Nokia’s 5.3 is a mid-range phone with big ambitions

In the technology world, 2020 will be remembered as the year of the mid-rangers. The pandemic wiped out tons of jobs and with it, the extra spending cash in our wallets. This forced everyone buying a new phone to question whether they really needed a flagship device or whether a mid-range handset might be a better value proposition offering most of what they were looking for at a lower cost.

This year came with a perspective change, the consumers who were now stuck at home found that while battery capacity wasn’t as big a concern as it was in previous years, it was the full offering from your device that mattered. This is where the Nokia 5.3 comes in.

Starting at R4999, the Nokia 5.3 looks a lot more expensive than it is. Sporting a large 6.55” screen, 4000mAh battery (which Nokia says would last you 2 days), a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 and 5 cameras (one selfie and 4 rear). What more could you ask for at that price range?

Design, display, unboxing:

In the box you get the Nokia 5.3, a case, a power brick, a charging cable and headphones. For all the nostalgia the brand Nokia brings, please leave those headphones in the 90s. You’re immediately taken aback by the large 6.55” screen with a teardrop notch at the top and thick bezels. It has a plastic back, which faired will against scratches, but it doesn’t feel as premium as it looks. There’s a circular design for the camera module at the rear which houses the 4 lenses and a fingerprint reader just below.

The top of the phone comes with a headphone jack (thank you). Along the sides are a dedicated Google Assistant button, dual SIM tray, power button and volume rockers with a USB type-C charging port.

The display has a resolution of 720 x 1600 pixels, 268 ppi density while occupying a whopping 82.3% screen-to-body ratio. Protecting this, sits Gorilla Glass 3, which did a great job of preventing scratches and keeping the display safe. The screen is sharp, but I had trouble moving from a more premium phone to this one. The screen’s refresh rate must not be very high, but I got used to it after a while and it ran well. Let just say, Netflix looked great on it.

Cameras:

It’s amazing that at this price point, you get 4 cameras on the rear of the Nokia 5.3. A 13 MP, f/1.8 wide, 5 MP ultrawide, 2 MP macro and 2 MP depth sensors. All the while sporting an 8 MP wide-angle selfie camera. Images from the main sensor (the 13MP wide) come out looking good, as long as the lighting is perfect. Indoor pictures do come across a bit grainy, but the colour capture is rather reliable. HDR doesn’t seem to be helping much and the 2MP macro sensor is about as useful as a boat without a paddle. The 5MP ultrawide is there for capturing “more” in a single shot, and here it unfortunately washes out some of the colour when comparing it to images taken with the main sensor.

Nokia do serve up a dedicated Night Mode, to help you take pictures in low light settings. It’s surprisingly good at doing its job and in a budget phone, I’d give them kudos for this. Video is shot in 4k at 30fps and 1080p at 30fps, with colour reproduction being considerably good. However, there is no image stability, so it’s best not to move while recording. The 8MP selfie camera takes “ok” pictures, but it’s nothing to write home about.

Software and Performance:

The Nokia 5.3 is part of the Android One program, which promises 2 years of Android updates. This version of Android is as close to stock Android as you can get. The Android One program brings with it not only security patches, but the latest android versions. The device ships with Android 10 but it will get Android 11 and 12, when it comes out. This brings piece of mind to a much lower price point and after having used it, it raises the overall experience of this phone.

Thanks to this nearly stock version of Android and paired with the Snapdragon 665, performance on the Nokia 5.3 is seamless. With the help of between 3 and 5GB of RAM, you’d have no trouble playing graphic intense games or multitasking. The pairing of Android One and the Snapdragon 665 work wonders here, effectively giving the 4000mAh battery the ability to last up to 10hrs of use.

Conclusion:

If I had R5000 to spend on a phone, this is where I’d put my money. The battery is great, lasted the entire day, consistently. The Android One program helps me feel as though my purchase was an investment. The build is beautiful, even though cheap. The cameras, put in the right conditions, can take nice pictures. It has this funky notification light on the power button, that helps separate itself from the masses. The SIM tray has 3 slots, 2 for SIM cards and one for expandable storage. All these things culminate to a great phone, for what you’re paying for.

There are some down sides though. The Nokia 5.3 feels cheap and those cameras seem to be more about getting as many sensors on a device as possible than having a brilliant camera. A single lens to take great pictures would have been a lot better. The speakers could have been better, though you’d put this off as a reasonable cut in costs.

With budget phones coming out of every brands’ stable this year, from the Google Pixel 4a to the very popular iPhone SE (2020), it’s clear that these companies have taken 2020 seriously. Nokia is definitely taking the 5.3 seriously but more importantly, your wallet seriously. The Nokia 5.3 is not a stunning phone that breaks the mould, but it is a phone you’d be proud to own. It’s easy to see that this phone has more going for it than not. I don’t believe that anyone paying this amount of money will be put down by the bad points. So, while there certainly are better phones out there, this phone is worth a look.

Specs:

  • Display: 6.55-inch HD+ display
  • Processor: Snapdragon 665 Mobile Platform
  • Battery: 4000mAh
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Main camera: 13MP lens + 2MP depth sensor + 5MP ultra-wide-angle lens + 2MP macro
  • Selfie camera: 8MP
  • On-board storage: 64GB