Tuesday, February 19

Huawei Nova 4 Review

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Huawei‘s newest mid-range phone arrived in China. It’s called the Nova 4 with an all-screen display and a new design to boot. Does the beauty run skin deep and is deemed worthy for a successor? Here’s our full review.

Design and Construction

If you’ve seen the Nova 3, then the new Nova 4 sports the very same aesthetic, save for noticeable design changes.

Huawei got rid of the notch, and it’s now an all-screen with a cut-out hole at the top-left corner for the 25-megapixel front camera. No call speaker grill here, if you see it from this view. If you’re not down with a hole on your screen, there’s an option to hide it via the settings menu.

The device’s front panel is still a bit flat and is assisted by the arched metal sides and curved glass back for a better hand grip. At the bottom of the phone is the USB Type-C port, a speaker grille, a microphone hole, and two lines that aid in signal reception.

The call speaker grill sits at the topmost edge of the front display, and you’d probably see it better if you look at it from the top. Herein also lies the IR blaster, another microphone hole for noise cancellation, and the 3.5mm audio port. When laid on a flat surface, the protruding rear camera gets in the way.

At the right side of the device are the volume rockers and the power/lock button. Pressing any of these feel well-built and relatively silent. The left side, of the device, on the other hand, houses a dual SIM card tray setup which could be a bummer for some. Sorry folks, no microSD card slot here.

When looked at the back, the phone will remind you of a Nova 3 with the cameras at the corner. This time, a triple module setup of a 20-megapixel, 16-megapixel, and a 2.2-megapixel shooter for depth-of-field, along with the accompanying LED Flash. The fingerprint scanner sits right at the center while the Huawei wordmark is at the lower left part. While it bears an Aurora blue gradient finish, it is a lot lighter in hue compared to the Nova 3 and resembles the one on the Y9 2019.

The glossy finish may leave a few fingerprint smudges and grime from time to time, but its gradient back does a decent job at hiding this. You’d typically enjoy holding an enormous, all-screen phone, but I sometimes find myself uneasy with one-hand operation and use two hands to navigate the device most of the time. The phone also bears a good grip, but its smooth finish may leave one the need to buy some protective gear.

Display and Multimedia

The Nova 4 sports a 6.4-inch Full HD+ IPS display with a 19.25:9 display aspect ratio, amounting to around 398 pixels per inch. While it’s packing a good density, the quality is inconsistent when viewed at different angles. While there are manual options for choosing the color and temperature, it feels a bit lacking compared to what we saw in other Huawei phones with IPS screens.

The punch hole camera sitting at the top-left corner can be a bit distracting at first, especially if you love to watch videos in full screen. If that is the case, you can get it out of the way by enabling the black bar to hide the punch hole.

When it comes to audio, the speaker can fill up a small, quiet room with its 76dB average loudness, and the details are crisp with decent tones and a hint of bass. The included headphones in the package are decent at its best for casual listeners.

Camera

This Nova 4 we have for review has a triple camera setup consisting of the 20MP sensor with f/1.8 aperture for low-light shots,  a 16MP secondary, and a 2MP as a third lens. The software offers AI scene detection, 480fps slow motion, a night mode, a portrait mode similar to Apple’s new camera mode, AR lens, 3D panorama, and even light painting, to name a few. The camera can digitally zoom up to 10 times, and also offers ultra-wide angle mode at the rear camera.

Colors are vivid and punchy, images are all sharp, we get a decent amount of brightness and contrast, and its dynamic range is quite okay. You may find yourself struggling a bit with low-light and night photography, though, as shots may tend to work slower than the usual since the built-in AI compiles consecutive shots to create a brighter image. Here are some sample photos:















Videos, on the other hand, offer good details and colors, and its gyro-EIS enables the device to record clips with fewer shakes than the usual. Here’s a sample clip.

The Nova 4’s cameras are good for an upper mid-range phone but are nowhere as good as what you could have with its P or Mate series of phones.

OS, UI, and Apps

As with other Huawei devices, the Nova 4 comes with EMUI 9 based on Android 9 Pie inside. The absence of app drawers makes the smartphone use more straightforward, and constant app organization into home screen folders is a must if you want to keep it clutter-free. As we mentioned in our unboxing video, one thing we liked about the Nova 4 is the more simplified way to record what’s on your screen. A two-knock by a single knuckle instantly captures what’s on your screen, while knocking twice with two activates the phone’s video screen recording function.

The company’s homebrew features are also here. Party Mode lets you join more Nova 4s for an amplified loudspeaker experience, while a mirror app allows you have, well, a mirror with a fancy border — think of it as a more fancied version of the phone’s front camera preview.

With a 128GB internal storage built in, would you need more? The Nova 4 has around 113GB of free space left when we first opened the device, that’s just enough for casual phone users who download a few massive games while upping their selfie game.

Performance and Benchmarks

For a smartphone sporting a 2017-released HiSilicon Kirin 970 chip coupled with 8GB of RAM, we expected a lot. True enough, we played a lot using games such as Tekken 7 and Asphalt 8, and we barely noticed any lags or hiccups during our gameplay. Multitasking is also a breeze, but noticeable warmth is felt at the upper left part when heavily used for prolonged periods.

We tested the Nova 4 with our standard benchmark tests, and here are the scores we got:

Benchmark Score
AnTuTu 167,116
GeekBench 1,767 (Single core)
5,935 (Multi-core)
PCMark 6,472 (Work 2.0)
AndroBench 890.87 Mb/s (Sequential Read)
191.71 Mb/s
(Sequential Write)
3DMark 2,467 (Slingshot Extreme – OpenGL)
2,236 (Slingshot Extreme – Vulkan)

For a smartphone packed with such beefy hardware, we’re surprised to know that the device’s AnTuTu score ranks even lower than what the Nova 3 could offer. The score also is at not that far when compared to mid-range smartphones bearing Snapdragon 660 or even Helio P60 chips.

Call Quality, Connectivity, and Battery Life

Calls made on the Nova 4 were great. The noise-canceling microphone at the top aids well in effectively eliminating background noise, while the actual microphone at the bottom relays speech audibly and clearly. Connectivity was not an issue — WiFi connects strongly to approved routers, Bluetooth connects quickly, and mobile Internet connection is excellent with 4G LTE.

Security add-ons are also helpful. The fingerprint scanner can accommodate up to five registered fingerprints and reads them well when used to unlock the phone. Face ID is also okay with recognition well-received on brightly-lit environments, while it struggles in low light.

The phone’s battery life was great, thanks to its 3,750mAh battery. Daily use lasted almost 20 hours with moderate calls, texts, and online activities both via WiFi and 4G. It scored 11 hours and 22 minutes in our PCMark battery test, while our video loop test yielded 14 hours and 16 minutes of playback.

Conclusion

The Huawei Nova 4, coined as the successor to the much-favored Nova 3, is a smartphone that we can say could be an all-screen twin of its predecessor. We sure got an all-screen device with an innovative punch-hole camera, triple camera setup, and long battery life. Those, though, does not justify the fact that we’ve seen more significant downsides than that.

For a smartphone line deemed by many as bang-for-the-buck, this specific Nova phone does not meet the performance expectations at CNY 3,099 or roughly PHP 23,100 when converted. While its daily performance is actually good, the benchmark scores do not sit well for a device that features 8GB of RAM and a 2017 flagship chip. The Nova 3, equipped with the same chipset and a slightly smaller RAM, excelled more if we’re talking about that. I can’t call it a worthy successor myself because the upgrades we’ve seen are just incremental, so we may have to wait for the next one to come to town. Maybe Huawei Philippines made a good call of not bringing it here, after all.

Huawei Nova 4 specs:

Specification Huawei Nova 4
Display 6.4-inch Full HD+ 19.25:9 display @ 2310 x 1080px, ~398 ppi
CPU HiSilicon Kirin 970 octa-core (4x Cortex A73 2.36GHz + 4x Cortex A53 1.8GHz) CPU
GPU Mali-G72 MP12 GPU with Huawei GPU Turbo
RAM 8GB RAM
Storage 128GB internal storage
SIM Dual SIM (nano), Dual Standby
MicroSD n/a
Rear Camera 48MP f/1.8 + 16MP f/2.2 + 2MP f/2.4 triple rear cameras

or

20MP f/1.8 + 16MP f/2.2 + 2MP f/2.4 triple rear cameras

Front Camera 25MP f/2.0 front camera
LTE 4G VoLTE
WiFi Dual-band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2, BLE, HWA, aptX and aptX HD
GPS GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS
Port USB Type-C
3.5mm audio port Yes
Biometrics – Fingerprint scanner
– Face unlock
OS Huawei EMUI 9.0.1 (Android 9 Pie)
Battery 3,750mAh battery, 18W fast charging

What we liked:

  • Good design
  • Good cameras
  • Lengthy battery life

What we didn’t like:

  • Underwhelming benchmark scores for a phone with this hardware
  • Display color is off when viewed from several angles
  • Takes a long time to charge
  • Lack of a microSD card slot

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