Notably as one of the first phones to enjoy a global unveiling in Malaysia, the Huawei nova 5T is an interesting blend of flagship hardware and design with a mid-range price tag. We had the pleasure of field testing a retail unit. Here’s how it fares.
There isn’t much to shout home about with the packaging which comes in a sturdy white box with the Huawei logo emblazoned on top but what they offer with the phone covers all the essentials including a provided 22.5W fast charger and USB Type-C cable to make the most of the phone’s integrated SuperCharge tech, a TPU casing and a pair of.USB Type-C earphones to go with it. The phone even comes with a screen protector that you can remove at your leisure if you want to go with a third party one. All this makes for a very comprehensive package indeed, more so if you chunked out for the pre-order rewards which net you a pair of free mini speakers and other goodies.
In terms of design the nova 5T comes in three different paint jobs with our test unit coming in their new Midsummer Purple which finish which is a metallic purple with subtle monograms of their new rebranded nova logo repeated across the backplate. The backplate itself is a smooth expanse of glass with the rear vertically aligned quad camera and LED flash being the primary features of note.
The base of the phone comes with a USB Type-C port that supports 22.5W SuperCharge along with a grille for the phone’s sole mono speaker. The right side comes with a power button that doubles as a fingerprint reader along with a volume rocker. The left of the phone hosts a dual SIM card slot; the phone lacks a hybrid SIM so you can expand the onboard 128GB memory. The top of the phone is otherwise bare save for a light and proximity sensor up top; while it looks otherwise, it isn’t an IR blaster.
Up front, the nova 5T comes with a 6.26-inch Fullview IPS LCD display with FHD+ resolution and a small punch-hole inset in the upper left corner for the 32-MP selfie camera. According to their boffins, the upper corner is usually the spot people peer at first when taking a selfie, so plonking the camera there would, logically speaking, ensure best results.
As far as the build quality is concerned, the nova 5T is up there with a level of quality and sturdiness befitting a flagship phone and the amount of additional kit that they’ve bundled with the phone is extremely generous indeed.
Huawei nova 5T performance
Belying the fact that it costs RM1,599, the nova 5T comes with some serious pixel crunching power, albeit with some tradeoffs here and there. The phone runs Android 9.0 overlaid with their EMUI 9.1 user interface on a Kirin 980 octacore processor paired with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage. In practice, minus the firmware, you have about 102GB of usable storage. This is all you get though as the phone lacks a microSD card slot though it’s still more than plenty for all but the most demanding power users.
The Kirin 980 octacore remains Huawei’s most powerful processor in current service and has been deployed in their flagship P30 and P30 Pro series phones. Built on a 7nm process and featuring a dual neural processing unit (NPU) to tackle AI related tasks, the Kirin 980 is able to offer significant AI-related benefits to prolong the phone’s battery life in the field by optimising app usage and battery expenditure as well as intelligently selecting the best settings depending on what you’re aiming the cameras at.
The EMUI 9.1 user interface is largely similar to other Huawei offerings such as the P30 with a generally smooth and intuitive UI to get about though the nova 5T does have a few subtle refinements such as the addition of video ringtones. Basically, you get a friend or an associate in a short video and then use this as a ringtone of sorts with their visage popping up when they make a call; whimsical to be sure in short doses but not exactly very practical in the long run.
The UI also sports their GPU Turbo 3.0 feature that prioritises system resources when playing specific games like PUBG and Fortnite to ensure smooth frame rates and, in particular, uninterrupted gaming. If someone calls in, you can take the call in-game without having to tab out which is helpful indeed.
While great strides have been made since Huawei has debuted their Game Turbo mode, the optimisation feature still doesn’t not universally work for any and every game so gamers with more esoteric titles on their playlists are still left out in the cold. It’s also not a feature that you can directly toggle so we weren’t able to compare performance with it on or off. Nevertheless, the phone still has more than enough punch to tackle unsupported demanding games like Asphalt 9 at high settings without keeling over.
When put to the test, the nova 5T did not disappoint with silky smooth performance across the board and the ability to tackle almost every game available on the Google Play store without undue trouble. Browsing was a doddle and it handled a host of tasks like emails, social media, Netflix movie watching and even a spot of video rendering in 1080P in a fairly smooth fashion.
In terms of synthetic benchmarks, the nova 5T benefits significantly from its Kirin 980 processor and has excellent performance for its price range. In 3DMark’s Sling Shot Extreme OpenGL ES 3.1 test it got 2,510 points while in Sling Shot Extreme Vulkan it got 2,235 points. In Antutu 3D it got a very respectable 206,163 points while in GeekBench 4.4.2 it got a single-core score of 3,301 points and a multi-core score of 9,760 points. In PCMark which indicates its capabilities for handling productivity-related tasks, it got a Work 2.0 performance score of 7,877 points. These scores are excellent and are almost on par with their earlier released P30 flagship phone.
The nova 5T sports a 6.26-inch IPS LCD display that has a 2,340 x 1,080 pixel resolution, a 91.7% screen-to-body ratio and a rectangular 19.5:9 aspect ratio. The narrow bezels and unobtrusive holepunch in the upper left corner of the display serve to increase the available amount of viable screen real estate which makes gaming and movie watching a pleasant affair.
In terms of clarity and colour rendition, the display serves up excellent colours and detail for what you pay for along with fair legibility under sunlight. If the colours don’t quite appeal, you have the option to tweak the colours onscreen towards a cooler or warmer colour profile as needed in the users settings.
The only quibble here, as with many contemporary phones is the modest performance of its sole mono speaker at the base. It’s otherwise all right for casual listening and gaming but aught much beyond that. The provided earbuds proved to be surprisingly good in terms of clarity and detail with slightly better sound staging though they are only comfortable to use for short periods of time.
Huawei nova 5T Cameras
The main claim to fame to the nova 5T is that it leverages its dual NPU to serve up better image quality for both its front 32-MP selfie camera and the rear quad camera array. This is akin to the P30 though where it cuts corners is that the nova 5T lacks the P30 series’ RYYB (Red, Yellow, Yellow, Blue) sensor that offers better clarity under low light. It also lacks optical image stabilisation on any of its cameras.
The rear comes with a primary 48-MP camera with an F/1.8 aperture and a Sony IMX586 sensor, a secondary 16-MP camera with a 177-degree ultra-wide angle lens, a third dedicated 2-MP camera with a dedicated macro lens for capturing subjects up close and a fourth 2-MP camera that acts as a depth sensor. The front comes with a 32-MP sensor with an F/2.0 aperture. The rear is capable of capturing up to 2160P@30fps and 12-MP snaps though you’re able to ramp it up to a massive 48-MP shot as needed. The front selfie camera is capable of snapping AI-enhanced selfies and 1080P video.
Getting about the menus is via a series of sliders on the camera user interface which is akin to what the P30 has to offer including a tiny toggle for 1X, wide angle and 2X zoom. There is no actual optical zoom lens on the nova 5T and it instead relies on digital zoom. Fortunately, it retains a Pro mode with full control of camera settings including the ability to shoot shots in RAW and extend the ISO to a whopping 102,400.
Out of the box, the phone is capable of capturing some pretty darned good shots on auto mode and with AI on, it was able to accurately assess and optimise shots for most things it was aimed at from a dubious bit of post-breakfast noodles all the way to scenic landscapes and a close-up shot of a coin. The digital zoom is lossless up to 2x and delivers good results but anything beyond that has mixed outcomes with noticeable pixelation especially under dim light but at this price range, the results are considered pretty darned good as it is.
Under daylight the Huawei nova 5T was fast on the draw with accurate and swift autofocus with great detail and consistent colour accuracy for shots taken with the primary as well as the wide angle and macro camera at their respective distances. Most of the grunt work is tackled by the primary 48-MP camera which defaults to the macro camera if you’re taking stuff up close but the ultra wide angle camera needs to be manually selected in the settings if you need a wide shot.
The AI, which you can toggle on or off as needed, generally makes sound decisions in terms of sharpening images and improving dynamic range to give shots more zing without overdoing it across all the various cameras. In general, we preferred shots with the AI on. Bokeh shots of portraiture were pretty good as well with decent foreground and background separation.
Shots under dim light under the primary and wide angle are good on auto mode though toggling Night mode does produce better looking shots with more dynamic range and it manages to eke out and extrapolate quite a bit of detail while managing highlights from bright light sources without looking blown out.
Selfies also benefit from AI mode which fortunately has a restrained hand without over correcting shots to unnatural levels and in dim light took advantage of the screen as an improvised flash to produce generally well lit shots with generally accurate skin tones.
Videos on the rear camera are surprisingly decent as well with generally good detail and colour rendition though the lack of OIS means you’ll likely be doing more shots from a static position rather than anything dynamic. For what you are paying for, the Huawei nova 5T’s cameras are pleasantly competent affairs indeed.
Huawei nova 5T battery life, price and conclusion
Even with moderately heavy use with prolific access to social media, an hour or two of light gaming via PUBG and Clash Royale spread throughout the day, an episode of the Punisher on Netflix and quite a bit of emails and Google docs usage, the nova 5T had more than enough juice to last through the day on account of its efficient Kirin 980 processor and its generally pragmatic approach to managing battery life.
If you’re really stuck in the boonies, you can fire up an ultra power saving mode that aggressively extends battery life by a significant margin to a matter of several days by limiting app usage and by reducing screen resolution to 720P.
Charging it is surprisingly swift as well with the provided 22.5W SuperCharge tech and provided charger juicing it up to a full bar from dead zero in about an hour and a half.
All in, you get quite a bit of value for what you pay for with the nova 5T. Huawei has managed to cram in quite a bit of value into the box in terms of accessories and you get a solidly made phone that has excellent performance and a good set of rear cameras that would cater to most mainstream users. If you can live with the lack of an audio jack and expandable storage, the Huawei nova 5T represents excellent value for what you pay for and is one of the better phones in its price range.
What we liked Powerful Kirin 980 processor, fashionable design, fast charging
What we didn’t No microSD card slot, no 3.5mm audio jack
We Say The Huawei nova 5T represents an excellent blend of performance and affordability with an otherwise solid design, good rear cameras and a flagship class processor though some concessions are made like the lack of an audio jack and expandable storage. If you can live with these trade-offs, the nova 5T is a great proposition that punches above its weight class.
Display 6.26-inch IPS Full HD+ LCD, 2,340 x,080 pixel resolution, 412ppi
Processor Kirin 980 2.6GHz octacore
OS Android 9.0 w/ EMUI 9.1
Memory 8GB RAM/ 128GB storage
Camera 48-MP F/1.8 + 16-MP F/2.2 w/ ultra wide lens + 2-MP F/2.4 w/ macro camera + 2-MP F/2.4 w/ depth sensor (rear) | 32-MPF/2.0 (front)
Battery 2,750mAh w/ 22.5W SuperCharge
Size/Weight 154.3 x 74 x 7.8 mm / 174g
Review unit available courtesy of Huawei Malaysia. Available to purchase online at Huawei’s official site here.