The Nokia 4.2 is a device that borders on the mid-range category in terms of both cost and features. Or at least that's what it does on paper. I recently had an opportunity to try that out for myself and what I discovered was a device that doesn't take itself too seriously — accomplishing that without the dozens of drawbacks that often entails.
There are, it goes without saying, plenty of caveats and less-than-perfect aspects of any device under the $200 mark. That includes this one. But using the Nokia 4.2 is also a straightforward and simple affair that requires almost no learning curve.
Momentarily stepping over the areas where it shines, such as on battery life and overall design, this obviously isn't going to be the phone to buy for audiophiles. It's also not a gaming device or the world's best camera phone. However, if expectations are kept in check, it does go above and beyond its price tag.
The Nokia 4.2 battery lasts for at least a day
Among the first things I tested with this smartphone, following relatively abysmal performance — compared to expectations — from another Nokia device, was its battery life. As it turns out, this device shines on that front.
To some extent, the battery performance here can be chalked up to a weaker processor than is found in my usual mid-range test units. The Nokia 4.2 falls squarely into the budget bracket at under $200. But that doesn't account for all of it since it does only ship with a 3000mAh capacity battery. With over 37 hours of day to day use, this is a true strong point for this device.
That use included the standard message checking and responses as well as email. I receive hundreds of emails daily, so that's more than it might seem at first glance. It also included hours of video playback and video game playing. I saw a total of 8-hours of screen-on time from this Nokia handset.
Now, that wasn't with the most component-intensive games around. However, games like Animal Crossing and Pokemon Go do tend to burn through battery quickly and those are what I played. That time was also without turning on any battery-saving features or dimming down the screen. Automated battery features didn't kick on at 15-percent either.
With battery optimizations in place, this phone should last much longer but that wasn't needed. For the average user, this Nokia budget device should be an all-day device without issue.
I also noted that with lighter use — for texting, email, chatting, browsing, and the occasional call — this could be a multi-day device. It lasted for nearly a week's worth of days on standby without really losing much capacity.
The charging side of things is somewhat less impressive. That most likely comes down to the fact that micro USB is in use here instead of USB-C. Although well over 60-percent of the battery charged up in the first hour-and-a-half, it ultimately took three hours and eleven minutes to recharge.
One final caveat here is that despite having a glow-ring built into the physical power button for notifications, that didn't provide any kind of indication of a full charge. It lit up and blinked on notifications received and lit up to show charging was in progress — always in white. But it never turned off or did anything else to show when the device was full.
…without sacrificing performance too much
The fact that the battery here lasted all day and then some did not seem to harm the performance at all. Again, that doesn't mean this is a perfect phone for everybody. One of its biggest issues, especially if gaming is high on the list of priorities, is performance. This simply isn't going to play most of the heavy hitters without issue.
Except for just a few games that are moderately heavy on the processors and offer ways to automatically or manually trim things back for performance, the Nokia 4.2 isn't going to be great for many middle-road titles either.
That's just not what this phone is made to do. It was given a Snapdragon 439 and just 2GB or 3GB of RAM depending on the version chosen. There's only 16GB or 32GB of storage to back that up too. So expectations on that front should be kept at a reasonable minimum.
Now, that doesn't mean there aren't any games that can be played. I noticed that I could play the overwhelming majority of popular titles without any big or repeating issues. This Nokia handset also multitasks fairly well with a few less-than predictable exceptions depending on how much background processing is being done. That mostly appears with heavier apps being used in tandem.
I had no problems running multiple apps and games or running two apps simultaneously either with a pop-out like YouTube's PiP mode or in split-screen.
Solid design and hardware are key to Nokia 4.2 success
The build of the Nokia 4.2 is unique in that it nearly feels and looks like it's made up of two pieces of glass sandwiching a metal frame. It isn't. The nearly matte black body is encased in 2.5D glass at the front and plastics at the back. The combination means it's somewhat more durable and damage-resistant than standard glass or metal phones.
At the same time, the rear panel isn't slippery and still looks great without being too bad for fingerprints. That may or may not hold for the "Pink Sand" colored variant, as my test unit was the standard black version.
That's met with curved corners around the edge of the device and a camera bevel that's only slightly raised compared to the rest of the phone. The edge itself is rounded rather than flat, helping the buttons stick out. Regardless, there aren't any sharp edges to be found here, leading to a snug in-hand fit and a much higher-quality feel than I'd expected.
Lips or edges on ports, speakers, and buttons, in spite of not being sharp, are still well-defined. That made them easier to find in the dark, as did their sizes and shapes.
At the front of the device, the smooth class is surrounded by an enormous bezel. That's going to bug some users but doesn't seem too out of place with the curves of the glass and edges. That helps hide just how large the bezel is, although the bottom chin is still relatively obvious.
Nokia has included an extra button on this device too, at the opposite side of the right-placed power and volume keys. That's a Google Assistant button that can be used even with the screen off to access the AI-driven tool. A single tap on that accesses voice search while a double-tap opens the app.
In terms of build quality and the performance of the hardware itself, the Nokia 4.2 hasn't proven a letdown. Buttons click through with a satisfactory level of pressure. The ports are all snug and clicky, with no looseness or signs they'll wear out. That's despite that this test unit had already obviously been through some other reviewers.
None of either the moveable or immovable components had any signs of jostling. The fingerprint reader is fast and responsive, compared to other devices in its class.
One other interest point worthy of note here is the motors used to create the vibrations in this device. Ordinarily, that's a topic that can be avoided outright since pretty much every phone feels the same in a given category with only a few exceptions. In this case, the vibrations are inexplicable 'premium' feeling.
In the Nokia 4.2, notification vibrations are slightly quicker than what I've seen in other devices. They simultaneously flow through without feeling disruptive or being so strong as to move the device around too much while going off. The vibrations are coupled with a slow, steady light flash from the power-button-placed LED ring.
This may also be the first time in a long time I haven't turned off touch-vibrations for the screen. While those are usually programmed to be somewhat jarring, with a quick pulse of one or two shakes, that wasn't the case here. Instead, Nokia has chosen to go with a double pulse that's almost slow-feeling. The result is a shudder that somehow manages to be powerful but discrete, matching the laid-back subtle class of the design and in-hand feel.
The display isn't perfect but is still brilliant for the price
The display on Nokia's 4.2 isn't perfect in any sense but it is great compared to devices that occupy the same price bracket. One problem I noticed immediately is that transitions between bright and darker environments aren't smooth. The phone determines the proper level and seems to jump to it immediately, causing a jarring jitter between.
Looking past that, it is a very good screen when it comes time to actually make things visible indoors or out. Even in bright sunlight, the 5.7-inch display on the Nokia 4.2 is plenty bright enough. The HD+ resolution — delivered by a TFT LCD panel — isn't bad either for a device this size. Clarity is quite good too, though wayward pixels did show up while taking images for this review.
Now, that is shown in a 19:9 display ratio. So some applications have a hard time covering the entire screen by default.
The notch isn't too disruptive here so that was annoying at first since the panel does cover a significant portion of the front of the device. That is until I pinched in from the edges within an app and realized that this phone will rescale everything to the proper 19:9 ratio simply by that touch action.
That action is smooth. The animations are as well. It also takes place in most cases — in every app that I tried it with — without needing to close the app, so it's not bad at all. That makes it easy to switch depending on whether the notch will or will not get in the way.
The 2.5D glass in use, meanwhile, makes for a premium experience. The screen is smooth to the touch, comfortable around the edges, and very responsive. There was no latency or lag that I could report, except in the most demanding Android games.
Sub-par speakers mar an otherwise good overall experience
Sound quality, in terms of frequency response and overall clarity, was, on the whole, good. Bass tones can be heard as well as those that resonate toward the upper reaches. That's all as it should be but there's a deeper issue here.
I started testing this device out with volume set at around three-quarters of the way up, without ever really checking exactly where the level was. Once I did check, it quickly became apparent just how quiet these speakers are. Nokia simply tuned the volume with this model way too low.
That's not just a little too low either. In even moderately noisy environments, I struggled to hear the phone's notifications over ambient noise. That problem extends to media playback. The level is fine for a quiet house or indoor setting but if somebody started talking or a car drove by, these speakers fell flat.
Turning things up keeps the clarity but only provides moderate improvement to the volume. The phone was already turned almost all the way up when I started.
Stacking on top of that, Bluetooth connectivity is surprisingly weak with this phone.
That's most likely due to antenna placement or something similar since Bluetooth 4.2 isn't bad on its own. Wi-Fi and other network connections, as well as NFC, performed strongly. The slightest interference derailed Bluetooth regardless of which speaker or headphones I used. That's going to probably be good enough for a smartwatch, smart home, or other things but with music, it's not really acceptable.
Fortunately, a 3.5mm audio jack and a pair of decent — but not brilliant — wired earbuds are included. The included buds are an open-fit design, without rubber nubs to keep things tight or improve comfort. The best thing about them, in fact, might be what they prove. That's that wired listening is both possible and miles ahead on quality and volume compared to the built-in speakers or wireless audio.
While that also meant that speakerphone calls are quiet, sounds going the other direction — via the two noise-canceling mics — sounded good at the other end. That remained the case in every situation from making calls to recording audio.
Nokia 4.2 camera is neither shockingly bad or impressive
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the price point of this device, none of the "Zeiss Optics" branding found on more expensive Nokia handsets is anywhere to be found on the 4.2. That doesn't mean shooting photos or videos is terrible experience by any means. But it does give an early indication that isn't going to be exceptional by any stretch of the imagination.
Starting on the software front, what buyers can expect to find is precisely the same software as is found in more expensive Nokias. That won't equate to the same experience but its a nice touch for consistency nonetheless. It also means that everything's laid out intuitively. The main carousel, camera switcher, and other features are right where they'd be expected, with extra features laid across the top. That includes HDR modes, timers, and other shooting enhancements.
Time-lapse, Google Lens, aspect adjustments, and panoramic mode can be found under a square icon to the left of the carousel. Pro mode adjustments can be made either on the right-hand panel or with a swipe up on the shutter icon. In the latter instance, they pull up on round sliders for easier usability.
As with some other UI and OS elements on this phone, everything happens smoothly enough within the confines of that software. But there's also that same delay that serves as a constant reminder that this isn't a flagship.
That's not the only reminder of that. HDR does a good enough job of distinguishing between shadows and brightening things up. But there are extra artifacts when taking snaps in low-light compared to other devices. Artifacts with pixelated edging and washout from overlit or underlit scenes are a common occurrence. They're predictable and can be mitigated but are still going to show up in photos, as highlighted in our Flickr gallery of samples.
Blur can be a common issue too and seems to appear more frequently when there are more details and complex color changes in a photo. Details around edges simply aren't going to be as crisp as in a more expensive device.
In spite of all of that, this camera still takes decent photos. The Nokia 4.2 doesn't exactly step back by years on that front. In fact, one of my favorite snaps in the above-mentioned samples was an accidental shot captured of my shadow while walking briskly toward a scene I wanted to capture. The scene itself didn't turn out great thanks to an overabundance of saturation on greens.
The details in the accident turned out much better than I would have expected since I was walking at a decent clip, swinging my arm, and pressed the button completely by mistake. In my opinion, that shows that there is potential with this camera. Particularly for those who learn its quirks and tools more deeply than a review test really allows for.
The camera is, aside from that, about what should be expected at this phone's price, at least for a couple more years. Nokia included an 8-megapixel fixed-focus snapper at the front for selfies. That's as compared to the 13-megapixel autofocus and 2-megapixel fixed-focus two-phase detection snappers at the back. Features from the back mostly carry over and that performs about as well as expected too.
No surprises, updates galore with Android One
All of those hardware and features are pulled together behind Android 9 Pie under the Android One program. That will, at a bare minimum, mean that this phone will see Android 10 as well but as of this writing, it's Android 9 Pie. On the surface, that comes with everything almost 100-percent accurate to stock. That's right down to the unchangeable pill-button-based gesture navigation.
While the navigation took some getting used to, the software itself did not. Google services are installed by default with extras suggested upon sign-in to "complete" the experience. That's pretty much all that's installed from the start too. Digital Wellbeing tools and Parental controls are built right in.
Nokia's own "My phone" app and an FM Radio app are the only extras.
My phone acts as a central community and help hub direct from Nokia. It's useful but, coupled with the fact that there's not much else going on for apps, it's not the most interesting inclusion with the software in this case.
In the Settings app, Nokia has also included fine-tuning controls for display color temperature, a dark mode for theming, and ambient display controls. The latter feature allows for a Samsungesque display of notifications and more while the screen is off and charging. Controls for individually setting SIM ringtones are part of the package as well. That allows two SIM cards to be used more easily while keeping things clearly separated.
On the security front, Nokia additionally includes facial-recognition based unlocking, rounding out the security offered and the software's special inclusions.
Is it worth the purchase price?
Not every aspect of this device is brilliant and perfection isn't a word that should ever be tossed around about a sub-$200 smartphone. Nokia 4.2 does, in its own right, come very close.
Despite its quirks and frequent imbalances, this Nokia handset never stopped being enjoyable to use. The software is straightforward on all fronts and there was never any latency where it wasn't expected. Nobody expects a gaming phone without dropping a hefty sum. The audio issues are only going to become a problem if the speakerphone is needed. Or if movie or music playback is the primary use case.
The Nokia 4.2 stands with feet firmly planted against other handsets at the far reaches of the budget category. It manages to brush up against the middle segment of the mid-range with a smooth style and buttery software. The camera performs admirably if not quite worthy of any awards.
Nokia 4.2 represents what happens when the bleeding edge of Android has time to mature and make its way down the line. In its segment, it's going to be difficult to find a better experience outside of the obvious dealbreakers.