Goondu review: Huawei Nova 5T

September 5th, 2019 | by Wilson Wong
Goondu review: Huawei Nova 5T
The Nova 5T in Blue Crush, Black and Midsummer Purple. Only the Midsummer Purple has the new Nova insignia design at the back. PHOTO: Handout

With Huawei’s latest flagship coming later this month, the launch of the Nova 5T comes as an early surprise.

The Nova series from Huawei is its own mid-budget range of smartphones that aim to give the best specification at half the price of its own flagship phones.  

The Nova 5T’s specification list is certainly impressive. It comes with the flagship-level Kirin 980 CPU and Mali-G76 GPU and has dual neural-network processing unit for AI applications.

You also get a good 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space. From my experience with the phone, it works equally well compared to the more expensive P30 Pro.

There was no apparent lag even when using the phone with popular apps, which is not a surprise given that the P30 Pro has the same setup.

The IPS LCD Full HD screen may not be the best but it does the job well in all lighting conditions. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The Nova 5T comes with a 6.26-inch IPS LCD panel at FHD+ resolution. Even though this is not the same as the OLED on the P30 Pro, many users on a budget would be happy to with live with it, because it may not be seen as a big step down.

For image viewing though, the LCD panel on the Nova 5T comes out cooler with a blue tint over the images. It is great for text but photos do not look as punchy.

Looks-wise, the Nova 5T reminds one of Huawei’s P30. It has the camera cut-outs, graduated colour back and reflective fingerprint-inducing mirror back. It lacks a bit of the heft as compared to the other Huawei flagships but at 174g it does not feel cheap either.

This new phone also has an edge-to-edge screen with very slim bezels. The front-facing camera is now housed in a hole punch in the screen, following Honor View 20’s design.

The Nova 5T feels thicker at the sides though but for good reason. It incorporates the fingerprint sensor with the on and off button at the side, a natural position where your thumb will rest while holding the phone.

This reminds me of the Sony flagship smartphones, a standout feature that is more elegant than having the sensor at the back or under the screen.

The fingerprint sensor is now next to the on/off button which works really well as I do not need to scan my thumb elsewhere whenever I pick up the phone. Left handers can simply enrol their left middle finger to unlock the phone. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
Let us mourn the loss of the 3.5mm stereo jack. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The Nova 5T review unit coped well with a full day of heavy usage, thanks to the 3,750mAh battery. While this may not be as high as the Mate 20 Pro’s 4000mAh and P30 Pro’s 4200mAh, the battery capacity should be large enough for most people.

Good news is, you can juice up 50 per cent of the battery in half an hour using the 22.5W SuperCharger when it goes flat.

What I like about this mid-budget phone is the inclusion of some flagship features, like NFC (near-field communication). In Singapore, you can tap the phone to make wireless payment at the cashier or at the subway gantry.

Unfortunately, Huawei has left out some other features, such as wireless charging.

How does the Nova 5T compare to its more expensive siblings in terms of photography, which Huawei has made its strongest selling point of late?

Actually, the Nova 5T has a leg up over the P30 Pro. It now comes with a 48-megapixel sensor with the main camera with a f1.8 aperture lens, a 16-megapixel f2.2 camera for the ultra wide-angle, a 2-megapixel super macro camera and a 2-megapixel Time-of-Flight sensor to create better bokeh effects for portraits.

For the front-facing camera, a good 32-megapixel f2.0 camera will be a godsend to selfie lovers. 

Top row, we have the 2-megapixel ToF camera, the 48-megapixel main camera and 16-megapixel wide-angle camera. The macro camera is placed below the ToF camera. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
The 32-megapixel front-facing camera is located inside the punch hole off the corner of the 6.26-inch LCD screen. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
The selfie camera now comes with a 32-megapixel sensor so I did expect a bit more details. My stubble is very obvious here and even though this is at beauty level 5, it looked quite natural! PHOTO: Wilson Wong
I tried to induce the camera to over expose but things turned out well. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
The skin tone is pretty good actually. Not too warm in this mixed lighting situation inside Amoy Street Hawker Centre. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
Shot this up close with the 48-megapixel sensor. Details came out well and I didn’t need to use the 2-megapixel macro camera. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

If you think the 48-megapixel sensor is overkill, there is more. Under the camera settings, there is a “48MP AI Ultra Clarity” mode. What the camera does is to take allow some computation photography algorithm to work through the image files and produce images that are sharper and smoother at the edges.  

Even though you can have more details and have less of the smudging effect on the pictures, the colour graduation is not as smooth. There is some graininess in the shadows and the photos are darker even in good sunlight. If the photos are used for social media, the increase in sharpness in the details can be seen pretty easily.

I would recommend a tripod to be used along with the smartphone’s AI Ultra Clarity mode to get the most detail out of the camera. If you are a casual shooter, the Nova 5T is more than sufficient for your needs.

If you are looking to shoot handheld night shots with the Nova 5T, the camera in automatic mode does a passable job. Unfortunately, the night mode on the phone often produces images that are too bright for my liking.

You need to use the tripod for the night mode. In this case, I appreciate the Mate 20 Pro and P30 Pro night mode better than the Nova 5T’s.

I took this shot under the stage light at the Esplanade. At 12 megapixels, it looked pretty good on the phone screen. On closer inspection, it still has that watercolour effect and details are lost. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
This is shot at 12 megapixels. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
This is shot at 48 megapixels. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
Show with 48 megapixels Ultra Clarity Mode. The image has become considerably darker. On closer inspection, the details pop out but the noise in the shadow areas is more pronounced perhaps due to the weaker noise reduction algorithm being applied. I would have to tweak this image a bit and apply some noise reduction. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
I have to bear in mind that this is a mid-range phone, so to have a 48-megapixel ultra clarity mode is a bit of a bonus. Looking at the night shot of Marina Bay Sands here, you can say it is pretty good. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
My pet peeve with the Nova 5T is the glowing effect produced by the Night Mode. It is just so bright and presents the gaudy HDR effects of yesteryear. Huawei needs to tone this down a lot. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The one thing that Nova 5T does not have is a headphone jack, something I would still expect to be available on a mid-range phone. As a consolation, there’s a USB-C to a stereo port adapter that comes in the box, so you can still plug in your old headphones.

Unless that’s a deal breaker for you, the Nova 5T is not a bad phone at all. It certainly gives you bang for buck at a reasonable price of S$598, half that of flagship phones today.

And if you are wondering if the Nova 5T is fully supported by Google, the phone comes pre-installed with the Google Play store. I did not have issues cloning or installing any apps.

The Nova 5T is available for pre-order now.


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