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Huawei Nova Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Fantastic battery life
  • Compact, attractive unibody
  • Strong display

The Bad

  • Glitchy software
  • Occasional stutters
3.5

Huawei Nova review: We’ve spent the week with Huawei’s latest mobile, nicknamed the Nova, which at under £400 should provide serious competition for the likes of the OnePlus 3, Samsung’s Galaxy A5 and the Honor 8.

These days the likes of the OnePlus 3 has shown us that you don’t need to stump up half a grand for a premium handset. For between £300 and £400 you can expect top-end performance, dependable camera tech, a gorgeous Full HD screen and plenty more besides.

The Huawei Nova certainly ticks most of those boxes, and at 5-inches feels a lot more compact than most of the competition. Here’s our full Huawei Nova review and how it compares with rival Android smartphones.

Huawei Nova review: Design

If you’re not sold on 5.5-inch beasts like the OnePlus 3 and Moto G4 Plus, then the Huawei Nova may be a blessed relief. While it’s great to have a massive screen for enjoying movies and your favourite YouTube videos on the go, we’d rather have something a bit dinkier that fits nicely in the hand.

The Nova is certainly a pleasure to use and comfortable to play with one-handed. The thick bezel beneath the screen means you might still struggle to reach up to the very top of the screen, but Huawei has included its usual ‘mini screen’ mode to help out. This basically shrinks the display down to make it easier to reach all areas.

That glossy front (marked with Huawei’s logo down below, where many phones shove physical buttons) gives way to a brushed metal edging, complete with subtle curves and shiny metal strips. The Nova’s metal unibody really is as gorgeous as ever; Huawei’s one company who’s really nailed design. From the red-tinted power button to the Nexus 6P-style camera bar, there’s plenty of cool touches to help the Nova stand out in a crowded market.

Not only does it look good, but the Huawei Nova feels reassuringly rugged too. I’ve bashed it about plenty in my week of use, throwing it into my bag in a rush and slapping it down onto tables with no mercy. I’m yet to see a single scratch or scuff.

Sadly the Nova isn’t water resistant, but neither is most of its closest rivals.

Huawei Nova review: Screen and media

Movie fans should enjoy the Nova’s 5-inch IPS screen, which is ringed by a thick black border. It’s not as spacious as the massive panels on offer from the OnePlus 3, Samsung Galaxy A7 and so on, but it’s still more than big enough for comfortable video viewing. And with a Full HD resolution, visuals are pleasingly crisp.

On top brightness, the Nova’s screen is brighter than the sun, so you’ll have no trouble viewing stuff when the sun is beaming down. There’s also a handy ‘Eye Comfort’ mode which basically filters blue light, just like Apple’s Night Shift feature. This produces warm images that are easier on the eye at night.

A dinky speaker built into the Nova’s bottom edge pumps out quite a respectable sound. Audio isn’t too crisp on top volumes, which is typical of a 5-inch mobile device, but there’s enough power to blast a YouTube video and clearly hear it over some serious background noise.

Huawei Nova review: Features and OS

Pull open the tiny drawer on the edge of the Nova and you’ll spot that there are two empty spaces. This gives you room for either two SIM cards (which can be individually managed in the Nova’s settings menu) or a SIM and a microSD card. That’s handy if you want to expand the 32GB of on-board storage.

Around the back of the phone there’s a centrally-mounted fingerprint sensor. This is sunken into the surface, which makes it easy to find with your finger – no groping around each time you want to unlock the device. And while it’s not the most accurate sensor we’ve used, occasionally throwing up ‘not recognised’ messages unless your fingertip is firmly in place, it’s certainly fast to work.

Boot up to your desktops and you’ll spot straight away that Huawei has dumped its Emotion UI (EMUI) on top of Android Marshmallow. That means a fair few changes – such as waving goodbye to the apps drawer and a funky redesigned notifications bar that separates your messages from your shortcuts.

The apps drawer removal is a pain in the arse, compounded by the sheer amount of crapware that’s packed in. However, if you don’t like the idea of all of your apps sitting there on your desktops, even when tidied away in folders, then you can simply change the launcher from EMUI to something more appropriate.

Check out our guide to the best Android launchers for some ideas, and our guide to changing the launcher on a Huawei phone for full instructions.

Huawei’s rather random ‘Knuckle Mode’ is back again too, which is supposed to allow you to take screenshots of portions of the screen by dragging your knuckle around. It doesn’t work, yet again, so you might as well just ignore this paragraph.

I discovered a fair few weird little software bugs in my time with the Nova, which will hopefully be zapped in future updates. These included everything from text messages appearing multiple times, to auto rotate seemingly disabling itself even though it was turned on in the settings. This second issue was particularly irritating, as it meant any videos I shot recorded in portrait mode, even though I was holding the phone sideways. The only way to solve it was a hard reboot.

Huawei Nova review: Performance and battery life

A Snapdragon 625 processor is packed inside the Nova, which is a bit of a step down from the Snapdragon 820 chipset stuffed into the OnePlus 3. However, everyday performance is fine and you can multi-task to some degree too; for instance, playing back videos in an adjustable window while messing around in other apps.

That said, we did see a few little stutters here and there while using the Nova, which is a shame at this price point. For instance, recording 4K video is sometimes a juddery experience on-screen (thankfully the end results are fine). And occasionally I’ll have to wait for the phone to catch up when flicking between apps.

Thankfully there are a few tools available to help out when it comes to performance. Tap the apps button and you’ll see exactly what’s open, along with a handy indicator of how much memory you’re using. That’s one way to free up some resources, while the Nova also warns you about apps that are churning away in the background.

Battery life is much more of a success story. The Nova can last for a full day and a half between charges even with intensive use, or 48 hours if you’re merely checking emails and browsing the web occasionally.

On top of that, there’s a nifty ultra power saver mode like Samsung’s, which knocks off all of the Nova’s main features and leaves you with bare-bones functionality. You can still make calls, send messages and so on, but not much else.

Charging the Nova is a pretty swift experience too. You should have more than enough power from just half an hour at the plug to get through the day.

Huawei Nova review: Cameras

Huawei’s camera tech always impresses and the Nova packs in another solid 12-megapixel snapper around the back, plus an 8-megapixel shooter up front. You can shoot full 4K video and detail-packed everyday snaps, although Huawei’s interface won’t be a hit with everyone and the Nova’s camera isn’t as strong as we hoped in low light.

For our photo and video samples and full analysis, check out our Huawei Nova camera review.

Huawei Nova review: Verdict

The Nova is a slick bit of hardware which boasts particularly impressive battery life, as well as offering a solid media experience. However, the software issues and glitches can make it quite a frustrating experience at times and performance is clearly limited.

Considering you can pick up the super-powered OnePlus 3 for a little less, not to mention the excellent Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016), it’s rather difficult to recommend the Nova. If the bugs are ironed out and you stick on your preferred launcher then it’ll be a solid handset, but right now there’s just too much competition at this price point.

Specification

Screen size5-inches
Screen resolution1920x1080
Weight146g
OSAndroid 6.0 + EMUI
Rear Camera12-megapixel
Front camera8-megapixel
ProcessorSnapdragon 625
Memory3GB
Storage32GB + microSD
4G LTEYes
Bonus featuresFingerprint sensor

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