If you’re looking for an Android phone with some budget constraints, there are two highly attractive yet contrasting options. The Huawei Nova 5T (SGD 598) and the Google Pixel 3a (SGD 659, but can be found as low as around SGD 599) dominate this price point around the mid to mid-upper tiers.
Though they might have similar price points, they have radically different modus operandi when it comes to features and compromises.
Where the Google Pixel 3a retains most of the camera performance of its flagship Pixel 3 counterparts but trades performance dramatically, the Huawei Nova 5T chooses to carry over the flagship Kirin 980 chipset of the impressive top-of-the-line Huawei P30 family, trading the stellar multi-camera performance on the P30 series.
The pros and cons to either phone aren’t immediately obvious, and we’ll do a deep dive to compare the two devices across a whole host of categories.
Build & Form Factor
Build-wise, the Pixel 3a is a modest, diminutive phone with a massive (for 2019) forehead and chin. The Huawei Nova 5T features a more modern, sensible edge-to-edge display with a tiny hole punch cut-out for the camera and a barely-noticeable chin.
This means that the Nova 5T delivers an 84.2% screen-to-body ratio over the 75.0% of the Pixel 3a (76.3% on the Pixel 3a XL).
Huge win for Huawei here. The phone is clad in glass with an aluminium frame, while the Google Pixel 3a rocks a plastic construction.
Another huge plus for the Huawei is the location of the fingerprint scanner on the right side of the device, allowing for ambidextrous unlocking either in the hand or laid flat on the table. The Pixel, however, struggles with this since the scanner is on the rear.
You’ve got to pick up the phone to use your fingerprint to unlock, or otherwise tap in your passcode. Unlike the Nova 5T, the Pixel phone does not support facial unlock.
Astonishingly, the stated 0.2s unlock speed on the Huawei Nova 5T might be the fastest we’ve ever tried. It was faster during our testing, actually coming closer to 0.15s. The Pixel 3a, however, unlocks in around 0.4s to over 0.5s.
That seems trivial, but for an important action performed several times a day, it really contributes to the smooth experience using the phone and was really impressive.
We’ve barely begun, and it’s score three to Huawei.
Let’s go straight to the elephant in the room. The Huawei Nova 5T sports a 6.26-inch IPS LCD against the Pixel 3a’s diminutive 5.6-inch OLED display. Both screens are 1080p wide on the short edge.
The larger Pixel 3a XL has a 6.0-inch OLED display, although it has a similar resolution that is 1080p wide.
The OLED display on the Pixel 3a theoretically conserves battery completely powering off black pixels, which also allows the phone to have an always-on display to show useful information like time, date, battery charge and notification icons.
I did miss the convenience of an always-on display on the Huawei, but the lightning-fast, conveniently-placed fingerprint unlock made sure the phone was powered on whenever I reached for it.
Between the displays of either device, I’d call it a draw here.
I/O & Audio
Both phones charge via USB-C, but the Pixel 3a has the added convenience of a 3.5mm audio port. The Nova 5T, however, comes with an adaptor in the box as a consolation prize.
Dual-SIM support can be found on the Huawei, whereas only a single SIM can be installed on the Pixel 3a. Both phones do not support external memory. That’s a pity, but more of an issue on the Google phone given it only comes with 64GB of internal storage as standard. The Huawei phone offers twice that with 128GB of storage.
The Nova 5T too sports a single mono speaker where the Pixel 3a has a stereo array – it better have, with its huge forehead and chin.
The speakers on both phones aren’t anything to scream about, even if the Pixel is a tiny bit louder and clearer with stereo separation, it still sounds tinny and can get unbearable at high volumes.
Score two to the Pixel 3a for 3.5mm port and slightly better stereo speakers, and one to Huawei for handy dual SIM support.
I ran the AnTuTu Benchmark v7.2.3 alongside Geekbench and 3D Mark for a clearer comparison between the two devices.
Even without waiting for the outcome, the Huawei Nova 5T quickly gained a solid lead over the Google Pixel 3a in terms of raw speed in completing the 5-minute long battery of tests.
Needless to say, the Huawei Nova 5T, with its top-of-the-line HiSilicon Kirin 980 reigned over the Pixel 3a with a mid-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 in all categories, with a cumulative score of 290,983 against the Google Pixel 3a‘s 158,928. Against the Pixel 3a, the Nova 5T’s CPU performance was greater by more than 50%, and GPU speeds were about 2.5x faster.
That places the Nova 5T amongst the likes of 2018 heavyweights like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (298,786), edging out other top 2018 phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (283,211) and the LG G7 ThinQ (264,304).
Against current 2019 flagships, Huawei Nova 5T doesn’t fall too short of the Samsung Galaxy S10+ (328,493).
Geekbench scores for CPU performance on both phones corroborate the comparison, with almost twice the scores for both single and multi-core speeds.
To better compare graphics performance, we ran 3D Mark on both devices.
Across all segments of the graphics benchmark, the Huawei Nova 5T was markedly smoother in the extremely demanding Slingshot Extreme test usually reserved for flagship devices. The Pixel 3a struggled immensely and stuttered along.
Both with non-expandable storage, the Pixel only supplies 64GB of ROM and 4GB of RAM against the Nova 5T’s 128GB and 8GB of RAM.
In storage, graphics and general performance, the Huawei Nova 5T is a cut above the competition.
Battery wise, the 5T sports a 3750 mAh battery to the 3,000 mAh on the Pixel 3a. The larger Pixel 3a XL gives a larger 3700 mAh battery with its larger chassis. I’ll call it a draw for this one.
Reviewers raved over the Pixel 3a’s stellar image quality, and in our extensive testing, we found that the Nova 5T isn’t lacking much in this department – no surprises, given Huawei’s dominance in the field of smartphone photography.
First up is a comparison of colour rendition between both phones. Taken indoors, the vibrant ceiling vents were not directly lit by sunlight. Most smartphones will struggle to render the colours accurately, much less the subtle gradients in brightness.
Set to default modes and setting similar points of focus and metering, the Nova 5T delivered a slightly brighter picture. Both were accurate in terms of colour rendition, although the Huawei tended toward a more vibrant scene.
For an everyday scene taken at dusk, the Pixel’s cooler, more sterile tones are obvious when compared with the Nova 5T’s brighter, warmer rendition. There is also more detail in the surrounding shadows like the overhanging trees.
While the Pixel’s ability to produce excellent photos with a single lens cannot be understated, its limitations can not be, either.
The Huawei Nova 5T with its quad-camera array allows for superb flexibility when shooting landscapes. The Pixel 3a is limited to a 28mm equivalent lens that can constrict creative options especially when there’s no room to back up in order to squeeze a scene into a frame.
If making great-looking photos to share on social media is a priority, ultra-wide angles might offer a greater challenge when framing the perfect shot, but also produce a much more impressive perspective than the more standard, ubiquitous 28mm focal length.
This extends to night scenes. Huawei’s Night Mode finds a strong competitor with Google’s Night Sight, both using computational genius to bring luminance to almost pitch-black scenes.
The Pixel 3a delivers an overall brighter image in a shorter time, but the Nova 5T preserves a much more natural-looking scene. Where the Pixel produces a garish green in the background, the Nova 5T keeps the scene sharp and detailed despite the pitch-black conditions.
In most conditions, the camera dark modes in either device produced similar results. But mixing in Huawei’s versatile ultra-wide-angle lens, the possibilities open up.
The Nova also has a dedicated macro lens that enables you to get up close and personal to obtain a unique perspective for dramatic close-up shots.
The Pixel gets pretty close and still produces a pleasant result, but without any of the drama.
Other differences are largely subjective. Taken at the same time, the Google Pixel 3a rendered sunset with a lot more purple tones, while the Nova 5T preserved the lingering sunlight, warm dusk tones and orange halogen street lamps.
As mid-tier devices, both phones clearly have compromises when compared to their flagship siblings. While Google had rolled the dice on its reputation when it comes to mobile photography, Huawei leans right into its confidence when it comes to mobile chipset manufacture.
And as it emerges, the Huawei Nova 5T still manages to deliver impressive photography performance with some added tricks up its sleeve with an ultra-wide camera and a macro shooter.
The SGD 659 Google Pixel 3a might appeal to those who prefer the Pixel’s characteristic camera performance and colour rendition, along with advantages like “stock” Android (a given, since Google runs Android).
Coming in at SGD 598, the Huawei Nova 5T would be a great choice for those who desire peak performance, flexible and capable photography options and a modern, stylish aesthetic.