Huawei Nova and Nova Plus Review
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.
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:
- Huawei Nova (Plus)
- USB Type-C cable
- Charging adapter
- SIM tool
- Quick-start guide
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.
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.