Nokia 2

Nokia's phone range doesn't mess about with confusing names. The higher the number, the better the phone is.

The Nokia 2 is not a high-end phone then, just one rung above the most basic model. However, it still costs $99.99 (£99.99, AU$115). We have a right to expect a decent experience.

We're fully okay with the concept of cheaper phones with basic specs but the Nokia 2's dismal performance makes it a pain to use. It is just too slow, even given the price. That said, there are some good points to be found here.

Nokia 2 release date and price

  • Out now
  • Costs $99.99 (£99.99, AU$115)

The Nokia 2 is out now and costs $99.99 (£99.99, AU$115). It is not quite the cheapest phone going but is a mobile you can buy SIM-free without decimating your monthly budget single-handed.

HMD Global (the company behind recent Nokia phones) plans to release a Nokia 1 later this year for $79.99 (£79.99, around AU$145). It has a slightly smaller screen and may offer somewhat better day-to-day performance as it has the Android One Go operating system instead of 'full' Android.

Key features

  • A big, long-lasting battery
  • Metal sides

The Nokia 2 is a basic smartphone for those who want something that doesn't cost a lot SIM-free, or that comes 'free' on an affordable contract.

There are a few neat parts to this phone, though. It has metal sides rather than a pure plastic frame, and the screen is surprisingly vivid for a low-end model. The Nokia 2's battery is also huge at 4,100mAh, letting it outlast any big-name phone in this class.

A Snapdragon 212 chipset and 1GB of RAM aren't going to impress anyone, though, including the little green guy who lives inside Android. 

The cameras are basic too, with much worse image quality than the Moto G5, and that phone isn't dramatically more expensive these days.

Design

  • Plastic removable rear, aluminum sides
  • Chunkier than some, but still fairly small
  • No water resistance

The Nokia 2 looks like a relative of Nokia's old Lumia phones. It has a pull-off plastic battery cover, curved to feel good, but the sides are anodized aluminum rather than plastic.

Some phones with metal sides manage to feel quite high-end even with plastic rears. The Nokia 2 doesn't, because of the plastic's curve and that you can feel there's a slight air gap under the battery cover. It doesn't have the pleasing density of a unibody design.

However, considering the price we're happy with the Nokia 2's build. Pull off the back and you'll see the battery is locked under a metal plate. We're long past the days of complaining about not being able to manually replace batteries, though, and this should help avoid shorting the cell out if the phone gets wet.

The Nokia 2 has no water resistance, though. There are no rubber seals anywhere.

One positive point is the Nokia 2 does not seem especially heavy or fat even though it has an unusually large battery. It's 9.3mm thick and 161g, so is empirically quite chunky, but hides this fairly well.

Metal edges aside, there's nothing fancy to the Nokia 2's hardware. It uses a rapidly-aging micro USB charge socket, and there's no fingerprint scanner. We're so used to rear scanners in Android phones, a finger has reached for that non-existent panel numerous times.

Screen

  • Good color for a cheap phone
  • Limited resolution not a huge deal
  • Gorilla Glass protection

The Nokia 2's screen is one of its stronger elements, even though it doesn't sound that good at all on paper. It's five inches across and has a resolution of just 720p. The Moto G5 and Huawei P10 Lite both have 1080p screens.

It’s not a huge issue, though. 720p still looks fairly sharp at this size, and obvious pixelation is only evident in small fonts.

Color and contrast are both remarkably good, giving the Nokia 2's display a rich and potent appearance. There's no customization of the color profile, but it looks perfectly fine as-is.

HMD Global hasn't skimped too much on protection either. A pane of Gorilla Glass 3 sits on the screen. It's not the latest version of this toughened glass but will still keep scratches away if you treat the phone reasonably well.

As you'd hope, there's an auto brightness setting, and it works fairly well.

Battery life

  • Large 4,100mAh battery
  • Excellent stamina
  • Slow charging

The Nokia 2's battery is one of its stand-out features. It's a 4,100mAh unit, far larger than that of most other budget phones.

As you'd hope, battery life is excellent. Even after hammering it with hours of podcast and Spotify streaming, some YouTube watching on the train and plenty of WhatsApp messaging, we were still left with 40% charge by 11:30pm.

This is the kind of stamina we'd like to see in every phone. And if you're a light user you could get the Nokia 2 to last two days between charges.

A 90-minute video played at maximum brightness takes 15% off the battery, suggesting a full charge will last around 10 hours. We actually expected slightly less drain considering the exemplary real-world stamina, but it still easily bests the Moto G5. That loses 22% in the same test.

There's no fast charging, though, so you'll probably want to recharge the Nokia 2 overnight.

Camera

  • Weak rear 8MP camera
  • Extremely slow low light shooting
  • Limited-quality selfies

The Nokia 2 has bizarrely low-end camera hardware. Its rear camera has an acceptable 8MP sensor, but the lens has an unusually small f/2.7 aperture. This means the 'hole' in the lens is rather narrow, letting less light in.

You can see this just by looking at the phone's back. Many cheaper or similarly priced phones have larger apertures, leading us to wonder whether HMD Global just thinks this particular lens is a good performer for its specs and cost.

There's not much evidence of this in action, though, aside from fairly solid sharpness at the center of the frame. Photos have bags of purple fringing in areas of high light contrast, edge sharpness is quite poor. 

And thanks to the low-end sensor quality, dynamic range and detail aren't close to those of the Moto G5.

One caveat worth making: we've seen worse 8MP cameras, but its performance is not appealing even given the Nokia 2's price.

Nokia's night image processing has a fair stab at maintaining some semblance of detail and color at night, but the result is shooting that's almost criminally slow. You have to wait several seconds for the Nokia 2 to do its thing before the process is finished.

The phone also uses rather slow shutter speeds at night, meaning you'll often find your photos appear blurry even if you could swear your hands were perfectly still.

Our usual solution for this issue is to take multiple exposures, but given the Nokia 2's low light shooting speed, you could be there all night, snapping away.

If the Nokia 2's camera was a bit faster we could live with the image quality, once the price drops a little anyway. However, most rivals that are just slightly more expensive take much better photos.

The front camera has a basic 5MP sensor. Selfies are just about passable, but don't have much fine detail. There's some shutter lag too.

Camera samples

Interface and reliability

  • Plain Android 7.1.1
  • Very limited storage
  • Terrible performance

Nokia phones take Android as Google makes it. There's no custom interface, no obvious attempts to put the Nokia stamp on the software.

The only app added to the Nokia 2 is Support, which offers help using your new phone. It's for the best that no other extras are pre-loaded though as there's very little free space. There's 8GB of storage, leaving just a gigabyte and change of space to actually install apps.

That will get eaten up quickly.

At the time of review the Nokia 2 runs Android 7.1.1, but HMD Global plans to upgrade it to 8.0 along with some Android Go downgrades

Go is a version of Android made for devices with low RAM and storage, and this phone could really do with Android Go proper.

Android runs very poorly on the Nokia 2, making even basic tasks a headache. Press the home button and it can take up to three seconds for icons to appear on the home screen. Web pages load slowly even with a solid 4G or Wi-Fi connection. Every part of the phone runs at half speed. If that.

It's a reminder that 1GB of RAM is just not enough to make an Android phone run well. It hasn't been for years. HMD Global claims performance will improve when the Nokia 2 starts using Android 8.0 with parts of Android Go, but as the core software will still be 'full' Android, it's hard to imagine a truly dramatic change.

There are other knock-on effects of the limited 1GB of RAM too. The Nokia 2 tends to boot out background apps even if they've been cleared for background operation in the Settings part of the phone.

Using Podcast Addict, the app regularly gets auto-suspended even if you're listening to a podcast. The same happens with Spotify. It gets irritating, quick.

Movies and games

  • Weak speaker
  • Most games run okay
  • 8GB of storage is a hindrance for gamers

Despite the lack of RAM, some high-end games run fairly well. The Nokia 2 doesn't have enough storage to let us install Asphalt 8, but Real Racing 3 runs just fine. It looks good, and while there's some sign of frame rate dips, it's not enough to spoil the game.

Limited storage alone is enough to make sure the Nokia 2 is not a good gaming phone, though. The Moto G5 is a lot better, especially as it has a sharper screen.

The same applies to movies. You can stream movies on the Nokia 2 but there's not enough room to store your own unless you slot in a microSD card.

Video would benefit from a larger screen as well. While five inches offers a good compromise between size and pocketability, it does seem small once you've experienced a few bigger displays.

The Nokia 2's speaker doesn't add much to the appeal either. There's a single outlet on the back, and the output is quite thin-sounding, and not that loud.

Performance and benchmarks

  • Very low-end hardware
  • Pitiful RAM

This phone's insides are not well-suited to its software. There's a Snapdragon 212 chipset, which has caused performance issues in previous cheap Androids, and just 1GB of RAM. This is barrel-scraping stuff, and just slightly more expensive phones from Huawei, Honor and Lenovo/Motorola are dramatically more powerful.

The Nokia 2 scores just 980 points in Geekbench 4, well below the 2,377 points the Moto G5 manages.

Not only does the phone have just four cores, they are of the Cortex-A7 type. This is a creaky old chipset core. It did the trick back in 2013 with the original Moto G, but it doesn't cut it for a $100/£100 phone in 2018.

Verdict

The concept of the Nokia 2 is great. It's a phone for people who don't want to spend hundreds on a mobile, or get locked into a long, expensive contract.

Performance is the big problem. The Nokia 2 feels slow no matter what you do. Send an email? Slow. Look at a web page? Slow.

The cameras are poor, the storage is extremely limited. But the Nokia 2 would be a perfectly acceptable low-cost phone if it wasn't for the interminably rubbish performance.

Who's this for?

The Nokia 2 is for people who want a cheap phone. That's about it, although the long battery life has a secondary appeal.

Should you buy it?

This phone is far too slow to recommend. Consider the Moto G5, Huawei P8 Lite, Honor 6A or Samsung Galaxy J3 instead. Keen on a Nokia? The Nokia 5 is a better buy, and often isn't hugely more expensive.

You can read more about some of the best alternatives below.

Moto G5

The Moto G5 has much better cameras, radically better performance and a higher-resolution screen. It’s a far superior phone. The Nokia 2 does offer much longer battery life, but the performance is far more important in this case.

Huawei P8 Lite (2017)

The Huawei name may not have as much instant appeal as Nokia, but the Huawei P8 Lite (2017) is a better phone than the Nokia 2. It is much faster, has better cameras and even has fairly good build for the price. Its back and front are glass, the sides plastic.

Honor 6A

Shop around and you can find the Honor 6A for roughly the same price as the Nokia 2. It has a slim metal body, double the RAM of the Nokia 2 and a chipset more than twice as powerful.

We prefer the Nokia 2’s vanilla Android software to the Honor 6A’s EMUI interface but Android runs so much better on the Honor.

First reviewed: March 2018