Comebacks are a very hard nut to crack. Expectations run high — fans and loyalists who have waited years for their beloved brand or team or product to come back are mostly met with disappointment when the second coming cannot match up to past success. That is always the risk for the brand Nokia, which is making a comeback in the phone market using Android via the Finnish company HMD Global. The first Nokia smartphone that HMD Global has launched in India is Nokia 3. And expectations from it are running very high.
We have seen it in the past. TV shows and movie series come back after years are met with a lackluster reception, movie stars try to make comebacks which most often than not fail miserably. In the tech world as well, HTC and Blackberry have been trying to reclaim market share and past glories for years now and have not been very successful. Now an iconic smartphone brand has come back with three new Android smartphones in tow — a brand which was so successful in the mobile space that its name was synonymous with the products it made, a brand which captured the hearts of millions across the world and is still respected and trusted to this date.
Nokia’s comeback is the stuff of legends. And the expectations around it are simply enormous. The smartphone which carries this mountain of hype and anticipation on its shoulder is the diminutive little Nokia 3, the cheapest of the Nokia smartphone line up. Nokia 3 – The little smartphone that could.
At Rs 9,499, the Nokia 3 arrives in a very competitive marketplace currently dominated by Xiaomi and Lenovo. The company responsible for Nokia’s comeback — HMD Global is banking on three main points to elevate the Nokia 3 from the rest of the crowd and make it a viable alternative to the likes of the Redmi 4 and the base variant of the Redmi Note 4 — 100 per cent stock Android and timely updates, offline availability and the trademark Nokia design and build quality.
Does the Nokia 3 have what it takes to establish itself as a viable alternative to the Xiaomi’s and Motorola’s of the world? Is it a flash in the pan for HMD Global or has the company hit it out of the park on its first go? Let’s find out:
Exquisite design that is pleasantly nostalgic
Time and time again, HMD Global has re-iterated that it has tried to carry forward the traditional Nokia qualities of great build quality, premium design and peace of mind. And with the Nokia 3, the company has at least succeeded on the first two with aplomb. The Nokia 3 is built exceptionally well and features a design that manages to look and feel modern while retaining the design ethos of old Lumia smartphones that we all knew and loved.
Simply put, the Nokia 3 looks and feels premium and pleasantly nostalgic at the same time. The smartphone comes with a polycarbonate back which has a matte finish that detracts fingerprints and feels premium. While many might hear the word polycarbonate and instantly equate that to a smartphone that looks and feels cheap, one must not forget that Nokia was a master in making polycarbonate look and feel extremely premium and the same applies for the Nokia 3. There is a metal frame that runs along the sides of the phone that not only adds rigidity but adds to the premium factor.
The biggest take away from the Nokia 3’s design is that unlike many budget smartphones out there from Chinese OEM’s which look tacky and have gaudy finishes, the Nokia 3 exudes classiness and looks sleek and suave. Everyone here at India Today Tech was pleasantly surprised with how well built the phone is and how good it looks and feels in the hand. On the design front, HMD Global has really hit the nail on the head.
Nokia 3 comes with almost everything that made Nokia great — superb build quality, classy and premium looks and peace of mind. The Nokia 3 may not be a faultless phone, but it is more important for what it signifies and that is the revival of an icon. Nokia is well and truly back.
Ergonomically the smartphone is also not bad. The buttons on the right edge — the volume rocker and power button — are made of metal and are a delight to use — the button travel is just adequate and they do not feel mushy at all.
Separate slots (no hybrid SIM card funny business here) for the two SIM cards and microSD card are located on the left edge of the phone, the top houses the endangered 3.5mm headphone jack and the secondary microphone and the loudspeaker, primary microphone and microUSB port are located on the bottom.
While the loudspeaker does not distort at high volumes, it is a little tinny and not very loud. The placement is also very odd as your finger always covers it up and mutes the sound while watching a video or playing a game in landscape.
Display: A pretty standard affair
The display is average. Although, it is also good enough for the price. While the 5-inch 720P display will not give you any major cause for complain, it will not wow you or blow you away with mind-blowing colors or ultra-crisp high-resolution content. The major gripe I had with the Nokia 3 display was that the maximum brightness level is simply not high enough to deal with Delhi’s blazing sun. The fact that the display is polarised helps matters to a degree and reduces reflectivity but a brighter display would have been better.
Things are not all doom and gloom. The colors are vivid (not AMOLED levels, but vivid enough), viewing angles are on point and the lowest brightness setting is dim enough not to be a hindrance at night. There is no blue light filter feature on board as the Nokia 3 is running a completely stock build of Android Nougat and Google has not got around to adding that essential feature to all phones by default.
A full day’s battery life — nothing more, nothing less
Will the Nokia 3 die on you before you reach home? Will it last one whole day of use despite its relatively tiny 2,650mAh battery? The answer to all these questions is a loud and booming yes. HMD Global seems to have done a great job of optimising the software on the Nokia 3 in order to squeeze every last drop of juice from the battery.
While the Nokia 3 is no battery monster like the Redmi Note 4 or the Moto C Plus which come with 4,000mAh plus batteries that last for 1.5-2 days under moderate use, it lasts one whole day without breaking a sweat. In my 7 plus days of using the Nokia 3 as my daily driver, the smartphone never once failed to last the whole day and would always have around 20 to 25 per cent of battery left when I came back from work at 8pm.
All in all, the battery life of the Nokia 3 is not super impressive but it is good enough. The smartphone does enough to ensure it keeps running until it meets the charger at night. Charging though takes a while, with a full charge (from 4 to 5 per cent) taking 2 hours plus.
Stock Android but hardware could have been better
This is where things start to get a little downhill for the Nokia 3. Until now, HMD Global seems to have been hitting it out of the park with the Nokia 3 — decent battery life, above average display, excellent build quality, stock Android and premium looks. When it comes to performance however, the Nokia 3 falters a bit.
Let’s get the boring numbers out of the way first. The Nokia 3 is powered by a quad-core MediaTek MT6737 processor clocked at 1.3GHz paired with 2GB of RAM and the Mali T720 GPU. The smartphone comes with 16GB of internal storage which can be expanded via a microSD card (of up to 128GB). What is great to see is that Nokia has not skimped on any of the essentials (proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, haptic feedback and so on) and has even equipped the smartphone with NFC, which is a rarity in this price segment.
On the other hand, a fingerprint sensor is conspicuous by its absence which is quite disappointing considering that its primary competitors come with one. Having to constantly enter a 4 digit PIN to unlock the smartphone in 2017 feels very old-fashioned and unintuitive.
Now let’s talk about what really matters that is real world performance, which in a nutshell is good enough for most consumers but not-so-good if you are someone who has 10 tabs open in Chrome and who is trying to play Real Racing 3 on the phone. On one hand stock Android is beautifully optimised and UI elements run as smooth as butter. On the other hand the internals are just not enough to cope with intensive use. Even without consciously pushing the device, lags and slowdowns are common.
The Nokia 3 seems to ask for mercy often, sometimes apps like Instagram, Twitter or an overloaded Chrome just freeze for a second, the smartphone catches its breath and then things proceed as normal, albeit slowly. This level of performance is disappointing in a smartphone that costs Rs 9,499 especially when Xiaomi in this segment has raised the bar so high. Casual games like Subway surfers run very smoothly but intensive games suffer from frame rate drops at high settings.
Now to be fair to Nokia, the well-optimised build of stock Android 7.0 Nougat running on the Nokia 3 makes up for this in basic day to day use. When you are just browsing the menus, placing a call or swiping through the home screen, the animations are flawlessly smooth. HMD Global has also promised timely updates, both monthly security updates and yearly Android version updates.
This smartphone is not for enthusiasts. It’s not for those who want to play a game like Implosion on their phone. For them there are more expensive phones out in the market. It is not for those who do all their web browsing on a smartphone. The Nokia 3’s internals just do not do justice to the rest of the smartphone. But at the same time, it is also a good enough phone for most people who still buy their phones in an offline store. It’s better than most of the phones that Samsung, Vivo, Micromax, Lava, Karbonn etc sell in this price bracket.
Nokia 3 camera performance
It seems that 8 is the magic number when it comes to the Nokia 3’s cameras. The rear 8MP camera comes with an aperture of f/2.0 and an LED flash and is a just about above average in general. It performs well when it comes to Macro shots — locking focus onto subjects quickly and accurately, with adequate amount of detail and sharpness. Outdoors and in situations with a decent amount of light (Indoors), the camera also produces somewhat above average images with natural colours but the level of detail is lacking and images do tend to appear a bit soft sometimes.
The HDR mode works well, unlocking detail in shadows as well as bright portions of the image. The only problem is that it tends to add a yellow tinge to the image at times. In low light though, the rear camera does struggle a bit — focus is haphazard and images can come out muddy with a lot of noise. However, the images are not totally dark and are usable enough for social media use. Video capture is limited to 720p HD — bog standard stuff.
The front 8MP camera is above average and is a bit better than the 5MP sensor found on the Redmi Note 4. There is no front flash to be found here however, low light performance is decent — images do have a considerable amount of noise and jaggedness but they are better than expected and with adequate light the front camera produces crisp, clean shots with natural colors and a good amount of detail. Thankfully the smartphone does not over sharpen the images in post processing.
Verdict: Sign of great things to come
So has HMD Global succeeded? Is the Nokia 3 the comeback king everyone hoping it turns out to be? Well despite the performance issues — yes. The Nokia 3 proves that this new re-incarnated Nokia has not lost one drop of the soul and essence that made the Nokia of old so successful and so heartily loved.
HMD Global has managed to retain almost everything that made Nokia great and what people all over the world identify the brand with — great build quality, classy and premium looks and peace of mind. What is refreshing is that HMD Global has not chosen to follow in the footsteps of the countless Chinese OEM’s and join the blind specification war. Instead the company is making its own identity by concentrating on things like software, timely updates, good after sales experience and is capitalising on the Nokia brand name and not blindly taking advantage of it.
The Nokia 3 is not a perfect smartphone. Its performance could have been better. The cameras are average and the battery life, while decent, is not mind-blowing. The Nokia 3 is not for enthusiasts or those who push their devices.
But the Nokia 3 has more mainstream appeal — it is aimed at people who just want a smartphone that works, has a snappy UI and receives timely updates. If you are not a power user — hint: you are not if you don’t download 1GB gaming apps and don’t edit photos with apps like Snapseed — this is the phone that is most likely going to please you. The fact that Nokia 3 is from a trusted brand like Nokia and is available offline (80,000 retailers and 400,000 stores) is icing on the cake. It is a much better phone than what you usually get in offline stores in this price bracket. The Nokia 3 may not be faultless phone, but it is more important for what it signifies and that is the revival of an icon. Nokia is well and truly back.