Huawei Nova 2i Review – Next Level in Value For Money

The budget mid-range smartphone market in Malaysia is unbelievably competitive, with over hundreds of devices out there fighting hard to get a piece of market share and try to convince that their device was better. In 2017 alone, we’ve came across lots of devices that is trying to do that. Today, we’ll be taking a look at this new comer from Huawei: The Nova 2i – a device that is priced at RM1299, while packing lots of features that are unheard of in this price range.

Design

The Nova 2i spots its own unique design even when its next to its siblings in the same line-up. The basic design is still there, and being one of Huawei’s more affordable offerings, the overall design is pretty understated. Truth be told, it’s design is not going to wow anyone, but we still give credit to Huawei for giving it a different design rather than recycling their previous designs. The proportions of the Nova 2i are not too shabby given how much this device actually costs. It’s pretty much on par with some of the flagships out there.

As a budget device, the Nova 2i excels well for build quality. You can expect a metal unibody and a glass front. Even though the metal may not feel as rigid as the far more expensive P-series or Mate-series cousins, the grippy matte surface is still a nice touch. The front glass is smooth to the touch as well. It weighs at around 160-grams, which is pretty average for device of this size.

The front showcases one of the highlights of the Nova 2i – a 5.9-inch display with 18:9 display ratio. While the taller display does not increase the overall height on the device, it takes up pretty much most of the front panel. The bezels on both sides are still there, but its minimal, and at times it will cause accidental inputs when holding the device. There’s still some space on the top and bottom, and Huawei filled the top with the usual goodies – earpiece, sensors, a LED notification light, a LED soft lighting, and 2 of the 4 camera lenses. Android navigations are on-screen as per usual.

As usual, the hybrid tray is located on the left, and had to be removed using a SIM removal tool. The primary slot takes a nanoSIM, while the secondary slot takes either a nanoSIM or microSD card. So it’s either expanding storage or dual-SIM functionality. The volume and power buttons are located on the right as usual.

The secondary microphone is the only component located on the top, which leaves the rest of the ports at the bottom of the device, which includes the 3.5-mm headphone jack, a microUSB port for charging and data transfer and a mono speaker.

Another pair of lenses can be found on the back, in a housing that somewhat resembles the design of the top of the line Mate 9. The entire housing is also bulged up with chamfered edges around it. In it contains a 12-megapixel and a 2-megapixel sensor. The single LED flash is located above the housing. The rounded, matte-surface fingerprint reader is below the camera housing. Apart from the subtle Huawei branding at the bottom, the rear finishes with 2 clean antenna lines running at the top and bottom.

Huawei offers the Nova 2i in 3 different colours – black, blue and gold. All 3 colours are available on our shores.

Huawei Nova 2i Exterior Photos

Specs and Performance

For the price, the Nova 2i is packing quite a punch even on paper. Huawei’s in-house developed Kirin 659 is up for the job. Even though it may be one of Huawei’s chipset for mid-range devices, it packs quite a punch, with half of it’s eight cores clocked at 2.36GHz, and the rest clocked at 1.7GHz. Of course, the lower-powered processors will handle the easy tasks, while the primary cores will come in should there need more power. 4GB of RAM is included.

As for real-world performance, the Nova 2i did surprised us. As Huawei’s cheaper offering, using the Nova 2i is a breeze. Dare we say it, at lighter tasks, it performs pretty much the same as the more expensive P10 Plus or even the Mate 9, both shares the same but higher end processor. The Nova 2i handles light tasks easily, especially when paired with their own EMUI user interface.

However, it’s still a mixed bag when it comes to processes which require more punch. The higher powered cores are on full swing then it comes to demanding processes, but when it comes to really demanding games, it starts to show signs of struggle. And of course, the metal unibody exposes heat when all cores are fired up to the max. Still, it is a small compromise to make, and it does not ruin too much of the experience.

As for storage, Huawei has kindly thrown in 64GB of eMMC storage, and for most people it is adequate enough, even though it is not the fastest. Still, you can still expand it with a microSD card that has a capacity up to 256GB. As per usual, it can be fused to the internal partition to increase its capacity.

Connectivity options for the Nova 2i are slightly compromised, as it only supports up to 2.4GHz 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, which isn’t surprising to see in this price range. There’s also Bluetooth 4.2, as well as 4G LTE for both SIM cards, while only one will actually be connected for cellular data. The Nova 2i also had to do with a microUSB 2.0 port, which lacks out on any fast charging or quick data transfers.

Since there are no space for fingerprint-sensor on the front, it is located below the pair of camera lenses at the back. The round-shaped sensor with matte surface works very well. It is quick and accurate, even though it does struggle a little at times.

Display

The Nova 2i is one of the first devices out there to ship with a 5.9-inch display in the price range, and while that sounds like a lot, it’s a display with a ratio of 18:9, in which it is called FullView in this application. The screen is much longer compared to a traditional 16:9 display, which allows more content to be displayed.

The resolution in this application is 1080 X 2160, which has more vertical pixels compared to a regular Full HD resolution, in which Huawei calls it FHD+. Pixel density is kept at an adequate 409 pixels-per-inch. Like most other smartphones at this price range, it won’t blow you away with super sharp details, but it is sharp enough for daily users, unless you are nitpicking.

Huawei’s standard IPS panel is also applied on the Nova 2i. It is one of Huawei’s more standard IPS panel, but nevertheless it contains accurate and natural colours, without trying too hard to make it over-saturated. The deep black nature of IPS can be credited for its accurate colours. It is pretty bright too, and the auto-brightness setting works fantastically to adopt the screen brightness to the surroundings. Using the device under sunlight is fine, even though we do hope for more brightness at times. As expected, the viewing angles are great as well.

Huawei also includes the ability to alter the colour temperature from the software settings. Instead of a slider between cool or warm, you can choose any colour you like from the colour wheel and choose its intensity.

Speaker

Being a budget device, the Nova 2i is fitted with Huawei’s standard bottom-firing mono speaker. The performance of the speaker is pretty much the same as other devices in the Huawei line-up. While it is quite loud for a mono-speaker, it still could use some amount of clarity and bass. Nonetheless, the audio quality is not too bad.

You can connect the Nova 2i to an external device wirelessly through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is also there for wired connections.

Camera Performance

The camera department is where the Nova 2i starts to shine. While it is advertised as a “Selfie Superstar”, Huawei actually paid attention to both it’s front and rear cameras. At this price range, Huawei offers dual-cameras for both the front and rear, and even though they are not the first one to do so, it’s incredibly generous for them to do so, especially considering the price of the Nova 2i. Of course, it is not the full-blown version found in the more expensive P-series and Mate-series. In fact, Huawei has their own dual-camera systems for budget-friendly devices.

The rear camera consists of a 16-megapixel sensor, accompanied by a 2-megapixel sensor. The 16-megapixel RGB sensor does most of the job, and while the 2-megapixel sensor is only there to assist on variable aperture. We’ve seen this setup on the Honor 6X with lower resolution. There’s nothing too crazy going on in terms of features, and it has all the basics covered.

As for image quality, it is nothing short of expectation. Pictures taken in well lighting conditions stands-out pretty well with very well-preserved details and accurate and natural colours. It is well litted as well, and even though it does not get assistance from a monochrome sensor, image quality is great for what it is. It doesn’t try too hard to over-saturate colours, but still a good choice to leave it natural. The phase-detection autofocus works rather fast too. In some cases the image can be softer than usual with some loss of details, but that’s a small problem to deal with.

When it comes to wide aperture, the secondary 2-megapixel camera is there to assist in pin-pointing the distance and shape of the object and the background, then feeds the information back to apply bokeh effect to the background of an image. Huawei’s been at this business for quite some time now, that’s why they can make it work well in the Nova 2i. They have got the bokeh effect on point, even though it can look unnatural at times. Even with assistance from secondary sensor, it has trouble missing some spots.

As for low lighting, this is where the elephant is in the room. The sensor with f/2.2 aperture does work great at keeping noise level down, but in order to do that, images produced could use more lighting. There are also noticeable loss of details, but still acceptable nonetheless. The single-LED flash works alright to light up near objects.

The rear cameras also record videos up to 1080p resolution. 30 frames-per-second is the only option available. Still, the final product is pleasing and nothing short of expectation, but we are still hoping that it could do with some sort of stabilization and better image quality in low-light conditions.

As for the front, it consists of the same dual-camera setup, but only contains a 13-megapixel sensor, accompanied by the same 2-megapixel sensor. As far as front-facing cameras go, it has lots of details that are well-preserved. The colours and lighting are well-balanced too, and even without autofocus, it is easy to get your face in focus. In low-lighting conditions, it tired its best to bring up as much brightness as possible, which in return translates to slightly-noticeable noise level, as well as softer details. There is a LED softlight to aid in lighting in those conditions.

The wide aperture feature for the front-facing camera is pretty much the same story as the rear. While it is there to provide a greater depth of field, it can struggle with complicated shapes.

Huawei Nova 2i Samples

The camera app that comes on the Nova 2i is the same as other Huawei devices. It is simple to use at first glance, with shortcut controls on the left and the usual shutter and mode buttons on the right. Even when swiping left and right on the viewfinder which reveals different modes and settings, there’s a lot to play with, but is well organized.

Software

Huawei Nova 2i Screenshots

Like all recent Huawei devices, the Nova 2i is preloaded EMUI 5.1, Huawei’s on customization on top of Android 7.0 Nougat firmware. It’s pretty much the same user interface on other Huawei devices, but has some work done to it to accommodate the longer display. The entire UI design looks modern, packs all the necessary functions and has a sensible and practical design. While it is not preloaded with unnecessary bloatware, there are still lots of functions to deal with. The Kirin 659 handles the UI pretty well even though it is quite heavy compared to a vanilla Android, but that’s how Huawei makes their devices stand-out.

Battery life

The Nova 2i is packing a rather impressive non-removable 3340mAh battery, and even though the display requires more battery power to push the pixels, the Nova 2i still holds up impressively. After 8-hours of moderate-to-heavy use, there’s still around 20-25% left in the battery, and could probably go on the night with light usage before we run towards the charger.

On the other hand, due to the Nova 2i using a traditional microUSB port, charging the Nova 2i is going to take a while over a regular 2A charger. It takes just over 2.5 hours to get it from complete empty to 100%, and a 30-minute charge will only bring it to around 25%.

The Bottom Line

It is hard to not point out that the Nova 2i carries lots of value thanks to Huawei’s product and pricing strategy, which makes the Nova 2i such a value for money device. Yes, there are still compromises that has to be made, but for the price, we can easily close one eye on those compromises. At that price point, it is hard to pick something else over the Nova 2i.

Recap:
5.9-inch IPS LED display, 1080 X 2160 resolution, 409 ppi
HiSilicone Kirin 659, 4×2.36GHz + 4×1.7GHz
4GB RAM, 64GB internal storage, microSD support up to 256GB
16-megapixel RGB sensor + 2-megapixel sensor, up to 1080p recording
13-megapixel front-facing sensor + 2-megapixel sensor
3340mAh battery

Pros Cons
18:9 display on a budget mid-range device Display colours not too vivid
Metal build, solid quality Camera struggles in low-light conditions
Large battery, long battery life Lacking higher-end connectivity options
Dual-lens on both front and back Charging through microUSB is slow
Performance is surprisingly good Speaker performance could be better