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HUAWEI nova 12i Review

Huawei has been through a lot lately, but the company is making it clear that they are still a major player in the smartphone market.

Just last week, they unveiled the Pura70 Series in China, and now its main nova lineup gets an affordable refresh with two new nova 12 Series models arriving in the Philippines. In particular, we’re getting our hands on the nova 12i — the more affordable option in the lineup.

Huawei Nova 12i Review Fi

This model boasts a 108-megapixel camera, which Huawei touts as its main selling point. It’s backed by a Snapdragon chipset under the hood, a hefty 5000mAh battery, and 40W fast charging.

Priced at under Php13K, can the nova 12i bring much needed value to the table? We put it through its paces to find out in our full review.

Design & Construction

Looking at its rear greets a minimalist design with a grained, matte finish accompanied with a huge circular camera island. It looks like it has a triple camera setup arranged in a grid-like manner, but it only has two actual sensors. The camera module protrudes quite significantly but it is symmetrical enough that it won’t wobble that much.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (18)

Our unit is in this sleek Green colorway, which reflects hues of green as light hits it despite the matte finish. The plastic material with this type of finish also makes it resistant to fingerprint and smudges.

It is comfortable in the hands too thanks to the back panel’s curved sides. The frame is mostly flat all around but also has soft edges. This is where the earpiece actually sits which I find a clever design.

For I/Os, there’s only a microphone up top. On the right side, there are the volume rocker along with the power button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. The bottom houses the USB-C port, the speaker grill, the dual nano-SIM slot, and the second microphone. This leaves nothing on the left side.

There’s no ingress protection or IP rating here, not even a screen protection. So, you may want to be more careful and slap a protective case on this phone.

Display & Multimedia

Speaking of screen, the nova 12i sports a 6.7-inch Full HD+ IPS LCD panel capped to only 90Hz refresh rate. It has significantly thinner bezels, except the chin.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (4)

The upper portion sees a hole punch cutout housing its 8-megapixel selfie shooter. And the phone comes pre-installed with a protective film out of the box.

While it only has an LCD panel, it still supports the Always-on Display — a feature primarily aimed for OLED panels. Battery life may be at stake here, but the phone has fast-charging capabilities anyway, mitigating that concern.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (3)

However, the media experience suffers due to its Widevine L3 certification. This means you’ll be limited to watching Netflix and other DRM content in standard definition (SD) quality. That’s below 480p quality for those who are asking.

Well, it appears media consumption isn’t one of the phone’s strengths. This is further emphasized by the phone’s inclusion of only a single, downward-firing loudspeaker. Audio quality is decent at best, though it can get loud enough at high volumes.

Camera

Now, the phone’s crowning glory: 108-megapixel camera accompanied with, you guessed it, a 2-megapixel depth sensor.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (17)

On paper, the 108-megapixel sensor is a highlight, but megapixel count alone doesn’t guarantee image quality. While the nova 12i can capture sharp photos in good lighting, especially for social media use, zooming in reveals limitations in fine detail.

Perhaps, high-resolution sensors like this often rely on pixel binning, which combines multiple pixels to create a single larger one. This improves low-light performance but can soften overall detail.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (15)

Color reproduction and dynamic range are generally good, with the phone boosting saturation slightly to create more vivid images. This can be appealing for casual social media sharing, but those who prefer a more natural look may need to adjust saturation in post-processing.

Selfies are great, although the phone can soften skin texture a bit, which can be both good and bad. In well-lit environments, the effect is nice, but definitely not so much in low light.

When it comes to videos, the quality isn’t the best. Video capture is limited to 1080p at 30 frames per second. And looking at our sample shots, a lot of grain can be seen and there’s no image stabilization to boot.

Performance & Benchmarks

Moving on to performance, the nova 12i features the good ol’ Snapdragon 680 chipset from Qualcomm and comes with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. Unfortunately, no expandable storage here.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (13)

Games are playable, of course, in low settings. A game booster pops up as you launch a game which auto-clears memory and enables uninterrupted gaming. But that’s just about it. The setting won’t improve the graphics per se.

Interestingly, Ultra settings is available for Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. Although, I wouldn’t really set this phone to Ultra graphics if I want a super smooth gameplay. Other less-demanding games like Asphalt 9 won’t break a sweat either. However, for graphic-intensive title like Genshin Impact, toning down the graphics setting is a must.

With its 90Hz refresh rate, navigating the device still looks smooth as well. For those interested in the numbers, check out our benchmark results below:

AnTuTu V10: 202,542
AnTuTu Storage Test: 51,760
S. Read Speed: 1039.3 MB/s
S. Write Speed: 781.3 MB/s

3DMark Wild Life: 448

Geekbench 6 CPU
• Single Core: 163
• Multi Core: 443

Geekbench 6 GPU Vulkan: 563
PCMark Work 3.0 performance: 7,224
PCMark Work 3.0 battery life: 16 hours and 56 minutes

OS, UI, & Apps

The HUAWEI nova 12i runs EMUI 14 out of the box, but the Android version is stuck on Android 12. At this point, I wouldn’t expect this to get Android 14, considering Huawei doesn’t really disclose its update policy for its devices.

As an Honor phone user myself, I must say Huawei’s Android skin has never looked and felt this good (since EMUI 9). While it takes heavy inspiration from Apple’s iOS, I have to commend them for making it more aesthetically pleasing.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (11)

The visuals are consistent throughout its first-party apps like the Notepad, Calendar, Messages, etc. And the icons on standard theme look more polished, in my opinion.

The control panel is very much like iOS, but the text placements in here could use some improvement. Expect it to have tons of bloatware, but like always, these can be uninstalled easily.

We all know there’s no Google code in newer Huawei devices after the US ban. But sideloading Google apps is a bit easier now compared to previous years. Some apps can now be downloaded directly from the AppGallery, but others may still redirect to third-party websites for .apk download or require GBox for installation.

Like I mentioned earlier, the phone supports Always-on Display. There are several styles to choose from, there’s the 3D-fied Emojis, impossible art styles, and of course, the different clock styles from analog to digital.

However, my one gripe is the animation on these is a bit choppy when unlocking or unlocking the device. Nonetheless, they are a welcome addition for a phone with an LCD screen only.

Speaking of unlocking, the nova 12i has a side-mounted fingerprint sensor that doubles as a power button. As soon as I lay my finger on it, the device instantly unlocks without much delay.

Connectivity & Battery Life

Battery-wise, nova 12i packs a 5000mAh unit. In normal usage, expect the phone to last an entire day of use. In our PCMark Work 3.0 battery life testing, the phone garnered a solid 16 hours and 56 minutes.

The phone does heat up a bit after long gaming sessions, but it is bearable for the most part.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (14)

Huawei throws in a 40W charging brick in the box, so you won’t be scrambling for a separate brick. This charges the phone up to 62% in just half an hour over USB-C, as advertised at least.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (9)

The nova 12i is limited to 4G connectivity only, but this is to be expected. Other connectivity features include Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC.

Conclusion

The Huawei nova 12i is a curious case. Coming in at PHP 12,999, it boasts a headline-grabbing 108-megapixel camera, but the rest of the phone feels like a budget afterthought.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a competent entry-level phone with a spec sheet that checks most of the boxes: big battery paired with fast charging, a decent camera, and a smooth, large display.

Huawei Nova 12i Review (16)

But just like those flashy megapixels, some cracks start to show. The lack of Google Play Services and the dated Android 12 base might be significant hurdles, forcing users to jump through hoops for essential apps.

Media consumption isn’t its stronge suit either with only a Widevine L3 certification and a mono loudspeaker.

The 108MP camera may sound impressive on paper, but real-world performance falls a bit short. While photos are decent for casual social media use, video capture leaves a lot to be desired.

If you’re a die-hard Huawei fan or simply crave a phone with a massive megapixel count for bragging rights, the nova 12i might be worth considering. But for most users, there are better options out there that offer a more balanced package for the same price.

Ultimately, the choice is always yours. So, what do you think about this new offering from Huawei? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

The HUAWEI nova 12i becomes available nationwide starting April 27th both in Huawei’s online and offline stores.

What we liked about it:
* Ergonomic design
* Above-average battery life
* Fast charging
* Decent cameras

What we did not like:
* Widevine L3 only
* Mono loudspeaker
* Limited to 4G
* Dated base OS (Android 12)

HUAWEI nova 12i specs:
6.7-inch FHD+ IPS LCD
1080 × 2388 pixels, 90Hz refresh
Qualcomm Snapdragon 680
8-cores, up to 2.4GHz
8GB RAM (+3GB extended memory)
128GB, 256GB storage
Dual rear cameras:
– 108MP f/1.9 main
– 2MP f/2.4 depth
8MP f/2.0 selfie shooter (hole punch notch)
Dual nano-SIM
4G LTE
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 5.0
Beidou, GPS (L1), Galileo (E1), Glonass, QZSS (L1), AGPS
USB Type-C (USB 2.0)
NFC
Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
EMUI 14 (Android 12)
5000mAh battery
40W wired charging
163.3 x 74.7 x 8.4 mm
~199g
Green, Black

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Avatar for JM Chavaria

JM's highest stat is probably his curious ardor to anything tech—electronics and gaming in particular. He certainly heeds utmost regard to specsheet, visuals, and rule of thirds. If creativity and wit sometimes leave JM's system, watching films, anime and a good stroll for memes are his approved therapeutic claims.

1 Response

  1. Avatar for Paul Paul says:

    The naming they did here reminds me of Huawei’s Nova 2i, that was a pretty good phone. Unfortunately those days are long past and the Novas are not so good value for the money now.

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