Tech review: Mid-range Huawei Nova 5T offers good performance

Launched last week in Singapore, the mid-range Nova 5T seems like a re-branded version of the Honor 20 from Huawei's sub-brand Honor. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

The first and probably the most important thing you need to know about Huawei's latest Nova 5T smartphone is that it comes preloaded with Google's apps and services - despite the current US trade ban on the Chinese firm.

Launched last week in Singapore, the mid-range Nova 5T seems like a re-branded version of the Honor 20 from Huawei's sub-brand Honor.

Both smartphones have near-identical specifications, such as the 6.26-inch LCD screen with a hole-punch front camera, four rear cameras and a 3,750mAh battery. They even weigh the same (174g), though the Nova has slightly more memory with 8GB of RAM compared to the Honor 20's 6GB.

My Midsummer Purple review set has the shimmery glass finish typical of modern smartphones. But Huawei has changed things up by decorating the glass back like a women's handbag with a monogrammed version of the Nova logo.

Its hole-punch display creates a near-bezel-less full-screen experience ideal for watching videos and playing games. This works for YouTube videos, but not for Netflix, which still shows black bars at the sides.

With its flagship Kirin 980 processor - the same chip found in Huawei's top phones - games like first-person shooter PUBG Mobile run smoothly in full-screen mode on the Nova. It was also easy to ignore the front camera cutout because it ends up at the bottom left corner in landscape mode.

The display itself offers good viewing angles and is decently bright. It lacks an ambient display feature, though Huawei somewhat compensates by including a small LED notification light on the Nova.

Because of its LCD screen, the Nova does not support an optical in-display fingerprint sensor. But its side-mounted fingerprint sensor is arguably superior. It is fast and accurate, unlike most in-display fingerprint sensors I have tried.

Its main camera uses the same 48-megapixel (MP) Sony sensor found on many of this year's smartphones. By default, it takes photos at 12MP resolution using data from adjacent pixels (pixel-binning) to produce sharp photos with relatively little noise.

The quality of the photos takes a dip if you take ultra-wide photos, as this mode switches to a less capable 16MP secondary camera that results in more noisy photos. The Nova also has a 2MP camera for close-up macro shots while a 2MP depth sensor ensures that portrait shots with blurred background (bokeh) look more natural.

Unlike its competitors, the Nova has a unique AI Ultra Clarity mode that merges multiple 48MP shots to create a very detailed (and large 16MB) photo. Because it is similar to a long-exposure shot, a steady hand is required. Moving objects can also mess up the photo, so it is probably best for shooting scenery.

A similar long-exposure shot to capture more light is used for the Nova's night photography mode. It is decent at brightening up dark scenes and avoids overexposing highlights. But it is not as good as the night mode on Huawei's P30 Pro smartphone.

Given its mid-tier slant, the Nova predictably lacks features such as wireless charging and waterproofing. But I was surprised that it does not have a headphone jack unlike its competitors. The Nova also lacks a microSD card slot, though it has a decent 128GB of internal storage.

Clocking around 11.5 hours in our video-loop battery test, the Nova offers decent battery stamina, though I had expected longer. But on average, it lasted me an entire work day with plenty to spare.

At $598, its main rivals appear to be Xiaomi's Mi 9 ($599 for 64GB) and Mi 9T ($499 for 128GB). I personally prefer Huawei's EMUI interface over Xiaomi's MIUI. But the Oled screens on the Xiaomi phones are very attractive.

All three phones, though, are definitely contenders for those looking for more affordable alternatives to the usual flagship models.

FOR

Side-mounted fingerprint sensor

Smooth and fast performance

Detailed 48MP photos using AI Ultra Clarity mode

AGAINST

Lacks headphone jack and expandable storage

Battery stamina for video playback slightly worse than expected

SPECS

Price: $598

Processor: Kirin 980 (dual-core 2.6GHz, dual-core 1.92GHz, quad-core 1.8GHz)

Display: 6.26-inch, IPS LCD, 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 412 ppi pixel density

Operating system: EMUI 9.1 (Android 9.0)

Memory: 128GB, 8GB RAM

Rear camera: 48MP (f/1.8), 16MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide, 2MP (f/2.4) macro, 2MP (f/2.4) depth sensor

Front camera: 32MP (f/2.0)

Battery: Non-removable 3,750mAh battery

RATING

Features: 4/5

Design: 4/5

Performance: 4.5/5

Value for money: 4/5

Battery life: 4.5/5

Overall: 4/5

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