After debuting in mainland China, Huawei’s Nova 9 has hit retailers in Europe and Southeast Asia. This is not a flagship phone per se, as its chipset (Snapdragon 778G) and price tag (between $500 to $550 in countries including Poland, France, Thailand and Malaysia) are a tier below what’s seen in the iPhone 13 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, but the Nova 9 still brings a lot to like.
I have tested a unit for roughly a week, but unfortunately I am currently on the road traveling and do not have the device with me, so I am unable to provide my usual self-shot product shots. Nonetheless, my experience with the device is from my personal usage. Still, this is not a review—consider it a hands-on before I do a proper review when I get my hands on the device again.
The first thing that stands out about the Huawei Nova 9 is its relatively small size compared to other Android phones: with a 6.57-inch screen, measuring just 7.8mm in thickness and weighing 175g, the Nova 9 is very comfortable to hold, and doesn’t tire my wrist or palm compared to wielding behemoth devices like the iPhone 13 Pro Max (240g) and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (227g).
The Nova 9 also carries over the striking gigantic circular camera module design first seen in the Huawei P50 Pro, and it’s a look that has grown on me. I also like the glass back coating, which is grippy, a bit shiny, yet does not attract fingerprints.MORE FOR YOU
The main camera system is technically a “quad camera system,” consisting of a 50MP main f/1.9 camera, an 8MP ultra-wide, and a pair of 2MP depth and macro sensors. I’m just going to be blunt: these 2MP sensors don’t do much, so it’s best to look at this as a dual-camera system, but the good news is, the main and ultra-wide cameras are capable.
Two reasons for this: the Nova 9 brings over Huawei’s RYYB filtering array and XD Engine. Both of these were flagship features first offered in a $1,000 Huawei flagship phone not too long ago. The RYYB filter was first seen in the Huawei P30 Pro in 2019, and it was considered groundbreaking tech at the time. Essentially, the RYYB (red, yellow, yellow, blue) filter deviates from traditional RGB (red, green, blue) array that is used in most other digital cameras. Huawei’s reason is that yellow is more sensitive to light than green, so an RYYB filter can grab more light. It worked exactly as advertised, except in the early days (back in 2019), photos would have a yellow-tint. Huawei’s software has since fixed this, and now the RYYB filter array bring mostly pros with few cons over the RGB array.
The XD Engine, meanwhile, is Huawei’s complex software algorithm that conducts high-level semantic analysis on multiple RAW frames captured on multiple cameras. Anytime you snap a photo with the Nova 9, the camera actually capture a series of images at various exposure levels, and then the XD Engine uses the Nova 9’s NPU cores to analyze the images and put all the information into one shot. It’s not too far off from similar technology Apple and Google offer with their phones, but again, the Nova 9 is a mid-tier device.
So, as mentioned, the Snapdragon 778G is not the best possible SoC (System-on-a-Chip) right now, but it’s still a very capable chip that is optimized for gaming. However, due to ongoing U.S. sanctions, this is the rare Snapdragon 778G that does not support 5G networks—4G is all you get. This is unfortunate, but these restrictions placed by the U.S. government have been in place for years, so anyone considering Huawei devices should know all this by now. For most places in Southeast Asia, 5G is barely a factor, so it shouldn’t be too big an issue.
The Nova 9’s 6.6-inch OLED screen also punches way above its price range: it’s curved (which Android brands usually reserve for flagships) and refreshes at 120Hz (most mid-rangers stick to 90Hz), so other than maximum brightness being a bit lower than, say, the latest iPhone screen, this is almost a tip-top flagship panel.
In terms of software, the Nova 9 runs its EMUI skin over an open-source version of Android. Animations are zippy and performance was no issue, but due to those U.S. sanctions, there are no Google apps. The good news is almost everything else will run on here fine, and there’s even a sandbox app named GSpace that gives the phone access to Google services. Like I’ve been saying in every Huawei review: it’s never going to be ideal or preferred that Google apps can’t run natively on it, but it may not be as big a dealbreaker as initially thought. If you use other Huawei products such as Huawei monitors, laptops, or smartwatches, the Nova 9 will connect seamlessly to those accessories.
I have not used the device long enough to give a final definitive opinion on battery life yet, but the 4,300 mAh cell should be enough to power the device all day.
Overall, the Huawei Nova 9 is a good looking mid-ranger that punches above its price class in camera and screen performance.