Hands on: HUAWEI nova 3e review

Huawei ups the ante for a mid-ranged handset.

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

Huawei pushes boundaries of what mid-end phones can offer with the nova 3e offering a futuristic design and specs that keep it running smoothly.

For

  • Notched design
  • Good performance
  • Good Pricing

Against

  • Notched design
  • Camera struggles in low-light

We were pleasantly surprised to the see the HUAWEI nova 3e land in our offices a week before the official launch of the rumored P20. The nova 3e features a notched screen design that is expected to be a highlight of the upcoming Huawei phones. 

Huawei has priced it well at AED 1,199 which gets you a phone with a futuristic design and decent specs such as 64GB of storage and a processor that zips along in everyday usage.

The notched design will not appeal to everyone, but considering the number of upcoming phones we've seen this year with a notch, it's a reality we'll have to live with.

Like most mid-end phones, the HUAWEI nova 3e takes good shots when there is ample light but struggles in darker conditions. It has a dual camera setup that lets it take photos with a bokeh effect.

HUAWEI nova 3e release date and price 

The pricing for the HUAWEI nova 3e has been set at AED 1,199 for the UAE. Keeping in mind that is for a 64GB configuration, we think Huawei has priced the phone attractively.

It's already up for preorder with the units expected to hit the retail shelves on the 29th of March. Huawei is offering a free screen repair for up to a year for anyone pre-ordering the nova 3e.

Design

The HUAWEI nova 3e has a glass back with a metal frame and follows the recent trend of having a notch at the top of the screen. This allows for smaller bezels and gives the nova 3e a futuristic look.

The phone comes in Midnight Black and Klein Blue shades. We received the latter for review which is quite nice, and reflects light brilliantly - very much like the finish we saw on Honor 9.

Size-wise, the HUAWEI nova 3e is very similar to the Samsung Galaxy S9. Since it's priced towards the mid-end, it's not as premium as Samsung's offering, but sits well in your hand with a thickness of 7.4 mm and a weight of 145g.

Huawei has placed the fingerprint scanner on the back where your index finger would naturally gravitate towards and, like other Huawei phones, it's very fast and accurate to unlock the phone.  

Thankfully, Huawei retains the 3.5mm jack which makes sense for phones targetted towards the mainstream segment. There is a USB Type-C jack at the bottom as well, though the phone doesn't officially support fast charging.

Being an all glass design, expect the nova 3e to attract fingerprints easily. Smudges showed up easily on our blue unit and we expect the same on the black version.

Screen 

While we don't necessarily see the notch being prominently featured as one of the shining examples of smartphone design, it is here and we are willing to accommodate it. There is something futuristic about the design and maybe when Android P launches with official support for notches, we might change our minds.

Interestingly, the notch disappears when the nova 3e is held in a landscape format and is replaced by black bars, so you don't see the notch cutting through text, pictures or videos like you do on the iPhone X.

The LCD screen is 5.84 inches and has a resolution of 1080 x 2280, which translates to Full HD+. That's high enough for sharp images and text and doesn't take a toll on the battery as much as a higher resolution screen does.

What you do need to keep in mind is that it's an IPS panel and not OLED, which means that it won't be as bright or dark as higher-end handsets offered by Huawei or Samsung.

That being said, the screen is bright enough to easily be readable in direct sunlight. There is a slight blue tint to the screen by default, but Huawei does allow you to adjust the color temperature.

Camera

The HUAWEI nova 3e has a dual-lens camera setup on the back. The 16MP sensor features an f/2.0 aperture with a pixel size of 1.12 μm which should help take better low-light shots. The secondary camera is a 2MP f/2.2 sensor to help create bokeh effects.

We've tested the camera on the nova 3e in the direct sunlight for this hands-on article but we will add more shots taken in low light to see how this camera fares in more challenging conditions. 

Image 1 of 6

Bright daylight shot in Dubai

Bright daylight shot in Dubai
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Let's check out the zoom

Let's check out the zoom
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Zoomed in all the way with impressive quality

Zoomed in all the way with impressive quality
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Bokeh effect

Bokeh effect
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Another bokeh shot

Another bokeh shot
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Macro shows good detail

Macro shows good detail


The front facing camera is one of the highlights of the HUAWEI nova 3e. The 16MP f/2.0 sensor with a pixel size of 1.0 μm and a FOV wide angle of 78° should help get wider angles to take selfies with friends. Here is a sample from the front camera.

Looking at the results, the HUAWEI nove e3 did quite well with the back cameras. It was a bright day with clear skies in Dubai (like every other day) so there was plenty of light. Bokeh effects look nice, and zooming in didn't leave out much detail. Even the macro shot focused well.

The front camera over-exposes the background as you can see from the sample picture above. We tested that against multiple backgrounds with different lighting conditions but were always met with the same result.

We will continue testing both the front and back camera on the HUAWEI nova e3, especially in lower lit conditions. Expect more shots and video recording in the full review.

Battery life 

We have barely had the HUAWEI nova 3e for a day, so it's too early to report on the battery life. What we can say is that it features a 3,000mAh battery which, along with the Kirin 639 processor and the FHD+ screen, should hopefully last you throughout the day.

Early verdict 

Huawei and Honor have been pushing the boundaries of what mid-end phones can offer and the nova 3e continues down that path. Its futuristic design makes it look like a phone that costs more while the specs keep it running smoothly.

Huawei does sell high-end phones, so there are differences and features that you won't find on the nova 3e such as a stellar low-light camera or an OLED screen. 

But at AED 1,199, the nova 3e has certainly notched a place for itself.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.