The Nokia T21 fixes its predecessor’s biggest problem but improvements are lacking elsewhere
- Great price
- Swish design
- 2K display with no DRM restrictions
- No performance improvements
- More expensive than Nokia T20
When we reviewed the Nokia T20 last year, a critical flaw held it back from earning a recommendation. A low-cost tablet with a lot to like on paper, you couldn’t use its 2K display to its true potential.
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Due to a restrictive L3 Widevine DRM certification, the Nokia T20’s video playback for streaming services was limited to a mere 480p resolution. You couldn’t even watch HD footage on what was otherwise a rather lovely high-resolution screen.
The good news is that Nokia has addressed this particular weakness with the release of the Nokia T21; the problem this time around, however, is that not a whole lot else has changed.
Nokia T21 review: What you need to know
Despite achieving a bit of a legacy in the early days of Android, Nokia is actually rather new to the tablet game in 2023. The firm took a long break – to be fair, Nokia in its entirety vanished for a number of years – but the launch of 2022’s Nokia T20 tablet was a competent first step back into the fold.
The Nokia T21 is Nokia’s second-gen budget tablet. Most aspects remain the same, such as the inclusion of a 10.4in, 2K resolution (2,000 x 1,200) display, an 8MP rear camera, 64GB of expandable storage, an 8,200mAh battery and 4GB of RAM, but there are a few things that have changed.
Other than the removal of content playback restrictions, the Nokia T21 is powered by a slightly different Unisoc Tiger T612 chipset (replacing the T610 of the original), it comes with Android 12 out of the box, and a new design.
Nokia T21 review: Price and competition
Nokia is one of the leaders in the budget smartphone realm, so it’s no surprise that the firm is hoping to corner the low-cost tablet market as well. Indeed, at £199, the Nokia T21 is a bit of a steal, even if it is £19 more expensive than the previous version.
There aren’t many rivals around at this price but the competition that does exist – Amazon’s lineup of Fire tablets – is tough. The Amazon Fire HD 10 is its closest rival in terms of specs and price, it has a lower-resolution display than the T21 but is a lot cheaper. It costs either £150 or £160 if you want the version without lockscreen adverts.
Samsung is the only other budget Android tablet maker of any great clout, with the Galaxy Tab A8 also costing £199. Like the Fire HD 10, the screen on this model is lower (1,920 x 1,200) but it uses a slightly faster Unisoc Tiger T618 CPU, which runs at 2GHz versus the Nokia T21’s 1.8GHz.
Nokia T21 review: Design and key features
The Nokia T21’s build quality is what sets it apart from these rivals, although that’s no surprise considering Nokia’s budget handsets often make a good impression in this regard.
It’s certainly superior in this department than Amazon’s Fire tablets, with its all-aluminium chassis a real highlight. It feels durable – as though it can withstand the occasional drop without much fuss – and its IP52 rating will protect it against water and dust ingress. As with its predecessor, it’s also rather light for its size, weighing 466g, and it’s 18% slimmer than the Amazon Fire HD 10 at 7.5mm as well.
The rear of the tablet now incorporates a vertical strip that runs from top to bottom and uses the same ramped camera housing as its X- and G-series smartphones. The camera itself is the same 8MP unit as the previous model and it’s partnered with an identical 8MP selfie camera at the front. It’s good enough for the money but don’t expect smartphone levels of quality. Video recording is limited to 1080p video at 30fps as well.
The Nokia T21 only comes in one colour in the UK: a brown-tinted “Charcoal Grey” that looks rather nicer than it sounds. It charges via USB-C, with charging speeds rated at 18W (up from the 15W on the Nokia T20) and it has a pair of stereo speakers, situated on either side in landscape orientation.
Nokia T21 review: Display
The Nokia T21’s 10.4in IPS display has three display modes and a resolution of 2,000 x 1,200. The ‘Boosted’ mode is the most colour accurate of the three, with a measured average Delta E of 2.04, an sRGB gamut coverage of 88.5% and a total volume of 94%. In all, it looks miles better than last year’s display, which struggled due to a lack of vibrancy.
In fact, there’s really not much to complain about here. Viewing angles are rather good, and you can now view HD content without any restrictions, which is a huge bonus. I would have liked to see a refresh rate above 60Hz – scrolling is rather sluggish – but that’s asking for a lot at this price.
Nokia T21 review: Performance and battery life
Performance is handled via an octa-core Unisoc Tiger T612 chipset, clocked at 1.8GHz. It’s not the fastest of tablets as a result; in fact it’s scores roughly the same as last year’s model in the Geekbench 5 single- and multi-core CPU tests.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any data to directly compare with the Fire HD 10 due to incompatibility with the Geekbench 5 benchmark. What I can say is that, while performance is fine for most tasks, you will notice things slowing down as soon as you ask too much of it. Boot times are slow (around 45secs), and there is a momentary delay when switching between applications as well.
Gaming performance is equally uninspiring. The Nokia T21 scored a mere 14fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 on-screen test, which is pretty dreadful, and is actually slightly down on last year’s Nokia T20.
The good news is that battery life has improved, although not by a lot. With the screen set to 170/cdm2 brightness and flight mode engaged, the Nokia T21 played a looped video for 13hrs 9mins before running out of charge. That’s 45 minutes longer than the previous model, and a pretty solid result overall.
Nokia T21 review: Verdict
With the T21, Nokia has done what it does best. This is a budget tablet that looks the part and performs reasonably and the ability to finally play video at resolutions above 480p means we finally have a Nokia tablet that’s worthy of a recommendation.
It could do with a faster processor and, as a result, performance is mostly identical to last year’s model, notwithstanding the slight improvement in battery life. It’s because of this that the Nokia T21 comes across as more of a do-over than a proper second-gen release.
However, as much as I would have preferred Nokia to make improvements across the board, there isn’t much else to complain about with the Nokia T21. If you don’t already own the previous model and you’re searching for something that’s of superior quality to Amazon’s Fire devices, you can’t do much better for £200.