Goondu review: Huawei Nova 3i is priced attractively

July 18th, 2018 | by Wilson Wong
Goondu review: Huawei Nova 3i is priced attractively

PHOTO: Handout

If you think you’re already spoilt for choice when it comes to budget and mid-range phones, Huawei’s new Nova 3i brings yet another option in an already crowded market. Yes, competition is good.

Unveiled today, the S$398 Nova 3i is the Chinese manufacturer’s latest offering in this segment. Like with previous Nova models, you get a mid-range chip under the cover.

This time, it is Huawei’s own Kirin 710, which should be able to compete with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 common on many rival phones.

The main difference with Huawei’s top-of-the-line kirin 970 processor is the absence of the Neural Processing Unit that might affect AI performance.

The Nova 3i is the first phone to use the new Kirin 710 chip that rivals Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 660. PHOTO: Handout

The Nova 3i may lack the raw processing power but it still comes packed with the right specs. In the phone are 4GB of RAM coupled with 128GB of storage – decent enough for most users.

The phone’s 6.3-inch LCD Full HD display can display more accurate colors too – up to 85 per cent of the colour gamut. It helps to look good by keeping the bezels thin as well. There’s also a controversial notch but thankfully I can hide it just like on the P20 and P20 Pro.

It has a beautiful blue-purple hue like the P20 Pro and the Honor 10. Then again, this special colour is becoming common. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

It is comfortable with the right size. The fingerprint scanner is shifted to the back. You can use Face ID to unlock the phone too. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The fingerprint scanner is a little too far away if I hold the phone firmly with the phone’s chin resting on my palm. PHOTO: Wilson WOng

What else is new from Huawei this time? It seems to have focused on gaming performance, with a feature called GPU Turbo.

During gameplay, the phone actively manages its resources to provide the best experience. It stops messages from being shown on screen when you’re in the middle of a game, for example.

This is not the first time we are seeing gaming-centric smartphones. Xiaomi, Razer and Asus have launched their respective gaming phones but they are largely considered as ultra-premium handsets.

The Nova 3i positions itself as a budget phone you can game on. Does it fulfill its promise? Unfortunately, you have to wait for an update that is coming up at the end of this month or early next month.

The face says it all. Do we need animated emojis, like what Apple has done? PHOTO: Wilson Wong

What I am not particularly fond of is the inclusion of Huawei’s version of Apple Animoji. Called Qmoji, this feature on the phone maps a user’s facial features and applies them to an avatar of the user’s choosing.

It’s a little gimmicky, to be honest. While I understand the Nova 3i is geared towards the younger set, is having Qmoji the way to go to build a strong brand among these consumers? I don’t think so.

So, it’s a good thing that Huawei has further improved the camera on the Nova 3i. It has four lenses as on the Nova 2 but now they come enhanced with scene recognition through artificial intelligence (AI).

Whenever a selfie is taken, the front-facing 24-megapixel and 2-megapixel f.2.2 dual-lens camera will apply the correct settings separately for the face and the background.

Bad news is, a small sensor such as the one on the Nova 3i will only exhibit more noise when squeezing so many pixels in. And it will get worse when capturing indoor images.

Wefie with the Nova 3i. The beautification is really heavy even at level 5 (on a scale of 0 to 10). My friend’s skin has become too fair. Not very accurate here. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The camera can automatically sense a strong background light and adjust the settings accordingly. Unfortunately, even though the camera captures at 24 megapixels, the photo is not as clear. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

Another promise is the ability to apply the correct skin tone to people from four regions – Asia, Latin American, Europe and Middle East/Africa. From my tests, I’d say it doesn’t always work according to plan.

On occasions, the phone was unable to recognise the ethnicity of some of my friends. It sometimes makes their skin colour too pale, creating an unrealistic image.

The auto mode in the Nova 3i can be very saturated. The ramen soup has become blazing red instead of a more subdued hue. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

Sometimes the saturation works to its advantage like here. The coffee is given a rich chocolate colour. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

Day shots such as this won’t trouble the Nova 3i much. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The main camera, using a 16-megapixel sensor and 2-megapixel sensor, works differently from Huawei’s more expensive P and Mate phones. Though you still get a dual-lens setup, this is not the Leica design that fans have become used to.

On the Nova 3i, the 2-megapixel sensor collects depth-of-field data to apply the correct extraction for the blurred background portraiture shots.

Despite that, the subject extraction is still not as good as I had hoped for, Even with beautification set to off, my face still looked a little too artificial in many shots.

The Nova 3i has a Night Mode but this is not famed handheld Night Mode on the P20 and P20 Pro. I still need to use a tripod with the phone to capture excellent night scenes. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The skin tone from Huawei’s mid-range main camera is still not as neutral as the P20 Pro’s. This is shot under artificial lighting. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The Nova 3i can do close macro focusing, which is a bonus. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

Using Light Graffiti, you can capture fireworks more easily with the Nova 3i. However, there’s a bug. The photo being recorded is flipped. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

Despite the flaws, I’d say the Nova 3i performs well enough. I was able to take photos like I would normally do with my P20 Pro, though you have to note that the Nova 3i tends to over-saturate things a little.

With the right mode and setup, the phone can let you capture difficult scenes like fireworks at night. Clearly, Huawei’s partnership with Leica has paid dividends in this case.

My 802.11AC access point connection is missing. This is something that should be standard in most smartphones by now. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

It is a Micro USB port and yes it took me a bit longer than usual to plug the phone in to charge. A USB-C port is newer and more practical. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

At S$398, this is a phone for the budget-conscious that works well on the balance of things. I’d happily use it daily, especially with the 3,340mAh battery that lasts a day easily.

Just note that here are some things you have to give up, like the lack of 802.11AC Wi-Fi, which lets you download videos faster. You also get a slightly dated Micro USB port, instead of the newer USB-C that makes it easier to plug in a cable for charging.

Besides the Nova 3i, there are other competitive offerings from Huawei’s other brand Honor and rival Vivo as well. That’s a good thing if you’re looking for good value in a phone today.

CORRECTION at 24/07/2018 5:26pm: An earlier version of the article stated that the Huawei Nova 3i comes installed with GPU Turbo. The feature will be introduced at a later date via an update, as reflected in the current version. We are sorry for the error.




  1. Alex says:

    Hi i am from India,Nova 3i recently laughed in india and X6 going to laugh soon. i have confusion between Nokia X6(6.1) and Nova 3i which i need to select. which is good. Good means good camera,performance & Display. I have priority on camera. Nova 3i 16 MP, f/2.2, PDAF & 2 MP, depth sensor and Nokia X6 16 MP, f/2.0, 1.0µm, PDAF & 5 MP, f/2.4, 1.12µm, depth sensor. So which one i can select. Can u please help me.

    • Quite honestly, if you just based on specification alone, then it is not an easy choice that much I agree. If you are not a photographer then I can say both cameras should work well. Again, how one is better than the other is based on how you appreciate your pictures. Some like it saturated while I am one who likes things neutral.

      But camera wise I can easily say Nova used the same modes like the P and Mate series but do not have the P20 night mode. So just on camera, Nova has a lot going for it but if you are not an advanced photographer, then you won’t see a huge difference again.

      The other things that on paper I can say the Kirin 710 is a bit better than the Snapdragon 630. Then again for normal use of smartphone, one won’t see a difference.

      So I would say, both can work…then it boils down to price and expectations of what you want to do with the phone.

  2. Neo says:

    Agreed to Wilson. There is no such phone that pleases everyone because everyone is different.

    I love the nova 3i and the shot just pleases me. I could impress my friends on my SNS with these beautiful pictures (as if I am a professional photographer) and most importantly, the price is really attractive. I think youngster will love the phone. I think Huawei has done it right by targeting the younger group with their nova 3i. So, well done Huawei!

    But, as an self employed professional, what else I could do with this phone? There is still a reason why I am still holding on a blackberry phone.

    Anyway, if you ask me whether I will buy the nova 3i? I don’t mind having it as my personal phone but I will still keep my blackberry as my work phone.

  3. fei says:

    How does it goes if compared with redmi note 5(global) and zenfone 5 in terms of camera and loud speaker performances?
    Which 1 better?

    • Wilson Wong says:

      Hi Fei,

      1. I have no experience with the Redmi Note 5 so I won’t comment further

      2. As photography is quite subjective, I welcome you to read the article on ZenFone 5 and compare the photos for yourself. Of course a fair comparison when both phones are in my possession and I can take the same subject at the same time and see how both phones process the images.

      You can access the article on ZenFone 5 here:

      3. For me the loud speaker performance is not important as I use Bluetooth speakers and wired earphones for my daily commute hence I did not test it extensively. But I can say, if I am using speaker mode for conversation, both work well. Again how one phone works well over the other, again is subjective and also I do not have both sets together to make an educated choice.

      Hope that answer your questions.

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