Just when you think that budget smartphones can’t possibly get any better, another unbelievably affordable and well-rounded handset comes along to prove you wrong. With the Nokia 5.3’s quadruple cameras, large IPS display and speedy performance, it’s hard to imagine that there’s any other phone this cheap that could possibly compete.
Now, I’m not saying that Nokia 5.3 is the best budget handset full stop. However, there’s definitely a solid case to be made for it being the best budget phone for £150 or less. Nokia already takes the crown for the best handset under £100 with the Nokia 1.3; the only thing stopping it from cornering this patch of the market is some fierce competition from the likes of Motorola.
Nokia 5.3 review: What you need to know
For a phone this cheap, the Nokia 5.3 has an awful lot going for it. For a start, it’s the only £150 phone we’ve tested to have four rear cameras. What’s more, it’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor, a CPU that’s more commonly found in smartphones that are between £30-£50 more expensive than the Nokia 5.3.
It has a 6.5in IPS display, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of built-in storage, which is expandable up to 512GB with a microSD. There’s no wireless charging option, so the 4,000mAH battery can only be topped up via USB-C, but it does have NFC for contactless phone payments.
Unfortunately, the Nokia 5.3 lacks a gyroscope, a sensor that assists in orientation tracking and capturing precise panoramic photos. The Nokia 5.3 runs Android 10 and it’s also an Android One device, which means it’s guaranteed to receive Android upgrades and security patches for at least two years.
Nokia 5.3 review: Price and competition
The 4GB/64GB model I’m testing here can be purchased from Nokia, Argos and Amazon UK for only £150.
Also available for £150 is the Motorola Moto G8 Power Lite. The Moto has a triple rear camera and a decent 6.5in 1,600 x 700 IPS display, but it’s a relatively weak performer due to its low-powered MediaTek processor. On the plus side, its battery life is excellent.
Stump up a bit more and you could get your hands on either the Samsung Galaxy A21s, which costs £179, or the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9, available for between £179-£199.
Both these smartphones push the boundaries of what’s possible on a budget phone, with stunning quadruple cameras and vibrant displays, although the Xiaomi does have a slight edge in power terms.
Nokia 5.3 review: Design
At a glance, nobody would guess that the Nokia 5.3 was only £150. The plastic casing may feel cheap but the phone’s build is far from flimsy. It’s a large, sturdy handset, but at 180g, it’s not too heavy. It is a shame that Nokia sent me a model with a Charcoal finish rather than one with a Cyan or Sand colour scheme, because, from the back, it just looks like a black slab of plastic. There’s no sheen to the casing and it picks up greasy fingerprints quite easily.
The top half of the phone’s rear is dominated by a circular camera arrangement that strongly resembles the design seen on budget Motorola phones such as the Moto G8. Inside this raised module there are four cameras and, right in the middle, the single LED flash. Directly below the rear cameras is a recessed circular fingerprint reader. This actually failed to read my fingerprint on many occasions and it’s much faster to unlock the phone using a PIN, pattern or facial recognition.
On the left-hand edge, Nokia has implemented a Google Assistant shortcut button, which I deactivated in the phone’s settings after accidentally pressing it countless times. Above that is the dual-SIM and microSD tray. On the opposite side, you’ll find the power button and volume rocker, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is located on the top. Finally, the bottom edge houses the phone’s speaker and USB-C charging port.
Nokia has opted for a centrally-placed teardrop notch for the front-facing camera, which won’t be to everyone’s taste. You can’t conceal the notch with a black bar within the display settings, so you’re stuck with it unless you decide to download a third-party notch hider. The 6.5in display is coated in a protective layer of Corning Gorilla Glass, however, and the bezels surrounding the edges are slim enough to not be a distraction.
Nokia 5.3 review: Display
The Nokia 5.3 has a 6.55in IPS LCD panel with a HD+ resolution of 1,600 x 700 and a pixel density of 268ppi, which puts it right on par with the Moto G8 Power Lite’s screen. Both phones have a maximum luminance of 426cd/m², so they’re quite bright, though screen glare is an issue when in direct sunlight.
The Nokia 5.3 only has one display profile, and it’s able to cover 80.5% of the sRGB gamut, with a gamut volume of 86.3%. That’s roughly in the same ballpark as the Moto G8 Power Lite and Samsung Galaxy A21s, and it’s about as good as you can expect from a £150 handset. An average Delta E score of 3.66 tells us that colour accuracy isn’t great, though; pinks, oranges and reds are a tad dull, while greens, blues and purples are oversaturated.
Despite this, colour reproduction is vibrant on the whole and, thanks to the phone’s relatively high 1,444:1 contrast ratio, textures are sharply defined. Even against the backdrop of a rainbow-coloured wallpaper, all of the app icons pop out nicely.
Buy now from Argos
Nokia 5.3 review: Performance and battery life
The Nokia 5.3 really comes into its own when it comes to performance. Nokia has equipped this handset with 4GB of RAM and an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor, a combination which excelled in our CPU performance benchmarks. In the GeekBench 5 test, the Nokia 5.3 recorded single-core speeds of 311 and in the multi-core segment, it hit 1,402, putting it way ahead of the Moto G8 Power Lite. It even managed to beat the more expensive Samsung Galaxy A21s.
In fact, its performance is right up there with the regular Moto G8 and Redmi Note 9, which cost £30 and £50 more than the Nokia 5.3. During my time with the phone, I never had any issues with its responsiveness or loading times. It leaps around its Android operating system, running several apps simultaneously without slowing down.
The Nokia 5.3 is adept at running games too. In the GFXBench Manhattan 3 graphics benchmark, it managed an impressive 33fps in the on-screen segment and 20fps during the off-screen test. That puts it neck and neck with the standard Moto G8 and, as the chart above demonstrates, it also means that it’s twice as capable as its direct competitor, the Moto G8 Power Lite.
My two favourite Android games, Call of Duty: Mobile and PUBG Mobile, both run perfectly on the Nokia 5.3, which was a pleasant surprise.
They’re demanding titles and budget phones tend to struggle with them, but the 5.3 ran both without loading or overheating issues. The lack of a gyroscope sensor might be a deal-breaker for hardcore PUBG players who wish to fine-tune their aim, mind you.
The Nokia 5.3’s only downfall, in performance terms, is its battery life. On a full charge, the Nokia 5.3’s 4,000mAh battery kept it alive for 14hrs 55mins in our video playback test. That’s over 5hrs less than the Moto G8 Power Lite, and nearly 8hrs less than the Samsung Galaxy A21s. It isn’t devastatingly bad – it can run a video on repeat for the majority of your waking day, after all – but it does mean you’ll need to recharge the phone at least once per day.
Nokia 5.3 review: Camera
Finally, let’s talk about cameras. The Nokia 5.3 has five of them, one on the front and four at the rear. The selfie camera is a standard 8MP, f/2.0 affair, and that quadruple rear snapper consists of a primary 13MP, f/1.8 module, a 2MP depth sensor, a 5MP macro lens and a 5MP ultra-wide camera. This is not dissimilar to the Moto G8 Power Lite’s triple rear camera setup, which includes a 16MP f/2.0 main sensor, but the Power Lite lacks the ultra-wide lens.
By default, the rear camera shoots in Auto-HDR at a resolution of 4,208 x 3,120 and, for the most part, it’s worth leaving the settings as they are. Unless there’s an excess of light pouring into the lens, pictures come out looking pretty natural, and the finer details of vegetation and brickwork detail are captured faithfully.
In scenery shots that take in a lot of the sky, there is some noticeable darkening around the edges of photos, but the HDR algorithm does its best to reduce this effect.
The camera software is straightforward to use, though the ‘Scene Detection’ feature can be distracting sometimes, constantly throwing up little symbols to tell you it’s switching to indoor mode or suggesting that you try portrait mode for your shot instead.
Between the Nokia 5.3 and Moto G8 Power Lite, the Nokia manages to capture more realistic-looking images. The Moto has a tendency to massively oversaturate primary colours when shooting in HDR mode, capturing photos with plenty of pop which don’t look as natural.
The Nokia 5.3 is also the better of the two for shooting in low light, as it’s able to pick out textures with greater clarity, as well as cut down on the visual noise caused by excessive shadows.
Its macro shooting capabilities are equally fantastic and it can capture the smallest of features on a 5p coin or house plant, as shown in my photos.
The depth sensor is a bit fussy when it comes to capturing macro images at the correct distance, and I found that it was easier to get macro shots in focus when using the Moto G8 Power Lite and Xiaomi Redmi Note 9.
The 8MP, f/2.0 front camera captures plenty of detail with selfies and, whenever a face is in shot, the software helpfully suggests switching to portrait mode in order to add in some background blur. It looks good, but it’s not as impressive as the bokeh effects achieved by the main camera. Both the rear and selfie cameras record video in 1080p at 30fps, though there’s no image stabilisation.
Buy now from Argos
Nokia 5.3 review: Verdict
With the Nokia 5.3, Nokia has outmanoeuvred Motorola to produce the best £150 smartphone you can buy. With decent build quality and a large 6.5in screen, it looks like a phone that costs twice the price, and the performance speeds outdo some of the top budget smartphones on the market. The excellent quadruple rear camera is another major selling point.
As impressive as the Nokia 5.3’s camera is, however, it’s clearly no match for the camera capabilities offered by the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 snd Samsung Galaxy A21s, with their 48MP modules. If you can happily pay a bit extra, then it’s worth considering one of those two instead. But, if you really need to stick to your budget, then the Nokia 5.3 is a stellar choice.
Credits | ExpertReviews