Huawei Nova Plus full review

Huawei has gone from strength to strength in the UK, with releases including the flagship Huawei P9 proving popular in Britain – and it isn’t finished yet. Announced at IFA 2016, Huawei launched a new range of smartphones to take on the mid-range market, the Huawei Nova and Huawei Nova Plus. But how does the Nova Plus shape up to the mid-range competition? We’ve spent some time with the Huawei Nova Plus and here we discuss our findings. Read next: Best smartphone

Huawei Nova Plus review: Pricing and availability

So before we go any further, let’s first discuss UK pricing and availability of Huawei’s latest smartphone. The Huawei Nova, along with the Nova Plus are both marketed as being mid-range smartphones, meaning they’re not designed to compete with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 or iPhone 7 – and the price reflects that. UK users will be able to pick up a Huawei Nova Plus for 429 Euros when it’s released in Europe – we’re yet to hear about UK pricing, but we’ll update this section as soon as we do.

So when will it be released? As announced by Huawei during its IFA 2016 press conference, the smartphone will be available to buy in over 50 countries from October, although a date is yet to be set and October is fast coming to a close. As with other Huawei smartphones, the Huawei Nova will be able to order from VMall once it’s released.

Also see: Huawei Mate 9 review

Huawei Nova Plus review: Design

While the Huawei Nova Plus is the bigger brother to the Huawei Nova and the two share the same premium design philosophy, there are subtle differences between the two devices – unlike with previous Huawei phones like the Huawei P9 and P9 Plus, which are near-on identical. Huawei is infamous for producing smartphones with a premium look and feel without the premium price tag, and the company has once again achieved this with the design of the Huawei Nova Plus.

While the Huawei Nova Plus sports curved 2.5D glass, small bezels and metal curved unibody like its smaller sibling, it features an entirely different rear design. The Nova features a P9-esque black segment housing the camera along the top of the rear, while the Nova Plus features an all-metal rear with a protruding camera in the centre and a fingerprint scanner underneath, reminiscent of Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Huawei’s Mate 8.

The Huawei Nova Plus features a 5.5in display, although you wouldn’t be able to tell when holding it in the hand. Why? Huawei has been smart when designing the Huawei Nova Plus, utilising small bezels to fit a larger display into a smaller-than-usual chassis measuring in at 151.8x75.7x7.3mm and weighing 160g. This makes it smaller and easier to hold than Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus, also with a 5.5in display, but measuring in at 158.2x77.9x7.3mm.

This provides a comfortable holding experience over extended periods, and is surprisingly easy to use one-handed, although there’s no support for a one-handed mode in terms of software. Of course, it’s never going to be as easy to hold as small phones like the iPhone SE, but it’s a step forward for those of us with a love for phablets.

The Huawei Nova Plus is a gorgeous smartphone with the same brushed metal finish on the sides and sandblasted finish on the rear as the Huawei Nova, and really doesn’t feel like a mid-range smartphone in the hand. All the small details, from the slightly curved unibody to the different finishes on different parts of the chassis provides the look and feel of a high-end, premium smartphone.

Huawei Nova Plus review: Features and spec

So what can we expect from the Huawei Nova Plus? It features a larger IPS display than the 5in Huawei Nova at 5.5in, although the resolution remains the same at 1080x1920 (Full HD). We found the display itself to be incredibly bright, crisp and vibrant during our time with the smartphone, and it’s worth noting that like the Nova, it too features a blue light filter that should make using the smartphone in the evenings a little bit more comfortable on the eye.

However, while this is a welcome addition to the Nova Plus, it’s worth noting that we found the filter to be a little too aggressive, leaving a noticeably orange hue on our display when activated. We prefer Apple’s Night Shift offering, providing similar effects without having a noticeably orange display.

Inside the Huawei Nova Plus, users will find a Snapdragon 625 processor coupled with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, the exact same offering as the standard Huawei Nova. The smartphone boasts 32GB of storage that can be expanded, thanks to the ‘Hybrid SIM tray’ that lets you use either one SIM and a MicroSD card, or two SIMs at once.

While we found that the Nova Plus would be fairly snappy when browsing Google Play and scrolling through Twitter, we found that it would stutter when trying to multi-task (switching between apps quickly, etc) and also when trying to play 3D games. Much like with the Nova, basic 3D platformers like Faily Breaks perform okay but it can’t handle graphically intense mobile games like Assassin’s Creed Pirates. Despite it only being a mid-range smartphone, other mid-range smartphones like the OnePlus 3 perform much better, especially in the gaming department.

This is the issue with two smartphones featuring almost identical internals, and we must admit, we are a bit confused as to why Huawei chose to keep the processing power at identical levels across both devices. if Huawei is to charge more money for the Plus, it might want to make the smartphone more powerful, rather than only offering a slightly larger display (with the same tech and resolution) and a slightly improved camera. We’ll come to the camera in a little more detail below.

Huawei was quick to point out that the included Snapdragon 625 processor provides users with around 30 percent better battery life than the Snapdragon 615, and when that’s coupled with a fairly large 3340mAh battery, the company claims that the smartphone will last 2.2 days on average. To compare, Apple’s similarly sized iPhone 7 Plus features a 2900mAh battery, 440mAh less than Huawei’s Nova Plus. Despite Huawei's claims, we're yet to experience a full 2.2 days of charge with standard use - it'll get you through a day comfortably, but usually requires charging at some point during the second day. We'll run our battery benchmark in the coming days and update you with the results. 

Huawei Nova Plus review: Benchmark results

We put the Huawei Nova Plus through its paces via a number of different benchmark tests, but before we delve into our findings it’s worth explaining first that with all values across all tests, the bigger the number, the better. The results are generally identical to that of the Huawei Nova, but that’s to be expected due to the same processor and RAM used across both devices.

The first benchmark we ran was Geekbench 4, which looks to measure the processing power of the smartphone and is a good indicator of general performance. The issue we have is that the Geekbench 4 results are different to those produced by the older app, Geekbench 3, even when ran on the same phone. This makes it difficult to compare to older smartphones we’ve reviewed, so we’ll only be comparing it to fairly recent smartphones.

With this being said, the Huawei Nova Plus scored 848 in single-core mode, and 3177 in multi-core mode, a relatively disappointing score when you consider that the similarly priced Xiaomi Redmi Pro scored 1764 and 4539 respectively. Simply put, Huawei’s processor is good enough to get you through your day-to-day tasks, but there are certainly more powerful smartphones on the market at a similar price.

Next up in our range of benchmarks was GFXBench, which looks to test the graphical power of the smartphone and is a reflection of how well (or not) your smartphone can handle gaming. It offers a number of tests, from the low-res T-Rex to the high-res Car Chase, and records the average frame rate of each. While there are several tests, we’ll concentrate on the low-to-mid-range T-Rex and Manhattan, due to the price tag of the smartphone. Don’t worry – we’ll include full results in the below infographic for those that are curious.

Huawei’s Nova Plus didn’t perform too well, much like the Huawei Nova, when compared with similarly priced smartphones. While the Nova Plus scored 23fps in T-Rex and 10fps in Manhattan, the OnePlus 3 managed 59fps and 46fps respectively. In fact, if we were going to compare these results with any smartphone, it’d have to be the £295 Vodafone Smart Platinum 7 which scored 22- and 9fps respectively. In a nutshell, and much like with the Geekbench results, the Huawei Nova Plus is an average option, but there are more capable smartphones on the market for gaming.

Lastly we ran JetStream, a benchmark that tests the speed of the built-in browser which, in the case of the Huawei Nova Plus, is Google Chrome. While iOS devices notoriously run faster than Android counterparts (the iPhone 7 scored 160.2, while the Galaxy S7 scored 61), it’s interesting to see that even amongst Android devices, browser speeds can vary. With that being said, the Huawei Nova Plus scored 30.2, an average score for a mid-range Android smartphone.

Huawei Nova Plus review: Cameras and photography

Let’s talk about the cameras featured on the Huawei Nova Plus. The Nova Plus features a rear-facing 16Mp snapper, up from the 12Mp camera offered on the standard Huawei Nova. That’s not all either, as the Nova Plus also features Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS for short), which helps capture sharper photos. But how does it perform in real life? We’ve taken a selection of photos to analyse (click for full-res).

Let’s take a look at the above photo of St. Pancras Hotel in London. While the photo looked fairly impressive on the smartphone itself, it was a different story when looking at it again on Photoshop on a Mac. While it looks fairly decent at surface level with a good amount of detail and decent lighting for a cloudy day in London, zooming in to 100% (1:1 pixels) on Photoshop reveals a lack of fine detail, possibly due to aggressive noise cancellation. It’s not a huge deal, but we wouldn’t crop photos taken on the Huawei Nova Plus.

What the camera does do well is take photos quickly – most cars in the photo were moving when the photo was taken, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. General colour reproduction is good too, as you can make out the different shades of orange/red brick used to build the hotel, even those on the same section of wall.  

Macro photography is also fairly decent for a mid-range smartphone, as can be seen in the above photo. Tapping on the screen gets the camera to quickly focus on the subject of the photo, even when extremely close to the phone. In the case of the above photo, the Nova Plus easily grabbed the focus of the closest leaf, allowing us to clearly see the finer details. While the focus could’ve been slightly improved, we feel this is more of a reflection of our photography skills, rather than that of the smartphone.

On the flip side, the Huawei Nova Plus features the same 8Mp front-facing camera as the Nova. The front-facing camera is good for taking selfies and performs well in low-light conditions, but it won’t light up dark conditions – for those, users have the option of using the 5.5in display as a forward-facing flash.

It’s also worth mentioning video capabilities, as we’re not so sure that the OIS stretches from photography to videography. Why? We recorded a small video clip in the fairly standard [email protected] (it goes up to [email protected]) and walked a few steps – when watching it back, despite the video being fairly clear and decent quality, we still noticed visible shakiness from each step we took. When compared to the software-enabled OIS of the iPhone 6s, the iPhone 6s wins hands down.

Huawei Nova Plus review: Software

The Huawei Nova Plus comes packing Android 6.0 Marshmallow complete with Huawei’s own Emotion UI (or EMUI for short) offering Huawei’s own spin on the Android software. For those that don’t already know, EMUI is about as far from stock Android as one can come, with almost every element of the Android interface being redesigned or at least tweaked for Huawei devices.

Although this may be slightly controversial, we love EMUI – it looks good, and offers functionality not available on standard Android devices, like tapping the screen to take a screenshot, and being able to view your notifications in a timeline-esque view. Yes, it may take some time to get used to, but we feel that the learning curve is worth it.

But what about Android Nougat? Android’s latest software is starting to ship with smartphones, but what about the Nova Plus? We’re not quite sure yet, but we doubt it – even Huawei’s flagship P9 doesn’t look like it’ll get the update, so it’s not looking too good for the mid-range Nova series.  

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2017


Huawei Nova Plus: Specs

  • 5.5in (1920x1080) IPS display
  • Android Marshmallow 6.0.1
  • 2GHz Qualcomm MSM8953 Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor
  • Adreno 506
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB storage, expandable by microSD
  • 16Mp main camera with OIS, dual LED flash
  • 8Mp front-facing camera
  • 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • 4G LTE
  • Nano?SIM
  • GPS
  • 3340mAh battery
  • 151.8x75.7x7.3mm
  • 160g