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(Pocket-lint) - Huawei hasn't been shy about the fact it wants to dominate the European market. Unlike the likes of Apple, or HTC, its strategy isn't just to release one or two phones it thinks everyone will buy. Instead, the Chinese manufacturer releases dozens of phones. Some under its affordable Honor brand, others under its own name.

With the Huawei Nova Plus, it's hard to see exactly where it's supposed to fit in today's saturated market, but we wanted to check it out - alongside the smaller Nova - to see if it could be a contender for best mid-range phone.

Our quick take

Huawei phones tend to deliver the same old story: great hardware, poor software. It's no different than with the Nova Plus which, at its €429 price point, makes it hard to recommend over a faster, more powerful OnePlus 3 or more exciting-looking Honor 8 (which, in essence, is from Huawei anyway!).

That price largely dictates how we feel about the Nova Plus. There's nothing wrong with it, per se, as it's nicely made, has a nice display and a decent camera. But apart from its great battery life, there's nothing here that'll blow you away. It slots into an oversaturated market without having much to add to it.

Still, if battery life is your biggest desire, then the Huawei Nova Plus is super on that front.

Huawei Nova Plus review: The middling mid-ranger

Huawei Nova Plus

3.5 stars
  • Build quality and design are well considered
  • Battery life is great
  • EMUI software can hamper the experience
  • Lacks competitive price for mid-range

Huawei Nova Plus review: Design

There's nothing remarkable or original about the Huawei Nova Plus's design. But that's not to say it's bad in any way. It's your standard aluminium chassis with a bead-blasted finish and shiny, polished chamfered edges. It's nice to look at and feels well-made.

Perhaps the most curious thing about its design is that, from the back, there's no way of telling that the Nova Plus is in the same device family as the regular, smaller Nova. It doesn't have the Nexus 6P-like camera panel at the top, but rather a more traditional centred camera just above the fingerprint sensor. It looks a lot like the Huawei Mate series.

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The back is ever so slightly rounded, so it does feel relatively comfortably sitting in your palm. Likewise, the edges all the way around the phone are nicely rounded, ensuring the large device doesn't feel blocky and unwieldy.

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The top edge plays home to the 3.5mm jack - yep, this phone still has one - while the bottom edge features a Type-C connector and two identical grilles. Don't be fooled in to thinking these are stereo speakers though, as they're not. Curiously, only one covers a speaker.

Huawei Nova Plus review: Display

In this day and age, it's not often we find many bad displays. Huawei's Full HD screen (1920 x 1080 pixels) on the Nova Plus is just fine. It's colourful, sharp and easy to see from all angles. It's great for watching media on, or browsing the web.

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The big 5.5-inch panel is surprisingly sharp and nice to look at. Some finer details don't look quite as sharp as they might on a Quad HD display, but at arm's length it's hard to tell - and that's probably to the benefit of battery life to.

Although it may lack the vibrancy and contrast you'd find on an AMOLED based screen, like the one found on the OnePlus 3, the Nova's screen is still bright, offering crisp whites and natural colours. Within the software you can tweak the colour temperature too, if you wish.

Huawei Nova Plus review: Software

If you've used a Huawei phone before then you'll be familiar with the EMUI software - which is a reskin over a standard Google Android base. In the Nova Plus it's the same old story. EMUI 4.1 is great in places, but plain frustrating in others.

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First of all, there's no app drawer for all the apps to sit in. Instead, all the apps cover the home screens in a similar manner to the iPhone's iOS software. Of course, you can download a third party launcher, or Google's Now Launcher, to make it look and feel like regular Android if you want to. So it's not necessarily a problem - plus some will prefer the iPhone-like approach (it divides the 'Lint team).

Another element that frustrates is the screen brightness slider in the drop-down shortcuts menu. Four out of five times, instead of adjusting brightness, you end up sliding into the notifications screen. It's so small and fiddly that nothing but perfect precision is adequate.

Still, the software has its plus points, like the Phone Manager app which helps de-clutter the phone's memory and keep it running smoothly (on the flip side, the default battery management is way too aggressive - more on that later).

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Another useful feature additions include a hidden apps screen - accessible by pinching outward, rather than pinching inward (the latter which opens up the widgets panel) - to tuck away more sensitive apps from view.

Part of EMUI's appeal is the ability to download and install custom themes which can completely change the look of the icons and colouring of the home screens.

And while we hated knuckle-based controls at their initial outing - literally using your hard knuckle for different actions - it has moved forward sufficiently to be of some use in recent Huawei phones. It can be used to draw letters on screen to load specific apps or even real-time capture what you're doing on the phone.

Overall Huawei's EMUI might not be the prettiest going, and it doesn't get everything right, but in this v4.1 iteration it adds some features ranging between quirky to useful, without being too offensive.

Huawei Nova Plus review: Performance

Inside the Huawei Nova Plus is the Snapdragon 625 processor, which isn't the most powerful in the world. In most other phones we've tried it has tended to struggle a little - especially with graphically intense gaming. Somehow, we've seen no stuttering or lag in the Nova Plus in all the time we've been using it. It's like magic. And we like magic.

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Games may take longer to load than the most high-end phones out there, but animations are smooth and fluid. It suggests Huawei has done a good job of ensuring its software is well optimised to feel snappy and reliable on any device. Of course, having 3GB RAM in a phone that heavily clamps down on background processes doesn't hinder matters. 

As you'd expect from a Huawei device, the fingerprint sensor is accurate and quick when it comes to unlocking the device. It may not feel as instantaneous as the more high-end Huawei P9 series, but it's quick enough and rarely needs a second input because the first one didn't take. It's a pleasure, rather than an obstacle hindering you getting in to your phone.

Huawei Nova Plus review: Battery life

As with many other Huawei phones running the company's custom software, the standby battery life on the Nova Plus is staggeringly good. You can leave it switched on and in standby for two to three days and still only lose 10 per cent of the battery. That's obviously thanks to the huge 3,340mAh battery inside too. 

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There is a downside to Huawei's software optimisations, though, in that it likes to kill apps using power in the background. In most instances, this isn't a problem. But if you're out for a run and using an app to track your distance, speed and route, you don't want your phone killing the app. Especially if you feel like you're on track for a record pace. Likewise, it's frustrating if you have a smartphone connection app that needs to be running to keep pushing notifications to your wrist. 

Thankfully, there's an area in the Phone Manager app where you can see which apps are whitelisted for background use, and manually choose those that should be allowed to run constantly. But you'll have to ensure you do this with all relevant apps, which is a bit laborious.

All in all, at the end of a regular workday, we had more than 50 per cent battery left from the Nova Plus, meaning this phone can easily deliver two days use from a single charge. If you're a particularly heavyweight user you may not quite get to the end of a second day, but if you're not then this Huawei shouldn't have a problem reaching that target.

Huawei Nova Plus review: Camera

Because there's no partnership with Leica this time around (like there was with the P9 and P9 Plus) the Nova Plus's camera software doesn't look quite the same.

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You don't get the attractive black and yellow manual controls. However, its manual or "Professional" mode is just as easy to use. You do still get the Huawei light-painting features, along with 4K video, beauty mode and time-lapse as well.

Pictures are easy to take in automatic mode, and focus times are generally quick. We had very little issue with focus-hunting, even when objects were close up, and the camera did a good job of locking onto a subject and keeping it in focus.

Photo quality from the 16-megapixel sensor is about as good, maybe even better, than you'd expect from a mid-range smartphone. It has built-in OIS (optical image stabilisation) to ensure that your shots are rarely blurry, and the 4K video recording ensures footage is sharp, even if it could do with some work on the colour/exposure side. 

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Image quality can be a bit inconsistent too. Sometimes exposure levels are too high, resulting in images that seem a bit harsh, colour-less and lacking in depth. But equally you'll often get a shots with really nice colour and depth, while that f/2.0 aperture helps achieve that pro-looking soft background. 

To recap

Using Huawei phones, and reviewing them seems to bring up the same old story: Great hardware, poor software. It's no different than with the Nova Plus which, at its £XXX price point is hard to recommend over a faster, more powerful OnePlus 3 which comes with a more stock-like Android experiences.

Writing by Cam Bunton.