Nokia 3, First Take: Affordable Android, but beware the trade-offs

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Nokia has had its share of knockbacks in recent times, but the company has not given up on handsets. Its phone brand is now owned by HMD, a Finnish company, but you’d never know. Visit Nokia’s website and its Phones, Health (courtesy of the Withings acquisition), Virtual reality and Networks streams all sit together as a piece.

The first new Nokia handset to launch was the revamped Nokia 3310, which we reviewed back in May. This runs on a somewhat quirky operating system designed for its small, non-touch, screen.

There’s no such compromise with the Nokia 3, or with the better featured and more expensive Nokia 5 and Nokia 6: these far more conventional handsets are aimed at taking a slice of the Android market.

The Nokia 3 is the entry-level phone of the new Android lineup. It costs £119.99 (€139) and is fighting in the budget corner.

The entry-level Nokia 3 costs just £119.99 (€139). The main compromise is the 5-inch screen, which delivers just 1,280 x 720 pixels (294 ppi).

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Build quality is impressive. The matte finish polycarbonate back is reminiscent of Nokia’s Windows Phone handsets, and is nicely grippy. There’s an internal aluminium frame for added robustness, and I wasn’t able to bend or bow this phone in my hands.

My white version looks very smart, although there’s nothing groundbreaking here: the silver, rounded edges are standard fare, but the overall impression is of a phone that costs more than it actually does. If you’re looking for something more distinctive there’s a white version with copper-coloured edges as well as all-blue and all-black options.

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Under the surface, the budget nature of this handset becomes clear. It runs Android 7 (Nougat) and benefits from a lack of unnecessary extra software. Nokia says it will provide regular updates, so if you’re seeking a budget phone that stays up-to-date with Android, you may be tempted.

The chipset is a 1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek MT6737 supported by 2GB of RAM, which is pretty basic fare. I managed fine with everyday web browsing, email, texting and a bit of app use. But I’m not a heavy mobile gamer — anyone who is will need a much beefier handset.

Storage will also be a problem for some people. There is 16GB on board, of which 6.7GB is occupied out of the box, so it’s helpful that a MicroSD card slot is available, on the left edge of the chassis, which can add up to 128GB more.

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The rear camera is an 8MP unit with an f/2.0 autofocus lens and an LED flash unit.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Then there’s the 5-inch screen, which is a Gorilla Glass-protected IPS LCD. The ambient light sensor sets the brightness a bit low for my taste, although the maximum 450-nit level is fine. However, the issue for many will be the screen’s resolution: 1,280 by 720 pixels, or 294ppi, is bordering on unacceptable these days. I found streaming video, in particular, was a little unrewarding.

Sound output through the single speaker is rather disappointing too. It has a fair amount of volume, but is very short on bass tones. Moreover, because the speaker is located on the bottom of the handset it was often covered when I held the handset in landscape mode, reducing volume to a muffled whisper.

Nokia has managed to squeeze NFC into the specification, which is a nice touch for an entry-level handset. I also think it’s a plus that the battery charges via old-fashioned Micro-USB, as budget-limited buyers may be less likely to want to upgrade to USB-C. The cameras are nothing to write home about: both are moderate-resolution 8 megapixel units, and the rear camera’s LED flash doesn’t do a great deal to improve low-light shots.

The non-removable 2,630mAh battery will probably deliver a day’s life on a single charge, so long as workloads are light. But if you like to use GPS, play a lot of music, or do a lot of video streaming, you might find you need to recharge during the day.

Buying on a budget is always a compromise, but there’s a lot to like about the Nokia 3. It punches above its weight in the looks department and the inclusion of NFC is a plus. Unskinned Android with the promise of regular updates will also go down well with many potential buyers, but the screen resolution is disappointing.

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