​Huawei Nova Plus smartphone review

Well featured and functional but lacks any wow factor

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Huawei Nova Plus
  • Huawei Nova Plus
  • Huawei Nova Plus
  • Huawei Nova Plus
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Good battery life
  • Jack of all trades

Cons

  • Master of none

Bottom Line

A second-tier phone in every way. There's little it can't do. But that's about the most exciting thing about it.

Would you buy this?

Huawei has launched a new, second-tier Android phone called the Nova Plus. But while it’s some distance off the current top-tier of Android phones in terms of price, the specs are less far behind. It appears at a time where the flagship, Huawei Mate 9 has launched internationally but also while the Mate 8 and photographer’s-friend, P9 are still among the best phones on the market.

Having matured in the market, price drops have set in on both of – which are still among our current mid-range smartphone recommendations – and as such the Nova Plus finds itself in immediate competition with its siblings. So which phone should you buy?

Key specs

5.5in, 1080 x 1920, 401ppi display; 32/3GB RAM; Snapdragon 625 2GHz Octa-core CPU plus Adreno 506 GPU; 16MP/8MP cameras, Fingerprint reader, 3,340mAh battery, NanoSIM, USB-C; Android 6 (Marshmallow); 152 x 76 x 7mm, 160g. Full specs here.

Handling and design

First up, this phone looks very good. It looks very similar to the recently-launched Android Flagship Google Pixel XL, thanks to its white trim and sandblasted-Aluminium chassis, but it doesn’t have the silly (and very fragile) glass back. Frankly, the Huawei looks a bit better in our opinion. Both phones have a rear-mounted fingerprint reader (our favourite position), a USB-C charging port and have power and volume switches on the right at the top. But there the similarities end.

[Related: Oppo R9s smartphone full review]

The 5.5-inch Full-HD LCD screen is sharp and bright. It’s naturally not quite as face-grabbing as AMOLED models but it’s one of the better models we've seen. The screen is generally fine for games and videos but as you move up in quality requirements – especially with VR where the screen-door effect is prominent – we started started to remember that there were better screens on the market. It’s still very useable for day-to-day applications though.

The bottom-facing speakers don’t get particularly loud or punchy but they are generally clear for all applications whether it’s bass or treble rich music or speakerphone apps.

Apps loaded quite quickly and everything was generally responsive but it’s a noticeable step down from what we’ve seen on the top-tier phones – albeit not by much. 3D games like Asphalt 8 (and Pokémon Go) were generally fine though there were a few, noticeable slowdowns.

Our one real gripe is with the default launcher software which has no way to organise your apps. While pulling the screen down and seeing your most recent four plus a search box is OK, we otherwise struggled to find the apps we wanted in our large list.

Another weird omission is the lack of 5GHz WiFi. While this isn't a deal breaker, it's unusual for any decent phone these days.

Camera

The Nova Plus comes with a 16-megapixel rear camera and an 8-megapixel front camera. They're generally impressive but not perfect.

Video goes up to 4K but Image Stabilisation only functions up to Full HD. It’s very fast and accurate for focusing and sound is captured accurately. There’s not the greatest dynamic range on offer but dark locations areas are handled very well indeed – exposure is quickly adjusted to record an impressive level of detail at the natural expense of grain. While the Image Stabilisation didn’t seem to do much we were impressed overall with the video capture on offer here – it’s well above average.

A still from video capture shows limited dynamic range - the bright areas are too bright and the dark areas are too dark.
A still from video capture shows limited dynamic range - the bright areas are too bright and the dark areas are too dark.

We were also generally (there’s that word again) impressed with still images. In good lighting it was sharp and accurate with colours being captured at a neutral level rather than popping out of the screen. In very low light it was actually very impressive with usable shots coming from very dark rooms. However, in modest light, grain and blur would too quickly appear for our liking – we suspect this camera hardware is better than its software allows.

Well-lit shots regularly looked sharp and vibrant.
Well-lit shots regularly looked sharp and vibrant.
Extreme low-light performance was impressive. This was a very dark room.
Extreme low-light performance was impressive. This was a very dark room.
But all too often in slightly-less-than-optimal lighting there was blur and softness evident in shots that were otherwise good (naturally we're not talking about faces here!)
But all too often in slightly-less-than-optimal lighting there was blur and softness evident in shots that were otherwise good (naturally we're not talking about faces here!)
HDR mode was mediocre. It seemed to soften and wash-out images more than anything.
HDR mode was mediocre. It seemed to soften and wash-out images more than anything.
Selfies with Beauty Mode going from left to right: 0, 5 and 10.
Selfies with Beauty Mode going from left to right: 0, 5 and 10.

The selfie camera comes with Beauty mode which can be set to 10 levels. Results are more impressive without it, but some people will like a bit of airbrushing. However, sending it up to 10 isn’t advised unless you want to scare people.

Next: Battery Life and conclusion

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