Nokia 5.3 Review: A Mixed Bag

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We are big fans of Nokia Mobile devices made under the HMD Global banner here at Hypertext. In particular it’s the company’s mid-range and entry-level devices that invariably lead us to throw around the term “value for money” a bit too much. So how does one of the newer offerings, the Nokia 5.3, compare?

We spent the last two weeks with the device to get a better idea, in order to find out whether it should be added to the long list of great value for many smartphones that HMD Global has rolled out locally in recent years.

So, here are our thoughts on the Nokia 5.3.

More competition

It seems like this new device, which sits on the lower end of the mid-range spectrum, has landed locally at a rather odd time. This as we’re beginning to see a handful of 5G-supporting devices emerge in the space price bracket, such as the Huawei P40 Lite 5G.

As such, there is a new aspect to these devices that need to be taken into consideration, and some devices simply support 5G or don’t. In the case of the Nokia 5.3, it’s the latter, and consequently, it means it may not be the first device you look at in this price bracket.

We’re jumping the gun a little here, so let’s track back a bit and look through the different elements on offer here.

Middling looks

First the design. In this regard, Nokia isn’t serving up anything new or special with the 5.3. It’s a form factor we’re pretty familiar with at this stage, with the same going for the aesthetic aspects.

These include things like a teardrop shaped screen notch for the selfie camera. A fingerprint sensor on the rear with Face Unlock added to the mix for biometrics. It’s also running the Android One flavour of Android 10, and this particular review unit features an interesting Cyan back cover.

If we’re honest it’s not the best looking back cover we’ve seen from Nokia, with renders making it look a lot better than it actually is. Add to this the fact that it’s plastic, which is not uncommon given the R4 999 (RRP) price tag, but you can find something more premium if you search hard enough.

Switching back to the front end of the Nokia 5.3, a generous 6.55″ FullHD screen is present. The real estate is welcome, but there are a couple of issues with the LCD display on offer, with it looking at tad dull around the edges, and particularly at the top where the screen notch is.

This is quickly fixed by upping the screen brightness to the 65 to 70 percent mark, but battery life will take a hit as a result. Thankfully a large 4 000mAh battery is present, so you should yield a full day’s use without needing to visit a charging point, rather handily.

Respectable performance

Moving on to the performance of the Nokia 5.3 and things here are as expected, with the octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor on offer not a multitasking workhorse, but not inhibiting in any way either.

There was no sluggishness in our time with the device, nor did it get noticeably hot under the collar when some more intensive processing was required.

Our benchmarking bore similar results, with single core and multi-core scores on Geekbench registering at 311 and 1 332 respectively. The 3D Mark score of 1 127 on Slingshot Extreme also point to a device that can handle some light gaming.

Shifting to one aspect that has become increasingly important in this mid-range space – camera performance. Here the Nokia 5.3 proved a little confusing. On paper things should be good, with a 13MP wide, 5MP ultrawide, 2MP macro and 2MP depth sensing lenses present for the primary camera setup.

While we were shooting with the Nokia 5.3 though, and outdoors in particular, the screen betrayed the quality of pictures being captured. It is only when uploading the camera roll results to our notebook for use in this review (some of which are pasted below), were we pleasantly surprised by the images it yielded.

Colours are captured vividly, and the marco lens adds lots of detail to the mix. Low light performance is mixed with the odd grainy looking picture, but again this is forgivable for a R5k smartphone.

Final verdict

The Nokia 5.3 is a solid all-round mid-range smartphone. There are a handful of design elements that weren’t too our liking, but overall there is little to be disappointed by in this device.

As we pondered at the beginning of this review, should the Nokia 5.3 be added to the list of recent great value for money Nokia phones? Unfortunately no, as there is more value to be had in this space at the moment, and if you can hold out for another six to eight months, you’ll likely have a few more 5G-supporting options to consider.

The Nokia 5.3 is by no means a bad phone, but you can find better value for money if you’re willing to look.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.