Huawei Nova 3e review: Plenty of style but lacking in power

Alex Kidman 4 July 2018 NEWS

Huawei's budget Huawei Nova 3e, also known as the Huawei P20 Lite, offers a premium design to help it stand out from the mid-range pack, but it's not a terribly powerful device.

Quick Verdict
If you don't want a handset that looks like it's a budget phone, the Huawei Nova 3e is an easy recommendation. Its application and camera performance can't quite live up to its looks, but it's still a good value smartphone.

The good

  • Great design
  • Headphone jack
  • Fast charging

The bad

  • Camera is decidedly mid-range
  • Slow app performance
  • Mediocre battery life
  • No water resistance or robust glass

Huawei has been making a lot of noise in the premium space, thanks to the exceptional Huawei P20 Pro, currently our favourite camera phone of 2018.

The Huawei Nova 3e, which is also sold in a number of markets as the Huawei P20 Lite, looks at first glance to simply be the Huawei P20 Pro at around a third of the price. At which point you've got to wonder what Huawei is chopping out to make this remarkable feat possible.

Huawei Nova 3e review

Huawei Nova 3e: Design

Closer examination of the Huawei Nova 3e will reveal the little tricks that differentiate the cheaper phone from its more premium sibling. While both are glass-backed handsets, the Nova 3e has a definite glass "edge" where the sides meet the back, which is distinct from the rounded sides of the P20 Pro. That does give it a little more grip, which is important because like most glass-backed handsets the Nova 3e can get pretty slippery. Here again, there's a point of built-to-a-budget difference because the glass back on the Nova 3e isn't the usual Corning Gorilla Glass as you'd find on a more premium handset. Drop the Nova 3e and it could go very badly for you.

I've got a very soft spot for well-made phones, and it's hard to argue that the design and the build of the Huawei Nova 3e isn't top notch. Indeed, it's clearly its best feature within the mid-range space because it doesn't look the part of a budget phone, especially in the "Klein Blue" finish as tested. It shimmers in a style similar to the P20 Pro's "Twilight" finish, although predictably not quite as nicely. Still, you're paying a lot less for the Huawei Nova 3e, and still getting premium looks. If you do prefer a more sedate look, the Huawei Nova 3e is also available in a black finish.

Like so many of 2018's phones, the Huawei Nova 3e features a prominent "notch" on its 5.84-inch LCD display. Notches are very much a matter of personal taste, and like most vendors, Huawei does provide software to "black out" the notch if it's not to your taste by colouring in the sides. You'll still see notification icons to the sides, and it's not an absolute invisible fix.

As sold in Australia and tested, the Nova 3e is a single nano SIM card phone with the secondary slot in the tray exclusively used for microSD expansion, although international models do mix that up with the usual choice of a secondary SIM or microSD. You'd have to import one to get that functionality here, however.

The right hand side is where you'll find the Huawei Nova 3e's volume and power buttons, while the SIM card tray nestles into the left hand side. The Nova 3e has a fingerprint sensor, located well away from the rear lens but quite high up on the phone body. There's a definite learning curve to remembering to stretch your digit up just that little bit higher. One nice touch where the Nova 3e outdoes its bigger siblings is in retaining a headphone jack, if that's important to you.

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Huawei Nova 3e review

Huawei Nova 3e: Camera

The Huawei P20 Pro that the Nova 3e so clearly mimics sells itself largely on its camera prowess, but this is an area where Huawei's taken a more modest approach for its budget handset.

At the front, you'll find a single 16MP f/2.0 selfie shooter, complete with the requisite "beauty" mode option for smoothing out your skin. It will also manage software-generated bokeh for your selfies depending on the background. There's no secondary front lens as there was on the Huawei Nova 2i. As always, moderation is key here in order to avoid looking like a smoothed-over Barbie doll, or in my case, a sentient potato man:

Huawei Nova 3e review

At the rear, the Nova 3e packs in a 16MP f/2.2 and 2MP f/2.2 pair of lenses, but as is so commonly the case, you can't actually access that secondary lens except to give depth effects to your photos. Huawei's default camera app is much the same as it is on the Huawei P20 Pro, but naturally the results aren't quite as impressive.

Huawei Nova 3e review

There's a strong tendency, as in the above shot, for slightly aggressive bokeh that ends up looking artificial, although you can again dial this back to taste.

Huawei Nova 3e review

Ultimately the Huawei Nova 3e performs to the level we'd expect out of a mid-range phone, but not really all that much better. In faster shooting situations or any kind of low light, it will struggle as you'd expect a camera in this price range to do.

Huawei Nova 3e review

Huawei Nova 3e review

Huawei Nova 3e review

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Huawei Nova 3e review

Huawei Nova 3e: Performance

Huawei very much goes its own way when it comes to internal specifications for the Nova 3e, eschewing the usual run of Snapdragon 660 or 630 silicon for its own Kirin processor. The Kirin 659, to be precise, paired with 4GB of RAM. The Kirin 659 is, to put it politely, showing its age, given that it's the exact same processor Huawei put into last year's Nova 2i handset, and this is reflected in its benchmark performance.

It's the same story in 3D graphics performance, where the Huawei Nova 3e comes dead last in all phones we've tested, save the Nokia 1. However, that's a considerably cheaper handset and not what anyone would call a mid-range device.

All of this adds up to a handset that's functional, but not quick even within its price range. Launching apps will take a little longer than you might think, and you'll get used to seeing a few interstitial stutters if you're pushing heavier use apps on it or trying to rapidly switch between apps.

The Huawei Nova 3e is an Android 8.0 phone, using Huawei's own EMUI launcher. EMUI is an environment that you'll either love or hate, depending on your position on hand-holding within the Android environment.

If you're coming from a more "pure" Android handset, it will take you a little tweaking to get used to where common controls are located, although naturally anyone upgrading from a previous Huawei handset will be right at home. As is so common with heavily modified Android environments, there are a number of apps pre-installed "for your convenience". Annoyingly, you can't easily uninstall anything it declares a "system app", including Huawei's own App store.

The Huawei Nova 3e joins a large number of Chinese-produced handsets that skips out on NFC compatibility. That makes sense within its domestic market, where QR code payment is far more common, but here in Australia, it means that it's locked out of payment systems such as Google Pay.

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Huawei Nova 3e review

Huawei Nova 3e: Battery life

The Huawei Nova 3e is a thin phone, which typically doesn't give a manufacturer a lot of space to pack in battery capacity. It's also very light, at just 145g, but that hasn't stopped Huawei from putting in a 3,000mAh battery. Combine that with a somewhat older but lower-power processor, and there's scope for some decent battery life.

What you get instead is decidedly mid-range battery life, trending on the low side for a mid-range phone. We've seen a number of mid-range handsets that use their lower-power processors to their advantage when it comes to battery endurance, but the Huawei Nova 3e sadly doesn't join their ranks.

Which isn't to say that the Huawei Nova 3e has bad battery life. Geekbench 4's battery test is terribly linear, which isn't how you'd actually use it in real-world situations. A single day's battery life is eminently achievable in day-to-day usage, and it's easy enough to top up via USB C. Huawei's provided charger works with its own QuickCharge technology for rapid topping up of the Huawei Nova 3e's battery, although predictably there's no sign of wireless charging capability.

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Huawei Nova 3e review

Huawei Nova 3e: Should you buy it?

The Huawei Nova 3e/Huawei P20 Lite very much sells itself as an aspirational phone in the mid-range space because its design style leaps over most of its competition on that score. It's a phone to show off with while not actually spending as much as your friends who have all bought premium handsets.

That's the core reason that should drive you towards the Huawei Nova 3e over other mid-range handsets. It otherwise only just holds its own in performance and battery life terms, so if those details are more important to you than design, look elsewhere.

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Huawei Nova 3e: Pricing and availability

The Huawei Nova 3e is available in Australia outright for $399.

Buy the Huawei Nova 3e

Buy the Huawei Nova 3e from Amazon AU

Huawei puts the impressive design of its flagship phones into a more affordable device with the Nova 3e.

View details

It's also available on contract in Australia through TeleChoice and Vodafone:

Huawei Nova 3e: Alternatives

You're very much spoiled for choice when it comes to mid-range phones at the moment, so comparing is smart business. At the same price point as the Huawei Nova 3e, you could buy a Motorola Moto G6. That's not as fancy a phone in the looks department, but it is one with significantly better battery life.

Buy the Motorola Moto G6

Buy the Motorola Moto G6 from Amazon AU

With dual rear cameras, a sturdy gorilla glass body and a 5.7 inch display, Motorola's affordable Moto G6 gives you all the smartphone features you need without breaking the bank.

View details

For just a little more, you could also opt for the Motorola Moto G6 Plus if you fancy a larger handset.

Buy the Motorola Moto G6 Plus

Buy the Motorola Moto G6 Plus from Amazon AU

Motorola's largest G-series phone comes with a 5.9 inch display, all-glass finish and dual rear cameras to give you the phone features you need at a price you can afford.

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It's also worth throwing the Nokia 6 2018 into the mix as well. It's a nicely designed handset with performance that's superior to the Huawei Nova 3e at the exact same price point.

Buy the Nokia 6.1

Buy the Nokia 6.1 from Amazon AU

The Nokia 6.1 brings the simplicity of Google's Android One platform along with refined design at a very attractive price point.

View details

Huawei Nova 3e: What the other reviewers say

Site Comment Score
Tech Advisor "Huawei’s P20 Lite is a good mid range smartphone." 3.5/5
Trusted Reviews "The Huawei P20 Lite has some of the nicest fit and finish in the mid-range space." 3.5/5
TechRadar "With limited notch compatibility and sub-par performance it somehow manages to feel a little expensive." 3.5/5
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Huawei Nova 3e review


Product Name
Huawei Nova 3e
Display Size
5.84 inches
Kirin 659
Operating System
Android 8.0
Front camera
Rear camera
Dual 16 MP/2MP
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