A look at Huawei’s Nova 5i cameras, compared to the P Smart+ (2018) and the P30 Pro

In this article, we have a look at the cameras of Huawei’s Nova 5i, a mid-range device with a quad-camera set-up on the back.

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Launched in June 2019 in China together with the Nova 5 series, Huawei’s Nova 5i is a mid-range device featuring a quad-camera set-up on the back and a punch-hole camera on the front. The device itself is powered by HiSilicon’s Kirin 710, meaning the back camera comes with various AI features, as well as AR lens for 3D Qmojis and background effects on the front camera. In Europe, this device was supposed to launch as the P20 Lite (2019), although this launch never happened, due to the lack of Google services.

Camera-wise, we find a 16MP camera on the front, and a quad-camera set-up on the back composed of a main 24MP sensor, an ultra-wide-angle camera of 8MP, a 2MP camera for macro shots and a 2MP camera for bokeh shots. Here’s the full specs of the camera:

The default modes on the Nova 5i are x0.6 (ultra-wide) and x1. We can then zoom up to x6, with AI enabled, which is not the case of the other device we will be using to compare the quality of the pictures to, the P Smart+ (2018), also known as the Nova 3i, and launched in Summer 2018. This model is unable to zoom when the AI is enabled, for some curious reason, thus we’ve taken all the pictures with the AI disabled on that model and enabled on the Nova 5i and P30 Pro. For comparison, the P Smart+ (2018) also features the Kirin 710 and features two cameras on the front and two on the back, being 16MP+2MP on the back and 24MP+2MP on the front, with the device marketed as a selfie-oriented device. Meanwhile, the P30 Pro features the best camera of early 2019, being a quad-camera composed of 40MP+20MP+8MP+ToF, and allowing users to zoom from x0.6 to x50.

Now that we’ve introduced the devices we will be using in this article, here’s the software version of each device at the moment of taking the pictures:

  • P Smart+ (2018): 9.1.0.264(C432E1R1P1)
  • Nova 5i: EMUI9.1.0 with some weird internal build, October 2019 security patch
  • P30 Pro: 10.0.0.186(C431E19R2P5)

All the pictures were taken around the city centre of Brussels, with the P Smart+ (2018) and P30 Pro having been bought by us, and the Nova 5i lent to us by the Huawei Experience Store in Brussels. All the pictures were taken with the default settings in automatic mode, MasterAI enabled (except on the P Smart+ (2018)) and handheld.

The pictures on the left are for the P Smart+ (2018), the centre correspond to the Nova 5i and to the right we can find the pictures from the P30 Pro. We’ve taken pictures matching the default zoom of each device, with the P30 Pro having a x5 zoom. However, we’ve stopped at x6 on this device, as the other two mid-range models are unable to match it, and we’ve already reviewed the cameras of the P30 Pro in a previous article.

P Smart+ (2018)

Nova 5i

P30 Pro

As one can tell from the pictures, the Nova 5i takes better pictures than the P Smart+ (2018), having more detail and more natural colours. Of course, let’s not even mention the P30 Pro, which is on a completely different level in terms of colour and detail, although we’ve picked this device just for comparison and show the difference between mid-range and high-end models.

Sadly, the Nova 5i doesn’t excel at everything. While the regular pictures without zoom are indeed quite good, the ultra-wide-angle shots are quite bad, with multiple issues per picture. In the following example, one can notice how the picture is stretched on the left side, how the centre is pixelated and how most of the detail is gone on the right:

Here are some close-ups of the areas that have problems:

If we now compare it to a picture taken without zoom, these issues disappear:

Here’s a close-up of the two areas in question, with the third area not fitting in this picture. We can see all the detail is there, even if the right side is still slightly blurry:

As a last example, on the following picture, taken once again with the ultra-wide-angle camera, the row of windows at the back is pixelated, in some places to an extend that all the detail is gone:

Here’s a close-up of this area:

If we now look at the same area but without the ultra-wide-angle camera, the windows at the back are all clearly detailed:

But, as mentioned, not everything is bad. Zoom-wise, while the Nova 5i is limited to x6, the same as on the P Smart+ (2018), the overall quality of the pictures is noticeable higher, with better colours and more detail overall, although it remains quite blurry compared to higher-end models:

P Smart+ (2018)

Nova 5i

Here are some more pictures taken in the city-centre of Brussels, featuring more colour variation:

Just to compare the quality of the zoom, here’s the Proximus tower at x6 on the Nova 5i, and at x50 on the P30 Pro:

The following pictures were taken inside the Huawei Experience Store. For the red/pink roses, we took the picture with AI enabled and then disabled, showing that the camera needs some tweaking colour-wise, as, even without AI, the roses are still more colourful than what they really are:

Finally, the last picture was taken at the metro stop of Gribaumont, with the ultra-wide-angle camera. Once again, the picture is of rather low quality, but the colours and details of the mural are there, even with medium luminosity conditions:

The Nova 5i is currently only available in China. While it was supposed to come out in Europe around Summer 2019, this never happened, as we already mentioned earlier. Pricing-wise, this device was supposed to cost 299€, at least according to the few listings we found. In China, Huawei used to ask between 1 999 and 2 199 yuan (between 260 and 290€, without VAT), although the price has now dropped to 1 799 and 1 999 yuan (235€ and 260€ respectively), depending on the memory configuration. For the price this device is supposed to cost, customers can pick a P30 Lite, which has an overall better camera, also featuring an ultra-wide-angle camera and, depending on the version, a 48MP sensor. If anything, the only redeeming feature of the Nova 5i is its punch-hole front camera, although, once again, for the same price, one can get a P30 Lite and just ignore the “downside” of having a notch. The position of the Nova 5i in Huawei’s line-up is quite curious, although this isn’t the first time the manufacturer releases a product that competes against other models of their own brand. After all, in early 2019, the brand’s strategy appeared to be releasing a new device each month, regardless of whether they were any different to what they already had on the market, with the sole goal being having something new all the time and having the press talking about them on a regular basis.

For those interested, we will indeed be reviewing the device itself and not just the camera, although this review will be coming later on. There isn’t much to say though, as this is, in a few words, another Kirin 710 smartphone.

To end this article, we would like to thank the Brussels Huawei Experience Store for lending us this device. The store is located close to the city-centre, near the metro stop of De Brouckère, and has most of the latest products of the brand, on top of repairing in-house Huawei devices, both in and out of warranty.

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