Huawei Nova 9 test: an ultra-powerful photophone under 500 euros, enough to compensate for the absence of Google?

Still, in a tense situation with the United States, which prevents it from accessing Google services for its Android smartphones, Huawei is not discouraged and continues its adventure with its home ecosystem. The Chinese manufacturer is even back this fall with a new flagship: the Huawei Nova 9. Let’s see Huawei Nova 9 test is worth less than 500 euros, designed to appeal to young people.

Huawei Nova 9

Huawei Nova 9

  • 120Hz OLED screen quality
  • Gaming performance
  • Excellent photo quality
  • Good autonomy
  • Pleasant and light in hand
  • Ultra-fast charging
  • No microSD
  • No 5G
  • Android experience still incomplete and frustrating
  • Limited streaming services in 480p

In the box of the Huawei Nova 9

In addition to the Chinese brand’s new flagship, the Huawei Nova 9 box contains:

  • A 66W fast charging pad;
  • A USB-C to USB-C charging cable;
  • A transparent silicone protective shell;
  • A SIM card ejector key + quick start guide.

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The design worked to appeal to “young people

The Huawei Nova 9 is a mid-range smartphone designed to coexist with the two high-end series of the Chinese brand: the Mate, like the Huawei Mate 40 Pro, and the P, like the Huawei P40 Pro. It has been specifically designed to appeal to “young people”, with a particular focus on photo and video, and maximum autonomy. Because young people, they don’t have time! Small fun fact: the “nova” logo represents two people side by side. A way for the brand to show its open-mindedness and inclusiveness.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret
© Christelle Perret for Clubic

Going back to the design of the Nova 9, it is worth noting that we tested the Starry Blue version, which is a pastel blue-gray, semi-matte. It has a double-coated finish on which the light reflects very nicely, and which is also very pleasant to the touch. Indeed, the back of the device is very lightly etched, so it is not perfectly smooth. However, this is not at all annoying in everyday life. On the contrary, without a protective shell, it prevents it from slipping in the hand. As a bonus: fingerprints hardly make a mark.

Of course, it is impossible not to mention the Star Orbit Ring that enhances the four-sensor camera module on the back of the device. We’ll come back to this in more detail in the section on photography, but as far as the design is concerned, it’s a visual success. In everyday use, it’s the same! The photo module protrudes very slightly from the smartphone (much less than the Motorola edge 20). And it is wide and flat enough for the smartphone to fit flat on the back.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret

© Christelle Perret for Clubic

Overall, its dimensions ensure an excellent grip. The Huawei Nova 9 is 16 centimeters high and 7.37 centimeters wide. Extremely thin and light, it is only 7.77 millimeters thick and weighs only 175 grams. The diagonal of its screen with rounded edges is 6.57 inches, which we think is an ideal compromise between display surface and practicality of use, even for small hands. Let’s stay briefly on this screen to talk about the selfie sensor and the fingerprint reader.

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The first one is, as it is the fashion nowadays, housed in a discreet punch at the top of the screen. Visually, this is indeed more pleasant than the pill seen previously on the Mate 40 Pro and P40 Pro models. As for the fingerprint sensor, it is located under the screen, at the bottom as on the Mate 30 Pro. A detail that will not bother small hands, big thumbs will have to contort a little. Let’s quickly move on to the metal chassis, which has two buttons on its side edge: the power and the volume control.

120Hz OLED screen close to perfection

As a reminder, the 6.57-inch screen of the Huawei Nova 9 is curved. It is a morphology that requires a little practice to hold, but which is very pleasant over time. For its flagship, the Chinese manufacturer has chosen an OLED panel on which is displayed an FHD+ resolution, which is 2340 x 1080 pixels, HDR10 compatible. Or almost. The resolution of a screen is measured according to a standard rectangle, but the Huawei Nova 9 also has rounded corners: the effective pixels are therefore slightly lower. But let’s not quibble.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Christelle Perret for Clubic

Note that the resolution is dynamic by default, to save energy. The device adjusts the display, depending on the content being played, between a high resolution (1080 x 2340 pixels) and a low resolution (720 x 1560 pixels). Of course, it is possible to force the setting to one or the other, depending on your preferences. In addition to offering 1.07 billion colors, visible even in bright sunlight, it also offers a refresh rate of 120 Hz. Again, the refresh rate is dynamic by default.

This setting ensures a balance between visual rendering and battery consumption. Just as imperceptible as the resolution adjustment, it is devilishly effective! But here again, it is possible to force the setting of this frequency on “high” to enjoy a refresh rate of 120 Hz continuously, or on “standard” to limit the refresh rate to 60 Hz and thus preserve the autonomy of the smartphone. Rather well calibrated in terms of color temperature, the display can however be customized.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret

© Huawei Nova 9

As with all Android devices, the Huawei Nova 9 test allows you to choose between two display modes: “normal” colors, which applies the colors best suited to the type of content displayed, and “vivid” colors, which applies a wider range of colors for a more saturated rendering. In either case, it is very successful. The natural colors are sufficiently vivid so that the general rendering is not bland, and the vivid color mode does not go too far in the saturation of the colors.

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The only criticism we could make concerns the color temperature. Indeed, the setting “normal colors” tends very slightly towards yellow, while the setting “bright colors” tends slightly towards blue. But just below this first set is the color temperature wheel. It is possible to select one of the three pre-existing settings: “default” supposedly balanced, “warm” and “cold”. But it is enough to use the color wheel to customize the display.

Performance: very solid on its supports!

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret
© Huawei Nova 9

The Huawei Nova 9 is powered by a mid-range SoC, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G 4G, octo-core. Four Cortex-A78 are clocked at 2.42 GHz and four Cortex-A55 are clocked at 1.8 GHz. All this is supported by 8 GB of RAM, while graphics are rendered by an Adreno 642L chip. About the same recipe as for the Motorola edge 20 whose power in 3D games had impressed us … except that here it is even better! All the benchmarks say so, and we were indeed able to verify it.

In daily navigation between applications, it’s fast and fluid. We didn’t suffer from any latency, and this Huawei Nova 9 is simply a pleasure to use – once its morphology is integrated into our habits. But it is on the side of the most greedy 3D video games that we could measure all its power. As usual, let’s go to Genshin Impact the action RPG from miHoYo. As on the Motorola edge 20, the quality of graphics is set by default on low, for a fluid level of performance.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© miHoYo

Fluid, but ugly. And we knew that the Huawei Nova 9 SoC could do better. So, we pushed it to medium graphics quality, while remaining at 30fps. The smartphone heated up a little bit, but nothing annoying. So, we tried to switch the game to “high” graphics quality. Of course, the game interface screams in red and bold that it is too high, that the smartphone will not follow. Always the same mistake!

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© miHoYo

The fluidity was there, whether it was for the movements of our character or simply the changes of camera angle. With the Huawei Nova 9, there is no need to compromise between the smoothness of the game and the quality of graphics: you can have it all. And the smartphone finally heated up quite a bit, but still more than leaving the game “ugly”!

Interface: good progress, but there is still work to do

Need we remind you: Huawei can not integrate Google Mobile Services in its products since the Chinese manufacturer was placed on the blacklist of the United States. There is no Google Play Store to download your favorite applications on the Huawei Nova 9. Nor Google Maps to organize your travels, nor the Google search bar. Anyway, you get the idea. Still, the smartphone runs Android 11, and in Europe, it’s spiced up with the EMUI 12 overlay.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Huawei Nova 9

Navigating the Huawei Nova 9 interface

The smartphone offers a gesture known for users used to Android. However, there are some criticisms of the Huawei Nova 9 interface, which wants to do too much. On the latest versions of Android, it is possible to “backtrack” in its navigation by simply swiping from the right edge of the screen to the center. This gesture is also available on the Huawei Nova 9. But the Chinese manufacturer applies a second, almost identical gesture that disrupts navigation a little.

Thus, by swiping from the right edge of the screen to the center, and maintaining pressure on the screen, a list of shortcuts appears. We’re not saying it’s a bad idea, but the timing is so short to differentiate the two gestures that sometimes you want to do “previous” and finally open this shortcut bar. And vice versa. Then, you should know that the (very old) gesture of swiping from the top of the screen to access its list of notifications has also been revised, surprisingly!

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Huawei Nova 9

Indeed, the top of the screen has been divided in two. Swiping from the left side gives access to the list of notifications: messages, applications, emails, etc. While swiping from the right side open the control panel of the smartphone. This screen, which could be described as a “remote control”, allows you to control the music being played (on the smartphone or elsewhere), to access the quick settings (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ringtone, GPS, etc.) but also, and above all, to control the connected devices.

Yes, to get back on track, Huawei is banking on its own ecosystem, which the Chinese manufacturer wants to build around the needs of its users. This involves partnerships, such as the one with the French payment service Lydia which allows users to exchange money between individuals, but also to pay without contact with their cell phone, in a secure manner.

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Palliatives to the absence of Google services

As mentioned above, Google services are not included. So Huawei has created its own ecosystem of applications, and continues its development. When we think of Google, the first thing that comes to mind is the Internet search bar on the home screen. Obviously, it is not available here. Instead, Huawei offers to use its own search engine, Petal Search.

The latter executes internet queries, but searches in parallel for applications, products (shopping), images, or news, related to the search terms launched. But Huawei’s search engine also accepts queries without input. Indeed, it is possible to dictate your search, or to use a photo. As you can see below, we photographed a cup of coffee, to see where Petal Search would lead us. And… what a journey!

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Huawei Nova 9

Let’s face it, Google regulars will miss the relevance of the American search engine, as Petal Search results are a bit light and often off the mark. Except when it comes to finding applications. There, Huawei’s tool does an excellent job of finding the best APK available! But we will come back to this in more detail later.

For classic queries, it is also possible to open the web browser or the Qwant application in order to go to the google.fr page, and carry out your searches. It’s a pity to have to go through that, but we have to admit that for the moment, Petal Search is not very efficient. On the other hand, we were very pleasantly surprised by Petal Maps, the replacement of Google Maps.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Christelle Perret for Clubic

Huawei doesn’t invent anything for this last application and takes the main part of what you can have in Google’s application: explore the surroundings and look for a route. Even the logo of Petal Maps resembles, from the shape to the colors used, that of Google Maps. Still, it works very well, so in the end, it doesn’t matter that it is very similar. We can find our way around, and that’s something!

We’re not going to go through all the Google apps, but get to what you really want to know. Are all your favorite apps available on the Huawei Nova 9 and/or how to install them?

How to install applications on the Huawei Nova 9?

The answer, it is not quickly answered. First of all, Google applications (Gmail, Google Drive, etc.) are not available for download via AppGallery. But some are still accessible through Petal Search, such as Gmail and the Google Drive storage space. And it is possible to install Google Maps via an APK.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Huawei Nova 9

And generally speaking, when you can’t find what you’re looking for in the AppGallery, as was the case for the installation of Genshin Impact, you just have to turn to Petal Search, which systematically specifies the source of the file (AppGallery or other) in its list of results. Huawei’s search engine, therefore, allows you to find the APK of the application, online. But don’t worry, installation is just as easy as via the store.

In two clicks, you can start downloading the application and then install it. For updates, the AppGallery centralizes everything, even for APKs. However, the Huawei store does not update them automatically. So you have to check regularly if updates are available and install them manually (just click on “Get”, then “Download”, and finally “Install”).

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret

It’s really quite simple, and Huawei has made a great effort to make this action as accessible as possible. However, we have to admit that it is quite restrictive. Especially when you use a lot of applications installed via APKs. So we come to the question: are my favorite applications available in the AppGallery?

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Are my favorite applications in AppGallery?

As for social networks, TikTok and Snapchat are present. But you will have to go through an APK to get Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Music lovers, you will find Deezer in the AppGallery, but not Spotify… Film and series lovers, you will also need an APK to get Netflix
Amazon Prime Video or Disney+.

As a reminder, the APK files are identical to the classic Android applications, and you will find the same features. They were simply not developed to integrate the Huawei store and allow direct installation. Sometimes this causes some problems, probably due to incompatibilities with EMUI 12. Thus, we have encountered three problems.

Downloading APKs, yes but…

First, with Netflix. Indeed, the maximum playback resolution is limited to SD format, that is 480p. Even with a standard subscription supposed to deliver a Full HD resolution. That stings the eyes! This is because Huawei does not have a sufficient license with Netflix (and other streaming services) to deliver better than SD format. Big disappointment, we do not hide it from you.

Secondly, with Instagram and Genshin Impact, we encountered a small inconvenience that we have not seen for a long time on an Android smartphone. Thus, leaving Instagram (while a video is playing) or Genshin Impact, by simply pressing “back” allows you to return to the home page of the smartphone, but does not cut the sound. It is then necessary to force the closure to cut the audio!

Finally, I had the regret to notice that I did not receive any notification from my Discord
servers, ever. Even private messages. However, the notifications of Instagram or Twitter reached me well, and they were also installations via an APK …

Audio: opt for good headphones!

The Huawei Nova 9 has a single speaker located on its bottom edge. We can’t repeat it enough: it’s a rather non-optimal placement since the slot can easily be obstructed. However, it delivers a powerful sound… even a little too much, because it saturates quite strongly as soon as you exceed 60% of volume. In short, this is not the best argument of this smartphone, and it is enough to watch YouTube videos or listen to a podcast.

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Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Huawei Nova 9

Moreover, there is no way to improve the audio rendering of the speaker. The Huawei Histen settings are only available when a headset (wired or wireless) is connected to the smartphone. The proposed settings are quite basic, with four playback modes: “automatic” to adjust the sound effects according to the content, “3D audio” to offer immersive listening, “natural” and “standard” which opens access to the equalizer and bass boost.

Note that the Huawei Nova 9 does not have a 3.5 mm jack, but only a USB-C port. On the Bluetooth side (5.2), it supports BLE, SBC, AAC, and LDAC codecs.

AI-powered camera, for the better

As we said above, Huawei has focused mainly on photo and video to create a smartphone that could appeal to “young people”. So the Nova 9 embeds four sensors in its rear module:

  • A 50 MP wide-angle (f/1.9) with RYYB technology that allows 40% more light compared to the standard RGGB technology;
  • an 8 MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide-angle camera, powered by AI to correct the natural distortion of this type of shot;
  • a Macro camera (f/2.4) to capture objects at 4 centimeters;
  • a depth sensor (f/2.4) to obtain a bokeh effect.

The selfie camera on the front is no less good with its 32 MP sensor (f/2.0) that allows for 4K video. It should be noted that the Huawei store integrates the Petal Clip application, which allows you to edit videos directly from its module, “like a professional”.

Photo application

Android users will not be lost with the Huawei Nova 9’s photo application, as both are so similar. And that’s not bad! The first element proposed is the photo, with access to the wide-angle, ultra wide-angle, then the digital zoom 2x and 10x. On the left are the capture settings (image format, activation of the composition grid, horizontal level, timer, etc.), then the available filters and whether or not to activate the flash and AI. The last icon on the left is AI Lens, which can identify objects or translate text in real time.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Huawei Nova 9

Among the other capture modes immediately available, we find the “Portrait” and “Night shot” modes on the left, then “Video” and “Vlog” on the right, before “More” which opens access to the “Panoramic”, “Dynamic image”, “Time-Lapse”, “Pro” modes, etc. It is here that you should look for the “Super Macro” mode.

Wide-angle

Let’s not beat around the bush: it’s a success. The wide-angle sensor offers superb shots thanks to a very good understanding of the scenes. The rendering of the colors is natural, the luminosity and the contrast are well dosed. As for the level of details, it is simply very good. We can regret a little exaggerated saturation on some shots, but even in this last case, the rendering is quite spectacular.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret

© Christelle Perret for Clubic

Unfortunately, the Huawei Nova 9 does not have a telephoto lens. It simply offers a digital zoom available by default in 2x and 10x. If the first one is more or less convincing, it is difficult to find a real interest in the second one which offers, obviously, a very pixelated picture. Let’s say that it has the merit to exist.

Ultra wide-angle

Once again, let’s not drag out the suspense: it’s a big yes. We will not lie to you, at this stage, we are rather won over by this photo module. As a reminder, the Huawei Nova 9 test is a smartphone at 499 euros. And its ultra-wide-angle sensor really works wonders. First of all, we can immediately note that the Chinese manufacturer was not lying when he spoke of the correction of image distortion by artificial intelligence. The result is quite convincing, even if some stretching remains visible.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret

© Christelle Perret for Clubic

Overall, we note the same qualities as for the shots offered by the wide-angle sensor. The colors are natural and the level of details is convincing. In daylight, in the fog or in the evening, the brightness of the whole remains good, just like the contrasts. In short, we have no real complaints.

Super Macro

This sensor is the one that has convinced us the least among all the sensors offered on the Huawei Nova 9. Because it is a bit restrictive: the optimal distance to get a good quality shot is four centimeters between the sensor and the object. No more, no less. It is therefore reserved for small objects, since it does not allow to take much distance. Note that the bokeh effect added to the shots made via the Super Macro mode is particularly well proportioned, with an impressive precision of the subject.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret

 © Christelle Perret for Clubic

Night photos

On the Huawei Nova 9, the “night shot” mode is only available on the wide-angle sensor. Unfortunately, the ultra-wide-angle doesn’t make it after dark, and neither does the Super Macro. So you have to turn to the 50 MP sensor which does an impressive job. In standard mode, it captures a very large amount of light, at the cost of reduced sharpness and added noise, fortunately quite limited.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret

© Christelle Perret for Clubic

So, let’s switch to the “night shot” mode. One thing is for sure: it completely transforms the rendering of the photo, for the better. It’s not about making the image as bright as possible, but about doing justice to the composition. The artificial intelligence at work takes it upon itself to improve the composition to allow the captured objects to stand out better in this night atmosphere. And this, without adding noise or yellow filtering to the image.

The result is simply amazing.

Portraits and selfies

Of course, taking pictures in portrait mode is also a success. Both via the wide-angle sensor on the back of the smartphone and via the front sensor. For the latter, there will be no bokeh effect, unless you select one of the various “effects” available to modify the elements in the background.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Huawei Nova 9

For the portraits made with the wide-angle sensor, it is quite different, since the latter is supported in the task by the depth sensor. And what a team effort! The cropping is excellent. The restitution of colors is perfect. The blur is well dosed. The quality of the picture is so good that it allows noticing all the defects of this figure, invisible to the naked eye.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Christelle Perret pour Clubic

Video

The Huawei Nova 9 allows you to shoot 4K video at 30 frames per second, regardless of the focal length: ultra-wide-angle, wide-angle, and even x2 zoom (digital, just to remind you). The same goes for the 32 MP front sensor. In both configurations, it is also possible to shoot ultra-smooth videos in 720 @240fps.

And artificial intelligence is at work to manage the stabilization of the video when the user is in motion. We have known better for this last point, but it must be recognized that the post-processing effectively attenuates the shakes, without making them completely disappear.

Autonomy: full charge in 38 minutes

After the photo and video, Huawei has particularly focused on the autonomy of the Nova 9 to try to conquer the youth. Under the hood, we find a battery of 4300 mAh, which is impressive for a smartphone of such thinness. But we must recognize that Huawei has always been very good in this area. On the software side, everything is also implemented to ensure the greatest possible autonomy.

As mentioned above, the display resolution and refresh rate of the screen, which are two elements that consume a lot of energy, are by default set to the “dynamic” mode, to preserve the battery. And the system does not hesitate to notify the user when it considers that an application consumes too many resources in the background, as was the case with Twitter and Instagram during our test

.

Test Huawei Nova 9 © Christelle Perret© Huawei Nova 9

In our test, the smartphone easily lasted two days without charging. Never less than a full day. And it must be said that the charging is so fast that you don’t pay much attention to it. In fact, it takes only 38 minutes for a full charge, thanks to the 66W charging block. And to avoid as much as possible the deleterious effects of too fast charging, Huawei has integrated some default charging settings.

First of all, the “Smart Charge” allows you to restrict charging once you have passed 80% of the battery. Then the “Smart Battery Manager” cuts the recharge a little before reaching full charge. Obviously, this reduces somewhat the autonomy of a charge, but it allows to preserve the battery in the duration. This is an important point for the Chinese manufacturer, which wants you to keep your smartphones longer.

So Huawei offers 6 months of extended warranty on all its smartphones and even offers a package at 39 euros to replace your battery, regardless of your model of smartphone Huawei.

Price and availability

The Huawei Nova 9 is available since November 2, 2021, at a price of 499 euros. Two colors are offered in France: Starry Blue and Black. Only one configuration is available: 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space. As a reminder, this model is not compatible with the 5G network, which is surprising for a smartphone in 2021. Especially if you want to keep it long enough to take advantage of the guarantees offered by the Chinese manufacturer…

Huawei Nova 9: the opinion of TechMarkup

What an impressive comeback from Huawei with this Nova 9. If it is designed for young people, there is no doubt that it will actually please all age groups. The design, neat, highlights superbly its OLED 120 HZ screen. Its performance is impressive, especially in the most demanding 3D games, and its autonomy is quite satisfactory. Finally, we only find two annoying flaws: the lack of 5G, and the few glitches of its interface (which will certainly continue to improve).

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