Huawei Nova 3 Review – Stylish design, Great Performance, Quad AI Camera, Immaculate Infrared Face Unlock
Huawei Nova 3 was first announced back in JULY this year. The selfie centered smartphone then made its official introduction in Malaysia on mid of August. Nova 3 is the first Nova Series smartphone that comes with Flagship Processor. As a higher range variant compare to the sibling Nova 3i and Nova 3E, Nova 3 comes with much enhanced specification that promised to deliver good camera performance while keeping not neglecting its fashion sense.
The box is very simple plain-looking with Huawei Nova 3 written on top. What we get in the box is the unique design sim tray pin, user manual, warranty note, transparent white TPU style casing, 1 meter long Type C cable, Earphone, 9V2A 3 pin Huawei FCP (Fast Charging Protocol) adapter and of course the phone itself. We are getting the Romantic Red variant Nova 3.
Let’s take a look at the phone. At the front of the phone, it is clean without any wording. The display comes with a rather wide notch on the top part, and the chin is not that thick. The notch area is where two front facing cameras, earpiece, notification light, FaceID infrared and proximity sensor are situated. It does come with a pre-applied screen protector which is a pretty considerate gesture from Huawei.
From the bottom, we saw the speaker grilles which stored a loud speaker on the right, a USB type C port at the middle, microphone, and 3.5mm audio jack. There are gray antenna lines distributed on each side of the frame. The volume rocker and the power bottom on the right is made of metal and they have decent tactile feedback. On the top left frame is where the hybrid sim tray is hidden; two nano sims or a micro SD and nano sim. It does not have a rubber gasket seal to keep water or dust away.
The phone has rounded edges on four corners that provide a perfect fit in your hand. The glass back panel comes with curvy edges on the left and right. It has a similar appearance to the Honor 8’s rear panel which reflects light on different angles. It has a fingerprint reader and the marketing branding of “AI CAMERA” along side with LED flash light and the dual camera setup. The thickness of the device is just 7.3mm. It is not heavy in hand at 166gm.
Good to see a lot of manufacturers included a transparent case made from soft TPU that comes along the Nova 3. The glass back panel is not made of scratch resistant material, there are minor scratches on its first day in use. It gets oily from time to time.
Overall Nova 3 has all the build quality comparable to a premium flagship.
Processor & Memory
Nova 3 is powered by Hisilicon Kirin 970 which is Huawei’s 2017 in-house flagship chipset. The octa-core processor configures with primary cores of clocked at 2.36GHz which is slightly under-clocked from 2.4GHz and secondary core clocked at 1.8GHz. Kirin 970 comes with Neural-network Processing Unit (NPU). The Kirin 970 chipset can be found in Huawei Mate 10 series, P20 series, and flagship Honor smartphones.
The Mali G72 GPU designed for High Fidelity Mobile Gaming & VR. The GPU Turbo is pre-installed in the Nova 3. GPU Turbo increase the graphic processing efficiency by 60 percent and it preserves the power consumed by 30 percent.
It got a 128GB UFS2.1 storage and we got 112GB free on boot. You have to give up the second sim slot if you want to use the MicroSD card which support up to 256GB. After boot up the device, it left about 3.42GB of LPDDR4 RAM RAM from 6GB in total.
The screen is diagonal measure 6.3 inches with Full HD + Resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels. It has a modern 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 409 ppi. The display is LTPS IPS LCD. The display did not come with feature of HDR 10.
Under the sun, initially the display with auto brightness is not as good as we thought. After manually increase the display brightness to maximum, it is much better now under sunlight. It has good visibility under direct sunlight. The viewing angle generally is equally decent as well.
I found that the color reproduction is not perfect especially the red color. The red color is darker and less vibrant. The display lack of the same level of color accuracy compare to the flagship Huawei P20 Pro. As LCD display, the notch area display are often seen grey as blacks aren’t perfectly black. I would be happy to see Huawei add the white balance adjustment feature in future updates.
Overall, the display looks quite satisfactory.
Operating System & Software
Huawei shipped out Nova 3 with locked boat-loader. Nova 3 is on latest version of EMUI 8.2 based on Android Oreo 8.1 of version code 126.96.36.199(C636). The Android security patch is 1st June 2018 & we are now in August 2018. EMUI 8.2 comes with lots of new exciting and useful features. Camera AI Master is one of the key highlight features.
Huawei also Pre-loaded game such as Asphalt Nitro, Spider-Man, Sonic Runners and etc. Under the game suites feature, here is where the GPU Turbo option can be enabled. When Game Acceleration is enabled, it will automatically optimized system for gaming and may heat up. It also offer uninterrupted gaming experience by hide all notification except calls alarms and low battery alerts.
Huawei Stock Health app is also included in EMUI 8.2. It provides professional sports guidance for your sport. It support walking, running, cycling mode, record running track, heart rate, trajectory, with speed and other sports data.
EMUI 8.2 doesn’t come with full screen gesture, to be honest this is a little disappointing. Choices of three option of navigation button: Single-key navigation, Three-key navigation and Navigation Dock. The navigation button is space consuming. Although it can be hidden, but you will need extra touch to call it out when needed. I found that this is not so convenient. After hiding the notch, the upper forehead is thicker than the Chin.
We also tried to connect to the HDMI hub like in Mate 10, however the device apparently does not support EMUI desktop mode.
Huawei EMUI 8.2 is a pretty lightweight UI. It is pretty easy to adapt to and we have no problem with the UI. It is smooth and there is not any noticeable lag. The phone is generally very quick and snappy. Swapping between apps is fast and running on split screen with good responsiveness.
Speaker & Sound
Fortunately we are happy to see the 3.5mm headphone jack here and it supports Huawei Histen Audio. The mono speaker of Nova 3 is good but lack of range, the sound quality if a bit punchy but less of crispness. The loudness of the speaker is good but not the loudest we have ever heard. EMUI 8.2 has party mode feature and i have yet to have the chance to test it.
For the vibration, i feel it is slightly heavy and loosen, which is not as neat as what Mate 10 offered. While having Nova 3 in the front pocket of my jeans, i found it less intense.
Overall the audio experience is decent but it could have been better if there were stereo speakers attached on it.
Nova 3 has Face unlocking & then the fingerprint ID. The fingerprint scanner work flawlessly and pretty fast too. The Huawei advertised the FaceID as All Light Condition Face Unlock. Initially i have problem to setup the FaceID, after a few attempt i manage to register the face ID. It is a 3D face ID that requires to move and turn our head in all direction. What really impressed me is that the infrared assisted FaceID never failed us in a room with no light at all.
I am not a fan of rear mounted finger print scanner. FaceID unlock will definitely become my main choice to unlock the phone. The setting allow no touch the screen or press the unlock button during the FaceID recognition. Just leave up the phone and it took just less than 0.5seconds to unlock the phone.
Network & GPS
4G+ dual standby is definitely a plus point for the device. We have no problem with call quality. GPS is working flawlessly too. As a comparison, we are having Mate 10 & Nova 3 side by side. Both phones using Digi Postpaid and we found that Nova 3 have better signal reception. Nova 3 have no problem of hitting 54Mbps under 4G+ network under Digi network. As for connecting to the same WIFI, Nova 3 get lower speed test result compared to Mate 10.
We are satisfied with the performance of Nova 3’s Network & GPS.
Benchmark & Performance
The result from Geekbench is pretty impressive. The Single-core score sits at around 1907, while multi-core score is at 6570. After running on Antutu Benchmark app, Nova3 has a really good score at about 201,500.
For storage, Nova 3 is using UFS2.1. The benchmark recognized the speed of the storage chip as really fast. The sequential read speed at 834.95MB/s and sequential write speed at 195.56MB/s. It also has a very good score on sequential read and write.
We tested one game here and this is the very popular PUBG. The Nova 3 is equipped with GPU TURBO software enhancement. PUBG auto detect the game setting as High in graphic, high in frame rate. The frame rate is good constantly hitting 50/60fps. But there is a little of stuttering while loading the texture of next scene which we believe most of the phone face the same. After play PUBG for about 20 minutes and the device get slightly warm at about 41 degree Celsius. However, it did not affect the gaming performance.
The Nova 3 has a generous 3750mAh battery. It supports Huawei Fast Charge Protocal (FCP) which is 9V2A voltage. We tested the charging speed with Nova 3 being switched off.
As for charging, it took 20 minutes from 0% to 28%. The next 30 minutes charged 57% and it hit full charge in 2hours and 7 minutes. We tried to connect the device to Super Charge charger that come as package on the Mate10. Unfortunately Nova 3 does not support Huawei Super Charge. While connect to Super Charge Charger, Nova 3 is charging at 5V2A voltage.
On our test, the battery life of Nova 3 greatly impressed us especially the device measures 7.3mm thickness. After a day long of mix Indoor and outdoor connectivity, the device still left with 30-40% in tank. The battery depleted to 5% and we manage 5 hours 56min of Screen On Time (SOT).
The Huawei Nova 3 has a dual camera system on the front as well as on the back. At the back it is a 16 megapixels primary lenses and the other is a 24 megapixels monochrome secondary lenses. Both lenses are having F/1.8 aperture. On paper, both F/1.8 bright lenses should do pretty well in low light shooting. Neither of the lenses have optical image stabilizer. It does have electronic image stabilizer (EIS) at 1080p. Nova 3 has the exact same main rear camera module as the Honor 10.
The stock camera app offers tons of exciting functions inside. It has multiple camera modes. It has photo mode, video mode, portrait mode, aperture mode and the new AR lens feature QMOJI. The AI Master/AI mode can be enabled at the photo mode. The AI icon is located on the left row of the camera app UI. It is said to enhance up to 22 different scenes and 400 different objects which deliver phenomenal shots. Overall when the AI Mode is enabled, we found that it bolster up the saturation, colors and the brightness.
The handheld night mode is found inside too. Without Optical image stabilizer, you will still need a strong hand to reduce shakiness despite it has EIS. Under the Pro mode, all the adjustments ranging from metering options, ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, focusing and white balance can be adjusted manually.
Nova 3 is dubbed as “AI Selfie Superstar” Smartphone. On the front, Nova 3 has a pair of 24MP F/2.0 primary camera and 2MP depth sensor. The front facing camera is also supported with AI Mode. HDR Pro features is found along side with option for Bokeh effect. The front camera is really fun to use. When the AI Mode is enabled and bokeh option is selection, the camera will detect the face and if there is an object next to the face, it will be detected too such as tree. The photo is then captured with key focus on the face and the object while the background is set to depth as bokeh effect. We found that something is missing at the front; selfie soft light. Nova 3 utilized the strong screen brightness with high NITS to light up the scene.
We like the camera very much. It captures good picture quality when sufficient light. As for low light situation, it has mixed result. The night mode is a plus point however without Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS), it is still not easy to get a perfect shoot. As for front facing camera, perhaps with the slogan of “AI Selfie Superstar”, it is still some AI work to improve. As the picture we capture under AI, Potrait HDR Pro enabled, we found that the bolek effect is some how out of the calculation. Under the strong light expose from the light bulb especially during the in door, the picture is over expose. We hope the up coming software update will be focus on the selfie AI feature and comes with optimization.
When it come to video, it is still too much for Nova 3 to handle. The video quality is good especially in 4K resolution. The dynamic range however is slightly below expectation. The lack of stabilization is the key of shaky videos. We hope in future update, Huawei will come up with better optimization.
We are going to summarize in this corner what we found is missing in Nova 3. Some of the missing software/hardware feature may not be deal breaker, and of course it could be better if those features are included.
- IR blaster comes handy when needed. IR blaster acts as portable universal controller for electronic appliance such as TV, Air Conditioner, Set-top Box, Camera, Network STBs, DVD player and Projector.
- No IP rating protection against water & dust. The beautiful designed Nova 3 lack of IP rating. The only protection comes along the device is the display is protected with a coating of Corning Gorilla Glass on top.
- NFC is missing, this is definitely a big lack down for Maybank Pay & CIMB Pay user. Moreover if you have electronic appliances that using NFC as pairing agent, you will need to turn on Bluetooth or WIFI to pair with your gadget.
Huawei Nova 3 specs
- Body: Aluminum frame, glass back with curvy edges
- Display: 6.3-inch, 2340×1080; 19.5:9 aspect ratio; LTPS IPS LCD; 409PPI
- Rear Camera: 16MP f1.8 + 24MP f1.8 monochrome, single LED flash, 4K30 video
- Front Camera: 24MP f2.0 + 2MP depth sensor, 1080p30 video
- Operating System: Android 8.1 Oreo, EMUI 8.2
- Chipset: HiSilicon Kirin 970, 4+4 big.LITTLE CPU (4x Cortex-A73 at 2.36GHz + 4x Cortex-A53 at 1.84GHz), Mali-G72 MP12 GPU, TSMC 10nm FinFET+
- Memory: 6GB LPDDR4 RAM, 128GB UFS2.1 expandable storage via Hybrid SIM 2 up to 256GB
- Battery: 3750mAh, fast charge support 9V2A
- Connectivity: Dual SIM (hybrid), VoLTE, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, A-GPS, USB-C 2.0, headphone jack
- Misc: Single loudspeaker, IR face unlock, fingerprint sensor
Huawei Nova 3 is one of the best selfie centered in the market right now. Despite positioned between mid-range and flagship range, Nova 3 offers some allures of the more expensive phones. Nova 3 has a large display, premium design and fancy camera features. Nova 3 has all premium build, hardware and software to fulfill day to day case with ease.
Given the price tag of RM1899, Nova 3 may not be the best deal. On paper Nova 3 is shadowed by its own sibling like Honor 10, Honor Play & Honor View 10. Nova 3 has the most premium design and build quality out there. We enjoyed our time with Huawei Nova 3. The “AI Selfie Superstar” Nova 3 is really a very good phone. Nova 3 perhaps is not the best in its price bracket with the competition coming from Mi 8 & Asus Zenfone 5Z which currently can also be found in our market.