a decent midrange device that has a lot going for it. It does a respectable job of doing what is has set out to do. Namely making you look good while also having and appealing display and design (depending on your feeling about the camera bump. But we can't hake the feeling of over compensating for short comings mostly due to the sanctions Huawei face.
The latest smartphone from Huawei is all about making you look good. The Nova range flips the script by having a 60 MP sensor as its front camera. Now is when selfie specialists will be licking their lips but that’s not quite the full picture. There are very apparent drawbacks as a result of the sanctions the Chinese company faces. Not including 5G is not so bad, but the lack of Google on these Androids still takes considerable adjustment.
Mirror mirror on my phone.
The Huawei Nova 10 clearly wants to look good and it does a decent job at that. Its curved display makes it feel like that’s all you’re holding. Its light weight adds to the effect instead of making it feel cheap. We got the glass-backed Starry Black version of the Nova 10, a design that makes the rear panel feel like a second screen or a black mirror.
If the thin frame was metal instead of plastic, the symmetrical body design would be the spitting image of the Honor 70 5G. That is, if you ignore the Nova’s unusual three-sensor camera bump with its garish gold accent ring. The trim surrounding the sensors does feel luxurious but it also looks like a premium Fortnite skin for a three-eyed Wall-E. The volume rockers and power button are satisfyingly clicky with Huawei’s now signature red accent on the power button. The 120Hz OLED display is crisp and clear. The 6.67in screen fits comfortably in even small hands, probably thanks to the Nova’s thin design.
The 4,000 mAh battery was thankfully something we never needed to fret about. After a day of camera work and performance tests in the phone’s optimised Performance mode, it still had about 20% in the tank at 20:00. After losing 10% overnight, we got it fully charged in around 35 minutes with the 66W fast charger. On Power Saving mode we made it to 21:00 with just under a 30% charge.
Stick with me. I’ll make you a star.
The Nova 10’s cameras got Huawei’s memo on clarity. The mission is simple: make you the star of the show. The 60MP selfie sensor does well to capture images, doing justice to small details in most cases. How? AI, of course.
AI is the first thing that greets you when you open your camera. Taking pictures of your walk in the park? It optimises for nature. Photos of your coworkers? The camera optimises for portraits. The difference it makes to the final image is subtle compared to without it. Examples include brighter greens in Nature mode and toning down on reds in Portrait mode.
The sensors also hold their own when recording video. The Nova 10 has the ability to record either 4K video or at 60 fps, but not both at the same time. The selfie camera does well at capturing facial details, especially from a certain distance (about an arm’s length away).
It takes its job so seriously that it will not allow you to take a bad photo. By that, we mean a photo that’s under-exposed. That’s not always a problem. As a dark-skinned brother, I’ve been in my share of pictures looking like I’m behind a paywall. But sometimes you want what’s in the dark to stay in the dark.
This becomes even more apparent with pictures taken at dusk while there’s still a little bit of light. The extra exposure makes photos look like they were taken earlier than they actually were. We’ll admit that the last point could nitpicking but these are noticeable differences.
The rose with the glaring thorn
For all its looks, the Nova 10 has an obvious Google-shaped gap to fill. Transitioning to a Huawei device from one with Google means extra steps to follow when setting up the device. For example, to get your contacts you need to import a vCard and transfer it via a sketchy app. The Huawei App gallery is also not as full as Google’s Play Store so you’ll need to do without games like Injustice and Call of Duty. Unless you grab them from a third-party APK site that you are directed to by Huawei (following a disclaimer). See what we mean by it feeling sketchy?
There was an uncomfortable amount of advertising when we initially started using the Nova 10. Recommended apps in folders on the home screen make the phone feel bloated. Trying to view personal videos from the Gallery app, as most people would, also displays ads. The bottom third of your video will be covered by ads including posters for some movies and thumbnails of random TikTok creators. This is thanks to Huawei’s Video app, which really wants you to know it exists. But advertising directly in an operating system? Really?
For what it’s worth the Huawei Video app is an interesting answer to Google-free video content. Making the app the one place on this device to watch video content is a bold move. Especially as it seems more and more necessary for multiple streaming subscriptions. But why are personal videos roped into this? There are workarounds, like adding a Local Videos shortcut to the home screen, but we can’t say that didn’t feel intrusive.
Huawei Nova 10 verdict
All in all, the Huawei Nova 10 is a decent midrange device. It does a respectable job of doing what it has set out to do. Namely, making you look good while also having an appealing display and design (depending on your feeling about the camera bump). But we can’t shake the feeling that it’s overcompensating for shortcomings mostly caused by a lack of Google’s functions.
Considering all of this makes its R13,000 price tag feels a thousand Rand or so too high. If it wasn’t so inconvenient to make the switch to a Google-free device and Huawei had included blistering 5G speeds, the price would feel a little more justified. As it is now, you can probably find something more familiar (and affordable) that will scratch all of these itches even better.