Huawei nova review: A good phone with a terrible price

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The latest handset from Huawei, the nova, is a rather elegant piece of kit.

The 2.5D glass is awesome, the weight is perfect in my hand and the features are what you would expect from a smartphone.

The gold paint job is slick and the whole affair feels quite – dare I say – premium. The handset also has a rather “premium” price tag of R6 999.

The challenge then is to find out whether Huawei has delivered a smartphone good enough to justify the high price or whether this is just a sub-R4 000 smartphone in premium clothing.

Huawei nova review: The speed of (dim) light

The nova’s specifications are good but when you look at the price tag one can’t help but feel a sense of “is that it?”

While 3GB of RAM coupled with a 2.0GHz Cortex-A53 processor on the Snapdragon 625 platform is not a bad for gawking at on a spec sheet, it isn’t as good as the Mi 5 which houses the excellent Snapdragon 820 platform.

Doing basic tasks such as browsing through Facebook or checking your mail feels smooth and lag free. There is a slowdown in performance once you start multitasking but it’s not enough to cause any frustration. For the most part things run smoothly and you can close resource hungry apps easily enough.

As you can see from the benchmarks above, the nova is a bit more powerful than the Galaxy S6 but that handset is much older than the nova though perhaps not as cheap. Huawei’s latest does beat out the Redmi 3 but that handset is also considerably cheaper.

Gaming is okay, there were instances where the screen didn’t register our inputs but if you’re simply looking to defeat some noobs in Clash Royale, the nova will help you in that endeavour.

Performance is not bad, it just isn’t what I was expecting at this price point. I suspect that a great deal of emphasis was placed on power efficiency which I’ll touch on in a bit. For this price however, I would have liked to have seen a bit more performance squeezed from the CPU and perhaps an extra gigabyte of RAM even if it meant a slightly lower on-time.

At the back of the handset you’ll find a fingerprint scanner which I found to be incredibly snappy even if my hands were wet or dirty. Unlocking the nova with a digit requires a simple press on the scanner.

The fingerprint scanner is incredibly fast and unlocks the phone with a simple touch.

Another disappointment is that there is no support for 802.11ac WiFi especially for the money Huawei is asking. With that having been said, I never found my WiFi to be slower than on my notebook but your use case may be different depending on your internet connection.

Huawei nova review: Super nova snaps

The 12MP snapper at the back of the nova is, well, great. Images look vibrant and you can play around with the settings to get the effect you want.
Something to note is the ability to paint with light. I am terrible at this (as I discovered in my testing) but it’s an interesting feature that builds on Huawei’s love for smartphone photography.

Usually images taken in dim lighting end up looking, well, crap. The nova manages to capture incredibly true to life colours and without too much of the grain you’ll see in most low light images.

For selfies there is an 8MP snapper which, like the rear shooter, is incredibly good.

For budding videographers, the nova can capture video at UHD resolutions at 30 frames per second. It’s not something we usually use given the size of UHD videos but it’s a feature we’re filing under “nice to have.”

Huawei nova review: Power up

My favourite feature of the nova is how quickly it charges. Thanks to a USB-Type C connector and fast charging technology you can get the 3020mAh battery up from empty to 100% in just over an hour.

Once full we found the nova lasted a day and a half with Bluetooth, WiFi, and mobile data running. Our usage was also quite heavy using the handset for gaming, streaming music and and videos and browsing through our social networks.

USB Type coupled with fast charging means the nova is full charged before you realise it.

If you sip power a bit more cautiously, using your handset for the occasional message, call, social feed check-up: you can expect to get two and a half days of up-time between charges.

Huawei nova review: Verdict

Stats and figures are great but what does the nova feel like to use as a phone.

In a word, okay.

There’s nothing particularly bad nor great about the nova, and therein lies the problem.

When the Mi 5 happened upon my desk last year it created a benchmark for low-cost smartphones. Yes, the Xiaomi handset is a flagship but at R5 999 you’ll struggle to find something as good.

And that’s really where the nova falls short. It’s a good handset, but it’s much to expensive for what it is.

There are some premium feeling bits to the nova such as the fingerprint scanner and the truly stunning design but I wince a bit when I remember one can get those features in a cheaper smartphone.

The nova then is a nice piece of kit but it’s just too expensive and doesn’t have the performance it needs to justify the price.

Perhaps if the price comes down a bit the nova will be worth recommending, but until such time my verdict for those looking for a smartphone for R6k is get yourself a Mi 5 instead.

[su_box title=”Huawei nova Specifications” box_color=”#f37021″]

Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 625

CPU Octa-core Cortez-A53 @2.0GHz

GPU Adreno 506 @ 650MHz

Memory 3GB

Storage 32GB, microSD card support up to 256GB

Operating system Android 6.0.1 (upgradeable to Android 7.0)

Battery 3 020mAh

SIM Dual-SIM (microSD card uses SIM 2)

Display 5inch HD (1080×1920)

Primary camera 12MP, phase detection and autofocus

Secondary camera 8MP

Network Up to LTE

WiFi 802.11b/g/n

Extras Bluetooth 4.1, fingerprint scanner, USB Type C, Fast Charging 3.0

Price R6 999


Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.