Whichever way you look at it, it’s not easy reviewing the Nokia 8.3 5G. On paper, it almost lacks any flair or special sauce that would make it even justify its existence, especially at its launch day asking price of between 550 to 650 euros in some countries. Luckily for me, I live in a place where the best version of the Nokia 8.3 costs about $570 (8/128Gb version), and at that price, it’s a lot more competitive. Having said that, I need to take into consideration the global audience and shift my perspective to match what you can expect if you pick it up from anywhere. So here it goes!
So let’s start with the bad news out of the way. On paper, the Nokia 8.3 almost feels like it’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s not spec-ed enough to compete with the “affordable” flagships that are usually around $100-$200 more expensive, and it’s not cheap enough to compete with many excellent value propositions that offer the same basic CPU/GPU configuration for $100-$200 less. So how does it fit in?
Hardware has always been a differentiating factor for Nokia Mobile, and it continues to be here. This phone feels premium and expensive. I really like the polar night color, which combines the sauve character you’d find in classic colors like black or silver, and the eccentric youthful character you’d find in gradient colors. The back is made out of glass, and it’s glossy which needs cleaning all the time though. The edges are made out of plastic. Not the flimsy cheap-feeling plastic you sometimes find on devices that looks good from far but feel cheap to hold. It’s very solid on this phone and feels quite dense. You can’t bend this phone no matter how hard you try. Built like a tank is the best way to describe it. Marin had a chance of dropping it on the second day with the device, and the floor lost while not a single scratch was added to the glossy finish. However, it’s not exactly compact, with a huge 6.81″ IPS LCD FHD+ display on the front, and a big chin on the bottom. I’m a person that seeks perfection, and due to this larger than usual bezel, it gets a 9/10 from me for hardware design and build quality. If you don’t like big devices, this isn’t for you. But It holds its own against more expensive devices and clearly distinguishes itself from cheaper ones. Also big yay for the headphone jack, and the side-mounted fingerprint works well. The Google assistant button makes a comeback once again but hopefully for the last time.
The display isn’t exactly cutting edge though, but for an LCD panel its up there with as good as it gets. Colors are nice and saturated without being over the top, and viewing angles are great. It also gets really dim in low light, and very bright in sunlight so I have no complaints about it. It’s also very quick to respond to the touch, and I tend to prefer using good quality LCDs over OLED when it comes to the viewfinder on the camera, as it usually accurately reflects how images look before capturing them. The biggest disappointment is that it doesn’t have a high refresh rate (still 60Hz), something even cheaper phones started offering recently. It doesn’t affect watching content, but it does affect the overall smoothness in scrolling. The 8.3 also has one bottom-firing speaker. Its a competent speaker, producing very loud output that is also quite clear. My only complaint here is its bad placement, since its quite easy to block it, especially since its located at the bottom left of the phone. So when in landscape mode, you need to adjust to carrying it the other way around.
Software and UX
Android 10 out of the box in October? What is this blasphemy? Luckily, it so well optimized. I think this is by far the best-optimized device to come out of Nokia Mobile. It handles everything you throw it at with ease and smoothness, and multitasking works really well. For day to day tasks, the Snapdragon 765G is excellent. It acts as a flagship, and you only notice that it isn’t a Snapdragon 8xx when you open games. These take a bit longer to load, and you might have to settle with slightly lower graphics to get the smoothest frame rate. The additions of Nokia mobile to Android one are as usual, very minimal. You have double-tap to wake up, PureDisplay, display color temperature, my phone app, and of course the Nokia camera app. You already know the drill by now on whether Android One works for you or not. Overall though, I’m quite happy with the user experience here. Speed, smoothness, robustness are all good. One bug I did face is that sometimes the display would dim too much in a slightly dim room when it shouldn’t. But it hasn’t happened since the most recent update, so fingers crossed.
Cameras in Daylight
The 8.3 5G camera was the biggest surprise for me. I didn’t have very high expectations, but the 8.3 5G delivers. It’s main 64 mp sensor has an aperture of f/1.89 but sadly no OIS. Despite that, I was very impressed with the pictures captures in every situation I threw it at. It outputs 15.9mp images in the default 4:3 aspect ratio, and the images are sharp, with accurate colors, and plenty of details at the right exposure. It is tuned similarly to the Nokia 9 PureView in daylight with less sharpening and better reliability, and I’m quite happy with it. I’m especially impressed with the dynamic range of the main camera. The wide-angle 12mp camera also does an excellent job keeping the color science as close to the main camera as it can, while also delivering very good images. This wide-angle camera is flagship-grade, and I thoroughly enjoy having it. The macro camera is…. less acceptable on this caliber of device. Would have much preferred a telephoto camera at least for video. The depth sensor on the other hand helps the device capture very good portrait images, which I found to be good at subject separation.
Cameras in Lowlight
You were expecting it to all fall apart here, didn’t you? Sorry to disappoint you? It really doesn’t. I found myself preferring the main camera on the Nokia camera app about 80% of the time over Gcam on the same phone. I can’t remember the last time I said this about a recent Nokia device. It just captures more accurate colors and does a much better job of keeping the ambiance of the scene. All this while creating an image that looks sharp and bright. But if you like the HDR effects on Gcam which makes things look better than real life, you can always use it. The wide-angle is naturally not as capable in low light, but it still managed to do the job when needed. My overall experience is that if you can see a good picture opportunity and there is even very little light, this phone can take a good picture. I think it’s about time we stop using pitch black scenarios where your eyes can’t even make out any details as the gold standard to judge whether a phone is good or not in low light photography. As impressive as it is, it’s a muscle flex in my opinion. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Finally, Nokia mobile paid some attention to videography. In terms of video quality output, the Nokia 8.3 is decent. I wouldn’t call it revolutionary in terms of details, colors, sharpness but it is good. What I like about it is the plethora of options to capture the scene you want with the tone you want. Manual mode in video, finally. You can also capture H-log videos for extra fine-tuning and better contrast and dynamic range. I just hope they continue developing this path and offering more options in the future. At the moment, the phone only offers H-log videos in a 21:9 aspect ratio, in 4k at 24fps. Would love to see that expanded. There is also finally video stabilization in 4k/30fps and it works reasonably well on both the main camera and the wide angle camera. For extra smooth footage, you can use the new action cam mode which uses the wide angle camera and crops so much from it for the best stabilization, and it works well but is limited to 1080p/30fps only. Cinema editor also enables you to color grade H-log videos on the go with selected presets, or add lens flare to your videos. Both work reasonably well if you are into that sort of thing.
The thing I appreciate the most about it is that it does the basics of video very well. Zooming for example is very smooth even if the quality deteriorates quite quickly. Audio recording is also excellent, and video stabilization as mentioned is quite good. All these little things combined with the many manual options make this a very compelling phone for videographers, at least in good light.
In low light conditions, however, I found the video footage to be lacking. Noise starts to crop into the picture, and you notice light jitteriness if you are walking. They still need to do better here for this phone to be considered an excellent all-rounder in the video department but this is a good first step.
Through-out my testing, I’ve been managinging to get to the end of the day with at least 25% battery charge left. During the testing period, I use my phone more than usual, so I expect most people to be able to keep the phone on a single charge for around 1.5 days. On mixed usage of Wifi and 4G (with 2 sim cards) I’m getting between 5 and 6 hours of screen on time at around 50% brightness with adaptive brightness enabled. On just wifi, I’m getting between 7-8 hours of screen on time. The phone comes with a 15Watts charger which takes just over 2 hours to fully charge the phone.
The little things
Call quality is good, Wifi and 4G signals are good, the haptic motor is top-notch. I haven’t had a chance to test out 5G yet since it’s only available at the city center here. Having 5G is a nice addition, but it’s still too early to make full use of it yet. Hopefully, now that Apple has adopted it, it should spread much quicker.
Best value for money this phone is not, but it carves a nice niche for it to justify its existence. Its build quality and camera performance are much closer to $1000 phones than they are to $400 ones. So is the overall experience of using it for day to day tasks. When you analyze every spec it has, you notice that it doesn’t have the best specs in every category, but the specs it has are executed very well. It’s still a hard sell though, at least at its current price because it’s very difficult to convey its strengths by just looking at its specs on paper. But pick one up, use it for a day and you begin to appreciate what it offers. Now it just needs a better story to sell.