Review Huawei Nova 4: Smartphone with Hole-Punch Display for $457

In addition to the slider mechanism of the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 or the two displays of the Vivo NEX Dual Display, the Hole-Punch Display, i.e. the front camera in the display, is a popular method of accommodating the front camera. Since the Samsung Galaxy S10 is also a trend-setter, we want to take a closer look at a competitor from China, the Huawei Nova 4. But where are the differences to the version of the subsidiary, the Honor View 20?

 

Huawei Nova 4 smartphone

Technical data of the Huawei Nova 4

Display 6,4″ LC-Display (2310 x 1080p), 398 ppi
Processor HiSilicon Kirin 970
Graphics chip ARM Mali G72
Main memory 8 GB LPDDR4X RAM
Internal memory 128 GB UFS 2.1
Main camera 48 MP with ƒ/1.8 aperture + 2 MP + 16 MP wide angle sensor
Front camera 25 MP with ƒ/2.0 aperture
Battery 3,750 mAh Battery, 18W Charging
Connectivity LTE Band 1,3,5,7,8, WLAN AC, GPS, A-GPS
Features Fingerprint Sensor | USB Type-C | Headphone Jack
Operating system EMUI 9 , Android 9
Dimensions / Weight 157 x 75.1 x 7.77 mm | 172 g

The first smartphone with Hole-Punch Display

Huawei Nova 4 or Honor View 20? That’s what you ask yourself when you see the Nova 4 for the first time. After all, the basic conditions and many specs are identical. The 6.39 inch screen diagonal makes them look similar. But the eye-catcher is the so-called punch-hole display. This actually only means that the front camera is virtually in the display, in the upper left corner. This is also the case with the Samsung Galaxy S10, but the camera is located in the upper right corner.

Huawei Nova 4 smartphone display horizontal

This is just as well integrated into the display panel as it is on the View 20. The camera does not sit perfectly in the corner, but somewhat asymmetrically on the right. Around the “hole”, the pixels are marginally darkened, but this only really shows up on closer inspection. All in all, I like Huaweis’s solution here very much and it fits very well into the overall impression.

On the back you get the usual Huawei look. The 3D glass on the back is strongly rounded towards the sides and provides a pleasant hold in the hand. Optically, the well-known Twilight effect creates a juvenile design, which finally allows a tightrope walk between green, blue and purple. Unless you opt for the somewhat less exciting black. We like the colourful version of the Huaweis very much, it is really an eye-catcher, as the colour changes according to the light irradiation.

Huawei Nova 4 Backside
Really fancy: the back of the Huawei Nova 4.

Processing

With dimensions of 157 x 75.1 x 7.77 mm and a weight of 172 g, the Nova 4 is easy to hold and its dimensions and weight are comparable to those of the Xiaomi Mi 9. In fact, I couldn’t blindly tell which of the two smartphones I have in my hand. The finish of the Huawei Nova 4 is impeccable, it’s just as much of a ” smoother feel ” as the Mi 9.

The rounded sides ensure a pleasant grip in the hand even over longer periods, as does the well-balanced weight. You simply notice that manufacturers like Huawei and Xiaomi are far away from the once bad image of China smartphones.

Huawei Nova 4 Smartphone in Hand Display

The display: Does it always have to be AMOLED?

Surprisingly, Huawei does not rely on an AMOLED panel for the Nova 4, but on an LC-IPS display. The display diagonal is 6.4 inches, a standard that is currently establishing itself. The resolution is correspondingly high, 2310 x 1080 pixels result in a density of 398 pixels per inch on this size. The fact that 16.7 million colors are supported and 96% color saturation is achieved is a gift. Just like the support for 10 Finger Multitouch.

Huawei Nova 4 smartphone

Much more important is: How does the display perform in practice? All in all quite good! During the test period I had fun with the bright colours of the EMUI operating system, the display was really good overall. The viewing angle stability is average and there’s nothing to complain about. The operating system also leaves a lot to be desired. The color temperature can be individualized by color palette, and there are two different color modes. Moreover, you can activate the Smart resolution again, which automatically switches between HD+ and Full HD+ resolution depending on the application, and even deactivate the notch, i.e. the camera aperture.

Huawei Nova 4 In-Display Camera

In a direct comparison to the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3, however, differences are noticeable. Differences due to the technical difference between IPS and AMOLED panel. The Mix 3 is even more contrasting, the colors are a bit more bright and the sharpness is slightly higher. In addition there are possibilities like the Always On mode. This doesn’t make the display of the Huawei Nova 4 bad, but not quite as good as that of the Mi Mix 3/Mi 9.

With the Kirin 970: But why?

Huawei makes a somewhat surprising decision when it comes to processor selection. Here the HiSilicon Kirin 970 is used, the top CPU from 2018, which also sits in the Honor Play or Honor 10. That’s not a bad processor, no question, but the Kirin 980 has been on the market for quite some time and is also in the Honor View 20, the Hole-Punch smartphone of the subsidiary, for example. But there is also 8 GB RAM and 128 GB memory.

This raises the question: “Will the processor still be sufficient in 2019? Yes, it is. Of course, it’s not the fastest, as the benchmarks prove. But still the performance is really good. No matter if a cold start of the apps, multitasking or the gambling of demanding games like PUBG on HDR didn’t bring the CPU to its knees. PUBG had two or three lags, which didn’t reduce the gaming fun, and an increased temperature on the back. But if you only play on “HD” here, it still works really well.

Huawei Nova 4 Benchmark Screenshot

So you are still on the road in everyday life with the Kirin 970. That is out of question. But if you look at the price and look at the, also internal, competition, the CPU is not justified for this price, although it is good.

Huawei Nova 4 Smartphone Gaming
I must mention here: Maike got the chicken dinner in PUBG.

Triple camera with 48 MP sensor: Mi 9 competitor?

As far as the camera is concerned, however, the parallels with the View 20 just mentioned become clear again. Finally, the third-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world also uses the 48 megapixel sensor Sony IMX586, which is also installed in the Xiaomi Mi 9. It is equipped with a ƒ/1.8 aperture, but there are two more cameras in addition. A 2 MP secondary sensor with ƒ/2.4 aperture and an ultra-wide angle sensor with a 16 megapixel resolution and ƒ/2.2 aperture. We already know this from the Honor Magic 2 and liked it very much.

Huawei Nova 4 Triple Camera

In order to score in the direct comparison with the Honor View 20, I was curious about the camera quality of the Huawei Nova 4. And to be honest, I am very impressed by the main camera with the 48 megapixel sensor. Huawei manages to use a very neutral color profile which I really like. The skin tones and colors are well hit, the sharpness is good, but not perfect. However, the camera doesn’t use the 48 megapixel resolution for every photo, that has to be selected in the settings. But even 12 megapixel photos look good on a large screen.

Huawei Nova 4 test photo main camera person

Huawei Nova 4 test photo main camera colors

Huawei Nova 4 Main Camera Portrait Tele Comparison
Main Camera, Portrait Mode and Telecamera

Secondary & third sensor

But what I don’t like about it are portrait shots with the Huawei Nova 4. Unfortunately, the software fails quite a bit and only manages to create a very unnatural bokeh effect, which firstly doesn’t look good and secondly is inaccurate in the edge detection – a pity!

Huawei Nova 4 Test Photo Camera Portrait Fail
Unfortunately, we don’t like the portrait mode in the test at all.

On the other hand, the telephoto camera takes quite good pictures overall, which can be used well with sufficient sharpness and a fast autofocus and resolution time. In comparison to the Mi 9, the Nova 4 is clearly defeated, even if it performs better than the Honor View 20. Here you notice the difference between an optical zoom in the Mi 9 and the digital zoom of the Nova 4.

Huawei Nova 4 test photo main camera Tele 2

Huawei Nova 4 test photo main camera Tele Comparison

Another advantage of the Nova 4 is the third camera sensor, which is an ultra wide angle camera. This is not available in the Honor View 20, but for example in the Xiaomi Mi 9. We really like the feature, but with the Nova 4 you get a more blatant “action cam look”, because the distortions are more extreme. In addition, the shooting angle of the Nova 4 is slightly larger, but the difference to the Mi 9 is not decisive.

Huawei Nova 4 Test Photo Main Camera Ultra Wide Angle

Unfortunately, I don’t like the front camera very much, it lacks some sharpness and the right focus, which often makes the pictures look very “flat”. The color profile is also flat, the skin tones are very cold. Whether only the white balance fails here or Huawei wants to leave a lot of room for post-processing is hard to say. Nevertheless: Even a Pocophone F1 for less money makes much better Selfies.

Huawei Nova 4 test photo front camera portrait comparison

Battery life

The battery capacity is 3,750 mAh, which is relatively average considering the large display. For charging, the phone supports fast charging with 18W, the Quick Charge 3.0 standard is not officially supported, as the Nova 4 is not equipped with a Qualcomm chip, which would be a necessary criterion. Nevertheless, it charges completely within one hour and about 45 minutes if you use the included USB charger and cable. Unfortunately you have to do without wireless charging.

Huawei Nova 4 Battery Benchmark

The duration is also only average. With moderate use I came up with a good 7 to 8 hours, the benchmark manages almost ten hours. Here one notices that no AMOLED was installed and that the latest processor with better energy efficiency was not used.

Huawei Nova 4 Huawei Logo

Even global version without all necessary LTE bands

The Huawei Nova 4 is equipped with ac-Dual Band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, A-GPS, LTE Band 1/3/5/6/7/8/19. So we have to do without LTE Band 20, for example, even with the advertised Global version. That’s a pity, but understandable. After all, the Nova 4 is not actually intended for the European market. If the missing bands are decisive for your region, you have to find out beforehand.

Huawei Nova 4 USB Type-C

Unfortunately no NFC module is used, so contactless payment via NFC is not possible. There is a 3.5 mm jack connector on the top side for this, and headphones are even part of the scope of delivery. On the bottom side there is a USB Type-C slot with USB 2.0 support. On the left side there is also the dual SIM slot, which unfortunately doesn’t offer any possibility for memory expansion.

Multilingual EMUI 9 OS

However, EMUI 9, which is based on Android 9, is also completely available in several languages. In addition, the Google Play Store was pre-installed and is even certified, so there are no problems. The EMUI 9 OS is not my absolute favorite, but it offers a lot of features and should be updated relatively regularly. The security patch is from February 2019 and in the test period a subsequent update was offered.

Huawei Nova 4 EMUI Operating System

Huawei relies on the fingerprint sensor on the back and Face Unlock to unlock the smartphone. Both types work well and relatively quickly. Nevertheless, you can draw a comparison to the Mi 9, which at least has a fingerprint sensor in its display. So the Nova 4 has to admit defeat here if you take the level of innovation as a criterion.

Conclusion: Buy Huawei Nova 4?

The Huawei Nova 4 is actually up to date, but somehow it’s not. For me, this Huawei Nova 4 is full of questions. Why do you use the old processor even though it came on the market early enough for the new CPU? Why don’t you use NFC with a top smartphone of over $400? Why do you publish the almost identical Honor View 20, which seems to be a bit stronger than the almost identical mobile phone of the parent company?

All in all, the Nova 4 is a really good smartphone. It looks really chic, has a top finish and is equipped with a good, albeit not unusual, display. The Hole-Punch design is perfectly implemented, but definitely a matter of taste. The performance isn’t on top level, but it’s enough for everybody! I really like the main camera, which is almost on a par with the Xiaomi Mi 9. There’s also a cool ultra wide angle camera that the Honor View 20 doesn’t have.

You have to criticize the missing LTE bands, the missing NFC, which is almost a faux pas in this price class and the quite average front camera. I also can’t fully understand the processor choice, because you can get this CPU in the almost $200 cheaper Honor Play. In view of the price, I can only recommend the Huawei Nova 4 if you need the slightly better camera and the ultra wide angle camera, otherwise the Honor View 20 is a better choice. However, the Xiaomi Mi 9 would be the best choice in this price range.

What do you think of the Nova 4? Would there be a reason for you to hit the smartphone?

To the gadget
Profile picture from Thorben

Thorben

My special interests are smartphones from China and I am always keen to discover new smartphone accessories like smartwatches and headphones. 

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