Huawei Nova review: Good, but it’s no OnePlus 3

Price when reviewed

Huawei, as a relative newcomer to the smartphone top table, is in an enviable position. The advantage it has over its rivals? The smartphones the company has been pushing out have been on a steady upward curve.

It’s the advantage of the newcomer, but it means that while Samsung, Apple, Sony and HTC continue to – in some respects – tread water, Huawei’s phones are visibly improving with each iteration, and at a competitive price point, too. It can’t last forever, of course, but for the moment, the Huawei Nova continues that trend nicely.

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Huawei Nova review: Design

The Huawei Nova launches alongside the Nova Plus, and as you’ve probably guessed, it’s the dinkier of the pair, although in this context the word “dinky” is relative. Still, fashions change, and as such, the 5in Huawei Nova feels as close to a typical smartphone as it’s possible to be.

That, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. Huawei may not be the most fashionable brand, but there’s no telltale giveaway here that you’re not looking at a smart mid- to high-end smartphone. In style, it’s like a cross between an Apple product, circa iPhone 4 or 5, and the HTC One series – and neither of those are exactly ugly.


The front is dominated by the screen, bookended by two black strips, all coated in Gorilla Glass. Turning the device over, things are charmingly minimalist. The back is smooth and metallic, with a black band at the top surrounding the rear-facing camera, and a small, circular indent for the fingerprint reader just below it.

The positioning of the fingerprint reader actually works well for me, and makes up for the lack of physical home button on the front. Whether it makes it any easier to unlock will vary from person to person, but I found it fast and accurate. You’ll have to pick up your phone to unlock it this way, though.

Finally, the Huawei Nova has a USB Type-C port in the bottom and all the advantages that brings. It also, of course, brings one big disadvantage: chances are you don’t have a whole load of compatible cables lying around.


Huawei Nova review: Screen

The screen on the Huawei Nova is a 5in IPS panel, which has a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. This might seem a tad on the low side in a world where every flagship phone seems to be offering 2,560 x 1,440 displays, but it’s still perfectly sharp, and its pixel density of 441ppi is way beyond Retina. In practice, it looks superb.

My initial gut feelings were backed up strongly by the screen tests we put the device through. Here it is compared to some recent Alphr favourites:

ResolutionBrightnesssRGB gamutContrast
Huawei Nova1,920 x 1,080423.87cd/m2100%1,491:1
HTC 102,560 x 1,440449.22cd/m299.8%1,793:1
LG G52,560 x 1,440354.05cd/m297.1%1,621:1
Apple iPhone 71,334 x 750540cd/m295.8%1,425:1

As you can see, the Huawei Nova more than holds its own – if you’re prepared to forgive the slightly lower resolution, and to be honest, on a 5in device, you definitely should. The key point here is that it’s the cheapest handset in the list by far, so we’re off to a very strong start. The (slightly larger) elephant in the room is the even cheaper OnePlus 3, the 5.5in AMOLED screen of which is also very good.

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