Huawei in 2018 – Can the Nova 3e (P20 lite) and P20 Pro compete?

2018 is an exciting year in the smartphone world, and everyone is forced to up their game to stay relevant, competitive and drive sales. Huawei has a reputation for coming up right behind Samsung, and for 2018, they need to truly stand out.

It’s also the year of the notch, and everyone is trying to squeeze in more screen real-estate while making their devices more palmable. And here, Huawei decided to take the market by storm by introducing three devices to cause a bit of stir in 2018; the Huawei Nova 3e, the Huawei P20, and P20 Pro.

In this review, I will be discussing the Nova 3e in detail and what it feels like to move from a Samsung Note 8 (Their 2017 flagship) to a Huawei P20 Pro as a primary phone.

The Huawei Nova 3e

In this region, this device is called the Nova 3e, but because the device has such a resemblance to the P20 and P20 Pro, it is now being called P20 lite in other markets. Now that is a great way to start this review; with a device so good in its segment, it’s now associated with its bigger, more capable brothers.

Let’s talk specifications

Before going into the device’s specifications, it is worthy to note that the Nova 3e looks like a flagship, while it sits in the mid-range category, and this is typically the biggest issue with mid-range phones, they look mid-range, but not here.

The Nova 3e is a beautiful looking device coming in a selection of ultra glossy colors; Midnight black, Sakura pink and Klein blue as the one in this review. All colors just pop through the rear-panel and are ultra reflective in light – super attractive device from the back.

Glass covers the front of the device encasing the 5.84-inch Full-HD display with a 19:9 aspect ratio a pixel density of 432ppi, taking up 80.55% of the front of the device – quite an impressive percentage considering the best of other brands top at about 84%.

Size – Width: 71.2 mm – Height:148.6 mm – Depth:7.4 mm – Weight:Approx.145 g
Display – TFT LCD (IPS) FHD+ 2280 x 1080 pixels – 432 PPI
Chipset – HUAWEI Kirin 659 – 4 x Cortex-A53 2.36 GHz + 4 x Cortex-A53 1.7 GHz
OS – Androidâ„¢ 8.0
Memory – ANE-L21 – 4 GB + 64 GB (microSD card up to 256 GB)
Network – ANE-L21 (Dual SIM Card): 4G / 3G / 2G – Primary SIM card:
4G (LTE FDD) – 3G (WCDMA) – 2G (GSM)
Connectivity ANE-L21: Wi-Fi: 802.11b/g/n/ac 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz – micro USB, USB 2.0 – BT4.2, BLE, aptX is supported – NFC
Sensors – ANE-L21: Hall sensor – Fingerprint sensor – Proximity sensor – Ambient light sensor – Digital compass – Gravity sensor – Gyroscope
Camera – Front camera: 16 M F/2.0 – Rear camera: 16 M + 2 M F/2.2
Battery – 3000 mAh

What’s in the box

Phone x 1
Built-in battery x 1
Headset x 1
Charger x 1
Type-C Cable x 1
Eject pin x 1
Quick Start Guide x 1

Let’s take a look around

At the back of the device, you’ll find the extremely glossy rear of the Nova 3e, with the logo, camera details, and cameras aligned to the top (when held vertically) which is a new and interesting approach for Huawei.

Photography on the Nova 3e is handled by a dual-camera setup with a 16-megapixel main camera and a 2-megapixel secondary camera. I believe the secondary camera would be mainly used for assisting the main camera and not for actual 2-megapixel stills/videos.

The fingerprint sensor is right in the center and considering the device’s size, the position is perfect and being a tad recessed, it is easily accessible.

The front of the device houses the notch. Unlike fruity competitors, this is quite narrow and houses three main things: the 16-megapixel front-facing camera, front speaker grille, and front sensors.

Unlike on the P20 Pro beside it, Huawei decided to place the logo on the bottom chin of the device. Surely they did not want to over-engineer a mid-range phone, but saving space up top with a notch and not utilizing the bottom chin is a head-scratcher.

The display is one of the most beautiful displays on a mid-range phone available today. Incredibly vibrant, colors pop out a lot with exceptional brightness and clarity.

The left of the device has the dual-sim hybrid card tray – with the ability to house two sims or a sim and Micro-SD.

The right side of the device houses the volume rocker and power/lock button.

The bottom of the device has a 3.5mm headphone port, USB-C port, one speaker and one of the two microphones (the second one is at the top).

Why should you get the Nova 3e?

  1. The way it looks and feels

The device looks exceptionally trendy, modern and flashy. It looks like what a flagship should look like, and that makes it really appealing next to a series of mid-range phones that are only beginning to look good.

The front, having a notch, whether you appreciate that or not, is also trendy these days and it looks like a modern-day device.

Coming in at just 145 grams, the Nova 3e is extremely light in your hand, and the glass front and plastic (could be glass..) back panel make it feel soft and light to hold. Fingerprints don’t show much on the Klein blue color either. With metal sides, the device feels solid and robust.

  1. The display

The Nova 3e has one of the nicest displays on a mid-range device today with a great high definition display with a resolution of 2280×1080 and has tons of features such as; the ability to lower the resolution to 1520×720 to save battery, and this can be automatically done by the device depending on your use, eye comfort mode which can be scheduled and various basic display settings.

The bottom menu buttons also are designed to be transparent to give you the feel of an even longer display compared to when it has a solid background.

The P20 and P20 Pro have options to hide the notch, this may come to the Nova 3e in future releases.

  1. Modern features

Having a 2018 smartphone means we tend to have requirements of a modern day device and the Nova 3e held none of that back. Here are 3 features that make the Nova 3e modern:

  • Ultra-fast fingerprint sensor – This makes unlocking the device as seamless, secure and delay-free as possible

  • Facial recognition – Using the front camera, the Nova 3e can unlock the device by recognizing your face. While this may or may not be as secure as biometrics, it works. You have the option of a faster unlock, where it does not do a deeper scan of your face, and can be set to start scanning from when you lift your phone off the table or out of your pocket. While this feature turned the screen on a lot more than I would like, it made unlocking the device using facial recognition ridiculously fast.

I have to admit, I turned the automatic facial scanning off as it kept turning the screen on.

  • Camera – While the specifications might look average, the Nova 3e takes excellent photos, especially when lighting is good. Low light performance and highly demanding shots struggle but it has all the modern-day features such as portrait, manual, panorama, HDR, time-lapse, slow-motion and other modes.

  1. Package and price point

The Nova 3e retails for approximately 1,200 AED (~325$) which is a very reasonable price for the Nova 3e’s offering and the overall package. You get a premium looking device, brilliant screen, tons of modern features, an excellent camera for about half what a flagship would cost.

Why shouldn’t you get the Nova 3e?

While the Nova 3e does all the smartphone basics brilliantly, there are a few things to look out for before you make your mind.

  1. Performance and battery life

The device is powered by the Kirin 659 processor (4 x Cortex-A53 2.36 GHz + 4 x Cortex-A53 1.7 GHz), 4GB of RAM and while these look great as specifications, the device does leave you needing more power.

General operation and day-to-day use are handled very well with the above, and you would hardly notice any slowdowns, but while multitasking or running games, the processor is not powerful enough. The EMUI experience is quite snappy in general, so apps pop up when you tap on them, but there is a delay for them to actually open.

Battery life is quite average and may fall behind its competitors. EMUI does offer an array of battery saving options, but I usually got through the battery at around two-thirds of the day (early evenings from a full charge at 8AM). One other thing that really affects your experience is that the device does not support quick charging or Huawei’s supercharging.

  1. It is very slippery

This might be a tiny one, but it does bother me personally. I like to carry my phones without a case, and the Nova 3e with its glass front and plastic back (can’t confirm if its glass) is extremely slippery. I have dropped it off the table, couch and in my car several times because it would slide away when vibrating or just by itself.

Get a case, or it will land on the floor once and leave a mark/crack.

  1. Needing more punch

The Nova 3e covers all your basic day-to-day needs for a smartphone, and it does not disappoint in any of those needs, but if you are a power user, you may need to upgrade from a mid-range smartphone to a higher end or flagship.

The processing power and graphics are good for basic use, but demanding apps and games need more. The camera, while great for the segment, can leave you needing more clarity, low-light performance, and features. The display is great on the Nova 3e, but if you need more screen real-estate, brightness, and resolution, you may decide on an upgrade. Battery life and charging are just average on the Nova 3e, and if you need faster-charging options, bigger battery and alternative charging methods, you’ll need to upgrade.

How would I summarize the Nova 3e?

The simple way to place the Nova 3e would be the way I started it. Huawei has bridged the gap between their high-end smartphones and mid-range devices by quite a lot that they are calling this device the P20 lite, and I couldn’t agree more.

The device hardly leaves you wanting more, and the only times I needed more out of the Nova 3e, was when I was trying to do or need things that a flagship would offer.

If you are looking for a great mid-range smartphone, the Nova 3e is a great device and has a lot to offer compared to its rivals.

The Huawei P20 Pro

Now it is time to discuss the star, the flagship of the 2018 Huawei line-up, the Huawei P20 Pro.

There is a crazy amount of reviews online for the P20 Pro, but I wanted to use this opportunity to cover a specific point, moving from the Samsung Note 8 to the P20 Pro and here I will highlight the things I got and the things I lost from the move.

Things I got moving to the P20 Pro

  1. A cool look

The Samsung Note 8 is a good looking device, particularly in black, but it looks dated in 2018. Even when Samsung’s S9 and S9 Plus dropped, it looked the same.

Huawei brought a fresh new look, with a crazy color with their Twilight option, an interesting rear layout, and a gorgeous new screen… with a notch.

  1. Battery life

The P20 Pro has a 4000mAh battery built-in, which can give me up to 24 hours of juice. Leaving home in the morning (around 6:30 AM) with 100%, I can end my day with an easy 35-40% still with me.

If I use my device lightly, I can go to bed with about 50% and wake up the next day with about 40%. The Note 8 would be near 0 by the end of the day and requires a nice recharge before leaving work.

The battery story does not end with just a good point, because there is a bad side to it, charging. More on that in a bit.

  1. A brilliant screen

On paper, the Note 8 looks like it has a better screen:

Display size – 6.3-inches vs. 6.1-inches
Resolution – Quad HD+ (2960×1440) vs. Full HD+ (2240×1080)
Density – 521 ppi vs. 408 ppi
Type – AMOLED vs. OLED
Aspect ratio – 18.5:9 vs. 18.7:9

The hidden truth is that the Note 8 does not actually run at that resolution without manually selecting it and draining the battery even further. When running at Full HD+, both devices run at a very similar resolution and with them both side by side, the P20 Pro looks more vibrate, bright and popping – which was quite a surprise. I love it.

The P20 Pro brings a notch. Does the notch matter? No. Is it funky, cool and trendy? Yes. The notch also minimizes the top bezel, which is nice. The software enables you to turn the notch “off” by covering the sides of the notch with a black background, and if you want to play around, the software can let you customize the look of the area on either side of the notch.

  1. A cool home button

While the Note 8 had an on-display home button that is clickable at any time, the P20 Pro gives the Note 8 a run for its money with a software-supported home button that can be turned on to act like all your navigation buttons!

Place your finger on it, and it will scan your finger and unlock the device, swipe the home button to open the multitasking panel, tap it to go back, short press it and it goes home and swiping up opens Google Assistant.

That means you can take away the navigation buttons from the screen and enjoy that extra space!

  1. A louder speaker

While the Note 8 was a decent sounding device, Samsung focused on its headphone quality rather than the device itself. The P20 Pro is significantly louder and has a stereo-speaker set up to amplify audio output even further.

  1. Great facial recognition

The Note 8 had facial recognition, but it worked with very strict parameters and with good lighting. The P20 Pro does a much better job at facial recognition and even can operate with the minimal lighting coming out of your phone’s display. Works almost every single time, and that is the whole point of having a feature like this.

Things I lost moving to the P20 Pro

  1. The Samsung-ness

Samsung Experience has moved on quite a lot from the past, and it looks the neatest across all Android devices. Icons are smaller, the text is crisper, notifications are smaller and take less space, and the overall device looks more premium from the software side of things.

EMUI is not as polished, lovely to use or “seemingly” feature-full. It does a great job, but at times it looks a little unfinished, sluggish and at times broken.

  1. The S-Pen

This is quite a straightforward, given. The S-Pen is the easiest and nicest way to take notes, especially when the screen of the Note 8 is off.

  1. The Camera

While in most reviews, the P20 Pro seems like it has a better camera, I found it to be either identical or lower in quality compared to the Note 8.

The P20 Pro does have a few camera issues I just cannot get over. Here are a few:

  • You cannot Zoom in when capturing images at 40 megapixels (You can zoom at all resolutions on the Note 8, and I get the idea that it is 40 megapixels, but at times I would still want to zoom)
  • You cannot do a portrait image when capturing images at 18:9 ratio (Do-able on the Note 8 and great for Instagram stories use)
  • Very weak to no stabilization at 4K video capture
  • Some features only work on certain modes, for instance, the horizontal guide only works in pro mode
  1. Charging options

I would like to start this off by saying that the Huawei P20 Pro has supercharging, which allows up to 50%+ of the battery to be charged in about 30 minutes. This is probably the fastest charging I have experienced, and when supercharging, you can see the battery percentages go up even by decimal points!

The only issue with the above is that it only works with the provided supercharger, all other “fast chargers” I used for my Note 8 would either give me “charging” or “fast charging” but never supercharging. This means I am charging my P20 Pro usually at a slower speed than I did with my Note 8, except when at home.

Finally, while the P20 Pro has a rear glass panel, it has no wireless charging, while Note has moved on to Fast Wireless Charging.

  1. Performance

Both devices are very well spec’d with an Octa-core processor, 6GB of RAM and they both are very smooth all-around, but the P20 Pro does have a bit more slowdowns and struggles than the Note 8 in general. Not a massive difference but you buy a device in 2018, you expect it to at least beat the 2017 powerhouse from Samsung and it does not. Benchmarks show the P20 Pro clocking slightly higher, but in the real world, who cares?

There are times when the device would close an app running in the background, where there is nearly 2.5GB free of RAM, other times some apps crash when they never did on the Note 8, etc.

Dealbreaker? Heck no. Evident enough to mention? Yes.

  1. 3.5mm headphone jack and expandable storage

The Note 8 has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a slot for a Micro-SD in the dual sim tray. The P20 Pro has 128 GB of storage, but that is all you can get.

Huawei has countered the headphone jack issue by offering a USB-C to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter, and a pair of USB-C headphones, but this doesn’t take away the fact.

Am I keeping it, or switching back?

I am definitely keeping it!

There are a few things I had to sacrifice, and a few things I absolutely enjoy having now, but overall, the P20 Pro is a breath of fresh air. It is new, modern, beautiful and does all the things I need it to do and more.

While the Note 8 does a few things better and may run smoother, the overall package of the P20 Pro is more appealing to me personally at this point in time and feels a lot more 2018 than the Note 8.

I am very impressed with what Huawei has done in 2018, and I am incredibly excited to see where they go from here!

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