Huawei Nova 7i review
Quick verdict: Huawei continues to make great phones let down badly by their lack of proper Google apps support.
- Good camera quality
- Fast performance
- Lacks full Google support
- Huawei App Gallery still has lots of terrible apps
- Weak speakers
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
Huawei's latest handset isn't a flagship model with a fancy Leica lens and price tag to make your eyes water, but instead a new device pitched at the mid-range market.
The Nova 7i has some very nice hardware, and that's long been a hallmark of the Huawei experience. However, the limitations of its not-quite-Google-compliant Android experience and the middling quality of the App Gallery make the Nova 7i a hard phone to recommend.
- Bright 6.4-inch LCD
- Single colour choice
- Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
- Huawei's own nm cards remain pricey
Huawei's made some genuinely interesting design moves over the years, even in the budget space, but the Huawei Nova 7i really doesn't feel that inspired.
It features a 6.4-inch 2310x1080 pixel LCD, which is quite good within this price bracket, but unlike most of the rest of Huawei's current offerings, there's no in-display fingerprint reader. Instead it relies on a side-mounted dual power and fingerprint reader, a touch we've seen in quite a few mid-range phones of late. Compared to the generally good quality of Huawei's in-display readers, it can't help but feel like a downgrade.
Internationally, Huawei appears to produce the Huawei Nova 7i in at least three colour hues, but here in Australia we just get the Midnight Black option. It is, as you'd expect for a phone in this price category, a plastic body phone with a somewhat glossy back that also predictably soaks up your fingerprints from the moment you pick it up.
The design does incorporate a standard headphone jack, although it's oddly offset against the USB C charging port at the base. That's also where you'll find the single speaker that's all too easy to cover with your hand while holding it.
The Huawei Nova 7i is a dual SIM phone, but unlike most other dual SIM devices there's no secondary microSD slot. Instead, it uses Huawei's own proprietary nm media cards, which are the same shape as a nano-SIM. What they gain in small size, you lose in cold, hard cash, with most online merchants selling 128GB nm cards for around $100 a pop. By way of comparison, you don't have to shop too hard to find 128GB microSD cards for as little as $20.
- Quad lens camera
- Predictable overprocessing on selfies
If you just looked at the Huawei Nova 7i from a specifications point of view, its camera might seem decent but not particularly exceptional. It features a quad sensor array at the rear, with a primary 48MP f/1.8 sensor, secondary 8MP ultrawide and tertiary 2MP macro lens, along with a depth sensor.
That's a very standard recipe within this price range, and while it's great to see flexibility in the low mid-range phone space, it's certainly not special at a specifications level.
A camera is more than the sum of its megapixel counts, and this is where the Huawei Nova 7i really does stand out amongst the crowd, primarily due to Huawei's AI post-processing and some nifty camera features.
Lots of phones this year have opted for a 2MP macro lens – they're presumably very cheap in Chinese factories right now – and nearly all of them have been functionally useless thanks to terrible focusing and post processing. The Huawei Nova 7i won't take the place of your dedicated DSLR macro lens any time soon, but it can produce some quite passable macro shots with a minimum of fuss.
It's the same story across the other lenses, with Huawei using its AI engines along with digital cropping to give the Huawei Nova 7i limited zoom capabilities. Again, I've seen so many phones offer up high zoom numbers this year, but it's almost always been by the way of providing terrible digital noise at those higher zoom levels. The Huawei Nova 7i limits you to a maximum of 6x zoom, but in doing so it keeps it sane and capable of producing decent shots. You don't get image stabilisation, however, so a tripod is a good idea if you're shooting telephoto with the Huawei Nova 7i.
- Kirin 810 appears quite fast
- Lack of Google Play still hurts
- App Gallery has some AWFUL apps
- Petal Search can work, but it's inherently insecure
The elephant in the room here is Google shaped. Or to be more accurate, it's the elephant-shaped-shadow where Google apps and services should be. The Huawei Nova 7i is an Android 10 phone, but the current legal block on US companies trading with Huawei means that none of its phones can be certified for Google apps and services. This means you get no YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail or Google Drive apps pre-installed, but it goes further than that.
There's also no Google Play store, and this means that a wide array of popular apps – and most notably a lot of streaming video apps and games – simply aren't available. As it's done with its flagships this year, you do get access to Huawei's alternate Huawei App Gallery. That is improving over time in terms of the available apps you can get via Huawei, but there's still lots of really dodgy looking apps and games within it.
As an example, App Gallery informs me that one of its favourite games is "Grand City Thug Crime Gangster", complete with GTA-like fonts. The same developer, it should be noted, also makes a game – and I swear I am NOT making this up – called "Scary Wife 3D".
Yeah, Huawei App Gallery has a domestic terror simulator that you can download. Dodgy knockoff games are one thing… and this is another. Given Huawei's assertions that it vets all apps on the App Gallery, I very much will judge Huawei for making that available.
The other way that you can get some applications onto the Huawei Nova 7i is via Huawei's Petal Search app, which checks open APK repositories for publicly available versions of popular apps. I've said it before, but this is risky behaviour at the best of times, and not recommended.
It's how I was able to sort-of benchmark the Huawei Nova 7i, and I say sort-of because while the APKs appear to run, I've no real way of easily assessing whether they had other payloads behind them, or were properly updated with the latest code. They were run in isolation, and the phone was wiped clean afterwards, because I'm quite serious when I say that loading "unknown" apps is a really risky process.
The need to do so is a real pity, because a quick look at comparative benchmarks for the Huawei Nova 7i certainly suggests that for its price range, it's right up there in terms of power. Here's how it compares against a range of phones in a similar price bracket using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
And here's how it compares using 3DMark's GPU tests:
As with Huawei's other phones, the hardware is great – but the software very much isn't. Even if you are happy playing in the App Gallery and taking your chances with Petal Search, at the time of writing there's a whole host of apps that simply won't work on the Huawei Nova 7i, including popular streaming services such as Netflix, any banking apps and many actually legitimate games.
This remains the biggest problem for all of Huawei's phones, and while I'm less concerned with the absence of some apps on a phone that's somewhat cheaper than the P40 Pro Plus, it's not as though you can't get full Google App support on a phone in this exact price range. It's a huge pity, given the generally excellent hardware on offer.
- 4,200mAh battery
- Fast wired charging
Huawei has a reputation for excellent battery life on its phones, helped by a mix of generous battery inclusions and some rather strong app control measures that do sometimes overstep their bounds in terms of closing background apps with a little too much zeal.
Actually testing out Huawei's phones in a Google-free way while remaining comparative is tricky right now, but to give it the best possible effort, I ran our usual YouTube battery test over the Huawei Nova 7i, using Huawei's included browser app for an hour's video streaming at full brightness and moderate volume.
What I typically look for here is at least 90% battery remaining, and typically for Huawei phones they've passed that test with remarkable ease.
Here's how the Huawei Nova 7i compared:
That's actually lower than I'd generally expect from a Huawei phone, but it's still a reasonable level for a mid-range handset. The Nova 7i supports Huawei's 40W "Supercharge" capabilities, so it can at least recharge at a nippy rate if it is running low on power.
Should you buy the Huawei Nova 7i?
- Buy it if you want a good mid-range camera and aren't fussed by the lack of apps.
- Don't buy it if you want the full Android experience.
Huawei has for some years now produced some of the best smartphone hardware in any given price range, and that hasn't changed with the Huawei Nova 7i.
However, it's still massively hamstrung by the app situation. Yes, there are ways to work around this and sideload apps, fool Google into working and so on, but that's not a secure or recommended process for most everyday consumers. The end result is a great bit of phone hardware left languishing with a sub-par experience when you use it for anything but photography – and as a result, a phone I can't really recommend.
Pricing and availability
Where to buy
Power, storage and battery
Images: Alex Kidman
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