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.
Performance: All the way
If you’re up against the might OnePlus, it's always sensible to bring the big guns out. And my!... the Nova 3 packs solid ammo to obliterate the competition. It’s got 6GB with 128GB storage with Kirin 970 processor in the brains of it all.
The Kirin 970 is quite nifty and we know that for sure because it's also sitting in the more expensive Huawei P20 Pro. So more-for-less holds true with the Nova 3 as with any other budget smartphone. We played a round of PUBG during the hands-on session and it went about super smooth with graphical settings bumped up to high. It doesn’t heat up much as well. Though Huawei boasted about their ‘4D’ gaming experience, it was not ready during the hands-on session. Apparently the 4D gaming experience is synced with PUBG and other demanding titles like Asphalt 8 to give a vibrating feedback depending upon the choices in the game. Almost like the rumbling of a console controller. Using an AK47 will give you a different feedback from driving a jeep in PUBG. Though it sounds fantastic in theory, we can’t wait for it to show up on the actual device with future updates.
The 3750mAh battery is absolutely fantastic. It lasted me an entire working day with my regular usage. Jumping from Instagram and WhatsApp chats while filling in two hours of Netflix during commutes still left enough battery by the end of the day. On the weekends where my phone is usually pocketed only to come out during calls and important texts, the Nova 3 went on for more than a day. So if you’re a roadrunner party boy like me, the Nova 3 won’t leave you disappointed at 3am without juice.
The EMUI software is classic Huawei and it gives you loads of customization options to fiddle around with, though it's not as pretty looking like the OnePlus’ skin. WiFi bridge is something new and exclusive to Huawei. It lets your smartphone act as a WiFi extender and increases the range of your WiFi connection. While the single navigation key lets you control your smartphone like the iPhone X. Obviously, you can change back to three-key navigation in the setting if you wish.
Comparing the performance with OnePlus 6 is like putting the Roadrunner and Speedy Gonzales in a wild chase. Both the devices are quite reliable but if you really had us at gunpoint, we’d pick the OnePlus 6. Firstly because of its closer-to-vanilla Android version and secondly because OnePlus has ensured speedy optimizations with Android’s top 100 apps from the Play Store. That still doesn’t belittle the Nova 3. Its camera for one is interesting and the battery optimization is top notch! Fair warning about optimization: during standby (when you’re asleep) the Nova 3’s software will automatically kill all the unnecessary apps in the app drawer only to keep the ones that have a pending notification to tend to. Unlike, Apple’s iOS where everything just snoozes in the background but is available in the app tray if you want to summon it.
In the coming months, Huawei and Honor devices are going to get a software boost for the GPU for better gaming sessions. The GPU Turbo will act as a software conduit between the GPU and the output which will increase the overall efficiency of the GPU by restoring rendered graphics to the scenes that don’t need re-rendering. The tweak is on a very deep software level for you to notice any major difference but that could potentially add up to better battery life during gaming and smoother frame rates too.
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).
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.