Huawei Nova 11 Pro Review: Returning to the same problem

We have remarked on a number of occasions in recent years, South Africa’s mid-range smartphone space is stacked with a myriad of great options to fit any need or budget. While this is great news for consumers, it is less welcome for smartphone makers, especially when it comes to debuting a device that can stand out from the crowd.

This brings us to the Huawei Nova 11 Pro, which debuted locally a couple of weeks ago alongside the Nova 11 too.

Despite being part of one of Huawei’s most popular phone lineups, the Nova 11 Pro has its work cut out if it plans to not only turn heads, but keep a user’s attention too.

We spent the past couple of weeks with the phone to find out if it can do precisely that. We were also intrigued to see how the software and operating system (OS) experience on the Nova series has improved of late.

Here’s what we learned.

Taking fashion notes

We start as always with the design. While this is our usual jumping off point for reviews, on the Nova 11 Pro it feels necessary. This is as the device sports a back cover we have not really experienced before.

Sure we have reviewed phones featured both genuine and vegan leather before, but not ones that look like this. We aren’t clothes horses, but the design clearly mimics that of certain Gucci handbags and other luxury leather accessories.

Huawei describes it as the “nova Monogram Vegan Leather Design” and it is certainly eye catching in this particular shade of Green.

Initially, we must admit that we were not big fans of the aesthetic choices, but it has grown on us over time. The Green is also less jarring now than compared to the first time we encountered it, and is indeed a bit more muted than what some of the adverts and online promotional material for the phone would suggest.

Either way, we can appreciate the efforts that Huawei has gone to in order to make this phone stand out in a crowd of similarly styled, specced, and priced phones currently on the market.

Looking at the rest of the device, the FullHD+ OLED display is generous at 6.78″ (2562×1200). Added to this are some curved edges, thin bezels, and a pill-shaped cutout for the front-facing 60MP ultra wide-angle and 8MP portrait cameras.

All in all then a fairly handsome device, if a little bit more flashy than our personal preferences lean towards.

A tidy performer

Now that we’ve outlined the aesthetics, let’s look at the performance of this premium mid-range smartphone. Here Huawei has seen fit to kit it out with the following:

Huawei Nova 11 Pro
Display6.78″ (2652×1080)
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 778 4G
Battery4 500mAh
Rear Camera50MP ultra vision, 8MP ultra wide-angle/macro
Front Camera60MP ultra wide-angle, 8MP portrait

As you can see from the table above, outside of touting a processor that supports 5G connectivity, the Nova 11 Pro is fairly well-appointed and pretty much on par with some of the best that this segment of the smartphone space has to offer.

This matches up with the in-hand experience too, with the Nova 11 Pro feeling rapid while loading large apps, and switching between different elements of the UI. This is kind of critical too, especially if you plan to utilise tools like GBox in order to workaround the limitations when it comes to Google apps that HMS and the AppGallery suffer from, but more on that a little later.

The only other problem we had with this iteration of EMUI, and it’s a problem that has somehow cropped back into the smartphone sector, is the sheer volume of duplicated and pre-loaded apps. You will likely spend the first hour setting up this phone simply deleting all the superfluous apps that come pre-loaded.

Needless to say that bloatware is back in a big way for Android phones these days.

Shifting to the camera performance of the Nova 11 Pro, and here it has been well-appointed too. The aforementioned 60MP selfie camera is large enough to capture plenty of detail, and can handle group shots with ease if duckfaced-selfies are not your thing. If they are though, the 8MP portrait lens is handy too, and does a solid job of getting that ever-elusive bokeh effect.

As for the rear camera array, a 50MP ultra vision and 8MP ultra wide-angle/macro setup is present.

In general use, the Nova 11 Pro is a good all-around offering, best suited for outdoors or well lit environments. In low light conditions, performance is a little mixed. Images do not come out grainy, but as the failed attempt to capture the recent Super Blue Moon illustrates, detail in low light conditions take a bit of a hit.

The workarounds

Alright, it’s time to look at the big asterisks that comes with most, if not all, Huawei phones these days – lack of proper Google support.

In recent months Huawei Mobile South Africa has tried to address this by punting digital sandboxes like GBox to circumvent any restrictions of access. While solutions like this work, they do come with one big ask from customers – namely that you’ll need to trust a relatively unknown company with unfettered access and control of your phone akin to what Google might have needed.

If you’re okay with that, there is also the fact that GBox needs to be running most of the time in order to ensure functionality for the likes of Google Drive, YouTube, Google Maps, and more are at your fingertips.

This has an impact on battery life, but on this front, the Nova 11 Pro is fitted with a fairly large 4 500mAh battery that in general sips on power to give you two days of use even under heavy workloads in our experience. With GBox at work though, this time pretty much halved, we found. A full day is fine, but we do wonder about the health and integrity of the battery long-term when it’s put under strain like that.

It is something we seemingly have to mention with every Huawei phone review these days, and while the workarounds have gotten better, for the first-time user or relative newcomer, the experience can be a little jarring.

Given the tough competition that Huawei finds itself in these days, despite touting great hardware, without the software to match, its latest phones simply do not have the same kind of power on-and-go usability they did previously.

We understand that this is largely out of Huawei’s hands, and to the company’s credit, it has found ways to make things work, but we cannot recommend devices like the Nova 11 Pro without making specific mention of the operating system and app environment on offer.

Final verdict

At R16 999 (RRP), the Huawei Nova 11 Pro does not come cheap, even when comparing it to similar devices in the premium mid-range space.

To make the R17k asking price more palatable, it features a unique back cover and colour option that other smartphone makers have not replicated yet. Added to this is a great display, all-day and then some battery life, and a solid camera performance that combine to deliver one of the better experiences at this price point.

The problem, however, and it is one that will continue to be a problem, is that the phone’s software is not a one-size-fits-all for consumers. Yes, you can use a workaround, but there are simply people out there that don’t wish to do so.

For everything the Huawei Nova 11 Pro gets right, this one aspect still won’t sit well with all.



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