HUAWEI nova 4 review — could probably do with more grunt under the hood
The HUAWEI nova 4 brings a wide-angle camera, more RAM and the new Punch FullView display to the mid-range HUAWEI nova family, It does retain last year's Kirin 970 chipset though which is probably its biggest stumbling block.
+ Understated black design looks pretty cool
+ Good battery life
+ Punch FullView display is a nice touch for a higher screen-to-body ratio
+ Wide angle camera brings something new to the table
- No support for external storage
- Poor performance in all the benchmarks versus more affordable devices from last year
- Cameras falters in low light
- Too expensive for what it offers
The HUAWEI nova smartphones are the mid-range family in the HUAWEI lineup. Unlike the more premium HUAWEI Mate and HUAWEI P-series, the HUAWEI nova is designed to appeal to a younger crowd. Perhaps that’s why the HUAWEI nova 4 comes with a “Perfect Angle Selfie” in-screen front-facing camera that might seem very familiar if you have seen the HONOR View20. These two devices actually look quite similar, but the HUAWEI nova 4 does have a number of differences which sets it apart from the HONOR flagship. How does the differences affect the HUAWEI nova 4, and does it give the HUAWEI device an edge, or vice versa? Let’s see.
The contents of the box are pretty much what you would expect for the price. You get a HUAWEI Quick Charge adapter, a pair of basic earbuds and a TPU case. Also as you can see we got a Black HUAWEI nova 4. Yeah, the official name of this color is just Black. No fancy names here.
As HUAWEI moves away from the notch in favor of the Punch FullView display, you get less bezels and more screen area. If you want to hide it, HUAWEI even includes a number of wallpapers which darken the area near the in-screen camera’s hole. It looks no different from the HONOR View20 from the front.
Once we look at the back, there’s where the difference starts. HUAWEI reused the design from the HUAWEI P20 Pro, with two cameras paired together, and a third lens separated from the duo. Of course, the hardware here is vastly different, but more on that later. The finishing is just a deep, lustrous black, without any fancy reflective effects baked in.
HUAWEI used polished metal on the sides. This is in stark contrast to the HONOR View20’s more practical matte finishing. It matches the deep black finishing on the back, with the back blending into the sides almost as if they are hewn from the very same material.
A USB Type-C port ought to keep the picky smartphone enthusiasts happy. I wish HUAWEI took the opportunity to create a symmetrical design with more perforations over the microphone as well, but they didn’t. Over on the top you will see the increasingly endangered 3.5mm jack.
|CPU/Chipset:||Kirin 970 (4 x Cortex-A73 @ 2.36 GHz + 4 x Cortex-A53 @ 1.8 GHz), 10nm FinFET|
|GPU:||Mali-G72MP12 @ 746 MHz|
|Display:||6.4″ FHD+ (2310 x 1080) LTPS LCD display|
|Storage:||128GB UFS 2.1|
20MP f/1.8 + 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle + 2MP f/2.4 depth sensor
Super Night Mode, AI Video Expert, Portrait mode
AI beautification, AI HDR, Portrait mode
|OS:||EMUI 9 based on Android 9 Pie|
|Connectivity:||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 GHz + 5 GHz)|
|Battery:||Li-Po 3750 mAh (non-removable)|
18W HUAWEI Quick Charge fast charging
|Dimensions:||157 x 75.1 x 7.77 mm|
HUAWEI in all their wisdom decided to reserve the Kirin 980 chipset for their flagship lineups only, despite marketing the HUAWEI nova 4 with the tagline “Flagship Performance”. The Kirin 970 is no slouch, but it pales in comparison to anything that dares to call itself a flagship in 2019. Let’s see just how does it fare against the 2018 and early-2019 flagships.
The HUAWEI nova 4 performs a bit slower than the honor Play, but that’s somewhat expected after they removed the built-in performance mode in the latest EMUI 9 update.
CPU performance seems to have taken a small dip too. Unfortunately the HUAWEI nova 4 just hangs back while we see more affordable “flagship-class” devices are closer to the top.
GPU performance is quite low, especially in the Sling Shot (ES 3.0) run. We also see a huge drop from the honor Play but it should still be a pretty great.
PCMark sees the HUAWEI nova 4 perform better than the honor Play in both the performance metric…
…as well as the battery life metric. It’s still worth mentioning that most of yesteryear’s flagship performs better than the HUAWEI nova 4. Even the ZenFone 5z and Mi 8 which have much smaller batteries.
I managed to squeeze out more than 5 hours SOT from the phone, which was pretty good in my books. Recharging gives me 30% back in 30 minutes. The 18W HUAWEI Quick Charge adapter supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge as well, and I tested it with my POCOPHONE F1 and it did charge faster, so that’s a cool hidden feature there.
With a glossy glass back and a glossy metal frame, the HUAWEI nova 4 sits very well in my hand with a decent amount of grip. It does collect fingerprints though, with the whole device covered in fingerprints in less than a few hours of use. The screen is good. Vibrant, bright and the best part is that the in-screen camera is quite unobtrusive, despite our initial reservations towards a hole in the screen.
Audio quality from the loudspeaker isn’t impressive. There’s no stereo audio, and the bottom one isn’t exactly a great one. So if you want to listen to some music or what not, you would do well to put on some earphones, and save the people around you from having to suffer from your bad taste in music.
EMUI 9 is present here, which is nice to see in a “mid-range” device. It’s quite easy to use, but it does look dated. It shares the same general appearance with EMUI 5 which was introduced way back in 2016, so it is definitely due for a refresh. Hopefully the HUAWEI P30 will bring the refresh HUAWEI dearly needs in its UI.
The camera UI has received its fair share of updates and changes. It has the standard AI button, which does a lot more than just boost contrast and vividness, and of course, the option to switch between the cameras. It’s a bit less fiddly here because there is no zoom option, so a single tap gives you the wide angle lens and another gives you the standard lens back.
Image quality in general is okay-ish. There’s an apparent lack of detail when we zoom in especially in low light, but the overall image does still look quite usable thanks to HUAWEI’s exemplary processing. The wide angle shooter delivers a similar experience, as it is not great in low light. In good lighting the cameras do a decent job but you don’t get the impressive macro capabilities brought about by adding autofocus to the ultra-wide camera HUAWEI introduced with the HUAWEI Mate 20 series. You can check out the full resolution camera samples on my Flickr here.
The HUAWEI nova 4 is an interesting upgrade over last generation’s HUAWEI nova 3. There’s the new camera, new display and more RAM. And HUAWEI is still charging the same price for both devices.
RM1899 isn’t exactly a steep price for HUAWEI at this point. It however pales in comparison to its competition. We don’t even have to look far. Back then the HUAWEI nova series were justified by their multiple front cameras, but now you have the HONOR View20 which offer a better chipset and a better camera for just RM100 more. The Kirin 970 wasn’t really a great performer at launch, and a year on the situation has just worsened.
If you are still interested in a HUAWEI nova device, you might do well to wait for the HUAWEI nova 4e which might be coming really soon.
Our thanks to HUAWEI Malaysia for provisioning a unit of the HUAWEI nova 4 for our review.