Nokia XR20 Review: A Tough Smartphone That Stands Out
It’s big. It’s heavy. It feels like it comes with its own protective case welded to the chassis. It’s the Nokia XR20. And I like it.
In a world where it’s hard to differentiate the various manufacturers thanks to the commonality of the design language, HMD Global’s latest handset brings something new to the table. It’s not a huge departure from the visual norm – it’s still mostly screen, there’s a punch-out selfie camera, and you have a raised camera island at the rear of the handset – but with a different design goal. The XR20 may be a close relative of the X20, but it is designed to be tougher than the normal smartphone.
While there are some heavily engineered smartphones for incredibly rough environments, such as the CAT phones from Caterpillar (I’ll highlight the CAT S61 5G here), the XR20 is more consumer in nature. It looks and handles like a mainstream device, but design decisions have biased towards protection rather than performance.
How much protection? With IP68 and MIL-STD-810H certification, the Nokia XR20 ticks the boxes for two of the more well known standards. IP68 rates the handset as able to withstand dust, dirt and sand, and be waterproof at a maximum depth of 1.5 metres for thirty minutes. The MIL-STD-810H has a wide range of criteria that include durability at high temperatures, low temperatures, high and low pressures, and rapid changes in the environment.
MORE FOR YOU
While you can’t discern these by eye, you can see and feel the choices in the handset. Comparing the XR20 to the X20, the easiest way to describe the changes is the XR20 feels like an X20 with a grippy hard plastic case around it. Hold both of the handsets and the extra weight in the XR20 (248g compared to 220g in the X20) is noticeable.
There are other choices made as well. I’m hesitant to call them compromises because modern smartphone development is as much about what you leave out rather than what you put in. To reach the desired price point with the protective specifications, other specifications have been trimmed.
While the system on chip remains the same SnapDragon 480 5G as the X20, the other top-line specs have been trimmed back. The two storage variants of the XR20 are 4 GB of RAM with 64 GB of storage, or 6 GB of RAM with 128 GB of storage. The highest XR20 spec is the lowest X20 spec, which has an 8 GB RAM with 128 GB of storage as the top model.
The battery is trimmed back from 4630 mAh to 4470 mAh; the forward facing camera is chopped from 32 megapixels to 8; and the rear camera comes with just two lenses on the XR20 compared to the 4 on the X20, with the main camera’s megapixel count dropping from 64 to 48.
That said, there’s one addition to the XR20 that needs to be carried over to the rest of HMD’s handsets… the customisable button.
The UI calls this the programmable emergency key (something that I would personally find reassuring on my own phone), but it can be programmed for a decent range of pre-configured options such as toggling the hotspot feature, do not disturb, or flight mode; pause and play music; take a screenshot or open an application that can be selected by the user. You’ve actually got two options here, for short press and long press.
This is well suited to offering a but more device control by direct touch, much like the slider on the OnePlus smartphones. The latter has become a key differentiator for the platform, and there’s potential for this button to do the same for HMD.
If only the Google Assistant key could also be reprogrammable; alas I suspect that choosing Android One and ceding some of the software update control to Google also means the key is going to stay as is.
The Nokia X20’s performance was very much middle of the road for its price point. With the XR20 marginally behind the X20’s specs, Sitting in its wake, its unsurprising that the XR20 is also a middle of the road handset in terms of matching up to the competition. That led the X20 to blend into the background noise of handsets at this price. Given the XR20’s specific targeting, it actually stands out more.
HMD Global’s Nokia XR20 is not going to win out in any comparison with it’s processing prowess or computing hardware. But neither is it going to be embarrassed by them, at least at this price point. What it has going for it is its distinctiveness and clear use case.
When you look at the busy mid-range, each phone needs to be able to effectively answer the question “why should I buy this phone?” The XR20 has a really good answer, You buy this phone if you need a phone you can guarantee that works in a difficult environment. I can see this handset being popular with tradespeople – imagine a building site with dust and rubbish everywhere, a rough environment with falls and scrapes something that are expected, in the middle of inclement weather.
Now imagine the choice of a ridiculously expensive flagship smartphone that’s little more than two sheets of glass, or a smartphone that’s going to survive a very, very rough day at the office.
That’s the pile with the Nokia XR20 sitting at the top. Is it for everyone? No. Is it for a specific group and meets there needs at a relatively affordable price point? Yes.