Huawei are continuing to grow their market presence in Australia and have done so now, to a point, where they are a well-known household name. They are hoping to continue this growth with not just new flagships but a new offering in the mid range segment too.
Announced alongside the two Mate 10 handsets in Australia, the Huawei Nova 2i is a bit of a contradiction; the $499 price tag of the Huawei Nova 2i suggests that you’re looking at a low – mid range device, but the first impression I got was that there is a lot of phone here for the financial outlay. Let’s take a closer look at the phone.
When you open the box, the simplistic packaging is immediately evident. Offering a charger, earbuds, and of course the phone. There’s nothing too remarkable about that, except we forgot to mention one thing. Huawei throws in a case in the box too, so you can protect your new phone immediately, instead of having to go to an overpriced phone-case shop at your local Westfield. Good move, Huawei – please keep doing it.
There’s a really slick, clean feeling to the phone and I’m quite a fan of the slightly taller, thinner feel a number of the devices are coming out with now. It makes the device more comfortable to hold for phone calls (yes I use my phone for actual calls) and easier for one-handed operation for messaging.
I love the fact that Huawei have the volume button above the power button on the right side of the device for the simple reason that I often inadvertently turn the in call volume of calls down because of the way I hold the device – its not an issue with this button layout.
It’s powered by the Kirin 659 processor which isn’t the biggest powerhouse on the planet but the lower CPU does contribute to the battery life from the 3420 mAh battery which was absolutely mind blowing. My normal use ends with me giving my daily driver a bit of a boost before heading home to make sure I got home with some charge but with the Nova 2i I was getting home with 40% or more left in the battery.
4GB of RAM compliments the CPU leaving the user experience as a clean, crisp and snappy one. No really noticeable instances of lag when task switching or using ram-heavy applications. You’ve got 64GB of storage onboard and the ability to extend the storage up to 256GB Micro SD Storage available as well.
The screen is really nice coming in at 5.9” and running 2160 x 1080 resolution at 407 ppi and an 18:9 aspect ratio – making it comparable to a lot of higher end phones currently in the wild. Aside from that you’ve got all of the features you’d expect from any phone these days. Connectivity galore minus high end Wi-Fi and of course a headphone jack which very few manufacturers seem game to dispense with just yet.
If I were to make any criticism of the Nova 2i that shows it’s a mid range and not a high end device, it would be the lack of NFC for Android Pay and the MicroUSB charger. The charger was more of an issue for me personally than I thought it may be. I’d far prefer to have seen a USB Type C connection for the speed of charging and data transfer if you go down that pathway but the Nova 2i is charged with microUSB, slowly. Without the quick charge capability, I found myself planning my day to make sure I had capability to top up the battery (although I didn’t need it) instead of reacting when I need to do so.
Here’s the full specs for the Nova 2i:
|Huawei Nova 2i||Release date||September 2017||Screen size||5.9-inch||Screen technology||IPS||Resolution||2,160 x 1,080||PPI||407||Rear camera||16MP+2MP||Rear aperture||—||Front camera||13MP+2MP||Front aperture||—||Chipset||Kirin 659||Core config||Cortex A53||Ram||4GB||Storage||64GB||MicroSD||—||Battery||3,340 mAh||Battery removable||—||Connector||MicroUSB||Headphone Port||Yes||Headphone Location||Bottom||Speaker Configuration||—||WIFI standards||802.11 a/b/g||Bluetooth standards||4.2||NFC||—||Location||GPS||Android OS||Android 7.0||Vendor skin||EMUI 5.1||Dimensions||165.2x75.2x7.5mm||Weight||164g||Colours||Black|
What’s it good at?
There’s a lot to like about this phone like the look and feel that we’ve already explored above. But there’s a lot more to this really reliable phone that costs in the mid range but punches well above its weight.
The phone itself looks and feels great and quite sleek and impressively, Huawei have provided a hard shell case for the phone. In its presentation and for the average punter, this is going to have performance far beyond anything they’re likely to use. There’s plenty of RAM to keep the performance snappy and the CPU is adequate (could be a bit quicker, but not lacking much) for the vast majority of needs. Possibly the only time you’ll find it wanting is loading big apps or games, but that is really only noticeable next to a flagship device.
The battery at 3420 mAh accompanied by the power use monitoring that Huawei have built in for EMUI (not my favourite skin – more on that later) which notifies you of high power consumption apps running, gives heavy to extreme users a full day of use without need to go in search of power. The predictability and reliability of the battery is so good that while I was reviewing the Nova 2i I stopped carrying my power bank.
In the past when I’ve reviewed mid-range phones I’ve often had to remind myself it’s a mid-range not flagship; this time around particularly when evaluating the performance of the device I’ve found myself astounded that it’s a mid-range device and not a flagship.
Huawei are using Kirin processors rather than the market-favoured Snapdragon and from what I’ve seen in recent devices, they’re not suffering for it at all. While the Nova 2i has a lower end processor the only real time I saw any performance deficit was when I was loading large apps or games where load times were a little down on other devices I’ve used.
Aside from the load times, even when i was deliberately loading a lot of apps and trying to cause stutter or lag I wasn’t able to. The performance of the Nova 2i was silky smooth and as already mentioned – quite astounding for a non-flagship device.
Let’s talk about one of the big points for phones these days, the camera. A really good camera can make an acceptable phone good, conversely a bad camera can make an otherwise excellent phone a train wreck – so it’s very important.
Both front and rear facing are dual camera setups which can add clarity, better colour reproduction and definition to your photos. Basically they both take photos at the same time and some software wizardry takes the best of both photos, then blends them to a single reproduction for you.
The rear facing camera produces wonderful photos, even of moving targets (like kids) even in questionable lighting conditions. But as you can see from some of the sample photos attached, the photo quality is excellent.
I’m not big on selfies, never have been and never will be. I’m not good at taking them and even less likely to look good in them. When I tried out the selfie camera on the Nova 2i, cranked up “beautify” to maximum and the camera crashed… that just stings!
After summoning up the courage to try again (didn’t crash this time) there’s not a lot of difference in the beautify settings, just a softer focus and a tinge of pink across the picture to make the subject look pretty.
When it comes to your phone camera, the software is your interface and largely dictates the user experience. This is one piece of software I felt that Huawei have done brilliantly at. The menu is easy to navigate and intuitive, there are some helpful little hints along the way and more importantly it loads quickly and predictably.
What’s it less good at?
The most prominent issue for me was EMUI, not my favourite flavour of Android and (sorry Huawei) never will be. There’s too much in there that feels foreign, away from the stock Android experience and far too much customisation in the system menus for it to be an easy to navigate, intuitive experience. A lot of the real forefront issues I have with EMUI can be hidden by simply changing your launcher with one of the many available in the Play Store (e.g. Action Launcher or Nova Launcher) but it’s always nice to try the supplied setup before customising.
There’s no NFC… Of recent I’ve been using Android Pay more and more, but usually carry my wallet as well so that wasn’t a major issue but worth mentioning all the same.
A bit of an anomaly here was the colour reproduction on the screen, but this was an isolated issue in very specific circumstances. While it wasn’t noticeable most of the time, sometimes the screen looked well out of contrast with very washed out colours. To reproduce this you need to be in a bright room, brightness on the screen maxed out and viewing something of a cartoon style game or video. That being said, through Huawei’s software you can take some control over the screen colour reproduction and (as normal) brightness so you can essentially “tune” the screen to avoid this issue.
The other criticisms I have of the Nova 2i are both about speed: Charging and Wifi
In terms of charging I already mentioned the fact that there is a MicroUSB connector rather than USB Type C. For many users who are spending in the $500 range on a phone, this isn’t going to be a problem but for people like myself who’ve had USB C for a while it poses a couple of issues. The first being I’ve transitioned most of my charging cables over to Type C and I just don’t have the range of charging cables available that I once did. The second is the charging speed, it’s slow! Huawei quote the charging time to be less than 150 minutes, if you’re on the run and find yourself caught out by low battery that is simply too slow. A 15 minute top up doesn’t give you the 40% or more boost of battery that fast charge on Type C does either. So battery awareness becomes an issue once again.
Wifi is there and it would be a complete design disaster if it weren’t, but having made the investment a while back to upgrade my home router to 802.11 a/b/g/n I was initially disappointed to only have 802.11 b/g/n but that was in fact more than enough for almost everything I was doing. The only time the higher speed would have been nice was during large file transfers which I don’t do often and merely meant waiting a touch longer for the transfer to complete.
While they’re criticisms of the device itself, Micro USB and Wifi b/g/n are undoubtedly cost based decisions at Huawei to meet a price point and they’re acceptable decisions to make because we are looking at a mid-range device.
Huawei have made some outstanding phones, particularly over the last 2 years or so. The Nova 2i isn’t built or priced to match it with the top end Pixel 2s, Note 8s or S8s of the world, but the user experience comes very close. Micro USB and not-the-fastest WiFi are niggles which might upset the most demanding tech enthusiast, but the average user won’t (and shouldn’t) care; the phone charges, the WiFi is fast enough for what users care about, and it’s significantly cheaper than other options.
There’s other positives to be taken here as well. The screen is really nice, the form factor is excellent for a broad cross section of users and the battery life is outstanding even in a heavy use case. On top of this, it just looks good, and we all know that when choosing a phone, you want something that looks premium, even if you didn’t pay a grand or more for it.
TLDR: For $499 Huawei have delivered a great phone with a lot of top end features, if you want more from a phone than this delivers – You need to be ready to pay a lot more than this costs. I’m genuinely blown away by just how good this phone is, particularly when you take a serious look at the dollars – it’s got to be one of the best phones of the year.
If this sounds good then you can pick them up for RRP$499 (remember to shop around and ask for price matching!) from JB Hifi, Harvey Norman, Mobile Citi or Vodafone or you can check out more details at the Huawei Australia website