Huawei’s Nova 3e is a familiar phone in a much prettier body

The veil has lifted and it is now official that the next Huawei smartphone to grace retail shelves will be the Huawei Nova 3e. Also known as the Huawei P20 Lite, this new smartphone will slide right into the upper mid-range category as the P20‘s affordable little sibling.

Right off the bat, the Huawei Nova 3e bears a striking resemblance to the Huawei P20. It’s got a lot of the flagship’s good looks and even incorporates the device’s vertical text design along the left of the smartphone’s back. It’s a phone that feels well put together but it just doesn’t feel quite as premium as the P20, despite sporting a similar glass and metal build.

Nevertheless, it looks pretty enough if you’re into the Huawei P20’s aesthetic. And it has a nice screen to boot. Nova 3e sports pretty much the same 5.84-inch Full HD+ display as the honor 10, so it’s also got good viewing angles, good sharpness and vibrant colours. That also means it comes with a notch, but that’s something most will either like or hate.

Inside, the smartphone packs a mid-range Kirin 659 octa-core processor mated to 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. A nice touch was the inclusion of microSD card expansion and 3.5mm headphone jack, things that have been dropped from the Huawei P20 devices. That said, you do lose out on battery capacity compared to the P20, as the Nova 3e drops it down to just a 3,000 mAh cell. Still, at least there’s still 9V2A fast charging via USB Type-C.

Overall performance is pretty reasonable. I’d describe it as smooth but not particularly snappy. Don’t expect Huawei P20 levels of performance from this handset, but it isn’t what you’d call a laggy experience either. However, my colleague did notice the handset suffer performance issues and framerate drops when playing games like Mobile Legends.

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That’s pretty disappointing for gamers especially since according to him the Xiaomi Redmi 5 doesn’t suffer from these issues and that’s only got an entry-level Snapdragon 450 processor. Perhaps the Nova 3e isn’t able to push smooth performance on its higher resolution Full HD+ display.

Performance aside, Huawei’s Nova branded smartphones are all about the selfie shooter. It’s designed to take on and beat the likes of OPPO and vivo at their own game but that’s a pretty tall order.

Still, Huawei’s Nova 3e may have the chops to remain competitive. In front, you’ll find a 24MP selfie shooter up front that’s basically the same camera you’d find on the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro. With this shooter you get access to shallow depth-of-field shots, normal selfies and a bunch of AR stickers as well as beautification features.

Interestingly, Huawei’s Nova 3e does not come with the company’s 3D Lighting effects for the selfie shooter. Even their sub-brand smartphone, the honor 10, features these lighting effects so it’s a little puzzling that they ditched it for their selfie-centric smartphone. At the back, you get a fairly basic dual-camera setup with a main 16MP shooter paired to a 2MP secondary sensor that’s used for depth effects.

As far as first impressions go, the Nova 3e is in an perplexing spot. I wouldn’t really classify it as a full on selfie smartphone, partly because it doesn’t quite have the raw selfie prowess of devices like the OPPO F7 and its borderline crazy AI beauty, but mostly because I don’t think it was specifically designed to do so.

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That said, it does feature a nice-looking body and a look that I like very much because it’s so similar to the P20. If you look at the internals, this phone is very similar to the older Huawei Nova 2i as it features the same processor and RAM but has upgraded storage.

Last year’s Nova 2i was an excellent handset because it had an excellent price tag for the kind of specs they offered. It was a no-brainer for those who wanted the 18:9 “Full View” displays but couldn’t afford a premium flagship. Now, the competition is much fiercer for 18:9 smartphones, as you can get devices like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 for less than RM1,000.

I guess the Nova 3e’s biggest strengths are its 128GB of internal storage and that flagship-level design. Will that be enough? Will it be affordable? Well, we’ll know soon enough because the official Malaysian launch will be happening on the 22nd of May 2018.