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Smartphone Novaload! Huawei’s Nova phones are primed and ready for your jeans pocket

Huawei’s goregous Nova phones set a high bar for the mid-range smartphone market with a slick design and solid specs.

Huawei thinks it has the premium end of the smartphone market covered. The Mate 8, is for business types who need to get things done on the move, while the P9 is for fashionistas more concerned about selfies than investments. But what about the millions who don’t fit into either of those categories — Which Huawei phone do they buy? The answer, Huawei hopes, is one of the new Nova phones, two devices that match the P9’s awesome aesthetics, and are more at home in your jeans pocket than on the meeting table.

From the light-catching chamfered edges to the textured feel of the power button, the Nova is a phone you’ll be proud to use.

There are two models, the Nova and Nova Plus. Guess the difference? Right, the Nova Plus has a 5.5-inch screen compared to the Nova’s 5-inch display, but there are a few other changes, too, which we’ll come to in a while. First let’s take a closer look at the Nova, which is actually a gem and our pick of the two phones, mainly because of the size and the way it sits in your hand. The 5-inch screen may not sound compact, but the metal unibody and the 2.5D glass panel over the display do a fantastic job of shrinking the overall size.

Huawei’s choice of an IPS-LCD screen is a good one, and it’s versatile enough to be really bright while offering a night mode that cuts down on blue light emissions to ensure you can use it in bed without burning your retinas and not sleeping for a week afterward. The 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution makes it very desirable and perfectly suited to watching movies.

A smart fingerprint sensor and solid specs

Like the P9, the Nova has a non-metal section on the top of the back panel to let the antenna shine through, and it also contains the 12-megapixel camera lens. We took a few test shots during our early hands-on, and it performed well indoors, showing realistic colors and shadow. The high level of performance is thanks in part to the larger 1.25micrometer sensor. Huawei says bigger pixels mean better pictures.  The camera interface has a manual mode, light-painting for clever effects, and a night mode for creative types, plus there’s an 8-megapixel front cam with a f/2.0 aperture. We’ll need a longer test to give you a final verdict, but early indications for the Nova’s camera are good.

A circular fingerprint sensor is conveniently placed on the back of the Nova and Nova Plus. It’s a generation 4 sensor, meaning it comes with gesture support and a deeper level of security. Huawei put NFC into both phones, so they will work with Android Pay. There’s no point in having a capable camera and a phone built to party all night when the battery is on its last legs by 8:30 in the evening. The Nova has a 3,020mAh battery, and Huawei says it’ll keep going for two days without charging.

You’ll want to carry the Nova around. It feels great to hold, with comfortable curves and a body that’ll see even the shortest fingers stretch across the keyboard during one-hand use. Huawei may call the phone mid-range, but it’s more stylish and better looking than the P9 Lite, raising it above the company’s current reasonably priced fare. Android 6.0 felt snappy, although many won’t like Huawei’s EMUI user interface over the top, which does away with the app drawer and takes other liberties with Google’s operating system. The truth is, it’s way better than it used to be, and version 4.1 installed on the Nova is logical, neat, and pleasant to use. Purists that go for Nexus phones will disagree, but everyone else will be satisfied.

The snappiness of the operating system and the strong battery performance is helped by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor — it has a considerable 40 percent performance boost over the older Snapdragon 615 too — and 3GB of RAM. There’s plenty of other great tech inside as well, including dual antennas, Cat-6 LTE, 32GB of internal storage space, a hybrid SIM tray with the option of either a second SIM or a MicroSD card, plus a USB Type-C charging connector.

It’s hard to believe all of this is inside a phone Huawei says is mid-range.

Bigger Nova Plus isn’t necessarily better

Maybe you want a bigger phone, though. In that case, the Nova Plus adds a half-inch to the screen size, increases the battery capacity to 3,340mAh, and the camera has 16-megapixels and optical image stabilization. Those are all positive moves, although the bigger battery capacity may translate into only a few more hours use in the real world. The trade-off is a less pleasing design, a raised camera hump on the back, and a phone that’s more than a handful to hold. The wonderful compactness of the Nova’s body is lost with the Plus.

Huawei proved it completely understands how to make beautiful, sensibly sized phones with the P9, and it proves this again with the Nova. From the chamfered edges for some light-catching bling to the textured feel of the power button, the Nova is a phone you’ll be proud to use.

Huawei wants “dynamic young people” to buy the Nova or Nova Plus. People who love social media, and are addicted to mobile messaging apps. If that sounds familiar, it’s the same person Huawei spin-off brand Honor romances with the Honor 5X, Honor 5C, and the Honor 8. The Nova range says that maybe Honor has been too successful for Huawei’s liking — they share technology, but are independent brands — and it wanted a piece of the action for itself.

Pricing and availability

The main battle for supremacy may be familial, but for those not related to Huawei, it’s going to come down to price. The Nova is priced at 399 euros, which translates to about $455. The Nova Plus adds an extra 29 euros, bringing the price to 429 euros, or $478. The Nova will be available in October in more than 50 countries, but it will first come to Germany, Austria, France, and Spain. The Huawei Nova Plus will only be available in October as well, and in the following countries before moving to additional markets: Spain, Italy, and Canada.

Highs

  • Sleek, compact design
  • A solid camera
  • Smart fingerprint sensor adds security
  • A decent-sized battery

Lows

  • Not a top-of-the-line processor
  • Huawei’s EMUI isn’t for everyone