Nokia 5.3 Review: Opportunity missed
Whatever is happening in the Indian smartphone market – the coronavirus epidemic, the cry for war against Chinese smartphones and the growing competition in the budget segment, HMD Global’s Nokia is still a long way off. The company had plans for a big launch at MWC but after the tech-show was canceled, Nokia announced a bunch of smartphones for Europe via an online event. Nokia 5.3, which was announced in March, has finally launched in India today, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 SoC, a quad-camera setup and much more. With strong demand for non-Chinese brands (Nokia is actually one of the few non-Chinese players in India), can Nokia 5.3 switch over from Chinese smartphones? You can watch our video to get a quick look at Nokia 5.3, or read our in-depth review to learn more.
Even though most mid-rangers below Rs 15,000 are bringing MediaTek chipsets, Nokia last year chose to stick to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 SoC, a chipset powered by the Redmi Note 8, Vivo U20, among many others. It’s not clear why Nokia had to use the old mid-range chip, especially considering how closely it works with Qualcomm in introducing new chipsets to their smartphones, but the Gulf of Performance is significant compared to its Chinese rivals – the Redmi Note 9 and Realme 6i. Both are powered by MediaTek’s G-Series chip, tuned for gaming and high performance. And the Snapdragon 665 doesn’t seem to be able to hold on –
The benchmark score puts the Snapdragon 665 even lower than the MediaTek Helio G80, which powers the Realme 6i and Narzo 10, with the Note 9 topping the list. This is consistent across all benchmark apps that we run to test CPU and GPU performance.
Having said that, it is important to note that the benchmark scores provided by the MediaTek chip can be considered unacceptable for comparison. MediaTek can detect chips when a benchmark app is running and keeps the CPU running at maximum power for test duration only, allowing you to score higher than you normally would. Nevertheless, the score gap between the Snapdragon 665 is still very significant, and this factor can be denied.
The Adreno 610 GPU on the Nokia 5.3 has so far proved to be inferior to the competition, but Call of Duty: Allows the mobile phone to run on ‘very high’ graphics, not that the experience is anything to go by. At the highest graphics settings, the Nokia 5.3 CoD: Mobile manages 28 fps, but with 100% stability. The gameplay feels lazy overall, but there are no extra frame drops. So if you get used to playing at low frame rates, you won’t mind a few rounds on this phone. But it’s not good enough for the ongoing Call of Duty: Mobile Championship.
In the case of PUBG mobiles, the graphics can only be pushed until the ‘balance’ and frame rate is set to medium. During our 15-minute test of the Battle Royale match at Erangel, the Nokia 5.3 felt similarly slow and sluggish, but no extra frames were dropped during the intense gunfight.
Nokia is one of the few brands still committed to Google’s Android One program, and Nokia 5.3’s software is similar to Google’s Pixel, except for the Pixel-exclusive features. Without any additional third party apps, Nokia 5.3 is the cleanest Android skin and easiest to use. Nokia has been quite consistent with its update rollouts and has promised to get at least two version updates in the lifetime of Nokia 5.3.
Despite having software like Pixel, the experience of using the phone is not smooth. The smartphone feels slow and lazy in daily use and requires a lot of patience for daily use. Because first-party apps like Dialer, Camera, and Gmail take more than 5 seconds to get started. Small things like auto-rotation will take ages to trigger. Multitasking will crawl the phone and there is nothing like dedicated gaming mode to make gamers happy.
So despite having ad-free, no-frills Android skin, Nokia 5.3 struggles to offer an experience that is reliable enough for everyday use for a long time.
The camera is claiming marketing as the reason for owning this phone. Okay, the 13MP primary camera on the back is a really good shooter. But the other three lenses could do better to take part in the competition. Nokia 5.3 lacks the usual 48MP and 64MP cameras for the mid-range segment. From the Nokia smartphones we expect that Zeiss branding does not rock the phone.
Still, the daylight output from the 13MP primary camera is crispy sharp, with adequate dynamic range and saturated hues. Photos can be shared on social media without too much editing, and the shutter response is fast enough after an initial 5-second wait for the camera app to launch.
In low light, even with Night mode on, the Nokia 5.3’s camera looks terribly outdated. The low light shots are shaky, full of noise and come out without any details. You can hardly make the frame you shot. Not much. Photos cannot be saved even in post-processing.
The 5MP ultraviolet lens takes better pictures when the light is optimal but the quality decreases rapidly when shooting indoors or in low light. Night mode works with ultraviolet lenses, but results are not good.
There is also an 8MP selfie camera that creates good selfie portraits but relies heavily on beauty filters that smooth out facial details.
There is nothing in the smartphone that can draw too much power, the Nokia 5.3 handles well in a day with a 4000mAh battery on board. Battery consumption is conservative if you just stick to browsing, text and calling. But running benchmark apps, excessive camera use, watching an episode of Black Mirror on Netflix, and PUBG Mobile’s 30-minute match game will drain the battery in the evening. Nokia 5.3 also charges with only 10W of power. It has no fast charging support.
Design and display
So far, the Nokia 5.3 has become a strictly average smartphone, far behind the competition it has faced. But the design of the smartphone hides that fact. Like most Nokia smartphones, the R&D team has paid exceptional attention to detail, creating a smartphone that is ergonomic, non-slippery and easy to use. The material is plastic and the display has Gorilla Glass 3 protection, but it has a finishing that exceeds the premium, while a little attention to detail like the breath notification light on the power button makes it more effective.
6.53-inch display, but takes away from the subtle design. With the Redmi Note 9 next to it, 720p resolution can be made and it is rarely seen in the sun. There is not much to write here except to ask readers to meet the expectations in terms of display quality.
The last row
All in all, the Nokia 5.3 comes out as a missed opportunity for the brand. Given the strong demand for non-Chinese smartphones in the market, this may be the right moment for HMD Global to capture the market, but Nokia 5.3 will be an inferior choice among Xiaomi Redmi Note 9, Realme’s choice. The Narzo 10, even the Samsung Galaxy M20, is better than the Nokia 5.3 in at least a few respects. Then again, the Nokia 5.3 will be more readily available from the best options in this price range.
The design and output of the daylight camera that Nokia 5.3 gets right, and the battery lasts a day. The software is also a good differentiator, if you can tolerate lazy performance. Where it fails in gaming, low-light photography, and overall performance. Whatever has been said and done, you can avoid it.