Nokia 5.3 – Review 2020


When we tested Cricket’s Nokia C5 Endi last month, we were impressed, even if it cut a few corners to get to its $169.99 price. The Nokia 5.3 ($199.99) is an even better phone, for just a bit more money. It’s powered by a much faster chipset and offers improved battery life, a little extra durability, and guaranteed software updates via the Android One program. Take our advice: Spend the extra $30. The Nokia 5.3 stands apart in a competitive price range, and earns our Editors’ Choice award for affordable phones.

Design, Display, and Durability

The Nokia 5.3 is a handsome phone that maintains Nokia’s unique design language. It’s available in blue, gold, or gray, measuring 6.5 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighing 6.3 ounces.

Nokia 5.3 with focus on minimized bezels and teardrop display

The front of the phone is dominated by 6.55-inch screen with a teardrop notch for the camera. While the bottom bezel is still pretty chunky and bears Nokia branding, the top and side bezels are greatly reduced from years past.

The matte gray plastic back panel looks refined with its gentle slope, but it’s a fingerprint magnet. Its weight is well distributed, so it feels good in the hand. In the top center, there’s a circular camera module that juts out a bit. Below it, the fingerprint sensor is easy to each and responsive. 

The top of the phone is home to a headphone jack, while a USB-C charging port and speaker grille are at the bottom. A Google Assistant button and a dual-SIM/microSD slot sit on the left side, while the power button and volume rocker can be found on the right. The buttons are well placed and easy to reach. 

The 6.55-inch LCD sports a screen resolution of 1,600-by-720, for a density of 267ppi. It’s surprisingly crisp for its size, though you may not want to use it for extended reading sessions. Like the 5C, the Nokia 5.3’s LCD tends to skew cool, but it does seem a little brighter. We were able to use it in direct sunlight without any problems.

Like most budget phones, durability on the Nokia 5.3 is hit or miss. It lacks an IP rating or any type of splash protection, though we used it in the rain without a problem. The plastic body and frame can withstand bumps or drops without much damage, but a hard fall might cause some problems. That said, the Nokia 5.3 does sport Gorilla Glass 3, so it’s unlikely to succumb to scratches from keys or other objects in your pocket. Nevertheless, it would be a smart idea to invest in a sturdy case. 

Network, Call, and Audio Quality 

The Nokia 5.3 should work on every major US carrier. It supports LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/6/8/12/13/17/28/38/66. It doesn’t have band 71, used by T-Mobile to provide faster downloads in rural America; if you’re among that that group, you’ll want to think twice before buying the phone. 

Top view of Nokia 5.3

Call quality is solid. Earpiece volume peaks at 87dB and is loud enough to hear on a busy street without any problems. Noise cancellation worked like a charm on all of our test calls. 

Network connectivity was solid on Verizon’s network in Philadelphia. The 5.3 averaged speeds of 48.2Mbps down and 18.9Mbps up. While that doesn’t sound spectacular, we believe network connectivity issues in the area are to blame, as we recorded similar speeds in a six-block radius on Google Pixel 4a and an iPhone 11 Pro

The speaker is loud, but unimpressive, with a maximum volume of 94dB. It’s fine for conference calls, but timbre is bright, and you’ll notice some distortion in the high-mids. Headphones are highly recommended for Netflix binges. 

The phone supports dual-band Wi-Fi and has Bluetooth 5.0 for wearable connectivity. There’s also NFC for mobile payments and boarding passes, a rarity on phones in this price range. 

Cameras

The Nokia 5.3 features a 13MP primary lens, a 5MP ultra-wide lens, a 2MP macro sensor, and a 2MP depth sensor. While that sounds like lots of choices, the cameras range from mediocre to downright poor.  

Close up of Nokia 5.3's circular camera stack

In good light, the 13MP sensor is hit or miss. Many daylight test shots looked good, though they appeared a little flat and there was loss of fine detail. About 20 percent of the time, however, a shot would be completely overexposed. We noticed the same issue in portrait mode, in addition to consistent issues with depth mapping and overly aggressive noise reduction.

Low-light performance with the primary lens is decent. Noise reduction was again a bit too ambitious in test photos, leading to blur around the eyes and glasses, with undersaturated colors. Night mode helped make colors a little more vivid and reduced some light blowouts, but the photos still looked flat. It’s not bad for a budget phone, but if you’re constantly taking sharing night time photos on Instagram, you’ll want to save up for the Google Pixel 4a.  

The ultra-wide angle lens does a surprisingly decent job in good light, and we didn’t see any overexposed test shots. Details got a little fluffy at full size, but even the depth of field appeared more consistent with the ultra-wide angle lens. Low-light photos with the lens were poor overall, with mushy backgrounds, muted colors, and noticeable noise.  

Person holding Nokia 5.3 with viewfinder open

The macro lens is a total miss. All of our shots were muddy and full of noise, and nearly half of them seemed to focus on the wrong object when we used tap-to-focus. 

The front-facing camera clocks in at 8MP. Without portrait mode enabled, it’s a pretty solid shooter in good light. Color accuracy is decent, depth of field is spot-on, and even background details can be made out. This falls apart with portrait mode, where depth mapping is poor and some of our test shots had blurred ears, glasses, and hats. 

Don’t expect much from the selfie cam in low light. Our test shots were flat and muddy. Noise crept in around the edges, while noise reduction blurred out glasses and other facial features. 

Specs 

The Nokia 5.3 sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor. Our review unit came with 3GB of RAM, though 4GB and 6GB versions are also available. There’s 64GB of storage, with 52GB available out of the box. You can add an additional 512GB of external storage with a microSD card. 

The phone performs like a champ for most common uses. Apps open without hesitation, and we were able to easily work with more than a dozen apps and two dozen Chrome windows open simultaneously. This is where it noticeably stands out from the C5 Endi and even more expensive phones like the LG Stylo 6.

Back of Nokia 5.3

Gaming is a win as well. We tested the phone for over an hour with Alto’s Odyssey and didn’t experience any skipped frames or lag during game play. Our experience with Asphalt 8 was much the same story—quick load times and stutter-free gameplay.

On PCMark 2.0, a suite of tests that emulate every day smartphone tasks, the 5.3 scored 6,473. That’s slightly slower than the $229.99 Moto G Power (6,758), but far exceeds what we saw on the C5 Endi (4,983) and the $179.99 Samsung Galaxy A10e (4,562).

The Nokia 5.3 is powered by a 4,000mAh battery. In our battery drain test, which streams video over Wi-Fi at maximum brightness, the phone lasted 10 hours and 48 minutes. While that doesn’t compare to the 18 hours and 11 minutes we got from the Moto G Power, it’s enough to easily get the average user a full day between charges. 

Software

The Nokia 5.3 is part of the Android One program, which means it ships with a stock version of Android 10. There’s no bloatware or personalized productivity apps, just unadulterated Android, which is a rarity in this price range. 

Android One also means it will be one of the first phones to get the upgrade to Android 11 later this year, and Android 12 when it comes out. You can also rest assured in terms of security, as Android One phones get regular security patches and updates. 

Bottom view of Nokia 5.3

Nokia is one of the few manufacturers that have almost wholeheartedly embraced Android One. Nearly all of its phones are part of the program and get regular updates for at least two years. It’s the closest thing you’ll find to day-one updates on Android with the exception of the pricier Pixel 4a. 

Conclusions

The Nokia 5.3 features a solid display, all-day battery life, and excellent performance for $200. For $230, we also like the Moto G Power, which offers even longer battery life and slightly faster performance. On the flip side, the Nokia 5.3 has NFC and is guaranteed to get timely OS and security updates for two years, so it really comes down to which features matter most to you, and both phones earn our Editors’ Choice. Shutterbugs, meanwhile, might want to stretch their budget and reach for the $349 Google Pixel 4a.

Nokia 5.3 Specs

Operating System Android 10
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
Dimensions 6.5 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches
Screen Size 6.55 inches
Screen Resolution 1,600 by 720 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 13MP, 2MP, 5MP, 2MP; 8MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 10 hours, 48 minutes

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I'm Malkit singh rataul.

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