After Microsoft acquired, and subsequent rebranded, Nokia a few years ago, we all thought we had seen the last of the iconic mobile phone brand. While we had all grown up using phones built by the legendary Finnish mobile phone maker, various mistakes and a concerted effort by Microsoft to promote its own name and ecosystem meant that Nokia had been relegated to the depths of irrelevance. We were all sad to see it go, but the market clearly favors Android and iOS, and Nokia’s failure to adapt meant a deserved doom for the brand.
But wait, the Nokia brand name isn’t doomed at all. It’s back, and with a new management. It’s now run by HMD Global, a company founded and run by former Nokia executives. Headquartered in Espoo, Finland opposite Nokia’s head office, and with its products manufactured by Foxconn. The focus too remains on living up to Nokia’s reputation for quality and reliability, although the company has also adapted to the needs of the market in a big way – Android.
The Nokia 3, 5 and 6 were announced back in June, and are targeted at different segments of the market. The phone we’re reviewing today is the Nokia 5, which is priced at Rs 12,899 and went on sale on August 15 only through offline channels, including major electronics retail chains and individual stores. It’s refreshing to see Nokia returned in an Android-powered avatar, and we’ve put the phone through the paces. Here’s our review of the Nokia 5.
Nokia 5 Design
If there is indeed one thing that Nokia has been known for throughout its time as a mobile phone manufacturer, it is its design. There has always been a strong sense of quality in the way a Nokia looks and is built, with distinct design elements including the curves at the edges, the minimalist styling and the beautiful colors that can occasionally be a bit over-the-top, but never in a bad way. The Nokia 5 definitely has some of the distinct features that help you identify it as an Android smartphone, but also retains the unique ‘Nokia’ form.
One thing that has not changed over the years, though, is the logo. You’ll find that iconic logo at both the front and the back. It’s at the top-right corner in the front, and sideways at the center of the phone on the rear. The regulatory text right below will proudly mention that the phone is designed by HMD Global in Finland, but made in India. The phone’s rear camera and flash are on a single oval ceramic strip, while the right side has the power and volume buttons and the left has separate slots for both SIMs and expandable storage. The bottom of the phone has the micro-USB port and speaker grille, while the top has the 3.5mm jack.
A strong part of the design of the Nokia 5 is in the build, and the phone is indeed built superbly. With a metal unibody that feels as solid as it looks, the Nokia 5 comes across as a phone that is much more premium than its price suggests. The antenna lines are along the top and bottom and nearly the same shade as the phone’s metal body, which camouflages them to some extent. Thanks to the curves at the edges and the comfortable shape and size, the Nokia 5 is great to hold and use.
The front of the phone has the fingerprint sensor, which is embedded into the capacitive home button and is slightly depressed as compared to the rest of the front. On either side of the sensor are the capacitive back and recents buttons, which are backlit and have the light activated when the phone is unlocked or the buttons are touched. The fingerprint sensor is accurate and quick, and although you do get vibration feedback that the phone is unlocked quickly, the screen itself takes a little longer to light up. This is likely because of the frugal budget hardware powering the phone, but more on that later.
The Nokia 5 has a 5.2-inch HD screen, with a screen resolution 720×1280 pixels and a pixel density ratio of 282ppi. There’s also an unspecified version of Corning Gorilla Glass on top for protection. Considering that phones that cost significantly less than the Nokia 5 also come with full-HD screens, this is a bit of a disappointment. While it’s important to remember that the Nokia 5 is an offline-only smartphone and the cost dynamics of the offline space are different, to the end user, this is a screen that simply is not as sharp as it could be. The size and quality of the IPS LCD screen does offer a bit of redemption here; it’s an excellent screen when it comes to colors, brightness and responsiveness.
Nokia 5 Specifications and Software
Of the three smartphones announced by Nokia for India, the Nokia 5 sits in the middle in terms of specifications. While both the Nokia 5 and Nokia 6 are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 SoC, there is a price difference of about Rs 2,000 between the two phones. There are explanations in spec-sheet as to why this is the case.
The Nokia 5 comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, which is by any standards too little for a phone that costs almost Rs 13,000. While you do have the option to add a microSD card and boost your phone’s storage, this isn’t a reasonable enough explanation for why the phone should have so little internal storage and RAM.
Additionally, competing phones (even options available offline from brands such as Vivo) usually come with at least 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, with some online-first products such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 packing in 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for roughly the same price. Although the 2GB of RAM is enough to run the phone in most cases, you will find it falling short with intensive apps and serious multi-tasking. ALSO READ: Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Review
Furthermore, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 is a budget chipset usually found in phones priced at significantly less than the price of the Nokia 5, so there’s definitely a premium attached to the Nokia brand name and build quality. From any other brand, a phone with these specifications would retail at closer to Rs 10,000, so you’re paying about 30 percent extra for the privilege of owning a Nokia phone.
However, when it comes to software, Nokia comes through on the promises it made back at MWC 2017 where it first announced the devices. Running on the phone is Android 7.1.1, with a pure Stock Android interface on top. It’s simple, straightforward and devoid of bloatware of any kind, with the only non-standard app pre-installed being the Nokia support app. Google apps are in use for all standard functions, including the Photos app in place of a gallery, the Google messages app for SMS texts, and more.
During our time with the phone, the Android security patch was updated to August as well, which is promising in the long run. HMD Global has assured quick security and firmware updates for the devices, and is in a position to deliver on that promise considering it is easier to roll out updates for software that is as close to Google’s vision as possible. The clean and resource-friendly software also means that the lower amount of RAM on the phone has a lesser impact on performance than it would be expected to.
Nokia 5 Performance
The Nokia 5 is a budget device with budget hardware, and performance is understandably focused on frugality and simplicity as a result. Apart from somewhat slow unlocking, the phone does show slow performance on some occasions. Although there is no lag and very little stutter to complain about, loading times are noticeably slow, and you’ll find yourself waiting for a second or so when opening certain apps or switching between apps. The experience is about as seamless as you can expect from a device with this SoC and RAM, but that isn’t saying much.
With just 2GB of RAM, the phone relies heavily on resource management by the software, and this is where the sluggishness in the phone is seen the most. As memory needs to be allocated to where it’s needed the most, the phone takes its time to load up apps. Once you’re in an app, you won’t find any performance issues, except when you switch between major sections within the app itself. For example, the Google Play homescreen is comfortable to use once loaded, but switching to the app updater screen requires that section to be loaded up and takes some time to process.
While it isn’t too bothersome right now, we have our concerns on how this will hold up in the long term. In comparison, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 is a much more capable performer, at roughly the same price. Essentially, while the Nokia 5 can handle most apps and casual games with a slight drop in framerate, the key is to not push the phone too hard and be a bit patient with loading times. ALSO READ: Nokia 8 Vs OnePlus 5 Vs Honor 8 Pro: Price, specifications and features compared
Nokia 5 Battery Life
With a 3000mAh battery, the Nokia 5 doesn’t quite have the numbers on its side, particularly when similar priced phones such as the Redmi Note 4 and newly launched Lenovo K8 Note both have bigger batteries in place. What does work for the Nokia 5 when it comes to battery life is its battery-friendly specification sheet. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 SoC and 5.2-inch HD screen both do their part in keeping battery life high. ALSO READ: Lenovo K8 Note Review
During my time with the phone, I was able to easily get a full day of use out of it, with screen-on time averaging at a little under five hours. Even with heavy use, you’re unlikely to find yourself running out before the end of the day. Charging is quick enough as well, with the phone able to top up its battery in about two hours with the bundled 5V/2A charger. Although the Snapdragon 430 SoC supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0, the bundled charger isn’t up to this specification.
Nokia 5 Camera
While smartphone manufacturers are working at getting dual-camera setups onto your phone (Lenovo K8 Note, for example), the Nokia 5 sticks to the tried and tested single-sensor setup. You get a 13-megapixel camera at the rear with dual-tone LED flash, along with an 8-megapixel camera at the front. You can record up to full-HD video with both cameras, and slow motion and time-lapse videos are also possible, however these can only be achieved through the software rather than native capability in the sensor itself.
The settings for slow-motion and time-lapse video can be found in the video mode of the camera app, where you can choose to slow video down to one-third speed at 480p, half-speed at 720p, or up to 3X for time-lapse. It’s worth noting that those options don’t become available to you till you manually reduce the video resolution in the settings, instead of automatically adjusting the settings based on the mode. Also in the settings, you can toggle the compass, spirit level and grid modes, add a watermark, geo-tag, and adjust what happens with the volume key with regards to shooting. There are also toggles for panorama and beautify modes.
The camera itself performs well in good light, but tends to suffer a slightly in lighting conditions that are less than ideal. In most conditions, we found our pictures to be generally free of grain and decent when it came to color reproduction and sharpness. Nokia’s expertise and years of experience in producing good camera phones shows here, despite the lower processing power of the Snapdragon 430 SoC. Shutter speed is quick and composing pictures is usually easy, while pictures taken with the front camera are decent as well.
Nokia’s return to smartphones after a long gap is an eagerly awaited affair, and to some extent it does not disappoint. What you get is a beautiful, well-built phone that combines the nostalgia of owning a Nokia with the modern benefits of near-stock Android. The result is a phone that excels in the design, build and software departments, and tops it off with a decent camera and battery life as well. As a budget device for basic usage, you can’t really go wrong with the Nokia 5.
However, it’s important to mention that a phone costing Rs 12,899 with only 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage doesn’t sound like a very good deal. Indeed, you will need expandable storage on the phone once the paltry storage runs out, and the 2GB of RAM already shows its inadequacy in ordinary performance. The phone’s clean software and optimization helps to an extent, but the slow loading times and constant resource management shows that the phone struggles with more than basic smartphone functionality. Nonetheless, if your usage is basic, the Nokia 5 could work for you. However, if you’re looking at performance more seriously, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 strikes a better balance from an overall viewpoint.