Nuu Mobile G3 Review: Something Borrowed, Something Blue

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What a difference a couple of months makes. Back in February, we reviewed the X5, a device from Chinese smartphone startup Nuu Mobile. Unfortunately, we found it difficult to recommend, due to its dated design and so-so hardware compared to a host of very compelling $200 alternatives.

Now Nuu is back with yet another $200 handset — and straightaway, you can tell it looks to be quite a step up from other phones in Nuu's lineup. While it's safe to say Nuu's latest is a more compelling choice for bargain hunters than the X5, the G3 falls short of the standard for affordable-yet-capable handsets, where the Huawei Honor 7X and Moto G5 Plus reign supreme.

Nuu Mobile G3 Cost and Availability

You can get the Nuu Mobile G3  directly from the company as well as from Amazon for $199. The device is GSM unlocked, meaning it will only work with certain networks, including T-Mobile, AT&T, MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless. The G3 comes exclusively in blue, and contains 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage with a microSD slot offering up to 128GB of expansion.

Nuu Mobile G3 Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
OSAndroid 7.1.1 Nougat
Screen Size (Resolution)5.7 inches (1440 x 720) LCD
CPUMediaTek Helio P25
microSD SlotYes, up to 128GB
Rear CameraDual 13 MP (f/2.0) and 5 MP
Front Camera13 MP
Battery Size3,000 mAh
Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)10:00
Water ResistanceNo
Size6.02 x 2.75 x 0.35 inches

  Design: In Samsung's Shadow

On its website, Nuu calls the G3 "a trendsetter in design and technology." Normally I ignore grandiose marketing claims, but I couldn't shake this one off, precisely because Nuu's "trendsetter" is the most shameless Galaxy S8 clone you'll find this side of the Pacific.

Samsung Galaxy S8 (left) and Nuu Mobile G3 (right)

Samsung Galaxy S8 (left) and Nuu Mobile G3 (right)

But is it at least a well-built clone? For the most part, yes. Set the G3 down next to one of Samsung's recent flagships, and you'll inevitably find yourself in a game of "I Spy" as you try to spot all the differences. Nuu's phone has no answer for the Galaxy's Infinity Display or superthin bezels, but it's still a faithful approximation — right down to the antenna lines and drilled speaker holes, which have exactly the same shape and placement as those on the S8.

Flip the G3 over and you'll find a shimmering plate of glass interrupted only by a vertically oriented pair of cameras and a fingerprint sensor. The deep shade of blue has a strong metallic effect that concentrates light into vertical streaks, like laser beams. Some may find it eye-catching, while others will likely dismiss it as gaudy.

The G3 is the most shameless Galaxy S9 clone you'll find this side of the Pacific.

Still, there's one aspect of Samsung's design in particular that Nuu should have copied: the headphone jack. We're accustomed to seeing flagships routing audio through their USB Type-C ports, but it's very rare to see that in a $199 device.

If you're eyeing the G3 for its bargain price, you probably won't be enthusiastic about having to take the cash you saved by buying this cheaper phone, only to have to shell it out on an expensive pair of earbuds or cans with the proper modern connector. It's a decision that really flies in the face of the market Nuu is courting here.

Display: Blurry But Bright

While Nuu's G3 may have an extra-wide, 5.7-inch LCD display, the screen isn't terribly sharp. The 1440 x 720 resolution translates to a pixel density of about 283 pixels per inch, which results in a blurrier picture than what you get from other $200 phones that are about the same size.

Strangely enough, though, the low resolution might not be the most objectionable thing about this display. Like so many other 18:9 phones released over the past year, the G3's screen features rounded corners, which is fine. The issue is the way Nuu tried to achieve the effect.

The display itself is actually a standard rectangle, but it's viewed beneath a cutout with a thick, black border that unsuccessfully tries to conceal those sharp edges. What you get is diagonal lines rather than smooth curves, and the whole thing ends up being quite the eyesore.

Weird corners aside, the G3's panel isn't anything special. Colors tend to be washed out and cool. They aren't particularly accurate, either, as the phone's Delta-E score of 1.41 confirmed. (Numbers closer to zero are better.) For reference, the Honor 7X was much more correctly calibrated, at 0.38.

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These days, even the least expensive handsets achieve proper color representation, so it was somewhat surprising to see Nuu's latest falter here. Nevertheless, the display is at least bright, posting a peak of 558 nits when we measured it with a light meter. That's far and away better than the 433-nit smartphone average. It also captured 118.8 percent of the sRGB color space, which is right in line with rivals.

Camera: Nothing Special

Dual cameras are so ubiquitous now, it seems harder to find a phone without them than the other way around. Sure enough, the Nuu Mobile G3 combines a 13-megapixel, f/2.0 main sensor with another 5-MP shooter, allowing for portraits with background bokeh effects.

Cameras in budget phones rarely impress, but even with that caveat, the G3's are remarkably inconsistent. You never quite know how they're going to respond to certain scenarios. Take the above shot of a fruit stand, for example, where the G3 renders a box of oranges in an eye-searing neon hue that actually hurts your eyes to look at for extended periods of time.

For comparison's sake, I captured the same scene with the Honor 7X's 16-MP shooter. Although it looks washed out side by side, I can't tell if Nuu's device spoiled my palate here.

For the next round of photos, the G3 dialed back the saturation. In fact, this image outside our New York City building is so washed out, it definitely could have used a tinge of warmth in the walls, ceiling and gold trim around the windows. The entire frame is hazy and blown out, such that you can't even read the text on the sign near the revolving doors the way you can with the Honor 7X's effort.

With two comparisons that swung decidedly in the Honor 7X's favor — and yielded wildly different results — I certainly didn't expect the G3 to pull out a better low-light shot in our office.

Cameras in budget phones rarely impress, but the G3's are remarkably inconsistent.

This scene would challenge even the best smartphone cameras, and predictably, both the Nuu and Honor struggled to reconcile the harsh light breaking in from the windows with the relatively dim area of focus between. Although the G3 didn't nail the sharpness, it exposed the center much better and pulled more color out of the plant and the pots.

My colleague Jorge struck a dramatic pose to test out the G3's dual-lens Portrait Mode. There are aspects I like about the way Nuu's camera tech processed this photo. The G3 did a better job of isolating Jorge's face from the background, without letting the overaggressive bokeh bleed into the foreground, as it did on the Honor 7X's attempt. But the G3's rendition is mostly blown out once again, with highlights from the left half of the frame casting a cloudiness that permeates everything.

Nuu's phone was also frustrating to shoot with, thanks to a stubborn autofocus that repeatedly locked on and released numerous times before actually taking the shot.

The G3's 13-MP, front-facing shooter at least provides sharp and relatively accurate selfies — just don't expect it to work any miracles. The Honor 7X has a preference for warmer, more dramatic tones, but with only 8 megapixels to work with, it doesn't reach the same clarity as the G3 and employs a filter that makes the end result look overprocessed — even if its self-portrait isn't as dim as what the G3 shot.

Performance: Hit and Miss

At $200, you expect smooth, if not stunning, performance from a phone, and the G3 mostly holds up its end of the bargain. The device is powered by MediaTek's Helio P25 system on chip, which is about on par with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor that appears in many midrange phones.

It's the G3's 4GB of RAM that really shines, though. Most handsets at this price feature half that amount, or maybe 3GB if you're lucky. But 4GB is flagship territory, and it means Nuu's bargain doesn't struggle flipping between apps running in the background, or drawing the home screen after particularly intensive tasks. That said, app open times aren't always the speediest — the worst offender was Gmail, which took as many as 6 seconds to populate my inbox.

Nuu's bargain doesn't struggle flipping between apps running in the background.

Solid as the G3 is, it's important to recognize that it's not top dog in the segment. For example, the Snapdragon 625-powered Moto G5 Plus smoked the G3 in both the Geekbench 4 overall test and 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, posting respective scores of 3,746 and 13,862 to the G3's 2,221 and 12,802. Even the Honor 7X, which features a Huawei-built Kirin 659 CPU, delivered a slightly more stable frame rate playing off-road racer Asphalt Xtreme, and that device actually placed behind the G3 by about 1,000 points in the 3DMark comparison.

Battery: Just Fine

The Nuu Mobile G3 put in exactly 10 hours of work in our battery test, where the phone endlessly loaded web pages in Chrome over T-Mobile's LTE network.

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That's solid longevity from a 3,000-mAh battery pack, and it compares favorably to the Honor 7X (9:21) and the average smartphone (9:50). The Moto G5 Plus lasts an hour and a half longer, though, and if you really prize battery life, the Asus ZenFone 4 Max and Moto E4 Plus cost the same or less than the G3, and both lasted around 15 hours.

Software: Nougat, Plus Some Oddities

Nuu didn't fuss around with Android much on the G3 at all, and it's a better device for it. However, there are a few caveats there.

First off, it comes with version 7.1.1 Nougat, not 8.0 Oreo. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be surprising; most budget phones never launch with the latest release of Android, nor do they see regular updates. However, Nuu has gone on the record and said that the G3 would see Oreo in March. With March having come and gone and still no sign of new software, I wouldn't cling to the company's word.

The other issue is quite a strange one. Nuu relied upon Google for the majority of its stock apps on the G3, which is a commendable approach. Yet the phone's browser is an outlier. While Chrome is on board, it's accompanied by a modified version of Chromium — an open-source program that provides the framework Chrome is built upon.

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The reason for Chromium's existence on the G3 was initially unclear to me, until I typed a query in the search bar. Unlike Chrome, Nuu's customized version of Chromium employs a different search engine with less relevant results, and more ads and clickbait in a section titled Today's News. The clickbait in particular comes courtesy of content aggregator Taboola, which recently announced a partnership with ZTE to push a dedicated app in that company's phones.

The G3's custom browser is a vehicle for less relevant search results, more ads and clickbait.

In this age of fake news, it's difficult to imagine a more tone-deaf initiative than the one Nuu has opted for here. Frustratingly, the company has even omitted the option to change the search engine in the stock browser — yet another reason why one of the first things any G3 owner should do is disable Chromium, replacing it with Chrome in the home screen dock.

Bottom Line

When there are so many solid phones pushing quality hardware and software for around $200, you have to turn away a lot of alternatives to settle on the Nuu Mobile G3.

Shameless copycat looks aside, the G3 is a competent device with competitive specs and respectable battery life. But it lacks polish across the board. The screen is low-res and inaccurate, the performance isn't quite as swift as it might seem on paper and the dual cameras are underwhelming, even for a budget product. Plus, the prospect of getting Android updates appears to be dicey until Nuu makes good on earlier promises.

Years ago, you might have overlooked those faults to get a phone for such an attractive price. Today, there's no need — between the best that Motorola, Honor and ZTE offer, you can do better than this Galaxy doppelganger.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide

Adam Ismail is a staff writer at Jalopnik and previously worked on Tom's Guide covering smartphones, car tech and gaming. His love for all things mobile began with the original Motorola Droid; since then he’s owned a variety of Android and iOS-powered handsets, refusing to stay loyal to one platform. His work has also appeared on Digital Trends and GTPlanet. When he’s not fiddling with the latest devices, he’s at an indie pop show, recording a podcast or playing Sega Dreamcast.