Review, Smartphone

Huawei Nova 5T Review: Same Phone, Different Guise

The Huawei Nova 5T is an especially interesting smartphone for the Chinese company, given its striking resemblance to the Honor 20. While both Honor and Huawei devices have some similarities here and there in the past, none of them are as identical as the Nova 5T and Honor 20.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially with the phone’s competitive RM1,599 price tag. If you’re looking to get an affordable flagship smartphone, the Nova 5T is a great option.

Specifications

Display6.26-inch FHD+ LTPS (2340 x 1080)
ChipsetHuawei Kirin 980 2.6GHz octa-core
GPU
Mali-G76 MP10
RAM8GB
Storage128GB, non-expandable
Camera (rear)
48MP f/1.8
16MP f/2.2 (wide angle)
2MP f/2.4 (macro)
2MP f/2.4 (depth)
Camera (front)32MP f/2.0
Battery
3,750mAh
Dimensions154.25 x 73.97 x 7.87 mm
Weight
174g
OSEMUI 9.1 based on Android 9 Pie
ConnectivityLTE
NFC
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)
USB Type-C
PriceRM1,599

Looking at the Nova 5T’s specifications, they are literally the same hardware found inside the Honor 20. Except, of course, for the RAM capacity; the Honor 20 only has 6GB of RAM, while the Nova 5T comes with 8GB RAM.

Beyond that one thing, other hardware are the same, including the processor, camera configuration, display size, and even battery capacity. In fact, even benchmarking apps recognise these two phones as the same device with the model number YAL-L21.

Design

When it comes to design, the Nova 5T has a slightly different look, though this is only limited to the back panel of the Midsummer Purple and Crush Blue models. Instead of the Honor 20’s single tone colour, the 5T has a gradient-like finish, especially with this Crush Blue variant in this review.

It’s a small difference, but I do prefer the Nova 5T’s colourway: it’s a much more striking-looking device. If you want something more subdued, there’s the Black model. That one, in particular, looks just like the Honor 20 in Midnight Black, except for some branding differences.

And then we’ve got the hole-punch cutout of the Nova 5T at the top left of the screen. Personally, I’ve always preferred this design over a notched display: it takes up less space, which makes it less intrusive. On top of that, the hole-punch cutout of the Nova 5T itself is quite small, especially when compared to other devices with a similar design.

As for build quality, it’s a solid smartphone. The metal chassis feels great, the glass and metal construction add a premium touch, and the curved sides of the phone make for a comfortable device to hold for long periods of time. It also helps that the Nova 5T isn’t a particularly big smartphone; it’s small enough to not feel unwieldy.

All in all, the Nova 5T is a sleek-looking smartphone with no glaring design fault. But if I were to nitpick, I’d say the side-mounted fingerprint sensor feels a little sharp around the edges – just like how it is with the Honor 20.

User Experience

Running on EMUI 9.1 based on Android 9 Pie, the Nova 5T offers a reasonably good software experience. While it still has the common traits of Chinese-based software – the app drawer is not enabled by default, along with some bloatware – it’s still a functional version of Android.

Throughout my time with the phone, the software ran as it should. There weren’t any weird bugs or glitches, it’s responsive, and I can switch between different apps seamlessly. Of course, the fast Kirin 980 chipset definitely helps in this regard too in providing a pleasant user experience.

Speaking of which, the Kirin 980 is a capable chipset. It’s fast enough to fulfill my multitasking needs, and gaming on this phone is quite enjoyable. However, if I were to compare it to, say, devices with Snapdragon 855 chipsets, the Kirin 980 doesn’t provide quite as good gaming performance.

Don’t get me wrong, the Kirin 980 is still a capable chipset, but it’s not on par with the Snapdragon 855. It’s a relevant comparison, seeing that you can get a Snapdragon 855 smartphone at this price point. Of course, I’m talking about the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro, which is one of the Nova 5T’s biggest competition.

Regardless, let’s move on to another hardware of the phone that impressed me quite a bit: the side-mounted fingerprint sensor. Not only is it blazing fast, it can also accurately recognise my fingerprints reliably and consistently. I also love the fact that the sensor doubles as the power button, and unlike how it was with the Honor 20, waking the phone from sleep is almost instantaneous.

In the display department, the Nova 5T’s 6.26-inch 1080p LTPS display is reasonably good. It’s a bright, vibrant display, and it looks sharp enough even if it’s “only” a 1080p screen. However, the display does dim slightly when viewed at an angle; the colour temperature is a bit too cool as well.

When it comes to battery life, the Nova 5T is incredibly good. On average, I was getting well over seven hours of screen on time with the phone. This is especially impressive, given that the 5T only has a 3,750mAh battery. I reckon this phone can offer up to two days of battery life for lighter smartphone users.

Charging rate of the Nova 5T is reasonably good too. Within 30 minutes of charging with the provided adapter, the phone got up to 50% from completely empty.

For a smartphone that costs RM1,599, the Nova 5T definitely delivers a good user experience. EMUI 9.1 isn’t the best version of Android, but it’s definitely one of the better takes on Android among Chinese phone makers. Plus, the 5T has fantastic battery life.

Camera

As many as four camera sensors are found on the back of the Nova 5T: a 48MP f/1.8 primary shooter, a 16MP f/2.2 wide angle camera, a 2MP f/2.4 macro len, and a 2MP f/2.4 depth sensor. No, there’s no telephoto sensor, but I’d much rather have a wide angle shooter than a zoom lens – I find more use out of it.

Okay, so how does the camera perform? Pretty good, actually. The quad camera system can take good-looking shots regardless of lighting condition, though the camera interface and shutter speed do get slower in low light environments. On top of that, the camera has a tendency to oversaturate images too, especially with the AI camera enabled.

While the saturation can make images look more pleasing to the eye, it can also make them look artificial, depending on the shot.

Nonetheless, for the Nova 5T’s asking price, you’re definitely getting respectable camera performance. And I quite like experimenting with the 2MP macro shooter too: you can really get up-close to a subject with that sensor.

Competition

Only one variant of the Nova 5T is available in Malaysia, which is priced at RM1,599 for 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. It’s a competitive price tag for a device of this calibre, and there are a number of interesting alternatives to the 5T.

Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro

This is really the Nova 5T’s main competitor. Compared to Huawei’s offering, the Mi 9T Pro features a faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset, a better 6.39-inch 1080 AMOLED display without any notch or hole-punch cutout – which makes for a sleeker looking phone – and a more versatile triple camera system with three different focal lengths.

To sweeten the deal, the Mi 9T Pro also retails at RM1,599 like the Nova 5T, although that’s only for the 64GB model. If you want the 128GB variant to match the Nova 5T’s storage capacity, that will set you back RM1,799.

Besides that, the Nova 5T also offers more RAM at 8GB; the Mi 9T Pro only comes with 6GB of RAM. When it comes to software, I actually prefer Huawei’s EMUI too. It’s simply more polished and functional than Xiaomi’s MIUI software.

Honor 20

Given the similarities between the Nova 5T and Honor 20, the latter is obviously a natural alternative to the 5T. Based on the time I’ve spent reviewing both devices, they – more or less – offer identical user experience. The camera behaves the same way, battery life is similar, and one phone isn’t noticeably faster than the other.

There are, of course, a few notable differences here and there. The Honor 20 only has 6GB of RAM, while the Nova 5T features 8GB of RAM. The design of the rear panel is also different, though this doesn’t really apply to the Black models of both phones, for obvious reasons.

Oh, the Nova 5T’s RM1,599 price tag also undercuts the Honor 20’s asking price by RM100; the latter costs RM1,699.

Conclusion

The Huawei Nova 5T is a competitively priced smartphone in the affordable flagship segment, and it’s really quite a good device. It has excellent battery life, a good level of performance, respectable quad camera system, and premium design.

If you’re looking to get a flagship smartphone in this price range, you cannot go wrong with the Nova 5T. Despite the company’s ongoing debacle with the US government, it wouldn’t directly affect this phone very much: it’s already cleared to ship with Google’s range of services.

However, it may prove to be an issue with later Android updates if the issue is prolonged, but this is something we will only know in the future. For now, the Nova 5T remains to be a great option for those who want an affordable flagship smartphone.