Nokia 5.4 Review: Average Android doesn’t quite make the grade
Quick Verdict: The Nokia 5.4 is a fine phone, but it’s only an average model for its price range, which is something of an odd step backwards for Nokia.
- Decent battery life
- Attractive design
- Android One upgrades
- Processor isn’t an upgrade over last year’s model
- Digital zoom is pretty poor
- 720p display
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$119|
HMD Global, the company that has the rights to make "Nokia" branded phones has had a pretty simple strategy for the past couple of years.
Each year, its core Nokia phone lines get a series of incremental upgrades, and maybe a design change or two, married with the latest processors in their price range. It's a recipe that typically leads to some good value handsets within their price range, further boosted by the inclusion of Android One and its guaranteed upgrades.
That's sort of what's happened with the Nokia 5.4, except that it's more of a sideways comparative step relative to 2020's Nokia 5.3. It's a reasonable Android handset for its price point, but the lack of real processing upgrades leaves it as a merely decent handset in an increasingly competitive market.
- Dusk or Polar Night finishes
- 6.39-inch display with hole-punch camera
- Headphone jack
- High placement for fingerprint sensor
The Nokia 5.4 features a 6.39-inch display with a 720x1560 pixel count, which means it effectively tops out at 720p for video purposes. 1080p isn't common at this kind of price point, but the use of 720p can't help but feel a little cheap.
That 6.39-inch screen sits within a plastic enclosure – this is one of Nokia/HMD Global's lower-cost handsets – available in either "Dusk" or "Polar Night" finishes.
If both of those names sound just a tad obscure to you, you're not alone. Dusk, which is what I've reviewed, is essentially a dark purple colour – ideal for any Prince fan – while Polar Night is more of a subdued blue colour. A diagonal pattern runs through the back of the phone to give it a slight shimmering effect, aside from the circular camera array at the top.
The Nokia 5.4 features a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, located fairly high up on the phone body. Given that the phone itself measures in at 160.97×75.99×8.7mm, that could represent something of a utility challenge for those with shorter fingers. It's also relatively flat against the body of the phone, making easy discovery rather more tricky without inadvertently smudging the camera lenses.
While headphone jacks are fast becoming a novelty in the premium and even mid-range phone spaces, it's curious to note that they're all but standard in budget phones.
Do phone makers figure people who buy cheaper phones can't afford Bluetooth headphones or that premium phone buyers don't want cables? Either way, if you have a decent set of wired buds or headphones, you'll be able to plug them into the Nokia 5.4 at the top of the phone.
- Quad lens appears impressive
- Results are only average
- Digital zoom fares badly
Take a look at the rear of the Nokia 5.4 – or launch its in-built camera app – and you might think that you're getting something of a camera powerhouse. The primary rear lens houses a 48MP primary sensor, alongside a 5MP ultra-wide sensor, the inevitable 2MP Macro sensor and finally a 2MP depth sensor. At the front, you'll find a single 16MP sensor within that hole-punch enclosure.
On paper, that's a solid upgrade from the Nokia 5.3, which featured a primary 13MP sensor, alongside ultra-wide 5MP, 2MP Macro and 2MP depth sensors, although it does of course feel very familiar outside that primary sensor.
The Nokia 5.3 certainly gives it a red hot go in terms of camera features, resting a lot on the pixel-binning capabilities of that 48MP sensor to enable digital-based zoom and night-shooting modes. More premium-priced Nokia phones have managed to punch above their weight in camera terms, and the Nokia 5.3 was certainly a solid if basic shooter in this respect.
The Nokia 5.4 continues that journey – I wouldn't call it a "bad" camera – but it never really stretches beyond "average" for most shooting situations.
Rather predictably, unless you're at the precise right distance for its macro lens, you'll end up with blurred rubbish, and even then you've got to be fairly careful.
Digital zoom maxes out at 8x digital zoom, but it's genuinely not worth using, with a lot of noise. For example, here's an 8x zoom shot taken in decent light. Look at it on the Nokia 5.4's screen, and it looks OK, but as soon as you export it, the pixelated look becomes all too apparent:
It's even worse if you choose to zoom in while shooting video, too. If you want zoomed photos, take regular ones and crop within an app to get a better result, basically.
Now, none of this should be particularly surprising for a budget-range phone, but the reality here is that we're increasingly seeing decent-to-good cameras in this price range. Merely being average means that you just don't stand out that well.
- Snapdragon 662 isn't an upgrade over the Nokia 5.3
- Android One upgrades are, as always, a big plus
Typically, when you develop a new phone, and especially one in an established range, the new model has better specifications than the old one, right?
That's not the way that Nokia has approached the Nokia 5.3. It's coming to market ever so slightly cheaper than the Nokia 5.3 did when it was new, but one of the ways that HMD Global has saved a few dollars is by using a core processor that's actually a downgrade from its predecessor.
The Nokia 5.3 ran on a Snapdragon 665, very standard for its time in that price range, but the Nokia 5.4 uses a Snapdragon 662 instead. That's a newer chunk of silicon, but it's one with a lower clock speed (2.2Ghz to the 662's 2GHz), and absolutely no difference in core GPU, with both using Adreno 610 graphics.
So where you might expect the newer phone to be nippier, even if only by a little, it simply isn't, and that's borne out by both practical app usage and benchmarks. Again, at best the Nokia 5.4 is merely keeping up with the competition, and not besting it in any real way. Here's how the Nokia 5.4 compares using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
Here's how it compares on the 3D graphics front, using 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme test:
Like other HMD Global Android handsets, the Nokia 5.4 is an Android One phone. That means it ships with very little additional pre-installed software, which itself is a pretty big plus, but also that it's guaranteed for two years' worth of Android upgrades and three years of security upgrades. The Nokia 5.4 ships with Android 10, but it'll still be good through to Android 12 at the very least.
The Nokia 5.4 is a 4G-capable handset – 5G hasn't yet filtered down to these kinds of price points, although it can't be too far away now – but it's only a Category 4-capable handset, so don't expect particularly nippy network speeds from it, even in optimal conditions.
On the storage front, the Nokia 5.4 has 128GB of onboard storage, with support for microSD cards of up to 512GB. One nice bonus here is that the SIM card tray has three slots, so you can still go dual SIM if needed and add storage capacity as well.
- 4,000mAh battery performs above expectations
- USB-C charging is a nice ease of use inclusion
The Nokia 5.4 makes no real change from its predecessor here, with a 4,000mAh sealed battery providing power. Once again, Nokia makes the claim that it's capable of up to two day's battery life, but that's always going to be a matter of your usage pattern.
To test the Nokia 5.4, I ran it through our standard battery life drain test, running a YouTube video at maximum resolution – 720p in the Nokia 5.4's case – for an hour at maximum brightness and moderate volume from a full charge. Typically, if you can best 90% in that test, a day's battery life is within your grasp and the more the better.
4,000mAh isn't particularly large even for phones in this price range, so my hopes weren't that high. Here's how the Nokia 5.4 performed relative to other phones in its price bracket:
That's a better result than expected, and Nokia's claims around two-day battery life do get a bit of a credibility boost as a result. It's certainly capable of running a single day on moderate app usage, and it's feasible to perhaps get a second day if you're only a very light user.
When it comes time to recharge, you'll be doing so via USB-C. Some budget phone makers are still sticking to microUSB and its less convenient plug, but just as it was on the Nokia 5.3, it's the more convenient USB-C type plug you'll find here. Actual recharging isn't particularly quick, maxing out at 10W with a compatible charger, but that's within expectations at this price point.
Should you buy the Nokia 5.4?
- Buy it if you want guaranteed Android updates.
- Don't buy it if you're looking for a significant upgrade or best value at this price point.
It should be pretty obvious by now that I'm not going to recommend that Nokia 5.3 owners opt to upgrade because outside the battery life the benefits of the Nokia 5.4 are pretty slim.
Unfortunately, that's an observation that rings true for anyone particularly considering the Nokia 5.4. It very much feels like HMD Global is treading water in value terms here. The same features that make its Nokia line worth buying – most notably Android One upgrades – are still present and correct, and there's really not much wrong with the Nokia 5.4.
The issue is that, relative to previous years and what you can get at this price point right now, there's just not that much that stands out, either.
Pricing and availability
PriceThe Nokia 5.4 is available now in Australia in Dusk or Polar Night finishes for $329 outright.
Where to buy
Power, storage and battery
Images: Alex Kidman
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