The thing is, the Nokia 5.3 has its work cut out. As a consumer, you have so many affordable smartphone options to choose from at this time. That can be equal quantities of good news as well as tricky. With so many choices, what do you choose. Affordable Android phones consistently keep getting better, particularly when it comes to delivering a user experience that doesn’t leave a sour taste later. In fact, now there are full-fledged spec sheet wars, with each trying to go one better on the rivals. In the end, there are compromises that everyone forgets—you get phones with heavy customizations around Android that you may or may not like and you also get a whole platter of preloaded apps that you may or may not want. Xiaomi and Realme have been battling each other for a while now. Samsung is making a renewed pitch for this space. Motorola is on the fringes too, looking in. there are others as well. At this time, when it is all about flexing the muscles, Nokia returns with the Nokia 5.3 and takes a very different approach. Simplicity, charm and consistency. Will it be enough? There is a secret ingredient too. The Nokia 5.3 is Made in India. That should get a few people onside immediately.
Nokia’s Android phones have always been about the ingredients that are in place. First up, the newest and the most important one of them all in the current climate. The Nokia 5.3 is made in India, which immediately will bring it closer to the hearts of many potential buyers. Then there is the clean Android avatar, also known as Android One. It is never a war on specs for Nokia, but more about the experience. But can you really ignore the spec sheet? Let me explain. There are two variants of the Nokia 5.3 that go on sale. The storage, 64GB with the memory card slot up to 512GB more remains standard, but you can choose between the 4GB RAM variant and the 6GB RAM variant. The 4GB RAM variant of the Nokia 5.3 is priced at Rs 13,999 while the 6GB RAM option, which we would recommend earnestly, is priced at Rs 15,499. The thing is, a glance though the competition landscape does bring us to to the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro, which is also priced Rs 13,999 onwards and is powered by the faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G processor, a larger 6.67-inch display, also has a quad camera setup led by a 48-megapixel camera (more megapixels from the outset) and has a 5020mAh battery. But in the current climate, many would discount that purely because of the company’s country of origin. Which then brings us to the doorstep of the Samsung Galaxy M21. The 4GB RAM variant is priced at Rs 14,499 while the 6GB RAM option will cost you Rs 16,499. This is powered by the Exynos 9611 processor and brings to you a 6.4-inch sAMOLED display, a triple camera setup led by a 48-megapixel camera and a large 6000mAh battery.
Design: Full Marks For Sophistication And Functionality
The Nokia 5.3 looks typically Nokia, from a mile away. And that can only be a good thing. It is all about the clean design lines, good build quality, no shouty look-at-me visual elements and everything is exactly where you would expect it to be. If you want a no-complication smartphone, that experience must build from the design itself. That is what the Nokia 5.3 does. The large display has fairly thin bezels around it and the teardrop notch that pretty well stays out of your way. There is the reassurance of the Nokia branding that sits beneath the display—if that is the sort of thing you appreciate.
The unexpected easter egg for many who may be switching from phones made by other brands would be the key on the left side spine, as you hold the phone. This is to quickly invoke the powers of the Google Assistant. To be honest, one could have done without this physical key, because my fear is a lot of people will mistake this for the power or unlock key, and that may lead to some slightly uncomfortable moments. You can turn this off, but it is surprising that there is no way to reconfigure this key for one of the apps that you may regularly use. A bit like the convenience key that BlackBerry phones had all those years ago—okay, enough of a teary-eyed sojourn into the past.
Flip the Nokia 5.3 over, and the quad camera setup in its circular design does genuinely add excitement. Beneath it sits the fingerprint sensor which, well, gets the job done as desired of it. This comes in three colour options as well, which Nokia calls as Cyan, Sand and Charcoal. What we have here is the Charcoal option. I love charcoal with most things in life but let us not get distracted by that.
As you hold it, the Nokia 5.3 and while it is a plastic shell, it is a very good quality plastic shell. Snuggles well in the hand, and at around 180 grams, isn’t going to be at all bothersome to hold and use. The good thing is, Nokia has retained the 3.5mm headphone jack. The USB-C charging port is right up to date with the times too.
All said and done, the Nokia 5.3 looks cool, is well made and when you keep this on a table at a coffee shop or in office, no one can say you’ve bought a phone that cuts corners to keep the price low somehow.
Display: Totally Depends On What You Are Expecting
Unfortunately, the display is where some corners were cut, depending on what your expectation are. Surely not in terms of the size, because this is a 6.5-inch IPS display. You get the sort of real estate that should work well for messages, emails, reading and media consumption. The experiential limitation comes with the resolution, which is just 1600 x 720 pixels. This means, for instance, a YouTube video that you play will limit itself to the 720p resolution. This, in the face of competition from the likes of the Xiaomi Redmi 9 Pro (around Rs 9,999 onwards) which offer a 6.67-inch display rocking 2,400 x 1,080 resolution. Yet, the Nokia 5.3 isn’t exactly doing a bad job of it to be honest, but then add the likes of the Samsung Galaxy M21 (around Rs 12,500 onwards) which also gets a 6.4-inch screen with the 2340 x 1080 pixel resolution lighting up the display real estate to that list, and this certainly feels like a step back.
The thing is, you will need to keep your expectations in terms of being able to watch Netflix content well in check on this one. At the same time, the Nokia 5.3 does well with the brightness levels indoors as well as fairly well distinguished colours. You will however not take long to notice that this isn’t the brightest display when you step outdoors, and the sun is shining bright. For me, the colour tone was certainly a tad on the cooler side at their default setting. Perhaps it is a hangover having been reviewing one mighty Android phone after the other, but I do feel that slightly more display settings to tweak things a bit more, are perhaps in order.
Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that its immediate rivals do offer richer displays, particularly the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro, which should be the real estate to be looking at if you really like your Netflix binge watching when tucked in bed.
Performance: Exactly How Much Phone Many Folks Genuinely Need
The Nokia 5.3 will be available in two avatars. Both will be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 chip, and your choice will be between 4GB and 6GB RAM. Our test mule is the 4GB RAM variant, and the performance, is on the ball for most simpler smartphone usage scenarios—calls, messages, social media apps, video calls, web browsing and reading too. But add in some multi-tasking or more resource hungry apps, and there is a very visible slowdown in the speed at which system menus open, the transitions take place and also while switching from one app to the other. Yet, it is quite a testament to the hidden strength of the Nokia 5.3 that you can even play the F1 Racing game on this, even though common sense would probably urge you otherwise. Admittedly, it doesn’t load very fast and it isn’t the most visually beautiful experience, but the Nokia 5.3 doesn’t fall short when it comes to ticking off the gaming aspect too.
This is with the 4GB version. We would earnestly recommend the 6GB RAM option if you have made up your mind for the Nokia 5.3 over the rivals. One can only expect that extra memory will further stretch the headroom for apps and multitasking and that extra bandwidth which will allow apps to load much faster too.
As you would probably have imagined, the Nokia 5.3 runs the Android One iteration of Android 10. That means, a clean and uncluttered smartphone usage experience. As Google would have wanted it with Android, at least outside of their own Pixel phone line-up. There are some neat additions too, such as the Wi-Fi icon on the notification bar shows you whether you are on the 2.4GHz or the 5GHz band. Weirdly enough, there is no option for automatically unlocking the phone when you punch in the PIN—you have to tap enter also for the phone to unlock. An unnecessary additional step. Face ID isn’t the fastest in detecting, at least my face, even in bright light. But then again, the positive side is that I didn’t notice it struggle or stumble even in low light environments.
Software: Android One And Updates Remain Nokia’s Strongest Point
Nokia also says that the Nokia 5.3 will continue to get Android updates for the next two years, which means Android 11 when it arrives later this year, and the iteration after that. Honestly, not many phones at this price can claim that sort of efficiency or attention.
And the Nokia 5.3 will continue to get the monthly Android security updates for the next three years, which is great for patching up bugs that may be detected from time to time. It is quite unlikely that any of its rivals will continue to get updates for that long, which makes this a unique proposition from Nokia.
Battery life: Lasts Long. Really Long
The other big advantage of the clean and uncluttered Android 10 experience is that there is no bloatware running in the background and draining the battery life. Plus, the Nokia 5.3 gets a large 4,000mAh battery too. For most users, this will last close to 2 days on a single charge. Maybe even more, if you are careful.
There is no fast charging though.
Cameras: Could Have Done Without Some Trade-Offs
The more cameras a phone has, the better it looks on the spec sheet. And the more serious persona a phone can command. Yet, it is a significant requirement to balance the spec sheet with the performance. What the Nokia 5.3 brings to the table is the quad camera setup at the back that has a 13-megapixel main camera, a 5-megapixel ultrawide camera, a 2-megapixel macro camera and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. What you will not get is category defining smartphone photography, but you’ll certainly appreciate the Nokia 5.3 putting together a very consistent experience. The daytime and good light photos are colourful, sharp and reproduces details quite accurately. However, if there are those fine details that you want to highlight in an edit, that may not exactly happen as you plan. It is hard to zoom in on photos and not feel a sense that something is missing. This is despite Nokia focusing extensively on AI enhancements to push the performance envelope of this camera setup.
Low light photos use the night mode to give it that little extra boost with detailing and accurately distinguishing between the brighter and the darker images in a frame. Edges look fairly well done but zoom in and the aggressive noise reduction becomes quite apparent. You’ll also have to factor in the slower image processing for low light photos, so stay still for an extra second after you tap the shutter key.
The 8-megapixel selfie camera works well for selfies and video calls as long as your face is well lit up, either with natural light or a nice lamp for your home workstation table. Anything lesser, and you’ll come across as a bit washed out to your friends or family or colleagues.
Does this beat the Redmi Note 9 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy M21 as far as the cameras are concerned? Actually, it doesn’t. The more megapixels they play with across the camera setup (It is a 48-megapixel, 8-megapixel, 5-megapixel and 2-megapixel for the Redmi Note 9 Pro and a 48-megapixel, 8-megapixel and 5-megapixel for the Galaxy M21) makes them more adept at pulling in that extra amount of finer details and end up with photos that are that much more vivid as well. That, is great if you wish to crop, edit or share on your social media accounts.
The Last Word: Old Ingredients. New Dish. Your Priorities
The thing is, the Nokia 5.3 is a typical Nokia phone. It is understated yet classy as far as the looks go. It isn’t fighting any wars on the spec sheet but instead brings everything together for a consistent Android smartphone usage experience. It has no complications with customizations on Android and there no learning curve that comes with that. There is no data privacy scare either because there aren’t any dodgy preloaded apps. The reality is, you’ll most certainly find phones that do certain things a bit better—but the Nokia 5.3 is the phone that should simply just work for most. If a clean Android, a Made in India tag and robust battery life are your thing.