Nokia XR21 unboxing and first impressions

The Nokia XR21 was already announced at the beginning of May 2023 as the successor of the well-packaged Nokia XR20. The device itself had been in the pipeline for a long time, and Nokia Mobile had to redesign its strongest device to be more in line with the current portfolio. Although I expected it to be something like the Nokia X30 and better, since the XR20 was a better equipped phone than the X20, Nokia Mobile surprised me and the entire community.

The design has been brought in line with the current portfolio, making the XR series less clunky and less oversized, but the rest could be considered a downgrade from the XR20. OK the processor is definitely better, the same SD695 5G as in the X30, but the screen is again LCD, albeit sharper than the XR20, the design feels a bit cheap and less thought out compared to the XR20, and the haptic motor definitely doesn’t belong to this series. Also, there is no MicroSD card slot nor wireless charging…

The box

But before I dive a little deeper, let me tell you about the boxing. Since ecology plays a big role in the mass economy, the Nokia XR21 comes without the charging brick in the box, but the box finally meets modern standards that call for the reduction of short-term plastic. I’m very happy to see that the phone and the rest are packaged in recyclable paper, and that’s commendable.

The packaging looks solid and is tightly packed, just like that of the X30. Inside the device is a USB-C to USB-C cable less than a metre long, a SIM door key, and a simple user manual. Those who expected a silicone case will find that it’s a sturdy and resistant Nokia smartphone. Incidentally, the specs are no longer on the box, which I miss, and the QR code doesn’t redirect you to the working link, which Nokia Mobile should fix.

However, the included cable requires the latest Nokia chargers that support 30W charging and have the USB-C jack, so you can’t use this with your previous device. But it was useful for quickly cloning my X30 to XR21 via cable. I know I could do the same over WiFi, but I wanted to try wired since the connection is more stable. Although I set up each new phone from scratch, the cloning process was successful and brought back most apps and all settings. However, not all apps were cloned and I’ve to set up banking which is a pain.

The feeling

When I first saw the render images of the device, the bezzels seemed very large. But when you hold the phone in your hand, you don’t notice them, maybe just the chin. But the device looks much slimmer than the XR20, which it’s, and it’s ergonomically better and easier to use. I’ve to say that the

Nokia XR20 felt denser to me, making the XR21 feel a bit cheaper, which may be due to the textured, plastic-protected sides. The Nokia XR20 definitely had a better design with rubberized edges, elegant displays of the aluminium frame, and a stylishly placed Nokia logo on the bottom right. I was a little underwhelmed (if I can even use that term, maybe dissapointed) when I saw the build quality of the device. The Nokia XR21 could use the same design standards as the XR20, but that didn’t happen here.

I got the device in black colour, and I like more that pine green which I suggest all to go for. The back looks good and softness of textured back rubber backed with ribbed sides will ensued you have a tight grip of the phone.

The rants

Besides the design, there are only two other negative comments I need to address. The first is the number of functions that can be added to the programmable keys. There are two buttons that you can use, the top red one that you can set for some emergencies, and the left larger one that was used for Google Assistant, or the thing that you’d turn off immediately after setting up the phone. The XR20 had many options you could assign to the button, and the XR21 only has a couple of them. I thought this phone was supposed to be an upgrade from the previous model, not a downgrade.

The second comment is about the haptic motor, which is definitely not the one used in the Nokia X30 or XR20, and it doesn’t belong in this price range. I feel that the rotation of the motor can be adjusted with software updates to give it a more premium feel (rotation?), and that is something Nokia Mobile should do immediately.

The good stuff

As I mentioned earlier, the XR series has become a bit sleeker and the XR21 is now easier to use. The phone is sleeker than the XR20, and it looks like the best rugged smartphone you can get on the market. You can definitely use it for meetings at the office and mountain hikes on the weekend.

The cameras have been improved, although there is no ZEISS lens technology anymore. However, the 64MP camera with AI is better than the XR20’s and I might even say close to the X30’s. When inspected on computer monitor, I can see that photos could use a bit more sharpness while the colours are represented truthfully and the dynamic range is good. The night shot is doing OK although it needs a bit more sharpness and some graininess can be seen in the edges of the photo.

The selfie camera has been bumped up to 16 MP, which means you don’t have to be ashamed in front of your friends if you want to take a selfie. Here are some first shots I took with the XR21. The shots were downsized and taken from the phone link app so they are not in the full resolution (from 4608 x 3456 to 1000 x 750).

The style was point-and-shoot with automatic HDR set on which might explain why things look a bit like they aren’t in the focus. The camera app is also the same as the X30, so you can expect all the benefits like OZO audio recording and the perks of the Pro Camera app where you can manually edit settings.

The phone is fast just like X30, reliable, and doesn’t heat much when playing games. Also, the loudspeakers are good, but the audio output could be better tuned to provide a bt more bass tones.

To be improved…

There are a few other things worth mentioning, like the use of USB Type-C 2.0 instead of 3.0, but you won’t notice that much, though it did take 25 minutes to clone all the apps via cable, so I noticed it right away. One thing that is embarrassing for Nokia Mobilee is shipping its expensive XR phone with Android 12 and the March security update, but that will surely be fixed soon with software updates.

All in all, the Nokia XR21 may be a bit pricey with its price of almost €600 (with headphones), but so far the device looks good OK, if you need a rugged phone. I’ll keep testing it, and if there’s anything else you’d like to know, leave your question below.

Nokia XR21 on Nokia pages.

The unboxing was shot with X30 5G, while some shots were taken with 8.3 5G (shots with X30 and XR21)