Huawei Nova hands-on: premium design and focus on lifestyle at mid-range price
Huawei is the rising star of the smartphone market: a company that has witnessed booming growth in the past couple of years, it now stands right behind Apple in terms of the number of phones it sells and could likely overtake it soon. The next target is Samsung.
To achieve such high goals, Huawei has a few aces up its sleeve: it's got its large-phone Mate series that stand out with their great battery life, then there is the P series of flagship devices that now carry a dual-camera system made in partnership with Leica.
Now, Huawei also introduces something for those looking for a more affordable phone: the mid-range Nova series.
The Huawei Nova is the staple of this new series, a 5-inch device designed to a high standard with a premium metal body, curved form that fits well in the hand, a next-gen fingerprint scanner and more. We take an in-depth look at the new Huawei Nova right where it's announced: IFA 2016, one of the largest tech expos of the year. Before we share our impressions, let's take a quick look at the specs sheet:
on top of Android 6 Marshmallow
|Dimensions||141.2 x 69.1 x 7.1mm|
|Display||5" IPS LCD|
1080 x 1920 pixel resolution
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 625|
(8x Cortex A53s @ up to 2.0 GHz)
|Cameras||12MP main cam with f/2.2 lens, 4K video|
8MP front camera
expandable via microSD cards of up to 128 GB
Rather than focus on processors and the technical side, Huawei focused on two key features of the new Huawei Nova: its outstanding camera, including some new selfie tricks, and its improved battery life.
First, the improvements in battery life seem to come from two places: obviously, a very large, 3,020 mAh battery, and a more efficient processor. The breakthrough for Huawei here is called a high-density stacking architecture, a new layout that allows 20% more space for the battery, so that the cell of the Nova is nearly twice as big as that on the iPhone 6s.
Huawei also supports quick charge on this handset, with the built-in charger able to deliver up to 10 watts (in a 5V 2A dose). Overall, battery life numbers for the Huawei Nova are as follows:
- Two full days of normal use (48 hours)
- 13 hours of HD video playback
- 16 hours of 4G browsing
- 73 hours of music playback
- 5 hours of Pokemon Go
Then, there is the new USB Type-C port that's a nice little thing to have, so that you don't need to wonder which is the right way to plug a cable to charge your phone.
OnePlus 3, it seems to offer decent performance. The Huawei Nova sports a 12-megapixe camera with 1.25-micron pixels and a 6-piece lens that brags about its low-light capabilities and fast, 0.3-second auto-focus thanks to phase detection tech. We're glad to see support for 4K video recording as well.
The Huawei Nova has a 'selfie-optimized' 8-megapixel camera that aims to provide 'perfectly lit selfies in low-light' thanks to a selfie screen flash. It also features an optimized beauty algorithm that aims to provide natural-looking skin tones. A gimmick that girls will probably like is a Beauty Makeup tool that shows you what your face would look like with 8 different types of make-up and lipstick.
The Nova ships with a fingerprint on its back, but it's not just any fingerprint scanner: Huawei calls this a level 4 fingerprint reader. This is to indicate the difference with level 3 fingerprint scanners found on even flagship phones these days. A level 4 finger scanner like the one on the Nova features 3D fingerprint recognition, looking in depth and featuring self-learning algorithms and FIDO certification.
Put simply, unlike other phones, this new fingerprint scanner is protected from fingerprint fraud. If you try, you could copy a fingerprint that someone has left somewhere and then use this copy to unlock a level 3 fingerprint phone, but the depth reading on the Huawei Nova prevents such type of fraud. Neat!
Interface and features
The familiar Huawei Emotion UI is a pretty deep overhaul of the standard Android look. Gone is the app drawer, and gone are a lot of the familiar visual touches, even the icons seem completely changed.
The rest: attention to detail
The rest is really little details that Huawei has paid attention to: the ergonomic curve, the 2.5D screen, the compact screen-to-body ratio of 76% that makes the 5" Nova almost as compact as the 4.7" iPhone 6s. Also, the impressive 1.8mm narrow bezel: compare this with 3.07mm on the Galaxy S7 and 4.29mm on the iPhone 6s.
Huawei also takes pride in its display with vivid colors, and the company bragged about 'orange that looks orange' on this screen. The phone is also well equipped in terms of connectivity: there is 7 4G LTE bands covering all of Europe (we're yet to hear about US version with relevant bands). Huawei also claims this new phone has the fastest network search while roaming.
At the end of the day, there is a reason why Huawei is being so successful both globally and at its home in China: the combination of very smooth, fluid performance of its user interface, the exquisite design, the excellent battery life and good camera quality are alluring. At first sight, the Huawei Nova seems to bring these things at a mid-range price of €400 that is quite competitive.
Sure, the Huawei Nova has a few fun gimmicks like the make-up mode for selfies, but it still seems like a well-polished smartphone that is focused on getting the important things right.
These days, it will meet fierce competition from the likes of the OnePlus 3 that still brings much more to the table at the same price, but you cannot get the OnePlus 3 at carriers or in physical retail stores, nor can you go to a store and get it serviced that easily, and that is something that is valuable to users. If you count this advantage in, the Huawei Nova looks very promising and indeed a fair value for the money. The phone is coming in a choice of titanium gray, mystic silver, prestige gold, and rose gold in October 2016.