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Huawei Nova 3 Review - Flagship-grade design and performance for less!

Huawei Nova 5T
In our unboxing and first impressions article, Huawei impressed us with the way they dressed the Nova 3 for the price.
Huawei Nova 3 Review - Flagship-grade design and performance for less!
Huawei Nova 3 review

It has 2018 flagship-worthy metal and glass design, internals that screams high-end, and four cameras with tons of potential for just PHP 25,990.

Right off the bat, we know that this device has all the traits to be one of the best in its class. 

Now, after more than a month of using it, will our thoughts remain the same?

Here's our Huawei Nova 3 full review!


Display Quality

Good screen-to-body ratio
Good screen-to-body ratio

The screen of the Nova 3 is massive, immersive, and quite impressive.

It is using a notched 6.3-inch 2.5D curved IPS LCD panel with 6.3-inch 2.5D curved IPS screen with 19:5:9 screen aspect ratio and FHD+ 2340 x 1080 resolution at 409 ppi. In total, it has a large screen-to-body ratio of 84.02 percent. It even has a bigger screen real estate compare with the P20/P20Pro due to its smaller chin bezel.

Immersive screen!

The quality of the screen is on par (if not better) than other bang for the buck phones. To my eyes, it is a bit lower than the AMOLED panel of the Mi 8. But, it looks way better than the IPS screen of the POCOPHONE F1.

It is sharp enough at 409 pixels per inch and has a slightly saturated color profile.

As a result, it'll have a bit more pop than usual IPS screens. We also noticed that its contrast and level of black could rival some of the older gen AMOLED screens. Viewing angles are also great.

However, there are angles where you'll notice that it is a bit blueish and colder tone. Fortunately, like other Huawei devices, you can adjust the color mode and temperature depending on your preference.

For those who do not like the notch, we have some good news for you. You can always hide the notch in the display settings.

You can even choose the type of home screen you want. You can select the app drawer or no app drawer mode.

You can also adjust the view mode, text size, and screen resolution. It even has the smart resolution screen option which will automatically lower the screen resolution when needed to help save power.

As expected, light sensor is also accurate and it has 10 points of touch.

Audio Quality

The Nova 3 has a single down-firing speaker. Don't expect it to perform like the stereo speakers found on the Note9 or P20 Pro, but it is considered as decent at its price point.

Its speaker is good enough to be considered as crisp with good depth. It can also go loud with minimal distortion. It could be grainy at times with tinny bass response, but that's normal with speakers found on smartphones.

This should perform nicely for indoor listening to your favorite music on Spotify or while watching YouTube videos on a quiet room. The outdoor performance of its speakers is respectable as well.

For headphones, the Nova 3 has a warm sound signature with bass response than can go quite deep. However, may muddy the mids on standard Huawei Histen audio effect.

On auto mode, it has better clarity and instrumental separation on my in-ear earphones with balanced armature drivers.

We also noticed that it has good extension on the highs. It has treble sparkle with nice extension.

It is also quite powerful to drive multi-driver IEMs (earphones) and even some medium sized headphones.

Audiophiles might crave for more though. But overall, its audio is still on the average side of the spectrum. And that is not a bad thing.

Let's be happy that it still has a headphone jack slot.

Bluetooth audio is also mostly stable for those who are into wireless headphones/earphones.

On the microphone part, the Nova 3 has two microphones. It can record clear enough tunes to my ears. It could have been better. But again, it is decent for the price.


For calls, the earspeaker has decent quality as expected from a Huawei device. It is good for doing clear calls.

Battery Life

10 hours and 51 minutes!

On our usual PC Mark work battery life test, the Nova 3 clocked 10 hours and 51 minutes.

As expected, great battery performance!

It is a bit better than expected score from a phone with 3,750mAh battery and 6.3-inch screen with FHD+ display. Most likely, it is due to its power efficient AI optimized Kirin 970 SoC.

In real life, it can last from 8AM to around 7PM in a single charge under my usual heavy daily usage. My heavy usage include 4G data or WiFi hotspot mode all the time, taking a lot of photos, playing games occasionally, and doing the usual SMS/calls.

As a secondary phone, the Nova 3 can last for around 2 days in a single charge.

To conserve power further, it has the power saving mode and ultra power saving mode. Like what we mentioned above, it also has the smart screen resolution which will adjust the screen resolution from FHD+ to HD+ automatically to help save power.

Charging time from 0 to 100 percent roughly around 2 hours. It can fill up to 60 percent of juice in 1 hour. Not great, but not bad.

Camera

Dual f/1.8 cameras
Dual f/1.8 cameras

Like the Nova 3i, the Nova 3 has a grand of four cameras. It has two cameras at the back and two more cameras for selfies. But compared with the Nova 3i, the dual-camera of the Nova 3 at the back is WAY better.
The camera UI
The camera UI

At the back, it has a pair of f/1.8 lenses for better lowlight shots. One of them is the 12MP RGB sensor and the other one is a dedicated 24MP monochrome lens.

It's basically applying the same dual-camera principle of the higher-end Leica-powered smartphones of Huawei. It even has a larger 24MP monochrome lens versus the P20.

You can turn the AI on and off!

It also has PDAF, contrast focus, and the Master AI tech. The AI of this phone can detect a LOT of scenes like food, weather, buildings, pets, and more.

After detecting the scene, the AI of the phone will automatically adjust the camera settings for you for the "best result" possible.

There is also an option to turn on an off the AI even after taking the shot.
The rest of the camera modes
The rest of the camera modes

For the modes, it has the Aperture, Portrait, AR lens, Pro, Night, Panorama, Monochrome, Light Painting, HDR, and 3D panorama.

Personally, my favorites are the Portrait, Pro, Night, and Light Painting mode. The portrait mode has both the bokeh effect and adjustable face beauty.

The Pro mode has ISO 50 to 3200, EV -4 to +4, 1/4000 to 30s shutter, and more.

It has one of the most robust Pro mode right now. It nearly has all the settings found on the higher-end P20 Pro.

I won't also blame you if you will like the cute stickers found on the AR lens mode.

All of the above-mentioned camera features and modes made my photography experience better. We noticed that its shooting speed is blazing fast and its focus speed/accuracy is on par with several high-end phones.

In terms of photo quality, this thing is superb. It can go toe to toe with the Mi 8 and even give the ageing Mate 10 a bit of a fight.

Without AI it shoots images with great detail and color accuracy. Contrast and saturation is mostly on point as well. It can even shoot close-up images with natural looking bokeh on auto mode.

The AI could make the shot look better by making it look sharper and adding more saturation/color pop/dynamic range.

However, the result with AI is a mixed bag. It could be great or not that good at times. We noticed that it could have some artifacting and artificial sharpening. It could be oversaturated at times as well. It could make the greens look to green.

The AI helps a lot in making the background blur of the bokeh mode better, night mode and food shots.

For lowlight, the result is better than most phones at this price point. It can shoot lowlight photos with crisp details, good colors, and wide dynamic range. Thanks to its pair of f/1.8 lenses.

Like other high-end Huawei devices, it even has a robust pro mode, night mode, and light painting mode that you can try for creative DSLR-like lowlight shots.

Rear Camera Samples

Daylight sample
Daylight sample
No AI shot
No AI shot
AI sky
AI sky
AI flower
AI flower
AI food mode
AI food mode
Auto indoor
Auto indoor
Monochrome with bokeh
Monochrome with bokeh
Stage performance
Stage performance
2x zoom
2x zoom
Bokeh shot f/4.0
Bokeh shot f/4.0
AI night
AI night
AI night
AI night
Long exposure
Long exposure

For selfies, the specs are the same compared with the Nova 3i. But since the Image Signal Processor (ISP) of the Nova 3 is better due to its higher-end processor, we can expect it to perform better.
24MP + 2MP
24MP + 2MP

It still has the 24MP f/2.0 sensor paired with 2MP depth camera. It also has the Master AI mode for scene detection and which can recognize 8 kinds of portrait background optimizations like true depth and bokeh.
Selfie camera modes
Selfie camera modes

Huawei claimed it has the Light Fusion technology which combines 5 pixels into one for better lowlight shots.

We also like that it has the HDR Pro mode for better looking against the light snaps.

Checking its quality, this device is a very good selfie shooter! It has speedy face detection and tap to focus feature. It is also wide enough to fit around 5 to 6 people in a single frame.

Images captured by its selfie camera are crisp! It also has good colors overall even without the Master AI feature. With the Master AI, you can get shots with better details in lowlight, color punch, and background.

The selfie AI of Nova 3 is also less aggressive than the AI selfie of the Nova 3i. The HDR Pro of this one is also more impressive than the HDR Pro of the Nova 3i.

The face beauty is not overly aggressive up to level 3 as well. The depth bokeh and edge detection is also better than previous mid-range Huawei devices.

To my eyes, its selfie cameras of of the Nova 3 is also better than the selfie camera of the P20 Pro. The colors and details of P20 Pro's selfies looks pale and a bit softer than the selfies of Nova 3.

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.

Lowlight selfies are amazing. It has plenty of details, good colors, and nice dynamic range. The selfie screen flash is quite strong as well.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Indoor well-lit selfie
Indoor well-lit selfie
#ThatsYrda, #ThatsBella, and me
Indoor lowlight selfie with face beauty
Indoor lowlight selfie with face beauty
Lowlight selfie with bokeh
Lowlight selfie with bokeh

For videos, the Nova 3 has up to 4K video recording at the back. It also has up 1080p at 60 fps and 1080p at 30 fps. You will also find the usual time-lapse. This time, it even has a 480p super slow motion feature.

Stabilization for 4K is decent, but it is far from great. It has good autofocus, plenty of details, and good colors though.

Shooting at 1080p 60 fps is better in my experience. The 1080p 30 fps is nice as well.

However, it has no OIS. Huawei also failed to mention if it has EIS.

For selfie videos, it can record up to 1080p 30 fps without the face beauty mode. If with face beauty, it can only record up to 720p. The face beauty video mode should be helpful for those who wants to look good in videos. It has good stabilization for selfies as well.

It has no bokeh video mode like the P series and Mate series Huawei devices.

Video Samples


Performance

AnTuTu and Geekbench scores
AnTuTu and Geekbench scores
The Nova 3 runs with the same AI Kirin 970 chip found on the flagship P20 and P20 Pro. Therefore, this device should have a flagship-grade performance as well. It even the GPU Turbo enabled Mali-G72 GPU, big 6GB RAM (bigger than P20's RAM), and 128GB expandable storage.


Flagship-grade performance, upper mid-range price tag!

The result? It has similar benchmark scores compared with its pricier siblings. In real life, it is really snappy most of the time. It can run a lot of apps! Switching from an app to another is buttery smooth too. I never had an issue with its multitasking performance.

Then, like most high-end Huawei phones. It has AI to keep the performance of the phone fast always. It knows when to close the background apps you are not using and more. It also knows the apps which needs more resources.


For games, GPU Turbo supported titles like PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends smooth even at max settings. Even games like the NBA 2K18 without GPU Turbo are playable on max settings.

It also has the Game Suite feature for game acceleration and uninterrupted gaming.You can still receive calls while playing games but, only a small reminder box will appear.

Heating is average. It gets warm, but not hot. It'll be a bit warmer if you will turn the 4G, Hotspot, and play games all at the same time. But again, it is normal and far from alarming at all.

There are very few phones that can compete with its speed at this price point. In particular, I only have three in mind, the Honor PlayPOCOPHONE F1 and the Xiaomi Mi 8. Both of those devices are running with the newer and slightly faster Snapdragon 845 processor.

It is still crazy that this phone is priced at just PHP 25,990.
EMUI 8.2 skin

On the software part, it has the new EMUI 8.2 skin based on Android 8.1 Oreo OS.
It is the more refined version of the EMUI 8.1 skin found on the P20 series.


It has a lot of pre-installed apps. Most of them can be removed if you don't need them. We noticed that the UI looks a bit cleaner and it looks fresher.

The usual Huawei gestures and features are still here. It include the knuckle screen shot, split mode, app drawer mode, Huawei Share (Huawei to Huawei or Huawei to Honor file transfer), Phone Manager (optimization app), Health App (fitness monitor), and Party Mode (Sync music playback across multiple Huawei devices).

As expected, its fingerprint scanner is blazing fast. It also has the usual fingerprint gesture that you can use as a shortcut.

The Nova 3 also has an IR 3D face unlock which works even in the dark. It is also fast and accurate. But, you need to register your face properly. It works 8 out of 10 times. I also like that it has a lift to wake function.

We never had a problem with the rest of the telephony experience, just like other Huawei device. It even has blazing fast 4G LTE Cat 18. It has one of the fastest LTE experience in town.

WiFi reception is also strong and OTG works. GPS works great for Grab, Waze, and Google maps.

It even has gyroscope sensor for those who uses VR and AR apps or games.

Pros - Stunning design, big screen, flagship performance, long battery life, USB Type-C, great cameras, robust set of features, affordable price tag for the specs
Cons - No water and dust resistance, no mention of Gorilla Glass protection, no wireless charging

Verdict

The Nova 3 is Huawei's own version of an affordable flagship. First, it looks like a flagship phone. Second, it performs like a Huawei flagship smartphone. Third, it has flagship-worthy features that you won't find with other similarly priced devices.

The crazy part? This phone is priced at just PHP 25,990!

In comparison, phones from most other brands with the same price tag only has mid-range level design and specs.

To my eyes, it even has better value for money than Huawei's own P20.

It has few weaknesses for the price as well.

It is that good!

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