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Huawei Nova 3i review: Almost a flagship smartphone

The Huawei Nova 3i looks like a flagship device, but does it perform like one too? Find out in our review.

Huawei Nova 3i _front banner

Huawei Nova 3i 3.5 5
BGR Rating :
3.5/5

Highlights

  • The Huawei Nova 3i is a mid-range smartphone that aims to offer high-end features in a premium design at the price of Rs 20,990

  • Dual camera setup both at the front and at the back come powered with AI and do not disappoint

  • The smartphone comes powered with a Kirin 710 SoC, which is great for moderate tasks but not ideal for high-end gaming

Huawei is the having a great year so far. The company recently replaced Apple to be the second largest smartphone company in the world, following Samsung. It doesn’t come as a big surprise though. The company has been constantly innovating with its smartphones, offering the right combination of both looks and features. A good example of this is the Huawei P20 Pro, which is also the first mainstream smartphone to come with a triple-camera setup at the back. And expectedly, it is rated to be one of the best cameras on a smartphone.

However, it’s not just Huawei’s flagship series that has made it a leading brand. Along with the P20 series, the company has managed to launch a few mid to high-end smartphones this year that have also got great reviews. Hoping to stick with that success, Huawei has now launched the Nova 3 and the Nova 3i in India.

The Huawei Nova 3i is the more affordable variant of the two, which comes priced at Rs 20,990. One of the key differences here is that the smartphone comes powered with Huawei’s much more modest Kirin 710 SoC, as compared to the Nova 3’s higher-end Kirin 970 chipset.

That said, Huawei hasn’t sacrificed a lot with the Nova 3i. The smartphone still comes with four cameras – two at the front and two at the back. It also supports the much-hyped GPU Turbo technology, which the company claims can improve gaming performance while reducing battery consumption. So on paper, the Nova 3i sounds great for its price, but can it match up to other smartphones in its category? Let’s find out.

Exquisite design

The Huawei Nova 3 and Nova 3i look pretty much similar from every angle. With the two smartphones, Huawei has stuck to the premium design recipe which consists of using a combination of metal and glass. The Nova 3i features a metal frame, which is essentially sandwiched between the glass coating at the front and the back. They also blend very well around edges, accentuating the seamless design. Needless to say, the smartphone looks premium from pretty much every angle.

There is good attention-to-detail given to the design. I personally like the way Huawei has placed its branding near the bottom corner of the phone. It helps the design not look extremely plain, but at the same doesn’t hamper it either. Besides that, there is also ‘Dual Lens’ stated right next to the camera housing, along with the aperture details. That said, the glass finish still comes at a cost. The premium design attracts fingerprints and gets too smudgy.

I had the black variant of the smartphone, which pretty much looked like a slab of marble. While I like the subtlety of the color, the smartphone is also available in a much more flashy Iris Purple variant for those who want to make a style statement.

At the front, the smartphone features a 6.3-inch display which features a tall aspect ratio of 19.5:9. There is a notch at the top which houses the earpiece flanked by the two camera sensors. The screen looks much more immersive thanks to the slim bezels and the thin chin at the bottom. The tall design of the smartphone is easy to hold but you need to be extra careful as the metal frame provides barely any grip.

Bright and sharp display

The 6.3-inch screen at the front comes with a full HD+ resolution featuring a pixel count of 2340 x 1080, and a pixel density of 409 ppi. Overall, the screen looks sharp and can also get pretty bright. It can easily be used outdoors on full brightness. For the most part of my review though, I had the brightness set lower than half of its actual value. I only felt the need to bump it up when watching videos on YouTube or when using the phone outdoors.

Huawei has provided plenty of settings for the screen, so users can adjust the way it looks according to their preference. For starters, you can change the color temperature and color scheme of the screen. You get two modes to choose from, Default and Vivid. Further in each mode, you can pick color temperature to be Warm, Cold and Default. I preferred using the screen in Vivid, mostly because the colors looked a lot vibrant. Default mode on the other hand looked a bit dull, with under-saturated colors. That said, even with the temperature set to Default, the screen carried a slight bluish tinge.

Overall though, the screen looks pretty good. It offers deep black levels that further help deliver a sharper output. It also holds up pretty well with viewing angles. However, I’m not extremely happy with the media performance. Colors look natural for the most part, but there are some shades of Red and Green that stand-out in the scene. The experience with videos and games seems good, but it’s not quite perfect.

Mid-range performance and cluttered UI 

The Huawei Nova 3i comes powered by the Kirin 710 SoC, packed alongside the ARM Mali-G6 GPU. It is Huawei’s own proprietary SoC, which comes with eight cores and features a maximum clock speed of 2.2GHz. The chipset falls more-or-less in the mid-range segment, competing with the likes of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 SoC.  It is further backed by 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

When it comes to performance, the Huawei Nova 3i doesn’t disappoint. It can handle basic to moderate tasks with ease. Running applications like Facebook, Reddit, Chrome and Instagram side-by-side is no problem. The performance is smooth with only a few minor stutters here and there. Thanks to the 4GB of RAM, multi-tasking between these applications is also handled well, although we can’t help but think that 6GB should be the norm at this price.

One of key highlights of the Nova 3i is that it supports Huawei’s newly introduced GPU Turbo technology, which the company claims can boost gaming performance on the smartphone by a good 60 percent, while also reducing battery consumption by 30 percent. Presumably that should make the smartphone great with high-end games, but that’s not entirely the case, considering that the differences are a bit hard to measure on the face of it.

I played PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) on the smartphone and it managed to run decently well. The frequency of the stutter certainly increased here, but it wasn’t much to get in the way. It should still be noted that the smartphone was running the game on Balanced settings, to get that experience. Bumping the graphics further to HD, made the game laggy and unresponsive, making it a little more difficult to play. That said, basic games like Super Mario Run and Jetpack Joyride are handled with ease.

The Huawei Nova 3i runs on Android 8.1 Oreo layered with EMUI 8.2 on top it. The interface isn’t extremely heavy, but it does come loaded with plenty of bloatware in the form of both Huawei and third-party apps and games. Only the latter can be uninstalled.

EMUI 8.2 comes with plenty of built-in features. It can take a while to get a hang of these or even discover them in the first place. The home-screen is highly customizable, including the way the app drawer looks, its layout, font size, and many other things. It also comes with a few additional features such as one-handed operation, Motion control and even voice control. While there are many features here, the settings app can look a little cluttered because of the sheer amount of things to tweak.

For security, Huawei has included both a fingerprint sensor and face unlock as well. You can enroll up to five fingers on the sensor for unlocking the phone. It’s easy to setup and works pretty fast as well. Besides security, the fingerprint sensor can be further used as a capacitive button for taking pictures, scroll down the notifications drawer, scroll through pictures in the gallery, pick up calls and even turn off alarms.

While Face unlock did work well most of the time, it’s not quite as snappy as compared to the fingerprint sensor. Additionally, the security settings also include App lock, where you can lock an app and get access through fingerprint authentication or face ID.

The Huawei Nova 3i comes with a 3,340mAh battery underneath the hood. It’s more than enough to last you for a day on a complete charge. With my moderate usage of playing games, watching videos and mostly scrolling through social media applications, the device lasted me just about a day and a little more on some occasions. Part of it is also because it sports a good standby time. The device takes a little over two hours to charge completely, using a 10W charger with micro-USB to charge the phone. This is one of the disappointing aspects of the device, and one department where Huawei has compromised.

High-performing camera with AI enhancements 

The Huawei Nova 3i comes with a dual-camera setup both at the back and at the front. The rear camera setup includes a 16-megapixel sensor paired alongside a 2-megapixel sensor, while at the front, you get a combination of a 24-megapixel sensor paired with a 2-megapixel sensor. Both secondary cameras are equipped for depth measurement to click portrait images.

There is no doubt that the camera performance is one of the key highlights of the Nova 3i, and the long list of features included in the camera app clearly shows that. It comes with six camera modes including Aperture, Portrait, Photo, Video, AR lens and More, which includes 9 additional modes such as Pro, Slow-mo, Night, HDR, Panorama and more. On top of that, the camera also comes with AI enhancements and other intricate settings.

The dual camera setup comes in play mostly in the Aperture and Portrait modes. Both modes allow you to blur out the background and help bring your subject in focus. The only difference between the two is that the Aperture mode lets you control depth-of-field manually. It is only available for the dual-rear cameras though and comes in handy when taking macro-styled images. Portrait mode on the other hand lets you add different lighting effects to your images and also carries beauty mode.

That said, the camera performance is really good, especially during the day. Images look crisp and carry plenty of detail. The camera gets the white balance right in most scenarios, delivering both natural and vibrant looking colors. Focusing happens quickly, but under low light situation it can be a little sluggish. Images clicked in portrait mode looked exceptionally good, thanks to the accurate focusing.

Huawei Nova 3i Rear Camera – without AI

A big feature of the camera is that it comes equipped with AI enhancements. The idea here is that the AI can recognize the scene and then adjust settings accordingly to present better results. While the feature does come in handy with certain images, I didn’t quite find it ideal for all scenarios. Most of the time, I only noticed it to pop-up the colors regardless of the scene. While doing that, it also took away minor details. Some images clicked indoors also came out looking a little grainy. Thankfully AI features can be disabled when not needed.

Huawei Nova 3i Rear Camera – with AI enhancements

The Huawei Nova 3i takes decent shots under low-light conditions. Surprisingly the camera still delivers vibrant colors, but images do carry a lot of noise when you zoom into bright areas, due to a bit of over-saturation. Images also look softer in general. I also noticed the focusing on the camera to take a slight hit.

Huawei Nova 3i Rear Camera – Low-light

The dual-camera setup at the front performs on the same lines as the rear cameras. With decent lighting around, selfies come out looking great. There is good amount of detail and skin tones look natural as well. The camera also manages to get the focus right when there is more than one person in the frame. Beauty mode manages to hide blemishes well, but at higher settings can make skin tones look a bit goofy.

Huawei Nova 3i Front Camera – Low light

Additionally, you also get access to Portrait mode, which helps blur out the background while taking selfies. It also carries a 3D lighting effect which allows users to add different lighting styles to their selfies. However, this feature doesn’t work that well, and comes across as a marketing gimmick. The camera also supports AR Emojis similar to Apple’s Animojis featured on the iPhone X. There are some avatars to choose from here such as a husky, cat, rabbit, robot, and others. While they do work well, their mapping isn’t as accurate as the one on the iPhone X, mostly because it is working with the cameras and not 3D sensors.

Verdict

There is no doubt that the Huawei Nova 3i is a great smartphone for the price of Rs 20,990, The smartphone offers premium features wrapped around in a premium package. The only thing that keeps it from being compared to a flagship smartphone is its performance for the price. It’s not bad, as it can handle day-to-day task without any problems, but when it comes to intensive gaming, it might not be an idea choice. It’s also a little disappointing to see that Huawei’s GPU Turbo technology doesn’t help much here, and the old-school charging standard is another visible and disappointing drawback.

Watch: Honor Play First Look

The shortcomings in performance are made up for by the dual-camera setup at the back and the front, which prove to be great for taking pictures in most scenarios. In fact, the camera alone makes the Huawei Nova 3i a worthy contender in the mid-range category. But if you still want more power, then you can also consider its high-end sibling, the Huawei Nova 3, which is priced at Rs 34,999 and comes with the higher-end Kirin 970 chipset. Additionally, the Honor Play from the company’s own sub-brand is another worthy competitor, offering better performance at the same price.

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  • Published Date: August 14, 2018 11:42 AM IST