Let me clarify: I am not a Huawei smartphone user because I am dependent on Google Mobile Services (GMS), which is lacking on its smartphones and tablets.
Despite this, I will admit that their phones excel in hardware and software, which makes them reliable smartphones, especially in terms of cameras.
The brand is now launching the HUAWEI nova 9 SE in Malaysia, and I was sent a review unit. So, I took it for a ride.
I received the nova 9 SE in Crystal Blue. Its glass back cover reminded me a lot of the holographic, refractive glow found on DVDs, so as expected, it can get blinding under harsh lights.
Its quad-camera system housing gave the nova 9 SE a slight bump, but that was more or less made up for with the phone case that came in the box.
Weighing 191g, the phone can get tiring to hold for long periods of time. With a wider dimension of around 75.6mm, users with smaller hands may also find it difficult to use the phone with one hand.
On the plus side, the positioning of its physical lock button and volume rocker is closer to the center of the phone’s sides, providing a user-friendly and ergonomic experience. This made them easy to reach without having to reposition or stretch my fingers too far to adjust my volume or take a screenshot.
To unlock the phone, there’s face recognition and a physical fingerprint reader on the lock button.
The bezels on the front are thin enough to give it that widescreen effect on the 6.78-inch screen.
A 90Hz refresh rate is available, so scrolling through social media on the nova 9 SE was smooth, although I did notice a slight lag when switching between apps.
Despite an LCD screen, the color vibrancy of games and videos is not sacrificed. In fact, when it comes to taking photos, the lack of an OLED display on the screen actually made images look more natural.
As expected, the photos did not disappoint
The HUAWEI nova 9 SE features a 108MP AI quad camera system including a 108MP main camera, 8MP ultra-wide-angle lens, 2MP bokeh lens and macro lens. With more pixels, the phone’s camera is supposed to deliver photos with more detail.
While testing the cameras myself, I found that images taken on the main camera were crisp, with details well preserved. However, I noticed that the colors are a bit too contrasty, which can make the images look a bit off.
The fun thing about the nova 9 SE’s sensors is that they can detect when someone in your frame smiles and then automatically snap a photo. While this could be a useful tool, the camera would require optimal stillness from the person holding the phone and the subject of the photo.
Portrait mode makes the subject of your photo pop effortlessly, but I found the AI background blur a bit too intense, like the person in the photo is masked in a photo to be superimposed on another one.
Huawei boasts that the nova 9 SE is able to handle low-light photography thanks to its Night mode. When put to the test, I can say that images come out with good detail, although you have to lean the phone against a still surface with little shaking of your hands.
Taking a selfie in low light will put a border around the camera frame, so it acts like a ring of light for your face to capture the shot. It does the job, but I don’t know if it’s really flattering when such intense white light reflects off a greasy forehead.
Videos can be recorded in 1080p or 720p at 30fps. Dual-View video lets you record through your front and rear cameras simultaneously. This feature is most suitable for people who create online content, such as vlogs or reaction TikToks to show two perspectives at once.
Alternatively, you can use Dual-View to capture a close-up and a wide-angle shot at the same time. And for those who don’t feel like downloading a separate video editing app, you can trim videos from the gallery itself.
A reliable battery
HUAWEI nova 9 SE comes with a 4000mAh battery and supports fast charging. It claims to take just 36 minutes for a full charge, and from my own testing it didn’t disappoint.
As for its battery life, the nova 9 SE lasted a full day of general use: scrolling through social media, light gaming, and taking photos.
My current game for testing device performance is Sky: Children of the Light. It’s a slightly heavier game to run due to its graphics, and the nova 9 SE’s 6GB RAM didn’t let me down, albeit with the graphics on medium settings. The game’s mystical music also blasted loud and clear through the phone’s stereo speakers.
One notable UX feature that stood out to me about the phone’s EMUI 12 system was its control and notification panel.
With the front camera splitting them, you can swipe down on the top left side of the screen to view your notifications, and on the top right corner to adjust your brightness, music, and other quick control features.
It’s a handy feature to keep things organized and uncluttered. But it would take some getting used to for new adopters of this phone.
There is still a huge qualm
As great as a mid-range device the HUAWEI nova 9 SE is, the lack of GMS still makes it hard for me to recommend this phone to anyone who depends on Google for work or otherwise.
Of course, you can still access the browser versions if you want, but these are poor and unsustainable experiences for me to use long term.
However, the nova 9 SE overcomes this by giving you a pre-installed app called Petal Search. This is where you can find and download the APK of any app, although you still have to go through a few steps before it becomes fully usable.
If that’s a compromise you’re willing to make for all the other features it has, then this RM1,099 mid-range phone won’t disappoint.
|Excellent camera hardware and software||Over-corrected images in some settings|
|Long battery life and solid performance||Reflective back is nice but can be sore on the eyes|
|Immersive audio quality from its speakers||The lack of supermarkets|
- Learn more about the HUAWEI nova 9 SE here.
- For more on the vice presidents’ verdicts, click here.
VP Verdict is a series where we personally try and test products, services, modes and apps. Would you like to suggest something else to try? Leave a comment here or send the suggestion to our Facebook page.