As we hit the middle of 2018, one of the most common words used to describe a phone is “premium”. But, what exactly does that mean, though? A few years back it was used to signal the difference between a plastic, polycarbonate phone from one that was built with a combination of glass and metal.
Replaceable batteries went the way of the dodo bird as phones closed up tightly and incorporated waterproof protection. Indeed, the high end devices of 2015 looked strikingly more beautiful and more put together than a budget phone.
Here we are today and everything smacks of ‘premium’. In other words, it’s not as easy to tell a top-tier flagship from an entry-level device. A $200 handset, at first blush, doesn’t look all that different from an $800 one.
For most people, a basic smartphone is all that they need for a daily driver. Sure, the specs from a brand new model are drool-worthy; that is, if you care about the internals. But, when it comes down to it, many consumers don’t know what’s going inside of a phone. They just want it to work and they want it to wow them with cool features every so often.
When it comes to the idea of a “budget phone”, we like to think that encompasses those which are $250 and below. It’s in this area where you find a lot of devices which feature the specifications from a generation or two back. Often you’ll get an older version of Android paired with hardware that’s similar to a flagship from about 18 months ago.
Does a budget phone mean you’ll sacrifice performance? For many that answer is no. When you think about your daily needs and usage, it’s not all that different today than it was a a few years ago. Are you really doing that much more with your device that you demand more from it? If so, you’ve likely become an early adopter or one who watches the space more closely.
A large amount of the people we know are content with buying something a little older in the name of saving a few bucks. This is probably why you see so many older Androids and iPhones running around. Not everyone is holding onto these phones for years and years; some are buying them a year after they come out. And why not? They hold up.
Nuu Mobile G3
This brings us to the Nuu Mobile G3. As a $200 smartphone, it’s an unlocked device that works with AT&T, T-Mobile, and other GSM carriers. On paper it has all the markings of a mid-range phone. In hand, it looks and feels like a Samsung Galaxy S8 clone.
Nuu Mobile has been in the game for more than a few years but we’ve never got the sense that it wanted to play outside of the budget arena. Not that it’s previous models felt cheap or generic; they just weren’t all that glamorous. The G3 is a departure to be sure.
Design & Build
We were immediately impressed with the design, starting with the blue color choice. Taking the phone out and looking it over, we already felt like this was a different Nuu Mobile. Thanks to its glass, curves, and shiny aesthetics, the handset could pass for a much pricier phone at a glance.
Peel the curtain back just a bit, though, and you’ll note that Nuu doesn’t use Corning Gorilla Glass or any sort of added protection. In other words, you’re likely one drop away from ruining that sexy design. The phone comes with a case, but it’s more for protection against scrapes and scratches, not outright drops.
After those first few minutes with the G3 we realized that it was a fingerprint and oil magnet. You can’t touch this thing without leaving some trace behind. That’s the problem when you use materials like glass; but, it’s no different with any other brands.
The G3 offers up a 5.7-inch display with an 18:9 aspect ratio which is pretty much the standard for today’s mid and upper range of phones. The size no longer feels unwieldy thanks to thinner bezels and the more narrow approach. Don’t mistake the G3 as being bezel-free or bezel-less; there’s a little more here than what pricier competitors are doing. It’s certainly not bad, and we are happy to forgive based on price.
The volume buttons and power button are on the right side of the phone, with power having its own pattern printed. Easy to identify in a hurry, it also helps when grabbing to check notifications in the dark.
Around back you’ll see there’s a dual-camera system in place, with the LED flash off to the right. The fingerprint reader is just below the camera setup. You might want to keep an eye on the cameras for smudges or smears as you get familiar with the lay of the land. Those who have not used a rear fingerprint reader might take a couple of days to get acclimated.
On the bottom of the device are the speakers and USB Type C charging port. Noticeably absent here is the 3.5mm headphone jack. Included in the box, though, you get a USB C to 3.5mm adapter so you’re not completely out if you have a preferred pair of wired headphones. On the other hand, you’ll not be able to charge and listen to music at the same time.
Given the phone has glass on the back we might have expected wireless charging. Most other device makers who opt for this material will include the nearly standard option. It’s interesting to us that Nuu decided to forgo the headphone jack and not go wireless for charging. One feels like an unnecessary “me too” move while the other would have made more sense.
For a $200 phone the G3 comes with rather impressive hardware specifications on paper. The 2.3GHz MediaTek octa-core processor, paired with 4GB RAM and 64GB internal storage, are more than adequate for most users. Toss in the 13-megapixel and 5-megapixel rear camera setup and you’re looking at a great utilitarian experience.
The most popular trend in phones over the last year is probably the advent of dual-cameras. Not one on the front and one on the back, mind you, but two on the rear. Today’s mid-range and upper-end phones routinely come with a secondary sensor. That’s the case with the Nuu Mobile G3.
The primary lens on the back is 13-megapixels with the secondary shooter offering 5-megapixels of its own. The former does the heavy lifting while the latter helps to create bokeh effects and better portrait shots.
When you have excellent lighting or are outside the photos captured feature a good amount of detail with admirable color. Pictures are captured pretty quickly and write to the phone in a fairly snappy manner.
Get into lower lighting situations we found the camera experience suffered. With no image stabilization to be found, you’ll have to do your best to hold the phone still. Otherwise, you run the risk of blurry photos. This happened more times than we would have liked in our time with the phone.
The camera app itself is much better than we expected at this price point. It’s pretty easy to cut corners and go with a generic camera app on a budget phone. A lot of people like their own camera apps or filters and spend their time editing and tweaking. We were pleased at the array of options to choose from in the G3.
Among the choices available are Portrait Mode for better personal portraits and Beauty Filter for cleaning up imperfections and evening out skin tone.
It will probably take you a good day or two to figure out what the phone is capable of capturing and what it’s not. It’s a pretty fine line, though, and we wish it were more in the direction of capable.
In practice, however, you might start to notice the shortcomings. Admittedly, the drawbacks and differences we tend to find are often based on comparisons to other, more powerful daily usage phones.
With that said, we found the G3 to be good at multi-tasking and hopping around apps and games. We never had an overwhelming or outright powerful sensation, but we didn’t feel slighted.
The more time we spent with this phone the more we viewed it as good or moderately impressive. We didn’t quite get to “great”, but that’s likely because we spend most days with a Pixel 2 or something equivalent. We know great and we weren’t paying for it here.
The 3,000mAh battery gets us through a day’s worth of usage with some left over at night. With support for fast charging, it does come with a 5 watt charger. It’s not quite as fast as what’s available from other phone makers, but if you’re charging overnight, you won’t know that. Starting from zero, though, it takes a good two and a half hours to fully charge up.
In terms of software, the Nuu Mobile G3 runs Android 7.1 Nougat out of the box. We’re torn on how we feel about this as Android 8.0 has been out for some time now and Android P is already getting tested.
Nuu Mobile pitches this as a flagship device, not as a flagship killer. It doesn’t try to pass the phone off as something that would best your current handset or the next big thing. Instead, it represents the new look and feel, and direction, of the brand. It’s its own flagship experience; it happens to be at least one step behind in software.
As we do with other phones, we care that we get the most current version of Android available. If that’s not feasible, we want updates or promises that one will soon follow. Moreover, we want to know that security is a priority. Are bug fixes and patches coming? It’s hard to say what we should expect with the Nuu Mobile G3.
For what it’s worth, the G3 does ship with a pretty lean build of Android. There’s basically nothing added here save for a web browser that’s quite similar to Chrome. Another notably inclusion is the Face Lock feature which lets you unlock your device with a quick glance at the front-facing camera.
When viewing the G3 through the same lens as, say, a Blu phone of the same price point, it becomes tougher to poke the holes. What one might be guilty of, the other likely is, too. This means tempering expectations a little bit and trying to forget what your daily driver is like.
Knowing that phones can range anywhere from about $100 up to $900, you have to keep in mind what the cost of a device is when reviewing it. It’s completely unfair to compare it to something that costs twice, or three times as much.
With that in mind, we think the Nuu Mobile G3 is an excellent value proposition for the money. Sure, it’s got an older version of Android but that probably matters zero in the big scheme of things. Just because we know it’s outdated doesn’t mean that the typical user will. Moreover, the UI is largely the same, and we’re still pretty happy with it.
If you have a GSM carrier such as AT&T or T-Mobile, or are considering switching to one of them, the G3 will be compatible. You’ve also got quite a few prepaid carriers that will support the device as well.
For those of you who shop with budget in mind, and won’t be spreading the cost of a phone out over two years, this is a great starting point. You don’t have to get into $300-$500 phones to last you a couple of years. The G3 is proof that you can definitely get the job done cheaply and still look sharp doing it.