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Huawei nova 9 review

Introduction

The Huawei nova series is intended for the younger generation with flashy looks and relatively low prices. The nova 9 family isn’t far from the original formula. We got the vanilla nova 9 for this review, but the Pro model seems to be only slightly different – it has a bigger display, a smaller battery with faster charging and a secondary selfie camera. Sadly, only the standard nova 9 is making its way to the international market leaving the Pro to be a China-exclusive.

However, one would argue that the proper nova 9 might be the more sensible option of the two due to its lower price and relatively the same set of features. In fact, the bigger battery is usually preferred over the faster charging as per our Sunday debate poll from back in the day. Either way, you can use this review as a reference for the Pro model, as most of the hardware is matched.

Huawei nova 9 specs at a glance:

  • Body: 160.0×73.7×7.8mm, 175g; Glass front and back, plastic frame.
  • Display: 6.57″ OLED, 1B colors, 120Hz, HDR10, 1080x2340px resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 392ppi.
  • Chipset: Qualcomm SM7325 Snapdragon 778G 4G (6 nm): Octa-core (4×2.4 GHz Kryo 670 & 4×1.8 GHz Kryo 670); Adreno 642L.
  • Memory: 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 8GB RAM; UFS.
  • OS/Software: HarmonyOS 2.0 (China), EMUI 12 (Europe), no Google Play Services.
  • Rear camera: Wide (main): 50 MP, f/1.9, 23mm, PDAF; Ultra wide angle: 8 MP, f/2.2; Macro: 2 MP, f/2.4; Depth: 2 MP, f/2.4.
  • Front camera: 32 MP, f/2.0, (wide).
  • Video capture: Rear camera: 4K, 1080p, 720p@960fps, gyro-EIS; Front camera: 4K@30fps, 1080p@30fps, 720p@240fps, gyro-EIS.
  • Battery: 4300mAh; Fast charging 66W, 60% in 18 min, 100% in 38 min (advertised), Reverse charging.
  • Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, optical); NFC.

For €499, the nova 9 offers a flagship-grade 6.57-inch, 120Hz OLED panel and 10-bit color depth, potent Snapdragon 778G and a capable 50MP main camera. The 4,300 mAh battery charges over a speedy 66W brick too. A well-rounded midranger that would surely meet plenty of resistance outside of China.

After all, the whole Huawei-US drama isn’t over, so Huawei’s phones ship without Google Mobile Services, which is less than ideal outside of China. That’s a big hurdle to overcome. To be honest, Huawei’s HarmonyOS has come a long way with version 2.0. There are plenty of native apps already, and the so-called Petal search provides a fast and easy way to sideload apps through third-party stores.

Huawei nova 9 review

The nova 9, though, runs on EMUI 12 based on Android 11, which is pretty close to the China-exclusive HarmonyOS. In any case, we will check if the HMS-powered EMUI 12 will make us forget about GMS and see how the device stacks against the competition in terms of raw power, endurance, display quality, etc. You might be in for a surprise.

Unboxing the Huawei nova 9

The Huawei nova 9’s retail box isn’t anything out of the ordinary as it holds the corresponding 66W charging brick, USB-C to USB-A cable and the accompanying user manuals.

Huawei nova 9 review

We also received a transparent silicone case, but we were told that it won’t be part of the bundle for all markets.

Design and ergonomics

The Huawei nova 9 rocks premium looks and feel, even though the materials aren’t all flagship-worthy. We have glass front and back while the frame remains plastic. Huawei isn’t very clear about the glass sheets either, so we would assume it’s not Gorilla Glass.

Huawei nova 9 review

Still, we really like how the handset feels in hand and how exceptionally light it is. At just 175g, the nova 9 is probably one of the lightest handsets in the 6.5″+ category. And the back design might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying that it makes the handset stand out. The camera island and the quirky “nova” inscription, in particular.

The camera bump is protruding quite a bit, and the main 50MP camera is accented with a ring around it, whereas the other three sensors are housed within a secondary ring with no accents.

Huawei nova 9 review

The glass back comes in several colors for the Chinese market, but only the Starry Blue and Black colors made it to Europe. We have the former with us, and to be honest, the color shift is so drastic that it’s hard to tell if there’s any blue at all. It’s still looking pretty fresh, though, and the Black one should be clean enough for someone looking into more simplistic looks.

The frosted finish is just right. Makes the phone a tad grippier than the plain glass surface and doesn’t allow fingerprints to stick. In fact, you need to be looking for those fingerprints under certain light to see them. That’s a huge bonus not having smudges all over your phone.

Huawei nova 9 review

Anyway, the glass back is curved just like the front – a bit on the aggressive side. Most brands reserve their curved screens for the premium models, but we have Huawei’s typical waterfall-like screen on the nova 9 series as well. That’s a rather polarizing feature, so we let you decide if you like it or not.

Huawei nova 9 review

Whatever the case may be for you, it’s clear that the nova 9 has modern looks. The side bezels are a bit on the thick side, but the curvature makes them look skinny. The top and bottom bezels seem pretty symmetrical, giving the handset a more complete look. We didn’t like the centered punch-hole that much because it’s a bit bigger than we would expect on an OLED screen. It’s not a deal-breaker, nor does it obstruct the image considerably more, but it’s worth noting.

Huawei nova 9 review

Now, the side frame is a different story. It’s made of glossy plastic, and smudges are pretty easy to spot. Luckily, the sides are super thin, and there’s not a lot of room for fingerprints. And the top and bottom parts are flat and frosted as well, so no grease there either.

Huawei nova 9 - Huawei nova 9 review
Huawei nova 9 - Huawei nova 9 review

Huawei nova 9 - Huawei nova 9 review
Huawei nova 9 - Huawei nova 9 review

Huawei nova 9

The power button and the volume rocker are placed on the right and might come off as a bit high for some users. The power button is rather easy to reach, but the volume rocker requires some stretch.

The bottom end houses the USB-C connector, the speaker grille and the SIM card tray. The latter can hold only two SIM cards, and there’s no room for microSD.

Huawei nova 9 review

All in all, there’s little to complain about the nova 9’s design. It’s light, thin and doesn’t let fingerprints stick. But if we need to be more critical, there are plenty of options out there with Gorilla Glass protective sheets and some sort of ingress protection.

Flagship-grade curved OLED

It’s quite obvious that the nova 9’s display is one of the centerpiece features. Putting the curvatures aside, since it’s a subjective matter, the display also uses a high-end 120Hz OLED with 10-bit color reproduction. Standard resolution and aspect ratio, though – 1080 x 2340px at 19.5:9.

Huawei nova 9 review

Brightness-wise, the OLED panel isn’t impressive, but it’s right up there with the rest. In manual mode and the brightness slider cranked up to maximum, the display produced 433 nits, while in auto mode, it peaked at 608 nits – standard stuff. We found it excellent outdoors, so we doubt you will have any issues on a bright sunny day.

Display test 100% brightness
Black,cd/m2 White,cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Huawei nova 9 0 433
Huawei nova 9 (Max Auto) 0 608
Motorola Moto G100 0.349 498 1427:1
Motorola Moto G100 (Max Auto) 0.434 613 1412:1
Xiaomi Mi 11i 0 514
Xiaomi Mi 11i (Max Auto) 0 939
Xiaomi Mi 11T 0 498
Xiaomi Mi 11T (Max Auto) 0 798
Realme GT 5G 0 443
Realme GT 5G (Max Auto) 0 650
Samsung Galaxy A72 0 396
Samsung Galaxy A72 (Max Auto) 0 825

Color accuracy is a whole another story, though. Right off the bat, even without consulting the testing equipment, it’s apparent that the color temperature is way too cold. All the grays and whites have a strong blue or purple-ish tinge. The rest of the colors are also off. Luckily, the Normal color mode gets most colors within a reasonable dE2000 range, but the whites and grays would still look blueish.

There’s a color wheel that lets you adjust the color temperature, so you might want to use that even if you don’t have the right equipment to check the D65, so just adjust it to your own liking.

HRR control isn’t very sophisticated, but it’s simple and mostly effective. There are three settings – Dynamic, High and Standard. However, we are hard-pressed to find any difference between the first two. At High preset, one would expect the refresh rate to be locked at 120Hz, but it seems to act just like the Dynamic preset. Not touching the screen for a while lowers the refresh rate to 60Hz, and the same goes for some apps as well.

Still, it’s good to see that the system utilizes the screen’s refresh rate in most cases and saves power in certain scenarios. For instance, the refresh rate is limited to 60Hz when watching full-screen YouTube videos using the default browser (after all, there’s no GMS, so we weren’t able to make the YouTube app work, the same goes for Google Chrome). Launching the Netflix app instantly locks the display at 60Hz, while the default Gallery does that only when playing videos. You are free to scroll at 120Hz when browsing through the Gallery.

Battery life

The Huawei nova 9 sports a slightly smaller battery than most handsets in its price range, perhaps in an attempt to keep the profile slim (7.8mm). Anyway, the 4,300 mAh battery managed to keep the lights on just enough to call the endurance score “average”. However, there’s a big difference between the nova 9 and its competitors – they run more powerful SoCs.

Most of the nova 9’s rivals are either powered by the Snapdragon 888 or the 870 – both very potent and more power-hungry chipsets compared to the Snapdragon 778G. The Galaxy A72, on the other hand, is running a Snapdragon 720G with an overall endurance score of 117h. We would have liked to see the nova 9 somewhere in that ballpark.

Huawei nova 9 review

Our battery tests were automated thanks to SmartViser, using its viSerDevice app. The endurance rating denotes how long the battery charge will last you if you use the device for an hour of telephony, web browsing, and video playback daily. More details can be found here.

Video test carried out in 60Hz refresh rate mode. Web browsing test done at the display’s highest refresh rate whenever possible. Refer to the respective reviews for specifics. To adjust the endurance rating formula to match your own usage – check out our all-time battery test results chart.

Charging speed

The nova 9 may not be the fastest in town, but it’s definitely far from slow too. You get about 61% of the charge in the first 30 minutes, and interestingly enough, it keeps the pace up until 100%, which takes about 54 minutes. That’s just a little slower than the Xiaomi Mi 11i and 11T. Those two are considerably faster in the 30-minute charge test, though.

30min charging test (from 0%)

Higher is better

  • Realme GT 5G (65W)
    87%
  • Xiaomi 11T
    86%
  • Xiaomi Mi 11i
    69%
  • Huawei nova 9
    61%
  • Samsung Galaxy A72
    54%
  • Motorola Moto G100
    37%

Time to full charge (from 0%)

Lower is better

  • Realme GT 5G (65W)
    0:39h
  • Xiaomi 11T
    0:41h
  • Xiaomi Mi 11i
    0:52h
  • Huawei nova 9
    0:54h
  • Samsung Galaxy A72
    1:15h
  • Motorola Moto G100
    1:54h

Speaker

Unlike most of its rivals, the nova 9 doesn’t have a set of stereo speakers and instead relies on its single, bottom-facing speaker. It’s decently loud for a single speaker and sounds rather clean. But as you go north with the volume, it starts to ring. The speaker is also a bit on the flat side, which is to be expected from a small cavity and just one loudspeaker.

Use the Playback controls to listen to the phone sample recordings (best use headphones). We measure the average loudness of the speakers in LUFS. A lower absolute value means a louder sound. A look at the frequency response chart will tell you how far off the ideal “0db” flat line is the reproduction of the bass, treble, and mid frequencies. You can add more phones to compare how they differ. The scores and ratings are not comparable with our older loudspeaker test. Learn more about how we test here.

EMUI 12, Android 11

It’s evident that the Huawei-US relationship is still haunting the company, and perhaps that’s why you won’t find much info about what runs under the EMUI 12, which powers the nova 9. Looking through the menus, you won’t find the word Android, but we can confirm that it’s actually Android 11. For now, HarmonyOS remains exclusive to the Chinese versions of Huawei’s handsets, whereas EMUI 12 is being distributed to the global versions.

Huawei nova 9 review

There’s little difference between EMUI 12 and HarmonyOS 2.0, at least as far as our limited experience with Huawei’s tablets running the said software.

The home screen and recent apps menu are business as usual. Once you boot the device for the first time, you will be presented with Huawei’s default simple Home screen arrangement, but you can always opt for the app drawer if you wish. The most notable change with this version of the software is the notification shade.

Home screen, recent apps, notification shade, Control Panel - Huawei nova 9 review
Home screen, recent apps, notification shade, Control Panel - Huawei nova 9 review
Home screen, recent apps, notification shade, Control Panel - Huawei nova 9 review
Home screen, recent apps, notification shade, Control Panel - Huawei nova 9 review
Home screen, recent apps, notification shade, Control Panel - Huawei nova 9 review

Home screen, recent apps, notification shade, Control Panel

Swiping down on the left side of the selfie camera opens up the dedicated notification panel and displays the notifications with EMUI’s custom cards. Doing the same on the right side of the selfie camera pulls down the quick toggles, media control and brightness slider. To our surprise, there’s no switch for the screen’s auto mode, so you have to dig deep into the Settings menu every time you want to switch on or off the automatic brightness control of the display.

Additionally, we didn’t find a setting for the rather popular pull-down gesture on the Home screen, which is supposed to bring down the notification shade or the so-called Control Panel. This one seems reserved for the global search, so you have to perform some finger gymnastics to reach the status bar and pull down one of the two panels.

Anyway, we found most of the multi-tasking options we tried on HarmonyOS to be available here as well. Swiping from the left or right side of the screen and holding it for a second brings out the so-called Multi-window dock. You can arrange apps to your liking or search for a specific one and open it in a small window. You can keep multiple apps opened at the same time, but only one remains in the foreground. The others are docked and can be summoned from there.

Multi-window and floating window features - Huawei nova 9 review
Multi-window and floating window features - Huawei nova 9 review
Multi-window and floating window features - Huawei nova 9 review

Multi-window and floating window features

Speaking of apps, we found Huawei’s efforts to serve regional software admirable. Once you set up the phone for the first time and create a Huawei account, you will be asked for your region and based on that, EMUI will suggest popular apps in your country. Some of the app suggestions are even placed on the Home screen alongside the pre-installed ones, which are quite a bit. Most of them can be uninstalled, of course, and the suggestions can be turned off if you find them annoying. Oh, we liked the expanded folders feature – you can put various apps in one folder and enlarge the said folder. Similar to Apple’s iOS.

Expandable folders, pre-installed apps and regional suggestions - Huawei nova 9 review
Expandable folders, pre-installed apps and regional suggestions - Huawei nova 9 review

Expandable folders, pre-installed apps and regional suggestions

Customizing the UI is also an option. There’s a wide selection of pre-installed themes and the option to download more. The same sub-menu allows you to tinker with the icons and the Always-on display, which offers a wide selection of images and clock styles. You can make one of your own as well.

UI customizations and AOD - Huawei nova 9 review
UI customizations and AOD - Huawei nova 9 review
UI customizations and AOD - Huawei nova 9 review
UI customizations and AOD - Huawei nova 9 review
UI customizations and AOD - Huawei nova 9 review
UI customizations and AOD - Huawei nova 9 review

UI customizations and AOD

Last, but not least, EMUI 12 employs the neat productivity and connectivity options HarmonyOS has to offer, namely the Device+ feature. It can be found in the Control Panel by default and offers easy connection and file sharing with your MatePad and MateBook. Multi-screen setup mirrors the screen of the phone on your tablet or notebook for uninterrupted workflow without touching the handset. You can use the latter to cast content on compatible TVs as well.

Now to address the elephant in the room – the lack of Google Mobile Services and app support. The former is going to be more problematic for most as a lot of apps use Google’s Services to operate. That’s why we couldn’t run the standalone YouTube app, Google Maps or the Chrome browser.

If you can’t find an app on the Huawei AppGallery, you can sideload it from APKPure, APKMirror and Amazon’s app store, to name a few alternative app repositories. AppGallery’s so-called Petal search can search across those websites automatically. Sure, it’s a bit cumbersome, but it’s the best we got.

There are tons of ads promoting apps inside the AppGallery app, but that’s rather understandable – developers need wider adoption of their software, and Huawei is offering ways to get exposure.

However, we can’t say we’re fans of the full-screen ads that appear when launching AppGallery.

Despite all of these workarounds, the missing Google Mobile Services are something that’s hard to swallow in Western Markets. Everyone is already used to using Google Play Store’s apps, and many apps rely on GMS to begin with.

So Huawei is in a rather tight spot, having to battle user habits on one hand and then trying to entice developers to adopt their Huawei Mobile Services on the other hand. It’s a tall task, especially amidst the US limitations on using 5G technology and the general chipset shortages.

Performance

The Snapdragon 778G used inside the nova 9 is based on the TSMC’s 6nm N6 manufacturing process and employs an octa-core CPU and an Adreno 642L GPU for graphically intensive tasks. The CPU consists of three clusters 1x 2.4 GHz Kryo 670 Prime (Cortex-A78), 3x 2.4 GHz Kryo 670 Gold (Cortex-A78) and 4x 1.8 GHz Kryo 670 Silver (Cortex-A55).

The Huawei nova 9 comes in two flavors – 8GB/128GB and 8GB/256GB with no microSD card slot for expansion. Of course, we ran the usual set of synthetic benchmarks to see how it ranks against competitors and if there are any significant deviations from the already tested Snapdragon 778G-powered devices in our database.

GeekBench 5 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi 11i
    3641
  • Realme GT 5G
    3555
  • Huawei nova 9
    2973
  • Motorola Moto G100
    2860
  • Xiaomi 11T
    2834
  • Xiaomi 11 Lite 5G NE
    2832
  • OnePlus Nord CE 5G
    1812
  • Samsung Galaxy A72
    1627
  • Google Pixel 5a 5G
    1337

GeekBench 5 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • Realme GT 5G
    1139
  • Xiaomi Mi 11i
    1114
  • Motorola Moto G100
    950
  • Xiaomi 11 Lite 5G NE
    787
  • Huawei nova 9
    784
  • Xiaomi 11T
    742
  • OnePlus Nord CE 5G
    641
  • Google Pixel 5a 5G
    574
  • Samsung Galaxy A72
    537

AnTuTu 9

Higher is better

  • Realme GT 5G
    810433
  • Xiaomi Mi 11i
    779481
  • Motorola Moto G100
    681559
  • Xiaomi 11T
    590837
  • Xiaomi 11 Lite 5G NE
    527663
  • Huawei nova 9
    469798
  • OnePlus Nord CE 5G
    391770
  • Google Pixel 5a 5G
    373168
  • Samsung Galaxy A72
    333668

GFX Car Chase ES 3.1 (offscreen 1080p)

Higher is better

  • Realme GT 5G
    65
  • Motorola Moto G100
    56
  • Xiaomi 11T
    47
  • Huawei nova 9
    33
  • Xiaomi 11 Lite 5G NE
    33
  • Google Pixel 5a 5G
    21
  • OnePlus Nord CE 5G
    19
  • Samsung Galaxy A72
    17

GFX Car Chase ES 3.1 (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Realme GT 5G
    55
  • Motorola Moto G100
    47
  • Xiaomi 11T
    40
  • Huawei nova 9
    28
  • Xiaomi 11 Lite 5G NE
    28
  • Google Pixel 5a 5G
    19
  • OnePlus Nord CE 5G
    17
  • Samsung Galaxy A72
    15

3DMark Wild Life Vulkan 1.1 (offscreen 1440p)

Higher is better

  • Realme GT 5G
    5872
  • Xiaomi 11T
    4172
  • Motorola Moto G100
    4114
  • Huawei nova 9
    2503
  • Xiaomi 11 Lite 5G NE
    2477
  • Google Pixel 5a 5G
    1674
  • OnePlus Nord CE 5G
    1103
  • Samsung Galaxy A72
    1031

As expected, there are no major differences between other Snapdragon 778G handsets but the phone struggles against the majority of the competition. In this price range, it’s rather easy to find phones running Dimensity 1200 SoC or a Snapdragon 888/870, and as you can see, the Snapdragon 778G is no match for those.

Four cameras on the back lead by a 50MP main sensor

Huawei doesn’t advertise the sensor types used on the nova 9, but we discovered that they are using a high-end 50MP Sony IMX766 1/1.56″ sensor with 1.0µm pixels behind the f/1.9 lens. The same unit can be found on the Oppo Find X3 Pro, albeit with a more sophisticated lens.

Huawei nova 9 review

The ultrawide camera relies on a more common 8MP 1/4.0″ sensor joined by an f/2.2 lens. The other two cameras are for depth sensing and macro photography, both 2MP with f/2.4 apertures.

The selfie camera is 32MP, 0.8µm pixels, f/2.0 aperture and going by previous experience with such configuration, the sensor size should be 1/2.8″.

Camera software

The default camera app is no different from any other Android camera software – the main modes are arranged in a carousel formation, and you can switch between them with a swipe. There’s a More sub-menu housing the rest of the modes. The general settings menu is in the upper-right corner of the viewfinder.

Default camera app - Huawei nova 9 review
Default camera app - Huawei nova 9 review
Default camera app - Huawei nova 9 review
Default camera app - Huawei nova 9 review
Default camera app - Huawei nova 9 review
Default camera app - Huawei nova 9 review

Default camera app

A Pro mode is also available giving you full control over the main camera’s focus, ISO, shutter speed, exposure and white balance.

Daylight samples

Main camera

When it came to daylight photos, these are not very competitive for the price range, but they are quite okay.

What struck us the most is that the autofocus is inconsistent, and we would sometimes get photos that are less than ideally sharp. Except for these, the nova 9 generally outputs nice and pleasant photos, which are nice and sharp.

12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/2770s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3356s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/2933s - Huawei nova 9 review

12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/2315s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3891s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3401s - Huawei nova 9 review

12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5376s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5000s - Huawei nova 9 review

12.5MP main camera samples

Dynamic range is more than adequate as even challenging conditions couldn’t ruin the shadow/highlight balance. Colors are also pleasant – a bit saturated but definitely not over the top. And we didn’t notice any noise at all.

12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/4255s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5155s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/4785s - Huawei nova 9 review

12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/1942s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/4132s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3509s - Huawei nova 9 review

12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3257s - Huawei nova 9 review
12.5MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 160, 1/50s - Huawei nova 9 review

12.5MP main camera samples

Going for the 50MP AI mode won’t give you any benefits beyond the more natural processing, which, however, is hard to appreciate on the phone’s screen.

50MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5587s - Huawei nova 9 review
50MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5155s - Huawei nova 9 review
50MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/4348s - Huawei nova 9 review

50MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5236s - Huawei nova 9 review
50MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5263s - Huawei nova 9 review
50MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/4975s - Huawei nova 9 review

50MP main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3584s - Huawei nova 9 review

50MP main camera samples

2x zoom

We tried the 2x zoom photos, and they are par for the course. They appear to be cropped and upscaled to 12MP from the regular camera photos.

2x zoom samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5319s - Huawei nova 9 review
2x zoom samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5814s - Huawei nova 9 review
2x zoom samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/5236s - Huawei nova 9 review

2x zoom samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/765s - Huawei nova 9 review
2x zoom samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/1698s - Huawei nova 9 review
2x zoom samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3460s - Huawei nova 9 review

2x zoom samples - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/4505s - Huawei nova 9 review

2x zoom samples

Ultrawide camera

The ultrawide’s performance, although not great, is still in line with what most competitors have to offer. The images are somewhat soft and lack detail upon close examination. The contrast could be better, too, and color reproduction is largely different from the main camera’s.

Ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/1361s - Huawei nova 9 review
Ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/2247s - Huawei nova 9 review
Ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/2183s - Huawei nova 9 review

Ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/2770s - Huawei nova 9 review
Ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/2119s - Huawei nova 9 review
Ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/2494s - Huawei nova 9 review

Ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/940s - Huawei nova 9 review
Ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 50, 1/1074s - Huawei nova 9 review

Ultrawide camera samples

On a more positive note, there’s no color fringing, and the algorithm keeps the barrel distortion in check.

Low-light samples

Main camera

The nighttime performance of the main camera is nice at first glance but, again, lacks consistency. Some photos appeared inexplicably out of focus.

Other than that, we are impressed by the amount of detail resolved in the shadows as well as the well-contained highlights. The nighttime colors are quite vivid as well.

Low-light main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 1600, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 1600, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 800, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review

Low-light main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 500, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 400, 1/33s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 500, 1/33s - Huawei nova 9 review

Low-light main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 400, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 400, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review

Low-light main camera samples

Switching on the Night mode won’t net you much better results. There’s minimal to no difference between the standard Photo and the dedicated Night mode. The latter might get the highlights in check and improve sharpness by a little but not enough to make the images comparable to the competition.

Night mode main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 1000, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Night mode main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 1000, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Night mode main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 1000, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review

Night mode main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 640, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Night mode main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 500, 1/33s - Huawei nova 9 review
Night mode main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 500, 1/33s - Huawei nova 9 review

Night mode main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 500, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Night mode main camera samples - f/1.9, ISO 800, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review

Night mode main camera samples

We would even go as far as saying that the wait time for the Night mode just isn’t worth it. That time is better off invested in a couple of standard Photo mode shots and making sure the focus is right. You will increase your chance of getting a non-mushy nighttime picture.

2x zoom camera

The cropped 2x zoom photos are acceptable and look very good on the phone’s screen, but they don’t look hold up to scrutiny, as they are very soft and lack fine detail. The absence of noise, however, is pretty impressive, especially for cropped images.

Low-light 2x zoom samples: Normal - f/1.9, ISO 400, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light 2x zoom samples: Night mode - f/1.9, ISO 800, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light 2x zoom samples: Normal - f/1.9, ISO 400, 1/33s - Huawei nova 9 review

Low-light 2x zoom samples: Night mode - f/1.9, ISO 500, 1/33s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light 2x zoom samples: Normal - f/1.9, ISO 400, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light 2x zoom samples: Night mode - f/1.9, ISO 800, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review

Low-light 2x zoom samples: Normal • Night mode

Ultrawide camera

Nighttime snaps by the ultrawide camera are again quite soft and have plenty of noise, however, they look good on the phone’s screen due to the good tonal development. Zooming further than that reveals how soft and mushy the fine details are.

Low-light ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 3200, 1/17s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 3200, 1/17s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 3200, 1/17s - Huawei nova 9 review

Low-light ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 3200, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 3200, 1/17s - Huawei nova 9 review
Low-light ultrawide camera samples - f/2.2, ISO 3200, 1/20s - Huawei nova 9 review

Low-light ultrawide camera samples

Here’s how the primary camera on the Huawei nova 9 stacks against the rest of the competition in the controlled environment of our Photo Compare Tool.

Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool

Huawei nova 9 vs. Xiaomi 11T and the Samsung Galaxy A72 in our Photo compare tool

Portraits

Portraits are a mixed bag – most of them look sharp with natural colors, wide dynamic range and lots of fine detail. Although, some may come out soft again. The biggest issue, however, is the edge detection and the faux bokeh effect.

Portrait samples: Super - f/1.9, ISO 500, 1/25s - Huawei nova 9 review
Portrait samples: Circles - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3205s - Huawei nova 9 review
Portrait samples: Super - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/699s - Huawei nova 9 review

Portrait samples: Circles - f/4.0, ISO 50, 1/631s - Huawei nova 9 review
Portrait samples: Super - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/140s - Huawei nova 9 review
Portrait samples: Circles - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/132s - Huawei nova 9 review

Portrait samples: Super - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/1698s - Huawei nova 9 review
Portrait samples: Circles - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/1698s - Huawei nova 9 review
Portrait samples: Super - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3663s - Huawei nova 9 review

Portrait samples: Circles - f/1.9, ISO 50, 1/3509s - Huawei nova 9 review
Portrait samples: Super - f/1.9, ISO 100, 1/50s - Huawei nova 9 review
Portrait samples: Circles - f/1.9, ISO 100, 1/50s - Huawei nova 9 review

Portrait samples: Super - f/1.9, ISO 250, 1/100s - Huawei nova 9 review
Portrait samples: Circles - f/1.9, ISO 250, 1/100s - Huawei nova 9 review

Portrait samples: Super • Circles

Firstly, you don’t have a regular blurred background, so you have to choose between different styles. Of all the modes we’ve tried, the so-called Super and Circles effects produced the best results. And even then, the blur turned out to be too strong. Secondly, the edge detection is a bit rough around the edges, literally. The software fails to blur out objects in the foreground as well. All in all, the faux bokeh isn’t very convincing. Switching off the effects entirely would just snap a standard photo.

Selfies

Selfies turned out to be pretty good. They seem sharp enough, and the 32MP camera resolves quite a bit of fine detail. The dynamic range is wide, the subject’s face is always well-exposed, and colors seem close to natural. We are even surprised by the Portrait mode’s dynamic range as HDR isn’t disabled in this setting. Most of the time, HDR isn’t active on portrait selfies.

Selfies: Normal - f/2.0, ISO 160, 1/50s - Huawei nova 9 review
Selfies: Portrait - f/2.0, ISO 160, 1/50s - Huawei nova 9 review
Selfies: Normal - f/2.0, ISO 160, 1/60s - Huawei nova 9 review

Selfies: Portrait - f/2.0, ISO 160, 1/60s - Huawei nova 9 review
Selfies: Normal - f/2.0, ISO 160, 1/60s - Huawei nova 9 review
Selfies: Portrait - f/2.0, ISO 160, 1/60s - Huawei nova 9 review

Selfies: Normal - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/3067s - Huawei nova 9 review
Selfies: Portrait - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/3300s - Huawei nova 9 review
Selfies: Normal - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/523s - Huawei nova 9 review

Selfies: Portrait - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/500s - Huawei nova 9 review
Selfies: Normal - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/128s - Huawei nova 9 review
Selfies: Portrait - f/2.0, ISO 50, 1/126s - Huawei nova 9 review

Selfies: Normal • Portrait

Video recording

The handset records videos of up to 2160p@30fps while the cinematic mode with a 21:9 ratio is capped at 1080p, understandably.

To our surprise, the ultrawide camera can also record 4K videos, even though the sensor’s resolution is just 8MP. Some upscaling is possible. But let’s start with the main camera first.

The footage seems a bit too soft for 2160p, has a tad lower contrast than we would like. We definitely expected more from the main camera’s 4K videos.

The ultrawide’s 4K video is softer and has washed-out colors.

Stabilization, on the other hand, is downright impressive. No matter if you are running or just walking slowly, the software picks up every vibration. And it does so perfectly even at 2160p resolution. Take a look at the two sample clips below – the first one is normal walking, the second one involves some running.

Once you are done with the real-life scenarios, take a look at our video compare tool to see how the Huawei nova 9 stacks against the other phones we’ve reviewed.
Unfortunately, the nova 9 appears unable to focus properly in close ranges, and all of the video samples appear out of focus. This is something we’d definitely revisit.

Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool

2160p: Huawei nova 9 vs. Xiaomi 11T and the Samsung Galaxy A72 in our Video compare tool

Competition

The Huawei nova 9 sounds good on paper. It has a catchy design with unique attributes, curved flagship-grade screen, speedy 66W charging and a modern Snapdragon 778G chipset, although without the 5G part. That might not be such a big deal-breaker considering the poor 5G coverage in Europe anyway. Sadly, at €499 starting price, the appeal of the phone crumbles because pretty much all phones with a Snapdragon 778G run below the €400 mark.

Huawei nova 9 review

The first alternatives to spring to mind are the Xiaomi 11i and the 11T. The former costs about as much while the 11T is even cheaper at around €450. They are both very similar phones with brighter displays, more powerful SoCs, have ingress protection, boast stereo speakers and are better photographers too.

Xiaomi Mi 11i
Xiaomi 11T
Realme GT 5G
Samsung Galaxy A72

Xiaomi Mi 11i • Xiaomi 11T • Realme GT 5G • Samsung Galaxy A72

Next on the list, we’ve got a flagship killer costing €450 – the Realme GT 5G. It has all the bells and whistles like the rest – flagship SoC, great display, fast charging, big battery and although not as good as the Xiaomi’s, the GT is still a better cameraphone than the nova 9.

Speaking of cameraphones, the Samsung Galaxy A72 is probably right up there with the best in its class, camera-wise. It even has a proper telephoto camera with 3x zoom and OIS. The ultrawide is 12MP with 123-degree field of view – way better than most phones in this price bracket. Great display, a nice set of stereo speakers, and extra long battery life may be enough to compensate for the lack of a powerful chipset. The nova 9’s raw horsepower is the only real advantage over the Snapdragon 720G-powered Galaxy A72.

Verdict

We can’t overlook the elephant in the room – the lack of Google Mobile Services on the nova 9 specs sheet. However, as our review progressed, we learned this is not its only shortcoming, far from it.

The nova 9 has a sub-par camera performance; similarly priced rivals run considerably more powerful SoCs, all the while Huawei’s contender fails to impress with battery endurance. Stereo speakers and ingress protection are also popular features in the price bracket that the nova 9 fails to deliver. The slick and lightweight design and good display won’t be enough to attract enough buyers.

If Huawei’s handset was priced lower, it might have gotten our recommendation, but for now, your hard-earned money would be spent better elsewhere. Unless you are reading this review a couple of months after it’s been published, in which case the nova 9 might be in a more advantageous position price-wise.

Pros

  • Slim and lightweight design, curved screen.
  • Bright, fast, 10-bit OLED display.
  • Competitive fast charging solution.

Cons

  • Underwhelming camera performance.
  • More powerful alternatives for the same or lower price.
  • Lacks Google Mobile Services.
  • No ingress protection, no stereo speakers.
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