We at Stuff really enjoy a solid mid-range device. The high-end products are cool to play with for a while but it never quite leaves your mind that most versions that want to be hailed as top-of-the-range are disgustingly overrated and unnecessary. As for the cheaper options, they’re nice from an accessibility standpoint but cut features and lower quality builds are difficult to overlook in a market that’s become so competitive over the years. That’s why a mid-range device is best: It takes elements of both extremes and unites them into a package for the average person.
The Nokia 5.3 is one such phone, making clear that one needn’t spend heaps of cash for a decent phone if they’re fine a compromise here and there. If you go in expecting Nokia’s attempt at blowing the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or Huawei P40 Pro out of the water, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a device that does everything you need fairly well but doesn’t go the extra mile, you’re looking at the right device.
Stuck in the middle with 5.3
Let’s discuss what the Nokia 5.3 does well. Firstly, the design of this thing. It’s a gorgeous phone. It’s a decent size, clocking in at 8.5mm thick and weighing just 185g. In a world where phones are becoming heavier and more cumbersome (in my small hands, at least) it’s really nice to have a device that fits comfortably in the hand. Having said that, it’s only smaller in comparison to other devices. It’s still a wide phone but at this point it’s become impossible to find a phone that isn’t at least a little too wide, right?
On the rear, the back plate is made of a composite plastic material which, while looking great, certainly doesn’t instil a great sense of confidence in the Nokia 5.3’s build quality. It feels a little cheap to the touch but given that the phone will probably be encased in a protective cover (which comes in the box) this shouldn’t prove much of an issue.
On the front it’s again clear where corners were cut. The IPS LCD screen clocks in at 1,600 x 720 pixels, meaning you’ll be able to play videos at a 720p resolution but nothing higher. The colours also look a little washed out for some reason. It might have something to do with the auto brightness feature which works only when it’s in the mood to. We ended up turning it off and just cranking the brightness to full because we were tired of waiting for it to pick up on what kind of light we were sitting in.
Oh, we also want to give a shoutout to the weird decision to include a dedicated side-button for the Google Assistant feature. We’ve seen some folks complain about it getting in the way when trying to unlock and use the phone with a single hand but that wasn’t too much of an issue for us. It is weird that a button has been added for a feature that most people would just activate using their voice. It feels like a completely pointless addition that could have been remapped to something actually useful.
The camera on the Nokia 5.3 is, just like every other part of the device, is aggressively okay with a tendency towards disappointing. The main back camera comes with a 13MP main camera, a 5MP ultra-wide lens, a 2MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro lens. They’re not about to out-shoot a P40 but since it costs so much less that’s definitely to be expected. You can pull off some nice shots with it, if you’re willing to take a few and figure out which ones are worth editing properly. Lighting is a touch inconsistent but the majority of the photos you take should come out looking pretty decent.
As for the front-facing camera, the Nokia 5.3 has a single 8MP selfie cam which… works. For some reason the front-facing camera suffered terribly from slowdown. We often experienced severe lag when using the selfie cam and while we’d be tempted to say it was just the phone reacting to our faces, we know better. The software inside the phone doesn’t mesh well with the cameras and sensors on offer, meaning actually taking consistent photos is bit of a nightmare.
Which leads us onto the software and general performance of the device. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor (3GB, 4GB, or 6GB of RAM) is a super common internal and while it runs most apps fine it does tend to buckle when you place strain on it. Browsing through social media, sending messages and browsing the photo gallery is all fine but it battles to juggle too many tabs at once and often struggles with the burst-memory needed to open intense apps like Fortnite or PUBG.
Having said that, it is once again necessary to remind ourselves that this is a mid-range device that’s not going to be as powerful as a device that costs tens of thousands of rands. It’ll do everything you need it to do but don’t expect miracles from the Nokia 5.3. It’s doing its best.
Which is probably how we want to round this review up. The Nokia 5.3 is just doing its best. We’ve been getting in a good haul of mid-range devices lately and while this one doesn’t really stand out too drastically from the competition it’s still a decent purchase if you’re in the market for a cheap-ish phone that does what you need, plus a little more, while also supporting Google apps. The phone looks great, runs decently and takes some slightly less-than-average photos with all its cameras. If you’re not looking at taking over Instagram or compete in a PUBG Mobile tournament then the Nokia 5.3 should be more than suitable for you.
The Nokia 5.3 is available from R4 999 on Takealot.