Nokia X20 review: Striving for the mid-range but not quite getting there
Quick verdict: The Nokia X20 comes with 3 years of OS upgrades, but its processor and design make it a poor choice compared to similarly priced phones.
- Good battery life
- 3 years of OS upgrades
- 3 years of hardware warranty
- You can do better than a Snapdragon 480 for this price
- Only a 60Hz LCD display
- Weak speakers
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$599|
HMD Global, the company with the rights to produce Nokia-branded phones, recently switched its model numbering from simple digits to a set of alphabetically distinct phone "series".
The $599 Nokia X20 is effectively the brand's current "flagship" phone, even though that pricing places it resolutely in the mid-range as far as current phone pricing goes.
While HMD Global's support for longer-term Android updates and a 3-year handset warranty are laudable, sadly the rest of the Nokia X20 equation generally fails to compare to what you can get for the money, making it hard to recommend for anyone but the most deep Nokia fans.
Design: A big plastic chunk
There's no mistaking the Nokia X20 as anything but a Nokia phone, especially thanks to that prominent NOKIA logo on the bottom bezel. That logo sits beneath a 6.67-inch FHD+ (1080x2400) pixel LCD display, which is large for this price bracket, although not without a few compromises.
At this price point we've seen more than a few 90Hz and even a few 120Hz capable displays, but the Nokia X20 stays resolutely in 60Hz territory. Equally, on other handsets we've seen more precise AMOLED displays, but this is just an LCD.
The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 5, and HMD Global is so confident in this selection that it's offering a 3-year warranty on the handset and a 3-month replacement offer on the screen if you break it in that timeframe.
I didn't take a hammer to the Nokia X20 to see how quickly that repair process would take, but it's certainly a value-add in such a competitive field.
When you pick up the Nokia X20 you'll almost certainly feel its heft, and at 220g it's a distinctly chunky device for its category. That's not because it's built around a metal body, however.
The Nokia X20 is a plastic body phone, available either in "Nordic Blue" or "Midnight Sun" finishes, as tested. Apparently Midnight Suns aren't stuck around the other side of the planet, but are instead a kind of coppery/rose gold type finish.
The plastic body of the Nokia X20 lacks any kind of water resistance, and while that's not super-common in the mid-range, it would have further bolstered the Nokia X20's durability claims.
One feature I did like with the Nokia X20 was the inclusion of a compostable, white-flecked case. Plenty of phones ship with cases, but in almost every case they're simple clear rubber models, and this is something different and a little stylish.
On the right of the Nokia X20 sits a Google Assistant button, directly opposite the combination power button and fingerprint sensor. Because it has to pull double duty, it's recessed, so you won't easily mistake one for the other.
You do get a headphone jack if that's important to you, but annoyingly only a mono speaker out of the base, which sounds rather naff if you're the type who uses your phone as a speaker.
Camera: Zeiss optics give flexibility but little wow factor
The Nokia X20 adopts HMD Global's current trend of a circular array of lenses at the rear. The primary lens has a 64MP sensor, paired up with a 5MP Ultra-wide, 2MP Macro and 2MP depth sensor.
From a specifications level that's not exactly stunning for $599, although the Nokia X20 can shoot a little better than some of the phones we've seen recently in certain situations. Just about every single budget to mid-range phone right now seems to be rocking a 2MP Macro of terrible quality, and the Nokia X20's macro does a little better than that.
The ultra-wide isn't quite as impressive, with a tendency for a cool colour tone not found on the primary lens, which can be jarring if you switch from one lens to the other.
That 64MP primary lens can shoot fairly well in most conditions, but that's very much something that you absolutely should expect in this price bracket. The Nokia X20 doesn't do too much wrong here, but it equally doesn't give too many reasons to favour it over competing offerings from the likes of Samsung, Apple, Oppo or realme.
Flip around to the front, and the centrally mounted holepunch camera houses a 32MP selfie camera. Detail is reasonable here, although HMD Global's artificial bokeh leaves a fair amount to be desired in terms of clarity.
Performance: Snapdragon 480 is disappointing at this price
HMD Global's output of late has tended towards price points lower than the $599 that it wants for the Nokia X20. We've seen a lot of Snapdragon 6 and 7 series phones at this price point, and that's what you might reasonably expect on the Android side of the fence right now.
So it's a little perplexing that HMD Global has gone the lower cost route of using the Snapdragon 480 chipset instead. Yes, you do get 5G with the Snapdragon 480 at sub-6Ghz only, but you can do better than a Snapdragon 480 for this money.
The Nokia X20 pairs up that Snapdragon 480 with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage, expandable via microSD. Not surprisingly, the use of a slower and cheaper processor leads to benchmark results that tend more towards the mediocre. Here's how the Nokia X20 compares to phones within its price range:
The Adreno 619 GPU in the Nokia X20 also isn't terribly impressive in benchmark terms:
Take those benchmarks to real-world apps, and the Nokia X20 has a tendency to lag if it's asked to do too much. Even against phones that it would seem to be comparable with, such as the Google Pixel 4a, I saw more stuttering in apps and general web browsing on the Nokia X20.
That comparison with the Google Pixels is also there because there is a very direct comparison that can be made with them beyond performance.
Like other Nokia phones, the Nokia X20 comes with the promise of 3 years' worth of OS upgrades, making them an effective counterpoint to Google's Pixel phones.
However, the Pixel 4a and 4a 5G are faster phones in real world app usage than the Nokia X20, and they will see those upgrades before they come down the pipe to the X20 as well.
Battery: Plenty of power that lasts
Typically with larger screened phones, you pay a price when it comes to battery endurance. The inclusion of a battery capacity of just 4470mAh when so many phones push towards 5000mAh also didn't fill me with confidence when it came to the Nokia X20.
However, the one saving grace with having a slower processor on board is that it chews up less power as a result, and we can clearly see that in the Nokia X20's battery performance.
To give a comparative view of battery life, I ran the Nokia X20 through Finder's standard battery life test, taking a fully charged Nokia X20 and streaming a Full HD YouTube video to it for a full hour. Ideally what you want to see is battery life over 90% remaining, because that typically indicates a phone that can last at least a day's moderate use. Naturally, the more battery life remaining, the better. Here's how the Nokia X20 compares:
This is the one area where the iPhone SE crashes and burns, thanks to its tiny battery capacity. There is no sign of wireless charging on the Nokia X20, just wired charging over USB-C
Should you buy the Nokia X20?
- Buy it if you're keen on a non-Pixel with no bloatware and a good hardware warranty.
- Don't buy it if you want mid-range performance.
The single biggest reason to recommend any of HMD Global's Nokia phones of late has been that 3-year OS upgrade promise. Match that up with a 3-year hardware warranty and good battery life, and HMD Global should be onto a winner.
However, with the Nokia X20, it just plain isn't. The compromises in performance with the Snapdragon 480, the hefty weight and lack of features easily found in phones in this price range leave the Nokia X20 behind to a degree that makes it a hard recommendation.
Pricing and availability
Where to buy
How we tested
The Nokia X20 was extensively tested over a 3-week testing period, checking build quality and features, camera output, app performance and battery life on an ongoing basis.
Power, storage and battery
Images: Alex Kidman
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