The Nokia brand, once a mighty power to be reckoned with in the smartphone world, has faced massive competition in recent times. To rejuvenate its flame, HMD Global, which owns Nokia, has been pushing out products with a simplified yet concrete approach. Provide a stock Android software experience delivered in a body encompassed with the kind of premium-ness that you would generally associate with flagship products. The Nokia 5 series has been a testament to this philosophy and gives the company more leverage in the budget department. The Finnish smartphone maker’s latest product is the Nokia 5.3 launched for Rs 13,999 in India. It is up against strong competition from the likes of the Realme 6 (review) and Redmi Note 9 (review). Read on to find out how the Nokia fares.
The Nokia 5.3 is a device which gives a best-in-class experience on two important aspects of a smartphone ie. software and design. Other areas need a bit of trimming but Nokia, in essence, has delivered on the ideal smartphone for budget users.
Design and display
- Display: 6.5-inch HD+
- Refresh rate: 60Hz
- Panel: IPS LCD
- Connectivity: USB Type-C
Nokia phones have a reputation of being ‘built like a tank’, a thought exemplified first with the Nokia 3310. Almost two decades later, the company has still focused on making robust, everyday devices with a touch of elegance that is easy on the eye. I have received the Nordic Charcoal version of the device which is a grey-ish matte finish over the plastic body and is carried to the frame as well. The smooth edges, narrow design, and the curved back make for an easy in-hand experience. The Nokia 5.3 is surprisingly quite light but is built solidly.
On the back, you will find a quad camera setup in a circular housing with the LED flash module in the middle. There have been different implementations for fitting a four-lens camera setup by different OEMs, but I have to say that Nokia’s approach seems aesthetically pleasing. Below that is the physical fingerprint sensor in a position that is perfect for my index finger to reach. On the left side of the phone is a dedicated Google Assistant button while on the right are the volume rocker and power buttons, with the latter sporting a LED indicator. At the bottom is the Type-C port and speaker grille while the 3.5mm headphone jack is present on the top.
Turning the phone over, I was greeted by thick bezels as compared to today’s standard. The chin was big enough to have the Nokia branding inscribed in it. A waterdrop notch houses the selfie shooter but even then, the screen to body ratio does not look promising when compared to the likes of the Redmi Note 9. The display, on its own, is nice and surprisingly quite colour accurate with a good amount of luminosity. It measures 6.55-inch in size with HD+ (720 x 1,600) resolution and an aspect ratio of 20:9. For an LCD display, the contrast levels and viewing angles had me impressed. By default, the white balance remains mostly on the warmer side although this can be changed in the display settings. That is pretty much the only thing you can customise although there is a feature to turn the Night Light on/off.
There are some obvious caveats which are the presence of a lower resolution panel, and a lack of high refresh rate. In the scheme of things, budget users may not notice such differences since the Nokia 5.3 is a perfect display in all other regards.
- Rear cameras: 13MP primary, 5MP ultra-wide, 2MP depth and 2MP macro
- Front camera: 8MP
Rocking a quad-camera setup on the back, the primary lens on the Nokia 5.3 is a 13MP sensor and it is supported by a trio of 5MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth cameras. There is no option of optical zoom which is something I feel should be included, but the main sensor packs in enough grunt to make for a worthwhile shooting experience.
Talking about the main camera, it doesn’t use any of pixel-binning techniques several OEMs are employing on their 64MP or 48MP sensors, but it does take photos worth its salt. Typical for a Nokia phone is a good amount of detail at the centre of the frame but the trail does go soft at the edges. I like Nokia’s image processing that brings out just the right colour tones and saturation levels, although it does struggle with dynamic range while the exposure handling isn’t that great either. Having said that, in the end, a phone is just a normal point and shoot device, and I feel that the pictures shot through Nokia’s lens would have little to complain about. Standard camera features such as AI-scene detection and auto HDR are present to enhance the photos and the camera UI is fairly straight forward.
On the front of the device is an 8MP selfie shooter which covers all your basic needs. Matching colour tone, portrait mode, decent video calling and there is that touch of facial smoothening which some may prefer but it’s not for me.
In low light, however, the camera does not fare very well and to be quite fair most phones in the under Rs 15,000 bracket don’t. Focus is not always on point and the detailing gets more blurred as the lighting progressively drops. Apart from that you also get a fair amount of noise even while a lot of street lighting around my house is illuminating the surroundings. Quite a few of these problems do get sorted with the dedicated Night Mode which works both on the primary and wide-angle lenses. Photos will appear soft even at the centre of the frame but the phone does expose well to get in more details. The wide-angle lens does not make a solid impression in low light. In daylight however, it gets a lot of the details right while fitting a lot inside one frame. The depth camera manages to click decent portraits although the edges detection may not be the best. The macro camera is not the greatest, which doesn’t come in as a surprise. Fixed focus, average colour reproduction and not so great in the exposure department are some problems that all macro sensors in budget smartphones have.
Performance and software
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
- RAM: 4GB and 6GB LPDDR4
- Storage: 64GB, expandable to 512GB
- Software: Android 10
The Nokia 5.3 isn’t planting flags as a processing powerhouse. Housed inside the device is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 SoC, something that had been first introduced on the Redmi Note 7 Pro (review) back in early 2019. Safe to say that most of the competitors have shifted to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 700 series but Nokia is still sticking to its guns. Benchmarks are not too impressive but in hindsight, the scores are in line with what the 665 is capable of. On Geekbench, the device has scores of 313 and 1,408 for single-core and multi-core respectively while Antutu shows an overall score of 167,342. Competing devices from Redmi and Realme pull ahead with a healthy amount. Case in point being the Realme 6 which commands impressive scores of 489 and 1,660 on Geekbench’s single-core and multi-core tests respectively. On Antutu the score is much higher at 290,483.
As a daily driver though, the Nokia 5.3 works without hiccups, a fact which is aided by the clean software skin running on the device. I have received the 6GB + 64GB version which I believe to be sufficient for normal tasks such as browsing through Chrome, opening up of heavy apps such as Instagram and Facebook in the background and switch between each of them. There is also the added advantage of a microSD card slot which can increase storage by 512GB. On the subject of heavy gaming like Call of Duty Mobile or PUBG Mobile, the Nokia 5.3 feels sluggish which can be attributed to the older processor. Ultra frame rate options are not present and to get good session out of the phone, graphics settings have to be set at smooth. On average, the phone delivered a decent enough playing experience for about an hour before the device heats up.
Really the bulk of Nokia’s quality lies in its software experience which can be considered one of the best in the Android world. There are no frilly customisations, over the top themes, confusing settings menu, excessive bloatware thrown at your face, or the lack of software updates. You get a clean stock Android build, which is exactly what you will get on the much expensive Pixel phones as well. Added to that is 2 years of guaranteed updates, an assurance very few in the affordable space will offer. There are no separate apps for Gallery, browser, and others.
On the authentication front the Nokia 5.3 packs in a capacitive fingerprint sensor which works as advertised and is also lightning fast. The face unlock, not so much. More than a few times I have to resort to using the fingerprint scanner as the face detection doesn’t look up to the mark. Call and microphone quality was as expected and so was the speaker volume.
- Capacity: 4,000mAh
- Charging Speed: 10W
- 0-50 percent time: 45 minutes
The Nokia 5.3 packs in a 4,000mAh battery and when compared to some of the competition, you can see why that is not really a big draw. Quite a few smartphones are packing in 5,000mAh and even 6,000mAh batteries at the same price point. However, Nokia’s battery management is top notch which helps in pushing the limits of daily usage. I got a screen-on time of nearly 5.5 hours which is impressive. The device can easily last for a day and a half on moderate to light usage, but not 2 days as claimed by Nokia. By this, I mean just browsing through social media or watching about 2-3 hours of Netflix. Any kind of gaming on the device and the phone just about gets through the day. Our standard battery test revealed that the Nokia 5.3 lasted about 23 hours, quite common for a phone of its battery capacity. It is supported by 10W charging which can juice up the device from 0 – 100 percent in about 110 minutes.
Clearly, the Nokia 5.3’s biggest draw is the clean and reliable stock Android experience it provides along with the assurance of several years worth of updates. The delivers modestly on performance but is top-notch in the software and design department. For a more gaming-oriented usage, the Nokia 5.3 may not be the best suited device but it certainly will make heads turn with its aesthetically pleasing design. I personally believe that the Nokia brand should give more weightage to powerful internals in future smartphones to create a wholesome experience.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Stock Android
- Premium design and incredibly light
- Daylight photography is decent
- Could use a better chipset
- Night camera performance could be better
- HD display