Before it was about being the slimmest, then front cameras overtook the importance of the rear shooters, and now it’s about the display. Since Xiaomi popularized the borderless design, other manufacturers followed. Of course, such high-end features will eventually come to cheaper devices just like the Huawei Nova 2i.

Huawei has a habit of giving their devices confusing names. Just to be clear, the phone we’re about the review is also known as the Honor 9i in India and Maimang 6 in China.

The first thing to notice is its near-borderless 5.9-inch display

An 18:9 Full HD+ display with vibrant colors

It runs EMUI 5.1 on top of Android Nougat

There’s a Huawei branding on its chin

A micro-USB port, along with the speaker and 3.5mm audio port, is at the bottom

It should have been USB-C, though

This is a dual-SIM model which accepts two nano-SIM cards

The second slot also accepts microSD for additional storage

The back is simple yet premium-looking

Our blue colored unit is a pretty phone to look at

The dual rear camera setup is parallel to the fingerprint reader 

The Nova 2i loves bokeh, right?

The FullView display is its major selling point

One of the reasons why you’d want the Nova 2i is for its display. Even before borderless display tech comes to Huawei’s flagship, it’s already available on their new midrange phone. They call it FullView and, at least on the Nova 2i, it’s not as edge-to-edge as the Samsung Galaxy S8. But it’s visibly sharp thanks to its 2160 x 1080 resolution.

While the display is vibrant and clear, the 18:9 aspect ratio doesn’t go well with the usual widescreen videos on YouTube and other video streaming apps. The tall display is more suited for general use of the device and web browsing. Not all apps support the new standard, yet, so the phone asks the users about scaling the app so it can fit the display.

If there’s anything the Nova 2i lacks, it’s stereo speakers, but the 3.5mm is always ready for any wired headphones you have lying around.

Blazing speed for a midrange phone

A beautiful display should be complemented with good performance, and the Nova 2i has compelling specifications. The phone is powered by Huawei’s latest home-baked Kirin 659 processor with Mali-T830 MP2 graphics. It has 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage, which is expandable via a microSD card. On paper, the Nova 2i is already an impressive device and we’re happy to share that it translates to real-world performance.

Running on the device is EMUI 5.1, the same skin that any Android Nougat-powered Huawei device has. As expected, the custom UI brings in a number of additional features, which are also found on top-of-the-line devices.

During our time with the Nova 2i, we never encountered any lag or even slight hiccups. We did notice slow app loading times at first, but the phone eventually became faster as we used it. Games run well on the device, too. Our staple titles like Asphalt Extreme was extremely playable on high settings, while NBA 2K17 (which is a true graphics- and memory-intensive app) should be set to medium for smoother framerates.

Bokeh on the front and back

Aside from the FullView display, the Nova 2i also boasts the popular dual-camera setup. But this has two pairs of dual cameras, making it a quad-camera smartphone. For the rear, we have a 16- and 2-megapixel combination while the front has slightly lower 13- and 2-megapixel sensors. Enabling the wide-aperture mode lets you set your desired bokeh depth, while portrait mode detects faces for beautification.

In broad daylight, the photos are pleasing and well balanced. I do like how the photos look natural and there’s not much processing done. In darker environments, the camera doesn’t try to brighten the image, which keeps the noise levels down. It’s a slightly different story for selfies, because it tries to give the brightest possible image, thus you get small smudges and soft details in the dark.

A battery that can last the whole day and more

Huawei was able to fit in a 3340mAh non-removable battery inside the metal unibody of the Nova 2i. Too bad though there’s no SuperCharge (Huawei’s fast-charging feature) available. The use of a micro-USB port rather than the newer USB-C is a letdown, but that depends on who you ask. It could have been a great opportunity to introduce the reversible port to this segment.

The battery was able to last me a whole eight-hour work day and then some. It’s always good to have some spare juice left before reaching for the charger.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

We always end our reviews with this question, and for this one, I’d say it’s most likely a yes. I find the Nova 2i to be fitting for anyone who is looking a new smartphone that doesn’t lack any essential features and offers the latest, too. And for its PhP 14,999 (US$ 290) price tag, its shortcomings are acceptable.

Even compared to the early player in the borderless midrange game — the Vivo V7+ —  the Nova 2i is an easy choice for those who want balance. The selfie game is stronger on the V7+ though, and OPPO might be the one to match that soon.

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