Bill Bennett


Huawei Nova Lite: NZ$400 Android alternative

If you want a phone for less, consider Huawei’s NZ$400 Nova Lite. It packs plenty of features you might find in a premium Android phone costing four times the price.

Huawei Nova Lite at a glance

For:Thin, solid, light,
Great build quality,
Against:Front camera performance
Long charging time
Maybe:Battery life
Case can get grubby fast
Verdict:The Huawei Nova Lite is a great compromise at the price, that makes it great value.

You get a lot of phone for your money with the Huawei Nova Lite. The company describes it as a midrange phone.

That means it lacks the latest fancy features. It also means there is no hefty price tag. Today’s midrange roughly corresponds to what was a state-of-the-art premium Android phone two years ago. The then and now price difference speaks volumes about Android phone depreciation rates.

Given the way people often hammer phones to death, you’d do better buying a Nova Lite than, say, a second-hand Samsung Galaxy S6, which has similar functionality.


We should also make a comparison with Apple’s iPhone 6. Although the Nova Lite is nothing like an iPhone 6 in use, Huawei more than hints at Apple’s iconic phone design. The rude way of putting it is that the Nova Lite looks like a cheaper iPhone. The polite way would be to say they share the same aesthetic.

Compromises, not all bad

At around NZ$400, Huawei’s Nova Lite costs a quarter the price of a Samsung Galaxy S8. It is less pretty. The Nova Lite is not as comfortable to hold. It isn’t going to turn heads. But it runs the same underlying Android software and does all the most important jobs you buy a phone for.

As you’d expect there are compromises. The Nova Lite has a lower specification that today’s premium Androids in most departments. While these differences are noticeable in everyday use, the compromises don’t seem to multiply, the overall experience is not that bad. You probably won’t be much less productive if you choose this phone. You might have less fun.

A premium phone buys you a metal and glass exterior. If there’s plastic; it’s a better class of plastic. The Nova Lite isn’t as polished, but the edges are smooth and it feels good. The main downside of the case is that it picks up grubby finger marks.

There’s a fingerprint button, a remarkable addition in a $400 phone. It’s placed on the back in much the same position Samsung uses on the Galaxy S8. Huawei uses an old style USB 2.0 charger and port, not USB-C.

Screen, processor performance

The Nova Lite has a 5.2 inch FHD screen. That’s 1080 by 1920 pixels. Or, if my maths is correct a pixel density of 400 pixels per inch. The human eye can’t normally see detail beyond 300 pixels per inch.

In other words, to the human eye images on Huawei’s $400 phone are every bit as detailed as on more expensive phones. The screen is bright enough to be seen outside in daylight. In fact, it is one of the brightest non-Amoled screens I’ve seen.

There’s only 32GB of storage. This is less than you’ll find on a premium phone, but you can use a Micro-SD card. This fits into one of the two Sim card slots included with the phone.

The 3GB Ram feels like enough for most applications. I didn’t hit its limits in testing, but admittedly I wasn’t pushing hard. This is after all an inexpensive phone. The processor feels faster than other lower-priced phones, browsing seems on a par with some premium models.

In practice you may bump up against performance restrictions if you run demanding games software, but for everyday business productivity the phone works well.

Camera, battery life

Huawei says the pixels in the Nova Lite in the 12 megapixel back camera are bigger than usual. This means they capture more light. The phone has autofocus, which, if anything, seems fast even by premium phone standards. The front camera is 8 megapixels.


You’re going to be disappointed with the quality of pictures if you compare the Nova Lite with a premium phone. That’s one thing extra money buys. All the pictures lack sharpness. The front camera is worse with pictures looking overexposed. Still, when compared with other low-cost phones, the Nova Lite comes out ahead of the pack.

You get about a day’s use from the battery, enough for, say, ten hours work and a little leisure time after. Unlike more expensive phones, there is no quick charging.

Huawei’s EMUI Android skin

The phone has Android 7.0, but it’s well hidden. Most Android phone makers have moved away from heavy-hand software overlays. Huawei has doubled-down on its EMUI skin. This could be the cue for a rant about Android skins, most of the time they are awful. Yet Huawei has come up with something that adds value.

A lot of the time this means doing away with the indeterminable levels of menus you must navigate to tinker with a phone’s settings. With EMUI you can get there faster.

On the negative side, EMUI can be a challenge if you’re used to stock Android, Samsung’s TouchWiz or another skin. Once feature I love is the simple screen mode, shown below, which is a minimalist front end that reminds me of earlier versions of Windows Phone.

Huawei Nova Lite Specifications

Screen:5.2 in FHD
Processor:Kirin 655 Processor Octa-core
Storage:32GB, also has micro SD slot
Software:Android 7.0,
Huawei’s EMUI 5.0
Camera:12 megapixel rear,
8 megapixel front camera
Size:145 x 73 x 6mm

Huawei Nova Lite verdict

The Nova Lite is a pleasant surprise and a welcome addition to the Huawei Nova line of inexpensive phones. It may not have all the features of a premium Android, but all the essentials are here. If you are on a tight budget, or have better things to do with your money, this is a good choice. It would be a good phone to buy a teenager or if you buy phones for your employees.

There aren’t many inexpensive phones that include a fingerprint scanner. The display quality and battery life are better than any other phone I’ve seen in this price range.

  1. At the time of writing Pricespy lists one retailer selling the Nova Lite for $360 and two selling it at $450. Huawei’s press release lists the phone at $450.. ↩︎