Huawei Nova Plus Review: Fine design but mid-range performance

Alex Kidman 20 December 2016 NEWS

Quick Verdict
The Huawei Nova Plus is a perfectly solid mid-range Android phone with a slight tilt towards style that you don’t always see at this price point.

Strengths

  • An elegant mid-range phone
  • Superb battery life
  • USB C charging
  • Mostly decent camera performance

Could be better

  • Mediocre app performance
  • No app tray
  • Rear fingerprint sensor
  • Only Android 6.0


Huawei’s Nova Plus stands out with its sleek design and solid battery life, but its overall application performance and Android experience leave us wanting.

Huawei isn’t afraid to play in multiple phone niches, whether it’s the super-cheap and simple phones you can pick up at your local supermarket for under $100, or high-end devices such as the Huawei P9 or the upcoming Huawei Mate 9. Despite its Plus suffix, the Huawei Nova Plus isn’t a Mate competitor, but instead a mid-range priced Android device. There’s a very particular squeeze on those precise mid-range phones, because while they’re pinching at the premium space, at the same time they have limitations that mean that they too have to push harder against the very same wave of true budget handsets.
HNovaPlus_3_450

Huawei Nova Plus: Specifications

Huawei Nova Plus
OS Android 6.0
Screen size 5.5in
Resolution 1080x1920
Display density 401ppi
Storage 32GB
Weight 160g
Processor Snapdragon 625
Rear camera 16MP
Front camera 8MP
Battery 3340mAh

HNovaPlus_6_450

Upsides: Why you’d want the Huawei Nova Plus

  • An elegant mid-range phone: The Nova Plus comes with what Huawei calls "2.5D" glass, which is a fancy marketing way of saying that the glass tapers at the sides, making for a smoother look and simpler grip in the hand. It’s a nice style touch for what is a mid-range phone, although there are a lot of metal body phones at this price point.
  • Superb battery life: The Huawei Nova Plus packs in a 3340mAh battery, which is far from the largest we’ve seen in a phone, but the combination of the lower-power Snapdragon 625 and battery leads the Nova Plus to some truly superb battery life. Here’s how it compares against a range of phones using Geekbench 3's battery test:
    Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score
    LG X Power 14:50:30 5714
    Huawei Nova Plus 13:21:20 8013
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 11:55:00 7150
    Huawei Mate 8 11:14:40 6659
    Apple iPhone 7 Plus 11:11:20 6713
    Samsung Galaxy Note7 11:02:20 6623
    Sony Xperia X 10:40:40 6406
    Samsung Galaxy J2 10:05:20 2689
    Samsung Galaxy S7 10:01:20 6013

    The Nova Plus is pipped to the top of the chart by the exceptional battery life of the LG X Power, but it generated a better Geekbench 3 battery score, indicating that its performance while draining the battery should be better than the X Power.

  • USB C charging: This is becoming more common in the premium Android space, but still a rarity in mid-range or budget phones. The advantage here aside from fast charging and data transfer rates is that making the switch on a cheaper phone means that you’d be already geared up for USB C charging when your next phone comes around, by which time we’d expect it to be much more common.
  • Mostly decent camera performance: Huawei’s key weak spot used to be camera optics, where it was decidedly a mid-range contender at best. The Nova Plus’ camera doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Leica lenses found on the P9, but as a mid-range contender it’s certainly adequate enough. Huawei’s debt to Apple’s Camera app is apparent with just a few simple camera modes activated with a sideways swipe, keeping things simple. That being said, it’s yet another camera app with a dodgy "Beauty" mode that smooths skin to the point of absurdity. Testing on myself with everything maximised for beauty led to the creation of a selfie that was more alien potato than stunning fashion model.

HNovaPlus_7_450

Downsides: Why you might not want the Huawei Nova Plus

  • Mediocre app performance: The downside for that great battery life is that the Snapdragon 625 isn’t a powerhouse processor, and it shows. Within the mid-range, the Nova Plus’ real problem here is not that it’s extremely slow, but that it doesn’t stand out against the rest of the pack. Here’s how the Nova Plus compared on Geekbench 4’s CPU test:
    Handset Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
    Google Pixel XL 1629 4051
    Motorola Moto Z 1477 3853
    Sony Xperia XZ 1636 3604
    Google Nexus 6P 1293 3594
    Motorola Moto X Force 1352 3581
    Huawei Nova Plus 843 2985
    Motorola Moto Z Play 799 2648
    Sony Xperia X 1122 2626
    LG X Power 554 1482
    Motorola Moto G Play 522 1334

    It’s the same kind of story for 3D games performance, where the Nova Plus doesn’t really stand out from the pack:

    Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
    Google Pixel XL 28458
    Motorola Moto Z 25629
    Sony Xperia XZ 26279
    Google Nexus 6P 24703
    Motorola Moto Z Play 13958
    Sony Xperia X 16648
    Huawei Nova Plus 13969
    LG X Power 4953
  • No app tray: Anyone familiar with Huawei’s EMUI Android skin would have seen this coming. The Nova Plus already looks a little like an iPhone, so why not go the whole hog and set it up with an endless array of app icons instead. It’s Android, so you can at least replace the launcher, but the default feels clunky and cheap.
  • Rear fingerprint sensor: Huawei’s been down this design road for some time with regards to where it places its fingerprint sensor. On the upside it works well and the indent on the back means it’s easy enough to access, but its placement means you’re only ever likely to enrol your index finger to use it. It is a preference call, but generally we find front mounted fingerprint sensors easier to use.
  • Only Android 6.0: The reality for the majority of Android handsets is that they don’t jump up Android versions during their effective lifetime unless you’re happy to do some brute force upgrade work yourself. Android 7.0 has been available for some months, but the Nova Plus ships with only Android 6.0, and its mid-range status and custom UI suggest that this perhaps as far as it will ever go.

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Who is it best suited for? What are my other alternatives?

The Huawei Nova Plus is a perfectly solid mid-range Android phone with a slight tilt towards style that you don’t always see at this price point. The battery life is a definite high point, so if you’re tired of your current handset running out of power halfway through the day this could be an excellent replacement phone.

Huawei Nova Plus

Huawei Nova Plus from Amazon US site

The Huawei Nova Plus is available in Australia through Amazon. Order today.

View details

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to phones at this kind of price point, however. The Nova Plus is only sold outright in Australia, which means that it’s not only competing with current mid-range devices ranging from Telstra’s Signature Premium to Motorola’s Z Play, but also discounted premium fare that’s either being sold off cheaply, including Huawei’s own P9, LG’s G5 or the HTC 10.

Where can I get it?

The Huawei Nova Plus is available in Australia through Harvey Norman and Officeworks, where it sells for an outright price of $549.

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