Hands on: HUAWEI nova 3 review

Pushing the boundaries of mid-ranged phones

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Huawei Nova 3 looks and acts like a flagship but costs like a mainstream phone. It has a fast processor, plenty of storage, good cameras on the front and back- all wrapped up in a nice design.

For

  • Flagship performance
  • Good selfie camera
  • Improved EMUI 8.2

Against

  • Average screen quality
  • Back camera not flagship level

There's no denying that mobile phones are getting better and cheaper. We've seen plenty of examples this year alone of devices that push the capabilities of mid-ranged products such as the Nokia 7 Plus and the Honor 10. The HUAWEI nova 3 continues that trend.

Priced at AED 1,799, it's on the higher side of mid-ranged phones but you're getting a flagship processor with plenty of storage and a very well designed product. It also has a large LCD screen that measures 6.3-inches with an FHD+ resolution of 1080x2340.

With such high-end specs, you'd wonder if the HUAWEI nova 3 is a better buy than the company's flagship phone- the P20 Pro. While the nova 3 offers plenty of bang for your buck, the Huawei P20 Pro has a much better triple camera setup on the back as well as an OLED screen which is superior to the one found on the nova 3. 

HUAWEI nova 3 UAE release date and price 

The HUAWEI nova 3 has been priced at AED 1,799 (US$ 489) for the UAE. You're getting 4GB RAM and 128GB storage for that which makes the phone attractively priced, considering all the other high-end specs.

The Nova 3 is already up for preorder with the units expected to hit the retail shelves on the first week of August. Huawei phones usually have good bundles when you preorder and Axiom is giving away a selfie stick and a car charger free.

Design

The HUAWEI nova 3 looks similar to the nova 3e launched earlier with a glass back surrounded by a thin metal frame. This gives the phone a modern look with a large screen in a smaller chassis- and yes, there is a notch at the top of the screen.

The phone comes in three colors which are Black, Iris Purple and Airy Blue. We received the Black one for review which looks premium and very similar to the Huawei P20 Pro in that same color.

It's a large phone with a big screen but we found it to be manageable with one hand. It's similar to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus being just a tad bit shorter and thinner. Huawei has kept the phone thin at 7.3 mm and light at 166g which is about average for a phone of this size.

Being an all glass design, expect the nova 3 to attract fingerprints easily. Smudges showed up easily on our black unit and we expect the same on other colors.

The fingerprint scanner is conveniently placed on the back and centred where your index finger would naturally gravitate to. Like other Huawei phones, it's very fast and accurate to unlock the phone.  

The nova 3 retains the 3.5mm jack which makes sense for phones targeted towards the mainstream segment. There is a USB Type-C jack at the bottom as well, though the phone doesn't officially support fast charging.

New coat of paint with EMUI 8.2

The HUAWEI nova 3 is the first phone we have received that comes with the latest version of Huawei's custom skin EMUI. While it's not vastly different to previous versions as far as features are concerned, Huawei has tweaked up the design to make it look more modern.

Examples include a new weather widget for the home screen as well the notifications pane that is now white instead of black. The quick toggle icons look much better on the lighter background and give the phone a cleaner look.

Some of the apps have also been repainted and we see lesser traces of the Huawei blue that was introduced with EMUI 8.0. Apps such as Calendar and Clock now have orange accents while Game Suite is a new home for your games- likely to coincide with Huawei's GPU Turbo upgrade expected soon.

Four Cameras- two on the front and two on the back

One of the highlights of the HUAWEI nova 3 (and nova 3i) is the pair of cameras present on the front. The primary camera on the front is a 24MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture and is partnered with a 2MP broad spectrum color sensor that captures depth-of-field information for authentic bokeh effects.

These cameras are powered by AI that, according to Huawei, intelligently recognise the surroundings to instantly create the "most amazing AI selfie."

On the back, there is an additional pair of cameras in a 24MP + 16MP configuration. Again, using AI, the back cameras are capable of recognising over 200 different scenarios across eight unique categories that include blue skies, beaches, plants, night, stage performances, flowers, rooms and snow.

The following are shots taken from the nova 3's cameras.

Image 1 of 6

Front camera standard shot

Front camera standard shot
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Front camera Portrait mode

Front camera Portrait mode
Image 3 of 6

Front camera stage lighting

Front camera stage lighting
Image 4 of 6

Back camera portrait

Back camera portrait
Image 5 of 6

Back camera without AI

Back camera without AI
Image 6 of 6

Back camera with AI

Back camera with AI

Overall, we're impressed by the cameras on the front as well as the back of the HUAWEI nova 3 when it comes to daylight shooting and bokeh effects. It identified the subjects easily and managed to blur the background without any effort.

You can also see the AI kick into action in the last picture where the HUAWEI nova 3 correctly identified plants and applied the filter. It also correctly identified a car and it's good to see how long of a way Huawei's image recognition has come to,

We are yet to test how well the camera does during lower lighting and will do so, along with performance benchmarks when we give it a full review.

Early verdict 

The HUAWEI nova 3 is one of those phones that tends to blur the lines between a high-end and a mainstream device. It has the fastest processor Huawei has to offer with plenty of RAM and storage- specs that are generally reserved for flagships. That makes the nova 3 quite fast to use on a daily basis.

It also has good cameras, both on the front and the back as well as a rather large battery to keep it going throughout a day. We're also liking the design direction Huawei is taking with EMUI 8.2.

The only other phone that comes close to it is by Huawei owned Honor- the Honor 10 which is priced about the same as the nova 3 and comes with a similar set of specs and features but in a different design and a smaller screen.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.