Huawei Nova 3i review

Huawei's budget solution for a premium phone

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Our Verdict

The Huawei Nova 3i stands out in the crowded mid-range category. It has a promising camera setup, the Kirin 710 chipset that's slightly inferior to the Snapdragon 636. But a good display and delicate yet premium design makes up for it.

For

  • Attractive design
  • Crisp, expansive display
  • Impressive rear camera

Against

  • Limited notch support from apps
  • MicroUSB port is dated
  • Bloated camera UI
  • Couldn't feel the GPU Turbo in action

While Huawei's sub-brand Honor took an aggressive approach with phone launches in India in the last couple of years, the Huawei-brand wasn't quite involved in the market. While we never saw the mighty Mate-series here in India, we did see some P-series phones releasing in the country until Huawei P9 in 2016. Here we are not taking into account the Nova 2i as it was launched in India under its sub-brand, Honor 9i.

Skipping the year 2017, Huawei re-entered the Indian smartphone market with its innovative flagship smartphones - P20 Pro and its little sibling P20 Lite. The former ensured a warm comeback with its innovative tri-camera technology and stunning design. Followed by the flagship, Huawei later released the Nova 3 (the OnePlus 6 competitor) with the Nova 3i priced lower at Rs 20,990.

The Nova 3i and the P20 Lite are priced similarly, and they compete against some serious competition from Xiaomi in the form of Xiaomi's Mi A2, and it's own gaming-centric cousin Honor Play.

Out of the three, does the Nova 3i stand a chance over them to be the best phone in its range? Find out in the review.

Huawei Nova 3i price and availability

The first flash sale for the Huawei Nova 3i commenced on August 7. The Huawei Nova 3i’s Iris purple edition will be available via flash sale model on August 21, 2018. HDFC card members can avail an instant discount of 5% on their purchase and the smartphone is available at a no-cost EMI option of up to 9 months.

Design and build

  • Has an iPhone like Notch
  • Delicate yet appealing glass and metal design

Since it's a toned down version of the Nova 3, the design is more or less kept similar. It simply means that the Nova 3i  has a design that's constant on a Rs 34,999 phone too. So, it has a fine-looking metal and glass sandwich design that sure looks much better than most of the competition. 

Not to forget that design has always been amongst the top focus areas for Huawei, the recently launched Honor 9N is a good example of it. The Huawei Nova 3i walks a similar road. 

From the back, the Nova 3i looks strikingly similar to the Huawei P20 Lite (especially the black variant). The P20 Lite has a relatively small chin, minimal side bezels, and a notch cut-out at the top of the display containing the front camera and earpiece. So, the dimensions and weight differ on both. The Nova 3i is slightly broader, a bit taller and has a certain amount of heft which adds to the sturdiness. 

The Huawei Nova 3i has an extremely reflective glass back 

The Huawei Nova 3i has an extremely reflective glass back 

There are always three major downsides to smartphones with heavy usage of glass on the body -  risk to use sans cover, the slippery nature of the glass and its affinity to attract fingerprints. Slapping a case on the phone does hurt the look and feel, but that's what we will recommend.

Well, it's not new, but Apple's continued influence on modern smartphone design can be easily spotted on the front of the Nova 3i. The footprint and shape are quite identical, and of course, there's the familiar notch stacked at the top edge of the immersive display.

Although the notch does not have the iPhone X-like high tech camera array under the notch, it's still quite broad because of the dual camera setup. Although the  82.03% of screen-to-body ratio seems almost bezel-less, that doesn't mean Huawei has used the extra space very smartly. There's a noticeable chin at the bottom, but it's also among the thinnest on phones of this range right now. 

The fingerprint sensor sits on the back in a more regular position seen on most Android phones. It's quite easy to access with one hand.

The Huawei Nova 3i weighs in at 169g. With dimensions set at 157.6 x 75.2 x 7.6mm, it really is pocketable and can be used with one hand.

Face unlock and fingerprint sensor

The Face Unlock on the Nova 3i isn't as advanced and secure as the one on the iPhone X, but it sure is a better implementation than many other Face ID wannabes. It's quick and accurate, even when I tried it in minimal light or even pitch dark.

It does take a full second to unlock but that's when the phone is locked. Huawei went a step ahead and added raise to unlock feature that works impressively well. By turning it on, users just need to raise the phone in front of the face and boom! you're inside the phone.

However, in comparison, it's not as fast as the one on OnePlus 6 but it's equally accurate. I personally relied on the fingerprint unlock, which was more convenient and faster. But still, good work there by Huawei, but it's the animation that takes an extra count to open the home screen.

The Face unlock is turned off by default, so you need to surf around the security settings to set it up. It is surprisingly fast and takes no time to enroll your face, which further ensures that it isn’t truly obtaining a detailed 3D map of your face like Face ID.

But again, when it comes to daily use and better security, you might want to stick with the default fingerprint sensor. The sensor on this phone is super-quick and easy to reach.

It has a tall and bright 6.3-inch display 

It has a tall and bright 6.3-inch display 

Display

  • Edge-to-edge 5.84-inch display
  • 1080 x 2280 resolution

Without being too big for one-handed operation, the Huawei Nova 3i manages to cram in a 6.3-inch 2340x1080p IPS LCD display, credits to the whole edge-to-edge approach. The notch makes it an unusual or rather unorthodox 19:9 aspect ratio.

The huge display looks impressive from the moment it turns on. It makes for a perfect canvas when flicking through the home screen and native apps. However, except for some native apps, many apps remain unoptimized for this aspect ratio. 

Still, the panel is capable and looks quite attractive with that design. It's sharp, accurate, but of course, it doesn't have a high contrast ratio and saturation of an AMOLED panel. An AMOLED panel also does a better job at hiding the notch with deep black bands on both sides of the notch. While in this case, the black isn't merging into the black notch that well. 

The Nova 3i follows suit with most phones in its range having 1080 x 2280 screen, which not just makes it sharp, but also fairs well when used for multimedia.