In India, Huawei usually launches aggressively priced phones under its Honor sub-brand. This year, however, the global smartphone manufacturer is taking a more assertive stance and is bringing in more of Huawei branded phones to the country, even in the affordable price segment.

The last few weeks have been quite busy for Huawei and amidst multiple launches, the company also presented two of its competitively priced Nova series options, the Nova 3 and Nova 3i, for mid-range buyers. For now, we will be talking about the more affordable Nova 3i that will compete with the likes of Mi A2, Redmi Note 5 Pro, and Moto G6 Plus in India.

Is it up for the task? Let’s find out in our Huawei Nova 3i review.

Huawei Nova 3i Specifications

Model Huawei Nova 3i
Display 6.3-inch screen display having 2340x1080p resolution and 19.5:9 aspect ratio
Processor 2.2GHz Octa-core Kirin 710 AI processor (4x Cortex-A73 cores @2.2GHz + 4x Cortex-a53 cores @1.7GHz)
RAM 4GB
Internal Storage 128GB (108GB free at user end), expandable up to 256GB(microSD)
Software Android 8.1 Oreo OS topped by EMUI 8.2
Selfie Camera 24MP + 2MP
Rear Camera 16MP + 2MP
Battery 3340mAh
Others 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS
India Price Rs. 20,990

Also Read: Mi A2 Review – Should you buy it?

Huawei Nova 3i Review – Design and Build

Nova 3i is an absolutely gorgeous looking phone. The construction is, by now, familiar Glass-metal but the two-tone gradient on the back helps it distinguish itself from generic glass body phones. The resulting look isn’t excessively flashy (or tacky) and should work well even for people with sober taste.

There is good quality oleophobic coating on both the front and rear glass, but there is only so much smudge resistance a glass body phone can offer.

Conforming to the modern trends, the fascia is mostly screen with a wide notch at the top. Thankfully, unlike Honor phones, there is no branding on the chin (which isn’t big enough to accommodate branding anyway).

The fingerprint sensor on the rear is fairly accessible. It’s also exceptionally fast and accurate. Huawei bundles a transparent case in the box that can even out the camera hump.

As you’d have probably figured out, we are quite happy with the way Huawei Nova 3i looks. Now that I am thinking of a better-looking phone at this price point, nothing comes to mind. One thing missing is the Type-C port.

  • Huawei Nova 3i looks gorgeous and is comfortable to operate.
  • It’s glass-metal-glass phone. And there is a wide notch at the front.
  • Audio jack, speaker grill, and USB port are on the bottom. Huawei is still using Micro USB Type-A port.
  • Nova 3I has a hybrid SIM tray.
  • The fingerprint sensor is accessible. Face Unlock is another unlock option consumers have.
  • Huawei bundles a protective case in the box.

Huawei Nova 3i Review – Display

The Nova 3i has a 6.3-inch IPS LCD panel with Full HD+ resolution. The colors are well balanced and the white point is closer to neutral compared to what we usually see on Huawei/honor phones. We still switched to ‘Normal’ mode, which is a more accurate, close-to-SRGB color profile. Contrast and dynamic range are reasonable considering the price.

Maximum brightness left us wanting for more. The display is still legible under direct sunlight.

The notch on the phone is wide and the remaining space on the status bar is used for displaying system notification icons. You can’t check apps pushing notifications from the status bar. The LG like fourth navigation button at the bottom can be conveniently used to drag down notification shade.

  • The display quality is reasonably good for the price.
  • The contrast, colors and dynamic range felt fine. The  “Normal” color mode is relatively more accurate (close to sRGB) color profile that’s also light on eyes.
  • Thanks to the notch, status bar only shows system notifications (WiFi, SIM network, Battery, etc.).
  • You can black out the notch from display settings.

Huawei Nova 3i Review – Performance and software

This is the first Huawei phone with Kirin 710 octa-core chipset.  After more than a week of usage, it’s quite clear that the Kirin 710 is a significant improvement over Kirin 659. In terms of processing power and smoothness, it still can’t quite match up to the experience we have had on phones with Snapdragon 660 or more powerful Qualcomm chipsets.

Performance wasn’t immaculate, but we didn’t encounter any stuttering with normal day-to-day usage.  All high-end games that we tried ran fine, but we could still make out frame drops when playing Asphalt 9 at maximum settings. The phone also tends to heat up under heavy load.

Upcoming GPU Turbo update could further improve performance for select games that support it. For hardcore gamers, there is Huawei’s Honor Play that supports better Kirin 970 chipset at a comparatively lower price, but then, it isn’t nearly as good looking as the Nova 3i.

As for the software, the EMUI 8.2 running on the handset is a heavily customized skin and you’d barely notice the Android 8.1 Oreo underneath it. Huawei’s approach has been to add every possible feature in the book and that can make the interface a bit overwhelming if you aren’t tech savvy. At the same time, the UI can be quite engaging for people who like to fiddle with all aspects of their phones.

Time and again we did appreciate the abundance of customization options and how Huawei explains stuff using short notes through the interface. Anyways, a simple launcher can fix most of what’s wrong with the UI.

Also Read: Honor Play Quick Review – Cheapest Phone With Kirin 970 

  • Kirin 710 is an improvement over Kirin 659, particularly when it comes to gaming.  Day-to-day performance is smooth.
  • The ample 128GB storage is an added bonus.
  • The fingerprint sensor on the phone is fast and accurate. Face Unlock works well too.
  • The Nova 3i has DRM L1 certificate but cannot stream HD content on Netflix (like most other phones in this price range).
  • The EMUI 8.2 software is extremely rich in features and customization options.

Huawei Nova 3i Review – Camera Performance

Let’s talk about the specs first. The Nova 3i has a 16 MP primary rear sensor with f/2.2 aperture and PDAF. This is accompanied by a basic 2MP depth sensor that’s used for gathering depth information.  On the front, there is a 24MP selfie camera with f/2.0 aperture which is again paired with a 2MP depth sensor.  And of course, the camera flaunts AI smarts.

The Nova 3i camera performance is better than what we usually see in this budget. The camera can capture a good amount of details indoors and outdoors and images we clicked had wide dynamic range.

AI enhancements do come in handy in extremely low light and certain outdoor shots, but more often than not the images turn out over saturated.

Without AI
With AI. The image is a tad oversaturated and a bit unnatural, but it still looks more appealing.

With AI turned on, the camera first captures a regular image and then adds AI enhancements. Even if you have shot an image in AI mode, you can turn off AI effects and revert to the unenhanced image while viewing the image in the gallery later. Overall, the AI still has a long way to go and we weren’t impressed.

The color tones are usually warm. Images shot outdoors turned out fine. The rear camera can lock focus quickly.

Close up

Details are good even in shots captured indoors.

Clicked indoors, Artificial lighting

The portrait mode didn’t work very well. Edges are often soft. The camera app also has an option to manually adjust aperture (or to increase/decrease defocus area).

Rear camera portraits; edges are soft.

The selfie clicked on the phone are fine. Portrait mode for the front camera is inconsistent.

Regular Selfie
Selfie portrait, Edge detection is flawed.

The Camera app is feature rich and also bundles some fun features (including Qmojis, Backgrounds, etc) under the AR lens mode.

Comparing images with Mi A2 side by side, we’d have to say the Mi A2 is a better performer for images clicked in proper lighting. For lowlight shots, it will be a close bout. We will be doing a detailed camera comparison between the two phones very soon.

Note: You can check full resolution samples in this Flicker Album.

Huawei Nova 3i Review – Battery, connectivity, and Audio

The 3340mAh battery can easily last for a day (or more) with moderate to heavy usage. As mentioned before, the charging port is regular Micro USB Type-A and fast charging isn’t supported.

The audio via mono speaker isn’t very loud. Audio via headphones is fine. GPS navigation worked fine for us. Call quality was excellent in our area.

The major shortcomings of Kirin 710 are lack of support for 5GHz Wi-Fi band (lacks support for WiFi 802.11ac) which results in poor streaming over devices like Chromecast (that we happen to use a lot).

  • The 3340mAh battery can comfortably last a day (or more).
  • Fast charging isn’t supported. Huawei bundles a 5V/2A charger that can top up battery quickly.
  • Nova 3i is missing dual-band WiFi, which can be an issue for people who use streaming dongles like Chromecast (particularly screen mirroring).
  • The audio via loudspeaker isn’t very loud. Audio quality via headphones is reasonably good.

Huawei Nova 3i Review – Should you buy it?

Of all the affordable options Huawei has in its lineup, the Nova 3i seems to make the most sense for generic buyers. The phone offers good value for money, covers most basics, and looks premium.

It also has a good quality IPS LCD panel, the camera is decent if not the best, and the battery lasts comfortably long. The Kirin 710 is a significant improvement over Kirin 659, but it’s still not the best chip you can score in this budget.

Its biggest challenger will be Xiaomi’s Mi A2 that offers better overall camera performance and stock Android software. In comparison, the Nova 3i offers better design and better battery mileage.

Pros

  • Looks gorgeous
  • Display quality
  • Battery Backup
  • Reasonable camera performance

Cons

  • No USB Type-C port
  • Hybrid SIM slot

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