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Huawei Nova 5T Review: Something seems oddly familiar…

The Huawei Nova 5T seems a welcome return of the Nova brand to the UK, but I can’t help but think I’ve seen it before….

Oh, that’s right. It’s because the Nova 5T is in fact a rebadged Honor 20. Once you take away the different finish on the rear glass, it’s literally the same phone.

The Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T (click for full-size)

It has the same product ID, so benchmarking apps will even think it’s an Honor 20.

It has the same SoC, same camera setup, same battery, same screen and the only difference is that Huawei is selling its version with 8GB of RAM instead of 6GB of RAM on the Honor 20 (although 8GB was an option in some markets, so this is still not really a difference, just a different SKU).

However, this shouldn’t be looked upon as a bad thing. The Honor 20 was, and still is, an excellent phone and now you have a choice of some new colours/finishes (midsummer purple, black and crush blue), plus that extra RAM.

The real difference here is price, and the Huawei Nova 5T is currently retailing at £430 SIM-free, while you can get the Honor 20 for as little as £310 SIM-free on Amazon right now, which is down from its original £400 retail price.


‘Review’

I’ve already talked about the Honor 20 Lite and shown off the surprisingly good photos from the entry-level handset, but the Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T is quite a significant leap – sitting between the Honor 20 Lite and the flagship Honor 20 Pro that went on sale a couple of weeks months ago.

Imagine this said Nova instead

The 7.9mm thick Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T comes with four cameras, just like the Honor 20 Pro, but there are some significant differences to be aware of.

The Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T has a 48-megapixel f/1.8 main camera, 16-megapixel ultra-wide camera, and two 2-megapixel cameras for depth-sensing and macro photography.

The Honor 20 Pro by comparison has a 48-megapixel main camera (with f/1.4 aperture, so better in low-light), 16-megapixel ultra-wide camera, 8-megapixel 3x telephoto camera and a 2-megapixel macro camera.

All looks the same from this side

Design

The Honor 20 unit I was loaned for my review (I haven’t had the Nova 5T yet, as I think is rather obvious) was the midnight black model, which lacks the flair of the blue or white models, and certainly looks more understated than the two Honor 20 Pro models.

I’m sure there are occasions where you’d really rather not draw too much attention to the phone you’re using, so having a plain black model is no bad thing.

The case is particularly useful given the slight protrusion of three of the rear cameras and LED flash.

Side mounted fingerprint sensor is a very nice feature.

Up top you’ve got a microphone and Infrared port, while on the side are the volume keys and a combined power/fingerprint sensor as Sony once favoured on many of its Xperia smartphones, including the Xperia XZ Premium.

Having the fingerprint sensor on the power button makes perfect sense, but appears to have fallen out of favour of late. Sony has returned to the idea with the Xperia 1, 10 and 10 Plus but now with a separate fingerprint sensor and power key, which rather misses the point.

At the base of the phone you’ll find a USB-C port (the Honor 20 Lite still coming with micro-USB), a single down-firing speaker, and on the top left a SIM card tray for up to two SIM cards (the phone supporting dual 4G and dual VoLTE).

Mono sound only, but it’s loud and punchy.

Screen

The screen is a 6.26-inch Full HD+ display, with a 1080×2340 pixel resolution, and a ‘hole-punch’ cut-out for the front-facing 32-megapixel f/2.0 selfie-camera.

The LCD screen is a lot brighter than the entry level Honor 20 Lite, so is far more usable outdoors, although it still isn’t as bright as something like the Huawei P30 Pro. With our recent mini-heatwave and bright sun, I did find it a little tricky to see the display all of the time I used this phone but it wasn’t too bad in comparison to the entry-level phone that was near invisible.

When using the camera, you may have to partially shield the display to see what the camera is seeing, but it really is only an issue on the relatively few occasions we have such incredibly bright and sunny days.

The small cut-out for the selfie camera doesn’t have too much of an impact (and it holds a very impressive 32-megapixel sensor).

Camera

As a continuation of what Honor produced with the View 20 at the start of the year, Honor Huawei has now added the additional cameras to add a great deal of functionality to the Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T.

It’s rather odd to have gone with a 2-megapixel camera for macro photography, but the results proved to be quite acceptable and perfectly fine for sharing on social media.

The jewel-in-the-crown is of course the Sony IMX586 48-megapixel image sensor that has not only been used by Honor for the View 20 (and the Honor 20 Pro) but also the OnePlus 7 Pro and many others (Oppo, Xiaomi, Motorola and more). [Since that review, the camera has appeared on many more models, including the Oppo Reno 2.]

Four cameras, but not quite as impressive as the (more expensive) Honor 20 Pro. What you get is a pretty decent compromise, however.

It’s an excellent image sensor that uses pixel-binning to combine 4 pixels to produce a single pixel, allowing for less noise in low-light and better contrast and sharpness.

Where it comes into its own is when you have sufficiently good lighting, or time, to let you take a full 48-megapixel image.

If the light is good, you can take a photo with no delay, while in anything but ideal conditions you can use the clarity mode that takes a series of shots in much the same way as the night mode works by combining shots at different exposure levels.

The dual neural processing units of the Kirin 980 chipset enables you to do all of this without needing a steady hand or tripod, and it’s perhaps a testament to what parent company Huawei has achieved in that not needing a tripod has now become the norm even on the cheapest models in the Huawei and Honor range.

The Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T can record 4K video (at 30fps), 960fps 720p super-slow motion video and comes with a range of AR lens filters and effects.

There’s also the now obligatory Professional mode, with the ability to save RAW images for more detailed editing on a PC or selected Android apps that can work with RAW files.

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Camera Samples

These were from the Honor 20, but it’s the same camera setup so use your imagination….

Video Samples

My thoughts

With Huawei’s flagship chipset right up to September this year, along with dual-band Wi-Fi and fast 4G access, the Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T gets you a lot of performance for its £399.99 £430 pricetag.

Indeed, compared to the Honor View 20 at £579.99 it is quite the bargain given the extra cameras it possesses.

Where the View 20 wins is with its larger 6.4-inch display and a bigger battery (4,000mAh vs 3750mAh). The View 20 also has more RAM (8GB) and storage (256GB) to the Honor 20’s Nova 5T’s 6GB and 128GB.

The View 20 also has a TOF (Time-of-Flight) image sensor that offers improved depth-sensing, body tracking and real-time motion capture – but few of these features have really taken off.

It seems the craze for TOF sensors has been rather short lived, at least until someone comes up with a ‘killer app’ that nobody can live without. One possibility is night vision, although there’s still quite a lot of work to do so I wouldn’t rush to buy a phone on the basis of a beta app.

Image: Honor View 20 left, Honor 20 (or Nova 5T) right.

The Honor 20 Pro comes out at £549.99 with 8GB and 256GB, plus the best camera configuration of all, so all of this does present you with a lot of choices to ponder over.

I really like the feel of the Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T in the hand, although I also personally prefer the bigger screen of the View 20.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ and you’ll have to decide what is most important. Camera functionality, screen size or how much you’re wanting to spend.

Come on and squint a little. That’s the Huawei phone right there, no?

The performance of the Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T, complete with Android Pie and an update to Android 10 coming later in the year, is up there with the best of what Honor (and Huawei) has to offer. There’s the GPU Turbo mode (V3) to get the most from games, and also a free Fortnite skin for avid fans.

The battery performed perfectly well, with 4-5 hours of screen-on-time achievable, and the phone has all of the same power management features that it seems unnecessary to go over again and again, given it is part of the core of the Emotion UI (or in this case, Magic UI) enhancements on top of Android OS.

The side-mounted fingerprint sensor is another positive feature that might help you make a decision.

Honor 20 in the bundled clear case.

So much choice…

The Honor 20 Lite at £220-250 is by far the cheapest model and offers a decent camera setup, and many of the features of the more expensive models (but an extremely dim screen).

If you’re on a budget then the Honor 20 Lite is a good phone for the money.

The Honor 20 is perhaps at the perfect sweet spot in terms of performance vs price, with a sub-£400 pricetag and almost all of the flexibility of the £550 Honor 20 Pro.

The Nova 5T isn’t as cheap as its Honor equivalent, but it does have a nicer finish on the rear glass and 2GB more RAM, and there is still a chance of promotional offers between now and Christmas (Black Friday isn’t far away) so the difference may become even smaller still.

The View 20 can’t be ignored though, but it is the priciest model. However, there are occasional promotions that bring that hefty pricetag down considerably. [Update: Like £350 as it is now on Amazon.]

It may not have the extra cameras, but the primary camera is the one you’ll probably be using most often.

You also get a bigger screen that does, in my opinion, make a noticeable difference if you are into watching films.

Overall, the Honor 20 Huawei Nova 5T is an excellent a good compromise, giving a flexible camera experience and keeping a decent chunk of some cash in your pocket at the same time.


More info: Honor UK Huawei

Huawei Nova 5T

£430
8.3

Features

8.5/10

Performance

9.0/10

Camera

8.5/10

Value

7.0/10

Pros

  • Excellent 48MP camera
  • Great battery life
  • Perfect side-mounted fingerprint sensor
  • Dynamic camera features
  • More RAM than the Honor 20

Cons

  • 2MP macro camera is a little low-res (but works quite well)
  • No telephoto camera
  • Smaller battery than the Honor 20 Pro for no obvious reason
  • More expensive than the original Honor 20
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