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Nokia 2.1 review: Hands on with the Nokia 2's decent two-tone sibling

Christopher Minasians
29 May 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
100
inc VAT

Nokia’s latest budget smartphone offers spectacular battery life, but fails to deliver in every other respect

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UPDATE: Nokia has announced a significant update to the Nokia 2. The Nokia 2.1 phone replaces the original (reviewed in full below) and brings a few healthy additions.

The most noticeable change is to the phone's aesthetics and size. It now has a dual-tone finish, which is reminiscent of Nokia's more expensive smartphones. It has a 0.5in bigger screen than its predecessor with a 5.5in screen up front, although the resolution hasn't changed.

Click the here to see our gallery of Nokia 2.1 pictures

With a bigger chassis, the phone also now has dual front-firing stereo speakers, which makes all the difference when gaming or watching movies and, to power you through those games, Nokia has upped the performance ante with a much-needed processor upgrade.

The Nokia 2.1 now has a 1.4GHz Snapdragon 425, which is an improvement on the sluggish Snapdragon 212 in the Nokia 2. This should address our original concerns over the phone's sluggish performance.

The Nokia 2.1 still comes with 1GB of RAM, which is a bit on the mean side, and 8GB of internal storage, although the latter can at least be expanded up to 128GB with a microSD card.

As for battery life, that should be decent. The new processor draws significantly less power than before and, coupled with a large 4,000mAh battery, we're expecting better battery life than the old model reviewed below.

The Nokia 2.1 will be available in July 2018 for around $115. We'd expect it to cost around £100 in the UK (in-line with the original Nokia 2).

READ NEXT: Our hands-on with the all-new Nokia 3.1 and Nokia 5.1

Our original Nokia 2 review continues below

Nokia 2 review: What you need to know

The Nokia 2 is all about nailing the basics. This is an Android smartphone that has a large 4,100mAh battery, a bright 5in HD LTPS IPS display and a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 processor. The design is basic and functional, but you’re never going to get glitz and glamour at this sort of price.

READ NEXT: Best budget phones to buy in 2018

Nokia 2 review: Price and competition

It might sound cheap, costing a mere £100, but it’s important to put the Nokia 2 into context before you rush out and lay down your money. For only £20 more, you can buy the Nokia 3, which has a faster processor, more RAM, double the internal storage space, a better front-facing camera and dual-band Wi-Fi, though you do sacrifice some battery capacity.

In the other direction, there’s the £89 Vodafone Smart N8 and the SIM-free Alcatel Pop 4 that sits around £65, both of which offer similar features to the Nokia 2.

Best Nokia 2 contract and SIM-free deals

Nokia 2 review: Design and build quality

The Nokia 2’s plastic body isn’t attractive. In fact, it’s more in-line with the design of a sub-£50 phone. The Vodafone Smart N8 is more elegant and has a textured rear cover that makes it easier to grip with sweaty palms. At 9.3mm, the Nokia 2 is chunkier than both the N8 and the Nokia 3, which measure 8.6mm and 8.5mm respectively.

Physically, there’s nothing out of the ordinary here, though. The phone charges via microUSB port, the volume rocker and power button are on the right-hand side and there’s a 3.5mm jack at the top.

The rear camera captures 8-megapixel images and has a single LED flash and the front camera delivers 5-megapixel selfies. There’s also a single, rear-firing speaker. Unfortunately, there’s no fingerprint sensor, which is a disappointment when the cheaper Vodafone Smart N8 does have one.

Given the tiny 8GB of internal storage space on offer (less than 3GB is usable), you’ll want to expand the storage with a microSD card, fortunately, there is a slot here, which supports up to 128GB. Alas, though you can remove the rear panel, you can’t take out the battery either. Still, the capacity is pretty decent, at 4,100mAh.

READ NEXT: Alcatel Pixi 4 (5) review: How good can a £59 smartphone be?

Nokia 2 review: Display

The Nokia 2’s star feature is its LTPS IPS display, which stretches its resolution of 720 x 1,280 pixels across 5in of screen space. For the money, this is an excellent display. It covers 95.8% of the sRGB colour space has a contrast ratio of 1,205:1.

Its peak brightness of 490cd/m2, which means it’s readable in all but the brightest of conditions; overall, it’s a better display than the Vodafone Smart N8 can muster. Although the N8’s contrast ratio is higher, the Nokia’s peak brightness is higher, which makes it the more practical display.

Nokia 2 review: Performance

Housed inside the Nokia 2 is a 1.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 processor and 1GB of RAM. On paper these seem like reasonable specifications for a phone of its price but, in practice, the Nokia 2 is painfully slow.

From opening apps to typing messages, the phone responds with horrible sluggishness and that’s without many processes running in the background. Start opening more apps and have them run in the background and suddenly the experience becomes even worse – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s borderline unusable.

^ Nokia 2: Geekbench 4

Notice how the Nokia 2 compares with the cheaper Smart N8 and ultra-budget Alcatel Pop 4. The  Vodafone is a lot better in coping with basic tasks; in fact, the Nokia 2 delivers performance more in line with the far-cheaper Alcatel.

Its graphics performance is better but nothing to get particularly excited about. For simple games like Candy Crush, you won’t experience any problems, but throw anything visually intense and it’ll stutter badly.

^ Nokia 2: GFXBench

One thing the Nokia 2 can do well, though, is last a long time between charges. In fact, at 18hrs 9mins in our video rundown test, it’s among the best smartphones I’ve come across full stop, and that’s not normally something I find myself saying about a budget smartphone.

It surpasses the 9hrs 32mins achieved by the Alcatel Pop 4 and the 8hrs 44mins by the Vodafone Smart N8 by a long, long way; suffice to say, if you’re looking for a phone that’ll comfortably last you a day and occasionally more there’s phone in its price bracket that comes close.

^ Nokia 2: Battery life

READ NEXT: Alcatel Pop 4 review: Promises much but fails to deliver

Nokia 2 review: Camera

Around the back, Nokia has opted to use a single 8-megapixel camera, which is in-line with its older sibling, the Nokia 3. It’s not a great camera. With HDR disabled the sensor struggles to pick up any detail although I was quite impressed with the camera’s ability to balance exposure in tricky scenes with extremes of light and shade. You do lose a little subtlety in the shadows and the image is a little dull overall but it’s not bad.

^ HDR disabled

Enable HDR and suddenly the image brightens up, although but the flip side is that edges are softened, even more, detail is lost in the background and the colours look bizarre. It’s so inexplicably bad that I’d advise never using HDR; for a £100 smartphone, I’d expect much more, especially when its closest rival, the Vodafone Smart N8, delivers far better results. And there are other problems, too. Due to the phone’s slow processor and the limited amount of RAM, HDR pictures take a few seconds to snap.

^ HDR enabled

The rear-facing camera performance in low-light is also pretty poor with lots of image nose, and terrible detail reproduction. Colour reproduction is reasonably good and enabling the flash does fix the noise issue but not so much that images are actually pleasant to look at.

^ Indoors with HDR and flash disabled

^ Indoors with flash

At the front, there’s a 5-megapixel camera but the quality is even worse. Now I wouldn’t necessarily expect amazing results from a sub-£100 phone but this is borderline VGA quality. Looking at the image below, you’d think I was in a fish tank sat at my desk in the office. It’s absolutely shocking.

^ Selfie on the Nokia 2

READ NEXT: Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 review - return of the Moto G killer?

Nokia 2 review: Verdict

The Nokia 2 is a smartphone that flatters to deceive. It’s very cheap and has a nice display, but once you start digging below the surface it turns out it isn’t such a good deal after all. Performance is sluggish, internal storage space limited, the cameras are poor and it lacks a fingerprint sensor. Moreover, build quality is more on par with a £50 device than a £100 phone like the Vodafone Smart N8.

It’s a shame because with such great battery life the Nokia 2 had the potential for being a real budget smartphone winner. As it stands this is a phone I cannot comfortably recommend.

Hardware
ProcessorQuad-core 1.3GHz Qualcomm MSM8909v2 Snapdragon 212
RAM1GB
Screen size5in
Screen resolution720 x 1280
Screen typeLTPS IPS
Front camera5-megapixel
Rear camera8-megapixel
FlashLED
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)8GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD
Wi-Fi802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth4.1
NFCNo
Wireless data4G
Dimensions143.5 x 71.3 x 9.3mm
Weight161g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 7.1.1
Battery size4,100mAh
Buying information
Warranty1 year RTB
Price SIM-free (inc VAT)£100

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