Mid-range phones have been more prevalent than ever, and Huawei is no stranger to the cause. Their newest Huawei nova 7 SE is another addition to their already expanded catalogue, but it does have a unique feature coming with it — the fabled, 5G.
Usually, you would associate 5G capability with the flagship phones; such as Samsung’s offering, of the Samsung S20 Ultra 5G. And as we all know, flagships are expensive investments. But here we have the nova 7 SE, which offers that very feature and costs more than three times less, making it quite an attractive prospect.
As much as I am eager to test out the 5G functionality, it simply isn’t possible; at least not right now in Singapore. Only by 2025 will our little red dot be fully equipped with nationwide 5G coverage. At the very least, getting this phone might help with future-proofing, somewhat.
For now, we can only try out the phone as it is without the 5G; is that price point still compelling?
Design and Aesthetics
From a design perspective, the nova 7 SE isn’t that much different from its other Huawei counterparts, but it does have the option of a purple variant called, “Midsummer Purple” which was what our review unit came as. The colour is striking and pops out under any good lighting; which is really nice if you like to keep your phone naked.
Taking a closer look, the glossy back finish is adorned with a patterned design containing the nova logo branding. A tad gaudy for my liking, but if you aren’t too fond of it though, the pattern itself isn’t terribly visible, or you can use your handy protector cases to cover it up.
Other colours available to choose are an equally unique “Crush Green”, and your standard “Space Silver”, both of which don’t seem to have that patterned design but the green variant does have an even more massive nova logo branding at the back; we’re not sure why either.
That purple body encases the phone’s display, which comes at a relatively huge 6.5 inches. Powering up the smartphone reveals the full extent of it — a screen covering almost the entirety of the front side, with an ever so slight chin at the bottom. A hole-punch selfie camera completes the look of the front display, which some either love or hate.
The screen itself uses an LCD panel, which while not looking as vibrant as an LED one, performs well enough in its own right. Colours still display vividly, and screen brightness does get adequately bright enough to allow these colours to shine through. And the phone’s large screen means that there’s a lot of screen space to enjoy content.
The display though only sports a 60 Hz refresh rate with it, so using the phone for browsing or playing mobile games won’t have that buttery smooth feeling you get with the 90 Hz or 120 Hz refresh displays that some other phones have. If you haven’t experienced those though, the screen will mainly feel like the status quo for you.
At the sides, Huawei has opted to put a fingerprint sensor alongside the volume rocker instead of utilising an in-display fingerprint sensor; also doubling as a power button. As someone partial to using in-display fingerprint unlocking, the older implementation to unlock the phone was no issue for me. The placement feels natural, and it also feels fast when unlocking.
While we are on the subject of natural hand placements, the Huawei nova 7 SE does feel good in the hand. I’m a person that has moderately small hands, and big phones have always been a massive turn-off for me. The phone, despite its big size, wasn’t uncomfortable to grip surprisingly and gave me fewer issues when using it one-handed than I had anticipated. While it won’t compare to the feel of a smaller phone, the thin design of the phone should at least mitigate some of the comfort issues that people with small hands have with larger phones.
The Huawei nova 7 SE is powered by the Kirin 820 processor, which isn’t the best one you can find in Huawei devices; with the latest flagship P40 Pro + using the Kirin 990 instead. While that might be a technical step down in performance when comparing the two in performance benchmarks, but in practical use, you probably won’t be able to discern the difference.
Hence, the phone still performs well on mobile gaming, never slowing down the action even in some of the more graphically intensive games in the admittedly small pool found on the app store. It goes to show that numbers don’t mean everything.
Doing all that gaming would also mean a significant drain on the battery. Luckily, the Huawei nova 7 SE is packed in with a 4000mAh battery to help you last the stretch. It’s not the largest capacity seen on a phone, but it still fares pretty well.
On our standard battery test where we alternate between browsing, playing music and gaming, totalling to about 6 to 8 hours screen-on-time, the phone still had some power left in the bank at 30-ish percent, which was enough to last another morning.
Charging it back up is also fast with the 40W charger that it comes packed with. A 15-minute charge got the phone back to over half the capacity and an additional 20 or so minutes completed the charging process.
Onto the camera performance, the Huawei nova 7 SE does appear to do its job. Autofocus works well and is even able to detect a face that is half-obscured (think face masks).
Taking photos with the camera also garners good results, for the most part. While dynamic range ensures that colours have a depth to them (the sky isn’t just white).
The problem though is the fact that the Huawei nova 7 SE’s image processing does too much to make the colours to be vibrant and it oversaturates the image.
Image sharpening is really good, though it might be too good for some. You’re able to see distinct details from the photo, which is good but might be a little much for taking pictures of faces, showing pores and other things that people might want to hide.
Night Mode functions well enough, even if it does not hit the standards set by other smartphones. More of the scene can be viewed, but it still is noticeably dimmer than other implementations like say an iPhone 11.
Curiously, the video shooting capabilities of the camera allow it to shoot up to 4K with 30 fps, despite only having a 1080p resolution screen, so there’s that.
For regular 1080p shooting, it likewise functions similarly to its photography counterpart; crisp and vibrant videos, but oversaturated overall. There is a neat feature called Dual-View video mode, which lets you shoot two videos simultaneously, letting you choose two different perspectives for each video before placing them in one footage. It’s not something I would use personally, but maybe you might if you are a vlogger.
Finally, let’s talk about AppGallery. I suspect that this could be an aspect that might turn people off from the phone entirely, so I wanted to go through and focus on the capabilities of the Huawei nova 7 SE first to ensure that you can sit back and digest the things it can do before concluding if the phone is worth the effort.
AppGallery isn’t the Google Play Store, not even remotely. It’s had major strides in securing some popular apps that many people use on its platform, but it is still missing a lot of the absolutely essential ones too. For an example of the experience, watching YouTube on the mobile browser is no way to live, with the enormous black borders surrounding most videos; it is almost hell on earth.
Now there are ways to circumvent the problem and add those missing apps, and it may not necessarily even be difficult if you have some basic technical knowledge. However, it is still extra work to be done to get what you want, and depending on your usual app usage, you might want a lot.
This is not something that Huawei can be blamed for as well; it is out of their control after all. But I still wanted to highlight it due to it being part of the user experience.
For S$528, the Huawei nova 7 SE does have a lot of things going for it, even if you can’t actually use its touted 5G feature yet. The phone is fast, has a big battery and its camera system is decent. It all stems down to whether you are willing to put in the work to prep the phone with all your favourite apps beforehand, something that AppGallery cannot offer yet.