After spending a considerable amount of time catering to the Indian market with their affordable sub-brand Honor, Huawei has finally stepped into the Indian smartphone scene too. Earlier this year, they brought in their triple-eyed P20 Pro and the more affordable P20 Lite with flagship aesthetics to compete with what India is already used to — OnePlus, Xiaomi, Samsung, Apple, and Google. With these the above mentioned two handsets sitting at two extreme ends of the spectrum, they have thrown in the Nova series to carve out a share of the pie in the midrange category — Nova 3 and Nova 3i.
While the Nova 3i has to fend for itself in the sub-Rs 20,000 categories, the Nova 3 locks horns with the likes of OnePlus 6, ASUS Zenfone 5z and its very own Honor 10. On paper, it shapes up to be an impressive combination of silicon, metal and glass — a flagship class chipset, a quad camera setup, a modern edge-to-edge display and a crazy colour-shifting 3D glass body. Tempted, we took the Nova 3 out for a test drive as a daily driver to see whether this colour-shifting beauty holds up well out in the real world.
Of late, we have been experiencing premium glass-bodied smartphones. All of them try to ooze the most understated-yet-luxurious aesthetics, except for the Zenfone 5z, which comes across as style conscious. The Nova 3i simply blows away the competition when it comes to grabbing eyeballs from the world — thanks to its wild colour shifting Iris Purple finish. The phone’s rear panel keeps throwing several hues between purple and pink under various lighting conditions — we couldn’t just let go of watching the rear panel in various angles.
However, Nova 3’s aesthetics are polarising. While some may prefer to show off the handset’s bling, others may find it ostentatious. That’s why Huawei also brings a standard black variant to appease the other half.
Once you get over the colour, the rest of the design seems very familiar to the recently unveiled Honor Play. In fact, the Nova 3, Nova 3i and Honor Play bunnies seem to have been extracted from a common hat. The glass rear sports a vertically aligned dual camera setup and fingerprint sensor. Being a premium smartphone, the edges curve gradually towards the sides, thus imparting a comfortable grip. You will also find the vertically-aligned Huawei branding — this makes the Nova 3 cool. Look around and you will spot a 3.5mm headphone jack, a USB-C port and a loudspeaker.
The front sports a modern edge-to-edge display with a notch on the top. Since there’s an LCD panel, a fair amount of chin is prominent, albeit slightly smaller than what you are served on the Nova 3i and Honor Play. The notch hosts two cameras (more on that later), an earpiece and IR sensor for Face Unlock.
In short, the Nova 3 probably wins the pageant for the most attention-seeking smartphone in its category.
Huawei/Honor have a penchant for nailing it in the display department on all their smartphones. The Nova 3 doesn’t budge from that tradition — the 6.3-inch IPS LCD display is a hoot to consume content. It renders pictures at full HD+ resolution with a vibrant dynamic range and impressive contrast. There no issues with sunlight legibility and viewing angles are pretty wide.
With an 84 per cent screen-to-body ratio, you are assured of a commendable viewing experience. For notch haters, Huawei’s EMUI OS does provide for a way to hide it through software trickery.
Huawei hasn’t cracked an answer to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 and Apple A11 Bionic chipsets yet. Hence, we still get the ageing HiSilicon Kirin 970 chipset to power the Nova 3, which compares naturally to the Snapdragon 835 chip. Huawei has thrown in 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is expandable up to 256GB. And as has been ritual, EMUI marks a return atop Android 8.1 Oreo to do the OS duties.
We recently saw the Kirin 970 putting up an impressive show on the Honor Play and we had similar expectations from here as well. On a day-to-day basis, the Nova 3 is effortlessly fluid. Whether you are switching between multiple social media apps or flicking around aimlessly in Subway Surfers, the Kirin 970 holds up with demands pretty well. Sadly, the same cannot be said when you show the Nova 3 some graphics-intensive titles.
Like the Honor Play, the Nova 3 is also supposed to be a part of Huawei’s GPU Turbo squad. We have seen GPU Turbo do wonders on the Honor Play, delivering modern gaming performance on the ageing Kirin 970. Surprisingly, we experienced slightly choppy frame rates and inconsistent gameplay experience on titles such as PUBG and Asphalt 9: Legends here. However, we received a test unit with one of the early OS builds, which could be the reason behind the unsatisfactory gameplay. Probably the next update will see the GPU Turbo charm its users.
As for the EMUI OS, we had mixed opinions. Initial impressions on the OS come out to be revolting, considering the ungainly UI and the amount of bloat that Huawei ships the Nova 3 with (fortunately, most of them can be removed). However, once you look past the cluttered UI, EMUI has been well optimised to the hardware. The animations are fast and wide array of features on offer make it hard to move away to other Android UIs with a stock/barebone approach. Similar to the Honor Play, you get several AI-based features such as smart stay, 3D audio effects and many more. The plethora of customisation options should keep the users engaged in achieving the desired interface.
An area where the Nova 3 shines again is with regards to the Face Unlock. The Nova 3 comes equipped with an infrared sensor-based 3D facial recognition system. As expected, you can rely on the Face Unlock even in pitch dark conditions.
However, the system isn’t quick enough and does require some time to process the verification system. The IR system also paves way for Qmojis — Huawei’s answer to Animoji. The Qmojis work decent, with most of the characters able to track the facial systems efficiently.
To make sure the Nova 3 is able to fight off the best in terms of optics, Huawei has given it some capable gear. There’s a 16MP + 24MP dual camera setup for the rear while a 24MP + 2MP dual camera setup deals with selfie duties.
The rear setup with its f/1.8 aperture for the primary lens churns out impressive photos in daylight with ample details. As is the case with all Huawei/Honor phones, the camera tends to overexpose the images, thus blowing out details. The AI mode, which can detect up to 22 types of scenes and adjust the parameters accordingly, enriches the photos with brighter hues amidst a slightly lower resolution. However, the issue of overexposure isn’t helped by the AI mode. At night, the AI mode will pull in more colours, light and details, but extremely dark scenes will show up with extreme noise — thanks to higher ISO. That said, you won't be shying ever to flaunt your shots from the Nova 3 on social media — the picture quality is almost on par with what the best of the competition offers.
The front dual cameras ensure selfies with loads of details and slightly saturated colours. However, overexposure plagues selfies too, which means that you could be spending some time editing before uploading on social media. Additionally, the bokeh mode also doesn't impress with its edge detection on the subject in with busy backgrounds. The AI enables 3D studio lighting effects on you selfies and like the P20 Pro, they aren’t as impressive as that of iPhone’s.
With all the latest-gen multimedia features and a flagship-grade chipset, the Nova 3 requires a big fuel tank to make it through a day. And sure enough, with a 3750mAh Li-ion battery, the Nova 3 makes it through a day involving frequent texting, audio and video streaming, occasional selfie sessions and some more. With Huawei’s Quick Charge, the Nova 3 will rejuvenate itself pretty quick.
After going through the Nova 3 in detail, it’s hard not to find it irresistible. A flagship grade chipset merged with a pair of capable cameras, wrapped in a glass-metal body that pokes out ‘wow’ every time somebody pays attention to it is surely a tempting smartphone. However, when you consider the price of Rs 34,999, the Nova 3’s weaknesses start becoming prominent, considering the segment-leading OnePlus 6 and Zenfone 5z offer modern and much more powerful silicon with more favourable optics. Should you skip this one then?
Absolutely not. In fact, unlike its rivals, the Nova 3 leaves no stone unturned to be a style statement in your pocket and impress with a notable all-round performance. If you love flaunting, aren’t digging benchmark scores and prefer to stick to a globally renowned (and now, one of the leading) brand, then the Nova 3 is absolutely recommendable. Just don’t put a bulky case over that beautiful body.