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What the Huawei nova 9 SE lacks in Google services, it makes up for in looks & performance

Let me just put it out there: I’m not a Huawei smartphone user because I’m dependent on Google Mobile Services (GMS), which is lacking on its smartphones and tablets.

Despite that though, I will admit that their phones excel in hardware and software, making for dependable smartphones, especially in terms of their cameras.

The brand is now releasing the HUAWEI nova 9 SE in Malaysia, and I was sent a review unit. So, I took it for a spin.

Looks matter

I received the nova 9 SE in Crystal Blue. Its glass back cover reminded me a lot of the holographic and refractive sheen found on DVDs, so as expected, it can get blinding under harsh lights. 

The housing of its quad-camera system gave the nova 9 SE a slight bump, but that was more or less evened out with the phone case provided in the box. 

Reminds me of the back of CDs

Weighing 191g, the phone can get tiring to hold for long periods of time. With a wider dimension of about 75.6mm, users with smaller hands may struggle to use the phone one-handed too.

On the plus side, the positioning of its physical lock button and volume rocker are closer to the centre of the phone’s sides, providing a user-friendly and ergonomic experience. It made them easy to reach without having to reposition or stretch my fingers too much to adjust my volume or take a screenshot.

To unlock the phone, there is facial recognition and a physical fingerprint scanner on the lock button.

Bezels on the front are thin enough to give it that widescreen effect on the 6.78-inch display. 

A 90Hz refresh rate is available, so scrolling through social media on the nova 9 SE was smooth, though I did notice a slight lag when switching between apps.

Despite an LCD display, the colour vibrancy of games and videos is not sacrificed. In fact, when it came to photo-taking, the screen’s lack of an OLED display actually provided a more natural look to pictures.

The screen can look a little dim in outdoor settings

As expected, the photos didn’t disappoint

The HUAWEI nova 9 SE has a 108MP AI Quad Camera system comprising a 108MP main camera, an 8MP ultra-wide-angle lens, a 2MP bokeh lens, and a macro lens. With more pixels, the phone’s camera is meant to provide photos with more details.

Testing out the cameras myself, I found that the images shot on the main camera came out crisp, with well-preserved details. However, I noticed that the colours came out a little too contrast-heavy, which can make images look a little fake.

What’s fun about the nova 9 SE’s sensors is that they can detect when a person in your frame is smiling, then automatically snap a photo. Though it can be a helpful 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 did find the AI’s background blur a little too intense, as if the person in the shot was masked out of a photo to be superimposed into another.

Huawei boasts that the nova 9 SE is able to handle low-light photography with its Night mode setting. When put to the test, I can say that the pictures do come out with some good details, though you’d have to prop the phone against a still surface with little shaking from your hands.

Taking a selfie in low light will put a border around the camera frame, so that it acts as a ring light for your face to capture the shot. It gets the job done, but I don’t know if it’s really flattering when such intense white light reflects on an oily forehead.

Videos can be recorded in either 1080p or 720p at 30fps. Dual-View video lets you record through both your front and rear cameras simultaneously. This feature is most suitable for people who create content online, such as for vlogs or reaction TikToks to show two perspectives at once.

Alternatively, you can use the Dual-View to capture a close-up view and a wide-angle shot at the same time. And for those who don’t fancy downloading a separate video editing app, you can cut videos within the gallery itself.

A reliable battery

HUAWEI nova 9 SE comes with a 4,000mAh battery and supports fast charging. It claims to only take 36 minutes for a full charge, and from my own testing, it did not disappoint.

As for its battery life, the nova 9 SE lasted through a whole day of my general usage: social media scrolling, light gaming, and photo-taking.

My current go-to game for testing a device’s 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 came through loud and clear through the phone’s stereo speakers as well.

Despite an LCD screen, the vibrancy of games and videos are barely sacrificed

A notable UX feature that stood out to me about the phone’s EMUI 12 system was in its control and notification panel. 

With the front-facing camera splitting them up, 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 functions.

It’s a practical function to keep things organised and decluttered. But it would take some getting used to for new adopters of this phone.

There’s still one huge qualm

As great of a mid-ranged device the HUAWEI nova 9 SE is, the lack of GMS still makes it hard for me to recommend this phone to anyone that’s dependent on Google for work or otherwise.

Of course, you can still access the browser versions if you wanted to, but they are subpar experiences and unsustainable for me to use long term.

However, the nova 9 SE overcomes this by giving you a pre-installed app called Petal Search. It’s where you can find and download any app’s APK, though you’d still have to jump through a few hoops 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.

ProsCons
Great camera hardware and software Over-corrected pictures in certain settings
Long-lasting battery and solid performanceReflective back is pretty but can be painful on the eyes
Immersive audio quality from its speakersThe lack of GMS
  • Learn more about the HUAWEI nova 9 SE here.
  • Read more VP Verdicts here.

VP Verdict is a series where we personally try and test out products, services, fads, and apps. Want to suggest something else for us to try? Leave a comment here or send the suggestion to our Facebook page.

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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