Review: Huawei Nova 9

Review: Huawei Nova 9 - If the Huawei Nova 9 had Google services, it would be a decent mid-range device.

Huawei’s smartphone business collapsed in Europe after the restrictions imposed by the US administration. The company, which was once one of the most powerful players in the market and a trendsetter, especially in the field of photography, now holds a symbolic market share. It’s worth remembering that the manufacturer is not only dealing with the US ban but also with supply chain issues affecting all producers.

Due to these market challenges, Huawei is unable to produce its own processors – the excellent Kirin chips. Consequently, the Nova 9 operates on the mid-range Snapdragon 778 with the 5G module disabled. This condition allows the US manufacturer to sell chips to the Chinese company.

Regarding software, a while back, Huawei proudly announced the development of its Harmony OS, intended to run on all its devices. However, the Nova 9 still uses the familiar EMUI, an Android overlay, specifically version 11 without access to Google services. Software was a major concern for me with this phone. It comes with a slew of pre-installed apps that demand permissions and frequent pop-up ads. Additionally, apps are installed from Huawei’s AppGallery or other sources through the Petal search engine. Huawei itself warns us that we’re installing apps at our own risk. Credit to the company, though – this method allows us to install many popular apps.

Of course, the Nova 9 has its merits, like an excellent display, decent performance, and fast charging. However, apart from the software, there are several hardware flaws and weaknesses. And all of this comes at a price that’s higher than other smartphones with the same processor but featuring 5G support and Google services.

The cherry on top is the recently introduced Honor 50, which looks exactly like the Nova 9, operates on the same processor, and has an identical camera setup. But since Honor is now officially independent from Huawei, it has full access to Google services. I’m incredibly curious to see if Honor can introduce this phone to the market. Will future Honor smartphones also mirror Huawei devices but with access to Google?

Huawei Nova 9

Main Pros and Cons of Huawei Nova 9:

Pros of Huawei Nova 9:

  • Excellent AMOLED display
  • Refresh rate up to 120 Hz
  • Outstanding low-light photo quality
  • Fast 66W charging
  • Good overall performance

Cons of Huawei Nova 9:

  • Lack of Google services
  • No 5G support
  • High price
  • Mono speaker
  • Missing IP68 water resistance
  • No wireless charging
  • Complex software experience
  • Netflix and Amazon Prime limited to SD quality

Design Evaluation 

The rear panel boasts an intriguing finish. The back is matte and slightly textured, reflecting light beautifully and resisting fingerprint smudges. While the material used isn’t explicitly stated by the manufacturer, it’s believed that the back is glass and the frame is plastic. Other sources omit this aspect, but I’d lean toward high-quality plastic. Regardless, the design is aesthetically pleasing and durable; I used the Nova 9 without a case. For those interested, cases can be found in the box.

The camera island is distinctive (excluding the Honor 50). It consists of two circles – one housing the primary lens and the other containing the remaining three lenses and an LED flash.

On the bottom edge, there’s a slot for two SIM cards; however, there’s no option for expandable memory. Next to it, you’ll find a USB-C port and a single loudspeaker that produces clear sound, though competitors in this price range often offer stereo sound.

The right side features the power and volume control buttons.

The Nova 9 is lightweight, tipping the scales at 175 g, with dimensions of 160 x 73.7 x 7.8 mm. Its rounded edges contribute to a comfortable grip.

Please note that some content, such as specific measurements, might have been paraphrased for clarity and coherence.

Huawei Nova 9

What do we think about the display?

The front features a curved OLED panel with a diagonal of 6.57 inches. The resolution is FHD+ 1080 x 2340 pixels, resulting in a pixel density of 392 PPI. The aspect ratio is 19.5:9. It supports HDR10 and has a refresh rate of up to 120 Hz. There’s a protective film attached to it from the start.

In the settings, you can lower the resolution to HD to save energy, select the refresh rate (60 Hz, 120 Hz, or dynamic settings), adjust color mode and temperature.

The quality of the displayed image is excellent. I had no issues using the phone in bright sunlight. In such situations, the Nova 9 clearly boosts the brightness to counteract a slight grayness in black areas, a common occurrence among other manufacturers as well. The minimum brightness is comfortable, and the phone is easy on the eyes.

The curved screen is a matter of debate. It looks nice, but sometimes reflections occur due to the curvature. This aspect comes down to individual user preferences, as there are no substantial benefits beyond aesthetics.

The fingerprint reader is placed under the screen and works well, as does the face unlock feature.

Specifications, Operating System

The Huawei Nova 9 features the Snapdragon 778G 4G (4×2.4 GHz Kryo 670; 4×1.8 GHz Kryo 670) with Adreno 642L graphics, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB or 256 GB of ROM.

In the AnTuTu Benchmark, the phone scored 466,444 points. It operates swiftly and smoothly, and it’s difficult to find fault in this regard, except for the lack of 5G support.

Call quality is very good, and navigation works excellently. I was pleasantly surprised by the pre-installed Petal Maps, powered by TomTom. They guided me on routes better than Google Maps on several occasions. They’re available in Polish and have no noticeable issues. NFC is also available, but more on payments in a moment.

The connectivity package includes: LTE, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC. The sensor array consists of: accelerometer, proximity, light, magnetometer, gyroscope, gravity, and fingerprint reader. Localization is achieved through: GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo, QZSS, NavIC.

The issue arises with the software. EMUI 12 overlays Android 11. The app store is AppGallery. However, there’s also the Petal search engine, which leads to alternative sources like APKPure. When installing apps, the phone checks the file and notifies us if any threats are found before we proceed with the installation.

Huawei Nova 9

This way, you can download apps like Spotify, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. There are actually quite a lot of available apps. You can set up Gmail as a mail client for Huawei, so there’s no issue there either.

AppGallery hosts many banking apps, including Curve, which allows you to connect cards from various banks for mobile payments. This addresses one of the significant past drawbacks of Huawei smartphones without Google services.

However, it doesn’t mean that every app will be there. For instance, popular apps like Slack and many others might not be available. Therefore, it’s better to check before purchasing whether the Huawei ecosystem plus Google, apart from the Play Store, offers what you need and are accustomed to. Huawei also strives to make app installation as straightforward as possible, but it’s incomparable to the simplicity of the Play Store.

Furthermore, I was bothered by the multitude of different pre-installed apps on the phone. We have My Center, Films, Books, Link Now, Petal Clips, My Huawei, Wallet, and Tips. Each requires logging in, and most come with purchase offers and advertisements. In my opinion, it’s just chaotic. For me, it’s too much, but of course, someone else might not find it bothersome at all.

Huawei Nova 9Huawei Nova 9

Huawei Nova 9

How’s the camera performance and video recording?

The camera setup includes:

  • Main lens: 50 MP, f/1.9, 23mm, PDAF, RYYB sensor
  • Ultra-wide angle: 8 MP, f/2.2
  • Depth sensor: 2 MP, f/2.4
  • Macro lens: 2 MP, f/2.4
  • Selfie camera: 32 MP, f/2.0

A few years ago, Huawei injected new life into the somewhat stagnant world of mobile photography. As a result, other manufacturers had to step up their game, and today, virtually every flagship or mid-range smartphone takes photos of very good quality. That’s why my expectations were set quite high. However, the reality is that the Nova 9 falls far short of the top tier in smartphone photography. It’s firmly in the mid-range category and not even at the top of that range.

Huawei Nova 9

However, Huawei’s strength still lies in its night photography. This is largely due to the RYYB color filter (red, yellow, yellow, blue) instead of the traditional RGGB (red, green, green, blue). Huawei was the first to implement this solution years ago. In simple terms, it allows the lens to capture more light, resulting in brighter nighttime photos. The same applies to the Nova 9 – there’s nothing to complain about when it comes to night shots. It’s a pity, though, that this mode is only available for the main lens (including zoom shots) and not the ultra-wide angle.

Noticeable is the heavy post-processing of the photos as well. Often, you can see this right after saving a photo in the gallery; it suddenly becomes more contrasted, and colors shift slightly. It’s as if the processor struggles to keep up in real-time. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the photos are bad, but their final appearance might differ from what was initially seen. This also implies that the camera adds a lot “on its own,” regardless of whether AI is on or off, and they lack a certain natural quality. However, for those who heavily edit their photos afterward, there won’t be much to do here in terms of editing.

Another thing that caught my attention is the colossal difference between photos taken with the main lens and the ultra-wide angle. The former are strong and vibrant, while the latter can appear washed out in terms of color. It can vary, though, as the effect isn’t consistent. In other words, sometimes photos from both lenses are similar, while other times they’re completely different, making it difficult to discern a pattern.

The 2 MP macro lens is rather lackluster, but the selfie camera provides good quality. The portrait mode performs well, delivering a nicely blurred background and accurately cut foreground subject.

When it comes to video recording, you can capture footage at the highest resolution of 4K 30 FPS both on the front and rear cameras. Electronic stabilization works excellently at FHD resolution, and slightly less so at 4K, but it’s still quite good. Audio is captured well.

Sample photos:

Huawei Nova 9

Huawei Nova 9

Huawei Nova 9

Huawei Nova 9

Huawei Nova 9

Huawei Nova 9

How long does the battery last?

The battery has a capacity of 4300 mAh, sufficient for a day of intensive usage or two days of light work with adaptive screen refresh enabled. With the 66W charger, you can recharge it very quickly – around half an hour from 10% to full and 38 minutes from completely empty. Unfortunately, wireless charging is not available.

Huawei Nova 9

Our Final Verdict

If the Huawei Nova 9 had Google services, it would be a decent mid-range device. At its current price, it’s a bit on the expensive side, considering that you can easily find cheaper competing smartphones with the same or even more powerful processors. However, it’s still worth considering. Nonetheless, purchasing this device in this price without Google services seems counterproductive in my opinion. The phone doesn’t even have the strong argument of above-average photo quality, which has always been the company’s hallmark. If Huawei had priced cheeper, it might have sparked more interest. At its current price, it doesn’t seem sensible, and waiting for a significant price reduction might be a better option.

We love: the display

We don’t like: the lack of Google services

Who the Huawei Nova 9 is for:

  • People who don’t want/need Google services
  • Die-hard brand enthusiasts

Who the Huawei Nova 9 is not for:

  • People who rely on the Google ecosystem
  • People who need stereo speakers
  • People who need excellent photo quality
  • People who need wireless charging
  • Those requiring waterproofing