Huawei’s new nova 9 SE is their first phone out of their entire line-up to date to pack a 108MP camera array and this also encompasses their flagship P50 series phones. What is surprising here is that they’ve deployed such a potent camera array in what is primarily intended as an entry-level phone.
We managed to get a working retail sample of the phone for field testing over the course of several weeks. If you’re curious how it fares, here’s our Huawei nova 9 SE review where we put it to the test!
Huawei nova 9 SE Review – Unboxing and Design
In a nutshell, the Huawei nova 9 SE is intended as a more affordable variant to last year’s nova 9 with a more powerful upgraded quad camera array with a larger 108 MP primary camera while clocking in at a more affordable price point of RM1,099 which makes it significantly cheaper than the original nova 9.
The Huawei nova 9 SE packs a surprisingly generous assortment of goodies out of the box which have typically been omitted by other manufacturers. Along with the phone itself, Huawei has tossed in a free soft TPU casing to protect the phone, a USB-C cable, a SIM ejector pin and, most important of all, a Huawei 66W SuperCharge charger that is compatible with the phone for fast charging. Better yet, the Huawei nova 9 SE also features a pre-applied screen protector that helps you save a bit of extra cash too and allows you to use the phone straight out of the box
The provision of a free casing, screen protector and a 66W fast charger is a very generous bonus indeed and is something flagships from competitors now typically omit from their packaging.
In terms of design, the Huawei nova 9 SE has a fairly conservative chassis with a curved backplate, rounded corners and a flat display finished with a glass laminate on the backplate that lends it a three dimensional, glittering effect. In the case of our nova 9 SE review sample which comes in a shade of Crystal Blue, the backplate has a smooth mirrored blue finish with sparkling highlights that aim to mimic starlight when you move the phone around.
The oval-shaped camera housing emplaced in the upper rear corner has a design that Huawei designates as a Star Orbit Ring’ design to house the rear AI quad camera array that, according to the official literature, symbolically harkens to the orbit of a star in its design. Complementing this finish is a subtle nova monogram on the lower quadrant of the backplate along with the Huawei logo.
The backplate itself looks pleasing to the eye though the finish is slippery and tends to attract fingerprints easily. Fortunately, the provided casing resolves this problem nicely.
The right side of the phone features a power button that doubles as a fingerprint reader along with a volume rocker. The base of the phone hosts a USB-C port and a grille for the sole mono speaker on the phone while the top hosts a dual nanoSIM card tray. Unfortunately, there’s no expandable storage which means that you’ll have to make do with the existing 128GB of storage.
Up front, the Huawei nova 9 SE has managed to shave down the side bezels of the FullView display even more from its predecessor the original nova 9 down to just 1.05mm though the top and bottom bezels are a wee bit thicker with a small punch hole for the front facing 16MP selfie camera.
The FullView LCD touch display itself measures in at 6.78-inches and is designed to be fairly versatile in terms of its mission profile with an FHD+ resolution, a reasonably fast 90Hz refresh rate, a fast 270Hz touch sampling rate and compliance to the P3 colour gamut with a quoted ability to reproduce over 16.7 million colours onscreen though Huawei did not furnish the percentage of compliance to the P3 colour gamut.
What this translates to is a colour accurate, responsive display that lends itself to content consumption and gaming too. As a pleasant bonus, Huawei has installed a screen protector beforehand on the display itself.
Our Huawei nova 9 SE review sample had a good heft with sturdy build quality. The phone itself has no IP rating for water and dust resistance nor does it use more sophisticated materials like Gorilla Glass though this is typically a rarity for entry-level phones. On the bright side, Huawei has generously added the aforementioned accessories that add significant value to the nova 9 SE’s already modest RM1,099 price tag.
Huawei nova 9 SE review – Specifications and Benchmarks
The budget Huawei nova 9 SE phone aims to cram in the essentials without costing an arm and a leg. It has a slightly larger display from its sibling the nova 9 though the refresh rate is pared down to 90Hz from 120Hz along with a more affordable processor and a slightly smaller battery though it is slightly thicker and heavier to accommodate the more powerful camera array.
In terms of hardware, the phone has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 octacore processor built on a 6nm process that was announced in late 2021. While many entry level phones typically feature just 4GB or 6GB RAM, the Huawei nova 9 SE is kitted out with 8GB RAM and 128GB of expandable storage which adds to its longevity. Connectivity is capped at 4G LTE, WiFi 5 and Bluetooth 5.1. While 5G would have been nice, it’s not that essential at this price point.
Under the hood, the phone runs on Huawei’s own EMUI 12 with apps sourced via their own Huawei AppGallery. If an app you’re looking for is unavailable on the phone, you can use Huawei’s Petal Search to search for alternatives to sideload on other app repositories like ApkPure and ApToide. Here’s how our Huawei nova 9 SE review sample stacks up on paper:
|Display||6.8-inch Huawei FullView display, 1080 x 2,388 pixels, 90Hz refresh rate, 94.85% screen-to-body ratio, 480 ppi, 270Hz touch sampling rate|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 4G|
|OS||EMUI 12 w/ Huawei AppGallery|
|Camera||108MP F/1.9 main camera + 8MP F/2.2 ultra wide angle camera + 2 MP F/2.4 depth sensor + 2MP F/2.4 macro camera / 16MP F/2.2 front camera|
|Memory||8GB RAM/ 128GB storage|
|Battery||4,000mAh w/ 66W Huawei Supercharge, 60% in 15 minutes, 100% in 36 minutes (quoted)|
|Size/Weight||164.64 x 75.55 x 7.94mm / 191g|
In terms of synthetic benchmarks, we managed to get the following for our Huawei nova 9 SE review sample:
|3D Mark Wild Life||446|
|3D Mark Wild Life Unlimited||444|
|3D Mark Wild Life Extreme||125|
|3D Mark Wild Life Extreme ULTD||125|
|Geekbench 5 Single core||385|
|Geekbench 5 Multi core||1692|
|Geekbench OpenCL score||438|
|PCMark Work 3.0 score||6,502|
|PCMark Work 3.0 battery life||18 hours 39 minutes|
Overall performance under practical conditions for the Huawei nova 9 SE is fair for what you pay for and navigating about EMUI 12 is snappy and responsive though it is admittedly outgunned by its predecessor the nova 9 with its higher tier Snapdragon 778G by a significant margin.
Fortunately, day to day performance for most daily tasks isn’t adversely affected and you’re able to tab through a dozen open browsers, watch videos and generally complete most tasks expected of a budget smartphone without issue.
Most apps or their analogues are available for use on the AppGallery and if users need something that specifically requires Google Mobile Services (GMS) to run, Huawei has their Gspace app that mimics a sandbox environment of a working GMS-enabled phone, typically an older one prior to their present troubles with the United States that enables the phone to run Gmail, YouTube and the like.
Getting Gspace up and running is relatively straightforward for tech savvy users though it does represent a stumbling block for those that are less technically inclined. The irksome thing here though is that both the AppGallery, the Gspace app itself and other parts of the menu tend to have quite a bit of adware popping up at inopportune moments.
That quibble aside, the phone’s main draw is its large, vibrant 90Hz FullView LCD display. Viewing angles are good and the screen’s large size and generous 90.2% screen-to-body ratio means that it lends itself towards watching movies and gaming. Colour rendition is decent for what you pay for and text is relatively crisp with fair clarity under daylight conditions.
YouTube via GSpace runs without issue on the phone along with Netflix and Spotify too. The usual gaming classics like Call of Duty Mobile, PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang all ran without issue though at medium to low settings.
While the Huawei nova 9 SE has a slightly smaller 4,000mAh battery to the nova 9’s slightly bigger 4,300mAh battery, it manages to offer even longer battery life with the phone offering a whopping 18 hours 39 minutes in PCMark’s Work 3.0 battery life benchmark. Under practical usage terms, the phone is easily able to last north of two days with normal use including data or wifi on for most of the day, a couple of hours of gaming a day and liberal use of social media and emails.
Charging it is fortunately extremely swift though you need the provided USB-C cable and 66W SuperCharge charger which use Huawei’s proprietary charging tech to achieve the desired speeds. With both the cable and charger, the phone was able to achieve an impressive 60% from dead zero in about 17 minutes which isn’t too far off the official mark and it achieved a full charge in 40 minutes. Our Huawei nova 9 SE review sample proved to be a fair workhorse that’s capable of handling most day to day tasks asked of a smartphone in a competent fashion.
Huawei nova 9 SE review – Cameras
Our Huawei nova 9 SE review unit has a rather interesting rear AI quad camera array optimised for better stills while retaining a modicum of cost saving measures to keep the cost of the phone down.
The rear quad camera array is primarily built around Huawei’s first deployment of a 108MP F/1.9 camera that has a large 1/1.52-inch sensor , nona binning and several computational photography tweaks for brighter images even under challenging light conditions.
This large AI quad camera is complemented by an 8MP ultra wide angle camera, a 2MP depth sensor and a 2MP Super Macro camera for close-up shots. Combined, this rear AI quad camera array is capable of taking conventional stills, full-sized 108MP High Res stills and, oddly enough, only up to 1080p@30fps video. The front hosts a modest 16MP F/2.2 camera that is also capped at 1080p@30fps video capture.
When it comes to stills, the Huawei nova 9 SE’s rear 108MP camera was able to deliver excellent shots with good detail, good dynamic range and pretty good colour rendition in both daylight and even in dim light conditions. The ultrawide angle camera delivers good results though it’s not as bright or vibrant as shots captured by the main camera.
The phone’s rear camera is able to tackle up to 10x digital zoom by cropping the large sensor and at 2x digital zoom, our Huawei nova 9 SE’s camera was able to retain great detail.
At 10x digital zoom, the phone still managed to yield usable shots though there’s some minor grain in brightly lit scenarios and outdoors while dim light conditions at maximum digital zoom tend to yield softer shots though they’re still legible. Our Huawei nova 9 SE’s front-facing selfie camera was serviceable in daylight conditions but does not fare as well in dim light even with the screen flash employed.
Unfortunately, video capture performance on both the front and rear cameras are decidedly average at best and serviceable for social media use. The large 108MP sensor does allow for some amount of AI-based stabilisation though this is clearly isn’t the phone’s forte which is primarily capturing great stills.
The lack of expandable storage is a bit of a sore point which means that you’ll have to practice some diligent housekeeping and offload your shots at some point later on.
If you’re primarily focused on getting great photos for as low a price point as possible and consider capturing videos as an afterthought, the Huawei nova 9 SE is arguably one of the most affordable cameras with a 108MP AI quad camera camera array in the market.
Should you buy the Huawei nova 9 SE
The Huawei nova 9 SE has a unique set of strengths for its modest asking price. For what you pay for at RM1,099 you get a large display, a rear camera that’s great for photography and long battery life though this is tempered by the lack of Google Mobile services, unremarkable video capture capabilities and the omission of 5G connectivity.
Users who aren’t fully invested in the Google ecosystem and are looking for an affordable smartphone setup with a great camera that includes a charger and casing will find the Huawei nova 9 SE has quite a bit to offer and is worth a look.
Huawei nova 9 SE review sample courtesy of Huawei Malaysia. To preorder, visit Huawei’s official online store at https://consumer.huawei.com/my/
Huawei nova 9 SE
Huawei nova 9 SE
If you keep your expectations modest and aren’t fully invested in the current dominant app ecosystems, the Huawei nova 9 SE makes for an affordable entry level phone that has its own unique charms. The omission of Google services isn’t as big a flaw as it was several years ago with Huawei’s own AppGallery and their GSpace app to fill in the gaps. With the provision of a large 108MP AI Quad Camera, a large DCI-P3 compliant display and 66W fast charging, the Huawei nova 9 SE has features that typically appear on higher end phones and represents great value, making it one of the best phones in its price category.
Takes great photos
Long battery life
Large 90Hz display
Generous accessories – 66W charger, case and screen protector bundled with phone
Finish is a fingerprint magnet
Needs a few extra steps to run Google apps
Only has a mono speaker
Lacks 5G connectivity
Videos capped at 1080p@30fps
No microSD card slot