Nokia 1.3 review: this ultra-budget phone is better than you might expect

The Nokia 1.3 feels like a cheap phone, but it's still perfectly usable

Nokia 1.3
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

Most aspects of the Nokia 1.3 remind you that this is a very affordable phone – the performance, the design, the camera quality – but as long as you're sticking to the basics, it's a cost vs benefits balance that we think will appeal to a certain number of people.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Android One software

  • +

    Very cheap indeed

  • +

    Solid build quality

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Slow performance

  • -

    Weak camera

  • -

    Awkward battery fitting

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The Nokia 1.3 is impressively affordable even for a brand that's known for its value-for-money handsets – this is just about the cheapest smartphone you can get at the moment, that will still run Android and all the standard apps you're familiar with.

And Android is one of the main selling points here: this is an Android One phone, which means you get a clutter-free, stock version of Android together with at least two years of software updates. This phone will stay right up to date until at least 2022, in other words.

To get down to that low, low price – this phone sells for £80 or even less in the UK – some compromises have of course been made. You're not going to find the best screen or the most powerful components inside this phone, or a camera that can take brilliant photos.

But if you're shopping on a tight budget then you might well find those compromises are worth it to save yourself a substantial chunk of cash. Should you be spending your money on the Nokia 1.3 as your next smartphone upgrade? Read our detailed review to find out.

Nokia 1.3 review: design and screen

Nokia 1.3

(Image credit: Future)

You can rely on the HMD Global-owned Nokia brand to put out a well-built phone – that's been the case for years now – and the Nokia 1.3 is no different, despite its cheap price. The phone is a little plastic and flimsy to hold, but we don't think you'll have any major complaints. It has a removable battery too, and getting it fitted is a real pain: it took us more than half an hour and some cut fingertips before we could get the back casing off, and in the end we had to follow the instructions on a YouTube video that differed from Nokia's own instruction pamphlet.

Pull the case down using the microUSB port, if you're wondering – don't try and slide your fingernail in at the top, as instructed, as it's virtually impossible. Nokia could do a lot better here. You might also be wary of getting a new phone with microUSB rather than USB-C, although it doesn't make a huge amount of difference unless you want to use an existing USB-C accessory (like a power bank or car charger) with the Nokia 1.3.

There's a small teardrop notch up at the top of the 5.71-inch LCD screen, which runs at a respectable resolution of 720 x 1520 pixels. It's not the best or the brightest screen we've ever seen, but it gets the job done, and is responsive enough to the touch. The Nokia 1.3 doesn't have a fingerprint reader on the front or the back – instead you're relying on (a rather slow) face unlock and a PIN code. We like the colours by the way, which are charcoal, sand and cyan (the one we've got here).

The Nokia 1.3 also has a headphone jack for your current wired headphones, but there's no wireless charging – just the microUSB option. In short, the Nokia 1.3 looks better than you would expect for a phone at this price, although there's little danger that you're going to mistake it for a flagship, with a rather low res screen and some relatively chunky bezels at the top and bottom of the display.

Nokia 1.3 review: camera and battery

At this price point you wouldn't exactly expect miracles from the single-lens 8MP snapper on the back of the Nokia 1.3, and indeed it's only satisfactory as far as taking photos goes. Details get lost, there's plenty of noise, and this is one of those areas where you're really going to see the difference between this and a flagship phone (or even a mid-range phone with a decent camera attached).

The shutter speed is decent, at least, and a lot of photos are usable for a quick tweet or Snapchat. If you remember the early days of smartphone photography – and we do – you perhaps won't be as disappointed with these pictures: they're okay in well-lit scenes, but pixels are going to start appearing very quickly as soon as you start zooming in.

Photos turn out even worse in low light, though if there's at least some light available, and you can keep the camera still for a second, you can often come away with a picture that isn't a complete disaster. The absence of any HDR processing or indeed any processing at all really shows, but we don't want you to think the camera is a complete write-off – it's just like stepping back a few years.

Battery life is fine, thanks to the 3,000mAh battery, but the phone seems to do much better at keeping at charge when it's in standby mode compared to when you're actually using it. We ended most days with a good 10-20 percent in the tank, though our one hour movie streaming test knocked the battery down from 100 percent to 83 percent – only five or six hours of video watching (that may be because the CPU and RAM were working overtime to keep up).

Nokia 1.3 review: other specs and features

Nokia 3.1

(Image credit: Future)

Underneath the Nokia 1.3 casing we've got a Qualcomm QM215, quad-core 1.3 GHz chipset, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, which you can (and probably will have to) expand with a memory card. Those are just about the most basic specs you can get to run a smartphone these days, and it does translate into the phone's performance.

It's by no means a terrible experience, using the Nokia 1.3, but you will notice a few milliseconds (or even seconds) of extra lag when opening up menus and apps – don't expect to jump quickly between screens or the apps you've got open. With that in mind, the phone comes loaded with lightweight 'Go' versions of apps such as Gmail and Google Maps, designed to reduce the load on the phone's components.

You won't be able to play high-end games at all, but the most common apps will run, just about – the Nokia 1.3 manages to stay on the right side of usable, even with a bare bones specs list. Apps such as Spotify and Instagram will run okay, you just need to be a little bit more patient with them. Face lock is another area where you'll notice the extra time for the phone's cogs to turn.

Of course any extra bells and whistles are kept down to a minimum on a phone at this price: there's no wireless charging, no fast charging, and no waterproofing. We didn't find the Nokia 1.3 to be annoyingly slow, but it is noticeably slow, and you should bear that in mind when you're thinking about the budget for your next smartphone.

Nokia 1.3 review: price and verdict

Nokia 3.1

(Image credit: Future)

As we often say in our phone reviews, every handset is a balance between price and everything else. You don't need us to tell you that the Samsung Galaxy S20 is a better phone than the Nokia 1.3, but is it worth spending 10 times as much on? We think the Nokia 1.3 does have a certain amount of appeal for those who won't be doing much with their phone and want to spend as little as possible too.

If you (or one of your children or one of your parents) are going to stick to messaging, web browsing, and not much else, then you can get by with the Nokia 1.3. Pay a bit more money, and you can get by a lot more easily, but think of all the other stuff you can purchase with the money you're saving on the Nokia 1.3 – choose this instead of an iPhone and you can have a whole holiday on the savings.

The Nokia 1.3 is just about as cheap and as basic as you can go and still have a smartphone. As long as you're not expecting too much in terms of performance and power (and camera quality, and design), this gives you everything you can expect and then some considering the price you're paying. The Android One programme gives you the reassurance of two years of software updates, don't forget.

Forget about gaming and extensive media watching and you won't be disappointed: the Nokia 1.3 will send messages, take photos and browse the web for you, and run most apps satisfactorily. You can definitely tell you're using an ultra-budget phone with the Nokia 1.3, but considering it's not much more in terms of cost than a top-tier video game, we'd say it still offers plenty of value for money.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.