The Huawei nova 7i is just such a model, costing $499 and boasting impressive hardware specs, including its mid-range home-made SoC, the Kirin 810. It was released alongside the Huawei Mate Pro 40 in November and thus did not merit much coverage, with the more expensive, and better-specced Mate model grabbing the headlines.
But most things about the 7i are good; some, in fact, are excellent. But there are some things that could be improved. As I have pointed out before, as in the case of the P40 Pro+, the hardware is excellent and the the device is much more responsive than many other devices I have looked at. My own phone, an OPPO A91, has similar specs but is much less responsive.
This, gentle reader, is a subjective view. But then all reviews are subjective.
For all the talk about China and its dictatorship, the Chinese firms are happy to get publicity for their devices and are quick to seize on the opportunity for a review. They seem to understand much better the fact that there is nothing like bad publicity.
And despite all the criticism I have levelled at Google, the company did not retaliate when I asked for a Pixel 4a for review and promptly sent one over.
Anyway, that said, let's get back to the nova 7i. The rear camera set-up has four units, including a 48MP main camera and 8MP ultra wide-angle lens. There is also a bokeh lens.
The combination produces excellent images as can be seen from the visuals published within this review.
In terms of battery life, the nova 7i again excels. It has a 4200mAh battery and with moderate use, that lasted me for about three days. The manufacturer claims that it can be charged to 70% in just 30 minutes.
Animals make the best models.
Video viewing is smooth and, despite the lack of anything other than the bog-standard 60Hz refresh rate there is no lag at all.
The nova 7i has a headphone jack and a decent set of headphones is supplied with the device, as also a cover for the case. The sound is very good with none of the tinny echoes that one sometimes encounters on smartphones in this price range and something I encountered on the Pixel 4a which costs the same.
And now to the cons. The 7i has a fingerprint scanner and face recognition, with the former located on the right-hand side. This, I have always found more than a bit fiddly when registering a fingerprint. Locating the scanner on the rear or below the display makes it much easier to use.
Another thing which I did not find too flash was the presence of a lot of what I call crapware. One finds these on many digital devices and their makers pay the hardware vendor for including them. However, from another PoV, Huawei has no choice but to include the crapware given that its finances have taken a hit from the all the unproven charges made against the company by the American Government. One can, of course, remove most of the dross as I did.
Nothing is out of focus here, despite this being a long shot.
I found it somewhat disconcerting that Huawei's implementation of the open-source version of Android - which it calls EMUI and it is based on Android 10 - did not play nicely with Linux. Whenever I take pictures on a mobile, I connect the device to my PC, which runs Debian GNU/Linux, in order to copy the images over so I can process them. But the directory structure of the 7i did not appear when I connected it to my PC and I was forced to use my wife's Windows PC in order to transfer the images over. Perhaps the company would like to take look at this and rectify it.
Finally, there is no NFC, the lack of which often drives away likely users.
And now to the software. Anyone who has not been living under a rock is aware of the fact that Google cannot sell its proprietary apps — Play Store, Gmail, Maps, Drive, Photos etc — to Huawei ever since the American Government banned companies from dealing with it, unless they applied for, and obtained, a licence.
Licences, it would appear, are granted to companies which are in Donald Trump's good books, judging from the fact that Microsoft has been given approval to sell Windows to Huawei. Google, a company that had very strong links to the previous Democratic administration of Barack Obama, is in the dog-house. It applied for a permit but apparently has not heard back from Trump & Co.
So how does this play out in real life for the 7i? Apart from the supplied browser, which is based on Chromium, the browser on the open-source implementation of Android, there are two European browsers, Opera and Vivaldi, in the software store, both of which I already use, and either of which can substitute more than adequately for Firefox or Chrome. Surprisingly, I found that Microsoft Edge, the Linux version of which I have found to be good, is not available.
Instead of Maps, Huawei offers the navigation system from TomTom, with which it signed a deal back in January. This system is very good, but it works differently to Maps and one just has to get used to it.
Given that the Google Play Store is absent, Huawei has its own app, the AppGallery, which one can use to search for applications. WhatsApp can be downloaded and used, as also Facebook, both coming down from the websites of these companies.
Additionally, the AppGallery offers Web links for many of the Google proprietary apps, if one wishes to use them. I must add here that using third-party methods to get the Play Store and its ilk installed will invalidate the warranty on the phone.
In the end, it all depends on the individual; as someone who moved to Linux at a time when it was even difficult to cut and paste between applications and did not mind it because of the benefits of using the open-source operating system over Windows — you can read about my two decades of Linux use here — anyone who can make some compromises can use the 7i. But then, you, gentle reader, may not agree and that is all well and good.
See those ripples on the water?
The hardware makes the use worthwhile and I'm pretty sure that Huawei will continue to improve on what it can offer to make up for the loss of the Google apps. I must remind the reader that I stopped using Gmail in 2009, and have depended on DuckDuckGo as a search engine since then. Once I found myself forced to use Android phones, I have to keep a dummy Gmail address so that I can use the Play Store on my own phone.
The nova 7i will sell for $499 and is available now in Midnight Black from Huawei Authorised Experience Stores — Chatswood (NSW). World Square (NSW) and the recently opened Hurstville Store (NSW) — Mobileciti, The Good Guys and Amazon.
Dimensions 159.2 x 76.3 x 8.7 mm (6.27 x 3.00 x 0.34 in)
Weight 183 g (6.46 oz)
Build Glass front, plastic back, plastic frame
SIM Dual SIM (Nano-SIM)
Type LTPS IPS LCD
Size 6.4 inches, 101.4 cm (~83.5% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution 1080 x 2310 pixels (~398 ppi density)
Platform OS Android 10, EMUI 10, no Google Play Services
Technology GSM / CDMA / HSPA / LTE
2G bands GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 - SIM 1 & SIM 2 (dual-SIM model only) CDMA 800 & TD-SCDMA
3G bands HSDPA 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700(AWS) / 2100
4G bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 18, 19, 28, 34, 38, 39, 40, 41
Speed HSPA 42.2/5.76 Mbps, LTE-A (2CA) Cat13 400/75 Mbps
Chipset Kirin 810 (7 nm)
CPU Octa-core (2x2.27 GHz Cortex-A76 & 6x1.88 GHz Cortex-A55)
GPU Mali-G52 MP6
Lots of detail in distance shots.
Memory Card slot NM (Nano Memory), up to 256GB (uses shared SIM slot)
Internal 128GB 8GB RAM UFS 2.1
Main Camera Quad 48 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/2.0", 0.8µm, PDAF 8 MP, f/2.4, (ultrawide) 2 MP, f/2.4, (macro) 2 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
Features LED flash, HDR, panorama
Video 1080p 30fps
Selfie camera Single 16 MP, f/2.0, (wide), 1/3.06", 1.0µm
Sound Loudspeaker Yes
3.5mm jack Yes
Comms WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot
Bluetooth 5.1, A2DP, LE
GPS Yes, with A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BDS, QZSS
Radio FM radio (market/region dependent)
USB USB Type-C 2.0, USB On-The-Go
Features Sensors Fingerprint (side-mounted), accelerometer, proximity, compass
Battery Type Li-Po 4200 mAh, non-removable
Charging Fast charging 40W, 70% in 30 min (advertised)
Colours Midnight Black