New smartphones unveiled! Is Huawei as good as it used to be?

At its October event, Huawei announced smartphones and smartwatches for Europe. atechbook explains whether the Chinese company can thus reassert itself in this country.

It is still on the so-called “Entity List” of companies that are excluded from trade with the US. Nevertheless, Huawei is now bringing two new smartphones to Germany, including the Nova 9. Can it help recapture the European market.

Good screen, visually appealing exterior.

Von außen sieht das Nova wie viele High-End-Android-Smartphones aus. Zum Rand gewölbtes Glas an Vorder- und Rückseite, dünne Displayränder und Punch-Hole-Kamera im Bildschirm. Das um die Kante gebogene “Waterfall”-Display macht zwar optisch was her, ist aber in der Nutzung eher unpraktisch. Nicht nur, weil Text dadurch nicht gut lesbar ist, sondern auch weil Fehleingaben mit der Handfläche keine Seltenheit sind. Das Smartphone ist mit 175 grams Gewicht und 7,77 Millimetern Dicke relativ leicht und flach. Obwohl die Rückseite als Glas ist, fühlt sie sich durch die stark mattierte Oberfläche und das geringe Gewicht eher nach Plastik an. Das Gehäuse hat – entgegen dem Industrie-Trend – keinerlei IP-Rating zum Schutz vor Staub und Wasser.

Der Bildschirm misst 6,57 Zoll in der Diagonale und hat Full-HD+-Resolution (1080 x 2340 Pixel). Das OLED-Panel unterstützt HDR10 für kontrastreiche und helle Bilder. Außerdem hat es eine Bildwiederholrate von 120 Hertz, wodurch es Scrollen, Animationen und Spiele besonders flüssig darstellt. Das Display hat eine Always-on-Funktion.

The Nova 9 looks good
The Huawei Nova 9 makes a visual impression Photo: atechbook

Still without Google apps

A few Huawei apps are preinstalled on the Nova 9 to replace the non-existent Google apps. These include the AppGallery instead of the Play Store, Petal Maps instead of Google Maps, Petal Search instead of Google Search, etc. Besides that, some apps from Microsoft and Snapchat are already installed on the smartphone. In addition, there are several folders like “Entertainment”, “Social” and “Games”, which do not contain any apps, but shortcuts for installing the apps. Overall, the Nova 9 looks quite cluttered, and the so-called “bloatware” does not provide any added value for most users.

The smartphone runs EMUI 12 based on Android 11. Huawei still wants to rely on the EMUI interface in Germany, although more and more users are switching to HarmonyOS on the domestic market in China. However, the company indicated at the presentation of the Nova 9 that EMUI is better suited for European users. HarmonyOS is especially convenient for using multiple Huawei devices, it said.

App search poses risks

Those who already use Android should quickly get to grips with EMUI 12. The menu navigation and system logic hardly differ from other Android smartphones. However, users have to get familiar with Huawei’s Mobile Services (HMS Core), which takes over functions like synchronization, updates, and other services instead of Google Play Services. A Huawei ID is required for use, just like a Google account. You also have to change to the AppGallery for installing apps. Not only are the well-known Google apps not found there. Many other apps that are available in the Play Store are also not available there. In general, the search for apps is quite confusing. You should not only be able to search for apps in the AppGallery, but also in Petal Search. Many apps are not available in the AppGallery, but on websites like “Apkpure”. Petal Search refers to such sites for apps like Instagram. Installing such sites is fine in itself. However, it is potentially dangerous because they are easier targets for phishing scammers. Huawei therefore explicitly states “AppGallery is not responsible for third-party content”. Not exactly a trust sign for users who want to install their favorite apps.

Also interesting: Honor brings Google apps to its smartphones again

Mid-range technology without 5G

Im Huawei Nova 9 steckt ein Snapdragon 778G System-on-a-Chip (SoC ) von Qualcomm. Das SoC ist nicht 5G-fähig, da Huawei nur 4G-fähige Produkte von US-Herstellern kaufen darf. Immerhin ist der Chip relativ leistungsfähig, mit vier hoch getakteten CPU Kernen und vier energieeffizienten kernen. Eine Qualcomm Adreno 642L sorgt für die Grafikleistung, die für Mobile Gaming nötig ist. Das Smartphone kommt mit acht Gigabyte RAM und entweder 128 GB oder 256 GB Memory.

Huawei originally designed its own smartphone chips. However, it lost access to semiconductor manufacturers due to the trade conflict with the US. Since then, the company has only had access to limited quantities of its own products. However, a loophole in the US trade restrictions allows Huawei to buy from the American manufacturer Qualcomm. This is because only the purchase of 5G-capable chips is prohibited. It is true that practically all high-end and mid-range models now support the wireless standard. But Huawei has managed to get them from Qualcomm with 4G capability. For example, the current flagship smartphone P50 Pro has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 without 5G.

Huawei Nova 9
Display 6.57 inch, OLED, 120 Hz, HDR10
Resolution 1080 x 2340 pixels, 392 PPI
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G 4G (6 nm)
Octa-Core (4 x 2.4 GHz Kryo 670 + 4 x 1.8 GHz Kryo 670)
Adreno 642L
Memory 8 GB RAM
128 GB, 256 GB internet Memory
Main camera 50 MP (wide angle), f/1.9, 23 mm, PDAF
8 MP (ultra-wide angle), f/2.2
2 MP (depth sensor), f/2.4
2 MP (macro), f/2.4
Front camera 32 MP, f/2.0
Battery 4300 mAh
Fast charging with 66 watts, up to 100 percent in 38 minutes.
Software Android 11 with EMUI 12
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/a/6
Bluetooth 5.2
USB-C (USB 2.0)
Dimensions 160 x 73.7 x 7.77 mm
175 grams
Colors Blue, Black
Prices 128 GB for 499 euros

Quad camera and large battery

Die Kamera besteht aus vier Sensoren, die Huawei als “Quad AI Camera” bezeichnet. Der relativ große 1/1,56-Zoll-Hauptsensor hat eine Resolution von 50 Megapixel und f/1.9 Blende. Unter der Main camera sitzen außerdem eine 8-Megapixel-Ultraweit-Kamera, eine 2-Megapixel-Makrokamera und eine 2-Megapixel-Tiefenkamera. Keine der Kameras kommt mit optischer Bildstabilisierung (OIS). In einer kreisrunden Aussparung im Bildschirm sitzt zudem eine 32-Megapixel-Selfie-Cam. Sowohl Haupt- als auch Selfie-Kamera unterstützen 4K-Videoaufnahmen mit 30 Bildern pro Sekunde (FPS).

The quad camera in the Huawei Nova 9
The quad camera in the Huawei Nova 9 Photo: atechbook

The Nova 9 has a 4300 milliamper-hour (mAh) battery. According to Huawei, the smartphone can be fully charged within 38 minutes. A corresponding 66-watt charger is fortunately included in the scope of delivery. The smartphone does not support wireless charging.

The fingerprint sensor is hidden under the screen like in many Android smartphones. Unlocking worked quickly and reliably in our test device. However, we would have liked an unlock confirmation in the form of a vibration.

For some inexplicable reason, Huawei has only installed one speaker in the Nova 9. While even budget smartphones now have stereo speakers, this feature is completely missing here. Therefore, the Nova 9 is not really recommended for video playback without headphones. At least the smartphone supports the current Bluetooth standard 5.2. Wifi 6 and NFC are also on board.

Is Huawei back again?

The Chinese company was generally on the rise in Germany and Europe. With the excellent devices of the Mate and P series, Huawei was able to rise from 7 percent market share in 2017 to 17 percent in 2020. The devices were praised especially for the good performance of the chips designed by Huawei itself and the excellent cameras.

Effects of trade restrictions

However, the trade conflict with the US has hit the manufacturer hard. In mid-2020, Huawei could claim 20 percent of the global smartphone market. By the end of 2020, it was already just under 8 percent. In the current statistics, the manufacturer can only be found under “Other”. The main reason for this is certainly that the smartphones no longer come with Google software. Those who buy an Android smartphone do so in the majority of cases to access Google apps like Gmail, Maps and the Play Store for even more apps and games. Huawei smartphones can no longer offer that.

Moreover, the company cannot offer as many smartphones as it did in its best days. Since it lacks access to 5G-capable chips and can no longer have its own chips manufactured, Huawei has to focus on selected devices. That is why, among other things, the current flagship P50 is only available in China, but not in Europe.

Huawei needs to do more to convince buyers

The Nova 9 is supposed to show that the company does not want to turn its back on the European market anyway. It is supposed to convince with premium looks and a good screen to buy it. The exterior is indeed impressive, with 120 Hz and HDR10 technology in the display, as well as glass on the front and back. However, the Nova 9 falls apart on the inside. It lacks 5G, wireless charging, stereo speakers, OIS, and other things we have come to expect from a mid-range smartphone.

And even though the new EMUI 12 interface is based on the still up-to-date Android 11, you immediately notice that the Nova 9 lacks the stable foundation of Google services. Some things can be replaced with apps from the AppGallery, but the deep integration into the system is missing. It is also not very pleasing that so many unnecessary apps and app suggestions are preinstalled. For buyers, this has no added value and leaves the stale aftertaste that Huawei collects a little money on the side for the prominent placement.

Huawei still focuses on the camera and therefore installs four sensors at once. However, the quad-cam only looks really good on paper. The main sensor lacks OIS and the two 2-megapixel sensors for depth detection and macro are, as so often in cheaper smartphones, barely usable. At least the main sensor is relatively large and can therefore capture more light. Overall, however, it is not enough to make the camera really special.

Overall, the Nova 9 is an honorable attempt by Huawei to reignite its smartphone business in Europe. However, too many shortcomings are noticeable – a consequence of the company’s difficulties in manufacturing. There are simply too many great alternatives for the price of 499 Euros. Google Pixel 5a 5G, Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, OnePlus Nord 2, iPhone SE (2020) and even iPhone 11 all deliver more performance for the money or are significantly cheaper.