Review: Nokia 2.1

The phone for which HMD Global, the licensee of the Nokia brand, pushed a successor to the market the fastest is the Nokia 2. A bit more than a half a year after the announcement of Nokia 2, Nokia Mobile announced the Nokia 2.1 – an Android Go powered device shipping with a huge battery. Compared to the original Nokia 2, just looking at the specs sheet, Nokia 2.1 comes with many advantages for the same price, including Android Go, a bigger screen and stereo speakers, while the huge 4000mAh battery remains intact. How the Nokia 2.1 performs and is it worth the small amount of money Nokia Mobile is asking for, check in our full review that follows down below.

Specifications:

  • Screen: 5.5″ HD LCD 16:9
  • Dimensions: 153.6 x 77.6 x 9.67 mm
  • Processor: Snapdragon 425, 4 x [email protected] GHz
  • Memory: 1GB LPDDR3
  • Internal memory: 8GB, support MicroSD card up to 128GB
  • Main camera: 8 MP f/2.0 autofocus, LED flash
  • FF Camera: 5MP f/2.4 fixed focused
  • Connectivity: LTE Cat 4 150 Mbps DL \50 Mbps, microUSB2.0, 3.5mm headphone jack, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, BT 4.2
  • Battery: 4000 mAh
  • Colors: Blue/Copper, Blue/Silver, Grey/Silver
  • OS: Android 8.1 Oreo (Go Edition)
  • Price: $115, €99

Pros:

  • Big screen
  • Stereo speakers
  • Big battery

Cons:

  • Performance
  • 8GB of storage
  • Plastic housing feels shallow

Unboxing

 

Nokia 2.1 comes in a standard Nokia Mobile package with the recreation of the iconic Nokia handshake on the front. I really love this detail for which HMD opted, because I am sure a lot of Nokia fans miss the old handshake when the device is booting up, and having something that can trigger the nostalgia right on the box is a good move. The front also features a picture of the device, just like the back, where we can also find the basic specs and some legal info.

 

Upon opening the box, that opens just by sliding the inner part out, you see the huge Nokia 2.1. My first impression was a surprise how big the device for it’s price point is. I mean, the 5.5-inch screen is surrounded with a lot of bezels, but nevertheless, usually the bigger the phone the more value it brings, and comparing it to the similarly priced Nokia 1 I had on the table, I was positively surprised.

Inside the box we find a 5V/2A charging brick, microUSB to USB cable, the also iconic WH-108 headphones and instructions. As always, the box is fully recyclable.

DESIGN, BUILD QUALITY AND ERGONOMY

The 2.1 is a nicely designed phone. We got a blue-copper review unit, with the blue housing and copper accent color and it looks great. The looks of the phone don’t reveal that we are dealing with a low end phone.

The phone is slightly curved on the back and has overall a oval shape, making it comfortable to hold. The build material is plastic, and you can feel it by holding the phone. The plastic isn’t that solid and if you press it harder you could have a feeling of shallowness, which is common on low end plastic phones, especially the bigger ones. For comparison, the class higher Nokia 3/3.1 feature significantly better build quality, while the class lower Nokia 1 is inline and I would say even a bit better in regards for quality feel than 2.1, mainly because of the thicker plastic (Xpress-ON) cover.

On the front of the device we find the screen, and first time on a HMD Nokia phone, we have front facing stereos speakers located above and below the screen. The quality of the speakers is OK, not so clear like on the Nokia 6 TA-1000, but the loudness is impressive and overall it is a great addition on a budget phone. The speaker above the screen is also the earpiece, and there we can also find the 5MP front camera, sensors and the Nokia logo.

On the phone’s left side we can find the volume buttons and the power button. They are enough elevated and click nicely, without need of applying much pressure and they don’t giggle around as on the Nokia 5.1 for example. I found myself often clicking the volume down instead of the power button, so spacing the two more would be preferable.

The bottom features just the MicroUSB2.0 port, while on the top we have the 3.5mm headphone jack. On the back we have the 8MP autofocus camera with LED flash, a microphone, and the Nokia logo. Below the cover we find the nano-SIM slot(s) and MicroSD card slot and a non-removable battery, covered with a metal plate.

The phones body is surrounded with a thin copper-colored line, that Nokia describes as “metallic colored details”. The volume and power button as well as the camera housing are also in the copper color, as well as the Nokia logo on the back, which really raises the aesthetics of the device.

SCREEN

Nokia 2.1 features a 5.5-inch HD 16:9 display, with 267 pixels per inch. On closer looking, you can spot the individual pixels, but from a 20 cm distance, which I estimate is the usual distance most users view content from, individual pixels aren’t noticeable. The color reproduction is OK, and the colors are a bit washed-out, but not as severe as on many low end phones, with a noticeable lack of contrast. The viewing angles are fine, and I was a bit surprised with the outdoor brightness. You can use the Nokia 2.1 even under the direct sunlight, it’s hard, but possible and in usual outdoor conditions the screen is performs surprisingly well.

The screen-to-body ratio sits at around 70%, but the huge top and bottom bezel are justified at least partially with the front-facing stereo speakers. There is no Gorilla Glass here for protection, but something Nokia Mobile calls “Cover Glass with anti-FP coating”. In my 2 weeks usage of the device I didn’t notice any damages, and I hope it will stay so, but sill buying tempered glass and a silicone case is always a smart thing to do.

SOFTWARE

Android 8.1 Oreo (GO Edition) is the OS of choice for the Nokia 2.1, and it’s the second time we see Android Go on a Nokia smartphone. The first Android Go powered Nokia smartphone was Nokia 1, announced at MWC2018 in February. Android Go is basically a lightweight version of Android optimized for lower end hardware, also featuring specially made “GO” apps that are also optimized for low end hardware.

From outside, Android 8.1 Oreo Go Edition looks just Android Oreo, with some minor differences in the UI. However, the OS does take less space than regular Android (2.8GB vs over 6GB) and has Google’s GO apps like YouTube GO or Google GO for better performance.

Nokia 2.1 still can install regular apps, and during the review period I actively used Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Messenger, and Instagram in its full versions, while for handling email I used the pre-installed GmailGo app. The performance isn’t great and loading times, especially with Facebook and Twitter, can take up to a few seconds. The apps don’t run smooth and you can notice frame skipping while scrolling, but the apps are stable and useable. I didn’t encounter any “out of RAM” messages or apps closing, so as with Nokia 1, I would describe the performance as consistently slow, but improved compared to Nokia 1 because of a more capable Snapdragon 425 chipset. You really can use all the popular social media app and even some games and the phone will “work”. As a fast typer, I had problems with the keyboard that is sometimes lagging in appearing and lagging while I am typing. I wouldn’t say it’s a big deal considering the price point.

Nokia Mobile promises timely security updates and Android software upgrades, so just like Android One devices, Nokia 2.1 with Android Go will be updated to Android Pie, but Android Pie Go Edition once it is ready.

CAMERA

Nokia 2.1 comes with a 8MP rear autofocus camera with LED flash and a 5MP front camera with fixed focus. And that’s all the info Nokia Mobile gives you about 2.1’s camera. From the info from photos, we find that the back camera also features a f/2.0 aperture, while the front has a f/2.4 aperture.

The camera app that comes preloaded with the device is the standard app we find on non-ZEISS devices, without the pro mode or additional features like Bothie or Livestreaming, which the 2.1’s hardware can’t even handle.

In good lighting conditions, Nokia 2.1 capable of taking quite good photos, with decent contrast and sharpness, especially if the autofocus does his job, and he does it outdoors most of the time. Upon zooming in you won’t see much detail and a bit of artificial sharpness and a bump in saturation is added to make the photos look more pleasant to the eye. As the quantity of available light falls, so does the picture quality. It becomes more noise and in lower-light conditions it becomes hard to take a “in focus” photo. Digital noise appears and the photos look dim. It isn’t terrible and I would say inline with a 100 euro device, but for better shots, a higher class device is needed. Nokia 2.1 photos will still look good over a few filters, and the added autofocus is a huge improvement over the Nokia 1.

Check some (reduced) photo samples down below, while the full gallery can be found on Flickr.

Nokia 2.1 is capable of recording FullHD video, which is a impressive feature. It lacks any kind of stabilization for video, so while taking videos, you have to have a steady hand. A steady hand video recording results in a details-rich FullHD video, with nice colors, contrast and very good focusing. If you’re moving your hand fast (ie. recording cars that pass by), the video turns out pretty bad, with a lack of details and sharpness, and a lot of color and focus shifting. The back microphone is located right next to the camera and does a good job in capturing audio, which isn’t on a “Nokia Ozo” level, but good for a low end phone.

Video samples follow down below.

YouTube

YouTube

HARDWARE, PERFORMANCE AND CONNECTIVITY

As the number suggests, Nokia 2.1 is a budget device, offered just a class higher than the very affordable Nokia 1. Even though it is relatively low cost, the 2.1 still packs some impressive features for its price class, but let’s start with the basics.

Nokia 2.1 uses Snapdragon 425 as the SoC. Snapdragon 425 features a 28nm processor consisting of 4 Cortex A53 cores clocked at 1.4GHz. Bundled with that comes just 1GB of RAM, which isn’t surprising because Android Go is meant for devices with 512MB or 1GB of RAM. The built in memory sits at 8GB, which we can all agree is too little for a big-screen device that can serve very well for media consumption. I argued before that 8GB of internal storage on Nokia 1 isn’t a minus in my opinion, because the device has a small screen and media consumption isn’t something Nokia 1 users will be pleased with, but when you have a 5.5-inch screen and a capable battery, more memory would be welcomed to handle all those movies and music you can play via the stereo speakers. Nokia 2.1 has a MicroSD card slot, so I recommend buying a MicroSD card.

From connectivity, Nokia 2.1 supports WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, LTE Cat.4 (150/50) and Bluetooth 4.2 from the main wireless technologies. The phone also features a headphone jack, MicroUSB2.0 port and FM Radio. Call quality is very good, especially the loudness of the earpiece. Had no problems with signal reception, mainly because of the housing material.

Nokia 2.1 Geekbench

The overall performance isn’t great, but it is far from bad for this class of devices. It does all the essential stuff very well, with poor performance with heavy(er) apps, like social media etc. Depending on your use patterns, the Nokia 2.1 might satisfy your needs, but for most users that want a full “connected” experience, something that handles social media apps better, in other words, something with a more powerful hardware, would be a better choice.

BATTERY

Nokia 2.1 packs a huge 4000mAh battery that gives a easy two day battery life. My screen on time was between 10 and 12 hours, which is highly impressive, but not surprising considering the specs, low-resolution screen consuming less energy and Android Go optimizations. The included 5V/2A charger charges the Nokia 2.1 from 0 to 100 in around 2 hours and 10 minutes, but I mostly put the phone on charger when the battery fell below 20 percent and took it off when it reached 50 percent, and that short charging process took 30 minutes and that’s frankly enough to get me through a usual work day.

CONCLUSION

Nokia 2.1 packs a big battery and is offered at a relatively low price point. It’s hard to recommend the phone to an average user without knowing how he plans to use the phone, or in other words what are the priorities. For those that will use their phones mainly for communication, web and occasionally social media, and appreciate a big batter, stereo speakers and are on budget, the Nokia 2.1 will serve well. If you use social media and other apps a lot, and you value performance more, than something more powerful is for you.

The 2.1 is a great device for those coming from feature phones, because at a low cost it offers a big screen and decent battery life. It will also serve well as a 1st smartphone for kids or as a backup device, with great battery and call quality. The camera isn’t great, but it has autofocus and you’ll be able to take decent shots in good conditions. Buying a MicroSD card is still must, because 8GB of memory on a big screen device can be filled up quickly.

Overall, I find the whole Android Go project very interesting. As someone who used Nokia 1 that features even lower end hardware, I can tell that you get a much better experience from a smartphone that’s really near the feature phone level price category than it was the case before. It’s same with the Nokia 2.1, but being priced a bit higher, it also falls in some markets in the category filled with aggressively priced Chinese phones, that offer better performance for the money. We cannot really directly compare Android Go and normal Android devices, because Android Go is a very stable OS that is slower than regular Android, but in my experience, it is more stable compared to low to mid range phones with better specs. It may sound weird, but Google really did a lot of optimizations to make the low end hardware bearable, but it isn’t for everyone.

That said, I find the 2.1 a good device for the price HMD asks, and considering the needs of a customer, it can serve well as a companion. Something I would like to see on the next iteration of the 2.1 (apart from more memory and even better SoC), is better build quality (mainly, thicker plastic backcover). Something I wouldn’t change is the design, battery and the screen… and the price tag.