Nokia 5.3 review – the Average Joe mid-ranger Made in India

Rating: 7.9/10

Pros:

  • Clean design
  • Good battery life
  • Stable performance
  • Assured software updates

Cons:

  • No ambient light sensor
  • HD+ display
  • Average cameras
  • Slow charging

Introduction:

Nokia’s return to the smartphone world with its very own Android phones has been a bit of a seesaw. The last Nokia phone I reviewed was the Nokia 8.1 in 2018, which was an excellent phone. In fact, 2018 was the year where we got good Nokia phones. But ever since the dot 2 series started in 2019, with the 2.2, 4.2, 7.2, and so on and so forth, the phones have been slightly disappointing in the Indian context.

Now, the successor to the Nokia 5.1 Plus in India has skipped a generation and is called the Nokia 5.3. And, I have thoughts. A lot of thoughts about Nokia in India. 

Nokia 5.3 – Design:

The Nokia 5.3’s design is defined by this circular camera cutout for me. It houses four cameras and a flash module in the center that looks a lot like the astonished smiley. We’ve seen similar cutouts in the OnePlus 7T and the Nokia 9 Pureview. I find it appealing. And, it doesn’t hurt that the module doesn’t extend too far out of the rear. 

As for the phone, it is made entirely of polycarbonate, which is not necessarily a bad thing especially considering it is built so well. If you look closely, you can see a patterned texture on the rear. Also, the rear curves gently making it easier to grip the fairly big phone. And, the 8.5mm thickness coupled with the 185g distributed evenly makes it a very comfortable phone to use. 

Also, on the rear is the fingerprint scanner which is easy to reach and fast to unlock. Plus face unlock works fast too.

The other cool design element that I found particularly fascinating was the notification LED built into the power button. It’s a neat touch. As for the tactility, the power button, the volume rocker, and the dedicated Google Assistant button offer a fairly nice clicky feel. Yup, you get a dedicated button for the Google Assistant, which does come in handy. 

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You also get a headphone jack and a mic on the top. And, a Type C port, another mic, and a speaker grille at the bottom. 

Overall, the Nokia 5.3 is well put together, in typical Nokia fashion. 

Nokia 5.3 – Display: 

As for the display, the 5.3 has a large 6.55-inch IPS LCD panel with a 720p resolution and 60Hz refresh rate. It is an average looking panel with a Dot Notch. It doesn’t get too bright and I could spotlight bleeding around the corners as well. You also don’t get HD streaming on Netflix and Prime. When checking photos shot from the phone, I found the pixelation to be clearly apparent too. I mean, you can get better displays in this price range, that’s for sure. 

However, I was most disappointed by the fact that you don’t get an ambient light sensor so you don’t get an auto-brightness toggle either. The Adaptive Display setting is so damn iffy. I was always using the phone at 100% brightness for the duration of my review. 

Nokia 5.3 – Camera:

The Nokia 5.3 comes with a quad-camera setup on the rear. This stack includes a 13MP main camera, 5MP ultrawide shooter, 2MP macro camera, and finally a 2MP depth sensor. There’s also an 8MP selfie camera. After using it, I can easily tell these are two cameras too many. And, Nokia could’ve very well benefitted by improving the software algorithm instead of bloating the specs sheet. Let’s check some samples next with GCam comparison as well. 

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  1. I captured this first image to showcase the colours. As you can tell, the stack of books here look far more vibrant in the GCam sample. But the accuracy is almost on par on both. The vibrancy is due to the far better contrast that you get with Google’s excellent camera algorithm. The 5.3 is duller and don’t get fooled into thinking that it is more true-to-life. 
  2. Moving on to the next image, you can once again tell that the GCam image has a far better contrast and more accurate colours as well. However, at close crop, around the centre, the details are on par. But, around the corners, you can tell that noise control is far better on the GCam sample. 
  3. But, the main difference is when you look at the dynamic range performance. The GCam port shows you what is actually possible versus what you get by default. Just look at the amount of details retrieved from the shadows. There is a clear difference here. 
  4. And, when it comes to the 5MP ultrawide angle camera, or the 2MP macro one, the less said about it the better. Starting with the ultrawide shots, you can see that the samples captured by the ultrawide camera are super soft and devoid of any details whatsoever. Plus the lens is not capable of capturing enough light despite it being a bright sunny day. As for the macro, it has soft details and doesn’t look very good. You can also shoot videos using these cameras and there is a dedicated night mode for the ultrawide camera. I’d say you just avoid those considering these cameras are average even for regular use. 
  5. Taking a look at the selfies, you will see that the default camera algorithm brightens up the face. The facial tones are far more pleasing on the GCam sample. But the details and sharpness are on par. My analysis for selfie portraits is very similar. And, when it comes to selfies taken indoors, again I’d go for the GCam one. Nokia could’ve really reduced the face brightening algorithm here. 
  6. With portraits, again the GCam shots look way better. 
  7. Talking about indoor shots, you can clearly tell that the default algorithm is doing a lot of noise correction at close crop. If you take a look at the top of the curtains you can clearly tell how the default algorithm glosses over the details and in GCam you can see the crease lines clearly. 
  8. In low light shots, you can see how soft the regular camera is compared to GCam. Take a look at the 100% close crop to see for yourself. And, with Night mode on, GCam just kills the default mode’s performance. 
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The Nokia 5.3 has fairly capable front and rear cameras but the algorithm could’ve been better. Having a GCam port out of the box definitely helps, though. By the way, you can also shoot up to 4K video using the rear camera but the quality is better on other phones. 

Nokia 5.3 – Software:

The one reason why a lot of folks are going to gravitate towards the Nokia 5.3 is the Android One branding. You get a clean Stock Android UI with only Google’s apps. Although, it’s been a while since I’ve used a phone with Stock Android and I always have a soft spot for it. But, I’m slightly underwhelmed to be honest. The newfangled finesse of custom UI such as MIUI 12, One UI 2.5, and Oxygen OS have spoiled me silly. Stock Android feels a little threadbare now and there were a couple of things that annoyed me to no end.

By default, the scaling is slightly off where apps with long names look cramped on the display. Plus, you can’t hide the handlebar at the bottom of the display for navigation, which takes up precious screen estate in many apps and looks odd. 

Although, here’s the thing. Android 11 is around the corner and you can rest assured that Nokia 5.3 will get it considering the company promises 2 years of assured software updates. Which is a good thing. Not many budget Android phone brands offer you that. Also, there’s no denying that I’m so relieved at the completely ad-free and bloatware-free experience. It is liberating. 

Nokia 5.3 – Performance:

The Nokia 5.3 comes with SD665 and 4/6GB of RAM with 64GB of internal storage with eMMC 5.1 speeds to go along with it. You get the option to add additional storage by adding a memory card to the dedicated triple slot tray. SD665 is a fairly decent chip to get your daily tasks done. It was fast and responsive in my daily usage. Plus the RAM management wasn’t very aggressive either. The benchmarks are on the screen right now for you to see. 

As for gaming, it does as well as SD665 can but it is no G90T or SD720G. You can play PUBG at a max settings of Balanced and Medium or Smooth and High. Which means, you are limited to 30fps. And, it stayed a constant 30 during my sessions and the phone didn’t heat up either. Although, I must say that COD mobile was slightly more fun to play on the fun but that’s also because COD mobile has been tuned far better than PUBG to work well on even low end phones. 

As for the mono speaker at the bottom, it sounds soft and pretty average. Thankfully, the headphone jack makes up for that loss with a good enough fidelity. However, if you are looking at Bluetooth, the Nokia 5.3 supports only up the older Bluetooth 4.2 standard. It doesn’t mean much in terms of the quality of audio but connections take longer to establish and the stability may not be the best.

Nokia 5.3 – Network quality & battery life:

I used the Nokia 5.3 on an Airtel 4G network for the duration of my review. And, it was fairly rock solid. No worries really. 

Now, the Nokia 5.3 has a large 4000mAh battery, which took me nearly 3 hours to charge using the bundled 10W charger. The lack of dedicated fast charging is definitely a big negative. That said, the battery managed to give me around 6hrs and 30mins of SoT on more than a couple of occasions on moderate usage. It’ll last you around a day and half. We all know that a 5000mAh battery is almost the norm in this price category and the battery life on the 5.3 is just about par for the course. 

Should you buy the Nokia 5.3?

At a base price of Rs 13,999, the Nokia 5.3 has to stave off some very tough competition in the form of the Poco M2 Pro, Realme 6/6i, and the Redmi Note 9 Pro. I have no doubt in my mind, the Nokia 5.3 pales in comparison to those phones.

In any case, I feel the Nokia 5.3 is not going to sway the tide in the favour of the Finnish tech giant in 2020. However, the recent influx of money into the company from Google, Qualcomm and a few other partners, to build the India business, is what I’m more excited about. Also, a lot of folks are going to be delighted that Nokia’s phones are made entirely in India. In fact, the Nokia 5.3 is also an entirely Made in India phone. I still have high hopes from one of my favourite smartphone brands out there. Keeping fingers crossed.

What do you guys think of the Nokia 5.3? Let me know in the comments section below. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?