Nokia 3, 5 & 6
FROM FAME TO OBSCURITY, A ONCE-LEGENDARY MANUFACTURER REINVENTS ITSELF WITH A TRIO OF ENTRY-LEVEL PHONES.
WITH THE EXCEPTION of our youngest readers, it’s probably safe to say that most of you will have owned a Nokia handset at one point in your life — the Finnish brand was synonymous with mobile phones throughout the ‘90s and most of the ‘00s. That all changed with the arrival of the iPhone, however, and after the colossal failure of Microsoft’s acquisition of the company in 2014, it appeared that Nokia’s time in the phone business was well and truly over.
However, while the phone arm of the original Nokia corporation may no longer exist, the brand does live on through HMD Global, a Finland-based company made up of key staff from Nokia’s past, and founded by 17-year Nokia veteran Arto Nummela. Now, with the Windows Phone platform thankfully in its rearview, Nokia has kicked off its return with three separate handsets for the budget market, each running a stock version of Android. [Ed’s note: The company’s skipped the Nokia 4, as the pronunciation of ‘four’ in Mandarin and Cantonese sounds like the word ‘death’.]
Beautifully crafted and hitting some impressively-affordable price points, will these phones live up to your fond Nokia memories?
NOKIA 3: THE BABY OF THE BUNCH
We wanted to like the Nokia 3 so badly when we opened its box. The most budget of the three new budget brothers from Nokia looks and feels like a phone well outside its price range. Apart from resting a little too lightly in the hand, the overall feel of the handset is deceptively premium. The squared silhouette with rounded aluminium edges is striking and even the matte polycarbonate back is surprisingly un-tacky. Unfortunately, most of the praise stops there.
While we understand that $249 is a low price for a smartphone, you can grab the (albeit uglier) Motorola Moto G5 for the same price and it improves on almost every aspect of the Nokia 3, often considerably. In fact, based on our benchmarking, Motorola’s previous generation of budget phone, the Moto G4 Play, edged out the Nokia 3 on every CPU and battery-life benchmark we ran, and only lagged behind in the GPU tests by a small margin. Although the Nokia comes with a stock Android OS (7.0), it runs a little sluggishly from the get-go, even with the simpler Google Suite apps. This doesn’t bode well for users that hope to have a speedy phone in a few months time.
Sadly, despite the weaker processor and 720p display resolution, the battery life doesn’t stack up against other phones in the budget range — this is usually one of the major boons of budget and mid-range devices that don’t need excessive processing power. The camera is serviceable but nothing flash, the absence of a fingerprint scanner is disappointing, and the display is a little dull.
The phone is fine for the price, but it’s difficult to recommend the Nokia 3 over its competition, in particular the Moto G5, unless you’re really keen on its aesthetic. If you’re willing to spend a little more, the next model up in the series, the Nokia 5, may be worth the extra dosh, or the Moto G5 Plus.
NOKIA 5: MID-RANGE BUT ALSO A LITTLE MIDDLING
Sitting squarely in the middle of the new range, the dangerous temptation with the Nokia 5 is to either drop down to the cheaper option, or spend a little more to get something
flashier. And just on its looks alone, the 5 makes a strong case that you should drop that extra $70 and opt for the far-more stylish 6. While both handsets benefit from an aluminium unibody frame, the 5’s rounded edges and thick bezel make it a very simple, plain affair. When you look at the specs, you might think you’d be better off saving some money and opting for the entry-level 3.
Nokia’s intentional plain ethos means you get a bare-bones Android operating system, common across all three units. HMD Global, the manufacturer, has said it’s to ensure the phones run to the best of their abilities, and have committed to providing day-one updates for the next two years. It makes sense to keep the OS as streamlined as possible, as the internals have been sourced and built to be lean — and, we suspect, to hit that attractive price point. Uncluttered by any additional firmware, the OS runs smoothly, though it definitely lags when flicking between apps and, as we noted elsewhere, means it’s lacking a certain personality.
On the outside and in, the 5 shares a lot with the 6. There’s a welcome fingerprint sensor on the lower part of the bezel, a 13MP rear camera that produces fair images in bright sunlight. Behind the bright and clear 5.2-inch screen is the same, slightly wheezing processor. You only get 2GB of RAM here, which hurts. There’s also just that momentary pause, an occasional stutter that’s initially worrying and infuriating — especially when waking the phone from its sleep state — though you’ll soon live with it. Our benchmarking tests reveal this is capable for everyday tasks, like banking and a few photos. It’s about what we’d expect for the price, and if you’re new to smartphones, this could well be your perfect introduction. There’s nothing complicated, and you get the luxury of a fingerprint scanner.
Onboard storage is technically 16GB, but a displeasing 7.22GB of that is used by the system. You can add up to a 128GB microSD card to help — which we’d highly recommend — but our ultimate recommendation here is to go for the Nokia 6.
NOKIA 6: A ‘PURE ANDROID’ EXPERIENCE AT A REASONABLE PRICE
Apart from its rather stylish design, with its smooth back, satisfyingly sharp edges and metal unibody, the Nokia 6 offers a fairly standard Android phone experience. Logo and boot-up screen aside, you’d be hard-pressed to know from use that this is indeed a Nokia phone, with it running an almost completely stock version of Android 7.0 Nougat and avoiding any bells or whistles in the process.
While many phone enthusiasts are quick to bestow praise upon the virtues of Google’s “Pure Android” descriptor, there’s something to be said about the extra personalisation options and touches that a customised phone UI can add to a user’s phone experience. Take this stuff away and a device lacks character and personality, something that the Nokia of old had in abundance during its heyday. This stripped-down approach leaves the Nokia 6 feeling serviceable, if entirely unremarkable. Hell, we’d even settle for a pre-installed version of Snake if it meant getting a bit of that old Nokia charm back. Admittedly, you could always opt to install Nokia’s own Z Launcher from a few years back, which is still available on the Google Play Store — it won’t make the phone’s barebones settings any deeper, but it will give the handset an undeniable Nokia feel.
Despite an all-round lack in personality out of the box, the Nokia 6 has a decent, albeit slow camera that uses autofocus to take some reasonably good pictures. We were also impressed by the sharpness, clarity and colour reproduction of its 5.5-inch 1080p display, something that few phones can boast within this price range. Don’t expect much in terms of performance, however, with its dated Snapdragon 430 processor and Adreno 505 GPU delivering some middling Geekbench 4 scores, returning a single-core score of 638 and a multi-core score of 2,697 — not even its 3GB of RAM could do much to assuage that result.
That said, the type of user that the Nokia 6 is aimed at probably isn’t all that concerned about performance, and the phone does have its share of positives that will make it desirable to the value-minded individual. We like that its 32GB of onboard storage can be expanded by an extra 256GB via the phone’s microSD slot, and its front-facing fingerprint scanner is fast and reliable, giving the device even more of a flagship feel in the hand.
The Nokia 6 is nicely priced with an even nicer design, we just hope the upcoming Nokia 8 flagship does more to distinguish itself from the pack.
NOKIA 3 $249 www.nokia.com 31/ 2 NOKIA 5 $329 www.nokia.com CRITICAL SPECS Android 7.1.1; 5.2-inch IPS LCD display @ 720p (282ppi); Snapdragon 430; Adreno 505; 3GB RAM; 32GB internal storage (microSD card up to 256GB); 16MP rear, 8MP front camera; 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi; microUSB 2.0 port; 3,000mAh battery; 149.7 x 72.5 x 8mm; 160g CRITICAL SPECS Android 7.0; 5.0-inch IPS LCD display @ 720p (294ppi); Mediatek MT6737 quad-core; Mali-T720MP1; 2GB RAM; 16GB internal storage (microSD card up to 128GB); 8MP rear, 8MP front camera; 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi; microUSB 2.0 port; 2,630mAh battery; 143.4 x 71.4 x 8.5mm; 140g 21/ 2
31/ 2 NOKIA 6 $399 www.nokia.com CRITICAL SPECS Android 7.1.1; 5.5-inch IPS LCD display @ 1080p (403ppi); MSM8937 Snapdragon 430 octa-core; Adreno 505; 3GB RAM; 32GB internal storage (microSD card up to 256GB); 16MP rear, 8MP front camera; 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi; microUSB 2.0 port; 3,000mAh battery; 154 x 75.8 x 7.9 mm; 169g