The Nokia XR20 is the latest rugged smartphone offering from Nokia, presented in a relatively lightweight and sleek form compared to the robust and brick-like design features that you might find on a typical rugged phone produced by other manufacturers.
We recently reviewed the alien-looking Doogee S98 Pro rugged smartphone, for example, that offers an AI 3-in-1 camera setup with additional night vision as well as thermal imaging cameras, and is an extra 100 grams heavier than the Nokia XR20.
We'll dive into the key features and selling points of this Nokia XR20 smartphone within the sections of this review, but to summarise briefly, it can withstand hefty drops from as high as 1.8 meters (certified drop-proof to military standards) and is also water and dust resistant to IP68 levels, with great battery life.
We'll save those who prioritize the camera unit above all else when choosing a smartphone the trouble of reading this review, as if you're set on owning one of the best Nokia phones, then we'll direct you straight to our review of another recent mid-range and budget-friendly release with a superb camera, the Nokia X30 5G.
Part of the Android One family of third-party Android smartphones that have been promoted by Google, this device is considered to be mid-range in both performance and price. This Nokia XR20 currently retails for $399.99/ £299 / AU$779 and is a bargain for those wanting a device that can run the latest Android OS and perform all of the basic functions that a modern smartphone with rugged features and appeal should be able to.
With that said, the XR20 does have a few faults, and we'll go into these in more depth throughout the review. If you're looking for details on a specific area of this device such as the camera unit, image and video samples, or its overall build quality and design, you can jump directly to these sections using the section tabs above.
Nokia XR20: Specifications
Release Date: July 2021
Rear cameras: 48 MP f/1.8 (wide), 13 MP f/2.4 (ultrawide)
Front camera: 8 MP, f/2.0
Display: 6.67 inches, IPS LCD
Resolution: FHD+ (1080 x 2400 pixels)
Operating System: Android 11, upgradable to Android 12
Chip: Qualcomm SM4350, Snapdragon 480 5G
Max video resolution: 1080p at 30fps
Touch ID: Yes
Face ID: Yes
Dimensions: 171.6 x 81.5 x 10.6 mm
Water resistance: IP68 dust/water resistant
Charger: USB Type-C 3.0, 18W wired fast charging
Battery: 4,630 mAh
3.5mm Headphone port: Yes
What's in the box? The XR20 phone, a charging cable, two instruction manuals in different languages, a SIM pin. (No adapter/plug).
Nokia XR20: Key features
The Nokia XR20 series was released just last year, and while it runs Android 11 on startup, it can very easily be upgraded to android 12 through a system update and your device settings. Speaking of updates, this device will be granted continuous monthly security updates, OS upgrades, and general functionality improvements for at least three years, as part of Nokia's latest 3-3-3 promise to keep your phone up to date until 2025, promoting a greater economy and life expectancy of our devices.
Nokia believes that using our phones for longer before upgrading is better for the environment, and has taken a relatively eco-friendly approach to not only the packaging of its latest devices but the materials they are made from too. The XR20 also comes with a 1-year free screen replacement and a three-year warranty for peace of mind that it will last the test of time.
As for the lack of a power plug/adapter included with the XR20, Nokia says it’s part of its efforts to reduce e-waste, and that customers can purchase their own one, and the company will donate the proceeds to environmental causes.
With super-fast 5G connectivity, the XR20 can keep up with other modern smartphones, with a well-sized 6.67-inch screen that's ideal for browsing and social media, and a design that should be able to withstand pretty much anything you throw at it, being shock-resistant from drops of up to 1.2m.
It's difficult to say whether this smartphone is waterproof, or just water-resistant, as an IP68 rating doesn't take water pressure into account so it's unlikely that you would be able to use this smartphone as an underwater camera for photography or recording purposes, but it's great reassurance that your phone will survive the outdoors should you drop it in a puddle, or even the loo for that matter.
Nokia XR20: Camera features
As for the camera, the Nokia XR20 has a decent (but not the best) setup that can capture adequate photos, with a 48MP main f/1.8 camera paired with a 13MP f/2.4 ultrawide and 8MP front camera. While these specs don't seem too impressive, the Nokia XR20's camera features are equipped with the aid of Zeiss optics, and AI assistance with pre-applied filters depending on what you shoot.
There's also the option of a "pro" mode that can customize settings such as iso, white balance, and shutter speed, and the AI functions of the camera module allow for enhancements such as Beautification, and other imaging modes such as HDR, Night Mode, and Panorama.
The camera's Zeiss integration includes features such as ZEISS Optics, and ZEISS Portrait, which allows users to creatively soften or change the shape of any bokeh created when capturing a portrait. There's also ZEISS Cinematic Effects for video, and the recording capabilities of the XR20 feature a SpeedWarp mode with super-stabilization for fast-motion, Action Cam mode, Cinema mode, and video HDR.
OZO spatial audio capture offers wind-noise cancellation when shooting video and ensures that only the sounds you intend to capture can be heard. See the Sample Images and video section of this review where we examine these features in action and put the spatial audio features to the test in the busy city of Bath.
The Nokia XR20 also has a feature known as OZO Playback technology, that supposedly lets users experience every booming detail of sound recorded with the device through the extra loud stereo speakers in a surround-sound spatial effect.
The front selfie camera of the Nokia XR20 only offers 8MP, although the image quality certainly isn't the worst that I've ever used, benefitting from the Zeiss integration no doubt, and the front camera also offers beauty mode and can allow for features to be adjusted such as background blur and facial enhancements.
Nokia XR20: Build & handling
The primary selling points of the Nokia XR20 are without a doubt the rugged design and indestructible nature of the phone, being water and dust-resistant and boasting a 1.8-meter drop-proof military-grade certification which most modern flagship phones cannot guarantee without the aid of one of the best phone cases for protection against daily use and accidental drops. This device from Nokia is scratch-resistant, drop-resistant, temperature-resistant, and kid-and-pet-resistant.
Available in both Granite and Ultra Blue, the Nokia XR20 is made from a tough Polymer composite with aluminum side panels, as well as an aluminum core frame, all of which are renewable materials that can be recovered, with an impressive recoverability rate of 89.8%, making the Nokia XR20's build pretty eco-friendly.
The device is large and slim with a great screen size to enjoy streaming content and browsing social media, the only letdown is the IPS LCD screen over the AMOLED type that usually offers more crisp and vibrant visuals. The Corning Gorilla Glass Victus used to coat the device screen is the toughest yet on a Nokia smartphone, and It's also sensitive enough that it can respond to touch from wet hands and gloves.
The buttons feel easy to press, with a top red-colored programmable emergency key that can be adjusted to dial your emergency contacts and send a link to your location via a message when it is either pressed briefly, or if the user chooses to press and hold the button. The fingerprint sensor and power button is much flatter than other buttons and located on the right side key underneath the volume controls, with a textured-feel Google Assistant button on the left.
The water and dust-resistant nature of this phone means that should it get dirty or dropped in mud, you can just clean it with soap and water without fear of causing any internal damage to the device, feel free to run it under the tap whenever is necessary. The phone even offers an accessory loop that exists for attaching a lanyard, so your phone can always be within reach.
Nokia XR20: Performance
The overall performance of the Nokia XR20 smartphone I would say is average and meets the expectations and bare minimum of what a modern Android One smartphone should be able to accomplish, but it doesn't exactly go above and beyond. The key selling points as previously mentioned are the robust build, but the internal features need some work.
While this phone is definitively capable of keeping up with multitasking, streaming content, and is designed externally to be able to withstand anything that life throws at it, the internal power, software, and processing chip while perfectly usable and functional just aren't up to scratch to compete with the likes of modern flagship smartphones at a similar price point.
The phone comes pre-installed with apps that include Express VPN, Spotify, as well as Google's full roster of Home, Nest, Drive, and Gmail applications. While it does offer competitive features that allow for wireless charging, NFC and contactless payments, the internals are pretty buggy and Nokia should aim to smooth these out as I'm sure it will through the proposed 3-year updates and security patches.
As for gaming, this Nokia XR20 has enough RAM to be able to keep up with almost all smartphone games on the Google Play store, but might not be the best for playing competitive online games that need high refresh rates or faster processing speeds.
The power button is tricky to activate, being so flat, and barely feels like a button. Once the button has been pressed to turn the device on, it can then be pressed twice to launch and activate the camera, however, this doesn't always work and sometimes you feel yourself pressing the button once and nothing happens, so you press again and suddenly the Google Assistant pops up or the camera launches itself. I would go as far as to say this device was irritating at best to use.
The camera shutter on the Nokia XR20 can be a little slow, and I don't like the fact that HDR is left on automatically and results in sharp-looking images from a distance that, once zoomed in are actually very pixelated and poor quality. The zoom range in the Nokia XR20 is also poor, with only 2x optical zoom offered that, again, produces pixelated results.
The price point and mid-range level of this device do not require it to have the latest and greatest camera setup, however, it should at the very least be able to take a clear image that doesn't look like it was captured on an old Blackberry Curve 9360.
I tested the image quality of the Nokia XR20 with that of my Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra smartphone, as can be seen from the unedited images in the gallery below. Please take note of the image captions for comparison and to decipher which images were taken with which device and settings were used.
The front camera may be only 8MP but it performed superbly well and I was pleasantly surprised with the results, having already had low expectations after experimenting with the main 48MP and 13MP ultrawide cameras.
The front camera didn't do a bad job at all of blurring the background of the city streets behind me when taking a selfie, despite the low megapixel offering, and the ZEISS portrait features could be easily adjusted to control the image outcome.
I was overall more impressed with the quality of the XR20's front camera than of its dual-rear camera unit, and found that the front camera had a sharp focus, whereas the rear cameras rely too heavily on the auto-HDR enhancement to produce clear images. See the image gallery below for examples captured using the XR20's front camera.
Nokia XR20: Sample video
Video samples from the Nokia XR20
As can be heard in the video above, the supposed spatial audio isn't great as background traffic noise and pedestrians talking can all be heard and picked up on the video. The wind sounds have been muffled but I'm not sure if this is a positive thing, as it just sounds pretty bad all around.
The video also demonstrates the video quality when zooming in on video footage and as can be seen, it's super blurry and pixelated.
Nokia XR20: Verdict
Overall the Nokia XR20 is a phone that would well-suit anyone who works in areas of trade or construction and needs a modern smartphone that they know can withstand any damage, dust, drops, and spills. It can function just fine and cope with multitasking, so you can browse social media and stream Netflix while looking up a recipe and using contactless to pay for groceries on your phone.
The Nokia XR20 relies on the ruggedness of its design and build as a selling point, as it really doesn't have much else going for it. As I said, there's nothing particularly wrong with this phone aside from an irritating side button and pop-up assistant, but there's nothing really too special about it either.
For those needing one of the best rugged phones or even a thermal-imaging camera for work purposes, we would recommend you opt for the Doogee S98 Pro or the Doogee S96 GT, as these phones are ultra-rugged and offer extras such as night vision cameras, excellent main cameras, and super-fast processors, and cost just a little bit extra, worth every penny.
For use as a backup phone for when hiking and camping, this Nokia XR20 should be perfectly fine for those with the patience to put up with the few glitches that the company will undoubtedly smooth out in time, to ensure the longevity of your smartphone so that it shouldn't need upgrading or replacing.
While it's a shame about the mediocre and lackluster camera on the Nokia XR20, if this isn't something that bothers you then you've bagged a bargain with this smartphone (that is also currently reduced in price).
If you are however someone who values having one of the best phone cameras, which we assume you are given that this is a photography-based website, then definitely consider the Nokia X30 5G instead, not a rugged phone at all - but still super eco-friendly with a much better camera system.
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