Huawei Nova 2 Plus: Solid camera on a budget phone?

Is the Nova 2 Plus worth the money?

It’s been a year since we saw Huawei launch the Nova Plus. Back then, we thought the phone was an impressive offering on a budget. With trends and needs changing, Huawei’s adapted well with its newest Nova 2 Plus. But is a refreshed design and advancements to the camera module enough?

Design and build

Smartphones have increasingly started to look similar and the Nova 2 Plus falls into that category. It is constructed with a matte finish that feels nice in the hand and provides good grip. Over time, the back does accumulate a few too many fingerprints so you might want to consider putting a case on this phone.

The fingerprint scanner unlocks the phone quickly

Using the Nova 2 Plus one handed wasn’t difficult even with my smaller than average hands and the overall experience is quite premium. Buttons have tactile feedback and cut-outs for the ports are very precise.

The textured power button is a nice touch (and nice to touch)

For me, the phone feels a bit too thin so it slipped out of my pocket occasionally but there is nothing else that isn’t right with the Nova 2 Plus. Call me spoilt, but an added ingress protection rating for water and dust resistance would have completed the package.

Multimedia

For your viewing pleasure, you will find a 5.5-inch Full HD IPS LCD display with no Gorilla Glass protection. I don’t usually tweak the color profile for smartphone screens but for this one, I did.

You can conveniently tweak the colours of the screen using the in-built software

Following this tweak, viewing content on the phone was very enjoyable. Colours looked nice and text was sharp even when not zoomed in. Using it outdoors too, you will face no problems when you crank up the display to its maximum brightness.

At maximum brightness, sunlight legibility is excellent

The display lacks the viewing angles I have come to expect from IPS panels but this should not bother you too much and its just me nit-picking than anything else.

Although easily covered, the mono bottom-firing speaker is good enough for the job

To complete the experience, the Nova 2 Plus packs a mono bottom-firing speaker. Adequate as it may be to get the job done, its clarity and quality is below par at louder volumes. For the most part though, it worked well and for anything more audio-intensive, the 3.5mm headphone jack provides great flexibility on the choice of earphones you can pair with the device.

User experience

The Huawei Nova 2 Plus packs the mid-range Kirin 659 octa-core processor and a generous 4GB RAM. It provides users with 64GB of internal storage with the option to expand that via microSD.

The Kirin 659 octa-core processor comes clocked at 2.36GHz

But unfortunately, the specifications have a hard time translating into real world performance. While RAM management is not an issue, navigating the user interface is. The phone on occasion lags and stops responding even with not many heavy applications open in the background.

Force closure of apps is frequent on the Nova 2 Plus

Specifically, apps such as Snapchat and Instagram tend to bog down the experience and opening the camera too can be slow. I have often missed the moment I wanted to capture because of this issue and I dearly hope Huawei can issue a software update to fix this in the near future.

EMUI 5.1 atop Android 7.0 Nougat appears to have a much more modern and polished look

Speaking of software, the phone is based on EMUI 5.1 running on top of Android 7.0 Nougat. Now that the default launcher allows for an app drawer, I have no issue with it. While there is a dose of bloatware that comes with the phone, there are some nice add-ons as well. Theme support for deep customisation, a multi-window mode and app twinning to clone applications are some of my favourites.

3D games can stutter and drop frames, especially when there’s a lot going on

And coming back to hardware, the on-board Mali T-830 GPU tends to handle most 2D games well. However, 3D games such as Asphalt 8 suffer from frame drops so this is not a phone for heavy gaming. With there being no 5GHz Wi-Fi support, online gaming and downloads are slower and what was a surprise to me was the lack of NFC on the Nova 2 Plus considering how rapidly smartphone payment systems are progressing in the UAE.

Camera

For many, the camera module on smartphones is very important and Huawei tries to do that with the Nova 2 Plus. Starting up front, you will find a 20MP sensor. It captures some really nice detail and I had no problems with using it during the day or night.

A software portrait effect is built into the front camera that just about does the job and for darker conditions, you can use the software flash. I think the pictures I took came out quite natural looking and are suitable for use on social media.

Over on the back, you get a pair of cameras. The 12 and 8MP sensor combo allows for some great pictures in the day. Details are preserved and colours come out vibrant as well. But as soon as night dawns, a lot of noise creeps into pictures partly because of the f/1.8 aperture size. Without edits, the pictures are poor but with some editing, you can make them look quite good.

Here too, you will find a portrait option. Personally, the mode seemed a bit too difficult to use intuitively. Focus speeds were extremely slow and the pictures taken were over-saturated. With patience, the mode is capable of nice images and the added ability to tweak the background blur once the picture has been taken is impressive. That said, video quality via the camera is poor. Full HD is what the camera is capable of but with no electronic or optical image stabilisation, footage is not as smooth. For a sample, click here.

Battery life

Coming in at just 6.9mm thin, the phone’s battery size had me worried initially. But Huawei has managed to pack a mammoth 3,340mAh cell into the Nova 2 Plus, which does not disappoint.

A very reliable 3,340mAh cell runs the Nova 2 Plus

For my daily usage, I kept the phone’s brightness at 50 per cent with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and in return, I got close to eight hours of screen-on usage. This is very impressive and drops between six to seven hours when cellular data is turned on too.

Fast charging support is great to see on a mid-range smartphone. It can get 35 per cent in half an hour

As impressive as that may be, charging times are quick with fast charging support via USB type-C. I usually plugged the phone into charge during the late evenings because it was adequate enough throughout the day. But if you are a very heavy user, the fast charging will get you close to 35 per cent juice in half an hour.

Conclusion

As far as the Nova 2 Plus goes, it is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you will find amazing battery life and a good camera package. But on the other, there are drawbacks in performance and the pricing of the phone.

It is all about the battery backup and camera with this one

At Dh1,399, the handset in my opinion is a bit too steep for what it offers. However, the majority of the performance problems can be fixed via future software updates. As the budget smartphone market gets fiercer by the day, even the smallest of omissions or flaws can be a huge decision-making factor.