Huawei Nova 2i – big phone for a small price (review)

The Huawei Nova 2i has been around since late last year. It hit the market at $499, but a recent price drop to $399 makes it a worthy competitor in the mass-market segment.

While the Huawei Nova 2i has some impressive specifications in screen size (5.9-inch) and four cameras (dual front and rear) it is made to meet a price. That means some compromises. For the most part, these are totally acceptable in a $399 handset.

Specifications: Huawei Nova 2i Model RNE-L22

Screen5.9-inch, 2160 x 1080, 407ppi, 18:9, IPS, 76.5% S-T-B-R
Processor: HiSilicon Kirin 16nm 659, eight-core Cortex-A53, 4x 2.36GHz and 4x 1.7
GPUGPU: Mali T830 (MP2)
RAMRAM/Storage: 4GB LPDDR3/64 (48GB usable)/microSD to 256GB (second sim slot 2G only), OTG
Rear Camera 116MP f/2.0, focal length 27mm , HDR, Digital Zoom, Sony IMX298 4608 x 3456 4:3, LED flash, 1080p
Rear Camera 22MP, 120° wide-angle f/2.0, PDAF, HDR,
Front Camera 113MP, digital zoom, [email protected]
Front Camera 22MP for bokeh refocus
CommsWi-Fi N, Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX support, Wi-Di
SoundMono speaker, dual mic with ANC, Standard earbuds/mic
OtherFingerprint sensor on the rear
Battery3,340mAh, micro-USB 2.0, 5V/2A, charge time 2.5+ hours
LTECat 6 300/50Mb/s, Bands 1, 3, 5 7, 8, 28, 38, 40, 41. Supports VoLTE
Dimensions 156.2 x 75.2 x 7.5 mm x 164g
OSAndroid 8.x with EMUI 8 (review unit shipped with Android 7.0 and EMUI 5.1)
ColoursGraphite Black or Prestige Gold. Clear bumper case included
MissingNFC, IP rating, Gorilla Glass
Price$399 from major retailers
WebsiteClick here

Out of the box – Huawei Nova 2i

  • 64GB Smartphone
  • 5V/2A Charger
  • Micro-USB to USB-A cable
  • Standard Earbuds/mic
  • Clear protective buffer case

The first impression is a slim 18:9, large screen, glossy slab with a matte black metallic back. Very similar to all the other 18:9 glossy slabs.

Screen – big for the price

Nova 2i

Very small size bezels – excellent value.

Huawei calls it a Full-Vision display. It uses an RGB matrix which tops out at a respectable 450 nits. Contrast is good at over 1800:1.

Except that it never looked that bright and daylight readability was poor. You can play with colour temperature, but it never reaches a pure white.

I found the auto-brightness adjustment too aggressive favouring battery life over usability. Turn it off and manually set brightness to suit.

There is no mention of a screen protector. It is not Gorilla Glass, yet the fingerprint magnet capacity indicates there is some screen protection. I suspect it is a GFF (the upper level of the screen is a tempered glass).

But remember a mass market device it is not going to be like Huawei’s P20 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S9.

On that basis, the screen is good as good as you get.

Performance – adequate but no powerhouse

Huawei is chuffed with the success of its HiSilicon chip design and Kirin SoC. It knows that to compete with Samsung et al. it must have design level access to the silicon and better supply chain control.

In practice apps loaded fast, multitasking was OK, and all worked well. Unfortunately, when it comes to the usual benchmarks, the Nova 2i’s Kirin chipset scored the bottom of the pile.

To put this in perspective, the Kirin 659 is about half the benchmark speed of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660.

As a mass-market device, it is as good as you get.

Sound – a little shallow

It has a single down firing speaker in the base. The sound is a little shallow and distortion is noticeable at maximum volume. There is no bass at all. This is a mid-sound signature best for voice.

The ringer volume at 80dB is excellent and music/speech volume at 70dB if fine for hands-free use.

Frequency response is 300Hz-10kHZ. When paired to a top-drawer Sony WH-1000XM2 Bluetooth headset it provides good bass, mids and recessed treble. This is a warm and sweet sound signature designed for easy listening. There are no Equaliser settings.

As a mass-market device, it is as good as you get.

Camera – good in daylight and office light

Huawei says it is the first mass-market device with dual lens cameras on the front and back. That is the obvious unique selling proposition.

Huawei’s native camera app is both easy to use and has easy-to-reach buttons for a portrait/bokeh mode, wide-angle shots and panorama images.

But GadgetGuy tests using fully automatics settings. After all, that is what Joe and Jane Average use anyway.

Nova 2i

Daylight – early afternoon

Still, images are average to soft regarding detail, with accurate colours, and good dynamic range. The 16MP takes the shot and the second 2MP is there for depth focus (bokeh) and some extra light capture.

The 16MP should be f/2.0, but all shots were at f/2.2. To get enough light it shoots at ISO 50 and 1/1208sec shutter speed. There is no optical image stabilisation so hold it still.

Nova 21

Accurate colours – easy to take a good shot

Indoors 500 lumens office lighting

ISO went up to 80 and shutter speeds lengthened to 1/100s. A pink cast was evident on white laminate. However, images are quite good with reasonably accurate colours.

Nova 2i

Notice the pink cast on the white laminate doors behind the dog. Colours are starting to show too much post-processing. The Soduku book is red, not pinkish.

Low-light situations

The colours aren’t quite right. It is as if the camera tries to overcompensate in post-processing and the colours simply looked different.

The HDR mode makes the image brighter but does nothing for saving the highlights from clipping.

Nova 2i

Detail is not great. Colours are fabricated. Details lost on the right screen in the Word document.

Selfie

Again, it depends on light conditions. On the whole, selfies are quite good. Here shots were f/2.0 as advertised, focal length 28mm, and shot at ISO 200 for 1/17 second. Hold the camera still – impossible with a selfie. So use the ‘capture smile’ feature to take the shot.

There is a ‘selfie toning flash’ which uses post-production to adjust background light around the subjects.

Huawei Beauty 4.0 allows you to play; there are stickers and a dedicated portrait mode.

Nova 2i

Fun with stickers

Panorama

3,000 pixels tall. Reasonable detail. No evident stitching.

Video

The rear camera will shoot [email protected], 16:9 in stereo. The front will do [email protected]

Colours were reasonable. HDR made little difference. Lack of optical image or digital stabilisation meant often blurry video.

Battery

3,340mAh is good day of hard use or two days of normal use. But recharge is slow – over 2.5 hours. These days where we all expect fast charge to get you out of a fix.

It is a compromise of a mass-market phone.

Wi-Fi etc

There is no excuse these days to only have Wi-Fi N 2.4Ghz. At three metres from a D-Link AC5300 router, it dropped to 65Mb/s and at 30metres just 6Mb/s.

It also has a Wi-Fi+ enhancement to switch between Wi-Fi and mobile broadband – whichever is stronger. This is a dangerous option in Australia where mobile data is so expensive. It must be switched off, or you will face huge data costs.

Download speeds over Telstra 4GX ‘four-bars’ reached 150Mb/s – about half the rated speed.

Lack of NFC means you can’t use this for Android Pay etc.

Dual Sim

The second sim slot is for a microSD to 256GB or a second sim. But the catch here is that this slot only supports 2G, so it is useless in Australia.

Operating System

Huawei advertises the Huawei Nova 2i with Android 8.x and EMUI 8.0.

The review unit came with Android 7.x and EMUI 5.1. After downloading an 837MB EMUI system update, it disappointingly was still as supplied. The security patch was February. The 8.x version of Android and EMUI adds significantly better battery management, more AI features, better image processing etc.

If you are buying one of these units, it would be worth checking with Huawei first.

GadgetGuy’s take – Huawei Nova 2i is a value phone that punches above its weight

Huawei makes lots of mobile phones. At last count, it was 279 devices only beaten by Samsung (1145) Alcatel (TCL) at 376.

It is not unusual to see very similar Huawei phones called different things in different markets. All that changes are the 4G LTE bands (Australia uses a unique band set), camera specifications, memory/storage configurations and occasionally a different resolution or the type of screen.

So, it is not surprising that the Huawei Nova 2i is the Aussie version of Maimang 6, Mang6, Mate 10 Lite, Honor 9i, Honor 7x, Enjoy 8 Plus, and G10. Add to that confusion a Nova 2 lite and Nova 3e bear little resemblance to the Nova 2i.

My point is that many overseas ‘retailers’ take advantage of this confusion and sell a lower-cost phone destined for a different market. Unless you get a Nova 2i, Australian model RNE-L22 don’t buy it.

The phone is excellent value at $399, and the compromises are few – it is a good buy.

Pro

  • Price – it offers superior specifications for this mass market price
  • 64GB storage
  • 9-inch, 2160 x 1080, IPS display
  • 18:9 almost bezel-less display
  • Reliable fingerprint lock
  • The camera is good in daylight and office light. Variable in low light. Lack of image stabilisation means use a tripod.
  • Huawei reputation and build quality

Con

  • Missing: NFC to use Android Pay etc
  • No formal IP rating
  • Android 7 and EMUI 5.1 is not as good as the later 8.0
  • Micro-USB
  • No fast charge
  • No Gorilla Glass
  • Wi-Fi N is disappointing
  • The display can vary on auto setting and is not great in direct sunlight

Ratings

  • Overall:  3.9 out of 5
  • Features: 3.5 out of 5 – over-specified for the price but NFC, IP rating, Wi-Fi AC and wireless charge missing
  • Value for Money: 5 out of 5 – at $399 is hard to find better
  • Performance: 3.5 out of 5 – No lag
  • Ease of Use: 3.5 out of 5 – You will need to learn EMUI
  • Design: 4 out of 5 – excellent use of phone real estate with 18:9 screen and feels very good in the hand

 Price – Huawei Nova 2i

$399 at major retailers.