Huawei Nova 2i review: Full screen for less


Posted at Oct 16 2017 08:01 AM | Updated as of Oct 26 2017 04:35 PM

There was literally no connection between me and Huawei's Nova 2i on our first night together.

Exhausted from touring Huawei's campus in Shenzhen, China's answer to Silicon Valley, I rolled into my hotel bed and attempted to charge it on my nightstand. The device still uses micro USB and all I had were Type C and lightning cables.

The next morning, a journalist colleague who juiced up her unit said she didn't miss using her P10 Plus, Huawei's pricey, photo-centric flagship. She was largely right.

The Nova 2i cuts corners but not big enough to take away from what matters most to average consumers -- a good screen, a good camera and a battery that lasts a full day on a single charge.

At P14,990, the Nova 2i becomes an even more attractive proposition for a mid-range phone with a near-bezel less design, undercutting the Vivo V7+ and slightly more expensive than LG's Q6, which has a smaller screen.

At nearly P50,000 for a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or iPhone X, you can buy 3 Nova 2i phones in all colors (black, blue and gold) and still have P5,000 to spare. This phone won't vaporize your Christmas bonus.

The Nova 2i's biggest selling point is its nearly 6-inch screen, which Huawei calls FullView in FHD+. The panel occupies 83 percent of the device's front face, which looks like a Samsung Galaxy S8, minus the exaggerated curves on the side.

The display color leans towards the cool side. It's bright enough for web browsing and video streaming even at 50 percent brightness. It's not too far from the quality of the Mate 9, Huawei's late 2016 flagship.

It will be unfair to compare the Nova 2i's LCD panel with Samsung's quad HD AMOLED since they're 2 different technologies, but the Huawei panel can hold its own against the iPhone 7 Plus or 8 Plus, which is among the best LCD screens on a smartphone. It's much brighter than the LG G6.

The camera captures rich greens and reds, a Huawei signature, but the Nova 2i struggles with whites, which tends to get a bit washed out. If you're taking flat lay food shots make sure to crop out as much as of the white plates as you can.

Sample shots taken from Huawei's Nova 2i

The back camera uses a main 16 megapixel lens, while a second 2MP lens captures depth of field to create that portrait or "bokeh" effect. Like Apple's implementation, the phone will tell you how far you should be to effectively blur the background.

The front camera uses the same set up, except the main shooter has a 13MP lens. Huawei claims the front flash is smart enough to create soft lighting even in pitch black conditions.

Aimed squarely at selfie-takers, the Nova 2i has 18 "make up" filters pre-installed and allows gesture-activated selfies with a 2-second delay.

The build quality on the Nova 2i feels much more expensive than its price tag, with the glass front that curves gently into the aluminum chassis. Viewed from the side, it almost looks like a matte black iPhone. The "Aurora Blue" stands out in a sea black and gold metal mid-rangers.

The rear-mounted finger sensor rests where you would naturally place your index finger, unlike the clumsy implementation on Samsung's S8, S8+ and Note 8. The phone is a bit slippery though but a bundled clear case should add some grip.

We used the Nova 2i on a mundane work day, checking emails and browsing, a weekend out taking food snaps and streaming video, and on an overseas trip, taxing its battery with roaming and the 3,240 mAh battery got more through the entire day without needing a lunch hour top up.

The Nova 2i feels like the big screen phone that the Mate 9 should have been in terms of build and ergonomics and it looks like a smartphone from 2017.

I wish it had the P10 Plus pin-sharp screen, Leica dual cameras and the diamond-cut texture on the back that makes the phone stand out. Most importantly, if I were going to use the Nova 2i as my daily driver, I also wish it had Huawei's Super Charge.

But for its price, the Nova 2i gives you enough of that full-screen, photo-centric, all-day smartphone experience.

It also gives us a hint of what to expect from Huawei's Mate 10 series, which will be announced in Berlin this week. The Nova 2i, after all, was rumored to be the Mate 10 Lite. Imagine what the Mate 10 Pro would be like?