Huawei nova 3 review: A new mid-tier flagship?

Huawei has had a roller coaster ride this year from the launch of the P20 Pro to the mid-range Nova 3e (below) and to the upcoming Mate 20 release. It shouldn’t be any different for their mid-range devices, most specifically the Huawei Nova 3.

Huawei recently launched the Nova 3 and the Nova 3i, after a big launch in China a few weeks ago.

We’ve got the Nova 3 which is the top spec model of the range, and from what we know about price and its specs, it looks like it’s heading for the OnePlus 6’s throat.

Out of the Box

For starters, the colour of the device is a straight win for me. I’ve got the Iris Purple for review and it’s just so pretty. Yes, I know that Huawei has been great with their colour schemes, but this still manages to catch your eye straight out of the box.

Other than the device, you’ve got your usual suspects hiding below. Headphones, wall charger, USB-C cable and a transparent silicone case to protect that shiny colourful back.

Setting it up is pretty easy, and straightforward by most standards. You’ll be better off if you download Phone Clone by Huawei to speed up the restoration process on your new device if you’re not a first time user.

One of the first things you’ll notice is the 19.5:9 ratios the screen comes in and the notch at the top of the device. If you’re not used to either of these, don’t panic. It takes all of 5 minutes to get used to.

Huawei nova 3 – Design and Build

Design

In terms of design, the Nova 3 looks similar to the other Huawei devices this year. It bears the closest resemblance to the P20 Pro. At first glance, the phone has a glass back and is surrounded by a metal frame on all sides.

Considering that it is a large device, it’s pretty deft to handle and fits easily in the hand. Thanks to the overall glass content of the phone, it goes without saying, that this device is a fingerprint hog.

Fingerprint Reader

The back of the phone features the fingerprint scanner, which in my opinion is just not ideal at all. I’m not saying that only Huawei does this, but it’s so much easier to have it on the side like Sony or on the front of the device, whether as a button or under the screen.

Notch

As I mentioned earlier, the notch is pretty prominent and seems to be the trend for all phones this year.

The notch on the Nova 3 is bigger than the P20 Pro. The reason for this is that it houses 2 cameras plus the earpiece, along with the proximity and light sensors. They’ve also included an infrared emitter to facilitate face recognition to unlock the device.

Last but not the least, seemingly unnecessary, there is a tiny notification light that’s embedded in there as well. However, this light is barely visible during low light conditions, so let’s not even try to look at it in a well lit room.

Connections

At the bottom of the Nova 3, we have the 3.5mm headphone jack (Woohoo!), a USB type C port and a really loud speaker. It’s loud enough to have scared me and a few people in the room a couple of times. 

Huawei nova 3 – Camera

For starters, this one has not 2, not 3, but 4 cameras! On the front, you’ve got a 24MP main lens paired with a 2MP depth sensor. The setup on the back consists of a 16MP main shooter with a f/1.8 aperture plus a 24MP secondary shooter with a monochrome lens, but the same aperture.

Let’s start with the camera app. There’s a lot going on the app itself, with numerous modes for both sets of cameras. It takes a while to explore all the options, and even then some. It has a portrait mode, an aperture mode, varied 3D lighting effects, beauty mode, Slo-Mo, and a host of others.

The AR lens mode allows users to play around with Huawei’s 3D Qmojis (animated emojis, like Apple), effects, skins, 3D objects and backgrounds. The mode can detect multiple features of your face, from lips to eyes to eyebrows and even your cheeks. This somewhat gives the Qmojis a considerable likeness to your face and helps mimic most movements.

All 4 cameras come equipped with Huawei’s AI (artificial intelligence) technology. Now, while AI can help in a lot of ways in terms of image quality and processing power, it does not always mean the best image will be the result. Almost every picture is over saturated, and sharpened. The camera is able to detect the lighting and scenery as well, but its hit or miss with this feature. You can actually get better results if you turn off the AI feature. This way, you can tweak the settings as you need them giving you the results you want.

When it comes to video capabilities, all I can say is that while the quality is good thanks to its 4K recording capabilities, the end footage is shaky due to a lack of Optimal Image Stabilization (OIS).

The front cameras are also a strong asset to the Nova 3. The depth sensors in the cameras help with settings like the portrait mode, helping you with nice bokeh effects, and helping with low light conditions.

Overall, I would say, that while the AI mode is nifty, it isn’t the solution yet. Manual controls still win in most cases. Huawei should also figure out a software solution to image stabilization for better video quality and shakiness in pictures.

Huawei nova 3 – Display and Battery Life

Display

The Nova 3 comes with a 6.3 inch, 1080×2340 resolution IPS LCD screen, as mentioned earlier. Just when we were getting used to 18:9 rations, Huawei hits us with the 19.5:9 number.

The display is bright enough and pops colour thanks to its standard saturated settings. You can change this to suit your preferences, but I left it this way because app icons and backgrounds stood out in this mode.

My main issue with the display is that it still has to be optimized for so many apps. Apps just don’t fit right and are often stretched weirdly or have edges cut off. For example, while using Instagram, there is a noticeable cropping of video and images while viewing stories. Certain games have missing options and buttons usually at the top or bottom of the screen. I would guess this issue should see a fix with a software update, and it is surprising there hasn’t been one yet.

The notch takes some getting used to, if this is your first notch device. You can adjust notch settings for the screen to include or exclude the notch from screen space.

Battery

The Nova 3 is juiced by a generous 3750 mAh battery and comes equipped with Huawei’s SuperCharge feature. Charging the phone took about 2 hours from 0 to 100%. Fair usage gives the device almost a full day of use and using battery saver modes only extends the life.

Huawei nova 3 – Performance and Operations

Processor and RAM

Running things smoothly under the hood of the Nova 3 is Huawei’s current flagship processor, the HiSilicon Kirin 970. Along with this comes 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

While the Kirin 970 doesn’t compare to OnePlus 6’s Snapdragon 845 in terms of raw power, it performs admirably on a day to day basis. It may be due to the new screen size, but there are occasional glitches while scrolling apps or playing games.

Thanks to the GPU Turbo in the Nova 3, gaming is pretty decent on the device. Currently PUBG Mobile plays smoothly on the device and while the device does heat up, it doesn’t lag over long usage.

EMUI

The Nova 3 comes with EMUI OS 8.2 from the box, which is skinned on top of Android’s 8.1 Oreo. The EMUI 8 is a heavy skin, but feels much lighter than its predecessors. Huawei has definitely made improvements on the skin to make it lighter and giving it a cleaner look.

The home screen gives you the options of having an app drawer or having all the apps on multiple screens, accessible via side scrolling. As with most Android devices, the notification drawer and screen layouts offer decent customization. Huawei again gives us the option of adding our own themes, which is gimmicky but works. Themes can be downloaded from the Huawei Theme store, and these help to customize icons and the general look of the phone.

One downside to the EMUI is how much bloatware comes with the Nova 3. Fortunately, they can be uninstalled, even though it is time consuming to pick them out.

The Verdict

The Huawei Nova 3 is a phone that hovers over the line splitting mid-range devices and top spec flagships. 

The Nova 3 offers many features you’d expect on top spec phones, that you forget it isn’t Huawei’s best phone. It comes excellent battery life, 4 considerable cameras and the Kirin 970 which holds its own. 

In terms of competition, OnePlus 6 is the most similar in design but beats the Nova 3 almost everywhere else. This is in no means a black point against Huawei, but merely what you would call constructive criticism, and where they should aim for.

As for pricing, while it looks and acts like a flagship, it features pricing like a mid-tier device. Retailing at Dh 1,799, it seems a tad bit high but you get extremely great specs for the device.

I’ve enjoyed my time with the device, and I would recommend this device for those of you trying not to break the bank while trying to afford a device that can play with the big boys and girls in the schoolyard.