Huawei Nova in-depth review - Not quite a Super Nova

Huawei launched the Nova in Autumn 2016 at IFA in Berlin. It arrived in the UK as a Carphone Warehouse exclusive in Winter 2016. While looks-wise, it is a dead-ringer for the Huawei P9, internally things look a LOT different.

 Huawei Nova Review - Not quite a Super Nova
3.5

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,1/16/2017 4:46:37 PM

6

out of 10

Performance

10

out of 5

Look and feel

10

out of 5

Ease of use

7

out of 5

Features

7

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Ergonomic size | premium looks

Cons:

Very expensive | camera needs work | Processor under-powered

- By Sunetra Chakravarti

It has been widely reported that Huawei were Google's top pick to manufacture the Pixel range of phones but talks broke down when Google suggested they wanted no branding other than their own on the device.

However, word on the street was that Huawei had already started prepping for what would have been a big launch and that the Huawei Nova is actually the shell that the Pixel would have populated...

Huawei Nova in-depth review: Look and feel

You would be hard-pressed to find a better looking mid-range device on the market. With almost the same footprint as the Huawei P9, their much revered flagship, the Nova is a petite beauty. Easy to use one-handed, it sports a blackglass-topped back, that was first seen on a Nexus 6P, then on the Huawei P9 and now on the Huawei Nova. The grey back of our review sample is a matt-finished metal punctuated by a Huawei logo at the bottom and a lightening fast fingerprint sensor at the middle. 

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 The volume rocker and the power buttons are on the right of the screen and the SIM tray takes a nano-SIM and also has space for a microSD card. Charging is via Type-C which guarantees fast charging as long as you use the supplied cable and power plug supplied in box. 

Thinner than the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge when placed side by side, the Huawei Nova is a slim 7.1mm thick and the Gorilla glass 4 atop the display curves over to further accentuate its looks.

The edges of the phone are chamfered and there is only one set of speaker grills to the right of the power inlet. Although there is no Dolby sound here, the speaker is loud and clear enough for calls and listening to music-sometimes.

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Huawei Nova in-depth review: Screen and display

There is 2.5D curved glass over the IPS panel which has a resolution of 1080 x 1920 giving it a pixel per inch density of 441. We would have liked to see a higher resolution screen although the one here is sharp and crisp with a very pleasing balanced colour reproduction. It sports just a Full HD panel probably because the Snapdragon 625 doesn't support resolutions over 1080p. 

 

Huawei Nova in-depth review: Processor, software and battery

The processor on this beauty of a handset is a bit of a puzzle. While externally Huawei decided to give it the kind of polish it reserved for its flagship, internally there is a decidedly mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 onboard. 

During an Antutu Benchmark test, the Huawei Nova scored 63,688, a very long way behind OnePlus 3 (£339) at 145,533, Samsung Galaxy S6 (£369) with 81,222 and even the Huawei flagship, the P9 (£449) with 92,181. This kind of performance from a phone this expensive (£349.99) is worrying because it shows that the company isn't really listening to consumers and closing their eyes to competition around them. This would have been a must-buy device had it included a slightly higher specced Qualcomm processor and not the mid-range one. Together with the 3GB RAM, it is works okay performing day to day tasks but as we have seen in countless instances, an LPDDR3 RAM usually gets slower and slower with use until it is almost on the verge of being useless. 

 Software-wise, there is an Emotion UI layer over Android 6. And although Android purists would call it ugly, consumers we have spoken to have said they enjoy the lack of an App drawer so all apps are on the screen, like on the iPhone. However, there are certain apps that come preloaded, like VMall- Huawei's e-commerce website, HiCare, Themes and Phone Manager.

As previously said, there is 3GB RAM and 32GB storage which can be expanded via the microSD card.

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It is a 3020mAH battery onboard and owing to the Type-C charging, you can juice it up real-quick. During a video looping test, the Huawei Nova lost 10% power during 20 minutes of HD video streaming over 4G with 100% brightness. With Android 6's Doze feature as well as the (very strict) Emotion UI settings that switch off power-intensive apps as well as offer to switch to lower power consuming setups, you will be happy with how the Huawei Nova consumes and retains power. 

For a 5-inch screen, this is not a very good result but it could be down to the IPS LCD screen. 

Huawei Nova in-depth review: Camera

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To say that the camera needs work is over-simplifying the solution. On paper, the 12-MP sounds great for the price range, but again, look around the price mark the Huawei Nova is at- it is littered with fantastic smartphone cameras and ones that the Huawei Nova just cannot take on, in terms of power and camera smarts. You get okay results in bright light conditions but there is a terrible lag indoors and in medium to low light. All you end up with are blurry pictures that cannot come close to the likes of OnePlus 3T or even the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7. 

If you only take pictures for social media, it should be okay, although with the kind of photos you see on apps like Instagram these days, you would feel the pressure more if you were uploading blurry, out-of-focus selfies. 

We would still reitorate that both the 8-MP selfie camera and 12-MP primary camera work well in perfect light conditions.

You get the usual Huawei modes like light-painting, which to us is an absolute gimmick unless you are a professional photographer with oodles of patience and more time on your hands than most of us. Beauty mode- think super air-brushed selfies and time-lapse mode are also present.

The Huawei Nova has the ability to take 4K videos but in a cruel twist of fate cannot play them back in the same resolution because of the HD display.

Huawei Nova in-depth review: Should I buy it?

The Nova is one of the most elegantly designed phones in the market today, with tiny bezels and a very palm-friendly 5-inch screen size.

However, it is also incredibly expensive and lacking in processing power and camera smarts. For around the same price you could pick up the stellar OnePlus 3T from O2 or the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7. The lack of a better camera module, a better specced processor and display are just missed tricks and we hope Huawei learn from this instance and create a better second generation Nova phone soon!

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Huawei Nova specifications

Also consider: Samsung Galaxy A5

Similar to: Google Pixel

Killer app: Stunningly designed

Carphone Warehouse

Price: £349.99

Operating System: Emotion UI over Android Marshmallow (6.0)

Dimensions: 141.2 x 69.1 x 7.1 mm

Weight: 146 g

Resolution: 1080 x 1920 pixels; 441ppi

Display: 5-inch Full HD IPS LCD

Processor: Octa-core Qualcomm MSM8953 Snapdragon 625

Camera: 12-MP with LED flash; 8-MP selfie camera. 4K video recording

Memory: 32GB + 3GB LPDDR4 (RAM) expandable by 256GB (MicroSD)

Battery: 3,020 mAh lithium-ion battery

Fingerprint sensor: Yes

Misc: 4G; NFC; Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4. Grey & Gold colour