The Nokia XR20 is a modern smartphone that feels a bit old school in some ways, and it’s all the better for it. Remember when you used to accidentally drop your phone without seeing your life flash before your eyes as you desperately try and make a last-ditch effort to save it? I do, good times. Luckily for you, the XR20 is kind of like that. It was designed specifically to survive accidental drops of up to 1.8 meters. It also has military-grade protection against damage, IP68 water, and dust resistance, and can even survive in extreme temperatures.
All of this naturally reflects on the design, which looks like nothing else you’ve seen recently. The XR20 is built like a tank. It also feels very substantial in the hand. It uses an aluminum frame mixed with a polymer back cover to resist damage. Which btw won’t lose its color even when scratched. Its frame extends ever so slightly over the display to protect the most vulnerable part, the glass screen. Not that they didn’t try making it tough, as they’ve used Gorilla Glass Victus. But glass is glass, and luckily in many markets, you can get the screen replaced for free within the first year of purchase if you somehow shatter it. Even the camera has an oversized ring around it to protect it. Yet somehow despite all of that, the phone still manages to look good to me in a quirky way. The design team deserves a lot of credit for this. Just look at other rugged smartphones for comparison.
The hardware also has two cool additions, a red reprogrammable emergency key at the top, and a lanyard hole at the bottom. Both really useful, unlike the non-reprogrammable google assistant button on the left, which is nicely designed but can only be disabled. My only complaint about the hardware though is the power button with an integrated fingerprint scanner. It’s not very clicky, and even though the fingerprint scanner works reliably, it’s a bit too twitchy. Sometimes when trying to switch off the display, it will switch back on because it has already scanned your finger again!
The haptic feedback on the XR20 is superb btw, and the device includes an SD card slot and a 3.5mm headphone jack too. All in all the device just feels quality.
I’ve dropped the XR20 about 10 times so far to demonstrate to friends and family what it can do, and there are some scuff marks here and there, but as expected, no problems at all. Took it with me for a football game to film some shots, and took it swimming with me too. Still works as advertised. If you live an active lifestyle, you will love this. For me, ordering McDonald’s while taking a shower is an experience I will cherish forever.
Make no mistakes though, the XR20 is a very large phone. It also weighs 248, making it also one of the heaviest phones around. You do get used to the size and heft quickly, but if you want a compact slim device, this isn’t it at all.
Display & multimedia
As for the display, you get a run-of-the-mill 6.67″ 1080p IPS LCD panel. It’s adequate for an LCD in terms of viewing angles, saturation, and watching content, but with no fancy tricks except one, it can actually work with gloves. Even the refresh rate is still at 60Hz, so scrolling doesn’t feel as smooth as many competitors. Outdoors, it can go up to 500nits, so it’s perfectly usable under the sun, although the contrast suffers a bit. For multimedia consumption, you’ll be pleased to know the XR20 has dual speakers that can get ridiculously loud. Naturally, at max volume, the quality suffers a bit, but even at 80% volume, this is still louder than most phones while keeping the audio quality decent. Other people in public will really appreciate hearing your WhatsApp videos assault their ears, just choose your WhatsApp friends carefully.
Software & Performance
The XR20 is running on stock Android 11, as a part of the Android One program. Nokia promises 3 years of OS updates, and 4 years of security updates, so you should be good to keep this phone for a long period of time. Stock android is pretty lightweight and the SD480 chipset coupled with 6 gigs of RAM on my unit provides a snappy and fairly smooth experience. For most people, you will be fine, but the performance isn’t flawless and compared to a more mainstream device, you’re taking a hit on overall firepower which is notable in certain areas like gaming at maximum graphics in heavy games like Genchin Impact, or the extra second or 2 the phone takes to process HDR images from the camera. Not to say you can’t play games on it. COD and PUBG both run smoothly at high graphical settings. No, it wasn’t the phone making you lose, it’s your mediocre skills. :p
Now what the XR20 lacks in high-end performance, it makes up for in battery life. 4630mAh may not sound like much, but coupled with stock android and a power-efficient chipset, and this thing cannot be killed in a single day. At the end of most nights, I have around 50% battery life left after about 4-5 hours of screen on time. On extreme days where Im really abusing the phone, I still end up with about 30-35% left in the tank. It is one of my favorite aspects of the phone and makes it stand out amongst mainstream devices that tend to favor performance over power efficiency. 2 days of battery or about 10 hours of screen on time is a realistic target on this tank. As for charging, you’re sadly limited to only 18 watts, and in many markets, you won’t get a charging brick in the box. Check your local website. This means that a full charge takes just over 2 hours, at a rate of about 12% charge every 10 minutes till the 90% mark. One of my favorite aspects though is that the phone also supports wireless charging at up to 15watts, a feature I wasn’t expecting but I’m glad it’s present.
The XR20 has a dual-camera setup on the back, a 48mp main shooter, and a 13mp ultra-wide camera, both with Zeiss optics. I know 2 cameras sound too little these days but there are no silly sensors just for the sake of adding to the count. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much out of either of them, but I was pleasantly surprised. The main shooter is capable of capturing excellent images in daylight, with good dynamic range and nicely saturated colors. Captured details might not be class-leading but you’ll be satisfied with what you can get out of the main camera. In good light, the ultra-wide camera is decent too, though still lacks sharpness, a common issue amongst midrangers. In lowlight, assuming you’re not shooting in total darkness, you’ll be impressed with what the main shooter is capable of. It almost always exceeded my expectations, even in tough shots. Having said that, even if the image appears bright and nice on the screen, details naturally suffer when you start pixel peeping. And the camera also suffers from very notable lens flair. I also wasn’t very happy with the white balance in low light, which is a bit too sensitive and prefers to go warm even when I don’t want it to. Having said that, the night mode on the XR20 is by far the most impressive implementation I’ve seen so far from Nokia mobile. It’s working with a mediocre sensor here, but if applied to something fancier, this has huge potential.
The 8-megapixel front-facing camera is doing the absolute minimum. Don’t expect much.
A very unique aspect of the XR20 is that it carries 3 LED flashes on the back. A dual-LED and a single unit. You can fully control how many of them you want on for a super bright, and I mean blindingly bright torchlight if you want to. A really cool feature to help fend off serial killers if you’re camping alone at night in the middle of nowhere.
Video recording, you’re sadly limited to 1080p at 60 frames per second. No 4k here. Quality is average, but stabilization is decent. You also get plenty of features, like cinema mode for advanced video controls, action cam for super steady footage, and speed warp which is like hyperlapse that you can control when to slow down or speed up. Cool stuff. For audio, the phone utilizes 2 microphones for better sound capturing and reducing wind noise, which Nokia mobile calls OZO audio, and they work well enough.
I had no issues with the call quality. The loudspeaker works really well, and the sound from both parties was nice and clear. It also has superb signal reception. Maybe one of the best devices I’ve ever used in that regard. The only modern phone I’ve recently tested that can take a clear phone call in the lift.`
The Nokia XR20 is the most mainstream rugged device you can find right now, thanks to its fairly tame design, and feature-packed hardware. It’s also one of the most Nokia Nokia phones right now. However, It is still a rugged device, which means that a lot of the value provided here comes from the aspects that make this phone almost indestructible. As a result, most mainstream devices will beat the XR20 in performance and probably in display tech outside of the obvious more slim waistline. Once you understand the trade-off here, it becomes up to you whether you’re willing to make the jump or not. For me as a fan of the brand, this is one of the coolest phones they have come up with over the last few years, and I’m glad it exists. It’s been a while since we’ve had a phone that is a conversation starter, and this is is, deservedly so. More of these please!
Buy this if
Buy this if you want a practical, feature-packed, rugged, durable device that still looks good with a suit, has excellent battery life, and will probably serve you well for the next 2-3 years.
Don’t buy this if
Don’t buy this if you’re a gamer, performance is your number one priority, you don’t care about the ruggedness, you capture a lot of selfies (I’m judging you, just slightly).
This review is long overdue, so have you already bought the XR20? What do you think of it? Why would or wouldn’t you consider picking one up? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!