If you ask me, I'd say one of the defining smartphone trends of 2020 has been the push to "value flagships" — phones around $600 - $700 that offer high-end experiences for a lot less money than the Samsung Galaxy and iPhone flagships we're used to. Some examples include the stellar Google Pixel 5 and Samsung's Galaxy S20 FE that ended up being the sleeper hit of the year.
Value flagships have gotten really good in a pretty short amount of time, and from what we can see right now, it's a niche that isn't going anywhere any time soon.
One of the latest entries in this space is the Nokia 8.3 5G, and even though it's the highest-end Nokia phone you can buy in North America this year, it hits that coveted $700 price tag. The Nokia 8.3 5G is far from a bad phone, but it also does nothing to stand above any of the other options available to you. As such, it ends up being a pretty forgettable release that brings nothing new or compelling to the table.
Nokia 8.3 5G What I like
That's a bleak way to begin this review, so let's start with the positives first. Performance and battery life are two of the most critical features to consider when buying any great Android phone, and in both regards, the Nokia 8.3 5G excels.
Powering the 8.3 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, and as we've seen from phones like the Pixel 5 and Motorola Edge that have the same chip, it allows for fast performance for virtually every task. From navigating the interface, opening apps, or playing a variety of games, the Nokia 8.3 5G gets through everything without breaking a sweat. You also get an ample 8GB of RAM for multitasking, and in practice, it does a good job of keeping all the apps you need open in the background.
Outside of fast performance, the other upside of the Snapdragon 765G is that it's a very efficient chip. When you pair that with the 4,500 mAh battery inside of the Nokia 8.3 5G, the end result is excellent endurance. While everyone's usage differs, I'd say the 8.3 has the possibility of being a two-day phone for a lot of people. With moderate use, you can end a day with around 50% or so still remaining.
Another spec I'm happy to see is the 128GB of internal storage. That should be more than enough space for most people, but should you find yourself running out of room, you can easily expand it with a microSD card.
Looking at the design of the Nokia 8.3 5G, it is a very striking piece of tech. There's nothing all that interesting with the front of the phone, but the back features a gorgeous blue hue that showcases lines and varying color intensity based on how light reflects off of it. The design carries over to the rear camera housing, which has the same blue and reflective accents around it and in the middle with the Zeiss branding. It does pick up a lot of fingerprints, but when it's clean and tidy, it's one of the more visually-interesting phones I have right now.
In addition to those good looks, the Nokia 8.3 5G also has a few functional design elements a lot of folks will appreciate. To the right of the USB-C port is a 3.5mm headphone jack, allowing you to plug in your favorite pair of wired headphones without needing to mess with pesky dongles. I also like the physical Google Assistant button for quickly prompting it at any time, and the fingerprint sensor embedded into the power button has worked perfectly fine throughout all my testing.
Looking at the Nokia 8.3's camera setup, there's a 24MP primary camera, 12MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor. Images taken in good lighting conditions usually come out quite strong, showcasing pleasing colors and sharp detail. I've also been pretty happy with the ultra-wide sensor, which retains the same general look and feel of the primary camera while giving you a much wider 120-degree field-of-view.
Where things fall apart, however, is with low-light performance. The Nokia 8.3 has a dedicated night mode like most phones these days, but it leaves a lot to be desired. It helps bring in a bit more light, but the results aren't anything to write home about.
The same goes for the macro camera, which really doesn't offer that much more detail compared to zooming in with the higher-res primary sensor. The overall package of the Nokia 8.3's camera experience certainly isn't the best out there, but if all you're concerned with is having a respectable primary shooter, it does get the job done.
Last but not least, Nokia's software experience continues to be a strong suit. Rather than heavily customizing Android the way Samsung and OnePlus do, Nokia ships its phones with an unadulterated stock interface that looks virtually identical to a Google Pixel.
It's lightweight, responsive, and there isn't any annoying bloatware forced on you. Outside of the Nokia camera app, a customer service app called "My Phone," and a pre-installed FM radio, this is about as close to stock Android as you can get. If that's the way you prefer Android, you'll feel right at home with the Nokia 8.3.
Nokia 8.3 5G What I can't stand
Unfortunately for the Nokia 8.3 5G, that's where the positives end. When looking at any other aspect, we're either dealing with lesser features compared to similarly-priced phones or things that are missing altogether.
First thing's first, there's the display. It's a 6.9-inch LCD panel with a 2400 x 1080 resolution, and while it's plenty sharp and generally looks good in most situations, not having AMOLED at this price is hard to get around — especially when you consider a phone like the Pixel 4a 5G has an AMOLED panel and costs just $500. Compared to a phone like that, it means the Nokia 8.3 5G has less vibrant colors and weaker blacks. Being able to convert SDR video to HDR is a nice touch, but it doesn't entirely make up for it.
Even more damning is the fact that the Nokia 8.3 5G has just a 60Hz refresh rate. Compared to phones with 90 and 120Hz panels (something that's become quite common for these value flagships), the Nokia 8.3 5G feels noticeably slower. I know the Snapdragon 765G is a fast processor, but there's a sluggishness to all of your swiping and scrolling that you just don't experience with faster refresh rates. You may not care if you've never used a phone with anything higher than a 60Hz display, but seeing as how so many other phones have offered this feature for the same price, its absence on the Nokia 8.3 is hard to overlook.
As you probably guessed by the 6.9-inch screen size, this is a huge phone. It measures in at 171.9 x 78.6 x 9mm with a weight of 220g, making it larger and heavier than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in every manner. I can appreciate having a larger display for more immersive movies/games, but the Nokia 8.3 5G is just too much. It's an incredibly awkward phone to use that demands two-handed operation basically all the time, and I found the cumbersome size often making me not want to use it.
Next, let's discuss all of the things that are just completely missing from the Nokia 8.3 — because there's a lot. It doesn't support wireless charging, there's no IP water-resistance rating of any kind, and you don't get stereo speakers (just a mono one on the bottom frame that is easily covered and sounds incredibly tinny). Those are a lot of compromises you have to make when getting the Nokia 8.3 5G, and the problem is that's not the case at all with most of its competitors. I could understand one of these things being missing, but to not have any of them is ridiculous.
And just how I ended the above section talking about software, it gets another mention here, too. While I love the clean interface of the Nokia 8.3 5G, the way Nokia is handling its software updates is not great at all.
Just like all of Nokia's phones, the 8.3 is promised two major Android updates. That promise is starting to lose its luster as both Google and Samsung now guarantee three updates, but what's even worse is that the Nokia 8.3 ships with Android 10 out of the box. That means one of its guaranteed updates is to Android 11, which has been available for over two months at this point. So, once Nokia brings it up-to-date with Android 11, the only "real" update you have to look forward to is Android 12.
Nokia isn't the only company justifying an update from Android 10 to 11 this late in the year as a major OS upgrade (I'm looking at you, OnePlus), but it doesn't make the situation any less crummy.
A quick note on the Nokia 8 V 5G UW
Before we go any further, I want to briefly talk about another variant of the phone you've probably heard of: the Nokia 8 V 5G UW (it really rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?). It's a newer version of the Nokia 8.3 5G, with the main difference being that it supports mmWave and sub-6 5G while the 8.3 only has the latter.
You can only buy the Nokia 8 V on Verizon in the United States, and while that carrier exclusivity is annoying, it's nice to see that Nokia was able to keep the same $700 asking price.
Other than that, it's the exact same phone as the Nokia 8.3. The 8 V is worth considering if you're planning on getting the 8.3 and already have Verizon, but outside of its mmWave connectivity, there's nothing else to talk about.
Nokia 8.3 5G The competition
If it hasn't been made clear already that the Nokia 8.3 5G has a difficult time measuring up to its competition, it's time to hammer that point home. There are a few different handsets that come to mind, but one of the most prominent is the Google Pixel 5.
The Pixel 5 costs the same $700 as the Nokia 8.3, but it's better in virtually every way. It has a more user-friendly design, a 90Hz OLED display, much better cameras, wireless charging, an IP68 dust/water resistance rating, and its mmWave 5G is available on the unlocked model. Unless you absolutely need the massive screen of the Nokia 8.3, there's no concrete reason to buy it over the Pixel 5.
Speaking of Pixels, the more affordable Pixel 4a 5G is a really eye-opening comparison for the Nokia 8.3. It has the same Snapdragon 765G processor, a 60Hz OLED display, the same cameras found on the Pixel 5, and has a reliable battery. You get all of that and more for a mere $500, and that really helps put into context how much the Nokia 8.3 is out-valued.
Last but not least, another fantastic option that also costs $700 is the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. It has a few specs that are even better than the Pixel 5, such as a 120Hz display and Qualcomm's higher-end Snapdragon 865 processor. The S20 FE gives you a large screen in a reasonable body, all-day battery life, and a trio of rear cameras that are incredibly reliable. Once again, you have a phone that costs the exact same as the Nokia 8.3 5G but outdoes it in more ways than one.
Nokia 8.3 5G Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
You like stock Android
It's getting harder and harder to find high-end phones with stock Android, and the Nokia 8.3 does a great job of letting Google's software shine without bogging it down in any way.
You want a huge phone
If you're someone that just loves big phones, the Nokia 8.3 5G sure is one of them.
You should not buy this if ...
You don't want a huge phone
Comparatively, if you'd like to be able to use your phone without feeling like you're carrying around an actual brick, you should look beyond the Nokia 8.3
You value software updates
As good as the out-of-the-box software is, Nokia's update situation for the 8.3 is far from it. Shipping the phone with an outdated operating system and then only promising one other update following Android 11 is just crummy.
You want a high-quality display
For this price range, the Nokia 8.3's display leaves a lot to be desired. From the LCD panel to the 60Hz refresh rate, it's just not a great panel compared to other options out there.
3 out of 5
I feel kind of bad for Nokia. I've liked a lot of the company's budget phones over the years, so the idea of having something a bit more high-end was initially really appealing. After a couple of weeks with the 8.3, though, it's become clear that this isn't a phone I can recommend you go out and buy this holiday season.
There are phones that are far worse than the Nokia 8.3 5G, but given how much competition there is, being complacent like this doesn't get you anywhere. When you compare the 8.3 to just about anything else in this $700 price tier (and even some cheaper options), it's difficult to make a compelling argument in Nokia's favor.
A couple of spec changes and a slightly lower price could have made the Nokia 8.3 a really interesting contender in this new value flagship niche, but as it stands, it ends up being a forgettable piece of tech that isn't really worth your attention.