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Huawei Nova 3i Review - Beast in CLASS!

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Last 2017, we hailed the Huawei Nova 2i as the mid-range smartphone of the year. During its time, it is arguably the best in its class.
Huawei Nova 3i Review - Beast in CLASS!
The new mid-range king?

Why? It has one of the most impressive design, screen, specs, cameras, and features during its time last year. It is also one of the very few with an 18:9 screen and four cameras in total.

As a result, it is also the most popular Android smartphone in the Philippines of 2017 according to Google Trends.

So, it is a no brainer for Huawei to launch a follow-up this year.

Unsurprisingly, it is dubbed as the Nova 3i. On paper, it is a monster for the price!

Let's check it out!

Huawei Nova 3i Specs

Display: 6.3-inch 2.5D curved IPS screen w/ FHD+ 2340 x 1080 resolution at 409 ppi
CPU: 2.2GHz 64-bit Kirin 710 octa-core processor
GPU: Mali-G51 MP4 w/ GPU Turbo
RAM: 4GB
ROM: 128GB expandable via microSD card slot up to 256GB
Back Camera: 16MP f/2.2 + 2MP w/ PDAF, contrast focus, Master AI, and LED flash
Selfie Camera: 24MP f/2.0+ 2MP w/ AF, Master AI, HDR Pro, and screen flash
Battery: 3,340mAh
OS: Android 8.1 Oreo w/ EMUI 8.2
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11b/g/n, 700MHz 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.2, BLE, HWA, aptX, and aptX HD, FM Radio, OTG, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, dual SIM (hybrid)
Sensors: Accelerometer, light, orientation, proximity, gyroscope, sound, magnetic
Others: Fingerprint sensor, 3D face unlock, Colors: classic black, white, iris purple gradient
Dimensions: 157.6 x 75.2 x 7.6 mm
Weight: 169 g
Price: PHP 15,990

Disclaimer: Huawei Philippines seeded us with this review unit for our honest take.

Unboxing/Accessories

Unboxed!
Unboxed!

The Nova 3i arrived with a P20 Pro-like white box with Nova 3i text printed on the top. Inside, it has most of the usual inclusions. Our pre-retail package arrived with a 2A USB wall charger, USB to micro USB data/charging cable, earphones with mic, and SIM ejector tool.

Note: The official retail package could come with the case, pre-installed screen protector, and paper documents. Look at Nova 3i's listing at Huawei's official website.

Build Quality/Design

Mostly metal and glass, premium!
Mostly metal and glass, premium!

In terms of build and design, Nova 3i looks so much better than the impressive Nova 2i last year. It arrived with a glass curved back, metal body, and 6.3-inch notched 2.5D curved display.


Flagship worthy build and design with mid-range price tag!

As a result, it feels more premium that competing phones from the competing brands with mostly plastic build. Huawei failed to mention if it has glass protection on top of the screen though.

Since it is made out of mostly metal and glass, be careful with it.
Mic on the top
Mic on the top
Headphone jack slot, micro USB port, another mic, and speaker below
Headphone jack slot, micro USB port, another mic, and speaker below
Hybrid dual SIM/microSD tray at left
Hybrid dual SIM/microSD tray at left
Power button and volume rocker at right
Power button and volume rocker at right

Design-wise, the Nova 3i is arguably the most beautiful in its class! The 2.5D curved glass at the back of our unit arrived with an iris purple gradient color which reminds of the P20 Pro twilight. It can shift from blue to violet depending where you look at it.

The handset is also quite slim, but there's a camera hump at the back.

In front, it has a massive 6.3-inch panel on a body of a 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus. It has a  19:5:9 aspect ratio and a screen-to-body ratio of 81 percent. As expected, the top and side bezels are small. The chin bezel is a bit thicker, but it is still smaller than what the P20 Pro have.

It has a bigger notch than the P20 series to house the dual cameras, earpiece, and other sensors though. Fortunately, it is still smaller than what we saw from the iPhone X. Those who do not like the notch can still turn it off in the display settings.

Most of the buttons and ports are found on familiar placements.

There's a microphone on the top and 3.5 mm headphone jack/micro USB/another mic/single speaker below. It also has the hybrid dual SIM/microSD card slots at left and volume rocker/power button at right.

At the back, you'll find the fingerprint scanner in the middle.

This handset is also comfortable to hold, thanks to its generous curves with no sharp edges.

As expected, it is slippery to hold. It is a bit prone to fingerprint smudges too.

But overall, the Nova 3i has the design and build to beat at this price point!

Display Quality

Big screen, small body!

The Huawei Nova 3i has a big 6.3-inch 2.5D curved IPS notched panel. What I like here is its 19:5:9 display has a high screen-to-body ratio which gives more screen real estate versus most traditional 16:9 phones. Like what we stated earlier, it is just as small as a traditional smartphones with 5.5-inch display size.

Massive screen size on a small body!

Not only that, the display of this handset has FHD+ resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels or 409 pixels per inch. It simply means that it has a sharper panel than few competing phones with HD+ resolution only.

Its color accuracy is also quite nice. By default, the IPS panel of this device delivered a slightly cooler tone. But, it is close to natural looking. It also has enough saturation and contrast to make the colors lively. Blacks are decent, but don't expect it to be as deep versus the OLED panel of the P20 Pro.

As expected, it has good viewing angles. Sunlight legibility is excellent for the price too. Its max brightness is brighter than most at this price point.

On the software part, it has color and temperature mode, eye comfort mode, and smart resolution. The smart resolution can automatically lower the screen resolution to 1560 x 720 to help save power.

Again, you can turn on and off the notch in the settings. You can also select the home screen style to standard (with app drawer) and drawer (with app drawer) modes.

It has 10 points of touch for easy typing and swiping too.

Audio Quality

Below, it has a single speaker. The output we got is noticeably better than the Nova 2i last year. To our ears it is at least 50 percent louder than the Nova 2i. It is crispier, fuller, and louder as well.

It still don't have the bass response, acoustics, and soundstage found on the flagship phones with stereo speakers, but for a mid-ranger it has sounding speakers. It has minimal distortion on max loudness.

For wired headphones/earphones, the output is also clean. It has the Huawei Histen sound effects with audio presents that actually sounds nice. You can choose from auto, 3D audio, natural, and standard type. The 3D audio will increase the soundstage artificially, but it is far from bad.

By default, it can produce great sound as long as your headphones/earphones is also good. It is clear, crisp, with well extended lows and highs. The bass is not overpowering. Details are well separated as well. Sound signature is still on the bright side of things, though it is a tad warmer than the OPPO F7.

Since it has two microphones (1 on top and 1 below), the audio recording quality of this handset is above average. Calls are crisps most of the time too.

Battery

PCMark work battery life test
PCMark work battery life test

Like the Nova 2i, the Nova 3i has 3,340mAh of battery capacity. But, it now has a more power efficient SoC, the Kirin 710 chipset based on the 12 nm process. So, battery performance could be the same despite its use of a bigger display.
Good battery performance
Good battery performance

In real life, it lasted for exactly two days on a single charge as my secondary phone. It recorded a screen on time of 5 hours and 3 minutes and a phone idle time on of 52 hours and 6 minutes.

Strong real life battery performance!

Under heavy usage as a primary smartphone, it lasted for 10 hours straight or 4 hours and 40 minutes screen on time. That's impressive for a phone with big battery capacity.

Our heavy usage include 4G data w/ WiFi hotspot mode and use of social media apps all the time. It also include occasional gaming and taking photos/videos.

To conserve power further, Huawei added several power saving options. It include the regular power saving mode, ultra power saving mode, and smart screen resolution mode.

Like what we stated above, the smart resolution can automatically lower the screen resolution to 1560 x 720 to help save power.

Charging time using the stock 2A charger is 2 hours and 15 minutes to 30 minutes from 0 to 100 percent.

It's not the fastest around, but it has average charging speed. It would have been better if it has P20 lite's Huawei Quick Charge 2.0 tech.

Camera

Dual cameras at the back
Dual cameras at the back

One of the key highlight of the Nova 3i is its quad camera setup.  At the back, it has a 16MP f/2.2 + 2MP dual cameras. In front, it goes with a 24MP f/2.0 + 2MP dual front cameras.
Camera UI
Camera UI

The main cameras are the same with the Nova 2i on paper. But, the software is more refined. It has new features as well. First it is now assisted by AI. It has the Master AI feature found on the higher-end P20 series.
Different modes and settings
Different modes and settings

It can detect if the your subject is blue sky, flower, plant, beach, sunset sunrise, cat, dog, food text, night snow, portrait, and etc. It can even detect if the your structure subject is an ancient building or not. After detecting your subject, it will apply the "best" possible camera settings to make your shot look great.
Pro mode
Pro mode

Aside from the AI, the Nova 3i also has the usual camera modes like the HDR, panorama, 3D panorama, aperture (f/0.95 to f/1.6), portrait mode w/ artistic bokeh and 10-level of face beauty, night (auto long exposure at night), lighting painting (traffic lights, light graffiti, star trails, silky water), different filters, and pro mode. 

The pro mode is also better than ever. It now has 1/4000 to 30s shutter. The rest are the same. It still has the ISO 50 to 3200, EV -4 to +4, WB 2800K to 7000K, and manual focus.

It also has grids as guide and RAW format support.

It also has 3D objects found in the AR lens mode.

Above average camera performance!

Moving to its camera quality, shooting with device is convenient. It is easy to use! Focus speed, shutter speed, and photo saving speed is quick. It can easily take close-up images as well.

As expected, picture quality is great. It has sharp details and and balanced colors. Dynamic range is impressive in daylight shots. Contrast is nice and its output is far from oversaturated.

When the Master AI function is on, it could make the exposure brighter and colors pop depending on the situation. There are times where it'll oversaturate the images though. The auto camera settings of the AI works according to my preference 6/10 times, that's impressive.

Moving to the bokeh effect, the aperture mode is good by default. Coming from the Nova 2i, it now has better edge detection. Huawei also tried to make the bokeh balls a bit more round this time. Like other Huawei devices with dual cameras, it also has an option to refocus and adjust the background blur even after taking the shot.

Indoor camera performance is also impressive. Loss of details and noise are not evident most of the time. Unless you are in a dim lighting situation. Speaking of lowlight performance, its output is respectable.

It is softer, but it has less grain than most mid-range phones we tested in the past. It would still be grainy compared with flagship phones.

Use the Master AI to take decent night shots. If the Master AI is not enough, it has a robust pro camera mode and a bright type of LED flash.

Overall, this is one of the better shooters in the under PHP 20K range.

Camera Samples

Daylight with AI
Daylight with AI
Beach mode
Beach mode
Islas de Gigantes
Islas de Gigantes
Bright daylight
Bright daylight
Bright daylight
Flower shot
3D objects
3D objects
f/4.0
f/4.0
Food shot
Food shot
Dim indoor
Dim indoor
Lowlight 1
Lowlight 1
Lowlight 2
Lowlight 2
Lowlight 3
Lowlight 3

For selfies, it arrived with an impressive 24MP f/2.0 sensor paired with 2MP depth camera. Like the main camera it has the Master AI feature.

Dual cameras in front too!
Dual cameras in front too!

The AI can recognize 8 kinds of portrait background optimizations like true depth and bokeh. It also include sky, plant, flower, beach, stage, night, room, and snow.
Selfie camera UI and modes
Selfie camera UI and modes

It also has the Light Fusion technology for better lowlight shots. It combines four (4) pixels into one (1) for 300 percent more light with less noise in lowlight.

Loaded with selfie camera features!

Moreover, it has the new HDR Pro mode. It i designed to make your shot look decent even if it is against the light. We wished that it has the HDR Pro toggle for the main camera UI though. According to Huawei, the AI can recognize different light conditions to make HDR photo look more natural looking.


It has a new AR lens functions too. From there, you will find the 3D Qmoji mode that works like Apple's Animoji feature. You can transform yourself into a talking cat, dog, rabbit, robot, and more for 10 seconds in a form of a video.


It also has the usual cute built-in Snapchat-like effects, and backgrounds.

Moving to the rest of the selfie camera modes, you will find the portrait mode with bokeh and 10-level of face beauty. It also has the artist mode and different filters.

Checking its shooting quality, the Nova 3i is one of the few with autofocus at this price point. Face detection is also quick. Shooting speed fast as well. It is also wide enough to fit at least 5 people in a single frame.

From my memory, the selfie camera performance of this handset is better than its predecessor. It has crispier details and punchier yet still close to natural looking colors. The scene detection of its AI is as good as the main cameras.

It could be too aggressive at times though.

The HDR Pro mode is impressive. It can really avoid overexposed background shots. But, there are times where it'll make it a bit cartoonish. It works 7/10 times based on my experience. Still impressive.

The bokeh found on the portrait mode is better than ever. 

The face beauty mode is not that aggressive too. But, anything above level 3 would make your face too beautified.

In lowlight, loss of detail is evident. It would make your selfies a bit softer too. But, it is still brighter and more detailed versus most phones.

It has no dedicated selfie flash anymore, but its screen flash is bright enough to match other phones with selfie flash. It wont overexpose your selfies in lowlight too.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Portrait selfie bokeh 1
Portrait selfie bokeh 1
Portrait selfie bokeh 2
Portrait selfie bokeh 2
@ThatsBella AR lens selfie 1
AR lens selfie with background
AR lens selfie with background
Artificial lighting groufie
Artificial lighting groufie
Selfie with flash
Selfie with flash

Our review unit doesn't have the GPU Turbo update yet though. Let's expect it to have a smoother gaming performance after the update.

Great selfies!

For videos, this handset as the ability to shoot up to 1080p 60 fps at the back. It also has time-lapse and super slow-motion. The super slow-motion has up to 480 fps in 1 second.

The selfie video has up to 1080p 30 fps. When the face beauty mode is on, it is up to 720p 30 fps only. 

Videos taken using the back and front cameras are decent in quality. It has identical colors and exposure to still shots. But, it is a bit shaky due to its lack of software or hardware stabilization.

Video Samples


Performance

BEAST performance
BEAST performance
The Huawei Nova 3i is a BEAST! It has the new 64-bit Kirin 710 octa-core processor clocked at 2.2GHz based on the 12 nm FinFET process. It goes with better power efficiency and 2x better CPU performance versus the Kirin 659 of the Nova 2i.

Legit, the Huawei Nova 3i is a BEAST!

Its Mali-G51 MP4 GPU is also better than the previous generation. Moreover, it will come with the GPU Turbo update which promised up to 60 percent better GPU performance while improving its battery efficiency by 30 percent.

It also has large 4GB RAM and massive 128GB of expandable storage. In comparison, most of its competitors only has 32GB or 64GB of storage.

As a result, performance is great both on synthetic benchmarks and actual performance. It has identical AnTuTu score compared with other pricier phones like the Nokia 7 Plus and Vivo X21

 It is easily one of the smoothest at this price point. Hiccups are very rare and it can open apps quickly. Switching from an app to another is also smooth.


Note: This gaming sample has no GPU Turbo enabled yet. The GPU Turbo update for the Nova 3i will be available this end of June 2018.

Gaming performance is also much better than the Nova 2i last year. It can run NBA 2K18 on high settings with minimal frame drops. Other heavy games like PUBG is playable too. Let's also expect it to have an improve gaming performance once the GPU Turbo update is out.

As expected, thermal management is great. It doesn't heat up that much even if you turn the WiFi, 4G LTE, and etc. on.
EMUI 8.2 skin

On the software side, it reminds us of the P20 Pro. It has the improved EMUI 8.2 skin based on Android 8.1 Oreo OS. Like what we stated above, you can choose if you want it to have the app drawer or not.

It has lots of pre-installed bloats though. Fortunately, the storage of this handset is massive. It has over 111GB of usable storage out of 128GB. Another thing, most of those pre-installed apps are uninstallable. So, I'm not really complaining. 

Huawei has also added lots of useful features here. It has lots of gestures as shortcuts, the knuckle screenshot is still there, and it has split screen mode for multitasking.

In addition, it has the useful Huawei Share feature (Huawei to Huawei super fast file transfer), Phone Manager (Phone optimization), Health App (To monitor your steps, fitness, and health), and the new Party Mode.

The Party Mode lets you sync music playback across multiple Huawei devices with Part Mode.

Moreover, Huawei claimed that the AI of this handset can study your behavior to keep the phone fast always.

The fingerprint scanner is also very fast. It even has gestures which allows you to take a photo/video, answer call, stop alarm, show notification panel, and browse photos using the fingerprint sensor.

Aside from the fingerprint scanner, this device also has one of the fastest face unlock around. It even has the lift to wake function for easier unlocking of your device using your face. Huawei also made sure that the face unlock works even at night. It will automatically brighten the screen of your phone in lowlight so you can use the face unlock even in lowlight.

It also has the Game Suite feature for game acceleration and uninterrupted gaming. If you have calls, only a small reminder box will appear.

The rest of the telephony experience is Huawei-grade as usual. Signal reception is strong, call quality is great, and 4G LTE signal is okay most of the time. The GPS works great for Grab and Google maps.

It also has gyroscope and OTG. It has an LED light indicator as well. It has no NFC though.

Pros - Best in class design, premium build, powerful performance, largest internal storage in its class, really good assisted cameras with tons of features, steady connectivity, pretty loud speakers, 
Cons - No mention of glass protection, slippery to hold, a bit prone to fingerprint smudges, no video stabilization, not USB Type-C

Verdict

Overall, the Huawei Nova 3i arguably the best in class yet! It nearly blew all its competitors away in terms of design, build, specs, and cameras.

It is simply more premium looking than most of them. The processor it used is above average and it has large 128GB storage which is double or even quadruple than what most competeting phones has.

Currently, it is also has the most features found at this price point. The AI-cameras is impressive out of the box too.

It has few weaknesses, but most of them are forgivable. The Huawei Nova 3i is a monster for PHP 15,990.

Based on our experience, it is simply that good!

Kudos to Huawei for bringing a smartphone this great for the price.


The Huawei Nova 3i will be available for pre-order starting July 19. It will be available for purchase on starting July 28.

Those who will pre-order wll get a FREE Bluetooth speaker worth PHP 2,990.

Build / Design - 4.75
Display - 4.25
Audio - 4.25
Battery - 4.25
Camera - 4.25
Performance - 4.5
Average - 4.375/5
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