Huawei nova plus. First Impressions: Huawei Nova Plus Review

First Impressions: Huawei Nova Plus Review

Not content with launching one handset at IFA 2016 in Berlin, Huawei has gone ahead and unveiled two mid-range options that will go head-to-head with the likes of the OnePlus 3, Moto G4 Plus and Vodafone Smart Platinum 7. As the name suggests, the Nova Plus is a larger version of the Nova – the other phone announced by Huawei at IFA – and it comes with a slightly altered design and a bunch of improved specs. Here’s what you need to know…

The design has been switched up

While the Nova retains a similar design to the Huawei P9, the Nova Plus changes things up a bit. The front features the slightly curved 2.5D glass, but the back lacks the black glass strip across the camera and has more in common with the OnePlus 3.

Personally, I think it’s much less eye-catching than the smaller Nova, and I’m not sure why Huawei decided to alter things. It remains a nice-looking phone, though, with chamfered edges that glisten and a unibody metal build.

The other obvious difference is size. The Plus version has a 5.5-inch display, up from 5, but it keeps the bezel slim and it’s manageable to hold.

Still, with so many 5.5-inch phones on the market, it was nice to see Huawei go smaller with the Nova. The Nova Plus doesn’t stand out quite as much; maybe size doesn’t always matter.

Related: Best Budget Phones

Strong specs for the mid-range

Considering this handset sits below the Huawei P9, the Nova Plus comes with a decent selection of specs.

A Snapdragon 625 CPU keeps things running, while 3GB of RAM ensures that multitasking feels smooth. I only had a short time with the device, but it seemed pretty nippy. Apps opened quickly, image-laden web pages loaded without stuttering, and swiping through homescreens was lag-free.

That 5.5-inch display I mentioned earlier is 1080p, and looks good. Colours are sharp, contrast is decent and it’s bright too. It suffered a little in direct sunlight, but this is an issue with screens.

NFC is onboard for Android Pay, there’s a microSD card slot for upping the base 32GB storage, and it’s possible to add a second SIM when you’re travelling.

A fingerprint scanner can be found on the rear of the device, and in typical Huawei fashion it’s super-fast and accurate. Hoping to keep the phone going for the day is a 3,340mAh battery. That’s up from the 3,020mAh included in the Nova.

The camera might be a letdown

On paper, the camera setup is probably the biggest improvement over the smaller model. It ups the megapixel count to 16 and adds in OIS. Aperture remains the same at f/2.2, but optical image stabilisation should help nighttime shooting.

My early tests weren’t particularly positive. Bright lights over-exposed and dark corners of the demo room were almost impossible to see, but I’ll have to test further to determine how it performs in day-to-day use.

huawei, nova, first, impressions, review

Huawei Nova Plus Unboxing And First Impressions

EMUI is still here, sadly

A common pain with Huawei’s phones is EMUI, the Chinese brand’s skin that sits atop Android. It tries to mimic iOS, with no app drawer and Apple-like icons. It certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste, but its functionality has grown recently and it’s certainly far more reliable.

Hopefully we’ll see an update to Android Nougat in the near future.

First Impressions

While the smaller dimensions of the Nova make that handset stand out, the larger Plus model sort of fades into the mass of 5.5-inch phones on the market. Its design is less interesting than the Nova’s, but it packs a good selection of specs nonetheless.

The camera needs work, though, and this could the Nova Plus’ downfall.

Huawei Nova Plus in pictures

There’s a fingerprint scanner on the back

The 5.5-inch 1080p display is bright and vivid

The camera struggles, over-exposing photos

USB Type-C is the charging method of choice

Huawei Nova Plus release date: Q4 2016 Huawei Nova Plus price: £TBC

How we test phones

We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.

Huawei’s Nova 2 Plus needs more than a pretty face to stand out from the crowd

“The Huawei Nova 2 Plus does everything right, but doesn’t go the extra mile to stand out against some tough competition.”

  • Slim, sleek design
  • Dual-lens camera with fun Moving Picture mode
  • Big battery
  • Plenty of storage space
  • Lacks standout features
  • Stiff competition from Honor, and other brands
  • China-only release for now

Huawei launched the Nova series at the end of 2016, and marketed them as phones for fashionable folk, who wanted a slim device with a great camera to slip into skinny jeans. It hasn’t taken such a bullish approach with the newly-announced sequels, that have arrived far earlier than usual in the smartphone industry.

The Nova 2 and Nova 2 Plus have been revealed for China, and a wider international launch hasn’t been confirmed yet. We managed to get some time with the Nova 2 Plus in China, to see how it stacks up against the first Nova phones.

Inspired design, mid-range specs

There’s a lot to like about the Nova 2 Plus. The metal body has a pleasing grain to the finish, and comes in either a great-looking black, green, or blue — we’d go for the latter. The style draws plenty of influence from the Huawei P10, with antenna bands blending into the body, minimal branding, and a dual-lens camera at the top. In turn, this means the style is also reminiscent of Apple’s iPhone.

The Nova 2 Plus is a mid-range phone. It has a 5.5-inch screen with a piece of 2.5D curved glass over the top, and a 1,920 × 1,080 pixel resolution. A Huawei-made Kirin 659 processor with 4GB of RAM powers the phone, a shift away from the Qualcomm Snapdragon chips used in the first Nova phones. The Nova 2 has a smaller 5-inch screen, is even lighter at 143 grams, and has a smaller 2,950mAh battery compared to the Nova 2 Plus’s 3,340mAh cell. The Nova 2 Plus comes with a hefty 128GB of internal storage space.

All the right moves

Performance in our brief hands-on time was great. It slid through the menus and in and out of apps without a problem, just as you’d expect. We doubt anyone will miss not having a Snapdragon processor inside, especially as the faster Kirin 960 chip has been such a winner in the P10 and Mate 9.

The Moving Picture feature is fun, and opens up some interesting creative opportunities.

Android 7.0 Nougat is installed with Huawei’s EMUI 5.1 user interface over the top — we like EMUI 5.1, but the Chinese version we tried was filled with bloatware. However, the app drawer can be activated, there are algorithms working to keep the software running quickly over the lifetime of the device, and it’s considerably more user-friendly than previous versions.

Dual-lens cameras are a Huawei trademark, and they’re present on both the Nova 2 and the Nova 2 Plus. We tried the camera — which has a 12-megapixel and an 8-megapixel lens — indoors, so the results were never going to be astounding, but the software is typically simple to use, and the operation is fast. There’s an added mode we haven’t seen before called Moving Picture, and it’s similar to Apple’s Live Photos mode. A short video is captured when you tap the shutter release, and it works like a GIF. Press on the screen in the gallery, and it animates. The Moving Picture feature is fun, and opens up some interesting creative opportunities; but it’s likely to suffer from the same problem as Live Photos — there’s nowhere to share them natively. The 20-megapixel selfie camera captured great images, but the small sensor didn’t enjoy challenging light conditions. Despite the many megapixels, don’t expect amazing results.

Stiff competition

When you pick up a Nova 2 phone, it becomes clear why Huawei hasn’t rushed to sell them internationally yet. It’s because of the Honor brand, a tech-sharing spin-off that makes excellent phones that don’t cost very much. The 5.5-inch Nova 2 Plus costs the equivalent of 425. That’s a lot more than the Honor 6X, which offers a similar specification sheet. It also shares a visual resemblance to the Honor 8 Pro, which has a far more powerful internals for only a little more money.

This is the same problem Huawei faced with the first Nova. The 300 to 500 smartphone market is absolutely stuffed with strong phones, so competition is really stiff. In China, it’s perhaps even tougher, with solid options like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X costing half of the Huawei phone. The Nova 2 Plus looks and feels the part, and it operated well in our time with the phone, plus the camera should impress on a longer test given Huawei’s prowess in this area. But there’s nothing here that makes the Nova 2 Plus stand out.

Huawei nova and nova plus: Mid-range phones that don’t feel like a compromise

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The IFA electronics trade show in Berlin didn’t see too many flagship smartphone launches this year. Some companies, such as LG, opted for separate events weeks before or after the show, and most of the new phones we’ve seen, like Huawei’s nova and nova plus, were mid-rangers.

But a mid-range phone these days is an odd beast. Once, the loosely defined category mostly meant a phone that’s slightly weaker than top-of-the-line devices in nearly every department. Recently, however, these devices have been catching up with flagships in terms of features, while keeping down, with Chinese companies such as Xiaomi launching powerful flagships that cost less than most mid-rangers.

The screen on both phones is a Full HD IPS LCD panel. It’s OK, but it could be brighter in sunny conditions. Credit: Stan Schroeder/Mashable

Huawei tackled this conundrum with a sane approach: its Huawei nova and nova plus smartphones.- both of which I’ve had a chance to try out over the last 10 days.- are beautifully designed and have pretty much everything an average user needs. The only thing that keeps them in the ‘mid-range’ category is a slightly weaker processor and lack of neat-but-unnecessary features, such as a curved screen or a dual camera.

huawei, nova, first, impressions, review

Quick rundown: the Huawei nova and nova plus are both Android smartphones with a metal body, a Full HD IPS screen, an octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage memory and a fingerprint sensor.

There are three major differences between the two: the nova has a 5-inch screen, while the nova plus is larger, with a 5.5-inch display. The nova has a 12-megapixel rear camera, while the nova plus has 16 megapixels; both phones have an 8-megapixel selfie cam. Finally, the nova plus has a bigger, 3,340mAh battery versus the nova’s 3,020mAh cell.

The two phones are not the same, design-wise: the Huawei nova looks a lot like the Huawei P9, while the Huawei nova plus has a Huawei Mate 8 vibe. Credit: Stan Schroeder/Mashable

Design-wise, the nova is not just a smallified version of the nova plus. In fact, the positioning of the camera and the fingerprint sensor, which is round on the nova and square on the nova plus, make the two phones look quite different from the back. But the phones perform similarly and are equally well built, so interested buyers should primarily FOCUS on the different size options.

What’s missing?

We don’t review too many mid-range smartphones at Mashable for one simple reason: they’re boring. While some companies (see LG’s Specialist phones, for example) try to spice things up a bit, most of the time these phones are simply weaker, cheaper versions of flagship devices.

But Huawei‘s new nova handsets have one important thing going for them: they don’t feel like cheap phones at all.

Both devices are beautifully designed, with subtle curves on the glass and metal back making them really pleasant to hold. The bezels on both phones are crazy thin and, with the curvy 2.5D glass, it gives them a premium feel. The gold version of the nova plus, which I reviewed, truly looks as fancy as any other phone I’ve held, including Huawei’s current flagship, the P9. The dark grey nova I’ve used is perhaps just a notch less flashy (and much more reminiscent of the iPhone), but still a beautiful device.

Huawei hasn’t skimped on the details.- up close or from afar, they appear flawlessly crafted. Credit: Stan Schroeder/Mashable

There’s one important difference between the two: the nova plus has a sizeable bump on the back to make room for the larger 16-megapixel sensor. The nova’s camera, on the other hand, sits flush with the phone’s rear. If bumps on the back are an issue for you and you don’t mind the smaller form factor, you’ll likely prefer the nova.

No performance issues

In terms of specs, comparing these phones to any flagship won’t yield too many differences. There’s essentially just one cheaper component in there and that’s Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 processor (the company normally uses its own Kirin line of processors), which is obviously slower than the top Snapdragon 82x chips we’re seeing in today’s flagships. How much slower? As a power user, who keeps fiddling with his phones all the time, I noticed no difference between the nova, the nova plus and the assortment of Android phones I normally use, which sport either the Snapdragon 820 or Huawei’s Kirin 955.

True, I don’t do much mobile gaming and, yes, this is a new phone and most Android users will attest to the fact that Androids do get slower with time, as apps pile up. But in everyday use, while not extraordinarily fast, both phones were quick enough for me to forget I was not using a top-of-the-line smartphone.

For reference, I’ve included the Geekbench result for the nova plus (Geekbench just wouldn’t install on the nova, despite multiple attempts, but I reckon the results would be similar), below. The scores are orders of magnitude lower than those achieved on the Huawei P9 and Samsung’s Galaxy S7. In real life usage, however, I just couldn’t see that much of a difference.

I was pleasantly surprised with the battery life I got from the larger Huawei nova plus; it regularly lasted me a full day with 30 percent battery life left at the end. I spent a little less time with the nova, but I was surprised it lasted a similar amount of time, given its smaller battery.

The cameras aren’t new, but that’s no bad thing

The rear camera resolution of these two phones.- 16 and 12 megapixels.- indicates they might use the same sensors as Huawei’s other phones, such as the 16-megapixel Mate 8 and the 12-megapixel P9. But while the nova plus’ camera did perform similarly to that of the Mate 8, it was one or two steps behind the camera in the P9 (which is enhanced with another, monochrome sensor).

Both the nova and nova plus cameras took solid, if not great, photos on sunny days, but were not so wonderful in darker conditions. Check out a full photo and two details from photos I took with the nova plus:

Huawei nova plus

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Huawei has taken advantage of the IFA 2016 in Berlin to introduce two new smartphones the mid-range device market: the Nova and the Nova Plus. Characterized by a premium design, the Nova Plus promises excellent performance especially with its battery and photo quality. Find out in our review if the Chinese brand has been able to keep the promises it made during its presentation event!

Huawei Nova Plus release date and price

The Huawei Nova Plus was released on 1 September 2016 during the IFA as part of a dedicated event held at the Velodrom Berlin. Equipped with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory, the smartphone will be available in about 49 markets from the end of October at a cost of 429 euros.

The device will initially come on the market in three different colors: Mystic Silver, Titanium Grey and Prestige Gold. A Rose Gold model will be added later on, though we do not know if and when this variety will be released.

Huawei Nova Plus design and build quality

The Nova Plus sports a 151.8 x 75.7 x 7.3 mm and 160 grams metal and glass body. With its 5.5 inch-diagonal, the Nova Plus is a smartphone with a significant dimensions which, thanks to its curved design, is in any case ergonomic. Compared to the Huawei P9, it offers a larger and thicker body and after the first day I used the Nova Plus I found it a a little “cumbersome”.

A solid and ergonomic body that does not renounce a premium look

I have to admit that I quickly got used to it, and was soon able to use the device with only one hand without any problems. Users with rather small hands may have some issues managing it with ease but, in this case, using one hand solves the problem (to activate it just slide your finger along the capacitive button pad).

The physical buttons (power button and volume button are on the right edge) are easily accessible and are distinguishable thanks to the knurl power button. The fingerprint sensor connected to its housing is just as easy to reach and responds to commands quickly.

Along the left edge we can find the space for two nano SIMs or a SIM and a microSD, whereas on the lower edge there is the space for the two speaker grids (only the one on the right is for sound reproduction), the Type-C USB port and the microphone. Along the upper edge the headphone jack space and the microphone for calls can be found. To the front there is the brand’s logo at the bottom, the front camera, LEDs and the proximity sensor at the top.

On the housing we can find the camera’s square lens protruding from the device’s body and which in the long run could be damaged, though it does look pretty solid. The flash is to the left and, just beneath it, the fingerprint sensor located in the same square line as the camera. At the bottom: the brand’s logo. On both the upper and lower parts of the housing we can find two plastic sections for the antenna. The housing is smooth, but not slippery.

In the package, which is just as good as those used for high-end range smartphones, we can find the 5V 2A battery charger, a Type-C USB cable, a pair of headphones and the pin to extract the SIM’s housing.

Overall, the Nova Plus is a solid phablet that offers an original design (the back panel reminds me of the Mate 8) but which however sports a very detailed premium look.

Huawei Nova Plus display

The Nova Plus shows a 5.5 inch IPS Full HD resolution LCD frontal display with 1920 x 1080 pixels and 401 ppi. When it is turned on you may notice the thin side edges that, when the screen is turned off, are difficult to see (at least they were in the grey model I tested). The screen is covered with a 2.5 D glass which is slightly curved on the edges and it shows fingerprints easily.

huawei, nova, first, impressions, review

The display is bright even if, to be easily read in direct sunlight, it is necessary to set its lighting to maximum: colors are accurate while black becomes slightly gray. Viewing angles are good.

Bright display but hard to read in direct sunlight

From the settings menu you can not only manage the lighting and color temperature, you can also activate the Eye Protection function; this is useful in avoiding eye strain when using the smartphone to read, especially at night. On the whole, it is an average display, which does not surprise but it manages to get the job done without any problems. One drawback I found is that the screen, especially the settings menu and camera, becomes almost illegible when wearing sunglasses, a problem I did not encounter with the Honor 8.

Huawei Nova Plus software

The Nova Plus uses Android 6.0 Marshmallow supported by EMUI brand’s 4.1 version interface; the same is also available on the P9. He who knows the brand knows that its interface is one of the most customizable on Android and that, as usual, it does not offer the app’s drawer but does allow you to create folders to organize apps. For those who do not know EMUI, just like many interfaces offered by the Chinese brand, it is very similar to iOS.

The Nova Plus uses Android 6.0 Marshmallow supported by EMUI brand’s 4.1 version interface

Pre-installed on the device are the Google app, to which Themes, Telephone Management, HiCare, Videos, Music, Calender, Vmall, four different games (all uninstallable) Booking, News Republic, WPS Office, as well as the Tools folder are also added. Of the 32GB of internal memory, 22.57 GB are actually available to the user.

The software runs smoothly and did not present any problems during my test. By accessing the Intelligent Assistant section menu, you can get your hands on what, in my opinion, are the most interesting features:

  • Pause button: grants quick access to Back, Home, Recent activity, Lock screen and Optimization using a floating button displayed sideways on the display.
  • Motion control: it is possible to use your knuckle to take a screenshot, to select a part of the screen or a video (functions also found on the other Huawei devices that use Marshmallow) or to activate double Windows.

I feel quite happy with the Huawei’s interface: I find it smooth and intuitive in addition to being highly customizable

Huawei nova Plus review

huawei, nova, first, impressions, review

As you can see these are very simple gestures that, initially, might not work the first time round. You just have to familiarize yourselves with it by following the tutorials offered in the settings menu or deactivate them if you do not find them particularly functional.

By lowering the shutter menu we can find the notifications displayed in chronological order and, to the right, the customizable shortcuts. I feel very comfortable with the Huawei interface: I find it smooth and intuitive in addition to being highly customizable. Those who love Android stock would not appreciate it in the same way.

Huawei Nova Plus performance

Now to the Nova Plus numbers. Under the shell, the smartphone has a 2GHz 625 octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor with Cortex A53 and GPU Adreno 506. It’s a processor used on mid-range devices which during my test, proved to be capable of handling any task without any problems or overheating.

Even during game sessions with binding titles such as Real Racing 3 or Asphalt 8 it did not show any signs of overheating. Alongside the processor there is a 3GB of RAM and 32GB of expanding internal memory via microSD if it gives up its dual SIM feature (be specific, that it is a Dual Standby).

The processor meets the interface requirements thanks to a 3GB of RAM and a inexpensive Full UD screen, which is able to guarantee Rapid transitions from one app to another as well as the absence of lag, crush and overheating. In short, the 625 Snapdragon on the Nova Plus does its job without problems and meets even gamers and lovers of multitasking. From a performance point of view, it is certainly not capable of competing with OnePlus 3 and Honor 8 but, moreover, it would be an unfair challenge despite it bearing the same price tag.

Huawei Nova Plus camera

Huawei’s aim with the new Nova is to provide users good performance in the field of photography, and the fashion blogger Xenia Tchoumi during the presentation event focused on this component in particular and, even more, on filters and features of the front camera.

The Nova Plus offers a main 16 MP lens with an f/2.0 apertura and a Sony IMX298 sensor (the same as the OnePlus 3) capable of shooting 4K videos. There is also the hybrid autofocus, that does not seem to work as it ought to, and the dual tone flash.

In low light conditions the image quality definitely lower

As a whole, during the day, the camera is able to guarantee good photos with natural colors and rich details. In low light conditions the image quality is significantly lower and some pictures come out blurry or show photographic noise. This is a problem for any smartphone, even high-end range ones. The software allows for the launching of the camera by double clicking on the low volume function.

On the front we can find an 8MP front lens dedicated to selfies and Full HD videos. Even in this case the camera is affected by the lighting conditions. A series of effects are available for make-up, mainly aimed at a female audience. As on other of the brand’s devices, there is also the Beauty effect which I recommend you reduce to its minimum setting if you want to avoid looking like “dollies” in photos. To avoid catching your fingers in selfies, you should activate the voice Touch to capture, as a tap on the display is enough to activate the photo button.

The camera app offers a Pro mode called Professional that allows for the manual set up of some settings (like ISO, white balances, etc). The interface offered is not the same as the P9 but it is intuitive and easy to use: a click on the icon at the top right is enough to gain access to several modes offered (including HDR, Yummy and Night) and select the gear icon to access several settings.

Our photographer, Anto Jularis, tried the Nova Plus camera and this is his opinion:

“The autofocus does not always respond quickly. When light conditions are good, the main camera is able to guarantee clear images; good and accurate colors. When the light becomes low the photo quality diminishes. The 4K videos are quite good for a mid-range devise. The front camera offers filters and effects geared towards a female audience.”

Take a look at our photo gallery for an idea of the Nova Plus camera’s capacity:

Huawei Nova Plus battery

On the Nova Plus there is a 3340 mAh battery capable of guaranteeing an entire problem-free day of battery life under heavy use of the device. With a normal use of the phablet (checking emails, using whatsApp. Instagram, making calls, short game sessions) and the brightness set to 50%, the smartphone is able to guarantee two days of battery life.

The 3340 mAh battery is able to guarantee an entire problem-free day of battery life under intense use of the device

The 3340 mAh battery is able to guarantee an entire problem-free day of battery life under intense use of the device. It takes around two hours to fully charge the device. In addition, there are three other power saving modes which can activated depending on your needs.

Final verdict

I believe Huawei has done a great job with the Nova Plus. Its strengths are undoubtedly its premium design, the overall user experience and battery performance. The camera, for a mid-range smartphone, offers good photos when lighting conditions are good but defective in low light. The display does not surprise but it does its job rather well and, thanks to its Full HD resolution, supports its processor and battery, allowing the smartphone to better manage its resources.

The Nova Plus is a well-made mid-range addition to those already on the market and that, at the same time, allows the brand to expand its offer in a market sector where it is not really present. Once again showing Huawei’s capacity to design well-made devices and capable of offering good performances in line with its preconceived technical features. It is a pity for the price.

The 429 euros tag is the device’s negative aspect, especially now that it is possible to get high-end range smartphones released in 2016, such as OnePlus 3, Huawei P9 and Honor 8, at a similar or lower price; one aspect users certainly will not overlook when buying a new smartphone.