The Huawei Nova 3 is priced at Rs 34,999.
The phone is powered by the aging HiSilicon Kirin 970 SoC, and has 6GB of RAM.
EMUI 8.2 is good, but remains fairly cluttered and not quite as easy to use as other manufacturer overlays.
Huawei launched its Nova series of smartphones in India for the first time last month. It launched the high-end Huawei Nova 3 with its own flagship Kirin 970 chipset for Rs 34,999, and the premium-mid range Nova 3i with Kirin 710 for Rs 20,999. Huawei has the same Kirin 970 processor in its P20 Pro, Honor 10 and Honor Play smartphones as well, and these come in different price segments.
At Rs 34,999, the Huawei Nova 3 is the company’s latest upper mid-range premium smartphone that goes head-on with the OnePlus 6 in India. The phone comes in two color options – Iris Purple and Black, while the third white variant isn’t available yet in India. The phone is only available in a single 6GB+128GB variant in India and will be up for sale starting August 23 on Amazon India. I got the Iris Purple color of the Huawei Nova 3 for review, and here is what I think of the device.
Huawei Nova 3: Display and Design
The Iris purple color variant of Huawei Nova 3 in terms of design looks much better than any of its competitor smartphones in this price range – the OnePlus 6 and Asus Zenfone 5Z. The Nova 3 is lighter in weight and ergonomically better designed phone than the two. The device also comes in a Black color and that attracts more smudges on the back glass than the Iris Purple color variant. Huawei ships a transparent silicon case in the retail box, so that you can still flaunt the glass back color without having to worry about fingerprint marks or scratches on the back.
The two buttons on the right offer decent tactile feedback. The volume key and power buttons are better positioned than some competitor devices, and you almost instantaneously start pressing these right. To differentiate from one another, Huawei has kept the power button textured.
The LED notification light sits just to the right of the earpiece grill, and it is sandwiched between the two front cameras, and an IR sensor. There’s a hybrid dual-SIM tray on the left side. You can either use two Nano-SIM cards like we did in our review, or one single Nano-SIM card with a microSD card in place of a second Nano-SIM. The device supports dual-4G VoLTE, so even if you have a secondary Jio SIM with data connectivity, it will still work for calls and texts.
Upfront, the 6.3-inch IPS display with notch produces slightly more punchy colors, and it looks premium enough. The pictures and text look sharp, and the brightness levels in particular are good. The overall display hue is towards cool blue by default but then you can tweak it in display settings for a warmer yellow tone or whatever other color calibration you might prefer. Outdoors, you won’t find it difficult looking at the display under bright sunlight conditions. The ambient light sensor works well in getting the brightness right as well.
Huawei Nova 3: Performance and UI
Inside, the Huawei Nova 3 packs the company’s own high-end octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 970 chipset with Mali-G72 GPU and 6GB of RAM. The same chipset also powers the flagship Huawei P20 Pro, the Honor 10 and the recently launched mid-range Honor Play as well.
We didn’t find any issue with the performance as such. The daily usage and multitasking wasn’t a problem at all. Games such as Subway Surfers which don’t have very complex graphics play out smoothly enough. The heavier games such as PUBG had slight inconsistencies, but nothing major that would hamper the gaming experience. Even after a good amount of gaming, we were expecting the device to heat up quite a bit, but surprisingly it didn’t.
Huawei’s GPU Turbo technology for the phone is designed to boost graphics performance in games and save battery at the same time. The company has optimized performance for these high-end graphic games. It comes with pre-installed Asphalt Nitro and a few other games such as Kingdoms, Dragon Mania, Puzzle Pets, Spider-man, Lords Mobile, and Sonic Runners. Thankfully, these can be uninstalled.
The EMUI skinned by Huawei on top of Android come with a lot of bloatware and is quite inconsistent too. The Huawei Nova 3 runs EmotionUI (EMUI) 8.2 based on Android 8.1 Oreo. It’ll be a bit of learning curve for those coming from stock android or any other UI experience. While there are apparently many features on offer, it is indeed difficult to understand and find these options.
Up until EMUI 5.1, you couldn’t even see the notifications on the lock-screen, but it later changed and now the notifications can be seen on the lock screen as well. Having said that, the experience hasn’t been improved since then and it still doesn’t show in full detail what the notifications are about and you cannot expand/view it without unlocking the device. Overall, Huawei, with the continuous addition in EMUI features, has just cluttered the user experience.
Huawei Nova 3: Fingerprint Sensor and 3D Face Unlock
Huawei has kept both options on the Nova 3 – the standard fingerprint sensor at the rear and 3D Face Unlock like the iPhone X. The fingerprint sensor is quite responsive and fast. There are a few additional settings that let you use swiping gestures on the fingerprint sensor for quick shortcut menu access, and image swiping in gallery.
Unlike the Face Unlock on the OnePlus 6, the Nova 3 comes with 3D Face Unlock similar to what you get on the Apple iPhone X. It is quite accurate, and works well under low light too. But having said that, the marginal delay in unlocking will set you off sometimes. It certainly isn’t the fastest, and you’ll see better speed with other competing devices. Nonetheless, I was particularly impressed with face unlock under no light/dark conditions. The only things you need to keep in mind that time is that phone is right in front of you at eye-level, and the IR sensor then detects it perfectly.
Huawei Nova 3: Dual-AI Cameras
Huawei Nova 3 packs a vertically aligned dual rear camera setup with f/1.8 aperture lens at the back. Huawei has termed it as AI camera, which is a marketing term that is often thrown around these days. The setup includes a 16-megapixel primary rear sensor (f/1.8) with PDAF, and a 24-megapixel secondary sensor with an f/1.8 aperture as well. Unfortunately, there’s no optical stabilization (OIS), but you do get EIS.
First talking about the default camera app, it has multiple shooting modes and these are easily seen at the bottom of the display in the app. The main options such as Aperture, Portrait, Photo mode, Video mode, and AR Lens can be easily tapped or swiped for selection, and ‘More’ takes you the rest of 12 options that include slow-mo, Monochrome and time-lapse, to name a few.
The one thing to checkout in AR Lens shooting mode is 3D Qmoji option, which is Huawei’s own implementation of Apple’s Animoji. The option lets you choose from six different Qmoji characters. So when you record a video, it instantaneously takes your facial movements but unfortunately it isn’t as accurate as the iPhone X. The other options in AR Lens include Effects, Backgrounds and 3D Objects.
Coming to the rear camera performance in daylight, the images had good detailing with good dynamic range, so we have no complaints there. We mostly took shots with HDR Pro and AI off, those were generally quite good and sharp as well. The AI feature on Nova 3 automatically recognizes objects and scenes to adjust to preset mode intelligently. You can easily spot this AI feature in the camera app interface, which is on by default, and you have the option to disable it as well.
One thing we noticed with AI enabled feature is that it enhances the scene in a way that colors pop-out more, and in some cases it oversaturated the colors. The feature essentially puts up a filter after it recognizes a scene, sharpens it a bit and then gives you enhanced results. So if you have this habit of tweaking pictures after every shot, at least here you might just be impressed with the results. One other thing to remember is that your hands need to be steady, otherwise you might end up with a bit of motion blur.
Meanwhile, the shots taken under low-light conditions were decent when you consider the Nova 3 as a standalone device and not compare it to the OnePlus 6. The auto-focus in general is a bit slow and losses out on sharpness, so we couldn’t help but use the AI feature to take quick shots under low-lighting scenarios, but these too came out a but grainy.
We are not sure if Huawei can fix it over time with an update, but it seems that the camera is capable of taking better low-light shots, and it’s just isn’t there yet with the software. To sum it up, the Nova 3 camera is a typical Huawei camera that does a lot of over processing to make images look saturated, sharp and pleasing to the human eye than the original scenario.
Moving on to the front camera, it again gets a dual-camera setup with a 24-megapixel primary sensor with an f/2.0 aperture and a 2-megapixel secondary depth sensor. The front camera supports HDR Pro with AI scene recognition like the rear camera, as well as Portrait mode for Bokeh shots. There’s a 3D lighting option available like on the iPhone X. We liked the front camera’s overall performance.
The detailing was quite nice in group selfies too. I also tried bokeh mode and beautification, these were impressive as well. The HDR Pro works well against the harsh light conditions as well. The 3D lighting option for us personally isn’t that useful and Apple’s implementation is far better than the Nova 3.
Huawei Nova 3: Battery Performance
The Huawei Nova 3 is backed by a 3750mAh battery. During my time with the phone, with moderate usage it easily lasted for one full day. What also helps is the USB Type-C (2.0) fast-charging through Huawei’s own standard is quick enough to top up the device quickly. The bundled fast-charging adapter (9V/2A) can fully charge the device in a little over one hour.
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Huawei Nova 3: Final Verdict
At Rs 34,999, the Huawei Nova 3 as a standalone smartphone in the price segment looks great and performs up to the mark. The day-to-day usage and multitasking is quite smooth as well. The fingerprint sensor is quick, and the Face Unlock works well even in low-light conditions. The rear camera for a normal user would work great anyway, but in our personal testing and comparison with other smartphones in the same price range, we can say that it needs a little bit of work on the software front. The dual-camera setup at the front on the other hand might just be the best in the segment.
The biggest drawback of the Nova 3 is its software. Huawei has made the overall experience cluttered by just putting everything into it. When it comes to competition, the Nova 3 stands against the already high-selling OnePlus 6, and recently launched Asus Zenfone 5Z. Both of these smartphones come with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC, which is arguably better than the aging HiSilicon Kirin 970.
While the overall look, feel and design of the Nova 3 is much better than the OnePlus 6 and Asus Zenfone 5Z, the factors such as rear camera performance, software and UI performance are small drawbacks of the Huawei Nova 3 for that high price. So if you seriously look for high-end specifications and have pure Android experience as priority then you’ll be better off with OnePlus 6.
But if you are not too worried about the specifications or aren’t concerned about major technical aspects of the phone, then Huawei Nova 3 isn’t a bad phone at all. Even more, you can buy the same identical twin Nova 3i for a lower price of Rs 20,999.