HMD Global sent out its recently-launched Nokia G50 for a full review, allowing Android Headlines to put the gadget through its paces. And it’s safe to say that if my experience with this handset is typical, it could be the best budget 5G gadget available.
That’s because this phone packs some of the latest features, some throw-backs such as a 3.5mm audio jack, and a whole lot of style. But it also packs impressive camera hardware for the money, an extra-long claimed battery life that should ensure all-day use is no problem, and guaranteed updates for the long-term.
But, of course, none of that is really saying much without also diving into more detail about how that experience was under review. So let’s dig right in and get started.
The hardware here is decidedly Nokia and that’s a good thing
As shown in the images below, Nokia G50 does have a slightly larger lower bezel than might be expected in 2021. And it is, in fact, just a bit heavier than might be expected too. With its weight pushing 220g thanks in part to its relatively massive 5,000mAh battery. But that doesn’t necessarily take away from the premium feel of this phone. And neither does the rear panel, which appears to be made of plastics but does have a smooth, matte glass-like feel to it.
Overall, the Nokia G50 feels great in hand during use. The weight balance feels spot on and the screen doesn’t feel so big as to be unusable. The beveled edges are all smooth and, while not seamless, the overall design is comfortable.
This handset is much more aesthetically pleasing in person as well. With its light-responsive coloration — Ocean Blue for my test unit, although it also ships in a rose-peach-like “Midnight Sun” — shifting depending on how the light hits it. Perhaps best of all, the coloration helps hide fingerprints and dust fairly well.
In terms of build quality, that’s right where you’d expect from a Nokia phone too. The ports are all smooth to the touch and well-placed, as are all the speakers.
The ports themselves, including the 3.5mm audio jack, are snug-fitting. And, combined with the solid feel of this phone in the hand, that lends to the sense that this particular Android smartphone will last for at least as long as its software updates keep coming. Similarly appreciable is the SIM drawer, which fits neatly into place but also contains a slot for microSD card support. Which, in turn, can be used to expand storage up to 512GB.
All of which is to say that if you’ve owned Nokia handsets in the past, you won’t be disappointed. This phone meets all of the company’s high marks when it comes to standards for comfort and the build. You probably won’t want to put it in a case — although you probably should, as with any smartphone.
Nokia G50 doesn’t have the best display but it’s more than good enough
When it comes to budget phones, especially on hardware, there’s always a trade-off. For Nokia G50, that’s the display panel. Although it does bear clarifying that we’re not talking about responsiveness or clarity here. In fact, the biggest issue with this display is its resolution and refresh rate.
Now, if you’re coming over from another budget phone, the latter caveat won’t impact you at all. At 60Hz, the screen here is more than quick enough to feel snappy. What’s more, it’s easily among the snappiest-feeling phones that I’ve used at under the $500 price point. Touches respond instantly every time. Nokia also did such a good job with its animation that it generally felt like a higher refresh rate than it is for most scenarios.
The former caveat might but screen resolution — to a certain extent — is a moot point on budget smartphones. The 6.82-inch 720 x 1,560 panel here is more than clear enough. And bright enough to use outdoors under direct sunlight without squinting. But it’s still noticeably more pixelated than more expensive handsets. Especially if you’ve become accustomed to FullHD or FullHD+ panels, which are increasingly common in more affordable handsets.
From a performance perspective, this phone is actually pretty great
Owing at least partially to the fact that the Nokia G50 ships as an Android One program smartphone, its performance is far better than might be expected for the money spent. Put more bluntly, the performance from Nokia G50 is outright stellar for the price. With one exception we’ll discuss much later on in this review.
Of course, it’s also not a flagship handset. So nobody should buy this phone thinking that it’s going to perform like a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It only packs 4GB of RAM, 128GB of expandable storage, and an octa-core Snapdragon 480 chipset, after all. But that’s not going to be a problem for anybody but the most demanding users.
The only hiccups I noted during my usage of the Nokia G50 were in-app loading, photo and video processing, and heavy multitasking. And even then, the issues were barely noticeable. To the point of being moot. Phones will less memory are going to process photo, video, and media files, particularly in editing, slower. But that doesn’t, in this case, impact much on the app experience itself. Just as with load times, it mostly impacts the wait times involved.
But, just as with app load times, that wait isn’t increased beyond what’s reasonable here. In most cases, it’s a short enough span of time that it made no difference to my experience. In other cases, I already expected some slower performance. Chiefly because of the intensity of the application in question.
Namely, just about any phone would have slowed down even with the latest specs and a $700+ price tag.
On multi-tasking, the only slowdowns I noted followed opening more than a dozen apps and running heavy apps and games in split-screen, conversely.
Summarily, this phone performs better than most I’ve tested in its price bracket. It responds like a flagship for day-to-day use, plays — or should play — the overwhelming majority of Android games without problems, and was genuinely a pleasure to use as my daily driver.
Battery life is brilliant with Nokia G50, despite 5G
The time it takes to charge a phone back up is arguably more important than how long the battery lasts. Or at the very least it plays a big role in the overall battery experience. Fortunately, although the Nokia G50 took around 2.5-hours to charge with the included adapter, it does last a long time under review.
In fact, it lasted just over 8.5 hours in terms of screen-on time. And that was some fairly intensive screen-on time too. Including gaming, multitasking including split-screen gaming while watching YouTube, browsing, and listening to music. That’s with screen brightness maxed out and Bluetooth connected for some of that. With around an hour of video shooting with the flashlight on.
Put simply, even though it takes around an hour to reach a 50-percent charge, charging up to just 25- or 50-percent is going to equate to a lot of up-time. Well above average, and for much longer with more typical, less intensive use. Potentially lasting for several days for light users. And that’s impressive. Particularly since this is a 5G handset and the next-gen networks tend to be noticeably more draining than 4G LTE.
The audio was much better than expected from Nokia G50 but not great
As is nearly always the case with any smartphone, the speakers on the Nokia G50 may be best described as lacking bass. The tones do shine through but they come through with much less oomph than is desirable. Resulting in the slightly tinny effect that almost all smartphones exhibit.
Comparatively speaking, however, the audio from Nokia G50 was actually very good. At least compared to others in the same price bracket. While the mids and lows weren’t as good as they would be from a dual-speaker device or handset in the above-$500 price range, they do represent well enough to be acceptable. Although the highs do override everything else.
At the very least, the Nokia G50 brings Bluetooth 5.0 and an increasingly rare 3.5mm audio jack to make up for that. Volume is great too, with audio clearly coming through even from across my home.
Stock software means a great experience out-of-the-box
Now, out-of-the-box, Nokia G50 is very similar to other HMD Global-built handsets. Everything is just about as stock as can be, as shown in the image above. The only real extras, aside from a VPN service and Spotify that installed once I connected to a network, are a My Phone app, Netflix, and FM Radio.
That translates, in turn, to a great user experience in terms of smoothness of the operating system and bloatware. But it also meant that I didn’t need to re-explore the menus or Settings too deeply. Everything is exactly where it should be and works just how it should, with one noteworthy exception we’ll discuss momentarily.
Conversely, the inclusion of a dedicated Google Assistant button helped make for a great software experience too. With the company essentially removing the need to say “Hey Google” each time I needed the AI.
The built-in fingerprint scanner worked flawlessly too, mounted in the power button. Its placement additionally ensured that I didn’t have to reposition my hand to access my phone. As is often the case with rear-mounted or in-display sensors. Instead, I simply picked up the phone and turned it on.
Finally, Face Unlock worked well with this smartphone too, getting me access as quickly as the fingerprint but without having to pick up the phone.
Nokia G50 cameras are great, with a glaring but fixable caveat
Unfortunately, the Nokia G50 cameras were one of its weak points upon a closer review. But that may not be where you’d expect. In terms of actually shooting capabilities, this phone felt above average. Bokeh, for instance, was crisp — although shots taken close up don’t always turn out as clearly as I’d like. This is, after all, not a flagship.
Color is accurate indoors and out, in all but very dim lighting. With the camera adapting reasonably well, for the money, to varied and dim lighting. 48-megapixel mode adds even more clarity, although getting to it could be easier. It’s tucked in a top-bar menu rather than as a dedicated “mode.”
But that works far better for macro shots too, since there’s no macro lens or mode on this phone, albeit not as well as dedicated hardware would. Conversely, Zoom shots look great up to 2x before becoming grainy and sometimes washed out. As we’d expect from a budget-friendly phone. But quite a bit better than I’d expect based on previous experiences.
And, on a side note, video has some noteworthy features too. Although that’s not included in our sample gallery over at Flickr. Video stabilization is far better than expected from this handset, or any other sub-$450 handset. And smooth zooming features ensure there are no jarring transitions, which is especially unusual for a budget phone camera. The quality isn’t at all bad either, coming across on par with many more expensive mid-range devices, though easily not the best either.
Finally, Night shots aren’t the greatest, as shown in the gallery. But they certainly aren’t the worst either for the money.
No, the issue here is that the camera software kept freezing for shots that required extra processing. For instance, snapping photos of moving objects, such as my beagle “Madam Mim” while she was running toward me. Or a direct shot of the sun behind clouds. The software always corrected itself and that could, it seems, be fixed with an update. But it isn’t always a great experience under those circumstances as is since it does freeze out for a few seconds.
Connectivity is brilliant for the money
Now, despite its pricing, Nokia G50 is a modern device that comes with 5G in tow. That meant that my connections were as quick as they’ve ever been and more reliable too. With 5G continuing to spread in the US, I only ever left that network for 4G while in my basement, in fact. Which is better than can be said about the same networking on some other gadgets I’ve tested at much higher prices.
Setting that aside, the 5G here — and the 4G and VoLTE — worked as expected. No hiccups were experienced and my speeds were consistent with my daily driver — a Google Pixel 5.
The inclusion of Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C for charging, data transfers, and more, as well as the included 3.5mm audio jack rounded that out. Resulting in a user experience that was, ultimately, at least for connections, flagship-like. If connectivity is your biggest concern, Nokia G50 delivers on all related fronts. Up to and including WiFi 6 support which made cloud gaming a real joy during my review of Nokia G50.
Should you buy the Nokia G50?
The Nokia G50 is easily one of the least expensive 5G phones on the market so I, of course, leaped at the chance to review the gadget when offered. While my experience with networking was basically as I’d expected, my experiences elsewhere were not. As described throughout this review, in fact, they were better than expected almost across the board.
So anybody who’s looking for a great modern handset with the latest connectivity features without the hassle of paying over $600 should really be considering Nokia G50. It’s easily one of the best budget 5G handsets available today.