The history of the Chinese electronics company Huawei could hardly be more tragic. First, the company climbed the Olympus of the highly competitive smartphone market with high-quality phones at a fair price. Even manufacturers like Samsung shook at the knees as the Koreans had to fear for their dominant position in the Android smartphone segment. However, just when Huawei was considered the most successful smartphone manufacturer worldwide, a place on the U.S. embargo list put a spanner in the works for the Chinese. This not only ensured that the company’s devices could no longer be sold in the US. On top of that, it prohibited companies based in the USA from cooperating with Huawei. This meant that Huawei had to do without Google’s Android and the associated ecosystem from then on. Serious software problems were the result.
However, hardware issues also loomed large. After all, like everyone else, Huawei had to suffer from the rampant semiconductor shortage. If that wasn’t bad enough, the company also had to look for a new chip manufacturer. Finally, the former also feared serious consequences from the US. But Huawei did not give up. Like Phoenix from the ashes, the company rose again with its own software, a self-developed app store and its own chip production. Huawei’s latest smartphone, the Huawei Nova 9, is now on the market and wants to impress with some special features. We want to check whether the Nova 9 is not only chic, but can also score in other respects in our test.
How heavy is the renunciation of Google services?
Let’s not kid ourselves. The new start will probably be anything but easy for Huawei. After all, the company was forced to reinvent itself to some extent in the wake of the US embargo. In particular, finding an alternative to GMS (Google Mobile Services) probably accounted for the lion’s share of the work. You don’t create a complete ecosystem with in-house and third-party apps overnight.
This requires work and time. Meanwhile, you can find your way around Huawei’s operating system very well. However, it quickly becomes clear that the App Gallery plays in the district league, while the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store duel for the championship trophy in the first division. However, Huawei’s own App Store is constantly improving. While Western users in particular hardly found any usable applications at the beginning, renowned representatives are now also part of the game.
The fact that major providers like Netflix are not included, however, does hurt. Also, if the software problems are severe, sensitive hardware limitations are also added in our climes. After all, Huawei is simply not allowed to launch a smartphone with 5G. Meanwhile, the mobile standard can even be found in some entry-level devices. The whole thing gets a bitter taste when you take a look at the former subsidiary Honor.
With its Honor 50, Huawei has launched a smartphone that resembles the Nova 9 like no other. However, there is one crucial difference. Since Honor is not (yet) on the U.S. embargo list, the Honor 50 can be launched without tightening the handbrake and thus without hardware and software restrictions. We want to take a comparative look at some points in the review to see if that could be noticeable in practice.
Technical details of the Huawei Nova 9
|Dimensions||160 mm x 73.7 mm x 7.77 mm|
|Weight||Approx. 175 g (incl. battery)|
|Display||6.57-inch OLED display with FHD+ resolution (2,340 x 1,080 pixels) 120 Hz|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 778G 4G Octa-core, 4 x Cortex-A78@2.42 GHz + 4 x Cortex-A55@1.8 GHz|
|Operating system||EMUI 12|
|Memory||8 GB RAM + 128 GB flash storage|
|Camera||Quad camera (main camera with 50 MP, ultra-wide lens with 8 MP, depth camera with 2 MP and macro camera with 2 MP) + front camera (max. 32 MP)|
|Battery||4,300 mAh, rechargeable with 66 watt power adapter (Super Charger)|
|Connectivity||2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 2 x 2 MIMO, HE160, 4096 QAM, 8 spatial stream sounding MU-MIMO, Bluetooth 5.2, support BLE、SBC、AAC、LDAC, USB Type-C, USB 2.0|
|Price||€ 258.00 *|
Huawei Nova 9 Package Contents
Once you lift off the lid of the chic, white packaging, there are no big surprises to discover. Besides the Nova 9 itself, there is a USB-A to USB-C cable, the corresponding power adapter with a whopping 66 watts of power, and a transparent cover in the packaging. The obligatory needle to open the SIM card slot and the usual paperwork are of course also included.
Design and workmanship
Visually, the Nova 9 is beyond reproach. Thus, it makes a very good impression both in terms of design and workmanship. Especially the slim look and the extremely thin screen edges make it look modern and loosely light.
Huawei relies on curves here, which not only loosen up the overall look. On top of that, the smartphone feels very good in the hand. In general, the device offers a very good grip and never threatens to fall out of the hand despite its size. The black version we tested comes with a glossy back, while the blue color variant has a matte design on the back.
Our test device suffered from the typical problem that finger swipes were almost magically attracted due to the glossy back. If you have a problem with that, you should probably rather look at the blue version with a matte back. Alternatively, you can simply use the included cover. Speaking of fingerprints.
While these are certainly likely to be annoying in the eyes of many on the back, they are welcome on the display. Huawei relies on a sensor underneath the display for unlocking. It always responded reliably and quickly in the test.
Despite its comparatively large 6.57-inch screen diagonal, the Nova 9 is not too bulky in the hands. This is not least due to the humane dimensions of 160 mm x 73.3 mm x 7.8 mm. Thus, you do not have to have huge hands to be able to use the device adequately.
We also see a completely new side of Huawei on the back. Possibly, the former king in smartphone cameras wants to return to its old strength here. Visually, it already does so with the two different circles. We like the design of the cameras, but they also have a problem. Like many other smartphone cameras, this one also causes annoying wobbling when the smartphone is placed on a flat surface like a table.
If this bothers you, you can’t avoid a case. You also have to put up with another damper. Huawei does not provide its Nova 9 with protection against dust or water. A certification according to IP68 would have been possible. Too bad!
A twin rarely comes alone
It is quite astonishing how similar the Huawei Nova 9 and the Honor 50 are. Even when you take a closer look, you can hardly notice any visual differences here. Only when you take a look at the back, a crucial design difference can be noticed. Unlike the former parent company, Honor uses four different colors instead of “only” two. However, since the Nova 9 has certainly found the lowest common denominators with black and blue, this should not be too difficult. Things look a bit more complicated in terms of hardware and software.
In terms of software and hardware, Honor does not have to submit to the annoying restrictions that Huawei suffers from. This means that the Honor 50 starts with classic Android (Android 11 to be precise). All Google apps and thus services are also included. The Honor 50 has another huge advantage in terms of hardware. The device from Huawei’s former subsidiary has 5G on board. Considering that the Honor 50 only costs 30 Euros more than the clone from Huawei, it will not be easy for the Nova 9 in the West.
Good performance without 5G
We have already clarified that the Huawei Nova 9 looks and feels good. But what about the performance? The heart of the hardware is a Snapdragon 778G 4G from the well-known processor manufacturer Qualcomm. The addition of the name 4G already reveals a deficit that Huawei cannot deny in its Nova 9. 5G is not on board here. Certainly, the Chinese would have liked to install the latest mobile standard. However, the U.S. embargo once again throws a spanner in the works.
The lack of fast mobile Internet does not mean that the smartphone is generally weak in the chest. Quite the contrary. After all, the 778G offers 45 percent more performance than the 765G. And that is also evident in practice. We did not notice any real performance problems here. The Nova 9 always maneuvered us smoothly through its operating system. Applications could be opened and closed quickly. Even gaming was no problem. This is also reflected in the benchmarks.
In the 3D Mark Slingshot, Huawei’s Nova 9 achieved a score of 6,449 points. If we take a look at benchmark results of the Honor 50, it becomes clear that both smartphones are roughly on par despite the 5G advantage on the side of the former subsidiary. We took a look at the benchmark results and compared the scores. Thus, the Honor 50 achieved a score of 6,345 points in the same benchmark test.
A similar picture is also seen in the 3DMark for Android Wildlife benchmark, which challenges the smartphone’s hardware a bit more. Here, the Nova 9 could achieve a score of 2,499 points. The Honor 50 again managed 2,501 points. Last but not least, we want to take a comparative look at the results in Geekbench 5. The Nova 9 achieved 795 points in the single core. The Honor 50 managed 789 points in single-core. In the Geekbench discipline of multi-core, the Nova 9 (3,001 points) then manages to pull away a bit from the Honor 50 (2,784 points).
Thus, a real difference can at most be determined in the multi-core score of Geekbench 5. All in all, the performance of the two smartphones is on par. Although we did not have an Honor 50 for a direct comparison, we would be very surprised about a significant performance difference in view of the similar benchmark results.
OLED display with 120 Hz
The display of the Huawei Nova 9 is beyond reproach. Customers really do not have to make any compromises here. The OLED panel not only offers vivid colors, but also high contrasts. Thanks to a diagonal of 6.57 inches, videos are also really fun on the screen. The high resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels also ensures that. The curved display edges also pay off when looking at the large screen. After all, this almost makes the Nova 9 look like it has no screen edges at all.
Of course, this kind of display technology is debatable. After all, curved edges usually also mean high repair costs if damage should ever occur. A special highlight is the refresh rate. This is 120 Hz and is supposed to ensure extremely smooth motion pictures. In practice, the high hertz rate is immediately noticeable. It is not only possible to scroll through the browser wonderfully smoothly. On top of that, games flicker smoothly across the screen.
Of course, a high refresh rate is a real luxury that you quickly get used to in everyday life. However, you always have to keep in mind that the buttery smooth motion pictures consume a lot of energy. Huawei is aware of this problem and has integrated an automatic adaptation of the frame rate. The Nova 9 can dynamically switch between 30 Hz, 60 Hz or 120 Hz. The smartphone interprets which hertz rate is suitable for the current application.
The camera performance of the Huawei Nova 9
In the past, Huawei smartphones were considered to be a lock when it came to camera performance. But what is the situation like with the Nova 9? Huawei installs a quad camera here. The huge quad-lens main camera offers a resolution of 50 megapixels and has an f/1.9 aperture.
Photos that we took with the main camera should hardly leave any wishes unfulfilled for the average consumer. After all, they are characterized by great lighting and very natural, vivid colors. Here you can immediately recognize the old strengths of the Chinese.
If you push the resolution to the limit with 50 megapixels, you have to be satisfied with a limited range of functions. This means that zooming is no longer possible. Of course, this looks different in normal mode. Here you can let off steam with a magnification of up to 10x.
Switching to the ultra-wide-angle lens, we are also confronted with a different resolution. Finally, this one resolves with 8 megapixels. There are slightly fewer megapixels on the depth lens and the macro camera with 2 megapixels each.
Of course, a selfie camera should not be missing either. The Nova 9 delivers impressive values with a resolution of up to 32 megapixels. However, the punchhole camera shoots with a resolution of 8 megapixels by default. That should be sufficient for most people anyway.
The Huawei Nova 9 offers special social media features especially for the camera. The so-called VLOG mode makes it possible to use different “Instagram-compatible” functions. For example, you can record a selfie video or activate a dual-view mode. In the latter, both the front and back camera are activated.
Besides photos, videos are of course no problem with the smartphone. Here, recordings in a resolution of 4K with a maximum of 30 frames per second are possible. If Full HD is enough for you, you can also record videos with 60 frames per second.
The battery performance
Huawei equips its Nova 9 with a 4,300 mAh battery. That not only sounds like a lot, but also proved to be a guarantor for enduring smartphone fun in practice. I could easily bridge a day with above-average smartphone use with the Nova 9.
Even with lots of content rattling across the screen at a refresh rate of 120 Hz, this was no problem. Once the battery is empty, it can be recharged quickly. Huawei includes a power supply with 66 Watts especially for this purpose. However, a wireless charging feature via Qi technology would have been desirable. Nothing works without a cable here.
With the Nova 9, you can choose between two different colors, “Starry Blue” and “Black”, but Huawei does not give you any freedom of choice in terms of features. The Nova 9 comes with 8 GB of working memory and a flash storage with a capacity of 128 GB. Unfortunately, the 128 GB of storage cannot be expanded via microSD, which is quite a shame.
If Huawei does not protect the Nova 9 from dust and water, at least a microSD slot could have been installed. Otherwise, the latest hardware technology is available with Bluetooth 5.2 and 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi. NFC is also on board. However, Google Pay does not work on the Nova 9 either, so the chip does not have a crucial benefit.
Summary of the Huawei Nova 9 review
With the Nova 9, Huawei seems to want to slowly make a name for itself in the smartphone market segment again. But will the Chinese succeed in rebirthing the formerly so successful enterprise division? We think so. The device from the upper mid-range primarily scores with its impressively strong display. It is not only rich in contrast and color, but also smooth as butter when moving images flicker across it thanks to 120 Hz. We are also impressed by the smartphone’s stylish design. The camera performance is also reminiscent of Huawei’s glorious days when the Chinese company still held the camera throne with devices like the P40 Pro.
The exterior of the Nova 9 is not only pretty to look at, but also feels really good in the hands. Such build quality is anything but standard in the mid-range smartphone ranks. Furthermore, the Nova 9 does not make any mistakes in terms of performance. Normal users will not have to cope with performance drops even in demanding applications. Thanks to the long-lasting battery, which can be recharged quickly via the 66-watt SuperCharge, you hardly have to worry about an empty battery.
But of course we can’t leave out the elephant in the room. To be more precise, there are two pachyderms that make us angry with the Nova 9. The most serious is certainly the lack of Google Services. Huawei has already built an impressive ecosystem with its AppGallery. However, it will probably take years before it can keep up with the big model from California. Furthermore, you will have to do without 5G with the Nova 9. That is a huge disadvantage at the end of 2021.
Those who do not want to do without Google services and 5G will find the perfect alternative in the Honor 50. Visually and in terms of performance, you get more or less the same package as in the Nova 9. However, the two puzzle pieces that we sorely miss in the Nova 9 are also available for a surcharge of about 30 Euros. If you do not have a problem with these two points or want to escape Google’s cosmos anyway, you will get a really good smartphone with the Huawei Nova 9.