Huawei nova 3i Review

Huawei nova 3i

Huawei nova 3i

Huawei

July, 2018
6.3" IPS LCD display, Hisilicon Kirin 710 chipset, Dual: 16 MP + 2 MP primary camera, Dual: 24 MP, f/2.0 + 2 MP front camera, 3340 mAh battery, 128 GB storage, 6 GB RAM.
EUR:€350 | USD:$403 | PKR:39,999 | INR:29,652

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Huawei nova 3i Review

Huawei nova 3i Review


Introduction

Chinese mobile manufacturer Huawei has been consistently raising bar for smartphone cameras, especially with its previous flagship release of Huawei P20 series. Huawei may have trouble getting its phones into USA, but that hasn't stopped it from trying to dominate rest of the world. Huawei P20 Pro in particular, received huge praise for its smart photography capabilities, but it sits in premium category of smartphones with a hefty price tag. Its latest addition to Nova series, Huawei Nova 3i, recently made its debut on July 18 and is a new entrant to mid-range smartphone market. With a very wallet-friendly pricing at less than $400, I am very excited to see if this particular device lives up to Huawei's phone photography expectations. With a stellar design and impressive photography capabilities, will Huawei's new midrange entrant capture market or is it going to leave a weak impact? Let's find out.

Design

Design of Huawei Nova 3i is different from its predecessor, so much that you would not think that it came from same family. It is more premium now, thanks to 2.5D glass on front and back. Frame is still metal but has a glossy metallic finish.

At front, there's a large display with a notch at top, which is wider than previous Huawei phones, all thanks to dual cameras at front. Yes, Huawei Nova 3i sports two selfie cameras together with an LED flash and earpiece inside notch. Bottom bezel at front is pretty thin and phone boasts an 82.2% screen to body ratio.

Back of this phone is made of glass and you will find a protruding dual camera setup placed vertically, similar to one on Apple iPhone X. LED flash is placed below dual camera setup and there's a fingerprint scanner placed in middle, with a colored accented ring around it. Rest of back is kept clean, with only minimal Huawei branding on left side. Surprisingly, Huawei Nova 3i also features a unique shiny design that is only available on their top-of-the-line P20 series. Instead of a typical single color, Huawei Nova 3i's back cover will have a gradient color design. Top of phone will first start off with blue but will then gradually transit into dark purple at bottom. This "gradient color" design is becoming a new trend for smartphones, and Huawei Nova 3i will be riding the wave to put this piece of art into hands of masses in market.

It's no easy feat for such a design. Huawei explained that they used a glass of varying thickness that sits on top of a nano metallic sheet with different patterns/tattoos to achieve this shiny gradient color effect. Additionally, glass still seamlessly connects to metallic sides of phone. I can really imagine amount of design and engineering effort they have placed on Huawei Nova 3i just to achieve a specific aesthetic feature. It's probably continuous pursuit of perfection that sets Huawei apart from many other smartphone manufacturers.

On right side of this device, there's a power button with volume buttons which are firm, clicky and easy to reach, while dual-hybrid sim slot in placed on left. At top, there's only a secondary microphone to be spotted, while at bottom, you will find a 3.5 mm headphone jack, Micro USB 2.0 port and a single speaker grille.

Overall, it is not a new design by Huawei, but it is refreshing to see midrange devices provided a premium design language. Not only is this phone good looking, it also feels good to hold in hands. Although, navigating full screen would still require both hands as it's a tall display. For Huawei fans looking for a midrange device, there's nothing to complain about this phone in its design department.

Display

Huawei Nova 3i is equipped with a 6.3-inch FullView FHD+ Display 2.0 with 2340 x 1080p resolution and pixel density of 409ppi. Given notch design, it now has a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and boasts an 81% screen-to-body ratio. Users also have option to lower resolution to HD+ (1560 x 720) or switch on Smart resolution so it can do it automatically to help save power. There's also an option to adjust color modes from Normal to Vivid, as well as color temperature from Default to Warm to Cold. In addition, there is split screen support and you can also hide notch if you are not fond of it.

So far, I like quality of display as images and texts are sharp while colors are punchy. Viewing angles are great without showing any color shifting and these are good indicators that it can provide users with a good viewing experience when browsing, watching videos or playing games.

There isn't any outstanding feature about this display, as there are other Huawei devices with a similar notched display, but there isn't anything bad about it in particular either, so for me, this is good display choice by Huawei.

Hardware

Being a midrange Chinese device, I did not expect it to have a Qualcomm processor and that is exactly how it is. Powering Huawei Nova 3i is Huawei's new mid-range chipset, Kirin 710 octa-core clocked at 2.2GHz and Mali-G51 GPU, coupled with 4 GB of RAM. If you're concerned about storage, don't be, as phone is equipped with 128GB storage with 103GB as usable. If that is not enough, there's USB OTG and you can install a microSD card as well, however, you'll have to sacrifice dual-SIM functionality.

So far, it performed great when it comes to ordinary tasks like navigating UI, launching and switching between apps. Fingerprint scanner and face unlock is fast and responsive that is comparable to P20 series and can unlock device almost instantaneously. Running multiple apps in background is not an issue thanks to its 4 GB RAM. It also proved to be capable when it comes to gaming as it was able to run Asphalt 9 and Mobile Legends smoothly. PUBG Mobile is also very playable, although you are limited to smooth and medium frame rate graphics settings.

I was intrigued with Kirin 710 processor, so I ran multiple benchmark tests on Huawei Nova 3i. Phone scored 138548 on AnTuTu, while on 3D Mark score was 943. Geekbench 4 gave it a score of 1590 (single core) and 5594 (multicore). Based on benchmark results, performance is close to likes of OPPO F7 and Vivo X21 UD, and outperformed Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 and Vivo V9.

Huawei Nova 3i comes with a standard connectivity suite like dual 4G with VoLTE support, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS. NFC is absent but not really a deal breaker. Calls are loud and clear while mobile is fast as long as signal is good in area. GPS works well with navigation apps like Grab, Google Maps, and Waze. One downer is lack of USB Type-C port which means that phone doesn't support fast charging. For speakers, you only get a single bottom firing speaker which is loud and crisp enough for casual listening to music, videos, and gaming, as well as hands-free voice calls. However, like most smartphones of this caliber, bass is weak. My advice is to better use earphones included in package or a Bluetooth speaker for a better listening experience.

Overall, it's a well-rounded hardware experience, with some major downers like lack of USB Type-C. It will be interesting to see how users react to this hardware specs as compared to some other competing phones.

Battery

When it comes to battery, Huawei Nova 3i has same battery capacity as predecessor Huawei Nova 2i which is 3,340mAh. It is good enough to last a whole day with a little power left for night. I tested this battery using a video loop test which involves playing a 1080p video on loop at 50% brightness and volume and it got me 13 hours and 30 minutes of playback. For comparison, Huawei Nova 2i got around 12 hours so there's some improvement in battery timings of this device. Charging, on other hand, takes 2 hours and 30 minutes using its stock charger. This is a long time to charge, as phone doesn't feature Fast Charging technology, but this might be a bitter decision Huawei had to make to keep cost of building this device lower. On PC Mark battery test, Huawei Nova 3i got a rating of 9 Hours and 50 minutes.

Result is not too shabby but still it's on lower side of spectrums. Being a glass back phone, it is also disappointing to not get wireless charging but to be honest, when a phone doesn't even support Fast Charging, there's no hope left for wireless charging.

I would say that for most users, Huawei Nova 3i would last an entire day and they won't have any trouble with it. For power users though, it would be a huge hassle charging this device back without Fast Charging available so keeping a power bank would definitely help.

Camera

Together with its design, one of the biggest USP of Huawei Nova 3i is its camera setup. It still has four cameras like Huawei Nova 2i but it's now more powerful and comes with extra features. Phone has a rear dual camera setup consisting of 16MP + 2MP sensors with an f/2.2 aperture, and dual 24MP + 2MP front facing cameras with an f/2.0 aperture. Like Huawei Nova 2i, 2MP secondary sensors are there to aid in bokeh effects.

It has got plenty of features like Pro, Slow-Mo, Night, Panorama, Light painting, HDR, Time-lapse, 3D Panorama, Document scan, Beauty, Aperture, Portrait, and AR Lens. It also has an AI scene recognition which can detect up to 22 different scenes. One of its coolest features is the AR Lens. Aside from "stickers" that are found in other mid-range smartphones, it has "3D Qmoji" which works similar to the Apple iPhone X's Animoji. You can pick from multiple characters like chameleon, puffer fish, wolf, cat, rabbit, robot, penguin, and cherry and can also record a video with animated character or turn it into a GIF. Another one is "Backgrounds" which adds animations to your background with matching sound effects. It's cute, and like the 3D Qmoji, you can record a video or turn it into a GIF. And since this device supports Google ARCore, it also has "3D Objects" feature which is jointly developed by Baidu AR and Huawei. It adds an animated character in Augmented Reality and lets you record a video of it. Sadly, it only has five penguin effects at the moment.

In terms of quality, both rear and front cameras can produce images that are sharp, have accurate colors and good contrast but mostly when shooting in bright conditions. It's still capable when shooting in dim environments but images come out soft, perhaps, in its attempt to suppress noise. Performance is poor in low-light as it is very smudgy and peppered with noise. Since Nova series is targeted towards youngsters, Huawei also put in extra effort to the front camera system on Huawei Nova 3i. In fact, this phone is the first ever smartphone to have AI capabilities enabled on front camera system. Similar to rear cameras, front camera system also comes with a 2MP and 24MP camera. 2MP sensor mainly captures information about depth of field, while the 24MP camera captures image data. For example, it was able to detect that I was taking selfie photos in a room and edited photo to better suit environment. Huawei also mentioned that they have a beautification algorithm that tries to understand and recognize user based on gender, age and skin tone. This beautification mode works pretty well, but just make sure that you adjust beautification level to a level which you are comfortable with.

When it comes to its AI capabilities, it has a toggle called AI camera which is also found in Honor devices. Different scenes mean different adjustments to get the perfect shot and these cameras can intelligently detect scenes and automatically improve your photos. Also, it's not only rear cameras with this technology, selfie cameras also have AI capabilities and an improved AI beauty mode. What it does is, it automatically enhances images you shoot and while most of its enhancements are pleasing, there are times that it's just too aggressive. It seemed like it just boosted saturation and HDR effects, leaving images looking artificial at times. The AI engine did a much better job when it came to photos taken in low light scenarios. Comparing photos taken with and without AI, ones taken with AI showed more details. Generally, AI mode does improve picture quality and rule of thumb is that you should always take photos with AI mode on. This is because AI post-processes photos after actual capture of subject which means that you can still revert back to original photo taken from Huawei Nova 3i even with AI mode turned on.

Talking about video, Huawei Nova 3i can shoot videos up to Full HD at 60fps. Quality is not that impressive as footage lacks details and sharpness. Colors and dynamic range are okay, but it doesn't have Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) or Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) which makes it prone to shakes. End product is a video which doesn't look too impressive, but again, at this price point, I did not expect this phone to deliver outstanding video shots.

Overall camera experience on Huawei Nova 3i is rather impressive, one of the better ones available at this price point. Huawei fans will definitely be delighted, and other users will surely be impressed with these AI capable cameras.

Software

Huawei Nova 3i's running software is EMUI 8.2.0 which is based on Android 8.1 Oreo. Although a Huawei-branded phone, user interface is almost identical to one found on Honor devices. It still houses multiple home screens to house apps without an app launcher. Swiping down from top will reveal toggle keys as well as notifications. Swiping to left side of main home screen will bring out HiBoard instead of Google. You get options to change themes and icons with it, but rest of UI is similar to what we've seen on previous Honor devices.

Aside from Huawei's own apps like Phone Manager, Themes, AppGallery, and HiCare, plenty of other pre-installed apps are present like Facebook, Messenger, Netflix, Camera 360, Z Camera, Quik, Lazada, Booking.com, and a few other games. It's annoying to see these apps especially if you don't need them in first place. On bright side, these applications can be uninstalled so that's a plus. For music lovers, Huawei has included a great feature called Music Party which enables other Nova or Honor phones to be connected together via WiFi and act as stereo music speakers. This can come handy when it's a party and there are a couple of Honor or Nova smartphones available. However, it also looks like a gimmick as chances of multiple people in a party having Nova series phones are pretty slim.

To enhance experience for gamers, Huawei developed Game Suite app that simplifies management of all the games installed on phone. With Game Suite, gamers can give priority to their gaming experience by preventing power saving modes and provide full hardware capabilities to specific game with "Game Acceleration" mode. Users can also use "Unintended Gaming" mode to prevent any notifications or mute messages that could disrupt their games. This feature will be especially useful for users who treat their games seriously.

In summary, Chinese phones rarely come with stock Android experience, especially Huawei and this phone's software experience is one to please those who want extra features on Android, and not a vanilla version. In the end, it all depends on user preference and for Huawei fans, this is a UI they generally like.

Conclusion

Huawei Nova 3i launched both in China and Singapore, with prices starting from 1,999 Chinese yuan for 4GB/64GB model. That converts to around $295, while in Singapore, 4GB/128GB model will retail slightly cheaper at $398 (about $290). Phone is available in three different colors: Black, Pearl White and my personal favorite: Iris Purple.

Huawei did a fine job last year on Huawei Nova 2i by packing a mid-range smartphone with above average specs then sell it at a very competitive price point. They used same formula with Huawei Nova 3i but gave its hardware and design a significant bump. Screen is larger, performance is better, body is more premium, cameras have higher resolution, it has double storage, and comes with a slew of new AI features. However, there's no USB Type-C, no video stabilization, and no dedicated microSD card slot, which can be a downer for some.

However, keeping everything aside, most of quirks of Huawei Nova 3i comes directly from choice to adopt Kirin 710 as base chipset to power smartphone. In most cases, Kirin 710 chipset seems to be quite a letdown for Huawei Nova 3i, causing it not to be obvious choice for users. Kirin 710's design mandates that only MicroUSB ports are used, instead of more popular USB Type-C Ports. Therefore, instead of USB Type-C which is reversible in design, users will have to fiddle with their MicroUSB cables and find out the right position to insert their charging cable. The Kirin 710 also lacks 802.11ac WiFi standard and it only supports 2.4GHz on 802.11n standard. Therefore, users will not be able to connect their smartphones to 5GHz WiFi channels.

Having said that, nothing else in market comes near to the value that Huawei Nova 3i provides at this price point of $398. Until a worthy contender arrives into market to prove us wrong, Huawei Nova 3i is the most logical choice for someone looking to purchase a new smartphone at this price point.