Hands on: Huawei’s gorgeous mid-range phones, the Nova and Nova Plus

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New Atlas goes hands-on with the Huawei Nova and Nova Plus(Credit: David Nield/New Atlas)

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Huawei is the latest gadget maker to show off its brand new wares at IFA 2016, and New Atlas was there to catch the show. The Chinese giant has introduced two new midrange phones with sleek looks and some useful tricks for photographers: the Nova and the Nova Plus.

The internal power and price might be one step down from the high-end, premium handsets, but it's difficult to fault the slightly curved back and rounded edges of the Nova and Nova Plus (it's called a "multi-curve design" by Huawei).

As it did with the top-end P9 launched earlier this year, Huawei scores very highly for the look and feel of these phones. The P9 is the inspiration, with a few extra curves standing as the only major difference in the chassis.

The brushed aluminum back feels great to the touch and you'll easily be able to fool your friends that you've paid more for a Nova or Nova Plus than you actually have when you pull either one of them out of your pocket.

I prefer the 5-inch Nova to the 5.5-inch Nova Plus: largely because I like smaller phones, but Huawei has also moved the camera into the center of the back on the Plus (to keep the size of the phone down to a minimum, it says) and the 5-inch Nova's camera placement is more reminiscent of the Nexus 6P.

Both phones have 1080p screens, which is plenty sharp for this price range.

Elsewhere it's difficult to find faults in the looks of these two devices: The ultra-thin (1.8 mm) bezels help to make the screen shine. During our time with both phones in Huawei's demo area they seemed fast and fluid in operation, though of course we'll give them a proper run out in our full reviews.

There were rumors before the event that these phones would be aimed particularly at women, but it would be more accurate to say they're for the younger crowd: Huawei has packed them with features for taking better selfies and better photos in general.

You can, for example, apply beauty makeup filters on your face as you take a snap. The 8 MP front-facing camera will even recognize you among your friends, to make sure you're looking your best (because screw your friends, this is about you!). Selfie snaps can be taken with a push of the rear fingerprint button too, something that worked well when we tested it.

Huawei says the 5-inch Nova is designed for one-handed use but even with my large-ish paws it's a stretch to cover the screen completely. You could just about get away with using it with one hand most of the time.

The 2.0GHz Snapdragon 625 CPU and 3 GB of RAM inside these phones is perfectly respectable for a mid-range pair of handsets, but they're carrying larger batteries than many comparable devices: 3,020 mAh on the Nova and 3,340 mAh on the Nova Plus.

The Nova will give you five hours of solid Pokémon Go gaming time, Huawei says (an app known for draining the battery). Again, we'll reserve judgement for a full review, but the battery sizes are definitely larger than the norm.

Apart from the larger size and larger battery, the Nova Plus brings with it Optical Image Stabilization for steadier shots, and a 16-megapixel camera. The Nova makes do with a 12-megapixel model, though Huawei promises good auto-focus and low-light performance in both.

Also of note is the level 4 fingerprint sensor, which is good enough to detect fingerprint ridges in three dimensions, so you can't fool it with a high-resolution scan. It's the same as the one in the Huawei P9.

The P9 impressed us when we reviewed it a few months ago and our first impressions of the Nova and Nova Plus are equally good. As smartphone specs have improved, the midrange of the market is now more than adequate for most users, who'd rather save some money (and perhaps extend battery life) in return for not getting the fastest Qualcomm processor or the most gigabytes of RAM available.

After a few minutes of demo time, these phones seem to fit that bill perfectly, and there are stacks of photo features to explore for the selfie-loving crowd (Huawei even invited beauty blogger Xenia Tchoumi along to demo them).

The Nova handset starts at €399 (that comes out to about US$446) and you'll pay €429 (roughly US$479) for the Nova Plus (that's for 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage in both cases), with availability from October. We don't have international pricing yet but that's competitive for this level of phone. You can get the phones in titanium gray, mystic silver or prestige gold, and there's a rose gold option for the Nova too.

Huawei also had time to show off a brand new MediaPad M3 tablet in Berlin. We have a review unit in house and will bring you more on that one soon.

Product page: Huawei

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