What should a $200 phone do? When Nokia Romania sent us over the Nokia 5.3 to review, that’s what we tried to find out. I mean, it’s easy to tell where an entry-level phone lacks, but not that easy to say where it shines. 

Nokia 5.3 definitely has its strong points. Like pure – no bloatware – Android that never disappoints and doesn’t miss an update. To be honest, no matter how low the price is, a smartphone should behave like a smartphone. Notifications, apps, software gimmicks that are easy to add – those should run smoothly. 

Great: Seamless user experience, Nokia app

And they do; this is one of the things I liked about this budget phone: seamless user experience with all the Android services we expect. Including Google Assistant, guys, one that’s easy to call out pushing this left button.

Speaking about buttons, another nice quirk is the power button which also lights up when you get notifications. I think of it as a way to alert you when things are happening on social media without killing your laser focus on work.

Another thing that hit me was the weight of the phone. It was not too light, so it didn’t feel cheap even if the back of the phone was not made of glass. Unfortunately, it does lose its shine fast. On their next phone, Nokia should really add a case in the box. 

On the textured back of our Charcoal model, I found a fingerprint reader, right under the camera which worked fast and pretty flawless. It can get annoying if you’re distracted and press the edge of your finger though – it won’t recognize it. 

As far as bezels go, I loved getting a Nokia device with slim bezels – ‘ bout time, I’d say! But in some apps, you’ll still notice a black band in the punch hole area. 

A black upper band is old school but the dark mode itself is very welcome! In fact, unlike with an iPhone, the Android on this Nokia enabled it automatically when Battery Saver was on. That’s a nifty trick and shows how much the OS matters to elevate an experience even on entry-level phones.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t things out of whack. Home animations that come into play when you swap between apps dragged a bit and uninstalling apps took one extra step. Normally, you long-press and uninstall or delete, right? Here, you long-press, get app info, and then uninstall.

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At least you don’t have to search the Internet to find out these things. Nokia added an app that answers all your possible questions, lets you buy the insurance, and recommends apps you might like. Didn’t think I needed it until, well, I did. 

Good: Main camera, Export Frame

As we looked at the back of the phone, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves: does a budget phone need so many cameras? Not that we didn’t see this configuration before, but because we knew that, after testing a similar budget phone, such a design was more for aesthetic reasons than performance. 

So, after testing all the lenses in various scenarios, we can say that they’re not all that bad. Even if some things are lackluster even for a budget phone. The macro lens is… well…it’s there. Is it good? Not really.

How are the others?

Well, in the last few years, I’ve come to love ultra-wide cameras and I know that even flagships phones struggle with the quality on this lens. Even with this in mind, the 5 MP ultrawide camera does not deliver to the point that it justifies its existence. The colors start to lose saturation, and the overall image is not consistent with the main camera. In mix lighting, it’s struggling with the details in the shadows and the highlights. 

Dan, my colleague, tested the main camera here and found it ok; it’s not midrange quality, but it’s fine for the price. In HDR, the images are more balanced, but the sharpening is a little bit too much. In low light the ISO goes way up, even up to ISO 6300, the noise is very visible but in a grungy moody setup, it looks fine. Using the night mode helped a bit and raised the brightness, but it made everything look like a painting.

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In bright light, in a non-apocalyptic setup, it’s pretty hard to find a budget phone that takes much better pictures. As you see the colors are fine, in some bright parts the highlights are clipped, but in general, the photos are good enough. 

The depth camera helps to create a decent out of focus background that works well in the hairline area, too. That’s saying something! That said, please do check the shape of the bokeh! Somehow, without us noticing, most of the portrait shots had a snowflake as the blur shape. Turning down the strength of the blur is a must.

The selfie camera could have been better if Nokia had given up on the ultra-wide and the macro lens and had, instead, invested more in it. The colors on this one are washed out, photos look soft sometimes, out of focus like. We would prefer fewer main cameras for a good selfie camera, especially in times like these where daily video calls are a part of our lives.

On the video side, things look less than great on most budget smartphones. Nokia 5.3 has decent colors, but like all phones from this price category, video stabilization is bad.

I liked, however, the export frame feature, which lets you save a frame of your choosing from the footage.

Room to improve: Video editing, gaming, audio

Want to go a step further and trim your video for more on device edits? Prepare to wait. Saving the video after trimming took longer than I’d like in a smartphone. 

But when all was said and done, I got at least a couple of shots and a video or two for social media. Only they didn’t look quite as I expected. Or better said, they looked washed out on the Nokia 5.3 when compared to other phones. I blame this on the display, which took away from the original vivid feel. 

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Finally, we went crazy and tested this $200 phone’s gaming abilities. Now, keep in mind that just a few flagships out there – ASUS ROG, Nubia Red Magic, Black Shark – are prepared to handle racing, shooters and action games. So I didn’t have high hopes for the Nokia 5.3. 

As expected, with a 665 Snapdragon and 6 gigs of RAM and no cooling system, it got hot fast. And it did stutter, especially while playing Asphalt 9, so you might want to go easy on this phone, where games are concerned. The experience wouldn’t have been so bad though if the sound wasn’t muffled almost all the time. And it wasn’t Nokia’s fault, precisely. I had covered the bottom speaker in landscape mode. It’s gonna happen to you too. Why? Because, and here is where I’d urge Nokia to listen and improve – there’s only one bottom speaker. 

Remember – with ASUS ROG we had four, precisely because your hands were obviously gonna cover some of them. 

Good news is the battery didn’t die mid-game. In a 40-minute gaming session, I saw a 10% drop, with maximum brightness on. And, in casual use, it lasted around 3 days on a full charge.

So guys, what should an under $200 Nokia 5.3 do? Take decent photos, offer a great UX, last more than a day, and have accurate biometric security. Those are four reasons to buy it. Can you think of anything else?

Photo credit: Dan Petru/TechTheLead





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