Nokia 5.1 review: Solid quality but not a fast handset

Alex Kidman 25 October 2018 NEWS

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.

Quick Verdict
Nokia's journey to provide good quality Android experiences at affordable prices continues with the Nokia 5.1. It's a very welcome upgrade from 2017's Nokia 5 with good build quality and a simple Android One interface, although with so many good budget phones available now, it's wise to compare your options.

The good

  • Nice design
  • Android One keeps things clean and updated
  • Easy to reach fingerprint sensor

The bad

  • Ordinary performance
  • Simple camera
  • 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.


Nokia 5.1 review

Nokia 5.1: Design

  • Classic Nokia style
  • Robust metal body
  • Headphone jack
  • Fingerprint sensor

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.

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Nokia 5.1 review

Nokia 5.1: Camera

  • Camera is OK, not great

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.

Nokia 5.1 sample photo
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.

Nokia 5.1 sample photo 2
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.

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Nokia 5.1 review

Nokia 5.1: Performance

  • 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.

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Nokia 5.1 review

Nokia 5.1: Battery life

  • 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.Back to top


Nokia 5.1 review

Nokia 5.1: Should you buy it?

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.

Nokia 5.1: Alternatives

Within the Nokia family, you could opt for the Nokia 6.1 (AKA the Nokia 6 2018) for a little more than the Nokia 5.1's asking price.

Nokia 6.1 (2018)

Second time's the charm

Stronger, faster and more attractive: the Nokia 6.1 (2018) is a big leap forward for the reborn Nokia brand.

Promoted

You could save a few dollars and still stay on the Android One path with the Nokia 3.1.

Buy the Nokia 3.1

Buy the Nokia 3.1 from Amazon AU

Nokia's simple but affordable Nokia 3.1 features a refined design and the guarantee of two years' worth of software upgrades via Android One.

View details

But you've got plenty of options from other brands as well. At this price, you could opt for the stylish Huawei Nova 3e.

Huawei Nova 3e

Premium style on a mid-range budget

A slick and sleek design gives the Huawei Nova 3e all the glamour of a high-end smartphone without the steep price tag.

Promoted

The highly regarded Motorola Moto G6 Plus and Motorola Moto G6 are also available around this price range.

Buy the Motorola Moto G6

Buy the Motorola Moto G6 from Amazon AU

With dual rear cameras, a sturdy gorilla glass body and a 5.7 inch display, Motorola's affordable Moto G6 gives you all the smartphone features you need without breaking the bank.

View details
Buy the Motorola Moto G6 Plus

Buy the Motorola Moto G6 Plus from Amazon AU

Motorola's largest G-series phone comes with a 5.9 inch display, all-glass finish and dual rear cameras to give you the phone features you need at a price you can afford.

View details
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Nokia 5.1: Pricing and availability

The Nokia 5.1 retails in Australia for $329 outright and is available from Harvey Norman.

Buy the Nokia 5.1

Buy the Nokia 5.1 from Amazon AU

Nokia's refined Nokia 5.1 offers premium style and two years' worth of updates via Android One.

View details

Specifications

Nokia 5.1 Specifications

OS Android 8
Display size (inches) 5.5
Display resolution (pixels) 1080 x 2160
Pixels per inch (PPI) 439
Processor MediaTek Helio P18
Height (mm) 151.1
Width (mm) 70.7
Depth (mm) 8.2
Weight (g)
Battery size (mAh) 2,970
Wireless charging No
Internal storage 16GB
MicroSD expansion 128GB
Fingerprint scanner Yes
RAM 2GB
Water resistance N/A
Rear camera (1) resolution 16
Rear camera (1) aperture
Rear camera (2) resolution
Rear camera (2) aperture
Rear camera (3) resolution
Rear camera (3) aperture
Front camera (1) resolution 8
Front camera (1) aperture
Front camera (2) resolution
Front camera (2) aperture
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Network category speed Category 4
NFC support No
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