Huawei has been laying low in the local mobile phone market for a hot minute. Over the last few years, we have gone from glitzy product launches in the country’s capital, Nairobi, to scattered announcements every once in a while. That, if recent moves are anything to go by, may be a thing of the past. Or so we tend to think. And boy, aren’t the Chinese coming back in full force!
We have had with us for review the Huawei Nova 9 SE for a little while – just long enough to allow us to see it for what it is and what its backers think of it and the market whose attention they are trying so hard to capture.
Right out of the bat, the Huawei Nova 9 SE is a fantastic and very capable smartphone. If you had a checklist somewhere, I bet, it would tick pretty much every box, save for one, which we will come to in a minute. Guess which one?
Here’s what you get in the box
As far as the display goes, it is bright and vibrant and that LCD panel makes for a very pleasant viewing experience. A device like the Nova 9 SE could make do with an higher refresh rate but the 90Hz refresh rate, which is what it has, is still very much okay. Its only shortcoming, however, has been the relatively low visibility when in the great outdoors.
Still sticking with the display, is it us or there’s a new “eBook mode” in addition to the blue-light filtering ‘Eye Comfort’ mode to optimize the device’s display for when one is getting their fix of yet another chapter of The Fearless OrganizationI?
As we will see shortly, that and many other additions to the software, make the device, overall, quite a pleasure to use.
Hand-in-hand with the display are the device’s aesthetics which are enhanced by its overall design. I have the Crystal Blue-coloured model and it pops not just in that colour but also in how it’s been made to blend in with the 3D back design. It looks good! The only problem? It’s an outstanding fingerprint magnet. You win some, you lose some.
Talking of fingerprints, the fingerprint sensor is embedded in the power on/off button which is recessed for ergonomics’ sake, making the handling of what is otherwise quite a large device, bearable.
As far as the cameras go, the headliner is, obviously, that 108-megapixel sensor at the back that is hard to miss not only because it is so large but also because of that star orbit ring at the back. As you can see, Huawei went to great lengths to tie in every key feature of the device that is visible to the naked eye to the design ethos of the device. The novelty doesn’t just end there. The camera’s performance is also, for the lack of many words, quite acceptable.
We found images taken by both the front-facing and back camera a little too smooth for my liking, especially when capturing humans, even when all the beauty filters had been turned off and only the “AI mode” left on. Still, overall, it captures good snaps. At night, your patience will be tasted as there’s a little more time needed to stitch everything together.
On top of new additions, Huawei still managed to keep everything we have liked about the viewfinder like the five-finger gesture support intact while, at the same time, making everything easier to run by removing hurdles like individual toggles in order to use the high-res sensor. It’s the small things.
Performance-wise, the Nova 9 SE is a breeze to use. Basically, everything flies. There’s, basically, no bone to pick with the device when it comes to this. Apps open fast, transitions, where many a processor fails, are smooth and… Name it, it will just fly. The chipset that powers the device, which can also be found in yet another device we have explored recently, is not the fastest of the segment but, whatever magic Huawei does with EMUI is strong enough to have it not become a going concern.
Talking about EMUI, the software experience on the Huawei Nova 9 SE, overall, is one that we can dwell on till the cows come home. Our approach to it has been “diff’rent strokes”. That is to say, depending on where you are in your smartphone usage life, you may or may not like everything you get. What you are guaranteed to like is everything about EMUI as you can see it. The user experience is great. The implementation of the notification shade, the Quick Settings and many other features that are standard to the Android experience, are spot on, if not even better than we have seen on other devices.
However, things fall apart when it comes to your own usage habits. If you are the type that is hooked a lot to the Google ecosystem and the entire Google Android experience, then things may not be so straightforward to you. As we have noted countless times before looking at such devices as the Nova 9 SE from Huawei that are devoid of Google’s Android experience, there is a learning curve.
You’ll need to learn to watch your favourite YouTube creators from a mobile browser page. Or, if you don’t mind, third-party apps like Vanced. It’s going away but it will still continue working for a long time – it’s what we were using during the review period. Google Maps? You’ll need to make Huawei’s own Petal Maps, which are actually decent, your acquaintance if you can’t stand moving your navigation needs to a web browser. Or, you could get HERE WeGo and get a close enough experience.
One thing that Huawei has learned and learned very well over the last few years has been to provide a near-seamless apps downloading process on its non-Google Play certified smartphones and tablets. Just searching for whatever app you need that you can’t find on Huawei’s own AppGallery will have you seeing options to get it from external sources like the specific app’s official download page on its developer’s website or from partner app stores like APK Pure. From there, you just click and wait and the system does all the heavy-lifting for you. It doesn’t get better than that.
At 4,000mAh in 2022, the battery unit on the Nova 9 SE is not exactly the biggest but, as far as our tests go, it’s big enough to handle the needs of the device. That Full HD+ display panel at 90Hz does take its toll but it gets a match in the optimizations in EMUI that tend to not bog down the impressive endurance rating of the device. What’s more, this thing will juice up in record time – 36 minutes from 0 to 100% – thanks to Huawei SuperCharge, possible courtesy of the included charging brick and cable.
Our favourite feature after that crispy display? The sound. Sure, you’re not getting a dual stereo speaker setup but that single bottom-firing unit understood the assignment. It’s fantastic.
The Huawei Nova 9 SE manages to bring together the best of Huawei, as we saw it earlier in the year on the Nova 9, in a decent relatively affordable package that gives the competition some nightmares.
There’s a very vibrant and crisp display whose only shortcoming is not cranking up enough nits in bright sunlight, an okay set of high-res camera lenses that are bogged down by some softness from the image processing, a CPU-GPU combo that balances very well with the included software and fast-charging technology that blows everyone’s mind at this price point.
To say that the device is haunted by the ghosts of the lack of Google Play Services and the inclusion of the Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) Core might sound overreaching but it is the truth that is hard to walk away from. However, for those not beholden to what they have been used to and those with an open mind, Huawei has put together a near-similar experience and where you are almost falling short of getting that, a near-seamless means of getting what you want from third-party app stores with a promise of more to come in Huawei’s own app store, AppGallery.
Where the Nova 9 was a straight-up hard sell, the Nova 9 SE is a good device that we cannot ignore and that is worthy of every consideration if you can meet it where it’s at – at the Kshs 40,000 pedestal.