Huawei Nova Review: A Lovely Mid-Ranger, But Slightly Too Expensive

By Aatif Sulleyman on at

Huawei has launched a new mid-range smartphone, and we rather like it. Is it good enough to turn your head away from the excellent OnePlus 3 though?

What is it?

A normal-sized phone! It may not feel like it at times, but companies haven’t completely forgotten about sub-5.x-inch handsets. Huawei’s embraced the supersized part of the market more eagerly than most, but it hasn’t forgotten about...

Who Is It For?

… people with normal-sized hands... and pockets... on normal-sized wages. The Nova is a mid-range 5-incher aimed at those of you that can only dream about being able to afford a Samsung Galaxy S7 or iPhone 7. It’s also got pretty impressive battery life.

Design

Huawei, you’ve done alright. The Nova is pretty, prettier than you’d expect a mid-ranger to be. From the front it has hints of the Huawei P9 and iPhone about it, thanks to its rounded corners, pleasantly simple look and glossy finish. It’s got high-end appeal.

The glass front panel blends pleasingly into the brushed metal frame, while the curved, sand-blasted back -- complete with that unusual visor thing at the top -- conjures up images of the Huawei Mate 8 and Huawei-built Nexus 6P, and helps it stand out from the crowd.

A circular fingerprint scanner lies beneath the main camera sensor, while the red-accented power button sits next to the volume rocker on the handset’s right-hand edge. Oh, and there’s a USB Type-C port on the bottom.

Using It

First off, refer back to the What Is It? section. This thing is amazing. It slips in and out of your pockets with little or no resistance, and you don’t need a thumb extender to reach all areas of the screen.

That screen, by the way, is a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution number. It’s sharp and vibrant, with excellent viewing angles too, though maximum brightness isn’t quite as eye-watering as I’d ideally like it to be. On particularly sunny days, I’d struggle to watch porn in the park without straining my eyes and waving my hands around to create shade. Audio levels are pretty impressive though, with no amount of birdsong able to distract me from the good stuff.

The Snapdragon 625 and 3GB of RAM combo is an excellent setup too. The Nova is powerful enough to let you complete everyday tasks like Facebook-stalking and precautionary disease research nice and smoothly. I only ever experienced lag and felt the phone heat up while stacking Chrome with a silly number of, ahem, perfectly legal live video streams.

The perpetually divisive EMUI custom skin (version 4.1 this time) is back again, sitting on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow to make the Nova look vaguely like it runs iOS. Gone is the app drawer, which I don't mind but many others seem to hate, because organising their apps is “too hard”.

One of the new additions included on the Nova that Huawei seems particularly happy about is the blue light filter, which should help you catch a good night's sleep even when you’ve been a bit silly and spent about three hours using your phone in bed, despite having spent most of your work day complaining to your colleagues about being absolutely knackered, and how that's not really like you. I haven’t noticed much of a difference with my sleeping pattern, but that may be because I’m usually busy fighting crime at night.

Huawei’s also included a self-explanatory feature called Mini Screen View for people with abnormally tiny hands, while you’ve also got the option to tinker with other stuff like colour balance and gestures, so your eyes and fingers don't hurt too much.

What I like best, however, is battery life. The Nova uses a 3,020mAh battery, and it lasts all day. For reference, the universally praised Galaxy S7 relies on a 3,000mAh battery. Using the Nova, I’ve typically found myself with around 20% of juice left at the end of the day, despite being a rather popular so-and-so who makes a lot of calls and sends plenty of messages to other phones. I've also got an insatiable thirst for music and lengthy x-rated movies -- both notorious battery sappers.

Camera

The Nova squeezes in not one but two cameras, a sensor on the front and another one the back. Impressive stuff.

The rear camera is a 12-megapixel number, and it’s solid, rather than excellent. It focuses quickly and, in favourable light, captures clear, detailed images you’d be happy to caption with a bunch of hashtags and force upon your friends’ social feeds.

There’s HDR mode on hand too, which helps balance things out in excessively bright and gloomy scenarios. However, we’ve had trouble with photographing moving targets, with results appearing frustratingly blurry. Not ideal when you’re trying to unleash the power of Megacams.me on an unwilling candidate.

The 8-megapixel selfie camera is excellent though, consistently capturing cracking vanity shots. However, as you can see from the images above, Beauty mode is as creepy as ever.

Should You Buy It?

The Huawei Nova is a fantastic mid-range smartphone... but it’s up against a rather special rival. At €399 (around £335), it goes head-to-head with the £329 OnePlus 3, a wonderful phone we recently hailed as the best cheap handset you can buy.

If Huawei decides to drop the Nova’s price, it’s definitely worth a second look. Right now though, we just can’t recommend it over the OnePlus.

Verdict

An all-rounder with particularly impressive battery life. If only it was slightly cheaper.