Huawei nova 9 SE Review Philippines (with 108MP Rear Camera Setup)

Is the 108MP camera worth it?

Huawei is launching its newest phone in the Philippines, the upper entry-range Huawei nova 9 SE with a whopping 108MP rear camera setup to boot. We’ve had this phone for a while, and here’s what we think about this phone in our full review.

The Nova 9 SE comes at PHP 13,999 for the 8GB+128GB model and is now on pre-order until March 24, 2022. Customers who do will get freebies such as the HUAWEI FreeBuds 4i and a bundle of Huawei services (Cloud, Books, Music, Video) worth PHP 4,745. You can preorder the phone now via the Huawei Online Store, or at the Huawei Flagship Stores on Lazada, and Shopee.

Huawei Nova 9 SE Philippines specs:

  • 6.78-inch IPS display, 1080 x 2388 px
    90Hz refresh rate
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 680
    Adreno 610 GPU
  • 8GB RAM
  • 128GB internal storage
  • Quad rear cameras with LED Flash:
  • 108MP f/1.9 wide
  • 8MP f/2.2 ultrawide
  • 2MP f/2.4 macro
  • 2MP f/2.4 depth
  • 16MP f/2.2 front camera
  • 4G LTE, Dual-SIM (nano)
  • WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS, AGPS, GLONASS, Beidou, Galileo
  • Side fingerprint scanner
  • USB Type-C
  • EMUI 12 (Android 11)
  • 4,000mAh battery
  • 66W fast charging
  • Midnight Black, Pearl White, Crystal Blue

We unbox the unit we got from Huawei Philippines and we see the phone with a Crystal Blue color, the SIM card tray ejector tool, a clear TPU case, a USB Type-C cable, and a 66-watt charger. There are no papers in our unit such as the warranty card and manual but expect it to be present in the retail units arriving locally.

Design: A star is born

This nova feels so same as its nova 8 and 9 counterparts, yet makes itself distinguished from them, as it features a flatter front compared to dual-curved displays we saw on the higher-priced models. This makes it easier to hold the device since the fingers can grip inwards to the display more firmly.

Right at the front, we have a 6.78-inch Full HD+ display with the 16-megapixel selfie camera cut out at the top-middle part.

The volume keys and the caved power and lock button, which also acts as the fingerprint scanner, are on the right side. Both are easily accessible with either hand, and the volume keys offer linear feedback when pressed.

At the bottom, we have the USB Type-C port along with the microphone and the bottom-firing loudspeaker, while the dual nano-SIM card is at the top along with the grille for the call speaker. The absence of a 3.5mm audio port, as well as a microSD card slot, is surprising for a mid-range phone.

If you flip the phone, the back part features a Crystal blue gradient that offers a bursting refraction design from the protruding oval which houses the rear camera setup. it’s quite a slippery piece and a smudge magnet, too, due to its glossy, reflective nature. It’s a must to use the TPU case included in the package, or another case of your choosing when using it for daily activities.

Overall this device is light enough for normal, everyday use, and it’s not hard to hold even for prolonged periods of time. The bottom chin is also just alright, and we do not find ourselves accidentally putting out gestures or buttons from that area when using the phone in landscape to play games.

Display: Drop dead gorgeous

The 6.78-inch IPS display offers a Full HD+ resolution and has a 90Hz refresh rate for smoother animations. The screen offers sharp density, vibrant colors, and good contrast. The slim bezels, as we mentioned, offer a more immersive experience. The placement of the selfie camera in the middle, too, helps with making the device more symmetric and aids in OS navigation.

Its bottom-firing speaker can produce audio that can easily fill up a quiet medium-sized room, though you’ll have to be wary of distortion when toggled to the maximum volume level. The audio is just decent, with good mids to boot. Take note that there’s no 3.5mm audio jack as well, so you’ll need a USB-C to 3.5mm converter or Bluetooth audio to listen more personally.

Cameras: Generally Decent at its best

A quad-rear camera setup is the star of the show for this phone, one of which has a 108-megapixel camera which is the first for the nova line. It’s accompanied by an eight-megapixel snapper for wide-angle, as well as two 2MP lenses for depth and macro, with up to 10x digital zoom. The selfie camera is a 16-megapixel lens with some software-based AI touchups to boot.

The cameras offer good colors, dynamic range, and contrast in most environments, while it kind of misses on bright night scenes where it usually overblows up lighting. Zoom performance is decent with the photos still bearing good details while being pixelated in nature.

Selfie camera performance is also good, where the AI beauty offers realistic enhancements. Here are some sample shots:

Videos can be taken by up to 1080p at 30fps, where its imagery performance is almost the same as how we usually see it in photos. Be alert of shaky performance as you capture videos, though, as this phone doesn’t offer OIS that can stabilize clips we take. Here’s a sample video:

OS, Performance, Security:

This phone offers EMUI 12, which is based on open-source Android 11. It takes a bit of a learning curve to learn gestures as it’s the default navigation option, but you can opt to use buttons by toggling in the settings.

No Google services, still, but most of the top-used local apps are already available for download at the Huawei AppGallery. Most of the top local apps are there, and there are some good alternatives in case you miss working on Google services. GSpace is also an app you can use where it houses some of the Google apps you may need.

Using the nova 9 SE for a few days had made me rethink: Huawei’s phones really are competitive in terms of performance. I did not experience any lags when I used it (this has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 chip, by the way), but definitely, it’s not as fast as I thought it would be as I came from a better-performing device. Games aren’t an issue too with minimal lags even on the most resource-needing ones like Asphalt 9 or Hungry Shark Evolution. Here are our benchmarks:

  • AnTuTu – 254,331
  • 3DMark – 126 (Wild Life Extreme) 453 (Wild Life)
  • PCMark – 6,063 (Work 3.0)

There are different ways to keep your phone secured including the side fingerprint scanner and the face unlock. Both work really well and respond really fast, most especially the side fingerprint that unlocks the phone just as you put your finger on the sensor.

Other connectivity options such as Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS work well. This is also one of the most affordable phones with NFC to date, though there isn’t any pre-installed default app that can read or write NFC cards or tags. Mobile data works really well, but it’s surprising to not have 5G when other brands already have them in the market.

Battery Life: Stellar as you can get it

If we are to highlight one of the best features of this phone, it has to be its battery life. Huawei optimized its 4000mAh battery so well that we are able to last around 22 hours of very light usage before it’s time to recharge the phone again. You can also choose to disable the 90Hz screen refresh rate or opt for a dynamic one (also the default selection) for your display to further increase your battery life.

Our PCMark battery test gave a 15 hours and 38 minutes score for a 60Hz refresh rate, while the dynamic 90Hz/60Hz feature will give you less, at 12 hours and 44 minutes. Recharging this with the supplied cable and 66-watt Huawei Supercharge wall charger will provide your device with 50% of power in just 25 minutes, while a full charge will last around 44 minutes. Amazing, I’d say.

Carl Lamiel
Carl writes for WalasTech when he's not working full-time. Give him tips and/or leads at [email protected]