The lower HP is the least important part of hardcore, even if it does help promote a more tactical way of playing by itself. No 3d spotting, no kill cam, no regenerating health/armor and friendly fire is what makes hardcore and why normal is a joke. I would never have played BC2 and BF3 at all if it wasn't for hardcore. Custom rule servers are too hard to find thanks to these presets and normal just isn't Battlefield anymore.
And yeah, BF4 does make it seem like BF3 was just a giant beta test all along. I'm still hoping for ARMA 3 to be super solid so I can get off this dumb train, but I don't think it's meant to be.