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HUAWEI nova 12 SE Review

Huawei is making is clear that despite the hurdles they’ve gone through, they’re still a smartphone giant to be reckoned with.

Just last week, they introduced the Pura70 Series in their home base in China. And now we’re getting a refresh on Huawei’s nova lineup with two new models coming to our shores: the nova 12i 23 and the nova 12 SE.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Rear (3)

Today, we’ll be taking a deep dive on the latter model. The nova 12 SE features a headliner 108-megapixel triple cameras, a Snapdragon chipset inside, and supports a blazing fast 66W charging rate — all wrapped in this stylish package.

But the simple question arises: is it worth it? Considering this new model belongs in the mid-range category, can the HUAWEI nova 12 SE even compete and justify its price tag? We’re about to find out in this full review.

Design & Construction

The first thing that strikes me about the nova 12 SE is its understated design. This phone goes for a sophisticated matte finish on the back — which also makes it fairly smudge resistant. It also has a subtle texture that reveals these tiny sparkles wherever light hits the surface.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Rear (2)

Huawei keeps things clean with two camera rings nestled in the top left corner. Their glossy chrome outline, which is also green, complements the back panel beautifully. However, if green isn’t your go-to color, then there’s also a black option to choose from.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Cameras Closeup (1)

Unlike the nova 12i, the nova 12 SE gets a “nova” moniker that sits on the bottom center.

Looking at the sides, we are greeted by a flat frame that comes in satin-like finish. This design choice, coupled with the phone’s slim profile (at a mere 7.39 mm), makes the nova 12 SE surprisingly comfortable to hold — even with a flat screen as well. Soft edges and rounded corners complete the picture, ensuring a phone that feels as good as it looks.

For I/Os, the power button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor is situated on the right side along with the volume rocker. On the bottom, we see the dual nano-SIM tray, a microphone, the USB-C port, and the speaker grill. The top side houses only a second microphone, while the left side is clean. The earpiece slit is located between the top frame and the display, but unfortunately, it doesn’t function as a second loudspeaker.

The phone skips on any ingress protection or IP rating nor screen protection, so rocking a protective case is pretty much mandatory. Thankfully, there’s a clear plastic case included in the box to still keep things looking sleek. And it comes with a pre-installed protective film on top of its display.

Display & Multimedia

The nova 12 SE rocks a 6.67-inch Full HD+ OLED screen. The bezels are almost equally thin, but you guessed it, the chin is still a bit thicker than the rest. A hole punch notch sits at the top housing its 32-megapixel selfie shooter.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Display (1)

As you would expect with an OLED panel, colors are more vivid and of course it has those sweet deep blacks. Navigating the device is also smooth albeit capped at only 90Hz refresh rate.

However, just like its more affordable sibling (the nova 12i), media experience is quite underwhelming on this device. Aside from having only a single, downward-firing loudspeaker, it only gets a Widevine L3 certification, meaning if you want to binge-watch on Netflix, expect contents to be in SD (standard definition) quality. For reference, that’s below 480p only in terms of video quality.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Display (3)

Well, if you don’t frequently use DRM-protected streaming anyway, the nova 12 SE delivers just fine. The audio quality is acceptable; while the bass response is a little weak for my liking, clear mids and highs come through nicely. It can fill a room, although the audio quality may get distorted slightly at max volumes.

Camera

Now, let’s move on to the nova 12 SE’s main highlight: triple rear cameras led by a 108-megapixel main sensor. No depth sensor is found here, but the other two lenses consist of an 8-megapixel ultrawide and a 2-megapixel macro lens.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Cameras Closeup (3)

In bright environments, images generally come out sharp, with colors near-accurate to my eyes, and good dynamic range. Ultrawide shots are decent, but they get noisy indoors or in low-light scenarios.

Speaking of low light, Huawei says the nova 12 SE boasts a new image processor that improves night photography. It works, but you need really steady hands to capture more detail in these shots.

For selfies, things look natural in good lighting. You may notice the phone adds a bit of saturation (and even ups the brightness) after capture. However, things get overboard in less favorable lighting conditions, as the phone cranks up the settings a bit too aggressively in processing.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Taking Photo (2)

Portrait mode is even worse in low light, struggling to separate the subject from the background. So, I ended up sticking to regular photo mode most of the time.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Cameras Closeup (2)

In terms of video, the quality won’t blow you away, but it’s acceptable. Clarity is decent with nice colors, and it doesn’t struggle focusing on a subject. The phone also supports electronic image stabilization for more stable shots. However, exposure seems to fluctuate unnecessarily if there are considerable movements in the frame.

Perhaps, video is another area where the nova 12 SE cuts corners. Despite its mid-range price point, the phone can only capture in 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second. My theory is that this is probably because it uses a rather old chipset.

Performance & Benchmarks

Under the hood reveals a potential dealbreaker. The phone relies on the dated Qualcomm Snapdragon 680, a 2021 SoC built on a 6-nanometer process. In 2024, that chipset feels downright old, and it might be a tough pill to swallow at this phone’s price point.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Taking Photo (1)

By its own merits, I would say the phone performs well on daily leisure and productivity tasks, and even with gaming on the side. It can run low demanding games like Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Asphalt 9 at no hassle. But as usual, graphic-intensive titles like Genshin Impact could only be playable at low graphics settings.

The 90Hz refresh rate helps make things feel a touch smoother, but again, at this price point, I would’ve expected 120Hz. The 8GB RAM with 3GB extended memory is a saving grace for multitasking and it comes with a generous 256GB. Although, the lack of expandable storage feels like another cost-cutting measure.

I just hoped Huawei made an effort to at least get a newer chipset. Anyway, for those interested, here are the benchmark results that we got:

AnTuTu V10: 204,742
AnTuTu Storage Test: 48,756
Read Speed: 1043.3 MB/s
Write Speed: 782.3 MB/s

3DMark Wild Life: 451

Geekbench 6 CPU
• Single Core: 158
• Multi Core: 423

Geekbench 6 GPU Vulkan: 553
PCMark Work 3.0 performance: 6,101
PCMark Work 3.0 battery life: 15 hours and 43 minutes

OS, UI, & Apps

The HUAWEI nova 12 SE runs on the latest EMUI 14, but a peek on its software info reveals it is stuck on Android 12. Considering Huawei doesn’t really disclose its update policy for its devices, I would expect it to only get one major OS upgrade. This is based on experience as an Honor phone user myself.

Naturally, the phone comes with a ton of bloatware, but these can be easily removed. I must say Huawei’s Android skin has improved quite a lot (since EMUI 9). It is even more aesthetically pleasing like the icons look more polished now. There’s also consistency in terms design with its first-party apps following the same aesthetics.

I find some UI elements taking inspiration from Apple’s iOS but that’s to be expected. Take for example the control panel: it just screams iOS design language, but the text placements here could use some improvement.

Thankfully, installing the apps you need are a tad smoother in EMUI 14. The US ban may still be a thorn on Huawei’s side, but snagging some essential Google apps is no longer a hassle. Apps like YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, and even social media apps like Instagram, Threads, X are readily available in the AppGallery.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Appgallery

Sure, it might still nudge you towards a shady looking .apk download site for certain apps, and GBox might feel like an unwelcome chaperone at the app installation party. But hey, at least it’s progress, right?

Furthermore, there’s also new Always-on Display styles like the magazine, 3D-fied emojis, impossible art, and of course, different clock styles — be it analog or digital.

My one gripe is that as you unlock or lock the device, you can notice that the animation on these is a bit choppy when locking or unlocking.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Emui (2)

And speaking of unlocking, the nova 12 SE, has a side-mounted fingerprint sensor. Unlocking the device is pretty fast, without much delay as soon as I lay my finger on it.

Connectivity & Battery Life

Another highlight of the nova 12 SE is its blazing fast 66W charging, dubbed as HUAWEI SuperCharge Turbo 2.0. With that, it only takes about half an hour to charge the device to full.

However, it packs a slightly smaller battery unit at 4500mAh capacity. Compare it to the nova 12i which has 5000mAh, you can expect a minor difference in their battery life.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Display (2)

In our PCMark Work 3.0 battery life test, the nova 12 SE lasted 15 hours and 43 minutes. That’s short of an hour compared to nova 12i’s 16 hours and 56 minutes run. Regardless, you can expect it to last you long enough through your day. Besides, you have the trusty 66W power brick in-the-box that can quickly top up the phone if battery drops low.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Charging

Unfortunately, the phone is capped to 4G connectivity only, as expected with Huawei’s current situation. I personally find this as another downside, but hey, if you’re mostly in rural areas where 5G connectivity can’t even reach, then this won’t be much of a big deal.

Conclusion

Now let’s talk about the price. The HUAWEI nova 12 SE retails for PHP 15,999. And in its own right, it makes an impression with more than capable cameras, sleek design, and superb fast charging. But in a crowded market like this, it just doesn’t do enough to stand out. Compared to the competition, it honestly feels a bit behind the curve.

Ultimately, the nova 12 SE’s biggest weakness is its rather old chipset. It almost feels like a missed opportunity for Huawei. A newer chip could have boosted performance across the board, potentially even unlocking better camera capabilities on a whole new level.

Huawei Nova 12 Se Rear (1)

As it stands, the nova 12 SE is a frustrating case of wasted potential. While it definitely has the makings of a solid mid-ranger, the dated chipset holds it back significantly.

If you prioritize better performance for the same price, you’d be wise to look elsewhere. However, if you are enticed with the phone’s sleek profile and design or captivated by its camera prowess, then the nova 12 SE looks to be a convenient alternative.

But like always, the choice is always on the consumer’s end. So, what do you think about these new offerings from Huawei? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

The HUAWEI nova 12 SE alongside the nova 12i becomes available nationwide starting April 27th both in Huawei’s online and offline stores.

What we liked about it:

  • Slim and gorgeous design
  • More than capable 108MP triple cameras
  • Blazing fast 66W charging
  • Crisp OLED display

What we did not like:

  • Dated chipset (Snapdragon 680)
  • Limited to 4G
  • Widevine L3 only
  • Mono loudspeaker
  • Dated Android 12

HUAWEI nova 12 SE specs:
6.67-inch FHD+ OLED display
2400 × 1080 pixels, 90Hz refresh
Qualcomm Snapdragon 680
8-cores, up to 2.4GHz
8GB RAM (+3GB extended memory)
256GB storage
Triple rear cameras:
– 108MP f/1.9 aperture, EIS
– 8MP f/2.2 ultrawide, 122° FoV
– 2MP f/2.4 macro (4cm)
32MP f/2.45 selfie shooter (hole punch notch)
Dual nano-SIM
4G LTE
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 5.1
GPS, AGPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo
USB Type-C (USB 2.0)
NFC
Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
EMUI 14 (Android 12)
4500mAh battery
66W wired charging
162.39 x 75.47 x 7.39 mm
~186g
Green, White, Black

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Avatar for JM Chavaria

JM's highest stat is probably his curious ardor to anything tech—electronics and gaming in particular. He certainly heeds utmost regard to specsheet, visuals, and rule of thirds. If creativity and wit sometimes leave JM's system, watching films, anime and a good stroll for memes are his approved therapeutic claims.

1 Response

  1. Avatar for facundo facundo says:

    In this segment (mid range) it is where there is utmost competition, also there are tons of options available that people will think twice before buying this. The SD 680 is underpowered, so that means a no for this.

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