The Nokia 5.3: a hidden gem

This is a completely unsolicited and unbiased review; I bought the phone with my own money for my own use.

I was recently forced to retire my beloved OnePlus 3T as the battery had deteriorated to the point where it could barely manage the commute from the bedroom to the lounge without having a panic-attack about the lack of a charger. The display was also exhibiting some nasty burn from that horrible “4 processes are running in the background” gremlin. Given the cost of replacing battery and screen, it seemed like a good time to move on.

I didn’t really want to get caught up in the high-monthly-cost contract trap again, since I’m very happy on my £20/month unlimited-everything rolling plan. So I started looking at phone-only deals. I’d lost interest in Nokia some time ago, since they discontinued the Communicator series, and they weren’t even on my list. I targeted OnePlus and Pixel phones, but was held back by the prices.

One of my searches brought up some Nokia options, so… why not? I had a look and couldn’t quite believe the value. £150 for a modern, large Android slab with plenty of connectivity and storage. Surely that couldn’t be right?

One of my all-time favourite phones is the Nokia 6310i. I still have a couple of them! They’re old enough to vote. They still work, And their batteries STILL LAST A WEEK. How fun is that?

Grumpy

I’m not even going to try to show off fancy photos from interesting angles. It looks just like every other modern phone. There’s a small selfie-camera notch at the top of the screen if such things bother you. Headphone port (yes, a proper stereo jack!) at the top where it belongs, USB-C at the bottom. Power and volume keys on the right, and a totally pointless summon-the-Google-assistant button on the left. I might look into whether there’s a way of repurposing that last – perhaps as a work-profile switch?

I don’t get hung up on technical specs, especially when they can be augmented. 64GB storage is merely adequate these days, but slipping a 128GB microSD card in alongside the two SIM cards puts capacity up where it’ll never be an issue. And yes, you read that right. This little gem will swallow two SIM cards AND a memory card. I’m sure the market segment where that’s a requirement is very narrow, but it’s reassuring that if I wander outside my roaming area, I can plug in a local pay-as-you-go SIM and not have to decide what to sacrifice as the swap-out.

How good is the camera? Good enough. I’m not a professional photographer. I’m not even a hobbyist. The pictures I’ve taken with it are fine. According to reviews by people much smarter than me, it’s not a great camera, coming nowhere near the performance of the latest offerings by Samsung, Apple, OnePlus and Pixel. Bah. And humbug. It’s good enough for what I need – quick, opportunistic snaps which suffer far more from poor composition that a weak sensor. If you’;re really interested, this weekend I’ll be taking a series of pictures as part of The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. If you sponsor me and request a silly pose, I’ll do my best to accommodate.

The screen won’t win any awards in terms of pixels counts, brightness, contrast, colour calibration or anything at all really. And that doesn’t matter. It’s a gloriously large (6.55″) slab of perfectly serviceable display. More than good enough for viewing photos, watching fast action movies, or playing the few games I fiddle with from time to time. Is it capable of 762fps at 9800i resolution? No. I don’t care. Can I watch dark, low-contrast movies in full sunlight? No. Why would I? It’s happily shown me everything I need to see.

What I really like

  • The battery. I have no idea how many gazillion milli-whiffles of oodlings it holds. But it easily gets me through a full day without anxiety (which is nice). And that includes fairly heavy use, with maybe even a session of Netflix. at either end of the working day. Even forgetting to charge it overnight (horrors!) didn’t drop the battery below 50%, so based on that I’d guess you could probably squeeze two days of light use out of it.
  • The pure Android experience. I’ve never before had a phone as bloat-free as this one. It’s just Android. And it just works the way you’d expect. As a bonus, it’s part of the Android One program, meaning it’ll get updated faster and stay updated longer than just about anything else except the Pixel jobbies.
  • A side-effect of not having custom launchers, skins and bloatware apps is that it’s really responsive and snappy. I’m very fond of vanilla Android. With most (all?) of my previous Android phones, I’ve had to take steps to remove the crap I can, hide the crap I can’t, and install something approximating a standard skin on top of the junk the manufacturer decided I couldn’t live without.
  • The fingerprint reader is hands-down (no pun intended) the best I’ve used to date. Very quick to respond, very high read-success rate, and zero false-positives so far.
  • The build quality. Just hold it in your hands, and you’ll be hard-pressed to accept this falls way below the £400 price-point. It’s sturdy and solid. Not much more to say about that, really.
  • The integrated FM radio! I have no idea why I’m fond of this feature, as I’ve never used it. But somehow it just tickles me, perhaps a nostalgic pingback to a period when I spent an hour a day walking to and from the office with a little Nokia in my pocket keeping me company.

What I’d improve if it was up to me

  • Wireless charging is missing. And I do find myself wishing it wasn’t.
  • There’s no IR-blaster, either. So I can’t discreetly mute or switch off annoying pub TVs.

And that’s it, really. Two little omissions are all I’ve got to moan about. And it’s not really a moan – my OnePlus had neither of these anyway.

Fancy grabbing one? If you are, and you use my affiliate link right here, I’ll get a (very) small commission. Full disclosure: nobody has asked me to write this review. Opinions are my own. The phone was bought with my own money.