Huawei nova 3i: Mid-range smartphone chock-full of features

The nova 3i looks and feels almost like a premium flagship model.
The nova 3i looks and feels almost like a premium flagship model.

It has only been three months since Huawei shook up the flagship market with the world's first triple-rear camera P20 Pro, but the Chinese manufacturer is already moving in on the mid-range market as well.

Huawei's latest smartphone, the nova 3i, is one of the most polished mid-range phones in the market today.

The phone, which will be released in Singapore on Saturday, provides good value for money. Despite being priced at $398, the nova 3i is chock-full of features found in various flagships. While the features may not be as great or polished as those in flagships, they are nonetheless present for users to play with.

For instance, it has slow-motion video-shooting capability, but only at 480 frames per second (fps), unlike the 960fps super slow-motion found in Sony and Samsung smartphones.

It also comes with tacky animated emojis called Qmoji, which look inspired by Apple's Animoji or Samsung's augmented-reality emoji, but which look less professionally rendered.

While these may make the nova 3i feel like a Frankenstein of an amalgamation of features cobbled together, the fact that these are all present in a budget phone gives lower-end users more options.


    PRICE: $398

    PROCESSOR: Kirin 710 (Quad-core 2.2GHz, quad-core 1.7GHz)

    DISPLAY: 6.3-inch LCD, 2,340 x 1,080 pixels, 409 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: EMUI 8.2 (Android 8.1)

    MEMORY: 128GB, 4GB RAM

    REAR CAMERA: 16MP (f/2.2) and 2MP depth sensor

    FRONT CAMERA: 24MP (f/2.0) and 2MP depth sensor

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,340mAh


    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 4/5




    OVERALL: 4/5

The nova 3i specification sheet reads like any other mid-range phone in the market today.

There is the requisite 128GB of onboard storage and the standard 4GB of RAM. It packs Huawei's mid-range Kirin 710 processor, which, in my daily use so far, feels just as smooth and optimised as the more popular Snapdragon chips used in other phones.

Scrolling through apps and the home screen is a slick experience, and does not feel like a budget phone at all.

There is a notch on the nova 3i's display, but it does not detract too much from the wide 6.3-inch full HD display though, which looks gorgeous and wide and perfectly serviceable for video viewing.

In fact, the nova 3i does an impressive job of looking, feeling and behaving almost like a premium flagship, despite its mid-range specs and low price.

The phone stands out for its design, sporting Huawei's latest signature touch of an iridescent glass back that sparkles, adding a nice aesthetic.

Its biggest disappointment, which might be a deal-breaker for consumers, are its cameras.

The nova 3i has a ton of camera features, such as aperture mode, portrait mode - complete with fancy lighting effects - and a default artificial intelligence (AI) mode that, in theory, adjusts your photos to the scene you are attempting to shoot.

However, its dual rear camera set-up boasts a low megapixel count such that photos shot in low light turn out grainy, fuzzy and soft.

The AI features are quite accurate though, correctly identifying food from scenery. This AI is integrated within the nova 3i's hardware, too, so you do not have to be connected to the Internet to use it.

Its front-facing camera does not fare much better on overall photo quality, despite its higher megapixel count.

• Verdict: Huawei's nova 3i is a mid-range smartphone that has it all, and then some. While it does a lot of things, it does not do any of them particularly well, but is packed with features and performs smoothly enough to make you feel like you got your money's worth.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2018, with the headline 'Mid-range smartphone chock-full of features'. Subscribe