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HUAWEI nova 9 SE Review: Stellar Design, Solid Performer

HUAWEI nova 9 SE review

The HUAWEI nova 9 SE is the company’s latest mid-range offering, and it’s been a hot minute since we last reviewed a Huawei smartphone. This time, we’re going back to the Google-less life to see if the HUAWEI nova 9 SE stands firmly on its own two (figurative) feet with Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), or does it suffer from not having Google Mobile Services (GMS). But before we get into the review, let’s go through the specs to see what does the phone offer on paper.

HUAWEI nova 9 SE

HUAWEI nova 9 SE – Specifications

Dimensions164.64mm (H) x 75.55mm (W) x 7.94mm (D)
Weight Approx. 191 grams(battery included)
Colour Midnight Black // Crystal Blue // Pearl White
CPUQualcomm Snapdragon 680
GPUAdreno 610
DisplayScreen size: 6.78 inches
Type: LCD, up to 90Hz refresh rate, 270Hz touch sampling rate 
Resolution: FHD+, 2388 x 1080 Pixels
Colour: 16.7 million colours
Connectivity WLAN: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
2.4GHz and 5GHz
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5.0
USB: Type-C, USB 2.0
Earjack: USB Type-C
Operating System EMUI 12
RAM + ROM6 GB RAM + 128 GB ROM
8 GB RAM + 128 GB ROM
Front Camera16 MP Front Camera (f/2.2 aperture)
Rear Camera108MP High-Resolution Camera (f/1.9 aperture)
8 MP Ultra Wide Angle Camera (f/2.2 aperture)
2 MP  Depth Camera (f/2.4 aperture)
2 MP Macro Camera (f/2.4 aperture)
Battery4,000mAh (typical value)
ChargingMax 66W HUAWEI SuperCharge

What’s In The Box?

  • HUAWEI nova 9 SE
  • USB Type-C Cable
  • 66W Charging Adapter
  • Clear Protective Case
  • User Guide and Manual
  • Sim Ejector Pin

Design

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The HUAWEI nova 9 SE takes a huge step forward in terms of design, and we’re liking it. It somewhat adopts the camera bump design from the P50 series with the huge bezels and lenses. It features an rather thin design, with very, very narrow bezels on the front screen. Honestly, it’s been a while since I last saw a phone that had such narrow bezels. Crafted from 3D glass, the nova 9 SE comes in Crystal Blue, Pearl White, and Midnight Black. For our unit, we got the Crystal Blue variant for review.

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On the back, the device has a unique coating of dual-film, dual-plating nano-texture technology, which gives it an ultra reflective, iridescent, glossy finish. It looks bizarre and actually really beautiful, where every angle bounces and reflects light differently to give your phone an interesting and unique look. That being said, while it does give a nice comfortable grip when you’re holding it, the back also becomes a fingerprint magnet. A shame, really. Seeing how nice the back looks but once you hold or touch it, it starts gathering fingerprint smudges. If you’re the type to slap on a case anyway, then this won’t bother you much. But if you’re the type to use and enjoy the phone’s design as is, you’re going to need to constantly wipe the back of the phone.

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On the top, there’s the SIM tray slot with the tiny micro holes for the earpiece. On the bottom, that’s where you’ll find the USB-C port for data and charging, together with the speaker grille. The power and volume buttons are placed comfortably on the right side of the phone, well within my thumb’s reach.

Display

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The HUAWEI nova 9 SE packs a tall and narrow 6.78-inch LCD panel with a FHD+ (2388 x 1080) resolution. In terms of color accuracy, it covers the DCI-P3 color gamut for brighter and more vivid colors on the display. Putting the smartphone through movies, games, social media scrolling, the smartphone manages to deliver punchy colors with just the right amount of saturation. Everything just pops off the screen, and I’m liking the pastel colour palette style Huawei is going for with their EMUI 12 skin.

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To smoothen everything out, the device supports 90Hz refresh rate with a 270Hz touch sampling rate. Not the fastest refresh rate in the industry, but it gets the job done. Navigation does feel smoother than the standard 60Hz we see on most entry-level phones these days. But, it has also been years since 120Hz refresh rate screens have first been introduced. Huawei seems to have kept this feature locked to their flagship devices only. Honestly, I would’ve liked to see 120Hz on the nova 9 SE, but I fear the day may never come.

User Experience

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Using the HUAWEI nova 9 SE for the past couple of weeks, living with HMS has honestly been a confusing challenge, especially during the starting first few days. What you’re going to be worried about most is the lack of apps from your usual arsenal, however, there are workarounds for that. For most of the Google services, I could still access the web version of them on the browser. Gmail can be loaded right into the Huawei Mail app, instead of Google Maps, you can use Waze.

Huawei AppGallery will be your best friend during this time, and it’s either AppGallery has the app natively, or it will direct you to a third-party APK site to download the app. For other apps that you cannot find listed in AppGallery, you will need to download the APK separately and sideload it yourself. While it may not be as streamlined of an experience, it’s a workaround that Huawei has built right into the phone.

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Despite all that, it took a while for me to get used to the nova 9 SE and HMS, and now the experience is much more pleasant. I have all the basic apps that I need and use on a daily basis, so in terms of usability, I’ve got that covered. The rest of the phone works great as a daily driver. It’s lightweight, comfortable to hold, and the screen’s aspect ratio feels just right. Complaints apart from software, I have none.

Performance

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In terms of performance, the HUAWEI nova 9 SE does what it sets out to do with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 chip paired with 8GB RAM. It performs decently by smoothening the navigation experience with the 90Hz refresh rate, and handling all apps and games available thrown at it. The only game I tried on the phone was Asphalt, and graphics ran smoothly on it with no heat issues too. Switching between apps was a swift process too,

The Snapdragon 680 may be a mid-range chip, but it doesn’t feel that way as I’ve never experienced any jittering or screen hangs. Well, except that time when I tried to run GeekBench benchmarking, but that might be because the GeekBench app was sideload and not installed natively from the app store.

Because of that, we weren’t able to run any benchmarking on the phone. Rest assured, the phone performs fine on all fronts of media consumption, games, productivity and day-to-day scrolling.

Camera

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In the camera department, the HUAWEI nova 9 SE has a quad camera system consisting of the 108MP main sensor with a f/1.9 aperture, an 8MP ultra-wide angle sensor (f/2.2), a 2MP depth sensor, and a 2MP macro sensor. These four sensors are housed within the Star Orbit Ring camera module, as Huawei is calling it, and to my surprise, they’re not as thick as expected. Laying the phone on a flat surface, there’s little to no wobble, which is great. And the camera module doesn’t make the phone feel top heavy in terms of weight distribution.

When it comes to image quality, under sufficient light, the nova 9 SE takes decent photos with great clarity and brightness. But, certain photos tend to look overexposed, and post processing can be a little aggressive at times. Nevertheless, these photos are definitely social media worthy, so you can share them right from the gallery if you please. Under low light conditions, it’s fast to capture night shots, but there’s still quite a bit of noise present in the shots. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not too bad, but the noise is noticeable.

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As far as selfies are concerned, this is the signature for Huawei’s nova series, and they’re still doing an amazing job with it. With the 16MP wide-angle sensor on the front paired with AI Beauty, selfies come out looking detailed, with great contrast and rich colors. It works pretty great under low light environments too.

When it comes to video recording, the nova 9 SE performs okay, but you’ll need to make sure you have steady hands. There’s no OIS to help you, but quality wise, it’s decent 1080p footage. On top of that, it is also capable of continuous front and rear recording, with their Dual View Video feature. It is an interesting feature to have, and it works, but I don’t see myself using it often. This feature may not be for me, but some of you might find it useful.

Audio

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The HUAWEI nova 9 SE has a single speaker system, which can be found in the speaker grille at the bottom. The highs are bright with a nice tinge of warmth, the mids are clear for vocals, while the lows are decent. Not too much bass, but you can still hear it faintly in the background. In terms of volume, it’s loud enough to fill the entire room, but mind you, it does get distorted after the 80% mark. I find the sweet spot for audio to be at the 60% mark where it sounds just right.

Battery

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The HUAWEI nova 9 SE comes with a 4,000mAh battery, and in the box, you’ll receive a 66W HUAWEI SuperCharge charging adapter too. In our testing, the device managed to give us a day and half’s of mixed casual and work use. Charging from zero to full takes about an hour, and that’s really fast considering that’s roughly the amount of time you’d (or your spouse) take to shower and get ready to head out.

There is no wireless charging present, considering the price point and segment of the device. But, it would’ve been a nice feature to have.

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HUAWEI nova 9 SE Review: Stellar Design, Solid Performer 57

Conclusion

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The HUAWEI nova 9 SE performs great as a daily driver, but its target audience is conditional. If you’re already within the Huawei ecosystem, then the device would feel right at home as you’re already used to EMUI and HMS. But, if you’re coming from another Android device or iOS, it’s not the end of the world either. There’s a learning curve and a bit of getting used to, that’s for sure, but you’ll still get to enjoy what the nova 9 SE offers – great battery life, reliable performance, and decent everyday photography.

Sure, there are a couple of things I would’ve liked to see like 120Hz refresh rate and dual stereo speaker system, but hey, maybe Huawei’s planning that for the next nova. For now, the nova 9 SE is good enough for the hardware, aesthetics, and the price it’s offered at.

Written By

Chief Content Developer at The AXO

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