The updated Nokia 5.1 refines its design, includes Android One and adds up to a good value budget phone as long as you don't expect speedy performance.
Android One keeps things clean and updated
Easy to reach fingerprint sensor
Poor battery life
Nokia re-emerged into the mobile phone scene in 2017 with the original Nokia 5, part of its rebirthed line-up of Android handsets. Those 2017 models were interesting but a little rough around the edges. Just as it has done with its other point-one models, Nokia has refined the design and improved performance for the Nokia 5.1, making for a pleasant phone for its price range, although not one that's absolutely remarkable.
Classic Nokia style
Robust metal body
The Nokia 5.1 is designed very deliberately to be evocative of the kinds of designs Nokia used to put into its Lumia lines, and that's a very good thing for a phone pitched at the affordable edge of town. It's all about smooth rounded corners in a handset that's easy to hold in one hand. That does mean you're only looking at a 5.5-inch display, but it's a full 18:9 1080 x 2160 LCD, which is pleasing at this price point. Charging comes via microUSB at the base, while there's a headphone jack at the top and an easy to reach fingerprint sensor at the back.
We're seeing more and more budget handsets pay proper attention to design, and Nokia was among the first to do so. The Nokia 5.1 manages that nice trick of looking like it's a more expensive phone than it actually is, and it does so while providing a nice robust body that should be able to handle a few knocks and bumps. It can be a little slippery in the hand, but that metal body should protect it nicely if it does slide away from your grasp.
The Nokia 5.1 is equipped with a rear 16MP camera and front-facing 8MP camera. Unlike Nokia's higher-end efforts, there's no sign of Zeiss optics on the Nokia 5.1, but despite that, it still manages camera work that I'd call perfectly fine for a phone in its price bracket.
That might sound damning, but it's not the case. It's simply that the overall quality of camera modules has advanced to the point where low-cost phones like these can have cameras that are fine for everyday work and arguably good enough for most users who don't want advanced features.
With a little patience the Nokia 5.1 can turn out quite nice photos – but you will need patience
Picture quality is fine because it should match the expectations of its target audience, although predictably that does mean if you push it in any way, you quickly see the cracks.
Selfie focus is sometimes a little soft and any attempt to zoom or use it in low light will end poorly.
Getting focus right is a challenge for the Nokia 5.1's camera all too often, but that's not unusual at this price bracket.
You'd expect that from a budget phone like this, and the Nokia 5.1 performs acceptably, but that's all.
MediaTek processor plus 2GB RAM is a recipe for ordinary performance
Android One gives the Nokia 5.1 an edge
Nokia keeps its prices low by generally opting for lower-end processors, and for the Nokia 5.1, what you get is a MediaTek Helio P18 paired with just 2GB of RAM. That's not a surprise at this price point, but it does mean that the Nokia 5.1 doesn't compare that well with many similarly priced competitors that either up the RAM or the processor – and sometimes both. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4's CPU test:
And here's how the Nokia 5.1 stacks up with 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme benchmark:
Like most of the rest of Nokia's 2018 family of Android phones, the Nokia 5.1 is an Android One handset. That means that updates are processed directly by Google, with a guaranteed two years' worth of updates. The model as tested was still running on Android 8, but it should see Android 9 before the end of the year, and Android 10 at some point in 2019 as well.
Android One phones like the Nokia 5.1 offer clean Google interfaces, and while it's Android – so you can really customise it however you'd like – the lack of launchers or indeed a host of apps you probably didn't want preinstalled is very welcome.
Battery life isn't great
Recharging is via microUSB
The Nokia 5.1 has the essential tools that should deliver decent battery life. It's running a cheaper but low-power processor, it's not running a massive display and Nokia crams in a 2970mAh battery into its frame.
However, in day-to-day usage and benchmarks, the Nokia 5.1 showed battery performance that was below the norm, even for budget handsets. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4's linear battery test:
Real-world everyday usage suggests that the Nokia 5.1 should be able to manage a day's battery life if you're moderate with your usage. However, if you're a heavier user, it would be wise to have a microUSB charger handy. It's still pretty common in the budget space to see the older microUSB charging standard, although we are starting to see a few USB C charging phones emerge in this space.
The Nokia 5.1 provides a solid improvement over the Nokia 5, and it's a good option if you like Nokia's style and you're after a robust and simple phone at a relatively low price point.
The inclusion of Android One continues to be a key selling point for Nokia's 2018 handsets because it provides a level of certainty for both security and feature upgrades that you just don't get with other Android phones.
Alex Kidman is the tech and telco editor at Finder. He's been a technology writer with experience spanning more than 20 years, writing and editing at Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and many more. Alex has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New England and a serious passion for retro gaming.
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