(Pocket-lint) - Buying a budget phone is often trickier than slapping a chunk of cash down for a pricier flagship. At the top-end of the market phones are generally really good - you can't go that wrong. At the lower end there are compromises made to bring costs down - so not every affordable device will tick every box.

Nokia attempts to bring strong everyday performance and features with its 5.3 device. Since re-emerging under the wing of HMD Global, it's delivered a huge number of Android phones already, each trying to deliver bang for buck.

But with strong competition from the Moto G8, however, does the Nokia 5.3 manage to stand out?

Design

  • Dimensions: 164.3 x 76.6 x 8.5mm / Weight: 185g
  • Plastic rear casing and frame
  • Fingerprint sensor to rear

At the budget end of the market, it's common to find phones predominantly made from a plastic composite of some kind. That's exactly what you get with the Nokia 5.3. Its rear is covered in a frosted/matte-looking plastic that's semi transparent and laid on top of some diagonal pinstripes.

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It's an attractive, minimal look, and the thinness of the frame means it feels good in the hand too. Although it does feel a bit weak; it creaks a little when picked up, or if you hold it firmly.

There are some other nice touches here though. The power button has a lovely pulsing white LED that lights up when you have a notification waiting, or when you've plugged the phone in to charge. It lights up almost the entire length of the slim button too, and is much more pleasant to look at than a small, round flashing multi-coloured light. It's a little bit of attention to detail that we don't see in a lot of other budget phones.

The other nice touch is the camera system on the back. It's placed centrally, in a round enclosure, making it completely symmetrical. It's only a slight protrusion too, so you don't get excessive wobble when you place the phone down on its back.

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On the front, most of the space is taken up by a display with little in the way of bezel. For a budget device, the frame up the side is slim, and the only intrusion is the small dewdrop-shape notch on the top. The bottom bezel is thicker, but this would have been flagship bezel design only a couple of years ago. 

Display

  • 6.55-inch LCD display
  • 720 x 1560 resolution
  • 20:9 aspect ratio

When weighing up the performance of a phone that's less than a couple of hundred in price, there's an element whereby expectations need to be set accordingly. You aren't going to get the best, sharpest, HDR10-boasting 120Hz refresh-rate panel.

From a specification perspective, the Nokia 5.3 comes with exactly the kind of display you'd expect at this price range. Although, even in this category, we'd argue there are some that are slightly better. It's a 6.55-inch display, which means there's plenty of it. It's an LCD panel with HD+ resolution (720 x 1560), and it's mostly fine.

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Not being the sharpest panel around means that when you're looking quite closely the round edges of app icons and text looks quite rough. At arm's length it's not all that noticeable, unless you were to place it alongside a screen from a phone that costs a lot more.

Colours generally appear quite natural, and white backgrounds are generally clean and crisp, although highlighted elements often get a little too bright and bloom a little. And when you start playing games, the graphics do get a little rough too.

Compared to the similarly priced Moto G8, the Nokia's display doesn't seem as vibrant when watching videos, with those highlights sometimes causing a slightly washed out look. It's not all the time, but it is something we noticed.

It's on the software side that we think Nokia will win fans. It's part of the Android One program, which means the experience is one that's very pure to Google's vision for Android. There's no additional bloatware or duplicate apps here.

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Android One phones get regular security patches to keep them protected, and get software updates almost as soon as they're available. You don't have to wait for months like you might with a phone from other manufacturers. Plus, you're guaranteed up to two years of software updates.

Performance and battery

  • Snapdragon 665 processor
  • 4GB RAM + 64GB storage
  • 4,000mAh battery

Battery life is one of the Nokia 5.3's greatest strongpoints. It's got a 4,000mAh cell, which is relatively capacious for any smartphone, but with the Nokia having a display that's not as power intensive as some flagships, that battery goes a lot further. Nokia calls it a two-day battery, and in our testing it's not far off being exactly that.

We'd get to the end of a moderate day with nearly 50 per cent left over, and generally get to the end of the second day's work hours too. It perhaps didn't quite get to bed time on the second day, but it wasn't far away. Light users would likely get two days without too much trouble.

Overall speed and performance is decent. It doesn't struggle to launch apps, in that they don't refuse to load. You can play any game on it, too, and use your favourite apps to your heart's content. 

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Being critical, however, we did notice lag in terms of response to touch input on the screen, and apps often took a second or two longer to load than a flagship might. Once loaded, general animations are a tiny bit stuttery too.

What we did find was that quite intense, high-speed games did especially struggle on the 5.3. Playing Asphalt 9 wasn't a fluid experience. We found it'd often stutter, even reeze for a split second at key moments, causing you to miss an opportunity to change lanes or slide around corners.

Despite having the same processor and RAM configuration, we found the Moto G8, again, to be a more reliable performer.

Camera

  • Quad camera system
  • 13MP primary camera with PDAF
  • 5MP ultra-wide
  • 2MP macro and 2MP depth

For a low cost phone, the camera system on Nokia's latest 5-series phone is very versatile. It has four cameras - regular, ultra-wide, macro and depth - that combine to give you a little more flexibility in shooting style.

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Results from the main camera are deep and rich in colour, with good focusing reliability. We liked the vibrant look of the shots from the primary lens taken outside in good light - there's plenty of detail, lots of colour and contrast (perhaps a little too much contrast at times).

What's striking is the difference between those results and those from the ultra-wide camera. Switching to the wider lens, photos turn quite faded, sometimes lacking detail, and are far less vibrant. 

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Switch to macro mode and contrast gets a little too high, with colours that are a tad too deep. In good daylight, the images don't look terrible with the macro lens - but, switch to harsher lighting conditions and the highlights get a bit too overblown, and colours don't look good. 

Nokia has enabled some automatic processing, so when it recognises, say, a cat or green foliage, it'll adjust properties to match. Plus, there's also a night mode for taking shots in very low light conditions - although it's far from being the strongest nightscape mode we've used, struggling even in daytime with the curtains shut and no indoor lights on (see shot below).

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On the whole, it's a strong camera for the price point. It can take great-looking photos, and despite the lack of consistency across the lenses, it's a versatile system that should keep most users happy with its simple-to-use, feature rich capability. As long as you stick to taking photos outdoors, in daylight. 

Verdict

If you don't have a huge budget to spend on a phone, the Nokia 5.3 will tick most of the boxes for you. It delivers a clean software experience that'll always be up to date, a big screen, long-lasting battery, and a versatile camera system.

However, it's a bit slow to respond at times - but that's the play-off for the lower asking price This is what makes it a couple of steps short of being a great affordable phone though. A tightening up of speed and graphics performance would see the 5.3 leap from being just good in to something far more recommendable.

Also consider

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Moto G8 

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We've mentioned it more than once in the review, but the most direct competitor to the Nokia 5.3 is the Moto G8. It runs a similar platform, but offers other strengths, like a higher-resolution camera and a better display. 

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Redmi Note 9

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On the other side of the Android software scale, Redmi's Note 9 has its own take on software, but you can't argue with the value for money when it comes to hardware and performance. It's fantastic, but it does cost a bit more. 

Writing by Cam Bunton.