Can Huawei successfully bring power and style to the market with a mid-range price tag? Find out in our full Huawei Nova review!
While Huawei has had a busy 2016 launching stars such as the Huawei P9 and Huawei Mate 9, a far more terrestrial revelation was the Nova; the company’s new, mid-range contender that shares some design DNA with the Google Nexus 6P. In our Huawei Nova review, we’re left to ask the question; is this a star that’s rising, or falling?
If one were to stand in a crowded room and yell out the name ‘Huawei!’, you could reasonably get three consistent responses. The first is ‘large phones!’, the second might be ‘premium design!’ and the third could be ‘affordable flagships!’
Thing is, the Huawei Nova attaches itself to only one of those claims; this is neither a large phone nor an (affordable) flagship, but instead a mid-ranger that brings the classicly premium-looking Huawei design language to the masses.
That’s an admirable goal, but it’s also one that’s made far more difficult by the presence of Samsung’s new Galaxy A range, Xiaomi’s burgeoning arrival in South Africa, and even the iPhone SE which sits several ladder rungs above in terms of price.
This, then, is somewhat of a moonshot for Huawei; can the Chinese company – which has otherwise established fame in South Africa for its flagship P and Mate series, and the Lite versions thereof – replicate its success in an entirely different cosmos? Let’s dive in!
Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC, the Huawei Nova sports 3GBs of RAM, 32GBs of expandable storage, and a 3,020mAh battery tucked underneath the sexy sheen of a 5″ 1080p display. In terms of cameras, the Nova boasts a 12-megapixel primary shooter, and is complemented by an 8-megapixel selfie camera.
Thing is, the Huawei Nova might set tongues wagging overseas for its design, which references the Huawei-designed Nexus 6P. That’s a fact which doesn’t necessarily translate to South Africa, given the fact that we’ve never been able to access Google’s hardware through official channels.
Still, there’s no denying it – looking at the Huawei Nova is just as an enjoyable affair as stargazing on a crisp summer’s night; compared to last year’s Huawei G8, this is a refined affair which brings a touch of class to proceedings. Nevermind the fact that it has a gorgeous name like Nova, this is a phone that’ll leave a lasting impression when slipped out of a pocket or purse.
It’s also damn comfortable. A subtly rounded back gives way to chamfered sides, and the Nova’s vibrant screen its utterly dazzling. Huawei has learned a lesson or two from the past and has included volume rockers and a power button on the right-hand side that are joyously clicky, while the handset’s rear fingerprint scanner is perfectly placed – even for someone with larger hands, such as myself.
If there’s a criticism, it’s that Huawei continues to bundle its devices with a right-sided speaker port which can all-too-easily be eclipsed by one’s palm; though this is forgivable if your grip is more malleable than mine is.
I’ve written a substantial amount about my dislike for Huawei’s EMUI skin, and the Huawei Nova – unfortunately – does little to improve my opinion.
While one can, of course, tweak the Nova – through the virtue of installing a custom launcher – to meet one’s needs, the vast majority of consumers won’t, and will he stymied with one of the most limiting takes on Android.
Thing is, I tore into Huawei’s G8 for much the same reason I dislike EMUI on the Nova – the fact that both devices are smaller than Huawei’s traditional fare – but the Nova manages to compound the problem by being even smaller than the G8.
While some design and comfort gains are made as a result, there’s no moving around the fact that (default) text on the Nova is entirely too small, the notification screen is too cramped, and Huawei’s detailed icon set is too small to properly enjoy as one might on a large flagship such as the Mate 9.
During one particular day of my Huawei Nova review period, I grew so frustrated I gave up and simply installed Google’s Now launcher; something I try not to do, as I feel products are best evaluated as they come out of the box.
Here’s where the Huawei Nova claws back some of its territory. In my hands-on preview, one of the early remarks I made was my caution regarding the quick battery drain I experienced when unboxing and setting the Nova up.
Thankfully, that’s a worry that quickly dissipated during my full Huawei Nova review period. Thanks to the Nova’s power-sipping Snapdragon 625 chipset and large 3,020mAh battery, all-day battery life is a consistent win for the device; I regularly went to bed with the Nova sitting somewhere between 20-30%, and the fact that the device supports USB Type-C equates to faster charging; a boon for those looking for a wallet-friendly, design-conscious athlete that can last a day or more.
Of course, the presence of Qualcomm’s mid-range 625 processor means that the Nova doesn’t benefit from the full power one might expect from a Snapdragon 821 or 825.
While there’s little direct consequence; the Nova chugs along as amicably as any reasonable Android device from the fair crop of 2016 has seemed to do, there’s a noted lack of power here that might not sate the appetite of customers looking for a rock-solid Android phone to get them through the next two years.
For instance, there’s a decided lag when the phone begins to heat up while playing a graphics-intensive game, or the subtle slowness of scrolling through apps or menus might deter the performance-conscious.
During my Huawei Nova review, I came to the erstwhile conclusion that this isn’t a phone aimed at those hoping for an equitable spread of power, features and performance; rather, this is a device for the style conscious. While that may not be a hurtful revelation for everyone – some of us, indeed, want a phone that acts more as jewellery than a performance blockbuster – one of my chief complaints comes next…
If there’s an aspect which reaffirms my conclusion that the Huawei Nova is more a twinkle in the night sky than an exploding star, it’s the fact that the Huawei Nova’s camera doesn’t quite measure up.
For a company that spent most of 2016 creating blockbuster hardware that shattered our conception of what a mobile device’s camera can achieve, the Huawei Nova falls far short of that promise. While camera performance isn’t bad, per se, this is far from the potential we know Huawei has and has displayed in the market over recent years.
A consistent gripe I had during my Huawei Nova review is that low-light performance lacks the savvy we’ve seen other Huawei devices arrive with, leaving shots grainy and washed out. Shadows all too often become undefined, while highlights tend to burst onto the scene.
This is a contender which will sate everyone just looking for something to live with, but serious camera enthusiasts might be better directed to Samsung’s Galaxy A range.
The Nova’s front-facing camera is all-together a different contender, with an 8-megapixel sensor powering crisp selfies. Huawei’s traditional beauty filter feature remains, and while that has the potential to turn human faces into smudges, performance here is otherwise in the green. Sadly, the Nova is a better lifestyle companion than it is a powerhouse play in the midrange.
Thing is, the Huawei Nova isn’t a bad phone.
Sure, it might well disappoint the Huawei faithful looking for respite from the likes of the P9 or Mate 9, and the camera doesn’t live up to the expectations that brand has managed to cultivate over recent months, but that isn’t good reason to turn the device aside.
If you subscribe to the adage that your mobile phone is an extension of your arm, there are two ways of looking at the Huawei Nova. One is that it’s not fit to take the reigns from equitable rivals – such as the Huawei P9 lite, for instance – while another is that this phone could be the perfect compliment to the classy jewelry on your wrist. Heck, during my Huawei Nova review, I can’t say I wasn’t tempted to wear the device as an accessory.
If you’re enamored with the Huawei Nova’s design and price tag, this is erstwhile a good horse to bet on. The Nova never failed to elicit a reaction when I took it out in public, though I can’t say the same of its performance day-to-day.
Let’s wrap up. The Huawei Nova is indeed a parting shot at stardom; a Hollywood Boulevard hopeful that brings the look and attitude, but might not necessarily have the chops to back it up depending on what you’re looking for.
As the star of an A-grade feature film, the Huawei Nova might disappoint you with its focus on aesthetic over performance. However, if we’re talking straight-to-video, this is a phone which can amount to something great thanks to its handsome design and great battery life. Get it if you’re looking for something stylish and savvy, but look elsewhere if you’re seeking total value-for-money.
What are your thoughts on our Huawei Nova review? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!