Huawei Nova Review – Excellent Design but pricey

Thomas Wellburn
December 8, 2016

[nextpage title=”Introduction” ]

Product Type: Smartphone | Manufacturer: Huawei | Price: £429.99 | Where to buy: John Lewis | [et_social_share]

The Huawei Nova ticks all the right boxes for design, but what about the performance?

Chinese smartphone giant Huawei continues to expand their smartphone range with more and more handsets. The Nova series is their newest line and has its sights firmly placed on the mid-range, with solid design and some decent hardware inside. On paper, it’s not quite as powerful versus the competition and noticeably more expensive. Does the Huawei Nova have enough of a USP to make it stand out against the competition? Let’s find out…

Technical Details

OS Android Marshmallow 6.0.1

Processor Snapdragon 625

Screen 5-inches

Resolution 1920 x 1080 (440 PPI)

Memory 3 GB RAM

Storage 32GB

Micro SD compatible Yes, up to 256GB (second SIM slot)

Rear camera 12MP

Front camera 8MP

Video 4K

Connectivity Bluetooth, 3G, 4G LTE, NFC

Dimensions 141 x 69 x 7.1mm

Weight 146g

Battery 3,020 mAh

[nextpage title=”Design” ]


We suspect that part of the reason this is priced higher than normal is design, as the Huawei Nova ticks all the right boxes here. It looks exactly like a shrunken down Google Nexus 6P from the rear, with the detail even going so far as antenna placement. The 6P was a handset which divided opinion in the office; some of us loved it while others hated it. Personally, I found the appeal to grow on me over time, despite initially finding the handset rather unsightly.

From the front we once again felt a strange case of deja vu while looking at the Huawei Nova. The handset looks very similar to the Mate series, even down to the positioning of the logo and camera. It seems like Huawei has gone for an amalgamation of different in-house handset designs here, stitching them together to give us the finished product. Aside from the logo and camera sensor there’s very little to see, though an LED lingers in the top right corner to provide notification cues.

Moving to the sides and you’ll see that the Huawei Nova is comprised of a sandwich design. The black glass front sits atop a metal unibody which wraps around the edges of the handset. At just 7mm in thickness, it manages to be one of the thinnest handsets we’ve ever held and only fractionally thicker than the P9. Ad to this some sturdy metal power and volume controls and we’re very happy with the design in this department. There’s also a dual SIM tray with the second doubling as a microSD slot.

On the back you’ll once again find the full Huawei logo printed at the bottom, plus a fingerprint sensor and camera strip along the top. Although the rear design is hugely reminiscent of the Nexus 6P, Huawei has made a notable enhancements in a key area. The camera strip along the top no longer protrudes like it did on the 6P, making the whole rear flush and smooth. It also has a more curved design which makes the device sit better in the hand.


[nextpage title=”Camera” ]


The camera is one area where the Huawei Nova differs significantly from its bigger brother, the Nova Plus. Carrying a lesser 12 megapixel rear sensor, picture quality is very good in optimal conditions but suffers in others. The lack of optical image stabilisation on the Nova is disappointing, given that Huawei has included it on the bigger brother. We found that with macro shots especially, it was difficult to get the image as sharp as we wanted.

The camera did a very good job of exposing our dynamic scenes, with both sky and buildings retaining detail and colour information respectively. On the topic of colours, the Huawei Nova produced some very vibrant imagery with decent accuracy, though some did appear slightly blue when viewing on the big screen.

Low light was unfortunately one area where the Nova fell short against other handsets, producing grainy and soft images. It managed to carve out some detail in the images but overall, we were left a little disappointed considering the strong daytime performance.

The front camera is again good but not great, with brighter areas occasionally feeling a little blown out. The detail is impressive however, while the field of view doesn’t seem to warp our faces as much as other front snappers we’ve used in the past. Colour reproduction is also nice and vibrant, without the washed out look that cheaper cameras often give.

Huawei ships an excellent camera application on the Nova that comes bursting with features and offers a full suite of manual controls. While you won’t get the Leica branding and colour coded interface, it’s pretty much the same app that we saw on the P9. ISO, white balance, shutter speed and focus adjustments are all catered for, plus the obligatory beauty mode and collection of filters. There’s also a bunch of presets to choose from including a ‘good food’ mode which is supposed to enhance your meals… but just seems to give them a weird tint.


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Most half-decent Huawei devices tend to have good panels and the Nova is no exception. Shipping with a 5-inch 1920 x 1080 panel (440 pixels-per-inch), there’s more than enough resolution here for a pixelation free experience. The screen has an impressive brightness that helps it to be visible in outdoor conditions, narrowly falling behind flagships. We found the panel to be well calibrated out of the box, with good colour reproduction and plenty of sharpness.

The Huawei Nova uses an IPS panel which can’t quite reach the blacks of OLED but still does an admirable job. We measured the contrast ratio at 826:1; pretty standard for most panels. RGB balance across all brightness levels was pretty accurate, with only small errors of a few percent either way. Delta E was excellent at 100% brightness, measuring under 1. Anything under 3 is usually satisfactory. SRGB coverage was excellent, coming out at a whopping 99.3%. Adobe RGB coverage was decent at 73.5% but not quite up there with the best. To summarise, this is a good panel if not class-leading.



[nextpage title=”Performance” ]


Performance is one area where we suspect the Huawei Nova could do better, as a Snapdragon 625 doesn’t really cut it in 2016. Most mid-range devices now ship with the Snapdragon 652, a chipset which has proved itself to be worthy in gaming and VR duties. Both the Alcatel Idol 4s and Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 ship with his chip and offer excellent performance at a cheaper price; the OnePlus 3 takes this even further.

There’s no denying that the Snapdragon 625 is still a decent chipset and the benchmarks prove no different. It managed to achieve 838 for single-core and 2901 for multi-core on Geekbench 4, which is a perfectly decent result but far behind the Snapdragon 652. Looking at the AnTuTu scores and it’s a similar story, with the handset scoring 64,344 versus the low 80,000s which we saw on the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7. In real-world performance this doesn’t translate to that much of a noticeable difference but the stats don’t lie – this handset is significantly slower.

The GPU inside the Huawei Nova is the Adreno 506, which is a few series behind the 510 we see in Snapdragon 652 devices. It may sound we’re repeating ourselves here but the Nova is noticeably slower than those handsets in benchmarks, despite being a similar price. 3DMark posted a score of 463, which is again behind the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 and Alcatel Idol 4s. Intersstingly however, gaming performance was pretty much on a par with those handsets, likely down to the screen having a lower resolution. We were able to play titles like Asphalt Xtreme on the highest settings with minimal slowdown and frame-drops. While we wouldn’t call the experience perfect, it was definitely playable.

The data speed rating of this handset is CAT6, which offers a theoretical max download speed of 300Mbps and can take advantage of faster network speeds offered by carriers such as EE. For a mid-range device you would expect this, so it’s nice to see that Huawei has squeezed it in. This keeps it in line with the competition including the elusive OnePlus 3, which also only supports CAT6. We had no problems with call quality on the Huawei Nova and the general experience was very good at both ends.

Shipping with Android 6.0.1 and Emotion UI 4.1, the Nova keeps itself mostly on a par with the competition. The Emotion UI is still not something we’re particularity fond of, feeling like a cheap Apple imitation at best. It’s far too customised from stock and the hidden app tray still feels like a step backwards rather than forwards. You can somewhat rectify this by downloading the Google launcher from the app store but it won’t replace the notifications tray and other areas that Huawei has decided to alter.

The Huawei Nova comes with a 3,020mAh battery, which is on a par with other handsets in the mid-range and flagships. Using the handset on a daily basis, we were very impressed with the battery life on this handset. It easily managed a day moderate of use and still had a bit left over for the next day, which is a strong result. The AnTuTu battery benchmark gave it a score of 13,843, which is one of the highest results we’ve seen in this category. The non-removable battery is backed up by fast charging, which managed to juice our device pretty substantially in around 30 minutes.


[nextpage title=”Conclusion” ]


The Huawei Nova is a perfectly good mid-range handset that has solid performance and excellent design. The problem is that it costs about £50 more than other handsets which arguably offer more value for money. While it is a very good device, the jury is still out on whether you should pick this over handsets such as the Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 and OnePlus 3.



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