Huawei Nova 3 Review: Fighting for the best value flagship smartphone title

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    Chinese technology giant Huawei has become quite aggressive in its approach for the Indian smartphone market. The company aims nothing less the top spot in the premium and value flagship smartphone category, which is largely ruled by the likes of Samsung, Apple and OnePlus respectively. To achieve the target, Huawei introduced the P20 series in the start of the year 2018.

    The company claimed that P20 series, which comprises of Huawei P20 Pro and P20 Lite setup new records worldwide. Huawei did not share the exact Indian sales figures with us, but mentioned that the P20 series phones were also very well-received by the Indian audience. Some reports mentioned that Huawei managed to capture 4% of the premium smartphone segment within first quarter of its launch driven by Honor 10 and P20 shipments.

    To further strengthen its market share in India, the company recently introduced the Nova series handsets that focus on photography, design and multimedia experience. Huawei Nova 3 and Nova 3i are priced at Rs. 34,990 and Rs. 20,990 respectively. Between the two, Nova 3 is quite an ambitious device and has a lot on its shoulders. The smartphone is projected as the OnePlus 6 competitor that makes it an important device in the Indian smartphone space.

    I have reviewed OnePlus 6 (6GB RAM variant) and was quite eager to find out what Huawei Nova 3 has to offer in sub Rs. 35,000 price-segment. I used the Nova 3 for over a time period of two weeks for photography; gaming and everything that we as users plan to do with our smartphones today. Here's what I found out.

    Design: Highly polished glass finish

    The design is something that can be defined in words but have to be experienced in person to understand better. Moreover, the design preference of a smartphone can always differ from person to person. Having said that, when it comes to Nova 3, I found it very eye-catchy and premium. I got the mirror-Black variant and the smartphone is also available in an Iris Purple Color shade which looks even more striking. Nova 3 feels good to hold and can be used with one hand but with slight difficulty as it is a tall handset and you have to stretch your thumb all the way to the top of the screen to access the status bar. Moreover, the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner is slightly displaced from the spot where your index finger lands naturally. In comparison to Nova 3, OnePlus 6 is a more ergonomic and a better handset for one-hand use.

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    Large 6.3-inch Full HD+ display with a notch

    Huawei Nova 3 sports a crisp and vibrant 6.3-inch Full HD+ display. The screen has a notch at the top that houses the cameras and an earpiece. The 6.3-inch Full HD+ screen on Nova 3 comes with 19.5:9 aspect ratio and makes for a good 84.2% screen-to-body ratio. The IPS LCD screen is bright and colorful. The content looks sharp as the screen has a respectable pixel density of 409ppi. The gameplay and video playback looks immersive on Nova 3. All of this sounds good but the display lacks Gorilla Glass protection, which is a big letdown at a 35k price-point.

    Nova 3 packs feature-rich capable camera hardware

    Huawei is well-known for engineering good camera smartphones. The company's premium and even value flagship smartphones feature powerful camera hardware and feature-rich camera apps. The Nova 3 is also a very capable camera smartphone and in many ways beat the rival OnePlus 6. The smartphone features four cameras, two at the front and two at the rear that heavily utilizes machine learning algorithms to enhance the photography experience. It sports a 24 MP+16MP dual rear camera setup that supports PDAF, Beauty mode both in video and photos (A rare feature), can record 4K videos and even come with iPhone X like studio lighting and 3D Emojis. Both the sensors work on the F/1.8 aperture and the camera heavily utilizes machine learning algorithms to enhance the image output. Nova 3's camera arrangement can recognize up to 22 different scenes and objects to help you make the most out of AI camera tools. The camera can also capture bokeh shots, time-lapse videos, slow-motion videos and also features a manual mode.

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    Huawei’s AI Master Mode is intelligent but harsh on colors

    Huawei is one of the very few smartphone makers that are actually making good use of AI in the camera department. The machine learning algorithms that empower Nova 3's cameras are intelligent and quick enough to recognize scenes and modify the basic settings for the best possible output. For instance, the camera can automatically switch to Portrait mode if I am taking a close up shot or can switch to Night mode based on the scene and the available lighting. The camera captures detailed images and the output looks better than the images captured by OnePlus 6.

    However, as I have always said, the AI software is super intensive and the algorithms exaggerate colors to extreme levels. As a result, the final output captured with AI mode enabled looks artificial, or you can say edited in third-party software. Images show rich color tones that might not please everyone out there, especially if you prefer natural color tones. Check out the camera samples in the above picture. The green color of the leaves looks way too amplified. It seems Huawei wants to cut the extra time you spend on editing images in Snapseed and Instagram. With pictures clicked from Nova 3's AI mode, you would not need any photo editing software; oh wait! You would need them to bring back the colors to their normal state.

    Good AI Scene recognition

    I really want Huawei to fine tune the AI mode's color settings as the feature is quite useful and can come handy while clicking pictures in different scenarios. Overall, Nova 3 is a capable camera smartphone and is actually better than OnePlus 6 in the photography department in some places. OnePlus 6 camera is good but it is not as feature-rich as the cameras on Nova 3.

    Impressive Selfie camera

    If you love posting stories on Snapchat and Instagram, you will love the selfie camera on Nova 3. Nova 3 features 24MP+2MP sensors. As it is a dual-lens system, you get a good hardware driven bokeh effect. The front-facing camera also uses AI to recognize up to 8 scenes and come with an intensive beautify mode that even works while shooting a video. The latest addition to Huawei's camera features is- HDR Pro mode that only works with front camera and controls exposure at the hardware level to ensure balanced image output in challenging light situations. Enough of camera feature talks, let's talk about the performance.

    The level of detail is quite good and the colors look really punchy. The bokeh mode is a bit rough around the edges but you will praise the overall output. The new HDR Pro feature kicks in when you are taking a shot in challenging light situation. For instance, while capturing a selfie against the light, the feature effectively manages exposure and suppresses the spots that can be easily overexposed by harsh light. I really wanted to test this feature with the rear camera, but sadly it only works with selfie cameras. HDR Pro mode will come really handy while capturing selfies on bright sunny days; however, it has a shortcoming. The algorithm softens the image a bit too much while retaining the details in brighter areas that are most affected by the harsh light.

    Snappy lag-free performance but how EMUI is a pain

    Huawei Nova 3 picks up a fight with the widely popular OnePlus 6. Notably, OnePlus 6 is powered by the latest and best-in-class Snapdragon 845 CPU. In completion, Nova 3 draws its power from the Huawei's in-house chipset- Kirin 970. It is also an octa-core CPU and packs some serious punch; however, it is an old SoC that powered the flagship P20 Pro and some last year Huawei and Honor devices. The octa-core CPU is paired with 6GB of RAM and 128GB internal memory that makes the overall performance smooth and lag free. The internal memory can be expanded by up to 256 GB via hybrid SIM card slot, a feature that OnePlus 6 fails to offer.

    In everyday life, Nova 3 feels snappy and fluid. Apps load in a jiffy and there are no performance issues while using the camera, Facebook, photo-editing and all other tasks we plan to execute on our smartphones. Gaming performance is smooth, thanks to GPU turbo technology that promises to deliver 60 percent better graphics performance as compared to handsets sans GPU Turbo tech. The smartphone rendered the heavy games- Asphalt 9 and PUBG without any major hiccups.

    Now if you ask me if there's any noticeable difference in everyday performance of OnePlus 6 and Nova 3. The answer is yes. OnePlus 6 feels a bit accelerated and let you perform the same task in a short time period. For instance, apps feel slightly more responsive and the overall user experience feels better optimized and polished on OnePlus 6. One big reason for this is the EMUI 8.2 vs OxygenOS on OnePlus 6. The latter is far better and offers better Android user experience.

    Battery, Connectivity and Audio

    Huawei Nova 3 can easily last a day if you use your handset moderately and don't watch too many videos or conduct long gaming sessions. The handset is backed by a 3,750 mAh battery unit that can last that supports fast-charging and takes use of AI for better performance. The smartphone has a single bottom firing speaker that throws pretty average sound. OnePlus 6 wins in the audio department here as the bottom firing speaker on Nova 3 is not able to match the sound delivery on OnePlus 6. You cannot watch a movie or listen to your favorite tracks without a pair of earphones on Nova 3. As far as connectivity is concerned, Nova 3 comes with hybrid SIM card tray, Type-C USB port, Wifi, dated Bluetooth 4.2 and FM radio. If you plan to use two SIM cards, Nova 3 offers 4G VoLTE on both the SIM cards.

    Verdict

    Nova 3 talks a lot about Huawei's ambitious plans for the Indian market. It states that the brand is desperately trying to dethrone OnePlus in the value flagship category by offering a device with all the flagship ingredients. As a result, Nova 3 is a competitive and a capable handset that does a better job (to a good extent) in the camera department. It also lets you expand the internal storage that OnePlus 6 is not capable of. And that's the end of the story. Nova 3 doesn't come close to OnePlus 6 in software and overall user experience. The CPU is dated and UI feels cluttered. From my personal user experience, I can say that OnePlus 6 comes out as a better overall smartphone in sub Rs. 35,000 price-point. But if all you care about is internal storage and a feature-rich camera setup, Nova 3 is the handset you should invest in.

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