Huawei nova 12i Review: Up Against It

We have remarked on more than once occasion that the local mid-range smartphone space is more competitive than ever.

While this is great news for consumers, who do not have to look far when it comes to picking up a great value for money device, it has become increasingly difficult for phone makers to make their mark in this saturated segment.

Having found success in recent years with its nova series, the latest offering from Huawei is the nova 12i, which too is trying to make its mark having launched in South Africa earlier this month.

We recently unboxed, and have over the past couple of weeks, been reviewing the nova 12i to see whether it can indeed make its mark or simply be another addition to a growing lineup of options at this particular price point.

Here’s what we learned about a couple of weeks under our belt with this mid-range phone from Huawei:

Big and bold

We start, as always, with design and the first thing that strikes you about the 12i is its colour. Huawei simply calls it green, but it has more of a jewel teal look in our view. The rear cover catches light nicely and takes on an almost iridescent quality depending on how it is hit, but the one strike against it is the slight plastic-y feel to the cover itself.

We understand that this is a mid-range device, but even for R6 999 (RRP) this rear cover does not feel as premium as it should. Thankfully there is a generic plastic protective cover included in the box with the phone.

That said, this is symptomatic of some of our issues with this device. While it is fairly solid, the more you compare it with similar specced and priced offerings in the market, it loses some of its lustre.

Nova 12i
Display6.7″ LCD FullHD+ (2388×1080)
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 680
Rear Camera108MP primary, 2MP depth sensing
Front Camera8MP selfie
Battery5 000mAh
RRPR6 999

The other aspect you notice about the phone is the large Star Orbit Ring on the back. It is sizeable and houses an equally large 108MP primary camera which we will touch on a little later.

As for the rest of the phone’s design, it features the usual elements one expects at this price point, such as the 6.7″ LCD display (2388×1080). It is clear and relatively bright, but does not necessarily stand out in this field.

The fingerprint sensor for biometrics is found on the power button on the side, and it works rapidly.

One other aspect to make note of is the USB Type-C port, which not only takes care of the charging and file transferring via a cable, but is also used should you want to connect a physical headphone jack. This is not really common at this price point, and this may alienate some consumers who won’t want to pick up a dongle or purchase wireless earphones.

This may be why Huawei Mobile South Africa has chosen to sell this device bundled with a pair of wireless earphones in its local online store. This may not apply to all retailers, however.

A mix of elements

Shifting to the performance side of things and the Huawei nova 12i does so ably. It features an octave-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 chipset, 8GB RAM and 256GB of onboard storage. It is a mix that yields solid enough multitasking, and there are no real noticeable amounts of lag when switching between a flurry of apps or trying to navigate through settings.

With the in-hand performance being good enough, it is the long-term capabilities we think about.

Here we need to point to the benchmarking results of the nova 12i.

More specifically it registered a 382 and 1 694 respective single-core and multi-core score on GeekBench. When compared to something similarly specced, like the TECNO Spark 10 5G, the nova 12i feels a little underpowered, at least from a longevity perspective.

We try not to put too much weight into benchmark scores, especially at this price point, but with consumers being more savvy in terms of keeping their phones for longer, these kinds of considerations become more important.

One other aspect we have to address, and this has been the case on any Huawei phone we’ve reviewed for a few years now, is the lack of full support for Google.

Here the G Box third-party app is the workaround, but it comes at the cost of being active and accessing every part of the phone’s software. It is an okay workaround, and gives you access to all the Google-made applications you’ll need, but it still does not feel like something every phone user will feel comfortable with.

Now for that massive 108MP primary camera. It is supported by a 2MP depth sensing option, and in our general experience, the setup here is well-appointed. It snaps pictures quickly, which was an initial concern, and is good in a variety of shooting conditions.

It is particularly good while capturing images outdoors, as the content looks rich and detailed. For those who wish to do some post-capture editing, this is a good addition. Images can be as large as 12 000×9 000 pixels, so it is worthwhile checking out which shooting mode you’re in before snapping away. That said, the 256GB of storage should be good enough for the most part and won’t fill up in a hurry.

Final verdict

At R6 999 the Huawei nova 12i is competitively priced, but as you will quickly find out should you do any research about similarly priced or specced options available locally, things can get quite competitive.

As such, the nova 12i feels like it is lacking a little oomph, and could benefit from more punch in terms of processing power and a slightly richer display. Areas where it cannot be faulted, however, are the solid all-around camera, the large and long-lasting 5 000mAh battery, and an eye-catching colour option (there is a Black colourway too).

All things considered, it may in fact end up being other nova options, such as last year’s 11 series, or the nova 12 SE that are more tempting as longer-term phones.




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