Nokia 3 Review: Pretty, but also pretty slow
The revived Nokia's cheapest handset looks pretty good on the outside, but appearances can be deceptive.
Nokia is one of those phone brands that generally brings with it fond memories of mobile devices that were solidly more on the "feature" rather than "smart" phone side of the fence. Not that Nokia didn't have its own entries in the smartphone race, both with its own Symbian-based handsets and then later with Windows Phone based handsets, but declining sales saw the Finnish communications giant lose both market position and interest in the space, before selling its entire mobile business to Microsoft. Microsoft later dropped the Nokia name from its handsets. Given the glacial pace of its handset releases, it's very likely that it's also out of the handset game as well.
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So how can I be testing out a "new" Nokia phone, precisely? It's because Nokia's deal with Microsoft sold off the factories and intellectual property, but not the actual Nokia naming rights. It has sub-licensed that naming for mobile phones to fellow Finnish company HMD Global, and that's where the new range of Nokia handsets, currently compromising the Nokia 3, Nokia 5 and Nokia 6 hail from. HMD has quite the history and expectation for quality to live up to but has very solidly positioned itself as a low-cost player, especially with the $249 Nokia 3.
The Nokia 3’s design reminds me, if anything, of the design of Sony’s Xperia XA, with rounded corners that wrap around a plainly coloured bezel that contains the Nokia 3’s 5-inch display.
It’s far from the best design on the market, but at the price point that Nokia/HMD is looking to get for the Nokia 3, it’s punching above its weight. I tested with the white variant, which is very stark in its plain white style in a way that generally looks very good, and quite the antithesis of a “budget” handset. While it has produced the Nokia 3 in a range of colours, here in Australia we'll only see the "Silver White" and "Matte Black" variants.
The Nokia 3 features a 5-inch display within a 143.4x71.4x8.48mm frame, with simple volume and power buttons on the right, and separate trays for the SIM card and microSD expansion on the left. On the rear, there is a camera bump, but it’s so tiny as to be almost unnoticeable. Certainly compared to the thicker camera bump on the Nokia 6, it’s essentially invisible.
All this adds up to a phone that by and large gets on with being a phone, rather than relying on a particular style point to sell its story. Again, that’s quite par for the course for a budget handset.
HMD has recently signed a deal with ZEISS that will see the handset manufacturer work with the optics manufacturer to deliver new smartphone cameras, but the Nokia 3 was produced and announced well in advance of that deal. What you're looking at with the Nokia 3 is an 8MP sensor on either side of the phone, which isn't entirely unexpected in the budget space. You're not paying top dollar, so you're not getting premium or even mid-range camera experiences.
Still, the Nokia 3's camera largely left us wanting. If there's a word to describe it, that word would be slow. The default camera app is slow to launch and can be very slow to find focus and fix exposure. Often it will fall quite far from the mark, so while it's feasible to get passable photos out of it with a little patience, it's not much good at all if you're after faster action shots, or those blink-and-you'll-miss-them once only type photos. Here's a sample of what I could shoot with the Nokia 3:
The Nokia 3 runs on a Quad-core 1.3Ghz MediaTek 6737 SoC, marking it out as the lesser sibling to the Nokia 5 and Nokia 6, both of which feature Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 SoCs instead. There's only 2GB of RAM onboard, which again isn't uncommon in the budget space, but even so, the Nokia 3 is a phone that quickly shows its performance limitations in day to day use.
Apps tend to crawl around, and this extends to games as well. While budget phones are unlikely to be rocketships, in a competitive market, the Nokia 3 doesn't feel like it's anything special at all, and this is borne out by its benchmark results. Here's how it compared using Geekbench 4's CPU test:
|Handset||Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)||Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)|
|Moto G5 Plus||842||4180|
|Motorola Moto X Force||1352||3581|
|Huawei GR5 2017||814||3398|
|Huawei Nova Plus||843||2985|
The same story plays out in the 3D space, where the Nokia 3 compares very poorly:
|Handset||3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result|
|Huawei Nova Plus||13969|
|Moto G5 Plus||13753|
|Huawei GR5 2017||11859|
On the software front, there's not much sitting on the Nokia 3 that should impede its performance notably. Like the rest of the current Nokia range, it's essentially running stock Android, in the Nokia 3's case Android 7.0.
The Nokia 3 isn't the first budget handset to include Android N, but Nokia’s promise in the case of its new handsets is an interesting one. It claims it will offer software support for the next two-year life cycle of the phones. That’s not just for its own software, which is minimal, but for Google security and OS updates. A keen aim, if it can keep to it over the full two years, given most Android handsets, and especially budget models are often stuck with just a single iteration of Android updates.
Nokia’s positioning on Android is that it very much loves Google’s approach to apps entirely, which is why it offers what’s essentially a stock Android experience across all of its handsets. While the Pixel phones have gone quite premium, this leaves handsets that offer stock Android such as the Nokia 3 in the interesting position of being much like the older Nexus handsets were. They’re not fancy, and they’re not loaded down with apps you probably don't want. Given its mediocre performance, that's ultimately for the best.
The Nokia 3's smaller frame doesn't give HMD/Nokia much space to stack in batteries, although we have seen some budget handsets of late with quite impressive battery specifications. With only a 2630mAh battery on board, my expectations of the Nokia 3's battery life weren't on the higher side, and that was borne out both in anecdotal and benchmark testing.
It's feasible to get the Nokia 3 to last through an entire day of usage, but not easily if you're anything more than a very light phone user. As with any phone if you push it hard enough you can send it flat relatively quickly, but even in a comparative sense against other budget and mid-range handsets the battery life comparison doesn't flatter the Nokia 3. Here's how it compared using Geekbench 3's older battery life test:
|Handset||Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration||Geekbench 3 Battery Score|
|LG X Power||14:50:30||5714|
|Huawei Nova Plus||13:21:20||8013|
|Huawei GR5 2017||11:33:50||6938|
|Motorola Moto G5 Plus||11:15:40||6756|
|Motorola Moto X Force||9:46:50||3914|
|Motorola Moto G5||6:32:50||3833|
Any budget handset is always going to come with compromises, because if you don't want compromises, you're going to have to spend more money. However, the quality that we're seeing in both the mid-range and budget sectors has led us to expect a little bit more than the Nokia 3 can reliably deliver across a range of measurable metrics.
It is quite a pretty handset for a budget offering if that appeals to you, but in the same kind of space it's outclassed generally by the Motorola Moto G5 and especially the Motorola Moto G5 Plus which are a better outright buy option right now.
- Product Name
- Nokia 3
- 720 x 1280 pixels
- Android 7.0
- Front camera
- 8MP f/2.0
- Rear camera
- 8MP f/2.0
- Snapdragon 835
- 140.7 x156 x 77 x 7.9 mm