Nokia is an HMD Global brand known for its budget-friendly offerings and focused appeal. And the Nokia G20, focused primarily on battery life, is certainly no exception to that. But how any device, built by this company or any other, fares in real-world use can be difficult to pin down. And Nokia recently sent us the G20 in its Night blue coloration — it’s also available in Glacier white — for a full review to put it to the test.
It’s safe to say, having tested this device for some time now, that this is a handset that mostly impresses. Where it does fall apart isn’t too surprising either. Because this smartphone is priced at under $200, there were always going to be trade-offs made. In this case, those apply mostly to performance under load. But even that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. So let’s dive right in and see where the Nokia G20 shines and where it falls just short of the mark.
The hardware here is incredibly well done
Now, it’s fair to say that most users won’t really need the clear-case included with the Nokia G20 except to protect their phone screen but I used the case extensively during portions of my review. And it fit this device cleanly, adding minimal bulk while also ultimately saving the plastic shell from potential gouges on multiple occassions. So it’s a good thing that’s included, alongside the charging brick, cable, and SIM drawer tool.
With that said, the in-box inclusions aren’t really what most are going to care about when it comes to this device. Instead, that’s undoubtedly going to be the textured back panel. Those take the form of vertical indentations on the panel. And that, on its own, saved me from dropping this phone on multiple occassions. But that also serves a secondary purpose, helping the Night blue variant of the Nokia G20 shipped out for review show off its color-shifting properties.
There’s also a white “Glacier” version of this phone. And that will undoubtedly look great in its own right. But, for the blue variant, the rear panel grooves helped highlight the Night configuration’s color. Effectively turning turn this phone purple at a shift of my angle or a change in lighting. The smoothly-rounded edges on this phone glow with a purple-infused tint when held at certain angles too. And that transition hits smoothly enough across the surface to more than make up for this phone’s otherwise thicker-than-expected design.
In fact, they very nearly make this phone seem thinner than it is. And, coupled with the v-notch style camera cut-out and smooth curves on the front glass, also help make this phone feel great in-hand. Or extra stable, at the very least.
In terms of the hardware itself, all of the ports and buttons, with the exception of the power key, feel solidly made too. Not only are all of the edges smooth and comfortable. The ports and buttons don’t show any sign of unwanted or unexpected jiggle when jostled. Although the power button, which also packs a side-mounted fingerprint sensor in a slightly-depressed segment of the right-hand edge, does wiggle a bit (but not more than would be acceptable).
Additionally, each has a satisfying click to it. Helping this phone feel even more like it’s going to last at least long enough to get all of its promised updates.
All of that goes a long way toward helping this otherwise unassuming design look and feel great to use. As does the minimal camera hump, only jutting a millimeter or two over the rest of the frame. With chamfered edges helping blend it almost seamlessly into the back panel.
Of course, that’s all setting aside how accurate and quick the fingerprint sensor mentioned above feels in real-world use. On that front, this phone performs much closer to some flagships I’ve used. Although, that obviously comes with the caveat of Nokia G20 using an older capacitive technology. And that’s going to be slightly less secure, although better than nothing. At least compared to some of the newer tech that’s come out for fingerprint scanners, particularly those that go under the display panel in other devices.
The display specs for Nokia G20 are adequate but the brightness is something more
At roughly 6.5-inches with an HD+ resolution (1600 X 720) and a v-notch for the front camera, it would be easy to dismiss the Nokia G20 display outright, without a review. But that would be a mistake.
While it is true that the 20:9 ratio display packs a resolution that isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it also isn’t a dealbreaker. In fact, it’s fairly standard for the price bracket. And visuals during my tests were more than adequate to get the job done. Regardless of whether I was gaming or running a social media app or some other app.
Of course, neither Nokia nor HMD Global has revealed this phone’s refresh rate either. And that likely means this phone doesn’t pack the now-trending 90Hz display to make things smoother still. I certainly wasn’t blown away by the screen on that front during my tests.
That’s also not the area this display really showcases Nokia’s thoughtful design either, though. And, as already noted, it’s all very standard and shouldn’t come as a disappointment to anybody shopping in the range of $200 – $300.
Where this phone literally does shine is in its inclusion of brightness boosting for direct sunlight. And that not only appears to happen automatically, it also makes this phone more than just usable in direct sunlight. Handily shuffling the Nokia G20 into the class of smartphones users should consider if they’ll be using their new handset out in the sun a lot.
The performance here misses some modern features but is more than acceptable
Now, on performance, Nokia G20 is not a gamechanger. In fact, it’s fairly hit-or-miss when it comes to slow-downs, lag, and other common budget phone issues. For instance, photo and video editing are going to be more chore than fun with this handset. Primarily, that’s because the chipset in use will make the processing side of things noticeably slower than on more expensive phones.
And that’s not altogether surprising. Far more surprising to me, during my review of the Nokia G20, is that it lacks any game enhancement features at all. Most modern handsets, including budget-friendly ones, ship with optimizations that kick into play as soon as a game is launched. Some of those also include a specialized storage app — typically called game space, game center, or the like — which calls users’ attention to the features. And, in many cases, offers customizations to give users the best experience.
That simply wasn’t the case with this phone. There don’t appear to be any such optimizations at all. While that’s not going to be a problem for users that are mostly using apps, it probably will be for those that game on mobile.
Especially since, throughout my review, I was consistently confounded by the fact that some games worked perfectly and others lagged beyond playability. And especially when some graphics-light but physics compute-heavy games such as the line art-based Free Rider HD, weren’t playable. Specifically, while some more graphics-heavy titles such as Into The Dead 2 played perfectly fine. Albeit on a lower graphics setting to match the hardware.
And that’s going to carry forward across the board for this phone across pretty much the entire Google Play Store. Which, again, isn’t entirely unexpected given its price. But I did find it annoying when I was trying to test the gadget. Although Nokia could provide optimizations in a future update. And although third-party titles and apps did run better in many cases than system-level apps, as we’ll discuss later on.
How often will you need to charge up the Nokia G20?
If you’re looking for the best battery life you could get, Nokia G20, as this review will show, absolutely has you covered. Of course, this is one metric of any smartphone that’s wholly subjective. Some users will use their smartphones heavily throughout the day, as I did. Effectively never turning the screen off and deactivating the adaptive screen brightness and battery-saving features. The screen was at maximum brightness too, as was the volume.
And, if that’s the case, you’re not going to see the company’s claimed three days of use. But you very easily could see that.
That’s because the above scenario is exactly how I tested the battery life of the Nokia G20 for my review. And it still managed to stay on for over nine-and-a-half hours. Simply by turning on adaptive brightness and using it a little less intensively, with the screen on for around half the time I managed closer to 7 hours of screen on time. And the phone lasted all day long.
Three days is easily within reach. Especially with battery-saving features turned on and lighter use throughout the day, closer to what most users will need.
Charging, however, is much less impressive. Although the longevity does mean that a short charging period should provide hours of use anyway. It took more than three hours to charge this phone up to 99-percent. That won’t necessarily be a problem since, even if just at half full, the battery is going to last a very long time. But faster charging could easily have been icing on the cake if HMD Global had used it for this Nokia handset.
This just isn’t the camera for mobile photographers
In terms of the cameras, everything that really needs to be said about Nokia G20 can really be seen our Flickr gallery of camera samples from this review. And that, unfortunately, includes quite a few caveats that make this undeniably not a great choice for mobile photographers. For instance, color accuracy from this smartphone’s quad-camera array is not great.
And, in fact, that likely comes down to the sensors in use, as much as anything else. Especially since the problem was mostly impacted by the angle of the shots, zoom level, and minute changes in autofocus. As well as in changes to the camera shooting mode. So the sensors — a 48-megapixel main camera with a 5-megapixel macro camera and 2-megapixels for both ultra-wide-angle and depth sensors — likely come into play there.
The issue is that even shooting something ubiquitous such as grass gave a different color and intensity of green. And that extends across other shots as well.
Detail capture was fantastic for the price of this phone. At least in the standard shooting mode. And the same holds true for Macro mode. Both modes captured better than I would have expected from a sub-$200 smartphone. Zoomed shots did as well, up to a point and as long as things aren’t too far away. But this also leads us to the second big problem with the camera.
Color consistency aside, the consistency of performance was incredibly frustrating for me during my review of the Nokia G20 cameras too. And that’s because the software here didn’t just feel slower on processing or on snapping photos. Sometimes, especially during or when switching to specialty shooting modes such as Night Mode and Macro Mode, the camera lagged out almost entirely. Taking several seconds to start running smoothly again.
So, summarily, this camera would work in a pinch under good lighting — since Night Mode didn’t seem to really improve anything much, forcing me to effectively add light until an acceptable level of detail could be caught. But it isn’t going to be the best for mobile photographers.
The camera flash, conversely, presented another fairly sizeable pain point during this review. And, in this case, that’s literal.
Now, it’s not the case that the camera flash is likely to see much use in capturing photos necessarily. And it isn’t that the flash doesn’t work. In fact, it fills space better than my Pixel 5 daily driver. And it does so with cool daylight white instead of leaning toward the yellow end of the spectrum. But it also gets incredibly hot very fast.
After only a few seconds of on-time, placing a finger on the flash — accidentally or on purpose — for more than a couple of seconds was physically painful. That’s a first for any phone I’ve tested. And since, presumably, it will only get hotter as the light is left on for an extended period, that’s cause for concern. While most users won’t use the flash as part of the camera features, they’ll undoubtedly use it as a flashlight.
So, while there’s no guarantee it will get much hotter when left on for extended periods, I didn’t feel the need to test how painful the heat could get, it does appear to be an issue with this handset.
Android One program should equate to a great experience for Nokia G20
Now, Nokia’s minimalistic approach to software is beneficial. But, unlike many other smartphones where that approach leads to a leaner, more performance-ready experience, that’s not because it makes everything smoother here. In fact, using system-level software on Nokia G20 during my review was actually not a great experience.
We’ll discuss the issues I encountered momentarily but for the time being, Nokia did nail down at least one thing absolutely brilliantly. Namely, this phone is part of the Android One program. So it is effectively Android 11 stock, with all that entails. From dark mode to other similarly OS-specific features. It will also be getting updates beyond that for quite some time. And that’s a net positive.
Additionally, the use of stock Android meant that I didn’t need to uninstall a lot of pre-installed software to enjoy my experience. In fact, aside from Netflix and Amazon Shopping, there weren’t any extras to speak of. Apart from Nokia’s My Phone app. And that app predominantly serves as a way to gain phone support, access the Nokia community of users, and run device diagnostics. Including getting deeper management and details about battery life and storage.
But that app, in particular, also shines as a prime example of where this phone went wrong on the software front. As noted earlier in this review, Nokia G20 performed well. Especially with regard to games and third-party apps. At the very least, it performed better than I’d expected.
The same cannot be said of the stock software such as the Settings app or the My Phone app. In that latter app, for example, the phone seemed to completely become hung up. And that happened every few attempts I made to use the software. Beyond that, when things did load smoothly, the animations weren’t smooth at all. And that carried over to more than just the settings or My Phone. In fact, it even happened in the camera, as noted in that segment of this review.
Worse, during those attempts to use My Phone, I only had a couple of apps open. So this doesn’t seem to be a multi-tasking issue. And that’s actually a bit shocking since this is effectively stock software. Nokia will, as already stated here, be updating this handset. So that will likely get fixed in the future. And the lag wasn’t so bad as to render the entire phone unusable. But it was bad enough to become incredibly annoying very quickly.
Audio from this Nokia was better than I’d expected
Given the plethora of potential issues with the Nokia G20 that were experienced during this review, I didn’t expect great things from the audio. Yes, this Nokia comes with a 3.5mm audio jack and still supports USB-C audio output too. That’s in addition to Bluetooth 5.0. And all of those things will make the listening experience from any smartphone just about as perfect as can be. Especially at a time when most OEMs are abandoning the 3.5mm audio jack.
But the big kicker to that was that audio from the speakers and mics was actually pretty great too.
Now, there’s no such thing as perfect speaker audio on a smartphone. At least not as of this writing. And, of course, the inclusion of spatial audio support on the recording side of things from the video camera points to something special all on its own. But these speakers were actually comparable to some smartphones that I’ve tested which cost more than $500 or $600. While the bass isn’t perfectly punchy or powerful, it is present. And leveling and balance were above-par too.
These speakers are anything but tinny. Resulting in a better than expected result when listening to music or watching movies on this smartphone. With or without my headphones.
Similarly, there’s no tinniness or distortion in the mics. Making video calls and chats as enjoyable as voice calls. While simultaneously ensuring that this phone does at least hit like a flagship in the areas where it really matters for a phone.
Connectivity was as expected for most of my review
Now, I did have some issues getting the Nokia G20 to work properly during my review, mostly with regard to text messages. And that, at the very least, seems to have more to do with my MVNO Google Fi than with the phone itself. Summarily, sometimes text messages didn’t send for a long time or at all. And those sometimes also arrived with garbled text at the end of the message.
Putting that aside, I was actually impressed with the Nokia G20 connectivity for the most part. Despite the lack of 5G support.
This phone performed at an almost identical level as my Google Pixel 5 daily driver on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, at the very least. There doesn’t appear to be any NFC support with this handset either. But most users likely won’t find that too annoying.
For phone calls, the calls were clear on both ends and the connection stayed strong throughout my review.
However, one noteworthy feature that is present with Nokia G20 but not with too many other smartphones in the price range is its SIM drawer layout. Not only does HMD Global include two SIM slots, making this phone more business-ready than many competitors. It also packs in a secondary slot for MicroSD Cards. That supports up to 512GB cards too. So there’s no reason anybody should run out of space on this phone either.
In terms of special features, there really weren’t any to speak of. This is, after all, an Android One program handset. So the software side of things was effectively as close to stock as possible.
Is HMD Global’s Nokia G20 worth spending your money on?
When it comes to the budget end of the smartphone spectrum, there are always sacrifices to be made. And as revealed throughout this review and in the list above it, the Nokia G20 is no exception to that rule. So there are always going to be serious caveats to consider.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly smartphone that delivers stock Android without bells and whistles, Nokia G20 is an obvious choice for the shortlist. And the same holds true for those looking for a reliable handset with good audio, especially for calls and playback. And especially for those who need multiple SIM cards for travel.
In that same vein, this smartphone won’t disappoint at all when it comes to screen brightness and size. Or when it comes to daytime camera use.
And the design of the device is just modern enough to not disappoint. With a coat of textured paint that makes the device feel good in the hand, with minimal slip. While also helping the color tone shift, at least in the case of our review unit, from a deep satisfying blue to a purple hue that would make even The Artist (Formerly Known as Prince) happy.
Meanwhile, the biggest benefit of this smartphone is its battery life. Not only will it last all day. It will last multiple days with moderate use and battery-saving features such as adaptive brightness turned on. So if that’s what you’re looking for in a bundle costing less than $200, the Nokia G20 could easily be it.