next, a feature called “SmartCare” can surface important notifications and reminders for you, give you local weather alerts, show your phone usage statistics, remind you of certain daily tasks from your agency, and keep track of your monthly data usage. Lastly, at the very bottom is a list of news articles.

As you can see, HiBoard is most effective when you’re using Huawei’s services. If you’re heavily tied to the Google ecosystem, then HiBoard will probably not be very useful. Although there’s no way to switch HiBoard for Google Discover in settings, there’s a way to switch the feed if you’re willing to use an ADB command. Simply disable/uninstall HiBoard via ADB and Huawei Home will instead use Google Discover as its minus one screen. I was shocked to see that Huawei Home provides this fallback functionality, as even OnePlus forces you to root your phone just to get Google Discover working on international models of the OnePlus 6T. Kudos to Huawei for not crippling the launcher if you disable HiBoard.

If you want to replace HiBoard with Google Discover, run this ADB command and then reboot:

adb shell pm uninstall -k --user 0 com.huawei.intelligent

Other Stock EMUI Apps

With the exception of Google’s Messages, Chrome, and Play Store apps, every basic app you would expect to find on a smartphone is provided by Huawei. Huawei has its own file manager app, weather app, calendar app, clock app, music app, etc. All of these apps can be replaced by third-party alternatives from the Google Play Store, though they can’t be uninstalled without resorting to ADB commands.

Google’s own suite of basic Android apps is already pre-installed as per Huawei’s licensing agreement, though you have to manually go to Settings > Apps > Default apps to set them as the default. Since these apps are provided for convenience and can be easily replaced with Google’s apps, I’m only going to briefly describe each of EMUI’s default apps.

  • Dialer and Contacts
    • The Dialer and Contacts are merged into one app, accessible via tabs at the bottom. Although it’s possible to use Google Contacts in place of the Contacts, you can’t fully replace the EMUI Dialer app with the Google Phone app unless you use a modified version. The stock Dialer app is necessary to handle emergency number dialing, so don’t even think about disabling it with ADB.
    • Dialer
      • The Dialer is very barebones – there’s no spam detection, Call Screen, or any other smart functionality like Google’s Phone app. The Honor Magic 2 running Magic UI 2.0 has a special real-time, in-call voice translation feature in its dialer app, so we know that Huawei is capable of integrating intelligent features into its dialer app. Sadly, the global version of the dialer app only has settings for call log merging, SIM ringtone and vibration toggles, speed dial, respond by text, and other standard dialer app features. One feature that’s pretty nice is call and message blocking; you can set rules based on a blocklist/trust list, keywords, or block calls from everyone, strangers, or unknown/hidden numbers. Lastly, there is call recording functionality—a feature which Google blocked for third-party apps in Android 9 Pie—but you’ll have to sideload the HwCallRecorder APK to make it work. Once you sideload the APK, you’ll see a new “record” button in the in-call UI; all recordings are saved to the Recorder app.
    • Contacts
      • EMUI’s Contacts may not look as visually appealing as Google Contacts, but the functionality is all there. You can import contacts from Google Contacts, Telegram, Duo, WhatsApp, or Messenger. You can associate your LinkedIn, too. Group management and batch SMS/email sending to your contacts in groups are possible. Business cards can be added to contacts by scanning them with the built-in scanner; there’s no need to use a third-party app full of ads like CamScanner. You can create your own personal business card that others can scan, too. Lastly, for individual contacts, you can have all calls from them send to voicemail if you’re feeling really petty.
  • Gallery
    • The EMUI 9 gallery app doesn’t hold a candle to Google Photos, but it gets the basics right. Like Google Photos, you can pinch and zoom in the main “photos” tab to expand and see your images in a monthly view. You can also search your photos by time, the people in the photos, or the objects in the photos. You can view your photos in a slideshow or overlaid on a map if you have any photos with location information. When viewing an image, you can press the information button to see the histogram and other metadata, tap the share button to send the photo to another app, tap the favorite button to add it to a “favorites” album, tap the delete button to move the photo to the recycle bin before its deletion in 30 days, tap the edit button to perform a multitude of image manipulation actions, and much more like adding notes or printing the photo. If you have a ton of photos, you can pinch out to quickly scroll left and right through your photos in a carousel. Lastly, the highlights and discover tab show you automatically curated collections of photos based on location, persons, scenery, or objects much like Google Photos.
  •  AppGallery
    • AppGallery is EMUI’s app store. You can download and install apps from AppGallery, much like the Google Play Store. There are categories, top app charts, app management tools, and more. There’s not much use for AppGallery if you live outside of China, though Huawei does sometimes publish apps exclusive to their devices on AppGallery. They also publish updates to built-in EMUI apps, so do check AppGallery on occasion for new updates. Lastly, you can use AppGallery to redeem certain gifts and prizes like the Honor View20’s free Fortnite skin.
  • Files App
    • Stock Android’s built-in file manager is extremely barebones, and the Google Play app suite only recently started including Files Go by Google. On the other hand, EMUI has had a Files app for years. You can manage your local storage, external storage, Huawei cloud storage, or connect to local network storage from here. You can filter image files, video files, audio files, document files, and more. You can access your safe from the Files app. You can browse folders with hidden files (files that start with ‘.’ in their names or folders that contain a .nomedia file). The “recent” view gives you a neat overview of all recently added images, APKs, documents, videos, etc.
  • Downloads
    • The downloads app is also a file manager, although it has a lot less file management features than the Files app. You can browse the contents of your downloads folder, your images, your audio files, your videos, and any supported cloud storage providers. If you enable the option in the overflow menu, you can also browse the entire contents of your internal storage. Basic file operations like move, copy, and paste are supported, and you can also open new instances of the app for better multitasking.
  •  Weather
    • Powered by AccuWeather, the Weather app gives you a detailed, hour-by-hour weather forecast for the current day and a simplified forecast for the next 5 days. It also shows you the comfort level (what the temperature actually feels like), the wind direction and speed, and the moon cycle. You can view all of this information for multiple cities by swiping left and right anywhere after adding a city in settings.
  • Calendar
    • EMUI’s calendar app lets you check your calendar on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly view. It syncs with your Google Calendar accounts so you can import any existing calendars. The calendar defaults to the Gregorian one, though you can change it to the Chinese, Japanese, Persian, Hebrew, Islamic, Buddhist, Indian, or Korean calendars. The app can even insert calendar events for national holidays, which you can download for each region. You can customize the calendar view to hide declined events, show the week number, change the weekly starting day, customize which days constitute the weekend, or lock the time zone for events. Reminders are also integrated into the app much like Google Calendar.
  • Clock
    • The clock app doesn’t have the nifty Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube Music integrations that Google Clock offers, but it does provide a basic alarm, world clock, stopwatch, and timer. There’s nothing exceptional about the app except perhaps its world clock view which is convenient when you have friends, family, or coworkers in other parts of the world.
  • Compass
    • The compass app helps you get your bearing. The current direction aligns with the center-top of the phone. The four cardinal directions are shown in the center, with north being highlighted in red. The compass dial tells you your exact direction with respect to north. At the top, you can see your latitude and longitude while at the bottom the atmospheric pressure and altitude are displayed using sensor readings from your phone. The accuracy of the altitude can be improved by enabling online altitude calibration in settings, which uses your current location to obtain the sea level pressure at your location. Lastly, if you swipe right in the app, you can access the compass app’s leveler tool; the leveler uses your phone’s gyroscope to determine horizontal flatness while it uses a combination of the gyroscope and camera to determine vertical flatness.
  • Health
    • Huawei Health lets you track your steps using the phone’s built-in pedometer, and you can take advantage of this to track your runs. The app even helps you train for marathons by offering 4 running plans of increasing difficulty to ease you in and build up your stamina. For cyclists, you can use your phone’s GPS to track your cycling distance. Depending on what Huawei or Honor accessory you have, you can track your heart rate (and set warnings and limits depending on your build), sleep pattern, swimming activity, etc. To lose weight, you can set daily step goals and a target weight which you have to manually monitor by inputting your weight loss history in the app.
  • Music
    • An extremely simple app to play locally stored music files, which few people do these days. You can set favorite songs, make playlists, or listen to recently played songs. You can filter songs by length or folders, set a sleep timer, or show lyrics on the home screen widget. There’s little reason to use this app in place of any third-party alternative, cloud storage-based or not.
  • Recorder
    • Another simple app that’s there to merely provide basic functionality so you don’t have to search the Play Store. The Recorder app lets you record audio from the microphone with only a few options available to the user: add tags during the recording which you can later name, pause the recording, or toggle voice enhancement (which presumably helps pick up voices amidst background noise.) Call recordings will be visible in the Recorder app, too.
  • Notepad
    • A simple Google Keep alternative if you don’t mind the lack of cross-platform synchronization, Notepad lets you create notes with typed or handwritten text or images inserted from the gallery or camera. You can tag and search notes to keep things organized. The app also provides a simple to-do list.
  • WPS Office
    • This is a third-party app suite which is pre-installed in EMUI. It provides basic document processing functionality; you can view and edit files compatible with Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, and more. EMUI sets WPS Office as the default handler for Word documents, Excel sheets, PDF files, PowerPoint presentations, and Text files. You can uninstall WPS Office in favor of Google Drive or Microsoft Office.
  • Microsoft Translator (Huawei Mate 10, Huawei Mate 20, Huawei P20, and Huawei P30 series)
    • An alternative to Google Translate that actually does a decent job at translating between languages. Like Google Translate, you can translate spoken or typed text (one-way or two-way), translate text from the camera viewfinder, translate text from images in your gallery, or start a group to let multiple users join in on a multi-language conversation. Translations through the camera occur in real-time, with the translated text overlaying the original text in the viewfinder. Microsoft Translator supports 62 languages and Klingon, which is far less than what Google Translate offers but should be enough to cover your travels to most destinations worldwide. Language packs can be downloaded for offline translation, though only text and image-based translations are supported while offline. On the Huawei Mate 20 and Huawei P30, Microsoft Translate offers “fully neural on-device language translations” which means that translations are quick and accurate even without a network connection. Lastly, the app offers a phrasebook to help you learn essential phrases in another language. Overall, Microsoft Translator is more useful than Google Translate even if it doesn’t translate as many languages. The app definitely defied my expectations.
  • SwiftKey
    • The immensely popular third-party keyboard app is made the default on EMUI global releases. I’m personally a Gboard fan, but SwiftKey has a lot of features so you won’t be disappointed by its presence here.
  • HiCloud
    • If you aren’t already tied to Google’s app suite and plan to use the stock EMUI apps, then you may be interested in Huawei’s Cloud backup solution. You can set up automatic backups of the images in your gallery, the contacts on your phone, the events on your calendar, the notes you’ve taken, your Wi-Fi logins, your audio recordings, and your blocked numbers. You can also sync any file of your choosing by moving them to your “Huawei Drive” in the Files app.
    • All users get 5GB of free online storage and 1 month of free 50GB of storage, but you’ll have to purchase additional storage. Huawei lets you buy 50GB, 200GB, or 2048GB cloud storage allotments with a monthly subscription or a one-time payment for 12 month access. Although Huawei Cloud is cheaper at the 200GB tier, Google One offers more free storage for all users, is cheaper at the 2TB tier, and offers more cloud data tiers for data-hungry customers.
  • Updater
    • EMUI’s built-in system update app lets you choose when new updates get installed. You can check for an update manually or set it up so updates automatically get applied between 2:00 – 4:00 AM at night when your phone is not in use. You usually don’t get the option to choose when updates happen on other phones, though most other devices also don’t try to force updates on you like EMUI does. For security, it’s probably better that EMUI nags the user about updates, though.

Conclusion

After reading this review, I hope you can now consider yourself a master of EMUI. Most smartphone reviews barely give a passing thought to the software they run on, despite the fact that you’ll be interacting with it on a daily basis. No matter which Huawei or Honor smartphone you have, it’ll be running EMUI 9. Taking the time to learn its ins and outs could help you reduce your app clutter by uninstalling third-party apps you don’t need, and it can also open the door to new ways for you to use your phone. Although, just because you’re now intimately familiar with EMUI 9 doesn’t mean you’ve learned all there is to know. Huawei and Honor are beginning to roll out incremental updates to their Android Pie-based software—EMUI 9.1 and Magic UI 2.1 respectively. In the final part of my review (set to go live soon), I’ll go over the changes that EMUI 9.1 brings to the table.

Note: Huawei and Honor have stopped providing official bootloader unlock codes for their devices. Therefore, the bootloaders of their devices cannot be unlocked, which means that users cannot root or install custom ROMs.

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About author

Mishaal Rahman
Mishaal Rahman

I am the former Editor-in-chief of XDA. In addition to breaking news on the Android OS and mobile devices, I used to manage all editorial and reviews content on the Portal.