REVIEW: Huawei's Nova 3i is the world's slipperiest phone - but here's why you won't be totally heartbroken if you drop it

Huawei’s nova 3i in Iris Purple. Picture: Supplied

Huawei, with its latest entry into the mid-price smartphone market, the Nova 3i, makes a big deal about its four AI-assisted cameras and what they can do for your photography skills.

We’ve had it for three weeks now and can confirm it takes exceptional pics, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Right now though, what we find difficult to understand is, given that it takes exceptional pics, why someone at Huawei thought it was a good idea to use a high-end DSLR to take this image in an ad showcasing the 3i’s selfie capabilities.

Picture: Huawei/YouTube

A redditor caught the moment posted by one of the actors in this Instagram photo, now deleted:

Picture: Instagram

Ouch. This review is off to a bad start.

May as well keep sticking the boot in. Huawei’s had a bad week, because just last week, any hopes they had of helping build Australia’s 5G network were killed off by now-PM, then-Home Affairs minister Scott Morrison.

Apparently, Huawei can’t be trusted with our nation’s secrets, because it might be asked to hand them over to the government in its home country, China.

Should that affect whether you buy Huawei’s products? If it does, we’re assuming you don’t have a lot of technology in your life right now. This review/modern life may not be for you.

For the rest of us willing to skip the politics and plunge straight into the next new shiny thing, the Nova 3i, for starters, is a great-looking phone, especially in Iris Purple.

The only problem is you’ll need to cover that beautiful thing in a well, cover, as soon as possible.

This is a weird, pointless thing to note, given there’s no doubt you will be protecting your fragile investment, but the Nova 3i is extremely slippery. Slippery like one of those infuriating rubber tubes you buy the kids at the show.

Seriously, it will work its way off anything tilted at more than a degree. While it feels like a crime to hide it under a cover, do so, immediately. You have been warned.

But it feels sturdy, weighing in at 169 grams in those moments you do manage to hold onto it, and not at all like a half-price phone.

You might have noticed the Nova has a notch:

That’s where the first two of four cameras are stashed, and the screen is almost, but not quite, bezel-less.

It still packs more screen into less size than the last Huawei I owned, the excellent NexusP which is pretty much my favourite, having not missed a beat or lost any noticeable battery life in two years.

(My other favourite is the BlackBerry Passport – make of that what you will.)

More importantly, the Nova 3i is not so large you can’t use it with one hand, yet still big enough to show off an impressive 6.3-inch 2340x1080p display.

It’s been noted elsewhere that a lot of non-native apps struggle to fit to that aspect ratio, as well as work their way satisfactorily around the notch.

I’ve not come across any issues with either that have me flinging the Nova 3i across the lounge in disgust, but I’m not a) a huge app user or b) living any kind of life that such things affect in a meaningful way.

But this is not a review of what kind of technical marvels buying a new phone brings into your life.

This is a review about how the kind of life I do live is one where spending $1500-$1800 on a phone every two years is downright ridiculous.

About six months ago, I grudgingly committed close to that figure on a Pixel 2XL. It’s a superb piece of kit, but I bought a meaty enough Alienware laptop soon after, for not a lot more, and feel much, much more comfortable with what I got for my money when I sit in front of it.

Especially when, a month ago, my wife converted to a Pixel as well, and so she didn’t break it immediately, I gave her my cover. I’d get one tomorrow, I said, when I’m at The Shops.

Mine fell out of my pocket as I got out of the car at The Shops. Result:

I sometimes cut myself on my $1500 phone. True story. Picture: Peter Farquhar

How many times in one lifetime can you afford to break $1500 that easily?

You can buy two-and-a-bit very capable smartphones for the price of a new Galaxy S9+, althought there definitely are people in the world who think $1500+ phones can deliver value for money.

But if you’re in the market for two-and-a-bit phones instead of one, some good options right now are:

The Moto G6

Go $100 less and you’ll get the also very solid Moto G6. It arrived in Australia last month at around $500 with one of the best processors on the market, the 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 630. It’s got a 5.9″ full HD display and a 3200mAh battery. It has an 8MP front camera and a dual 12MP/5MP rear camera.

But that $500 is for a 64GB version.

The Galaxy S8+

Go $100 more than the Nova 3i and you might consider last year’s Samsung Galaxy S8+. It packs Samsung’s own very capable octa-core Exynos 8895 processor

You’ll get a 6.2″ Super AMOLED display and a 3500mAh battery. The cameras are 12MP rear, and 8MP front.

Again, that’s for the 64GB version.


In between, sits the Nova 3i. Processor – octa-core. Display – 6.3″ (although at a lower 1080 x 2340 pixel resolution). Battery – 3340mAh.

And those four AI-assisted cameras – 24MP and 2Mp at the front; 16MP and 2MP at the back. Huawei claims that will help the rear camera to differentiate between more than 500 scenarios across 22 categories, and optimise them for the best type of shot before you even push the button.

Remember when I said this was not a review about what kind of technical marvels buying a new phone brings into your life? I lied – here’s some comparison shots:

The Nova 3i pics were all taken with the AI assist on. And all the shots were taken without any settings changed or focus, just straight up and shoot.

And here’s how the zoom compares on both, from about 40 metres away, where you’ll note the Nova can’t quite make the stretch that the Pixel 2XL can:

Some might prefer the Nova’s AI-assisted pops, but I prefer the Pixel 2XL. It never fails to make me look far more competent with a camera than I am.

But the Nova 3i is built for fun. We – my sons and I – spent far too much time in front of the front camera that maps out your facial features in 3D and applies lighting effects “to recreate stunningly beautiful portraits”.

Verdict – hard to say with the poor subject matter we had to work with:

Good enough though, for $600. Certainly more than good enough for Huawei’s PR to not ever think about staging the Nova 3i’s capabilities.

And it supports dual SIMs, Android 8.1 (Oreo), and comes with 128GB of storage, standard, expandable up to 256GB. You’ll also get the now standard emoji face overlay, fingerprint and face unlock sensors.

The problem with new phone reviews is you’re reviewing a new phone. In four months time, I’ll probably be left swearing at a horrible, cracked, laggy, dumpster fire of a phone.

I may get back to you on that with a warning to not buy that phone Huawei released four months ago. But this is 2018, where $600 buys a ridiculous amount of tech bang for your smartphone buck, and four months is a long time in smartphone evolution.

And given if you drop it – which you will, guaranteed, if you don’t get a cover immediately – it’s less than half as heartbreaking than if you’d dropped a high-end phone.

I wouldn’t buy a protection plan for a $600 phone. I feel like I have to for a $1500 phone, which bumps it up even more.

Telstra has a “hot offer” on a S9+ 64GB Galaxy right now for $109 per month with 10GB per month data. You can add another $13 a month for a phone insurance plan.

Over 24 months, that’s $2900.

Subtract the $800 off that would buy you two years on Kogan’s Mobile Large plan which includes and average of 16GB of data per month and you’re left with $2100.

In two years, if you don’t absolutely have to have a big name in your back pocket, you can burn through three Nova 3is or four Moto G6s with more than 50% data per month and still save money.

Or one Nova 3i and something else new to show those annoying S9 and iPhone X owners who bleat “Oh, but it replaces my laptop”. This:

Picture: Microsoft

(Psst. Here’s a secret for you – they still buy laptops.)

Given that, it’s absolutely no surprise that Huawei and its similar level operators such as OnePlus and Xiaomi are now taking huge chunks out of the established giants’ market share.

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