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Huawei Nova 2i Review

Huawei Nova 2i Review
PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
  • $299.99
The Nova 2i is yet another great-value Android phone coming out of the Huawei/Honor camp. It's clear there is a lot of crossover between the brands, and the Nova 2i is in essence an Honor 7X with the Honor 9 Lite's front dual-camera and dual-SIM functionality. In spec it's similar to but an upgrade over the Huawei P Smart, too.


To put that into perspective, the Honor 9 Lite is the current champion of our best budget phones round-up. So falling just a short way behind this is not a bad place to be, especially when you have a slightly better spec for not a lot more cash. If money were no option we could argue that the Nova 2i is in fact the best of the group.

This Nova 2i stands out in the budget smartphone market for its good-looking metal unibody build, large 18:9 display and four cameras - two at the front and two at the rear. Performance is pretty decent for the money, too. So how much is it exactly?

PRICE & UK AVAILABILITY
The Nova 2i is not directly sold in the UK by Huawei, though you can find it on Amazon. Our review sample was delivered from Hong Kong via GearBest, where it costs £229.20/US$299.99/261€ at the time of writing. GearBest stocks the 2i in black (as per our sample), blue and gold.

When you buy from China you should remember that upon arrival in the UK you are liable for import duty, which is calculated at 20 percent of the value on the shipping paperwork. And although we have had very good experiences with GearBest, customer support is less likely to be as simple as if you had bought your phone from a high-street operator. That's one reason why this phone falls behind the also-cheaper Honor 9 Lite in our rankings.

In the UK you can buy the Honor 9 Lite from Honor and selected retailers including John Lewis and Carphone Warehouse, which means you can also get it on a contract if you don't have the money to pay for the phone outright. With the Nova 2i you'll instead need to buy the smartphone at full price, then invest in an (admittedly much better value) SIM-only plan.

This phone was not designed with a UK target audience in mind, but there's only two places you'll spot that. First, in its dual-SIM support (a bonus, although you must choose to use either a second Nano-SIM or a microSD card); second, in its lack of support for FDD-LTE Band 20 (800MHz).

For most UK networks the latter is not a major issue, but if you use O2 or any of the networks that piggyback it, such as GiffGaff and Sky Mobile, you won't be able to receive 4G. This is because the O2 network relies solely on that frequency for LTE. You'll still be able to get 3G and use Wi-Fi for data, of course.

DESIGN & BUILD

The Nova 2i is almost identical to the Honor 7X, with the only obvious differences being the Honor/Huawei branding on the back, the vertical arrangement of the rear dual-camera and the addition of a second camera lens at the front.

The size and weight are matching, and both are fitted with a 3,340mAh battery that charges over Micro-USB. It supports neither wireless charging or Quick Charge, as you'd expect at this price, but it does come with a 10W charger. In our tests we found it could juice up to 29% in 30 minutes from empty.

So while that Micro-USB port makes this phone seem a little outdated (we'd prefer to see USB-C, though it does mean Huawei has included an increasingly rare headphone jack), other features impress at this price point. 
The 5.9in screen is a great example of this. It's no longer a surprise to find full-HD resolution at this end of the market, but the 18:9 aspect ratio makes it appear more premium. It's not just about looks of course, and the extra screen space is useful for watching media and playing games.

The Nova 2i has very slim bezels to the left and right, and minimal space is required at the top and bottom for such things as the selfie cameras and earpiece. This results in a very clean appearance, and coupled with the slim 7.5mm metal case you wouldn't believe this was a budget phone.

It's an IPS panel, which means colours are realistic and viewing angles are strong. We measured a maximum brightness of 410cd/m2 using a Spyder, which means it should remain visible even in direct sunlight. Text and images are crisp thanks to the 407ppi pixel density, too.

Turn over the phone and there's more of the same: the dual-camera juts out slightly but not so much that its central position causes it to rock when placed on a table. There are antenna lines running top and bottom, with a single LED flash found directly above the camera and a fingerprint scanner below. The branding is subtle, and overall the Nova 2i looks good.

The Nova 2i feels incredibly well built and as though it could stand up to some bumps and scrapes, but Huawei does provide a clear silicon case in the box. Do note that this phone is not waterproof.

CORE HARDWARE & PERFORMANCE
The Huawei Nova 2i runs the same 16nm octa-core Kirin 659 chip as the P Smart, Honor 7X and Honor 9 Lite. It's clocked at 2.36GHz and, in common with the 7X, is paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Both the P Smart and Honor 9 Lite have only 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, so it's surprising to see these models outperform the Nova 2i in our benchmarks.

But we're talking about really minimal differences here, and in the real world each of these phones is on par with each other. We found the EMUI interface quick and easy to navigate, and apps load in a timely fashion.

Performance is not at a flagship-level, but it's sufficient for most users. It's up there with the similarly priced Moto G6 if you're looking for a non-Huawei/Honor phone with which to compare.

You'll be able to play casual games, watch movies, browse the web and social media, fire off emails and instant messages, and whatever else you intend to do with your smartphone. Maybe even make a phone call.

Battery life isn't bad, but despite the marketing you shouldn't expect any more than a day away from the mains. We tested using Geekbench 4's battery component and it recorded 6 hours 52 minutes. That's not bad for the money, and higher than Huawei's flagship P20's score of 5 hours 17 mins, but by comparison the Moto G6 managed 9 hours 15 minutes.

Unlike the Honor 9 Lite the Nova 2i does not support NFC, but most other connectivity bases are covered with 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 and GPS.

CAMERAS & PHOTOGRAPHY
The Nova 2i pairs the rear camera of the Honor 7X with the front camera of the Honor 9 Lite. That means it has four in total, with a 16Mp + 2Mp arrangement at the rear and 13Mp + 2Mp at the front, and both are paired with a single-LED flash.

Dual-cameras at the back are increasingly common, but it's more unusual to find them at the front. It's a bit of a gimmick, of course, because in each case the second camera is rated only at 2Mp, and is used to create the popular bokeh (blurred background) effect either during or after the shot. You can tap anywhere on the screen to focus and blur the background.

Still, a 13Mp camera is pretty decent if you're something of a selfie queen, and the 1.75um pixels and front flash aid in capturing these shots in low-light. Which is useful, because low-light performance is not the best we've seen without the flash. You also get a Beauty mode and an assortment of stickers and fun effects for jazzing up your selfies.

The dual-camera at the rear is decent enough at this price, but works best in good light where you'll find sharp images and good detail. HDR is either on or off, but even on we didn't see a huge difference. You can see a couple of our test shots below.


The camera app itself is pretty decent, with several modes such as moving picture (captures a short video when you take a still), Portrait, Wide Aperture, Pro Photo, Light Painting, Slow-mo and Time-lapse. There's no video stabilisation, though, and shooting maxes out at 1080p (16:9).

SOFTWARE
The Huawei P Smart and Honor 9 Lite run Android Oreo with EMUI 8, but this Nova 2i is - in common with the Honor 7X - stuck on Android Nougat and EMUI 5.1. There's not a huge amount of difference between EMUI 5.1 and EMUI 8, with new features focusing on artificial intelligence, smarter split screen features, instant translations and more in the way of helpful tips on using the phone.

It is interesting that the two phones running Oreo and EMUI 8 outperformed those running the older software in our benchmarks - but only just.

This is not at all stock Android, so by default you'll find there's no app tray (you can add one if you like). The quick-access toggles in the drop-down notification bar have a different layout, as does the Settings menu (which also has a handy search function). 

On our review sample all the usual Google apps were preinstalled, along with Huawei's own apps for things like Health, Themes, Videos and HiGame. There's some bloatware, too, such as Booking.com and Flipboard, though you can uninstall these.

A swipe in from the left of the home screen launches HiBoard, which attempts to put in one place all the info you're likely to want to quickly access, such as the weather forecast, apps, contacts and more.

There are a bunch of useful features within the software that let you use gestures to do things like take a screenshot or launch a specific app. You can also access a split-screen mode and view two apps onscreen at once.

If you are taking advantage of the dual-SIM support you might also appreciate the ability to run two instances of one app, logging in to two different accounts at the same time.

SPECS
  • 5.9in Full-HD+ (2160x1080, 18:9) MaxView IPS display
  • Android 7.0 Nougat with EMUI 5.1
  • 2.4GHz Kirin 659 16nm octa-core processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage, microSD support up to 256GB
  • 4G FDD-LTE B1/B3/B5/B7/B8/B28
  • dual-SIM dual-standby (2x Nano)
  • 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • GPS
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 16Mp + 2Mp rear dual-camera with flash
  • 13Mp, f/2.0 + 2Mp, 1.75um pixel front dual-camera with flash
  • Micro-USB
  • 3340mAh battery
  • 156.2x75x7.5mm
  • 164g

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