[Review] A Mid-ranged Device with a Huge Screen: The Huawei nova 8i
Huawei nova 8i
The Huawei nova 8i is a decently-built device that toes the line between budget and mid-tier at a price of RM1,299. The review sample I received was in Starry Black, which actually looks more interesting than it sounds. It is also available in Interstellar Blue and Moonlight Silver.
Unboxing and first impressions
In the box, we received a 40 W charger (66 W for the retail units), the corresponding USB-A to USB-C cable, a TPU case, as well as a pair of earbuds.
The design of the phone itself is pretty distinctive, with a quad camera array housed in a circular bump on the back, much like its premium sibling, the Mate 40 Pro, albeit with the lenses packed more closely together.
Although it is a relatively inexpensive device, Huawei has done a good job making the exterior look premium. The glossy plastic back is of high quality and gives off an almost pearlescent sheen, with subtle curves towards the sides making it extremely comfortable to hold.
The edges are matte, which aids a better grip, and the overall weight is just nice - not heavy enough to cause wrist fatigue, and not light enough to feel cheap.
The left side of the nova 8i is completely bare, while the right side houses the volume rocker and power button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. I'm happy to report that the position of the fingerprint sensor is just nice, and it is pretty responsive too.
To my delight, the top features a headphone jack as well as a microphone, while the bottom houses the SIM tray, USB-C charging port, as well as the sole speaker grille.
Gorgeous slim-bezel display, mediocre audio
The nova 8i boasts a 6.67" IPS display with a FHD+ (2376 x 1080) resolution. One thing that immediately stood out to me was how slim the bezels were. Apart from a slightly thicker chin, the top and sides are barely noticeable, especially if you have a phone case on.
The screen itself is vibrant and has a decent brightness. In the settings, you can opt to switch the dark mode, which is easier on the eyes and will likely stretch out battery life as well. E-book mode and eye comfort mode is also available.
As for refresh rate, it features only a modest 60 Hz, so you'll miss out on the buttery-smooth scrolling and gaming that are usually found on higher end devices. There is also a pill-shaped cutout housing the selfie camera on the top left, which isn't my favourite thing but is a pretty typical feature in modern times where the pursuit of ever-slimmer bezels is prevalent.
In terms of audio, it has very loud if unremarkable audio. Due to the fact that there's only 1 speaker doing all the work, watching videos or gaming in landscape mode isn't very pleasant due to the unbalanced nature of the sound.
Class-appropriate camera performance
As for the cameras, on the back we have a 64 MP main camera, an 8 MP wide-angle lens, as well as a 2 MP macro lens, and 2 MP depth lens, while the front camera is 16 MP.
Despite the okay-sounding specs, the performance of the camera was pretty average to say the least. Most photos turned out darker than what you'd perceive in real life, and are a bit softer than I'd like.
L-R: 1.0x; wide; 8.0x
Turning on night mode will activate a 5.5-second exposure, which is pretty long, though it seems to do the job of brightening the photo enough to capture more detail. One downside is that the colours taken with night mode seem to be artificially saturated.
L-R: Daytime; night mode
Macro mode works best in good lighting, else it will come out with muddy details that don't look too good.
Selfie mode features a built-in beauty filter which is becoming the norm nowadays; it's set to level 5 by default, and you can turn it all the way up to 10 for that soft, glowing baby skin, or embrace reality by turning it off altogether.
One thing to note is that there is no optical image stabilisation (OIS) present on this device, and it relies solely on EIS, which does crop off the edges of the video occasionally to achieve a stable output.
In any case, a device of this price point clearly isn't meant to complete with flagship-tier devices, so I'd say that the camera performance is adequate for a smartphone in its class. In my wise mum's words: you get what you pay for.
Designed for light users
The nova 8i is powered by a Snapdragon 662, which offers modest performance, so don't expect anything too impressive. Even while browsing casually, there tends to be the occasional delay, especially when starting up apps. It sometimes responds slowly as well, though these instances are relatively minor and don't happen too often.
Our unit came with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. While the RAM was sufficient for a typical amount of multitasking, the storage might fall a little short for those who like to spam videos and download files on their phone. There doesn't appear to be expandable storage available, so take note if you have a habit of cramming your phone full of stuff.
In any case, this phone would be a good choice for light users who just want to enjoy social media, casual browsing, and the occasional snap of their meal.
A great perk that I enjoyed is Huawei 66 W SuperCharge support, which enables the 4,300 mAh battery to be filled up in just 38 minutes, and up to 68% in 20 minutes. However, as the review unit only came with a 40 W charger, I was unable to test this out for myself.
For those who are curious, here are the benchmarks I managed to run:
User experience and UI
This phone is running EMUI 11, and not Harmony OS 2 as seen in some newer products. No word yet if it will eventually be updated to use the latter, but I wouldn't keep my hopes up too high.
Now, as you may be aware, Huawei has not had Google Mobile Services for a while now, and it's no different for the nova 8i. While you cannot use the Google Play Store as a consequence, there are workarounds for a majority of commonly used apps. The Huawei AppGallery has come a long way since its inception, and you'll be able to find your most commonly used apps there, such as MySejahtera, Shopee, and more.
Those that cannot be found on the AppGallery can be downloaded as APK files via their Huawei Petal Search, which is their APK search aggregator. It works well enough and you'll be able to find apps like Netflix and PUBG Mobile there. There are a couple of exceptions though - YouTube will only be accessible via the browser, unless you download third-party apps like YouTube Vanced; GPS apps that rely on GMS such as Waze and Google Maps will also not work.
If you're dependent on Gmail, no fear as that can be set up to be routed through the native Mail app.
However, despite the hoops one has to jump through to get your favourite apps up and running, using a Huawei phone is still worthwhile if you've already bought into the Huawei ecosystem. Their multi-device collaboration features are extremely fleshed out and invaluable to those who desire seamless connectivity and productivity across all platforms, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more. If you own a Huawei tablet or laptop, you can easily drag and drop files, extend or mirror your screen, and more.
Buy or no buy?
The Huawei nova 8i is a mixed bag for me. On one hand, it does have a gorgeous display for a phone in its class, a beautiful exterior that makes it look more premium than it is, as well as great synergy with other Huawei devices. On the other hand, the single-channel audio, lack of expandable storage, and average performance makes it slightly less appealing.
However, if you're a light user who wants a gorgeous phone with a large display at a reasonable price, the Huawei nova 8i will serve your needs well. Its screen is an absolute delight to watch videos on, and its fast charging capabilities means you'll rarely ever have to experience downtime.
If you're an existing Huawei user, then the perks are even more evident, as Huawei's multi-device collaboration features are top-notch for those who like migrating from device to device in a work day.
For more information on the Huawei nova 8i, you may visit the official product page here.