Nokia 2 Review: The illusion of value

HMD Global is clearly working hard to seed the Nokia name across every segment of the phone market, with last year’s capable Nokia 8 at one end and now the Nokia 2 serving as its latest entry-level offering.

Nokia 2 Review: Design

Since their rebirth as Android devices, Nokias have sported a clean, simple, unified design language; most prominently punctuated by their pill-shaped centrally positioned rear cameras and the offering of at least one copper-accent colourway per device.

The 2 fits this trend perfectly, with a small flash-laden camera in the centre of the phone’s near featureless polycarbonate back and (in some markets, but sadly not ours) the option of copper-coloured edging.

The sandblasted metal frame is nicely rounded, so looks the part and feels solid and sturdy. Despite offering a surprisingly premium feel in the hand though, it paired with that plastic back renders the 2 a slippery handset to handle.

The affordable nature of the phone means microUSB in place of USB-C, a removable back panel to get at the SIM and microSD slots in place of a dedicated tray and no fingerprint sensor to speak of. There are, however, metal hardware controls, as well as a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on top, both of which are noted and appreciated inclusions.

Unlike last year’s Nokia 3, there are no capacitive keys beneath the display, giving the phone a pretty significant chin that reminds us of 2017’s original Google Pixel. In truth, bezels all-round are a tad on the thick side.

Nokia 2 Review: Screen and Media

Considering the phone’s low price tag, the 5-inch 720p HD LCD offers up visuals beyond our expectations. There’s obvious brightness drop-off at more extreme angles but overall on-screen imagery holds up well against various forms of distortion.

It’s large enough to accommodate split-screen multitasking comfortably and just about allows for manageable one-handed use. The only real omissions? Tap-to-wake, an inbuilt night shift mode and a greater maximum brightness.

The Gorilla Glass 3 protecting the display gives you peace of mind with regards to the phone’s general hardiness, but it seems to hold onto fingerprints more readily than a lot of other devices we’ve trialled of late. Just be aware you might be spending a fair amount of time buffing the 2 if you like your screen smudge-free.

The headphone jack in the top of the phone is appreciated and enables the inbuilt FM radio when wired headphones are plugged in to serve as the antenna. Meanwhile, the single rear-facing mono speaker lacks any real bass but wins points back for overall loudness.

Nokia 2 Review: OS and Features

The promise of Android 8.1 Oreo is already on the cards thanks to confirmation from HMD at the tail-end of January 2018, but in the meantime the 2 sports a slightly older Android 7.1.1 Nougat experience.

The practically stock take on Google’s mobile OS means there isn’t really anything in the way of bloat. Aside from the FM Radio and Nokia’s own Mobile Support app, the 2 runs Android as designed by its creators.

That means the Google Assistant is a home button long-press away or a simple utterance of the “OK, Google” wake command. Nokia’s added a dusting of extra usability features like a camera quick-launch function and call muting behaviour when you pick the Nokia 2 up or flip it over; both skills we cover in greater detail in our Nokia 2 Tips & Tricks guide.

That support app is a one-stop shop for everything you’d likely want to know about the Nokia 2, including a user guide, support chat, FAQs, warranty status and even diagnostic tools that inform you on the phone’s current internal temperature and battery health.

Nokia 2 Review: Performance and Battery

Considering the relatively premium build quality offered up by the Nokia 2, we suspected that its affordable nature would manifest in other areas like its performance, and we weren’t wrong.

The 2’s Snapdragon 212 quad-core chip has been paired to a single 1GB of RAM, which in practice means that the phone constantly lags. You can practically see the gears shifting if you switch between apps too quickly and whilst it can handle some degree of 3D gaming, fluidity isn’t really part of the experience.

With the meagre setup powering the Nokia 2 it would have made far more sense for HMD to install the Go Edition of Oreo in place of standard Android, as the lighter footprint and app selection would have undoubtedly improved usability. Instead, the upcoming Nokia 1 looks to be the only budget device in 2018’s lineup to receive such treatment.

As for storage, things aren’t much better. There’s only 8GB of ROM inside the 2 and half of that is already occupied by system files. You’ll almost certainly have to rely on a microSD card if you plan on using this device for anything more than phone calls and texts. Thankfully though, it supports up to a respectable 128GB of expansion when you need it.

As you might have spotted in our initial unboxing, for its size, the Nokia 2 is a chunky device, but we welcome the extra bulk as it’s due to the phone’s massive 4100mAh battery. Paired with the conservative hardware and relatively low screen resolution longevity is the Nokia 2’s greatest strength.

It doesn’t support any form of fast-charging but the likelihood of getting caught short is slim considering the phone can comfortably go two full days before needing to recharge.

Nokia 2 Review: Cameras

Cameras are another aspect of phone hardware that always suffers when attached to a budget blower. Performance is again a big issue, with a slow shutter by default that (however effective) can take almost four times as long when shooting in low light with the phone’s ‘Boost light’ feature enabled.

In general shooting, the 8-megapixel rear camera lacks dynamic range and colours look washed out. It also struggles to resolve fine detail anywhere in frame, whilst the front five-megapixel camera actually fairs a little better. Provided there’s plenty of light around you can expect usable photos and even at max settings, the Beautify tool doesn’t turn you into some deformed-looking creature, instead providing competent skin smoothing and softening.

We do appreciate the auto-HDR capture that’s enabled by default, despite reservations about its actual effectiveness and were surprised to find a smattering of manual controls too.

Video tops out at 720p HD but again lacks fine detail, any form of stabilisation and needs to be coaxed into refocusing between different subjects.

Read next: Nokia 2 Camera Review

Nokia 2 Review: Verdict

We were pleasantly surprised by the Nokia’s 2 enticing price, pleasing build quality and attractive screen. Pure Android is always appreciated, especially when it comes to minimising bloat, but scratch the surface and this device loses a lot of its appeal.

Its underpowered nature means it struggles out the gate and the quality of the user experience will only degrade the more it’s used. If HMD decides to shift the Nokia 2 over to Android Go, that might save it from being DOA but in its current state, we can’t recommend it.

The Nokia 1 might be a better alternative if it delivers on the promise of Android Go paired to basic hardware, or for £30 more you could grab Moto’s E4, which also features metal bodywork and adds in a fingerprint sensor as well.

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