Huawei’s sub-brand Honor has been able to make a significant cut in the Indian smartphone market, Huawei to try and get as many of its products here as possible to bolster its position. The year started off with the company launching its flagship offerings, the Huawei P20 Pro and P20 Lite, and now for the first time, we have its Nova series in the country too. The Nova 3 and Nova 3i have launched at very competitive price points, both featuring four camera sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.
MacroTraveller testing the Nova 3 today, which is priced at Rs. 34,999 and takes on the OnePlus Six head-on. The latter has proven to be a formidable offering, so we’re going to find out whether the Nova 3’s AI chops swing things in its favor.
Huawei Nova 3 Design!
This year, the new smartphones seem to be sticking to a fixed design mantra – keeping the screen borders thin, throw in a taller display, and add a notch. The Nova 3 checks all these boxes, which you might or might not like. Apart from the design, the new Iris Purple color option is sure to grab eyeballs. The build quality of the Nova 3 is elegant, and the metal frame on the sides is wide enough to offer excellent grip, but the glass back is incredibly slippery and picks up smudges very easily. The buttons on the right have good tactile feedback, and the power button is textured, so it’s easy to tell it apart from the volume rocker. There’s a hybrid dual-SIM tray on the left, which can accommodate a microSD card in place of a second SIM. Dual 4G VoLTE is also supported. At the bottom, you get a headphone slot, USB Type-C port, and the speaker grille.
The 6.3-inch IPS display produces vivid colours, and the dull-HD+ (2340×1080) resolution ensures a high enough pixel density of 409ppi for smooth color gradients in pictures and sharp text. Brightness is also excellent, and the Huawei Nova 3 is quite legible under sunlight. However, the display lacks Gorilla Glass or any form of scratch protection. My mobile didn’t pick up any scratches during the test. Huawei has kept the fingerprint sensor too, which is at the back of the phone. The glass back held up well against scratches and scuffs during the one week we used this phone, but the finish on the edges of the camera bump began to show signs of scuffing. The Nova 3 ships with a quick charger, Type-C cable, headset, TPU case, and SIM eject tool. The quality of the accessories is high-grade, so I have no complaints.
Huawei Nova 3 specifications, software, and features!
The Nova 3 is well equipped to handle multitasking and relatively heavy usage too. It’s built around the company’s own top-end SoC, called the Kirin 970. This octa-core chip has been used in the Huawei P20 Pro as well as the Honor 10 and Honor View 10. Compared to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, the Kirin 970 finds it tough to keep up when it comes to raw CPU and GPU power. Huawei has launched the Nova 3 with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and there are no variants. The Indian model doesn’t get NFC. FM radio is also missing. There’s no wireless charging, and there’s no water-resistant either. You do get an excellent assortment of sensors, GPS, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, and USB-OTG.
The Huawei Nova 3 runs on EMUI 8.2, which is based on Android 8.1 Oreo. The interface feels slick and fluid, which is excellent. There are plenty of cosmetic changes that you can make with the ‘Theme’ app. Other elements such as the navigation pane, app layout, etc., can be customized. The notch can be ‘hidden’ too. You can sign up for Huawei’s cloud service, which is free and lets you back up contacts, messages, and call logs. There are plenty of preinstalled apps, from basic side-scroller games to apps like Truecaller and Camera 360. Thankfully, you can uninstall all of them if needed. The Huawei Nova 3 also boasts of a visual search feature, powered by Amazon Assistant.
Huawei Nova 3 performance, cameras, and battery life!
The Kirin 970 might be a little old now, but it’s still capable of handling the basics well. Multitasking is smooth, apps in split screen mode work well, and 3D games are treated decently. In PUBG and Asphalt 8, the gameplay had slight hints of stutter with the settings cranked up all the way, so I had to drop the quality levels for more consistent frame rates. Surprisingly, I didn’t notice this happening too much in Asphalt 9: Legends at the ‘High Quality’ preset. Besides playing games and shooting videos, which are the usual causes of heat, I noticed the area of the phone above the fingerprint sensor getting warm rather quickly at times, even with simple tasks such as streaming video or downloading apps from the Play Store. The Huawei Nova 3 handles most common media formats well, and 4K videos run just fine too.
The 16-megapixel primary rear sensor gets PDAF and a f/1.8 aperture lens, but there’s no optical stabilisation. Just like the P20 Pro, the Nova 3 can recognize objects and scenes and will automatically enhance colors and set the exposure accordingly. Huawei Nova 3 not only packs the appropriate camera hardware, but the device also has good software support, which ensures optimal photo optimization. For example, the front camera supports AI features as well as an improved beauty mode. Regarding configuration, the front camera consists of a 24-megapixel f / 2.0 sensor and a second 2-megapixel sensor. While the rear chamber comprises of 16-MP + 24-megapixel camera (Color + B / W sensor) with a lens with AF / 1.8 aperture, PDAF, Contrast AF, AI detection stage (22 categories 500 different scenes) short video effects about AI.
Camera samples show the performance of the Nova 3 camera under different lighting conditions. The picture quality is first class. Nova 3 does an excellent job concerning exposure. In most situations, target irradiation occurs even in deplorable lighting conditions and image scans show a superior dynamic range. Even in difficult, high-contrast light conditions, Nova 3 cameras can store many details in bright areas of the scene.
The scene from the portrait of Nova 3 taken by the selfie camera is also present, as shown above. The effect on the object is excellent. At the same time, the camera can get many bright background details. In general, the installation of the front and rear camera Nova 3 is quite impressive, especially because they are combined with the Kirin 970 AI chipset.
The AR Lens shooting mode lets you play around with different props for your face and the background. Huawei also has its version of Apple’s Animoji, called 3D Qmoji. You can choose from six different characters, but you can’t create a Qmoji of yourself. It works well, but without a dot projector, it’s nowhere near as accurate as Apple’s implementation.
The 3750mAh battery in the Nova 3 holds up pretty well, even with great gaming and use of the camera. With moderate usage, which mostly involved chat apps, music streaming, and light gaming, we were able to get nearly a full day out of a single charge. Shooting at 4K and playing heavy games such as Asphalt 9 will make a bigger dent in the battery, but even then, you should be able to get through an entire workday with ease.
The Nova 3 supports fast charging, but it’s not fast enough. It takes roughly an hour to charge the battery halfway, and then another hour to reach 100 percent. On the other hand, competing technologies like Dash Charge and Quick Charge 3.0 offer much faster charging. To save power, Huawei lets you change the screen resolution from Full-HD+ to HD+. This can be done manually, or you can set it to automatic, although with the latter, it’s hard to tell when and if the resolution is changing.
It’s nice to see Huawei finally bringing more of its products to India, and the Nova 3 is an option. However, in addition to competition from other brands, the Nova 3 has to contend with some sibling rivalry first. The Honor 10 and Honor View 10 offer very similar features as the Nova 3 and are also priced a little below Rs. 35,000. Of these three, the Nova 3 does feel like the best choice even though it’s more expensive, as it has a more modern design and reliable battery life.