Huawei has been stepping on the gas for the past couple of years now. From its humble beginnings as the OEM for rebranded smartphones, it sure came a long way. The company’s extreme focus on research and development placed them at the forefront of advancements in technology.
The Chinese electronics giant made their mark over and over again with the help of various partnerships they initiated. The Leica-powered P9 generated buzz in the smartphone world because it elevated mobile photography to a whole new level. Huawei continued it to this year’s flagship models and the results are still very impressive.
But today we’re not talking about high-end phones. Instead, we’re diving deep into Huawei’s current trump card in the mid-range smartphone division.
We’ve used the Huawei Nova 2i for more than a month to gauge out how good it is. Continue reading to find out more about it in our full review.
Huawei Nova 2i Specs
- Android 7.0 Nougat, EMUI 5.1
- Dual SIM, hybrid
- 5.9-inch 18:9 IPS display, 2160 x 1080 resolution, ~409ppi
- 2.36GHz HiSilicon Kirin 659 octa-core processor
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB internal storage, expandable via microSD card up to 256GB
- 13-megapixel + 2-megapixel dual front cameras
- 16-megapixel + 2-megapixel dual rear cameras, LED flash
- Fingerprint scanner
- 4G LTE
- WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth 4.2
- GPS, GLONASS
- Dimensions: 156.2 x 75.2 x 7.5mm
- Weight: 164g
- 3340mAh battery
In case you don’t like reading, here’s our video review of the Huawei Nova 2i.
Design and Build Quality
One of Huawei Nova 2i’s edge in the competition is its build quality. The device has a unibody, all-metal build —and not some plastic material, dressed to look like sturdy metal. The Nova 2i feels solidly built, with an acceptable heft to it.
It’s also nice to hold, with soft, rounded corners and edges. And together with its tall and slim design, you can easily grip the device, and reach each side of the handset at ease. However, since it’s really towering, reaching the top of the screen single-handedly is quite an impossible task.
Moreover, I have to give props to Huawei as they fight shy of using the iPhones’ design language. The antenna band at the back just forms a straight line, which also encompasses the LED flash.
The front of the device is also clean. The 5.9-inch display populated almost the entire face of the phone. Thanks to its 18:9 aspect ratio and its ultra-thin bezels, the Huawei Nova 2i has an 83% screen-to-body ratio. There’s just enough room to house the dual front cameras on top, an LED notification indicator, and the earpiece. While at the bottom, we see the company’s logo bragging its name.
At the back, we see the fingerprint scanner, right in the index finger’s reach, and the second dual-camera in a vertical setup.
With this kind of build, it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of fingerprint smudges here. But if you don’t want to bother cleaning it constantly, you can just snap on the included protective case.
Since the front of the Huawei Nova 2i has been dominated by the screen, the only physical buttons that we have now are on the left side. There’s the lock/power switch just below the volume controls. The buttons are pretty tactile and satisfying to press despite their ultra-thin profile. However, it would be nice if they are placed a little bit lower for easier reach.
At the top, we have the noise-canceling microphone, while at the bottom we have the loudspeakers, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a micro USB port — a perfect choice for those who aren’t onboard the USB Type-C hype train yet.
The Huawei Nova 2i’s design and build quality is a step in the right direction for the midrange sector. Hopefully, the competition would follow Huawei’s lead.
A part of the Huawei Nova 2i’s strengths is its display. What we’re seeing here is a 5.9-inch FHD+ IPS display, with 2160 x 1080 pixel resolution that totals to ~407 pixels-per-inch. It also has an almost bezel-less screen with its 18:9 aspect ratio. All-in-all, its screen is pretty much the same with other competing devices like the OPPO F5.
In the color department, the display had a typical performance for an IPS display. The colors are good with deep blacks — which makes for a fine contrast ratio. It’s still nowhere near as good as an OLED panel, but for a midrange device, this will do.
Furthermore, the screen also has wide viewing angles. It’s still not invincible to reflections when tilted, but nothing too alarming. I also didn’t notice any color shifting. And lastly, the backlight was able to handle the bright outdoors effectively.
The loudspeaker situated at the back provides surprisingly good sound quality. The volume is audible, even in a slightly loud environment. It also has decent audio balance — the treble is not ear-tingling and the bass levels are appreciable.
Under the Sound section in the settings menu, you can spot the Huawei Histen Sound effects, which basically provides better audio listening through headphones on a software level. The 3D audio feature (enabled out of the box), mimics different soundstage from either Near, Front or Wide. If you’re no audiophile, you’d barely notice the difference.
I am not an audiophile myself, but I did like the Wide 3D audio function. It did try to replicate the effect of having an open-back headphones, providing a slightly better music experience.
Performance and Hardware
Huawei started making their own SoCs a few years back. Under the brand “HiSilicon”, Kirin chipsets were born to take on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line. And now, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing the said processor, the Kirin 659 chipset in particular, on the Huawei Nova 2i.
This chipset has a 2.36GHz octa-core processor, aided with 4GB of RAM and a spacious 64GB of internal storage that can go up to 256GB.
Its processing performance is quite impressive for the price. You wouldn’t even notice that you’re running a midrange chipset. The processor handled every task I throw at it really well. Running around the interface was smooth, browsing through the web and social media apps were seamless. Switching back and forth between different applications was near to flawless as well.
The Kirin 659 handled gaming well. The Mortal Kombat X was running at smooth frame rates, despite its stunning visuals and face-paced action gameplay. I was also able to play FIFA Mobile seamlessly, with no noticeable lags or hiccups.
Overall, the Huawei Nova 2i delivers enough performance to support your day-to-day tasks and some gaming on the side.
It appears that Huawei didn’t join the competition in following the iPhone X’s facial recognition feature. But since both the OPPO F5 and the Vivo V7+ only utilize the front camera and they don’t have any complex hardware like the iPhone X, Huawei might enable the said security feature here with just a simple software update.
With that said, the only thing we have here is the fingerprint scanner. Which is, in my opinion, still the more convenient option rather than Face ID and retina scanner. You don’t have to put your smartphone up in your face to have unlocked it. Instead, simply placing the finger over the circular sensor unlocks the handset.
The fingerprint scanner on the Huawei Nova 2i worked incredibly fast and accurate. This is not surprising considering how well the technology evolved through the years since we saw it on the iPhone 5s back in 2013.
Other than unlocking the device, it can also be used to toggle different shortcuts. It doubles as a shutter button, for answering calls, and more.
Huawei’s EMUI 5.1 user interface is a usual case of an Android manufacturer trying to replicate Apple’s iOS. Such resemblance that you’d barely notice that it’s running on Android 7.0 Nougat.
Anyway, I gotta hand it to Huawei. The EMUI 5.1 looks fairly clean — just like iOS. Out of the box, all your apps are projected right away on the home screen. But if you crave for the usual Android setup, you can enable the App Drawer in the settings menu. You can also customize the order of the on-screen buttons.
I also liked the look of its lock screen, the control center at the top, and the quick search tab.
Other software features include App Twin, which basically makes two copies of the same app that has different accounts for easy access. There’s also the Scrollshot for taking long screenshots. And lastly, the device has a built-in health app that tracks your steps and workouts. But on my tests, my Mi Band was able to track my steps relatively better as it’s with me more often than my phone.
On the downside, the EMUI 5.1 is also a victim of duplicated apps. For one, there are two Gallery apps: there’s one from Google and another from Huawei. Both of which are registered as “System apps” so you can’t install them.
However, the overall user-experience on the Huawei Nova 2i was satisfactory. And besides, no software issue can’t be fixed with an update. Let’s just hope Huawei realize these minor problems as soon as possible.
One of the highlights of the Huawei Nova 2i is its quad-camera setup. In fact, this is probably one of the main reason why most people are picking it over the competition. But how good exactly it is? For starters, what we have here is a 13-megapixel camera on the front and a 16-megapixel shooter at the back. Both of them feature a second 2-megapixel camera beside them.
Unlike most devices, its secondary cameras don’t have a wide-angle nor a telephoto lens. Instead, the low-resolution sensors only provide depth information to help the Nova 2i execute its Portrait/Bokeh mode feature.
So, how did the camera perform? To put it simply, it only provides average to good performance. It’s good, but not too good. During daylight, it can take pictures with acceptable colors. Dynamic range is also middling, while the contrast could have been better.
You can see the camera’s weakness in low-light scenarios. The images taken was bombarded with noise and grains. Honestly, we’ve seen other 16-megapixel sensors performed better.
On the other hand, I also have the same sentiments with its 13-megapixel selfie shooter. Both the colors and contrast are just average. Moreover, the Beauty Mode feature also worked decently. It did make my skin look fine, however, dialing up to level 10 made it look really artificial.
On the bright side, the front flash did an amazing job of brightening up the image, without over-exposing the face.
But the problem is, it looks like the 2-megapixel secondary cameras were just overhyped. In most occasions, they only provide the mediocre Bokeh-like effect. The foreground isn’t completely separated from the background. Thus, providing that cutout look.
Overall, the Huawei Nova 2i’s camera performance is really good, but witout any wow factor involved. Also, you might not be able to utilize the extra cameras that much. Not until Huawei release a software update to improve its performance.
The Huawei Nova 2i passed all the connectivity requirements for a midrange device. It has 4G LTE, 2.4GHz WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.2, and a micro USB 2.0 port. It appears that demanding for NFC and an infrared blasted would be too much for this price.
All of the said wireless antennas did work well during my testing. The internet speeds were pretty reliable, for as long as your area has 4G LTE coverage. I also didn’t notice any signal loss when connected to our wireless home network.
The Nova 2i was able to relay music through my wireless speakers and headphones without any noticeable hiccups.
Powering the Huawei Nova 2i is a 3340mAh battery — an acceptable capacity on paper. But despite how average it may sound, it did exceed my expectations during my time with it.
The device was able to make throughout a day of moderate to heavy usage. My day usually starts at 7AM and ends at around 10PM to 11PM. And as I go to bed, I was still left with around 15% of battery charge.
That’s a day of browsing Facebook and Instagram via 4G LTE, streaming music via Spotify, and exchanging messages via Facebook Messenger.
The Huawei Nova 2i instantly became a crowd favorite the day it was released. And we can’t blame them, as the device did perform well in our testing. But like any other smartphones, the Nova 2i is not perfect.
Its sturdy and all-metal build quickly blows the competition out of the water. It’s large, tall and sharp display is a pleasure to look at. And of course, it’s homegrown processor proves it can take on the giants like Qualcomm.
The quad-camera setup was really good to have, even though it’s definitely not a requirement at this point. The addition of two extra cameras really helped a lot in terms of taking “bokehlicious” pictures.
Some of the competing devices are offering specialized features that might make you think twice. The Vivo V7+’s built-in audio chip is a perfect addition for those who love listening to music. On the other hand, the OPPO F5’s has an AI-powered Face Beauty mode for those who are really into selfies.
But despite all that, the Huawei Nova 2i offers a more compelling deal. Out of the three, Huawei was able to come up with the cheapest alternative that offers overall better value for the money. And for most people, that’s what matters most.
Pricing and Availability of Huawei Nova 2i
You can get it at Huawei concept stores, as well as other third-party retailers nationwide. The device is also available for a 6-month, 0% installment plan on Home Credit.
- Solid, all-metal build
- Large, sharp display
- Good performance
- Fingerprint magnet
- No facial recognition feature