It's not every day that I come across a smartphone that can do something extraordinary. Most premium smartphones these days look attractive and have an array of cameras at the back, but the buck pretty much stops there. So, when HMD Global launched The Nokia XR20 in India I was quite interested, mainly because I'm a dad to a 2-year-old who loves to torture test smartphones. It also looks and feels a bit different. So, when I received the review unit I had two big questions: Is the Nokia XR20's tough and rugged exterior worth its premium price, and would it remain intact if I handed it over to my toddler? Read on to see how I found the answers.
Nokia XR20 price in India
The Nokia XR20 is priced at Rs. 46,999 in India. It is available in a single configuration with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. There are two finishes to choose from – Ultra Blue and Granite. I reviewed an Ultra Blue unit.
Nokia XR20 design
HMD Global pitches this phone in its advertising materials as “designed for the long run”. Technically speaking, which phone isn't? Still you get a better idea of its purpose once you hold this tank of smartphone. It's a lot larger than I expected it to be, measuring 171.64mm (H) x 81.5mm (W). It's also quite thick at 10.64mm but surprisingly, not as heavy as I expected. Despite having that extra rugged exterior, the Nokia XR20 weighs only as much as an iPhone 13 Pro Max (about 240g). While this is heavy by ordinary smartphone standards, it isn't bad for a rugged device. My personal Google Pixel 4a feels like a mini smartphone next to it, and this also means that the XR20 is not ideal for one-handed operation.
The Nokia XR20 (left) alongside the Google Pixel 4a (right)
In terms of cosmetic design, the Nokia XR20 looks the part and appears as though it could take quite a beating. While most rugged smartphones look chunky at best, with pseudo-military styling, HMD Global has made this phone look unique and modern.
The exterior is made up of a polymer composite and aluminium. The interior as per Nokia, has an aluminium frame. The display is protected by Corning's Gorilla Glass Victus, which is the company's toughest current material for smartphones. The polymer composite is easy to grip, but more importantly, is also quite tough. I placed the device on all kinds of surfaces that I would normally place a smartphone on, and it didn't get a single scratch.
The Nokia XR20's body is made up of a polymer composite and aluminium
Since this is a rugged phone with an IP68 rating, I took things up a notch. I took it with me when having a quick shower and even placed a call under running water. As expected, the call was a bit too soft, because the receiver was flooded with water. Also, the display didn't respond well to touch input whenever there was running water on it.
With the XR20's rugged exterior, I felt confident that the phone was indestructible, which should give buyers some peace of mind. I even dropped the phone several times from about 1.8m (5.9 feet), and I only managed to get a tiny dent on the ring around the camera module. Indeed, using this phone to its fullest potential requires a lot of unlearning of what we have gotten used to, pampering our smartphones with bumper cases and scratch guards.
The Nokia XR20 should be capable of handling whatever my life as a regular consumer would expose it to, including the hands of my two-year-old toddler. So, if you are a parent and have gone through several broken screens or phones, this might be an interesting option for you.
The Nokia XR20 has an Emergency key (red) which can be programmed to open apps or perform preset functions
There's a Google assistant key on the left, a power button with an embedded fingerprint reader on the right, and a volume rocker just above it. There's a fourth special, red key, which Nokia calls the Emergency key, and it is fully programmable. I set it to change the phone's sound profile with a short press and pull up the calculator with a long press. These actions can be assigned to a variety of functions, and you can even use this button to open an app of your choice.
The Google Assistant key felt abnormally soft and spongy. I often ended up activating the voice assistant unintentionally when I picked up the smartphone because this button is located a bit too low on the left side. Thankfully, I could deactivate the function in the Settings.
The Nokia XR20 features a 6.67-inch full-HD+ LCD panel. It has a noticeably thick bezel on all four sides and the added protection from the phone's body makes it appear even thicker. There are stereo speakers, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is at the bottom.
Nokia XR20 specifications and software
The Nokia XR20 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 processor. HMD Global has used it in a lot of smartphones in the past year, but most of them never made it to India, and the XR20 is the first to make it here. The phone is available in a single configuration with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It also offers external storage (up to 512GB) thanks to a hybrid slot in the dual-SIM tray.
The Nokia XR20 supports several 5G bands and offers dual 5G standby. Communication standards include Wi-Fi ac/ax, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, and the usual satellite navigation systems.
The Nokia XR20 features a stereo speaker setup, so the earpiece doubles up as the second speaker
The phone has a 4630mAh battery and comes with an 18W charger in the box. Since this is a premium smartphone, it also supports 15W wireless charging, which works with any Qi-compatible wireless charger.
This rugged smartphone comes running Android 11 out of the box. It's a part of the Android One programme, and HMD Global is promising three years of software updates. The software is almost stock in appearance with minor Nokia customisations. There's a custom camera app with Pro photo and Cinema video modes. You can adjust the colour temperature of the display using the white balance setting in the Settings app. While most of the preinstalled apps were Google's defaults, I did find the Netflix and Spotify apps after setting up the phone. These can be uninstalled if not needed.
Nokia XR20 performance and battery life
The Nokia XR20's display gets bright enough to tackle direct sunlight, so outdoor visibility was not a problem. Viewing angles were also quite good. While the default colour temperature was a bit too cool (or bluish) the phone lets you change it to a warmer tone if needed. Unlike most smartphones in and even below this price segment these days, the Nokia XR20 does not have a high-refresh rate panel, but given the smooth and near stock Android software, I did not miss this.
The Nokia XR20 has a full-HD+ LCD display with a standard 60Hz refresh rate
The large 6.67-inch full-HD+ LCD panel is good for watching movies and playing games on. HMD Global claims that it works well with gloves and wet hands. I tested this and I must say that the display recognised swipes and taps a lot more accurately with some water droplets splashed over it when compared to an iPhone 12 Pro Max which was unusable in such a scenario. The Nokia XR20 has stereo speakers which sound loud and clear while playing games and watching movies. There's also a 3.5mm headphone jack which lets you plug in a pair of earphones and use the FM Radio app.
As expected, its benchmark test scores were closer to those of the budget Motorola Moto G51 than the more closely priced Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G and this is mainly down to Nokia's choice to go with the Snapdragon 480 SoC. The Nokia XR20 scored 3,12,057 points in AnTuTu along with 510 and 1,674 in Geekbench's single and multi-core tests. The phone scored 59fps and 14fps in GFXBench's T-Rex and Car Chase benchmarks respectively, and managed 3,413 and 2,403 points in 3DMark's Sling Shot and Sling Shot Extreme benchmarks.
Nokia XR20 has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance and is also MIL-STD-810 certified
The Nokia XR20 performs more like a budget smartphone and less like a premium device, but that does not mean that there's lag or stuttering. In fact the software experience was quite smooth. However, gaming performance was well below average. I tried out Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends. Call of Duty: Mobile was set to the High graphics and frame rate by default. The game was playable at these settings, but there were several instances of lag and some stuttering. Lowering the graphics to Medium did not seem to help. Asphalt 9: Legends on the other hand ran smoothly with the graphics set to Default. Most other smartphones in this price segment can handle most high-end games at high settings.
The phone managed 11 hours and 42 minutes in our HD video loop battery test, which is well below average for a smartphone in this price segment. However, its 4,630mAh battery easily lasted a day and half with casual use, which did include a bit of gaming, taking some photos, messaging, browsing through social media apps, and video streaming. Charging was quite slow in comparison with similarly priced smartphones. The bundled 18W charger managed to take the Nokia XR20 from a dead battery to a full charge in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Nokia XR20 cameras
The Nokia XR20 features a dual rear camera setup which includes a 48-megapixel primary camera and a 13-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera. Selfie duties are handled by an 8-megapixel sensor. The camera interface is typically Nokia, but this phone also has a manual mode called Pro, and a Cinema mode which lets you shoot videos in the H-Log format with high dynamic range. This footage will need to be processed before it will be usable.
Despite several drops from 1.8m, I only managed to get a tiny dent on the ring around the XR20's camera module
Photos taken with the primary camera in daylight came out with good detail and dynamic range. Colours were a bit saturated and sharpness was on the higher side. The overall results were only satisfactory, and this was mainly due to the luminance noise I noticed in most of the photos that I took in daylight. I was also far from impressed with the quality of images captured by the ultra-wide-angle camera. They lacked sharpness and also had some random blurred patches and plenty of ghosting, making them unusable to me.
Nokia XR20 daylight camera samples. Top to bottom: Close-up, primary camera, ultra-wide-angle camera (tap to see full size)
The Portrait mode on the primary camera delivered mixed results. Photos of people came out sharp and clear with decent edge detection, but this was not the case with objects. More importantly, taking a Portrait photo of an object can be a bit annoying as plenty of adjustment is needed before the camera approves your frame and allows you to hit the shutter button. There were several instances when the camera instructed me to move very far away from small objects and the results weren't worth it after all the trouble.
There's no macro mode like on most smartphones in this price segment, but close-ups came out sharp and clear with average detail. Selfies looked surprisingly clear and sharp with good contrast, but edge detection was below average when using the Portrait mode.
Nokia XR20 selfie camera samples. Top: daylight Portrait selfie, bottom: low-light Portrait selfie (tap to see full size)
After sunset, noise levels crept up and the phone's noise reduction algorithms made everything look very murky. I've seen better low-light photo performance from far more affordable devices. Switching to Night mode clears up the murkiness and brings out some detail with more contrast, but images ended up with a very noticeable watercolour-like effect and flat textures. If your subject or scene is flooded with light, the results will be slightly better, but still just satisfactory at best.
Nokia XR20 low-light camera samples. Top: Auto mode, bottom: Night mode (tap to see full size)
The quality of video recordings in daylight was strictly average, with low detail. The camera also struggles to focus quickly when panning. While stabilisation was decent when recording 1080p video at 30fps, 60fps video came out quite shaky and lacked any sort of stabilisation whatsoever. Results from the ultra-wide-angle camera were also below average. I got better video quality and stabilisation when using the front-facing camera. Low-light video was very weak in detail. On the bright side, Nokia's OZO audio recording tech did impress me, and sounded quite immersive.
Priced at Rs. 46,999 in India, the Nokia XR20 has plenty of competition in the premium segment that offers much better performance and quality, as well as better features, such as the Realme GT (Review) (from Rs. 37,999) and the OnePlus 9R (Review) (from Rs. 39,999). There are even some well-rounded premium smartphones from Samsung such as the Galaxy S20 FE 5G (Review) (from Rs. 39,999), which have an IP68 rating and wireless charging. Spend a bit more, and you could also delve into the iOS side of things with the Apple iPhone 11 (Review) (from Rs. 49,900).
The Nokia XR20 will appeal to a very niche set of buyers. You could slap a tough case onto any of the above-mentioned premium smartphones, but that won't give you the peace of mind that the XR20 can. In short, there's nothing like it, if you are specifically looking for a rugged smartphone that can take on much more than what most regular consumers can throw at it.
Whether you should buy one, all depends on how much you usually torture your smartphone, how clumsy you are on a daily basis, and whether you are willing to live with its inconsistent camera performance. The other use case is clearly for adventurous users who might find themselves outdoors for long stretches, those working at construction sites or other dusty and humid environments, those into adventure sports, and even new parents. Many people will like the fact that the Nokia XR20 could be more reliable and dependable than a regular premium smartphone.