Nokia 5 review

Of the three new Nokia smartphones unveiled at MWC 2017 (along with the rebooted Nokia 3310), the Nokia 5 sits most awkwardly, sandwiched as it is between the better-equipped Nokia 6 and eye-catchingly cheap Nokia 3.

It’s not that it’s a bad phone, but more that its bigger brother doesn't cost that much more, so it would be easy to chuck in the few extra bucks for the 6 – or, if you’re really looking to save the pennies, you might be better off with the 3.

Don't discount it just yet though. The Nokia 5 comes with a 5.2-inch HD display, Snapdragon 430 chipset, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, a 13MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, fingerprint scanner and a 3,000mAh battery.

It’s worth mentioning at the outset that this phone isn’t made by Nokia. The iconic firm still exists, but has licensed its name for use on phones and tablets to a Finnish startup called HMD Global, which, in partnership with Chinese manufacturer Foxconn, is building and selling the Nokia 5 and its siblings.

Nokia 5 price and release date

  • SIM-free price: £179.99 (around $ 200, AU$ 275)
  • Available in UK from August 16, India from August 15

The Nokia 5 price is £179.99 (around $ 200, AU$ 275), making it an affordable smartphone. For that you get a HD display, full metal body and octa-core processor, which isn't bad at all.

This means it’s comfortably cheaper than the £219.99 Nokia 6, while still being a viable option for those who aren’t wooed by the £119.99 Nokia 3.

You’ll be able to get the Nokia 5 in the UK from August 16, with the phone being sold in a wide range of stores including Carphone Warehouse, EE, Argos, Tesco, Virgin and Amazon.

Meanwhile the Nokia 5 release date in India is set a day earlier, on August 15, where the handset will cost you Rs 12,899.

We’re currently still waiting to hear about the Nokia 5’s availability in the US and Australia, but we’ll update this review as soon as we get the information from HMD Global.

Design and display

The compact form factor of the Nokia 5 is something which may sway prospective buyers towards it, and away from the bigger Nokia 6.

It’s a more ergonomic design, with the curved edges nestling comfortably into the palm, and you can reach anywhere on screen with your thumb.

Crafted from a single block of 6000-series aluminum, the Nokia 5 has a surprisingly premium construction for a phone with such a low price tag. It feels like a more expensive phone when you pick it up, and that’s great.

Another bonus of the Nokia 5 is the presence of a fingerprint scanner below the screen, which also doubles as the home navigation key. Digit readers tend to be reserved for pricier devices, so it’s good to see the tech filtering down the tiers, and especially to a device as cheap as the Nokia 5.

You can pick the Nokia 5 up in four different colors: copper, black, silver and blue.

The 720p HD display is bright and clear, giving a good level of detail to images and text alike. You can comfortably read emails, watch videos and enjoy gaming sessions on the 1280 x 720 screen.

It’s not overly vibrant when it comes to color reproduction, and if you put this LCD panel next to an AMOLED screen you’ll notice it’s duller to the eye. In isolation though, and considering the price you’re paying, it’s hard to knock the screen on the Nokia 5 too much.

Interface and performance

  • Pure Android is clean and easy to use
  • Performance is slow, but it runs everything
  • Storage fills up fast, so a microSD card is a must

The Nokia 5 isn’t going to blow you away with slick performance, and that’s no surprise considering the price tag, but what it does offer is a pure Android experience.

It runs the latest version of Google’s software – Android 7.1.1 Nougat – which means it’s bang up to date, and with no heavy interface overlaid by HMD, owners of this phone shouldn’t have to wait too long for an update to Android O when it launches later this year.

The pure Android offering gives the Nokia 5 a clean look on screen, and means that operation will be easy to grasp for anyone who’s used an Android device in the past.

It comes with the standard suite of Google applications preinstalled, and that’s it. There’s no additional bloatware, so you have a clean canvas on which to install the apps and games you want, without ones you don’t want getting in the way.

Under the hood the Nokia 5 comes with a Snapdragon 430 chipset and 2GB of RAM, pretty much the expected setup at this price point. In terms of the performance this delivers… well, you’ll need to be patient.

Load times are noticeable, but during our review time with the Nokia 5 we didn’t find an app or game it couldn’t run. Sure, it’s not got the zip of a flagship device, but it’s a quarter of the price and it’s far from unusable.

We ran the Geekbench 4 app on the phone, and it turned in an average multicore score of 2,765. That puts it in the mix with the equally priced Moto G5 (2,377), Honor 6X (3,275) and Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus (2,073).

What this means day-to-day is that the Nokia 5 is perfectly capable when it comes to web browsing, messaging, social media and emails; and although you’ll need to be patient if you’re firing up more intensive apps or games, as this is a phone that goes at its own pace, it will still run them at a playable level.

The fingerprint sensor below the display is generally responsive, but there is a slight delay as it detects your digit and wakes the phone, and there were a few times when we had to present our finger more than once before it was recognized and the handset unlocked.

It’s good to see the biometric tech included in a low-cost handset though, and another nice addition on the Nokia 5 is Google Assistant, giving you a useful AI that can answer your questions, organize your day and update you on your commute. To launch it you press and hold on the fingerprint scanner/home key.

Music, movies and gaming

  • A microSD for extra storage is a must
  • Video is easily watchable
  • Can run any app or game, but you’ll have to be patient with load times

Before we get into the Nokia 5’s music, movie and gaming capabilities we need to address the issue of storage on the handset. 

There’s 16GB of space inside the phone, but 7.5GB of that is taken up by the Android system straight out of the box – leaving you with effectively half the space to actually use for your apps, games, videos, music and photos.

We had filled up this storage within two days of getting the Nokia 5, with a few large applications including Micro Machines, Spotify, Facebook and Pokemon Go all taking up a fair whack of space.

Thankfully the Nokia 5 does come with a microSD slot, a second tray on the left of the handset below the one for your nanoSIM. The phone can also ‘adopt’ the card storage, meaning it sees it as part of the internal storage of the handset, rather than an external resource, which makes saving data to the card easier and quicker.

In short, if you buy the Nokia 5 make sure you invest in a microSD card of at least 8GB.

Because the Nokia 5 comes with stock Android the only music player you get preinstalled is Play Music, which can play tracks you manually transfer to the handset or download from the Play Store, as well as offering up its own subscription streaming service.

Of course, if you’re already subscribed to the likes of Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal you can download those apps from the Play Store.

The single speaker on the base of the Nokia 5 doesn’t produce particularly great audio, with a lack of bass and tinny sound meaning you’ll only want to use it for gaming or watching the odd video.

Its placement also means it’s easily covered by your hand when you hold the phone in landscape orientation, giving you even more reason to grab a pair of headphones and plug them into the 3.5mm jack at the top of the Nokia 5.

Video playback is passable, and you can comfortably watch YouTube videos and TV shows on the Nokia 5. You probably won’t want to watch a movie on the phone, though, as the smaller screen size and slightly muted colors won’t do them justice, and those who like full HD or higher resolution will be out of luck here.

You can also game on the Nokia 5, but again patience is required. Demanding games such as Micro Machines and Pokemon Go are playable, but load times can be lengthy.

Even more simple games, such as New Star Soccer and New Star Cricket, take a little time to load, but once you’re up and running the performance of the Nokia 5 doesn’t hamper gameplay – we didn’t feel like the Nokia 5 was ever negatively impacting our performance in online races in Micro Machines, for example.

The phone does get rather warm during extended periods of gameplay, and if you’re playing consistently for over an hour games can crash on the Nokia 5.

Battery life

  • A day of battery life from a single charge if you’re lucky
  • Video and gaming really take their toll
  • Charging is slow

The Nokia 5 comes with a 3,000mAh battery, which if you’re someone who doesn’t tend to game or watch video on their phone should last you a full day on a single charge.

You’re highly unlikely to get more than a day from the Nokia 5 though, with a nightly plug-in required to see you through the next day.

And if you like to use your phone for streaming music and gaming, the Nokia 5 will require a top-up come mid to late afternoon if you want it to last until bedtime.

With an average daily usage of a couple of hours of Spotify streaming, around an hour of gaming, social networking, emails, messaging and a few calls we usually found ourselves plugging in before we left work to ensure the Nokia 5 lasted the commute home and the evening.

We ran our 90-minute HD video battery test on the Nokia 5, with Wi-Fi connected and screen brightness on full, and the handset lost a huge 37% of its juice. While you’re unlikely to watch a movie at full brightness on this phone it’s a good indication of how quickly the Nokia 5 can drain when it’s pushed; by comparison the Moto G5 lost 22% in the same test.

The phone is charged via a micro USB port on the base of the handset, but there’s no fast charging here. It means the Nokia 5 takes a while to top up, so if you’re going out for the night you’ll want to put it on charge at least an hour before heading out the door to make sure you get a decent slug of juice.

Camera

  • Slow to load and focus
  • Images can be muddy and lacking in color

The Nokia 5 has cameras, sure – two of them to be exact. But you’re unlikely to be winning any photography competitions thanks to them.

Round the back the main 13MP camera sounds promising on paper, but in practice it’s sluggish, and doesn’t always produce good pictures.

Even with HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode enabled we still found images could look a little dark, and a lack of detail and color was a common theme throughout our shooting experience.

If you’re patient, letting the app load up and the focus settle, you can get some decent shots if the lighting is good, and we found the Nokia 5 performed pretty well up close – but it’s far from a fluid shooting experience.

There’s no manual or pro mode to give you control over settings such as shutter speed and white balance, but at this end of the smartphone market that’s no surprise.

The app itself is simple to work out. There’s a large centralized shutter key, while quick settings at the top of the screen enable you to switch between the front and rear cameras and toggle the flash, timer and HDR settings.

You can also use the volume key to snap shots, which is sometimes much easier than hitting the on-screen button, especially when it comes to selfies.

The 8MP selfie camera on the front is good enough for the odd Snapchat and Instagram post, plus there’s a beauty mode built in if you’re not looking your best.

The Nokia 5 looks great on paper, feels great in the hand, but fails to fully deliver in use.

To be fair to this £179.99 (around $ 200, AU$ 275) phone it does offer a lot for your money, with a HD display, fingerprint scanner and the latest Android operating system not things to be sniffed at – but the trouble is, this end of the market is now highly competitive, and the Nokia 5 has some serious competition on its hands.

And it falls down when it comes to performance, with a slightly sluggish interface and operating speeds that demand patience. It still runs all your major apps and games, so you won’t be without any key applications if you opt for the Nokia 5 – just be aware of the load times.

It is the best-looking phone at this price point though, and its metal body wouldn’t look out of place on a handset twice its price.

Who’s it for?

The Nokia 5 is aimed at anyone who’s looking for an affordable smartphone from a brand they can trust – and few manufacturers can boast the history and appeal to nostalgia that the Nokia name carries.

It will be especially attractive to those with a keen eye for style, but without pockets deep enough to pick up a flagship, or even sub-flagship, device. Just because you’re paying less doesn’t always mean you have to compromise on design.

Should I buy it?

As we’ve mentioned, there are a number of strong contenders at the low end of the mobile market these days, but the Nokia 5 stands out for two reasons. First there’s the Nokia name, which will no doubt evoke a positive reaction from those who owned one of the Finnish firm’s iconic handsets back in the day, and secondly there’s the design.

You won’t find a more premium finish on a smartphone that costs this little, and as long as you’re willing to be patient, and are less into gaming and movies and more into emails and social apps, then you’ll certainly enjoy the Nokia 5.

For those looking for a slicker all-round offering we’d recommend shopping around.

The budget end of the mobile market is a highly competitive one, and the Nokia 5 has some stiff competition. We’ve pulled together three of its main rivals to show you what it’s up against.

Nokia 6

The Nokia 6 isn’t that much more expensive than the Nokia 5, plus it’ll go on sale before the 5, and with better specs. You’re likely to get better performance and battery life, and a better camera experience, from the 6 as well – but you’ll have to wait for our full review to find out for sure.

The Nokia 6 gives you a 5.5-inch full HD display, Snapdragon 430 chipset, 4GB of RAM, 16MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, fingerprint scanner and a 3,000mAh battery.

If you’re willing to wait a few weeks, it may be worth holding out for our Nokia 6 review verdict – especially if you’ve got the extra cash to hand.

Moto G5

The Moto G5 is the same price as the Nokia 5, and offers a more complete, and slick, budget smartphone experience.

One area where the Moto G5 does lose out however is design, with the full metal body of the Nokia 5 providing a much better look and feel than the plastic and cheap metal finish on the Motorola.

If you’re struggling to decide, though, we’d still recommend the G5 over the Nokia 5 – unless you’re happy to trade in performance for style.

Honor 6X

It may not be a household name just yet, but Chinese firm Honor has been churning out solid, affordable smartphones for a few years now, and the Honor 6X is its current rival to the Nokia 5.

It comes with a 5.5-inch full HD display, Kirin 655 chipset, 4GB of RAM, dual 12MP + 2MP rear cameras, 8MP front camera, fingerprint scanner and a 3,340mAh battery.

Honor has covered all the bases with the 6X – it’s a phone that you can safely buy and be confident it won't feel outdated any time soon.

First reviewed: July 2017

TechRadar – Technology Reviews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *