Honor 9A – Up close and personal. Is the App Gallery good enough?

A microUSB port, single-band (2.4GHz only) WiFi and a price-tag of just £129.99. This is entry-level, but (as usual for Honor / Huawei), it’s a beautiful design and seems to tick along relatively well on the MediaTek Helio P22 octa-core 2GHz CPU.

It’s 9mm thick and comes with a long-lasting 5000 mAh battery. Other specs include a 6.3″ 720×1600 (around 278 ppi) LCD screen, 3GB of RAM and 64GB of storage on-board which you can boost via a microSD card slot.

Powered by Android 10, you get the Magic UI 3.1 and the Huawei App Gallery for apps, which I’ll come back to in a minute.

Camera-wise, there’s a triple rear lens arrangement featuring a main 13 megapixel (f/1.8) normal shooter, a 5 megapixel wide-angle lens and a 2 megapixel depth camera. Up front, an 8 megapixel camera. It also gets Bluetooth 5.0, GPS and a 3.5mm audio connector.

The phone was launched online just a couple of days ago…

That 5000mAh battery is said to support 33 hours of 4G calls, up to 35 hours of video playback and up to 37 hours of FM radio playback.

You’ll be able to buy this from places like Hihonor, Amazon and other retailers from July. Pre-orders for start from July 1st. We’ve been told that the phone will be £129.99, despite the fact that it’s showing £149.99 on the UK Honor website right now.

So, this would arguably by the ideal purchase for those who want a phone with a good screen, a good camera, a great battery life and a pretty quick experience. Great design, well-known brand and a fantastic price. Boom. Bag it. Bosh.

However, there’s a problem, and I’m afraid to say it’s both big and wide-ranging for Honor and Huawei. Not just on this phone, but the Honor 9X, the Huawei P40 Pro and so on.

With America not allowing Huawei and Honor to work with Google, it means that the company can only use Android (as it’s Open Source). You don’t get the “Google Apps” – so no YouTube, no Gmail, no Google Pay, Google Drive, Google Calendar and… definitely no Google Play.

That last one is a killer, a real killer. Google Play is so well known and is the knee-jerk, go-to, heavily-advertised default app destination for Android users. Without that, users could easily be lost. Here, Honor and Huawei have replaced it with their own app store – App Gallery.

However, to say that it falls short in app choice is perhaps the biggest understatement I’ve ever made.

The company have a monolithic task ahead of them. They are so far behind with so many big and popular apps missing or implemented in different and unfamiliar ways.

On the £900 Huawei P40 Pro that’s a big problem, but Honor are gambling that you’ll be prepared to overlook this problem on the £129.99 Honor 9A.

I’m sorry Huawei / Honor but no, I don’t think customers will accept this, even at £129.99.

For some apps, you’ll find that they’re listed but you need to add them to a “wish list” so that Huawei / Honor can tell you when they’re available. For others, you find that the solution is a “Quick App”, which is effectively a home screen-shortcut to the mobile web version of the app or service in question.

Those big and popular apps that are available are mostly only available via an Android APK installer. If the site which you end up being sent to does have the APK (sometimes the page in question may not work), then the phone itself will go ahead and warn you against installing apps this way – this despite the App Gallery actually telling you to do it.

Users won’t like this ride.

Then there’s the incredibly tiny selection of well-known apps that actually are available as direct installs (like SnapChat). There’s so very few actual recognisable and useful apps which

The experience, sadly, is so vastly different to that of Google Play that it’s going to put a lot of potential customers off.

Here’s a look at the phone and the App Gallery. It’s not a great experience.

Like I said before, I feel that Honor are gambling on pushing out really low-priced phones, hoping that the incredibly limited app selection can be forgiven by customers because – hey, the phone is cheap. Trouble is, in a market filled with well-priced competitors which do have all the Google Play functionality, this is a massive gamble.

Huawei and Honor are so, so far behind with app availability. This is the problem Microsoft had with Windows Phone. I even had flashbacks as I was using it – Bing as the default search engine and a Microsoft keyboard.

The phones are great, but the apps just aren’t there. Some aren’t even listed, and I’ve not even touched on the more specialist-but-popular apps that you might expect, such as your supermarket shopping app, your network account app, your VPN app, the app that talks to your CCTV, your credit card app or whatever.

This isn’t just a hill to climb. This is a mountain.

Get more detail on the Honor 9A via the Honor website.