Hands-On, Smartphone

Huawei Nova 4 Hands-On: The Future of the Notch

Huawei Malaysia recently held a launch event for its latest mid-ranger, the Huawei Nova 4, and the company confirmed that the smartphone will be officially entering the Malaysian market on 14 February. Of course, Huawei also revealed the pricing of the Nova 4, and…it’s quite an expensive device.

Retailing at RM1,899, the Nova 4 is costlier than the majority of mid-range smartphones by quite a margin. There are, however, a couple of standout features that differentiate the Nova 4 from its competition, and these may be enough to justify its high asking price.

Notched displays were prevalent on many smartphones last year, and the Huawei Nova 3, this phone’s predecessor, was no exception. Well, gone is the notch on the Nova 4, and in its place is Huawei’s new “Punch FullView” display.

As its name suggests, the Nova 4 has a small hole-punch cutout for the 25MP f/2.0 front-facing camera. Is it better than the notch? Of course. Is it jarring to use for the first time? Oh yes, definitely. That being said, I’m sure I can get used to the camera cutout after a while, and it’s certainly not as intrusive as a notch.

On top of that, you’re also getting a lot more display with the hole-punch design; it takes up less space. This, in turn, gives the Nova 4 a very sleek appearance. It’s not a truly “all-screen smartphone” – it still has a small chin at the bottom of the display – but it’s a step closer to that.

Sporting a glass back and metal frame, the Nova 4 looks and feels premium. The subtle gradient finish on the back panel – on the Crush Blue model – is aesthetically pleasing, and the glossy metal frame feels nice to the touch. The phone is comfortable to use for long periods of time too, thanks to the slightly curved back.

On the front, the Nova 4 has a 6.4-inch 2310 x 1080 LTPS panel, which looks great. It’s a colourful, vibrant display with good viewing angles, and it’s bright enough for comfortable use in bright outdoors. Thanks to the combination of a 1080p display with a rather generous 3,750mAh battery, I reckon this phone has above average battery life as well.

Performance wise, the Nova 4’s Kirin 970 chipset provides enough processing power for a fast and zippy user experience. I can switch from one app to another in a relatively quick manner, and I imagine gaming on this phone should be quite pleasant too. After all, the Kirin 970 powered Huawei’s range of flagships in the last two years, including the P20 and Mate 10 series of smartphones.

Rounding out the specifications of the Nova 4 include 8GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, and a USB Type-C port. It’s great to see that Huawei isn’t using a microUSB connection on the Nova 4, even though it’s not a flagship smartphone.

Personally, I was quite excited to try out the Nova 4’s camera performance; more specifically, the 48MP primary camera sensor. Unfortunately, Huawei Malaysia is only bringing in the 20MP variant, and there are currently no plans to bring in the 48MP model into the Malaysian market.

Nonetheless, the Nova 4’s triple camera system – made up of a 20MP f/1.8 primary camera, a 16MP f/2.2 wide-angle sensor, and a 2MP f/2.4 shooter – seems pretty alright. It can capture good-looking images, the camera interface doesn’t feel sluggish, and the wide-angle sensor offers shooting flexibility.

There is, however, one thing that I don’t quite like about the Nova 4’s camera: the AI enhancements. Switched on, the camera has a tendency to oversaturate images, making them look rather unnatural. Most of the time, I prefer disabling the feature.

The Huawei Nova 4, with its Punch FullView display, is a sleek, well-designed mid-range smartphone with a good level of performance courtesy of the Kirin 970 chipset. Right now, it’s also one of very few smartphones with a hole-punch display, giving it the unique factor.

But it won’t be long until more smartphones with a similar design hit the market, and once that happens, the Nova 4 will have a tougher time to stand out in the crowded mid-range segment. Couple this with its steep RM1,899 asking price, Huawei’s latest offering doesn’t sound very attractive.

Then again, I haven’t thoroughly reviewed the Nova 4 yet. It’s possible the phone’s other qualities like battery life and low light camera performance can justify its asking price – maybe.