Introduction


How many different ways are there to put together a smartphone? Manufacturers pick and choose components from myriad sources to bring us tricked-out flagships with bleeding-edge specs, ruggedized handsets able to withstand a little abuse, and even incredibly affordable budget phones that can be purchased, clear and unlocked, for little more than the cost of a nice dinner out.

While the sort of phones we get at the very top and bottom of the pricing spectrum tend to fall into a few common patterns, things are much more interesting – or at least much more varied – when we focus on the mid-priced space. Some of those phones will try to deliver flagship-quality performance at a discount, while others may concentrate more on design or one or two stand-out features.

With its new Nova series, Huawei looks to bring style and refinement to mid-rangers, crafting a pair of handsets designed to evoke the same sort of jealous looks owners of lesser devices feel when gazing upon Apple or Samsung's latest hero phones.

Does Huawei hit the mark with stylish, capable, and maybe most importantly – affordable – smartphones in the Nova and Nova Plus? That's a lot to get right, so let's waste no more time in seeing just how well the company pulled things off.

In the box:


Design

Huawei aims high, but comes up a little short


Sometimes siblings look so much alike that they could be mistaken for twins. Other times they seem more like total strangers. The Huawei Nova and Nova Plus fall somewhere between those two, each sporting its own very distinct design, while sharing enough in common that we'll plausibly buy the explanation that they really are blood relatives.

With metal bodies, curved-side “2.5D” glass, and beveled edges, the Huawei Nova and Nova Plus sure share a number of construction elements. While the curves of the two models differ slightly – a decision that may be taking size into factor – they both feel really nice in the hand, with smooth yet grip-friendly corners and the sort of pleasingly solid heft you only really get from metal.

Other little elements carry over between the two, like similar bottom-edge speaker grille designs, matching USB Type-C ports, and the same button layout. But while those hardware controls may show up in the same place, differences can't help but make the two already begin to stand apart: the power button on the Nova, for instance, has a smooth finish and a barely perceptible anodized red border, while the button on the Nova Plus is silver all the way around, though it picks up radial etching on top.

So far the two phones have been largely on the same path, but as we start looking at the rear panel assembly, things really start diverging. The Nova tucks its camera up in one of the phone's top corners, not unlike iPhone placement. And while that's unobjectionable enough, the camera and LED flash both live within a prominent plastic stripe stretching across the phone's otherwise metal back panel – and while plastic and metal can work together just fine, they don't look great in the Nova's case, taking away a bit from the otherwise premium aesthetic.

The Nova Plus dodges that bullet of a big, obviously plastic stripe, and while Huawei does appear to be mixing up the materials it uses at the top and bottom of the handset's rear panel, at least the colors and textures all match. Unfortunately, the camera on the Nova Plus isn't much of a looker, and juts out from the case with a big squircle lens. It's not that it sticks out very far, nor is it the first phone to be put together in such a manner. It's just that it looks nothing like the Nova, and comparing the two side-by-side, the Nova's camera has a much more pleasing design.

Finally both phones get rear-mounted fingerprint scanners, and they use this as one more opportunity to demonstrate their independence: the Nova gets a circular scanner, while the Nova Plus goes with a squared-off scanner.

If these handsets were branded slightly differently, the lack of a common design might be a little less important. Instead, Huawei leaves us without a clear vision of exactly what a “Nova” phone is supposed to look like.


Huawei nova

Huawei nova

Dimensions

5.56 x 2.72 x 0.28 inches

141.2 x 69.1 x 7.1 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

Huawei nova Plus

Huawei nova Plus

Dimensions

5.98 x 2.98 x 0.29 inches

151.8 x 75.7 x 7.3 mm

Weight

5.64 oz (160 g)

Honor 8

Honor 8

Dimensions

5.73 x 2.8 x 0.29 inches

145.5 x 71 x 7.45 mm

Weight

5.40 oz (153 g)

OnePlus 3

OnePlus 3

Dimensions

6.01 x 2.94 x 0.29 inches

152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35 mm

Weight

5.57 oz (158 g)

Huawei nova

Huawei nova

Dimensions

5.56 x 2.72 x 0.28 inches

141.2 x 69.1 x 7.1 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

Huawei nova Plus

Huawei nova Plus

Dimensions

5.98 x 2.98 x 0.29 inches

151.8 x 75.7 x 7.3 mm

Weight

5.64 oz (160 g)

Honor 8

Honor 8

Dimensions

5.73 x 2.8 x 0.29 inches

145.5 x 71 x 7.45 mm

Weight

5.40 oz (153 g)

OnePlus 3

OnePlus 3

Dimensions

6.01 x 2.94 x 0.29 inches

152.7 x 74.7 x 7.35 mm

Weight

5.57 oz (158 g)

To see the phones in real size or compare them with other models, visit our Visual Phone Size Comparison page



Display

Granular controls are nice, but more accurate colors out-of-box would be better


We wouldn't expect mid-range devices to push many limits, and that's certainly not the case with the screens on the Huawei Nova and Nova Plus, both offering 1080 x 1920 LCD panels. The former gets a compact 5.0-inch screen, while the latter pushes things up to 5.5 inches.

Initially, they both look fine, displaying crisp lines, bold colors, and feeling plenty readable. At least, that's the case indoors, but visibility can take a hit outside in the sun, with the two screens only offering middle-of-the-road brightness.

And while colorful, saturated imagery really pops on the Novas' screens, the displays aren't extremely accurate in their color reproduction, with a gamut that's all over the place (while leaning towards cooler hues). Huawei thankfully includes a color-temperature-control in its display settings, but it's frustrating that those adjustments aren't starting from a neutral point.



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12 Comments

1. Barney_stinson

Posts: 672; Member since: May 30, 2016

Well!! Xiaomi. Is killer

5. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

Redmi 4 FTW... same processor, RAM, and storage.. (at least that's the rumor said :P) plus bigger battery, and probably better camera... for 1/3 of the price but with s**tty availability :-/

6. Scarambay unregistered

Better camera is wishful thinking. I really hope Xiaomi improves the camera and makes it at least on par with the snapper of Mi 4i. That phone had an excellent camera, almost rivaling the pics of Galaxy Note 4.

2. jellmoo

Posts: 2661; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

I don't quite get why these phones exist. The Honor 8 just seems like the better option from top to bottom...

3. libra89

Posts: 2317; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Nice review! I think if the regular Nova was priced lower, it might have a better chance. Having the same pricing as the Honor 8, is weird.

4. Novage

Posts: 52; Member since: Nov 10, 2015

PhoneArena has a serious problem with chinese phone....

7. mike2959

Posts: 697; Member since: Oct 08, 2011

I've tried the Mate 7 and 8. I really wanted to like them. Heck flick a Pokémon ball on the Mate 8 it stutters. The GPU is terrible. The software is just weird. Oh and the battery is way over exaggerated.

8. trojan_horse

Posts: 5868; Member since: May 06, 2016

Huawei's devices have always had lackluster GPU performances. I Wonder why can't Huawei beef it up!

9. flow280

Posts: 33; Member since: May 09, 2016

Wallpaper looks awfully familiar...

10. FrankUnderwood2

Posts: 243; Member since: Oct 01, 2015

I am really worried about those thin bodies (7.1 mm and 7.3 mm respectively) of Nova and Nova Plus stuffed with huge 3020 and 3340 mah batteries. After the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, I am not touching any phone that has even a distant hint of exploding.

11. Dancy

Posts: 2; Member since: Oct 19, 2016

Nice review, but the phone seems similar to previous products, and I don't like the appearance of Nova, especially the white one.

12. Seany

Posts: 94; Member since: Sep 28, 2012

Phone Arena your reviews are always rubbish. I've got the Nova and the camera is sharp and excellent with good dynamic range. I'm a keen photographer and am very fussy but the Nova takes nice well exposed photos even in grey light. As usual you're always biased towards Apple or Samsung with pointless gimmick features. And this reviewer is a prat

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