Nokia 3 review: Welcome back Nokia!

When a tech geek switches from a flagship smartphone to a $150 Android phone, the change could cause desperation and sadness. Let’s find out what feelings the new Nokia 3 causes.

A week ago, I switched my main SIM-card from my Nexus 6P to a Nokia 3 Android smartphone. I downloaded all the apps I use and added all the accounts I need to make the Nokia 3 my daily driver for a week. The first boot took 3 minutes and I already started to feel desperate. However, after smashing the quad core Mediatek MT6737 with all the installations and usual first boot stuff, the performance started to settle to a usable level.

Using the Nokia 3 is very familiar to a Nexus user. All the new Nokias use almost stock build of Android 7.0 and they are confirmed to get the upcoming Android 8 update that I’m already running on my Nexus as a beta release.

Once all the options have been set up correctly, I started to wonder about the build quality. As it says in the box, the Nokia 3 should have an aluminum frame. Unfortunately, the paint on my black model feels very plasticky. It almost never feels cold to the touch. Also, the back panel keeps plasticky noise, not least because it is made out of plastic. The buttons feel clicky, and according to my material detecting thumb, are made of metal. Other noticeable physical features are the non-protruding camera lens, headphone jack on the top and micro-USB charging port and single speaker at the bottom. One microphone is at the top and another at the bottom. HMD Global has placed a Nokia logo at the top right of the Gorilla Glass covered front panel, another at back and their address at Espoo Finland also at the plastic back panel. The capacitive Android navigation buttons are placed below the display under the glass.

That leads us to the first elephant in the room, the missing fingerprint scanner. Nokia 5 and 6 both have a fingerprint scanner integrated to the home button. The Nokia 3 doesn’t. This is one feature that is missed at the $150 category. Luckily the power button is just where my thumb comfortably sits and the 5” display easily allows drawing the lock pattern one handed. Speaking of the power button, this is the first phone I’ve tested which allows me to take a screenshot with just one finger. The volume rocker is placed on top of the power button and just close enough.

The display. Well, it’s bad. I mean compared to the brilliant high-resolution AMOLED panels I’ve been using lately. The 5” 720p IPS LCD panel is grainy and washed out. Colors and contrast are just average. Touch sensitivity, not sure about that one. Is it just lag caused by the entry level SoC or is the display slower than my thumbs. Especially often this happens with the outermost keys like A and backspace. I just can’t type as fast as I do on my Nexus. Although, it’s not just this Nokia, I had the same issue with the OnePlus 3T last winter.

A big part of my smartphone usage is YouTube. Obviously, I tested that then. Speaker quality is decent and volume range suits most situations. The display is very average as said, and one quite annoying thing is the fact that the YouTube app automatically selects 144 or 240p resolution regardless of the network speed. Then the 720p needs to be manually selected.

The lag is present with this device. Pressing the home button sometimes causes the Google Assistant to pop up. Also, the GBoard sometimes records the same keypress two or three times. This causes some quite funny typos. What makes the experience bearable it that the lag usually shows in the same situations and I’ve already learned to expect it. When typing on Facebook Messenger and getting a notification on WhatsApp, the keyboard usually takes the next key three times. The other way around I get just two of the same letters. Also, switching from YouTube app to camera and back can take 10 seconds and usually the YouTube app reloads forgetting the video that I was watching. This is probably due to the 2GB of RAM.

I’d like to talk about something positive at this point. Battery life is just magnificent. Last full charge I got 3 hours of screen on time over 24 hours and even had 38% of juice left after that. Compared to my Nexus with last stable build I used, 2.5 hours and 20%. The Mediatek SoC just sips through the 2650mAh battery. Also, the 720p display saves a lot of power. During this, admittedly short test period, I’ve had 15-40% of battery left in the evening. Not once have I run out of juice before the end of the day.

The 5W charger included in the box is slow but I was able to speed the charging up by using some leftover 2 amp Samsung charger. Note that the Nokia 3 has micro-USB charging port, not a Type-C one. This is quite weird choice as the Type-C has pretty much overthrown the old connector in new releases. Probably a cost-cutting choice.

One area, where the flagship phones really stretch their legs is camera quality. The Nokia 3’s main camera is very average. Sometimes even bad. In the optimal conditions, the main camera is capable of producing decent images with HDR on. The front facer does its job way better than the main camera. Especially with HDR on. Selfies are actually quite decent. Of course, I’m spoiled by my Nexus 6P and Google’s magical camera software. Video quality is pretty much what one could expect. Maybe a bit better than the still quality. Of course, there is no OIS to stabilize the videos but focus seems to be better than in stills.

Nokia 3 is not a bad smartphone. In fact, it’s brilliant. I can’t imagine any of the custom UI devices at same price point being even remotely as capable smartphones. Using the stock Android is a genius move by HMD Global. Why spend resources making software if Google already provides such a good one. Other manufacturers are using old Android versions and sluggish custom UIs as the new Nokias bring the relatively quick and responsive stock Android experience.

However, don’t expect too quick of a return to the business market as the stock Android still doesn’t have a mobile device management program. Samsung and Apple will then keep their lead at business market. Hopefully Google changes this in the future so that the last companies using Lumias get to keep the same logo in their devices.

Nokia is rumored to launch a whole bunch of new Android phones this year. If that’s true, Nokia’s lineup going forwards looks absolutely fantastic. Nokia 3310, 3, 5 and 6 might get bigger brothers later in the year and HMD Global will bring the stock Android to all price brackets. Finally, some competition in the Moto-zone.

All in all, the Nokia 3 is very capable cheap smartphone. I can see it having its place in numerous pockets around the world, especially in countries where the Nokia name is still famous. The Nokia 3 is now the phone I suggest for the people who want a cheap smartphone. At this price point, there hasn’t been much of a traffic on my suggestion lists. Now, the stock Android is there and hopefully to stay.

So, did I survive the week? Yes, easily. But of course, I’ll switch back to my Nexus and wait for the upcoming Pixel 2 to really replace my Nexus. Display and cameras are the main reasons, fingerprint scanner and performance coming close behind. I have been spoiled by the flagships.

Welcome back Nokia! Hope you will succeed!

As a postscript, unfortunately, I must return to the weaker things, Nokia support. I discovered an annoying software bug in my Nokia 3 during the testing. However, Nokia doesn’t have any channels to submit a bug report. I tried their support chat app but they just politely asked me to get in touch with service because it’s a hardware issue. In their support website, Nokia doesn’t even have the Nokia 3 listed just yet, so no support there. The community forums are also still under construction. This will hopefully and probably change in the future.