The Huawei Nova 2i launched in the Philippines in October last year to a reception as warm as the smoldering heat of a tropical summer’s day, with customers getting their hands on one of the first quad-camera devices ever in overwhelming quantities. Now, less than a year later, the sequel has arrived, and one can wonder: Does the Huawei Nova 3i live up to its predecessor?
It does. It even exceeds our expectations. The Nova 3i is easily Huawei’s best effort in the midrange segment thus far, and it’s an all-around excellent buy if you’re in the market for a new phone but haven’t bought one yet and don’t mind the notch design at all.
From the outside, it looks lit, especially the version with a glossy gradient coloring. The cameras are sharp and intelligent as they come. The Nova 3i also beats the pants off its predecessor in gaming situations.
In the Philippines, Huawei has priced the phone at a competitive P15,990, or a smidgen under $300. It’s P1,000 ($19) more than what the company was asking for the Nova 2i at launch, although the hike is justified by the flashier aesthetics and beefed-up internals. Not to mention, the sum is still well below the limits of what people will pay for a top mid-tier phone.
Preorders end July 27th in select stores in the country, and the Huawei Nova 3i will be available on July 28. Those who make an early purchase will receive a Bluetooth headset worth P2,990 ($56). Two color schemes are on offer at launch — purple (with hues of blue at the top) and black.
It’s the first thing that jumps at you from the get-go. The Huawei Nova 3i’s hardware looks striking in person, particularly in this purple-and-blue number, and feels more expensive than it is. It’s also a departure from what came earlier, with Huawei ditching the Nova 2i’s metal construction in favor of a metal-and-glass body that’s clearly based off the Huawei P20 Lite.
In fact, perhaps the easiest way to describe the Nova 3i without getting into too many details is that it’s a slightly bigger Huawei P20 Lite. Same hardware sans the Type-C port for charging and transferring files to a computer, the glass on the front and back held in place by the solid metal frame with rounded corners.
Size-wise, it’s taller compared to the Nova 2i, though not by much. And it’s compact enough that you can cradle the Nova 3i in one hand and thumb your way around the touchscreen. Weight shouldn’t be an issue either, though it might affect how you use this device with a case on it. (Curiously, our unit wasn’t bundled with a case inside the box.) The hardware feels substantial in a way many phones don’t, without being too massive.
The back features dual cameras aligned vertically, like on the P20 Lite. The fingerprint reader is located on the rear as well and not under the display or on the side. It works well for the most part, authenticating our fingerprints with good accuracy and speed.
Face unlock is also available, and works quickly and reliably in almost all situations except in absolute darkness. You also don’t need to be looking directly at the front camera for facial recognition to function properly.
Of course, we can’t talk about the backing without talking about the color-shifting glass Huawei has used on the purple Nova 3i. According to the manufacturer, it used a special plating process to produce a visually stunning gradient that transitions from dark purple to purple at the base then to blue at the top.
Personally, we think it looks better than the finish on the P20 Pro in Twilight, though you might find the latter more appealing if you’re after something that doesn’t call too much attention to itself.
Look down at the base of the Huawei Nova 3i, and you’ll find a microUSB charging port flanked by the headphone jack and mono speaker, which can get pretty loud, especially for its size. Do note, however, that you’ll definitely hear some distortion at high volumes.
The left-hand side features a hybrid slot that can take in two SIM cards or one SIM and one microSD card. On the opposite side, there’s a power button and volume rocker with a nice, clicky feel to them.
Now, about the display: It measures 6.3 inches, which is plenty more than the 5.9 inches on the Huawei Nova 2i despite the Nova 3i being around the same size as the previous model. The resolution is 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, certainly decent for the screen size, while the aspect ratio is 19.5:9, expected on a notch phone.
Physically, we also like how the glass on top of the panel tapers seamlessly into the band of metal around the sides. It gives the unit a more polished appearance that more closely resembles Huawei’s premium devices than those in the midrange or lower-end of the market. We’ve noticed the glass is more resistant to smudges and fingerprints as well.
With its bezels trimmed to be nearly non-existent, the screen-to-body ratio of the Huawei Nova 3i has been bumped up to 81 percent, according to the company. As for the notch, there’s the option to hide it by tinting the status bar black across all applications. We’ve seen enough notch phones to the point where we don’t mind the cutout at the top at all anymore.
The overall picture quality is among the better ones on the market — sufficiently bright for outdoor use, with good color reproduction and deep blacks and wide viewing angles. It’s a great and sizable panel for gaming and viewing content. We like it very much.
For the Nova 3i, Huawei has upped the performance of the cameras — the count still sits at four — on the device, with the OEM increasing the sensor resolution on the main selfie camera to 24 megapixels, from 13 megapixels on the Nova 2i. The cameras on the front and back are still accompanied by a secondary 2-megapixel sensor to help the phone isolate your subject against a blurred background.
As you can see from the images below, portrait-style shots come out looking decent, but Huawei’s edge-detection algorithm needs to be more consistent. Granted, we’re using a unit running beta software, so there’s reason to be optimistic.
Picture without bokeh effect vs. portrait-style shot
Another sample set
On a positive note, the overall image quality is superior over last year’s Nova handset, meaning brighter and more detailed photos, even in low light. You can definitely take quality pictures using this handset regardless of which setup you choose.
Photos captured on the Huawei Nova 3i vs. the Huawei Nova 2i: More detailed, brighter, better
Importantly, the company has dramatically overhauled the camera software on the Huawei Nova 3i with AI and AR elements, to give you a better point-and-shoot experience. When activated (by pressing the “AI” icon in the camera interface), the AI will automatically detect and select the best settings in real time for the best results.
Fond of taking pictures of your meal? This phone will tend to crank up the colors and saturation to make your grub look more appetizing on social media. Snapping a selfie indoors? Key settings such as white balance will be adjusted accordingly to render skin tones more accurately. You get the picture.
Sample selfies taken with the Huawei Nova 3i: Without AI vs. with AI
Another set of images: Without AI vs. with AI
Huawei says the Nova 3i can identify 22 different scenes and multiple objects in the frame. Huawei’s Pro mode, on the other hand, gives you complete control over the main camera functions and allows shooting in RAW format for more post-processing options in Adobe Lightroom and other similar software.
The camera app also comes packed with fun new features in its repertoire like 3D Qmoji, which is basically Animoji for Huawei devices. Qmoji lets you create custom video messages that use your voice and facial expressions. It’s fun to use, and we’re looking forward with interest and some trepidation to the silly karaoke videos other users will take with this feature. The app offers a variety of Snapchat-style filters and effects with sound as well.
Our 3D Qmoji
Our Revü partner is having so much fun with the Huawei Nova 3i
HiSilicon Kirin 710
One of the highlights here is the latest octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 710 processor from Huawei, which the Nova 3i is introducing to the global market. The successor to the Kirin 659, the Kirin 710 is built on a 12nm manufacturing process that makes for a notable size reduction over older and comparable platforms.
A smaller process leads to smaller transistors, often resulting in more powerful chips with better battery life. As with the high-end Kirin 970, the Kirin 710 also has a dedicated neural processing unit or NPU for artificial intelligence.
On our unit, the chip includes 4GB of RAM and a generous 128GB of native memory — way more than what the average user needs and the most we’ve seen on a reasonably priced phone.
In practice, we’ve found performance to be generally slick and responsive with only a few dropped frames when opening apps. Swiping and scrolling through the Android 8.1 Oreo-based interface feels quicker and more fluid than on most other devices in this price range. And yes, the Nova 3i runs circles around its predecessor.
Perhaps more notably, the Kirin 710 will bring Huawei’s GPU Turbo technology to the Philippine market, which has been claimed to improve the processor’s graphics performance by 60 percent and power efficiency by 30 percent. Now, those are striking numbers indeed.
And while we have no way to tell whether the claims made by the company are accurate, we can tell you that the Huawei Nova 3i should be able to handle a demanding workload that will test any phone’s capabilities.
Power-intensive games, such as NBA 2K18, PUBG Mobile, and Asphalt 9: Legends, are all perfectly playable at medium to high detail. The Nova 3i almost keeps up with Huawei’s heaviest hitters in the graphics department.
Power-intensive games, such as NBA 2K18, PUBG Mobile, and Asphalt 9: Legends, are perfectly playable on the Huawei Nova 3i at medium to high detail.
Battery and charging
The Huawei Nova 3i has a 3,340mAh power cell that lasts us an entire day if used casually, with a bit of juice left over. We reckon it won’t get us past the second day on a single charge, but we’re confident it won’t conk out either during the course of an extra-long work day.
When you do find yourself short of battery life, the included 10-watt charger will top it up in two hours over a micro-USB connection. That’s relatively normal given the specifications and the absence of fast charging.
The Huawei Nova 3i is a such a brilliant choice all around that it’s tempting to call it a no-brainer for those skipping the flagship lane. It doesn’t skimp on what matters — design, build quality, imaging performance, speed, and features you’ll want to use, or at least try out.
Huawei has yet again delivered a satisfying and desirable smartphone at a killer price. If that’s not a compelling enough reason to hand over your cash, we don’t know what is.
Huawei Nova 3i specs
- 6.3-inch display, 2,340 x 1,080 resolution (19.5:9)
- Octa-core Huawei Kirin 710 processor clocked at 2.1GHz
- Mali-G51 GPU
- 4GB RAM
- 128GB expandable memory
- Dual 16- and 2-megapixel rear cameras (AI)
- Dual 24- and 2-megapixel front camera (AI)
- Fingerprint sensor (rear-mounted)
- 3,340mAh battery
- Android 8.1 Oreo-based EMUI 8.2
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