Less sophisticated than the P and Mate smartphones, which represent the top of the basket from Huawei, this Nova 9 is offered at 499 euros in a version with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage and available in three colors: Starry Blue, Crush Green and Black. To forget both Google services while competing with a host of smartphones with the same price positioning, the task of the Nova turns out to be rather difficult on paper. After several weeks in our possession, here is our opinion on this smartphone which, on many points, is out of the ordinary.
Design, just the right amount of audacity
To seduce a young audience, Huawei has understood that it should not be consensus, but rather daring. Extremely pleasant in the hand thanks to its contained format – 160 x 73.7 x 7.8 mm for 175 grams – the Nova 9 displays accomplished finishes. With its rounded edges, shiny metal chassis and slightly curved screen, it flatters the retina as more upscale models might.
At the same rear, Huawei is bold. The matte back is not perfectly smooth but frugally grainy. Double advantages, the smartphone never slips from the hands when it is not equipped with a shell and especially fingerprints are rather rare. At the top left, we find the same circular photo module as on the Honor 50. Perfectly successful, this island sublimates the four sensors without displaying too much protuberance. Result, placed on the back of the smartphone does not play tumbling at any time.
Regarding the button configuration, it is relatively standard with a speaker, a microphone, a USB-C port and a SIM slot on the bottom edge, the volume and unlock buttons on the right and another microphone on the top. Arranged under the screen, the fingerprint sensor is responsive, just like the facial recognition that has never failed us. In the thin ray of regrets, let us note the lack of waterproof certifications and, much more surprisingly, that of a micro-SD card port. Isn’t the younger generation, however, hungry for photos and videos?
Screen, it easily rises to the level of the competition
On this point, Huawei does not let the competition overtake and offers a configuration worthy of this price bracket. To know, a 6.57-inch AMOLED screen, Full HD+ (1080 x 2340 pixels) with an adaptive refresh rate climbing up to 120 Hz. To avoid consuming too much energy, it is of course possible to permanently switch to the “Standard” mode of 60 Hz at any time.
Rather successful, the slab displays good maximum brightness and shimmering colorimetry in “Natural” mode. By using the “Vivid” mode, the colors will be warmer saturated, even especially on blue and its variations. For the more picky, know that the manufacturer offers a very practical chromatic circle for personalization to the millimeter of these shades according to your visual preferences. In the audio department, it is unfortunate to have to do battle with a mono wirealthough the latter is rather balanced, it is sorely lacking in dynamics and power.
Performance and autonomy
Following the restrictions of the American administration, the Nova 9 embarks the 4G version of the Snapdragon 778G. This SoC nevertheless displays excellent performance, it must be said that we expected it, it had already made a strong impression on us during our review of the Motorola Edge 20. Daily, the navigation is fluid and the multi-tasking well masteredeven when it has run out of battery. On the side of 3D video games, it also proves unsurprisingly up to, the “G” affixed to the name of the SoC meaning “Gaming”. During our half-hour test of the racing game Asphalt 9, no slowing down, no accelerating could not be reported, despite graphics at an average level and a high frame rate of 60 frames per second.
Regarding its autonomy, the Nova 9 embarks a battery with a capacity of 4300 mAh. During heavy use with 3D gaming and video streaming, it will a big day at most. Big advantage, it hardly loses any battery when it is not requested. It can stay in the jacket of our coat for several hours and barely lose 3% of battery despite our notifications being activated. Result, with less intensive use, and photos of rest like this, it can hold up two and a half days without going out. Recharge level, it also impresses since it goes up from 3% to 85% in 28 minutes flat thanks to the 66 W charging block. And for this effect to last over time, Huawei has added two features to its fast charging. The battery manager cuts the juice before it reaches 100%, while smart charging restricts charging once the battery reaches 80%. Two well-thought-out settings that allow the battery life to be preserved over time.
Life without Google, is it possible?
The Nova 9 runs under Android 11 with an EMUI 12 overlayhowever, as mentioned above, he is deprived of Google services. To compensate for this lack, we can say that Huawei goes out of its way to ensure its users have an optimal experience. Instead of the PlayStore, the firm offers its App Galleryan app store supposed to meet our basic needs, usually provided by the Mountain View firm.
A web browser powered by Bing (Petal Search), an (excellent) geolocation service replacing Google Maps (Petal Maps), a health monitoring app, video editing, word processing… In short, a whole range of apps houses, then comes a list of popular applications that are also available natively: Amazon, TikTok, Snapchat, Leboncoin, Booking, Deezer, Telegram, etc.
And for the rest ? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify or even Netflix…? To take advantage of these services, Huawei gets around the problem by directing the user to their APK versions. As a reminder, these APK versions are files similar to classic applications, they work in the same way and offer the same services. The only difference is that they are not integrated into the Huawei store.
To install them, we will have to search for them in Petal Search, Huawei then directs us to third-party sites (Apkmonk, Aptoide, Apkpure…) in order to download and install them manually. It takes a little more time and requires a bit of DIY, but it’s not a hassle either. Especially since site on histhe Chinese company explains with pedagogy the procedure to follow for the less comfortable with the bowels of Android.
But this system obviously has its limits.. Sometimes the search engine directs us to obsolete or broken links, so we have to search the web ourselves to find a working APK link of the desired application. In addition, updates are not automatic with an app in APK version, you have to download and install a new file each time to take advantage of the latest news from your favorite apps. Finally, even if the incompatibilities, pure and hard, are extremely rare, they exist, impossible for example to use the YouTube app.
Photo, an armada worthy of the greatest
The Nova 9 embeds a photo module comprising four back sensors, namely:
- a 50 megapixel wide-angle main sensor (f / 1.9);
- an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle sensor (f/2.2);
- a 2 megapixel (f/2.4) macro sensor;
- a 2 megapixel (f/2.4) depth sensor
With such a striking force, the Nova 9 has rarely disappointed us. In good light, the main sensor offers very successful shots. The colorimetry is natural, the details are on point and the contrast is skilfully balanced. Good surprise, Huawei, yet customary with its photo AI, here avoid smoothing the contours of the photos too much and do not saturate the primary colors (too much).
The more the light decreases, the more the smoothing returns, but this time it is used wisely, it tries to attenuate the lack of sharpness.
As for the ultra-wide-angle module, it does its job extremely well for a smartphone below 500 euros, it even does better than the majority of the competition. Although sometimes too contrasting, the shots do not display a large distortion specific to this type of lens. We notice a slight stretch, but no obvious tunnel effect, Huawei’s AI having been there.
Finally, in the “Night” mode, available only on the main sensor, Huawei is doing feats. It must be said that the Chinese manufacturer is a specialist in the genre. Using the 50 megapixel mode, the smartphone is able to capture an impressive amount of light, so we are not dealing with an improved photo, but a full-fledged snapshot.
A note on the competition
Invoice 499€ for its launch, the Nova 9 faces a slew of competitors. Starting with its clone, the Honor 50 (549€), but also the Motorola Edge 20 (499€), the Oppo Reno 6 (499€) or the Samsung Galaxy A52s (459€).
With its know-how, the manufacturer delivers a mobile with a sleek, high-performance, powerful design and equipped with a screen worthy of its price. Even if its autonomy does not impress more than that, while being average, it is distinguished by a fast charge equipped with innovative features. On the photo part, nothing to complain about, Huawei has not lost its luster. So what can you blame him for? Its mono speaker, lack of 5G, and incomplete Android experience. For the moment, the AppGallery is more of a stopgap than a real alternative to the PlayStore, but we have no doubt that Huawei will succeed in improving it.
With the Nova 9, you have to accept a new user experience, be not very resourceful, a (many) hacker and like to dive into the recesses of Android. Isn’t that the primary philosophy of this open-source OS with its custom ROMs? Especially since the youngest, the target of the Nova 9, are generally more inclined and permeable to novelty. However, is it really strategic for Huawei to position this smartphone at this price? For 50 euros more, we can afford the Honor 50, a quasi-clone of the Nova 9 which has the PlayStore and 5G. Without a doubt, the Nova 9 will appeal to all those who are not afraid of change and who will be able to wait patiently for its price to drop and avoid the 400 euros instead..
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