The Huawei P20 Pro is rocking solid on our Top 10 Smartphones list and now with the Huawei Nova 3 entering the budget space, the number two spot of the OnePlus 6 is very likely threatened.

The Nova 3 is a superbly specced smartphone with a dazzling finish that might attract many like moths to a glowing bulb. The insides are screaming premium and the notch on the front offers extra screen real estate for our 2018-conditioned eyes.

A premium smartphone at a budget price? Let’s hope so...

Design: Good for the eyes

The most attractive feature of the Huawei Nova 3 is hands down the gradient coloured back. Our review unit is Iris Purple which shifts from a bright blue (like the on the Aquafina water bottle label) to a Purple which is quite iconic to the Huawei Nova 3 itself. The colour gradient refracts light into straight lines that's a sight for sore eyes. There's also a black colour variant, but we don't see anyone who would want to own that, unless you're someone who enjoys watching grass grow.

When you take a break from ogling at the back and wrap your mittens around it to continue with your day, you can tell there's a nice heft to it. It's a teeny bit slimmer than the OnePlus 6. Although both phones feel fantastic to hold, the OnePlus 6 has a slight edge over it when it comes to comfort. Holding the Nova 3 feels every bit as premium as any ₹60,000 smartphone. Even the side buttons induce a great tactile and responsive feel. Huawei has given a slight texture to the power button but it's not as prominent as we'd like. Dumbbell lifting hands might not even feel it's there.

The antenna bands on the Huawei are quite different in performance and very subtle about it in the design. As a part of my daily commute to office, the 8 minute long Vashi bridge that connects Navi Mumbai to Mumbai has a network dead spot and here’s where the Nova 3 was blasting WhatsApp texts steadily over a 4G connection. For perspective, even the iPhone 8 couldn’t manage that.

 
 

Display: It’s got more

That FHD+ resolution stretches across a 6.3inch display and has a bigger notch than its competitors. Is that a bad thing? Not when you get two front-facing cameras out of it like the Huawei Nova 3.

The display looks fantastic, the colours are not explosively vivid as you’d expect from a Huawei smartphone. The blacks and contrast were handled well while watching Okja on Netflix. Akin to the OnePlus 6, the ambient light sensor on the Nova 3 is quite inaccurate too. It takes a while to adjust the auto brightness on the display and most of the times its quite evidently irritating.

The lower chin on the Huawei Nova 3 is as thin as it gets for now. It’s the same thickness as the OnePlus 6 and the Vivo Nex. The Honor 10 and Huawei P20 Pro both have a thicker chin bezel with a built-in home button so it’s also the first from Huawei that stretches that display so far towards the edge.

 

Camera: AI yai yai!

The bigger notch in the front houses a dual 24MP + 2MP front facing camera. And though you’d use the extremely fast fingerprint sensor at the back to unlock the Nova 3, the front facing cameras are really quick to scan your mug and unlock it too. It works at night as well but you’ll have to hold the smartphone up at eye level for the infrared light to work perfectly.

Still, you want to know how it clicks selfies right? It’s quite capable with minor flaws that could be fixed with software updates, in my opinion. While using the Classic Lighting in portrait mode from the front camera, the blacks were really oversaturated. The same was not true for the rear 24MP + 12MP camera on Classic Lighting. The photos came out relatively good with accurate blacks, thanks to the 24MP monochrome sensor. There’s a new cinematic effect that lets you take portrait mode in landscape mode. Nice touch. However, we feel that the edge detection still needs a bit of polishing. Alternatively, simple portrait mode was superb and obviously better without the 3D lighting.

Quad cameras on a smartphone deserve portrait attention but let's talk about simple point and shoot. Huawei has been raving about its AI camera for a while now and so are the other Chinese brands. For anyone to be a fan of it is hard and especially because it's evident that the AI is only ‘smart’ for oversaturating photos rather than fixing them. Plant and food images with the AI turned on are hilariously oversaturated. Almost as if the AI is using the same colour palette as the Rick and Morty artists. We had the same issue was with the Huawei P20 Pro’s camera. But when the AI is turned off, that’s where the real capabilities of the camera flourish. It can take some seriously good shots with decent colour reproduction and inky blacks with good dynamic range.

Low light photos are less grainier than the competition and the sensors can pick up more details as well. If you get cheeky and try clicking shots in really dark areas the Nova 3 will produce a grainy mess but for ₹35 you can’t have it all, right?

The AI contrast and colour management seem to invoke the tech dummies (my mom) and I kind of understand that market now but it's pointless to me so the Nova 3 does give you an option to turn off the AI even after you’ve clicked a photo in AI mode. It’s basically like a filter and I was happy knowing the fact that I don’t have to worry about AI intruding on my genius photography skills even if I happen to click one in a drunk state leaving it on.

Another feature is the Qmoji. It’s a take on Apple’s Animoji but not quite there yet. Among the new Android devices getting their own ‘moji’ ; we think the Qmoji is somewhat better compared to Samsung’s AR emoji. You get around six characters to choose from here and our favourite is Peppy the Penguin (we named it Peppy).

Verdict

It’s no surprise that the Nova 3 is here to take the fight to OnePlus 6 and it's a close one.

The phenomenal build quality and the gradient coloured back add a new layer of intrigue to a smartphone category that uses mostly safe colours like black, red and white. That said, some dummies in Stuff India HQ feel it's too tacky and attention seeking. Whatever you seek, the innards are surely not going to disappoint.

The camera quality is up to the mark though we’re not convinced about its future with AI, the point and shoot capabilities are nowhere meager. The battery life and daily performance on the Nova 3 impressive as well. If you can deal with Huawei’s EMUI skin then we don’t see any reason why the Nova 3 should not be in your pocket.

Stuff says... 

Huawei Nova 3 review

Huawei’s made a flagship killer that is basically a steal for ₹35K
₹34999
Good Stuff 
Build quality is as good as any ₹60K smartphone
The gradient back is our personal favourite
Snappy performance
Camera is very good
You’ll never run short of battery juice
Bad Stuff 
AI camera is not very smart

Where to buy Huawei Nova 3: