Review: Huawei's Nova 3i is wallet friendly and worth a look

It's an exciting time of the year for smartphone fans with some great new releases and more to come from all the big players, but if you lack a massive budget don't despair. A great phone doesn't always need a high price tag, as Huawei is continuously proving.

I've been trying out the new Nova 3i, officially launched in New Zealand today. I think it will appeal to those Kiwis who value a good camera and love a bit of colour (that Iris Purple is purplicious) but don't want to part with more than NZ$500. 

So what's new?

The Nova 3i retains the key feature of its predecessor, the Nova 2i, in the fact it has four cameras, but it's had a significant upgrade overall.

Those cameras have a higher resolution, the screen is bigger, the performance is better and the design is fancier, more premium looking. In fact, it looks a little like Apple's iPhone X but is much lighter in weight and a has a bigger screen. Storage has been doubled and it has a range of AI features.

Huawei's new Nova 3i  has rounded edge look and layout of a more premium phone.
Huawei's new Nova 3i has rounded edge look and layout of a more premium phone. Photo credit: Newshub


Interestingly, Huawei hasn't partnered up with Leica for this Nova range, saving that for its more premium phones such as the P20 Pro, but that doesn't mean the camera set-up on the Nova 3i isn't good enough for most amateur photographers. It's also powered by AI, which is a big plus for a phone of this price.

The Nova 3i features 24MP + 2MP dual front cameras. The 24MP sensor captures the details with its f/2.0 wide aperture lens, while the 2MP sensor is for the depth of field.

A beautification algorithm that intelligently recognises things like gender and skin tone will make sure that photo is perfect, even if taken in low light.  As someone who hates selfies, I found it worked well although sometimes it made me look too good, too artificial!

The Nova 3i camera can recognise 200 scenarios across 8 categories such as Blue Sky, Flower, Beach and room.  The rear cameras can recognise over 500 scenarios in 22 categories.

This is helpful most of the time but it can also make photos look too vivid, so it's good that the AI mode can be turned off. Much like the iPhone, the Portrait mode on the Nova 3i has plenty of lighting styles to choose from. 

3D Qmoji is Huawei's version of augmented reality emoji
3D Qmoji is Huawei's version of augmented reality emoji Photo credit: Supplied


The phone has a 6.3 inch full HD-plus display which allows for some solid viewing angles. The display has a notch but you'll be pleased to know that you can toggle it off if you like.


Huawei's new Kirin 710 octa-core chip is in the phone and there's a feature called GPU Turo that enhances gaming performance.

And the rest

Other cool features include 3D Qmoji, Huawei's version of augmented reality emoji and some AI features for the gallery app.

If you're looking for faults, there aren't too many. Yes, that colourful glass shows up smudges way too easily but to be honest you'll probably put a cover on it to protect it. Yes, you'll get better cameras on the more premium phones, but for less than half the price of one of those, this is a phone that shouldn't be ignored.

Huawei seems to know what it's doing. It slipped into second place in the battle of the smartphone manufacturers in the second quarter, shipping 54 million units and increasing its global market share ahead of Apple to 15.5 percent. 

Its midrange models such as the Nova range are main driver for these sale increases along with the company's ongoing investment in cutting edge research and new manufacturing techniques.

In an increasingly crowded and competitive market, Huawei is definitely holding its own.

Emma Brannam is a Newshub reporter with a passion for the latest gadgets and gizmos. She was provided with a phone to test for this review.