Huawei Nova Plus review

A quality handset, but not quite a super Nova

Interface and reliability

  • Android 6.0 weighed down by EMUI 4.1
  • Huawei's custom UI is ugly but smooth

The Huawei Nova Plus runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with Huawei's own Emotion UI (EMUI) 4.1 layered on top. The former is a good thing, and means the Nova Plus's software is quick and stable, and benefits from advanced app permission settings and the power-saving Doze feature.

However, the presence of EMUI isn't so welcome. It's one of the heavier Android skins out there, needlessly tinkering with a number of Android's signature components.

Huawei Nova Plus review

There's no app drawer here, but that's really not too much of a bind in our experience. Far more irritating is EMUI's rejigged notification and shortcuts menu, which is both uglier and less intuitive than stock Android. It splits the aforementioned functions quite literally between two panes, which must be flipped between with a lateral swipe.

In this and several other respects, Huawei is clearly attempting to recreate iOS on Android. This tendency can also be seen in the universal search function, which is accessed by dragging down in the middle of the home page, as well as in the side-scrolling multitasking menu.

Huawei Nova Plus review

While we prefer stock Android (and iOS, for that matter), we can't fault Huawei on the smoothness or overall clarity of its custom UI. It's all fairly cohesive and pleasant to navigate, we didn't notice any major stutters during general navigation, and it's also quite customisable.

You can alter the number of apps displayed on the home screens, change the home screen transition animations, and play with the way those home screens align themselves.

As on many Chinese devices, it's also possible to tinker with the themes in EMUI. This changes the app icons along with the wallpaper, and there are plenty of alternatives to download from Huawei's own pre-installed Themes app – most of them are pretty naff, though.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Strong movie and music performance
  • Gaming is a bit of concern thanks to so-so CPU

The Huawei Nova Plus is generally a strong media player, but it's not perfect. On the plus side is its large, well-balanced display, which does equal justice to HD media content and games.

You also get a dedicated video player app positioned prominently on the second home screen, something we don't always see. The app itself is nothing amazing, but it is clear and functional, and it offers the ability to watch videos in a window layered over the home screen, allowing you to navigate and open apps in the background.

Huawei Nova Plus review

On the downside, the phone's solitary bottom-mounted speaker (the one to the left of the USB-C port is a fake) is rather puny. You'll want to make use of the headphone port for anything more than the odd brief YouTube or Facebook video – and this will give you the option to activate the phone's DTS mode, which pumps up the bass.

Of course, you'll need a set of headphones (or a Bluetooth speaker) anyway if you want to play music on the go, to which end you get Google's Play Music app, which is great for playing local content and also for streaming, if you're a subscriber.

Huawei Nova Plus review

You also get Huawei's own Music app for local content, which kind of resembles an old iOS app, but with less polish and zip. It's functional, but there's really no incentive to use it here – especially when you get the same shortcut widgets to the lock screen and notifications menu.

It's gaming where the Huawei Nova Plus falters a little. It's perfectly fine for playing games on, and as I mentioned, that display is perfectly fit for purpose.

Huawei Nova Plus review

However, I have a few concerns about the phone's Snapdragon 625 CPU. It's not a bad mid-range performer, particularly for casual 2D games, but it might not run challenging 3D games at their absolute silky-smooth best – and that's something you can reasonably demand of a phone that costs £420 / $550, especially if you're an avid gamer.

Specs and benchmark performance

  • Competent specs and fluid general performance
  • Snapdragon 625 is perhaps a little underpowered for a phone of this type

While Huawei's 2016 flagship, the Huawei P9 Plus, runs on a Kirin 955 CPU from company subsidiary HiSilicon, the Chinese manufacturer has opted for a more off-the-shelf mid-range chip for the Huawei Nova Plus.

This phone runs on a Snapdragon 625 CPU, and it's pretty much the only hardware component (along with, perhaps, the camera, which we'll get to shortly) we have cause to question.

It's a perfectly competent mid-range chip, and one we've seen put into several other upper-mid-range phones along the lines of the Nova Plus; the Moto Z Play runs on it, as does the Oppo R7 Plus.

The trouble is, the Snapdragon 625 isn't a particularly strong performer when the going gets tough, even with a decent 3GB of RAM backing it up. The Nova Plus's average Geekbench multicore benchmark score of 3,105 lags way behind the 5,425 returned by the OnePlus 3, which uses a top-end Snapdragon 820. It also trails the Snapdragon 652-powered Vodafone Smart Platinum 7, which scored 5,129.

Huawei Nova Plus review

It's that latter chip, we feel, that would have been a better fit for the Huawei Nova Plus; just-below-the-top performance for a just-below-the-top price.

Not that you'll experience any major hitches in general performance here. As we've already alluded to, flipping through the Nova Plus's home screens is as smooth as you like, while hopping between open apps is similarly swift.

However, you'll notice the performance shortfall when you do things like boot up demanding 3D apps. Starting up Dead Trigger 2 – a favourite test game thanks to its detailed graphics and fast FPS action – I was immediately struck by how long the game, and individual levels, took to load; I thought it had hung at first.

Then, once, I'd gotten into the game, I found that the graphics settings had defaulted to Low. Bumping them up to High resulted in a game that was perfectly playable, though not without the odd stutter.

Again, the Huawei Nova Plus's performance is really nothing to worry about. But when you can get uncompromised performance elsewhere for a good deal less money, it does make you question the phone's value a little.