Huawei Nova 2i review: Four cameras is just the foreplay

Alex Kidman 23 October 2017

The Huawei Nova 2i sells itself on the inclusion of four cameras, but that's actually not its best feature.

Quick Verdict
The Huawei Nova 2i offers an interesting mid-range mix of features, including a full-screen 18:9 display and four cameras for photography, although they're not as flexible as you might expect.

The Good

  • Large 18:9 display
  • Four onboard cameras
  • Fast fingerprint sensor

The Bad

  • No NFC on board
  • Display isn't great in direct sunlight
  • Ordinary battery life for such a large handset
  • Not as flexible as other dual camera phones, even at this price point.

The Huawei Nova 2i is a phone of many names. I've honestly no idea why it's the "2i" Nova variant here in Australia, what with the last member of that family being the Huawei Nova Plus. Beyond that, if you buy the exact same hardware elsewhere on the planet, it may be the Maimang 6, the Honor 9i or indeed the Huawei Mate 10 Lite. Same phone, many names.

With both the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro launch here imminent, I'm not entirely sure why Huawei didn't opt to co-opt that rather better known branding for its mid-range phablet device. Still, whatever it's called, it's a phone that sells itself on a few key features, although its headline act isn't actually its best feature in use.

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Design

The Huawei Nova 2i stands out immediately for its 18:9 aspect ratio screen, putting it in similar technical company to devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S8+ or Huawei's own Mate 10 Pro. In the case of the Nova 2i, it's a 5.9-inch display at a resolution of 2160x1080, so it has lower resolution than competing premium full-screen display phones, but still quite impressive for what is, after all, a mid-range phone handset.

The one caveat I've noticed during testing of the Nova 2i is that it's not terribly good in direct sunlight, even with brightness cranked up as high at it can go. However, under less extreme lighting situations, it's great to have a large screen display for watching video on the daily commute or for most gaming purposes.

The inclusion of such a large display screen doesn't give Huawei much room to breathe when it comes to the design of the rest of the Huawei Nova 2i. It measures in at 156.2x75.2x7.5mm with a carrying weight of 164 grams, making it quite light for a larger screened phone.

The rear of the handset is largely a blank slate, with a fingerprint sensor sitting below the vertically mounted dual camera array. It's ultimately a rather bland design that pretty much just gets on with the business of being a smartphone without offering much in the way of additional flair.

That's somewhat par for the course for mid-range handsets, but we have seen some manufacturers putting more into their mid-range offerings to make them more desirable from a fashion viewpoint than Huawei has managed here.

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Camera

The Huawei Nova 2i has a key selling point, or to be more strictly accurate, four of them. While we've seen plenty of dual lens premium handsets, and even a few models in the mid-range adopting dual lens arrays, Huawei's upped the game by making the Nova 2i dual lens on both sides. That means that at the front you get a 13MP sensor paired with a 2MP sensor, while at the back there's a 16MP sensor paired with a 2MP sensor.

All of which sounds suitably sexy because more is always better, right?

Well... maybe. It's worth recognising what Huawei has and hasn't done here in the broader context of dual lens camera phones because the Nova 2i's implementation is very much all about focus, and how much of it you actually want. Other handsets pair their second lens with some kind of secondary feature, whether it's a zoom lens, wide angle or monochrome lens, also using that secondary lens to enable a portrait style feature with bokeh effects.

Focus effects is all the Nova 2i's secondary lenses are used for. Indeed, within Huawei's own camera app, there's no direct way to shoot just with the secondary lenses at all, so the only way they come into play is when you're taking a photo and want to adjust the general focus. That's a little more limited in sheer photographic terms for the rear cameras than competing phones, although it's nicely situated if you're a huge selfie fan with aspirations to getting better looking personal shots.

You can select your level of bokeh in shot while taking portraits or selfies. Here's our office plant sans any kind of blur:

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And here's the same happy plant with blur at full:

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Here's a (very rare) selfie of your author:

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And the same thing with selfie bokeh enabled:

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The Nova 2i's beauty mode works just like any other, which is to say that these filters always make me look like an alien space potato. Your own experience and level of personal beauty may of course vary.

You're not limited to just straight portraits of course. In general photography, the Huawei Nova 2i performs as well as you might expect a mid-range handset to operate. If you're keen on all things Huawei, the P10, the P10 Plus or the upcoming Mate 10/Mate 10 Pro are no doubt going to offer better quality, but the Nova 2i is perfectly adequate for someone on a budget. Here's some sample shots taken with the Huawei Nova 2i:

nova2icam8_738 nova2icam7_738 nova2icam6_738 nova2icam5_738

Performance

The Huawei Nova 2i runs on Huawei's own Octa-Core Kirin 659 SoC with 4GB ROM and 64GB RAM. Where Huawei has in the past tended towards using third-party silicon (usually Mediatek-based), it has instead gone inhouse for the Nova 2i – with results that are predictably mid-range. Here's how the Nova 2i compares against a range of similarly priced handsets using Geekbench 4's CPU test:

HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
OnePlus 519766506
Oppo R1116165895
Huawei P1019225633
Moto G5 Plus8424180
Motorola X48654087
Huawei GR5 20178143398
Huawei Nova 2i9183331
Huawei Nova Plus8432985
Nokia 56622833
Nokia 66642832
LG Q65362005

And here's how it compares using 3DMarks' Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark against the same handsets:

Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
OnePlus 539497
Huawei P1025168
Oppo R1124525
Motorola X416763
Huawei Nova Plus13969
Moto G5 Plus13753
Huawei GR5 201711859
Huawei Nova 2i10308
Nokia 59483
Nokia 69435
LG Q67779

Benchmarks are never the full story on performance, but in the case of the Nova 2i, they're a very solid indicator of the kind of experience you're likely to get out of the handset. It's certainly not a nippy handset, but it's equally not as sluggish as many handsets we've tested. In other words, it's a mid-range handset with absolutely mid-range performance.

One notable omission from the Huawei Nova 2i's arsenal is NFC communication. It's not present, which means that if your financial institution supports Android Pay, and that's a feature you want, you'd do well to look elsewhere.

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Battery

We've seen some really great battery test results out of some recent mid-range handsets, thanks to the use of lower-power processors along with reasonable battery capacities, often rivalling those of higher-end handsets. Huawei packs a 3340mAh sealed battery into the Nova 2i's frame, which should have given it some real muscle when it came to battery life.

Anecdotally, it's feasible to get a full day's battery use out of the Nova 2i in most circumstances, but it's not the strongest phone we've seen. Here's how it compared against the field using Geekbench 3's battery test:

HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
Huawei Nova Plus13:21:208013
Motorola X412:42:007515
Huawei GR5 201711:33:506938
Motorola Moto G5 Plus11:15:406756
Huawei Nova 2i9:37:105771
OnePlus 59:33:305735
Huawei P109:31:305523
LG Q68:44:403498
Nokia 58:42:305044
Nokia 68:19:104833
Oppo R117:52:304725

While there are phones in similar price and performance brackets with worse battery life, the Huawei Nova 2i really doesn't do much to stand out here against the broad mid-range pack. That's especially true given it holds onto the older microUSB charging standard, while other competitor phones in the price bracket are shifting towards USB C.

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Verdict

The Huawei Nova 2i is a really interesting phone because it shows very clearly how mid-range devices are trying to stand out from their peers. The whole four-camera array makes for a great headline, and it's in no real way a "bad" camera system, but equally it's not exactly a standout in terms of visual fidelity.

There's arguably more to be had out of that large full-screen display because it's playing into the design trend of 2017 for minimal bezels, even if the rest of the Nova 2i feels a little under-designed.

However, you're rather spoiled for choice in the mid-range when it comes to handsets. The excellent OnePlus 5 is clearly a better performance phone than the Nova 2i, but it is a little more pricey, and critically it's going to be harder to source given the rather slow entry into the local market by OnePlus. Motorola's offerings, such as the Motorola X4 or Motorola G5S Plus, are also worth consideration, and if you're after a more stylish phone, some of Nokia's mid-range efforts, such as the Nokia 5, are also worth putting into contention.

That doesn't mean you should jump to any of them over and above the Huawei Nova 2i, but you should certainly compare widely. If nothing else, it's great to have such a wide variety of approaches and choices at the mid-range price point.

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Huawei Nova 2i: What the other reviewers say

SiteCommentScore
GSM Arena (hands-on, Honor 9i)"The Honor 9i is good value and a suitable step up from some of the cheaper phones in the segment."N/A

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Pricing and availability

The Huawei Nova 2i will be available in Australia from JB Hi-Fi from 25 October 2017 at $499 outright in a dual SIM configuration.

If you prefer your handsets on contract, Vodafone will offer the Huawei Nova 2i in Australia from November, but as is common with most telco phones, it'll only be available as a single SIM unit. At the time of writing, plan pricing hasn't been announced.

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Specifications

Product Name
Huawei Nova 2i
Display
5.9in
Resolution
1080 x 2160 pixels
ppi
407ppi
Software
Android 7.0
Storage
64GB
RAM
4GB
Battery
3340mAh
Front camera
Dual 13MP/2MP
Rear camera
Dual 16MP/2MP
Processor
Kirin 659
Size
156.2 x 75.2 x 7.5 mm
Weight
164g

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