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Huawei Nova 5T review

Flagship-grade without the price

(Image: © Future)

Reliability and interface

Like most Huawei phones the Nova 5T runs Android 9 Pie out of the box and its own EMUI 9.1 skin on top, which brings unique features like a simplified UI, a faster file system and modes like GPU Turbo.

These come in addition to all the nifty Android 9 features like adaptive battery usage. And yes, there’s Google apps and the Play Store pre-installed on the Nova 5T along with the usual suite of Huawei apps. 

Since there’s no expandable storage on the Nova 5T, you’ll have to make do with the 128GB internal storage of which the system takes up 23GB, leaving you 105GB for storing pictures, videos, music and games.

The UI on the Nova 5T is fluid and responsive. Navigation is a breeze with no noticeable stutters while scrolling or transitioning between apps. Icons and themes garner a more minimal aesthetic and pleasing to the eye. But if the default theme doesn't catch your fancy then there’s plenty of customization available in Huawei’s Theme app.

You can also change the way you navigate by turning on gesture controls which makes the UI feel more fluid than the usual three-button setup, and easier to use in general. There’s one-handed mode as well for when you find it hard to reach a certain point on the screen, and it works flawlessly. 

Touch input is great on the Nova 5T and very responsive, though not as fluid as some of the more expensive phones that feature better screen tech. The only app that caused that cause mild annoyance was the camera app; it does not like it when you move through its options too quickly. 

Performance

The Kirin 980 is the same chip that powers Huawei’s Mate 20 and P30 series’ AI capabilities for better performance and battery endurance. It blazes through most demanding apps, and the on-board 8GB of RAM makes multitasking a breeze. 

It’s not as fast or powerful as the Snapdragon 855 found in OnePlus 7 series. And while the Nova 5T’s Geekbench 5 scores - 673 single-core and 2426 multi-core - aren’t going to blow anyone away, it can hold its own against heavy task loads pretty well. Throughout our time with the phone, we had no issues running multiple apps while downloading large files in the background and streaming video concurrently.

Tucked away in the settings is a Performance mode that can give the phone a marginal boost in performance, though we found it drained the battery faster than when it’s left off and just not worth it.

Movies, music and gaming

One of our favorite features on the Nova 5T is its large, crisp 6.26-inch display. Content and games feel great to watch on this spacious display. The LCD panel obviously falls short of the vibrancy and punchiness boasted by OLED displays but you need a discerning eye to tell the difference. 

While the Nova 5T has one of the better single bottom-firing speakers we’ve seen on a phone, it’s still mediocre at best. The audio gets sufficiently loud but expect a good amount of fuzz to come with it. It’s also positioned awkwardly on the bottom left which can sometimes cover it up if you’re holding it in landscape mode when watching videos or gaming. 

Much like some top Android phones, the headphone jack has been done away with on the Nova 5T. Instead, you’re left to rely on a small 3.5mm jack to USB-C dongles - if you can keep track of them - or Bluetooth headphones.

The punch-hole display is a good enough replacement for the notch and makes viewing any kind of content immensely gratifying. You’ll find videos taking up most of the screen which creates an immersive experience. There are black bars on either side of your content by default, but even if you go fullscreen, you’ll hardly find the cut-out get in your way.

The extra screen real estate comes in handy during gaming as well. Since the area that houses the punch-hole is rarely used during popular games, it doesn’t interfere. Do note that touch input in that area is fussy and if you do come across a game that has controls there, switching to normal screen display is best.

The Kirin 980 is an excellent processor for mobile gaming allowing you to play popular titles like PUBG, Fortnite and Dead Trigger at the highest graphics settings without losing frames or major hiccups.  

You can turn on Huawei’s proprietary GPU Turbo 3.0 feature for what Huawei calls “enhanced gaming”. It’s supposed to boost chipset performance and optimize battery usage. However, it only covers a few games and the performance boosts are too marginal to be of any notice.

Ammara is a tech and gaming writer with with an irrational love for all things Apple, indie games and cyberpunk novels. She handles social media for TechRadar Middle East with a keen interest in video creation and covers news and reviews across everything. Away from the keyboard, Ammara can be found playing the latest game and browsing for more tech gadgets she doesn’t need. She is also the current office Wordle champ.