Nokia 5.3 Review: Missed Opportunity

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With all that is happening in the Indian smartphone market – the coronavirus pandemic, a rallying cry against Chinese smartphones and increasing competition in the budget segment, Nokia from HMD Global has remained on the sidelines so far. The company had planned a big launch at MWC, but after the tech show was canceled, Nokia announced a number of smartphones through an online event for Europe. The Nokia 5.3, which was announced in March, finally launched in India today, armed with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 SoC, a quad-camera setup and more. With strong demand for non-Chinese brands (Nokia is indeed one of the few non-Chinese players in India), can the Nokia 5.3 make the switch from Chinese smartphones worth it? You can watch our video for a quick look at the Nokia 5.3, or read our in-depth review for more information.

Performance

Even while most mid-ranges come in under Rs 15,000 with MediaTek’s chipsets, Nokia chose to stick with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 SoC, the chipset powered by the Redmi Note 8, the Vivo U20, and many others last year. It’s unclear why Nokia had to stick with using an older mid-range chip, especially given the close partnership with Qualcomm in introducing new chipsets to their smartphones, but the performance boost is significant compared to its Chinese rivals – the Redmi Note. 9 and the Realme 6i. Both are powered by MediaTek’s G-series chips, tuned for gaming and high performance. And the Snapdragon 665 doesn’t seem to be able to keep up –

Benchmark rates the Snapdragon 665 lower than even the MediaTek Helio G80 powering the Realme 6i and the Narzo 10, while the Note 9 is primarily a cut. This is consistent across all benchmark apps we ran to test CPU and GPU performance.

That said, it’s important to note that benchmark scores given by MediaTek chips can be considered inadmissible for comparison. MediaTek chips can detect when a benchmark app is running and ensure that the CPU runs at maximum capacity only for the duration of the test, resulting in higher scores than what you would get under normal conditions. Despite this, the difference in scores between the Snapdragon 665 is still too great, and this factor can be negated.

Gaming

The Adreno 610 GPU in the Nokia 5.3 has so far proved inferior to the competition, but Call of Duty: Mobile allows the phone to run on ‘Very High’ graphics, not that the experience is anything to be happy about. On the highest graphics settings, CoD: Mobile on the Nokia 5.3 manages a paltry 28 FPS, but with 100% stability. The gameplay feels sluggish as a whole, but there are no extra frame drops. So if you can get used to playing at low frame rates, you wouldn’t mind a few rounds on this phone. But this one isn’t good enough for the ongoing Call of Duty: Mobile Championships.

As for PUBG Mobile, the graphics can only be pushed to ‘balanced’ and the frame rate is set to medium. During our 15-minute test of a battle royale match in Erangel, the Nokia 5.3 felt equally sluggish and sluggish, but no extra frame drop, even during intense firefights.

Software

Nokia is one of the few brands still committed to Google’s Android One program, and the Nokia 5.3’s software is the same as the Google Pixel, without the Pixel exclusive features. With no additional third-party apps, the Nokia 5.3 is the cleanest Android skin to use, and also the simplest. Nokia has also been pretty consistent with the rollout of updates and the Nokia 5.3 has been promised to get at least two version updates in its lifetime.

Despite the Pixel-esque software, the experience of using the phone is far from smooth. The smartphone feels slow and sluggish in everyday use and requires a lot of patience for everyday use. That’s because even the first-party apps like Dialer, Camera, and Gmail take more than 5 seconds to launch from the cold. Little things like auto-rotate take a long time to activate. Multitasking makes the phone crawl and there’s nothing like a dedicated game mode to please gamers.

So even with an ad-free Android skin, the Nokia 5.3 struggles to deliver an experience reliable enough for extended daily use.

Camera

The camera is what the marketing claims is the reason for owning this phone. Well, the 13MP primary camera on the back is indeed a good shooter. But the other three lenses could do a lot better to face the competition. The Nokia 5.3 lacks the large format 48MP and 64MP cameras common to the mid-range. The phone also doesn’t rock the Zeiss branding we expect from Nokia smartphones.

Still, the daylight output of the 13 MP primary camera is razor sharp, with sufficient dynamic range and saturated tones. The photos can be shared on social media without much editing and the shutter response is fast enough after the first 5 seconds of waiting to launch the camera app.

In low light, even with night mode turned on, the Nokia 5.3’s camera feels terribly outdated. The low-light shots come out shaky, full of noise and without any detail. You can barely make out the frame you’ve made. Nothing anymore. The photos can’t even be saved in post-processing.

The 5MP ultra-wide angle lens produces good photos when the light is optimal, but quality deteriorates quickly when shooting indoors or in low light. The Night mode also works with the ultra wide angle lens, but the results are not good.

There’s also an 8MP selfie camera that produces good selfie portraits but relies heavily on beauty filters that smooth out facial details.

Battery

With nothing in the smartphone that can draw too much power, the Nokia 5.3 can last well over a day with a 4000mAh battery on board. Battery consumption is conservative if you just stick to browsing, texting and calling. But running the benchmark apps, heavy use of the camera, watching an episode of Black Mirror on Netflix, and playing a 30-minute match of PUBG Mobile will drain the battery by nightfall. The Nokia 5.3 also charges with just 10W of power. There is no support for fast charging on this one.

Design and display

So far, the Nokia 5.3 has turned out to be a strictly average smartphone, far behind the competition. But the design of the smartphone hides that fact. Like most Nokia smartphones, the R&D team has paid exceptional attention to details and created a smartphone that is ergonomic, non-slippery and easy to use. The material is plastic and there’s Gorilla Glass 3 protection on the screen, but it’s the finish that exudes premium, while the little attention to detail like the breathable notification light on the power button makes it all the more useful.

However, the 6.53-inch display takes away from the beautiful design. The 720p resolution can be distinguished when placed next to the Redmi Note 9, and is barely visible in the sun. There’s not much to write here except to ask readers to tone down expectations when it comes to display quality.

bottom line

All in all, the Nokia 5.3 comes across as a missed opportunity for the brand. With a strong demand for non-Chinese smartphones in the market, this could have been the right time for HMD Global to take the market, but the Nokia 5.3 would be an inferior choice amid the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9, Realme Narzo 10 , and even the Samsung Galaxy M20, all of which are better than the Nokia 5.3 in at least a few aspects. On the other hand, the Nokia 5.3 will be more readily available than some of the best options in this price range.

The daylight design and camera output is what the Nokia 5.3 does well, and the battery lasts a day. The software is also a good differentiator, provided you can tolerate slow performance. Where it falters is in gaming, low-light photography, and general performance. All things said and done, you can skip this one.

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