Nokia 3 review: Is this the budget Android phone to beat?

Nokia’s first budget Android phone is a decent first effort, but a handful of niggles hold the Nokia 3 back

Price
£129
  • Great look; Attractive price
  • Sluggish performance; Mediocre battery life; Disappointing camera

In 2014, Nokia left the smartphone arena. After years of producing great phones, the once-dominant mobile firm had let it all slip through its fingers, selling up to Microsoft after a disastrous few years as the only big firm making Window Phone handsets.

Nokia 3 review: What you need to know

The Nokia 3 is the firm's first proper smartphone in three years, with Nokia ditching Windows in favour of Android. And it's a stock Android OS experience at that: there's no gaudy overlay here.

Nokia 3 review: Price and competition

The Nokia 3 is cheap, though, at 130 and undercuts much of the competition from other big brands. The Moto G5 costs 165; Samsung's Galaxy J5 is 169. There's also our current favourite to contend with: Lenovo's long-lasting P2 at a pricier 180 or so. Its closest competition probably comes from the 2016 Moto G4, which you can pick up for 140 these days.

Nokia 3 review: Design

Despite the three-year absence, the 3 is very much a Nokia design. In fact, the Nokia 3 adopts a similar look and feel to the Lumia phones of old, with metal edging surrounding a matte-finish polycarbonate rear panel and a handsome screen upfront. Nokia's logo is subtly etched into its back, beneath the solitary rear camera at the top.

It's also nice and pocketable, weighing a dinky 140g and a slim 7.5mm. Throw in a 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD slot, and you have a handset that's both attractive and practical. Don't expect USB Type-C and fast-charging, mind, nor any kind of dust- or water-resistance.

Nokia 3 review: Display

The Nokia 3's 5in display is a little uninspiring at first pass. It's only 720p, a far cry from the Full HD offerings on the Moto G5 and G4 before it. You'll only see the difference if you look close, though, and in the areas that matter it's a fine display. A contrast ratio of 1,119:1 ensures the onscreen image is punchy, and it's readable in bright sunlight, too, thanks to a maximum brightness of 473cd/m2, a polarising layer to cut glare and the fact that the glass is fully laminated to the LCD beneath.

Its colour performance is what drags it down. Spend five minutes with it and you'll spot some off-looking colours, with reds in particular looking awfully muddy. An average Delta E measurement of 4.04 (I'd prefer a score of between one and two) affirms this, and the end result is a screen with strange-looking colours across the board.

Nokia 3 review: Performance and battery life

As for the core components, they're not particularly impressive, either, with a quad-core 1.4GHz MediaTek MT6737 processor paired with just 2GB of RAM. Performance in our benchmarks wasn't very impressive at all.

As you can see, the Nokia 3 doesn't stack up particularly well. In fact, it's slower than all of them, including the Moto G4 from 2016. Navigating apps and menus wasn't particularly taxing, but panning and zooming around Google Maps was sluggish at times.

Likewise, gaming performance isn't up to snuff. While simple games such as Threes posed no problem, more action-heavy titles will provide a stiff challenge. In the GFXBench Manhattan 3 test, the Nokia 3 returned an average frame rate of 5fps about the same as the Samsung Galaxy J5 and behind the 2016 Moto G4.

Battery life isn't too bad, but as is the case with general speed, the Nokia 3 still trails behind. Lasting 10hrs 40mins in our continuous video-playback test, it will survive a day on a single use provided you're a little conservative, but again it's worth spending a touch more to get better longevity.

Nokia 3 review: Camera

Budget smartphones typically fall flat when it comes to the camera, and the Nokia 3 is no exception.

We're treated for want of a better term to an 8-megapixel, f/2.0 camera on the back, with very little going for it. There's no laser or phase-detection autofocus for instance, no image stabilisation, and video can only be shot at 720p. Yep, that's 720p.

Performance is as you might expect. Low-light shots lack vibrance, look bland and lack detail, with some very washed-out images. Shots in good light didn't fare much better either, with overexposed highlights a theme, and a general lack of detail.

It's typical budget smartphone fare, but as Motorola has proved over the past few years, you shouldn't have to put up with that.

Summary

At 130, there isn't much direct competition, aside from the 2016 Motorola Moto G4, which you can still buy for 140. But, as long as you don't mind buying a generation-old phone, the Moto is the better choice. It has a bigger, higher-resolution screen, faster performance, a better camera and superior battery life.

Verdict

Nokia’s first stab at a budget Android smartphone is decent enough, but it doesn’t bring anything noteworthy to the table. It’s a looker, sure, and its display is pretty good, but elsewhere it's disappointing. Performance is below par, battery life isn't great and the camera isn't up to scratch either.

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