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Huawei Nova 2i Review - The King Of Midrange Phones?

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In case you missed it, we unboxed the Nova 2i last week, Huawei's latest contender in the crowded and hotly contested midrange segment in the Philippines.
Huawei Nova 2i Review - Game Changing Midrange Contender
Huawei Nova 2i review

How can it standout? The Huawei Nova 2i is the very first commercially available smartphone in the market that's packed w/ a near bezel-less 5.9 inch FHD+ 18:9 screen and quad camera setup.

In addition, it has one of the highest spec you'll ever find in the midrange department today.

Promising right? But, is it worth the hype? Here's our take!


Display Quality

Beautiful and sharp enough 5.9 inch FHD+ FullView screen
Beautiful and sharp enough 5.9 inch FHD+ FullView screen

One of the main highlights of the Nova 2i is its 5.9 Inch FHD+ FullView 2.5D IPS panel. It follows the new 18:9 screen aspect ratio trend of this late 2017 for that better near bezel-less and wide screen experience.

It has an immersive and sharp enough 18:9 IPS screen!

Quality of the screen is better than expected, it has more than sharp enough 409 pixels per inch that's immersive and easy on the eyes. Colors are warmer versus higher-end phones like the P10 Plus, but it is accurate enough and is even better compared some competing midrangers. Contrast is also good and blacks are pretty deep for an IPS panel as.

Viewing angles are okay most of the time. Brightness is great for indoor and outdoor use, but could have some minor struggles under direct sunlight. Auto-brightness is quite accurate.

On the display settings you enable full-screen view on some apps that has not been optimized for Nova 2i's 18:9 FullView screen. View mode (text) could also be adjusted from small, medium, and large.

Then, like most modern Huawei phones, color temperature could be adjusted and it has eye comfort mode (blue light filter).

It has 10 points of touch.

Audio Quality

It has a single speaker below
It has a single speaker below

Speaker quality is average. It can produce clean enough sounding tunes, but it is understandably doesn't have that full tight sound and loudness of the higher-end smartphones. It is loud enough if you are on a small quiet room, but don't crank the volume all the way up to 100% as it has some distortion at that loudness level.

For headphones, quality of audio is quite refreshing. It can properly drive our trio of Hi-Res certified IEMs from UiiSii quite well. To our surprised, the triple driver set we have that's not that easy to play shined at just around 60% volume w/ the Nova 2i. Output is mostly balanced, but lows (big, tight, and strong enough bass) and highs will be there when needed. Instruments are well separated and soundstage big enough.

The Nova 2i has two microphones. For calls, performance is good. For general audio recordings, quality is good as well. I even used it as our main recording phone in some of our meetings.

Battery Life

9 hours and 29 mins, not bad!

The Nova 2i has 3,340 mAh battery that's a little above-average in performance. We recorded 9 hours and 29 mins on PC Mark's work battery life test, 6 hours screen on time on average usage, and 4 hours screen on time w/ data and hotspot on all the time.

If you want to extend the battery life further, it has all the power saving modes of Huawei that's also found on their higher-end phones. It includes power saving mode, ultra power saving mode (only select apps are available), and low resolution power saving (HD+ mode).

In our test, when low resolution power saving is used, battery can last up to 12 hours on a single charge.

Charging time is average, but not fast charging. The 2A USB charger included can charge the device from 0 to 100 percent around 2 hours 15 mins to 2 hours 30 mins. It would have been better if charging time is faster, but considering that this phone has over 3,000 mAh batter, that is just fine.

Camera

Dual cam!
Dual cam!

This is the very first phone from Huawei that has four cameras. It has a 16 MP + 2 MP f/2.2 setup behind and 13 MP + 2 MP f/2.0 setup in front. The main camera even has PDAF, and dual tone LED flash. Both secondary cameras are used to capture better depth information for "DSLR-like" bokeh effect. It also has softlight flash for selfies in the dark.
All the modes and camera UI

Interestingly, it has nearly has all the modes (except for the Leica color filters and monochrome) found on the higher-end Huawei P and Mate series. Most of my personal favorites like the variable aperture (bokeh), portrait mode (bokeh w/ beautify), HDR, panorama, filters, and good food are there. It also has a new "effect mode" that gives you Snapchat or IG stories like cute effects.
Light painting mode
Light painting mode

Then it has the powerful light painting long exposure mode. It can be used to create car light trails, light graffiti, silky water shots (even in daylight), and shoot the stars.
Pro mode
Pro mode

The manual camera for the mobile photography geeks is also there. It has ISO 50 to 3200, 1/4000 to 8 secs shutter speed, EV -4.0 to +4.0, white balance adjustment (2800K to 7000K), grids or fibonacci for guides, horizontal level, and RAW format. For longer long exposures, use the auto night shot. It has up to 32 seconds shutter.

Camera quality is darn good for the price!

Shutter speed is quick, auto focus speed is just fine, and it can focus on pretty near daylight subjects. Images are also impressive in daylight and most of the well-lit indoor shots!

Color accuracy is good (mostly) and details are far from grainy. There are just few occasions where you'll get photos w/ in high contrast and shots w/ slightly more saturation than expected. It could be great for Instagram ready shots, but we would have liked it better if it has the Huawei P9 like balance.

The variable aperture mode has f/0.95 to f/16 adjustment. The bokeh effect refinements are very visible coming from the Huawei GR5 2017. Bokeh is now better, creamier, and edges are cleaner.

For lowlight, at just f/2.2 it is still pretty capable for point and shoots, but don't expect it to capture plenty of details and nice dynamic range on auto mode. But, if you know how to play w/ the manual camera mode or night mode, the Nova 2i can capture impressive lowlight photos.

Flash is average in brightness.

Rear Camera Samples

Random HDR shot
Random HDR shot
HDR against the light
HDR against the light
Food mode (Overexposed and oversaturated)
Auto indoor
Auto indoor
Aperture mode indoor 1 (f/4.0)
Aperture mode indoor 1 (f/4.0)
f/0.95 test
f/0.95 test
Cropped portrait mode
Cropped portrait mode
Aperture mode in challenging lighting
Aperture mode in challenging lighting
Auto lowlight
Auto lowlight
Silky water mode in lowlight (30 secs)
Silky water mode in lowlight (30 secs)
Silky water mode in lowlight (30 secs)
Auto night mode (ISO 100, 21 secs)

For selfies, the 13 MP + 2 MP f/2.0 front cameras w/ softlight flash delivered an unexpected performance for the price. It has some interesting modes. Like the main camera, it has portrait mode w/ beautify, bokeh, and tap to focus function. It even has filters and Snapchat-like cute effects.
Dual selfie cam!
Dual selfie cam!

It can detect your faces quickly and has fast shutter speed. Camera angle is also wide enough to fit up to 5 people in a single frame for groufies.

Better than expected selfies!

Picture quality is also quite good. As a matter of fact, there are times that it can match or beat most selfie-centric midrange phones like the OPPO F3 and Vivo V7+ in terms of exposure, colors, and details. Saturation and contrast are also quite good on selfies.

By the way, the bokeh on portrait mode is surprisingly impressive. It has a nice type of softlight flash for selfies in the dark or at night too.

Selfie Camera  Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Outdoor selfie w/ portrait bokeh
Outdoor selfie w/ portrait bokeh
Selfie w/ Snapchat-like cute effect
Selfie w/ Snapchat-like cute effect
Groufie w/ portrait bokeh
Groufie w/ portrait bokeh
Impressive indoor portrait bokeh
Impressive indoor portrait bokeh
Selfie softlight flash
Selfie softlight flash

For videos, both the main camera and the selfie camera can shoot up to 1080p at 30 frames per seconds. Both the back and front cameras also has time-lapse and beautify video modes. At the back, it has pro video mode w/ exposure, white balance, and manual focus.

Quality of video coming from the main camera has good exposure, nice colors, and speedy enough focus. Stabilization is also decent, it would have been better if it has OIS.

For selfies, videos are well exposed as well and quite enjoyable to use. You can even use the softlight flash in front for selfie videos at night or in the dark.

Note: Selfie videos w/ beautify is only up to 720p in resolution.


Video Samples


Performance

Nice benchmark scores!
Nice benchmark scores!

Powering this device is Huawei's new Kirin 659 octa core chip w/ a pretty high clock speed of 2.36 GHz. It's technically the upgrade of Kirin 655 found on the likes of Huawei GR3 2017 and Huawei GR5 2017.

It is paired w/ quite large 4 GB RAM and bigger than usual 64 GB of expandable storage via hybrid micro SD / SIM slots. Running social media apps and multitasking is breeze on the Nova 2i.

The Nova 2i is speedy and responsive!

However, Huawei isn't marketing the Nova 2i as a gaming phone for a reason. It is still using the Mali T830 graphics unit. That GPU is obviously not as fast compared w/ Adreno 505 and Adreno 506 of Qualcomm.

Yes, it can handle most of the light basic games w/ ease and to some extent, even heavy 3D games like Asphalt 8. But, if you'll run the really heavy games like NBA 2K17 on high settings, it will definitely lag. Mali T830 GPU isn't simply designed for that. NBA 2K17 on medium settings is fine though. But, we would have liked this better if the capable Kirin 659 was paired w/ Mali T860 at least or T880 at most.

Fortunately, this phone has great thermal management and consistent speedy performance. Plus, for the price, cameras, and other features, this minor weakness is still forgivable.
The feature rich EMUI 5.1 skin!
The feature rich EMUI 5.1 skin!

Like the rest of the new Huawei phones, the Nova 2i arrived w/ the intuitive and easy to use Android 7.0 Nougat OS w/ EMUI 5.1 skin. You can choose either standard or the app drawer mode.

It still has nice features like Phone Manager for optimization, Health app fitness tracker, gestures, screen recorder, mirror share, and fingerprint reader features that can be used to unlock screen and access app locking. As expected, fingerprint scanner is snappy in performance.

Telephony-wise, call quality and GSM signal works just fine. WiFi signal is also quite strong. It doesn't have the newer gen LTE categories (could be LTE Cat 6), but performance is decent. At home we have an average LTE speed of around 10 Mbps. 

It also has the useful Huawei Share feature for for super fast Huawei to Huawei device file transfer. In our experience, it is as fast if not faster than SHAREit.

It has no gyroscope for VR though. FM Radio works!

Pros - Good craftsmanship, large near bezel-less 18:9 FHD screen, speedy processor, feature rich software, fast fingerprint scanner, quad camera setup, robust camera features, much better selfies than expected, strong signal reception
Cons - Unspecified glass protection, still not on USB Type C, average charging time, not the loudest speaker around, GPU is just average for gaming, no gyroscope

Verdict

Priced at just PHP 14,990, the Nova 2i is probably the new king of midrange phones todayDespite its few minor weaknesses, the Nova 2i provided us w/ a refreshing near bezel-less design, wide screen, speedy overall performance, robust set of useful features, and great cameras for the price.

Huawei could have made this handset better if they added gyroscope sensor for VR, used a better GPU for gaming, and included the new USB Type C standard though. But, for the rest of the other cool features and powerful specs for the price, we won't complain.

Other than that, the Huawei Nova 2i is a stellar midrange smartphone for those in need of a stylish companion w/ stable performance, loves to watch videos on the go, mobile photography addicts, and social media guys!

Build / Design - 4.5
Display - 4.25
Audio - 4
Battery - 4
Camera - 4.25
Performance - 4.25
Average - 4.203 / 5
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