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Nokia 5.3 first impressions: Too much for too little
Announced way back in March, the Nokia 5.3 is finally hitting Indian shores. A decidedly mid-range smartphone, the Nokia 5.3 is once again championing HMD Global’s cause of a clean and secure Android experience.
However, with Xiaomi’s stranglehold on the spec-crazed mid-range segment, and Samsung making moves to regain traction as well, the ho-hum spec sheet of the Nokia 5.3 might not hold up.
Is the Nokia 5.3’s user experience enough to offset the value for money offered by the competition? Let’s find out in Android Authority’s first impressions of the Nokia 5.3.
Design: More of the same
The Nokia 5.3’s design isn’t exciting by any means. Unless you have a preference for simplistic, low-key hardware, there are much better options to be had. In fact, the materials used aren’t particularly inspired either.
The back of the phone is made of polycarbonate, which, in of itself, is not really an issue. But the plastic doesn’t feel very premium and is a smudge magnet despite the matte finish. Meanwhile, the competition is far ahead with its copious use of glass and metal.
The circular camera module houses four sensors with a centrally placed LED flash. Meanwhile, a fingerprint scanner is available below. The phone was fast to unlock and there’s a face-unlock option available as well.
The phone gets basics like weight distribution right, but there’s better hardware to be hard. I found the unsegmented volume rocker a bit too small and had to shuffle around to adjust the loudness setting. Meanwhile, the power button sits a bit too high in the frame.
The notification LED hidden away in the power key, however, is a very nifty addition that I wish more manufacturers would adopt.
The notification LED in the power button and dedicated Google Assistant key are useful additions.
In my time with the phone, I really came to appreciate the handy access to Google Assistant with the dedicated shortcut key placed on the left side of the Nokia 5.3.
Elsewhere, there’s a headphone jack at the top and a USB-C port along the bottom edge for charging and data transfer. The single speaker sounds tinny and you wouldn’t want to use it for anything other than phone calls.
Over at the front, the Nokia 5.3 continues its last-gen look with large bezels and a waterdrop notch. Here’s where things get a bit perplexing. Not only does the front look last-gen, Nokia has opted for a 720p panel with Gorilla Glass 3 here.
The 720p panel isn't particularly bright and the default color tuning veers too much towards cooler tones.
The default color tuning is set on the cooler side and the phone doesn’t go particularly bright either. I found myself squinting at the screen when out in sunlight.
Additionally, there is significant light bleed around the edges. Basically, if media consumption is a priority for you, I’d consider looking at our list of the best mid-range hardware in India instead.
Of course, the Nokia 5.3 lacks any IP rating but that’s to be expected at this price point. Overall, the Nokia 5.3 doesn’t excite and the boring design, coupled with the below-average display disappoints. Additionally, the haptic feedback on the phone is right up there with the worst I’ve come across in recent years.
Software: Pure and secure
Nokia really wants to drive home the idea that the near-stock build of Android 10 it runs is superior to the competition. There are a few tweaks to the camera app and a customer support app is included on the phone, but by and large, this is as clean as it gets.
Part of the Android One initiative, Nokia is promising two years of major updates as well as security patches. However, with Xiaomi and realme’s Android skins getting surprisingly good, and delivering on fast updates, I’m not sure if this is as big a selling point as it used to be.
Read more: Are there any truly bad Android skins out there anymore?
I certainly don’t mind the lack of third-party bloatware though.
The Nokia 5.3 is powered by a Snapdragon 665 chipset with 4GB or 6GB of RAM depending on the variant. This is backed up by 64GB of storage that can be further expanded via a microSD card.
The octa-core chipset really isn’t competitive against the likes of the Snapdragon 720G used by the POCO M2 Pro and Redmi Note 9 Pro. The performance difference was noticeable not just in games, but even in day-to-day usage.
Choppy frames and stutters are very noticeable while navigating the interface.
Chalk it up to a lack of optimization, but choppy frames and stutters were very noticeable when navigating the interface. On the gaming side, the phone tops off at the HD setting in PUBG. The game runs fluidly for the most part, though I did notice a few dropped frames.
Elsewhere, there’s a 4,000mAh battery onboard that’s good for a full day of intensive use with juice left over to get you into the next day. Unfortunately, charging speeds are capped at 10W which is just woeful in this day and age. It took close to three hours to charge the phone from 0 to 100.
Camera: An average shooter
The quad-camera setup on the Nokia 5.3 is par for the course in the category. The primary shooter sports a 13MP sensor, which is paired with a rather lackluster 5MP ultra-wide camera. Additionally, there’s a 2MP macro sensor and another depth sensor.
Images from the primary sensor come across as dull, with limited contrast. The shot above has been overexposed and close inspection reveals smearing and a distinct loss of detail.
Outdoors, things improve a bit and the primary shooter captures vibrant-looking images. The exposure, however, still isn’t quite right, and there continue to be significant traces of noise reduction. The 5MP ultra-wide shooter on the Nokia 5.3 just isn’t competitive and captures dull-looking shots with signs of oversharpening and heavy noise reduction.
The dedicated night mode on the Nokia 5.3 takes far too long to capture images, which means that more often than not, you’ll end up capturing a blurry mess. I just wouldn’t bother with it. Similarly, the macro mode doesn’t inspire much confidence, and cropping into a shot from the primary camera yielded better results than shooting a macro. I’m not a big fan of the selfie camera either. The 8MP camera adds a lot of retouching and gives skin an unnatural look.
You can take a look at full-resolution Nokia 5.3 camera samples here.
Nokia 5.3 specifications
6.55-inch IPS LCD display
1600 x 720 resolution
2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass
Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 Mobile Platform
13 MP, f/1.8, PDAF
5MP ultra wide
8 MP, f/2.0
WCDMA: Band 1, 2, 5, 8
LTE: Band 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40
Part of Android One
Dimensions and weight
164.3 x 76.6 x 8.5 mm
Cyan, Sand, Charcoal
Is the Nokia 5.3 worth buying?
The Nokia 5.3 is a lackluster play by HMD Global. Android One aside, there’s little that stands out here and the company would be well served by taking a long hard look at its hardware strategy.
The phone is priced at Rs. 13,999 (~$187) for the 4GB RAM, 64GB variant and Rs. 15,499 (~$207) for the 6GB RAM variant. In the UK, the phone is priced starting £129.99.
This puts it squarely against vastly superior options like the POCO M2 Pro, Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro and the realme 6. All three phones offer better designs with glass and metal construction, significantly better cameras, and in some cases even fast 30W charging.
I can forgive the lack of a more recent chipset on the Nokia 5.3, but the lack of optimization on the software side is inexcusable. A smooth, stutter-free experience at this price point is table stakes and the Nokia 5.3 just doesn’t deliver.
Add to that lackluster cameras and the uninspired design, there’s little here to really recommend. Your money would be better spent elsewhere.