Nokia is breeding like rabbits. Perhaps it is those long Finnish nights. The new 2.1, 3.1 and 5.1 take the Nokia range to 13 very different phones for different niches. We present the low-cost Nokia shootout.

We can’t help but feel that they may have had a little too much Koskenkorva (Finnish vodka that will finish you) because all models offer features above their price. But perhaps that is what Nokia, barely 22 months old under HMD Global (based in Espoo Finland) need to do to regain the crown. Read on for our low-cost Nokia shootout.

The Nokia range includes

  • 8 Sirocco $1199 but $999 at JB Hi-Fi (review here)
  • 8 $899 (2017 model) but $499 at Harvey Norman and $599 at JB Hi-Fi (review here)
  • 7 Plus $649 (review here)
  • 6.1 2018 $399 (review here)
  • 6 (2017 model)
  • 5.1 $329 (the subject of this review)
  • 5 $268 at Harvey Norman (2017 model)
  • 3.1 $249 but $199 at JB Hi-Fi (the subject of this review)
  • 3 $249 but $188 at Harvey Norman (2017 model)
  • 2.1 $199 (the subject of this review)
  • 1 $149 (review here
  • 3310 3G feature phone $89 (review here)
  • 8810 ‘Banana phone’ 4G feature phone $129  (not reviewed yet)

Nokia is hoping that having a phone in every market niche will satisfy the hordes of Nokia lovers and bring this iconic brand back to the top. It may just work.

Review: 2.1, 3.1 and 5.1 low-cost Nokia shootout

Rather than present a separate review on each phone here is a combination review. Each phone has strengths (and very few weaknesses). But we think price sensitivity first, and needs, second, will likely drive purchase decisions.

The first impression

While all three have Nokia styling queues its evident that the 2.1 comes from either a different designer or factory. This is a typical a good, better, best scenario. You really can’t go wrong with any of them provided you remember these are lower-cost phones and don’t expect a flagship specification. To get that you would have to spend three-five times as much!

We issue the standard warning that you must buy the genuine model with Australian firmware as it works on all Australian Carrier LTE bands. To be blunt avoid at all cost online merchants, mobile virtual network operators carriers (unless approved), and grey/parallel market sellers.

Specifications

We have changed our ‘monolithic’ specifications table to place relevant comments and tests after each segment. All specifications are for the 2.1, 3.1 and 5.1 (left to right):

low-cost Nokia shootout

In the box

Model TA-1093
Nokia 2.1
5V/2A charger
Micro USB cable
Buds/mic
Model TA-1074
Nokia 3.1
5V/1A charger
Micro USB cable
Buds/mic
Model TA-1081
Nokia 5.1
5V/2A charger
Micro USB cable
Buds/mic

Screen

5.5”, 1280 x 720, 16:9, LPTS
70% S-T-B-R
Oleophobic coating over the plastic screen
5.2” 1440 x 720, 18:9 IPS with
Gorilla Glass 3
Haptic touch feedback
400 nits typical brightness
1400:1 contrast
5.5” 2160 x 1080, 18:9 IPS with Gorilla Glass 3
Haptic touch feedback
Similar to 3.1

2.1: The screen is dull and has a limited colour range. Even at 100% brightness, it is unreadable in direct sunlight. Colours are not even, and there is a darker band across the top. Now that sounds pretty damming, but this is a $199 phone and it is fit for purpose.

3.1: The screen is dull even at 100% brightness. Colour is better than the 2.1, but there is still a darker band across the top of the screen. Daylight readability is better than the 2.1. Haptic touch feedback is good.

5.1: While the screen is brighter it still is not quite there. Otherwise, it is similar to the 3.1.

In all devices, there is no colour adjustment, and the adaptive brightness function is too aggressive towards battery saving. Turn it off, or you will always be adjusting the brightness.

Screenshots are 2.1, 3.1 and 5.1 and clearly show the darker band at the top. What you can’t see is the uneven solid colour on the 2.1.

Performance

Qualcomm 425 28nm
4-core A53 1.2GHz
Adreno 308
1GB single-channel RAM
8GB (4.52GB free)
microSD to 128GB (dedicated slot)
MT6750N 28 nm
4-core 1.5GHz + 4-core 1GHz
Mali-T860 MP2
2GB single channel
16GB – 7.36GB free
microSD to 128GB (dedicated slot)
MT6755S
4-core 2.0 GHz
Mali-T860 MP2
2GB single channel
16GB (6.77GB free)
microSD to 128GB (dedicated slot)
Geekbench rating
Single-core 461
Multi-core 1743

Single-core 661
Multi-core 2642

Single-core 846
Multi-core 3248

2.1: Qualcomm 425, 28nm entry-level processor used by many lower cost smartphone models like the Motorola e5 and Samsung Galaxy J2 Pro. To save costs, Nokia uses a smorgasbord (as is the Scandinavian way) of other branded components. So, it has a reasonable engine but few of the go-fast things that some other brands have used. There is some lag due to 1GB RAM, but overall it is fit for purpose. Forget it for games.

3.1: The MediaTek 6750N is a mid-market solution. It uses a Big/Little format allowing four of the cores to go to sleep in a power saving mode. There was no lag as experienced on the 2.1.

5.1: The MediaTek 6755S is about 80% of the speed of a Qualcomm 625. But it lacks the Qualcomm sophistication with bits digital and image signal processors, modem etc.

You have to remember that at a price $199/249/329 this is about as good as it gets. If you want power, the Geekbench for the current most powerful Android processor in the Samsung Note9 is 3718/9026.

Comms

Wi-Fi N single band 2.4Mhz
Bluetooth 4.2
FM Radio (with buds)
Wi-Fi N dual band
Bluetooth 4.2
FM Radio
Wi-Fi N dual band
Same as 3.1
65-72Mbps 2.4GHz band at 2m 135Mbps 5GHz at 2m 135Mbps 5Ghz at 2m

For comparison, a Wi-Fi AC smartphone gets 867Mbps at 2m from our D-Link AC5300 reference router. All will handle streaming HD/FHD content over Wi-Fi out to about 20 metres.

Sound

Dual front-firing speakers (earpiece and bottom bezel)
3.5mm combo jack
Earpiece
Downfiring bottom speaker
3.5mm combo jack
Earpiece
Downfiring bottom speaker
3.5mm combo jack

2.1: has dual speakers that will go up to 86dB – the sound of an alarm clock. Handsfree was good in both directions but lacked ‘sparkle’. Upper-bass creeps in at 300Hz and the frequency response is good until 10Hz. A mid-sound signature for voice.

low-cost Nokia shootout

3.1 has a single bottom-firing speaker that will go to 78dB. Handsfree was not as loud needing to keep the phone within 20cm of your ear to hear adequately. Callers commented that it was hard to hear me too. Upper-bass creeps in at 300Hz and the frequency response is good until 10Hz. A mid-sound signature for voice.

low-cost Nokia shootout

5.1 has a single bottom-firing speaker that will go to 84dB. Handsfree was better than the 3.1 but still not great. Upper-bass creeps in at 300Hz and frequency response is good until 10Hz with a hint of upper treble to 15Hz. A mid-sound signature for voice.

low-cost Nokia shootout

Not surprisingly they all sound similar despite the 2.1 having dual speakers. The 3.1 is quietest. All use standard Bluetooth SBC codec.

Battery

4000mAh
5V/2A MicroUSB charger
17 hours in a 720p video loop
About 36+ hours continuous use

2990mAh
5V/1A MicroUSB charger
10 hours in a 720p video loop
About 15 hours continuous use
Very long charging time with 1A more than 7 hours.
Re-tested with 10A and came down to 5 hours.
2970mAh
5V/2A MicroUSB charger
Similar to 3.1
About 24-hours of continuous use
Charge time <5 hours

It is beyond me why the 3.1 comes with a 5V/1A charger when it can handle 5V/2A easily. What is the price difference? 50 cents maybe?

The later processor in the 5.1 is a little more energy efficient accounting for longer battery life over the 3.1.

4G/LTE

Cat 4 150/50Mbps
Single Sim (there may be a dual sim variant)
Cat 4 150/50Mbps
Single Sim
Unable to test for VoLTE, WoWiFI
Same as 3.1
Single Sim

Australian LTE Bands:

  • Telstra needs bands  1, 3 and 28.
  • Optus needs bands 1, 3, 7, 28, and 40.
  • Vodafone needs 1, 3, and 5.

Nokia does not publish bands on the website. Telstra lists bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 20, 38, 40 and 66 for the APAC modem version.

All three do not support Telstra/Optus band 28 (700Mhz) which means that maximum download speed is 50Mbps as it cannot aggregate several bands. It also means you will only get 3G in Telstra micro-cells (4GX-Lite) and in-buildings.

We tested on a 4-bar Telstra signal and achieved between 25-38Mbps download. We did not test at Telstra George Street, Sydney where a maximum 4GX signal is because these devices cannot go any faster than 50Mbps on Telstra 4GX without band 28.

Interestingly Telstra has the 2.1 for $149 as a pre-paid, locked to Telstra.

We are surprised Telstra would sell phones without band 28. They do not support carrier aggregation and can have very poor in-building signal strength.

These are phones for city dwellers only. This will also limit its use in other countries. If you need a phone for both city and rural areas the Samsung J2 Pro (same price as Nokia 2.1) has the Telstra Bluetick.

Operating system

Android 8.1.0 Go edition
For 1GB RAM and uses Go Edition apps.
Android One Oreo
Two years of platform updates
Three years of security updates
Unlimited Google Photo storage
Google Assistant
Same as 3.1

2.1 uses Android Go designed for smartphones with 1GB RAM and limited storage. It has Go edition of Google Assitant, Maps, Files and other apps. Standard Android apps may work but will likely slow down the system.

Android One is pure Android and is a strong reason to buy the 3.1 or 5.1 over the 2.1.

Materials

Polycarbonate chassis
Removable back to access SIM and microSD
Blue/Copper, Blue/Silver, Grey/Silver (colour in infused into the polycarbonate)
153.6 x 77.6 x 9.67 mm x 174g
Aluminium sides and polycarbonate back
Blue/Copper, Black/Chrome, White/Iron
146.25 x 68.65 x 8.7mm x 138.3g
6000 series aluminium chassis and back
Copper, Tempered Blue, Black
Premium solid feel
151.1 x 70.73 x 8.27 mm x 148g

2.1 has a polycarbonate chassis and removable back (for sim and micro-SD, not battery removal). The review unit was Blue/Copper. Our only issue is that the copper highlights may be easy to scratch.

3.1 loses those copper edge highlights. In all, it is a glass slab.

5.1 has excellent build quality, but it too is a featureless glass slab.

What’s missing

Gyroscope
Magnetometer
G-Sensor
Front notification LED
NFC
No IP rating
Fingerprint reader


Front notification LED
NFC
No IP rating
Fingerprint reader


Front notification LED
NFC
No IP rating

2.1: While none of these is a deal breaker on a $199 phone the lack of a Gyroscope, Magnetometer and G-Sensor limits its use as a GPS. We did try Google Maps Go (opens in a Chrome browser), and lag was too large for in-car use. It’s fine for pedestrian use.

3.1: It is more of a traditional smartphone, and the missing features are no deal breakers.

5.1: Ditto to 3.1

Camera Rear/Front

8MP AF flash, HDR Video [email protected] 13MP, f/2.0, AF flash
Video [email protected] mono audio
16MP, f/2.0, PDAF dual flash
[email protected]
5MP
Video [email protected]
or [email protected]  
8MP f/2.0 84.6° FOV
Video [email protected]
8MP f/2.0 84.6° FOV
Same

Daylight, outdoors

2.1: Colours are reasonably accurate, contrast is low, and in all quite a good ‘social media’ shot. ISO 100, 1/2372 sec, 2.1MB.

low-cost Nokia shootout

3.1: Colours are accurate, contrast is good, and the detail is excellent. ISO 100, 1/3205 sec, 4.5MB

low-cost Nokia shootout

5.1: Much brighter shot reflecting more processing power. Good colour, tone and definition. ISO 101, 1/1250 sec, 5.2MB.

low-cost Nokia shootout

Indoors Office Light

2.1: Colours have a slight pink tinge but overall a good shot. The depth of field is an issue with AF. ISO 100, 1/50 sec, 1.2MB. On repeat shots, we found some blur due to the long exposure time. Hold it still.

low-cost Nokia shootout

3.1: Colours are accurate. Definition/detail is good. The depth of field is an issue with AF. ISO 106, 1/50 sec, 2.9MB

low-cost Nokia shootout

5.1: Colours are superb. Definition/detail is excellent. PDAF means good dynamic focus of the foreground and background. Image did not have ISO/shutter information.

low-cost Nokia shootout

Low light

2.1: Blurry, loss of colour and detail. ISO 500, 1/20 sec, 1MB image. We re-tested with flash, but there was no improvement.

low-cost Nokia shootout

3.1: Good definition, some colour coming back, but the lens struggles to get enough light. Flash did improve this shot. ISO 385, 1/25 sec, 4.3MB

low-cost Nokia shootout

5.1: Good definition. More colour than the 3.1, and the lens lets in better light. Image did not have ISO/shutter information.

low-cost Nokia shootout

Selfie (all have manual HDR, no screen or LED fill flash)

2.1: Unnatural colour, flare on lights, blurred background (not bokeh) IS0 320, 1/30 sec, .91MB

3.1: Lack of Autofocus means you must hold the camera about 600mm from your face. That defeats the wider 84.6° FOV. ISO 1137, 1/17 sec, 2MB

5.1 Better colour but otherwise the same front camera as the 3.1, ISO 1118, 1/14 second, 2.1MB

Video

2.1: [email protected] Adequate in daylight to produce acceptable video but lack of stabilisation makes it blurry and poor colour/contrast in office or low light conditions.

3.1: [email protected] Colour, detail and contrast are good, but lack of stabilisation led to ‘smudged’ backgrounds. A little better in office light but inadequate in low light.

5.1: as per 3.1 producing marginally better shots due to the faster processor

GadgetGuy’s take

The low-cost Nokia shootout shows three very different phones in the mass market ($200-499).

Perhaps the unkindest thing I can say is that they are all ‘passable’. I kept looking for a killer feature but alas in this price bracket that is hard to find. They all have Nokia quality (assembled by Foxconn). They are all the second generation of phones designed by owners HMD Global. As such they have addressed any of the shortcomings of the original 1st generation.

In Australia, the lack of a 28GHz band does limit use to capital cities. In building reception is lower accordingly.

The $199 Nokia 2.1 offers a large 5.5” 16:9 screen, big battery and dual speaker. It is a competent phone, but compromises like the ‘social quality’ camera make it hard to recommend especially as the 3.1 and 5.1 offer a lot more. If you can live with Android Go (not a power user), then it is fine. I suggest this is a good ‘school’ phone with a suitable level of ‘cool’.

The Nokia 3.1 offers a very small (comparatively) 5.2” screen, but that makes it more pocketable. It has excellent haptic feedback and does everything expected of it although the processor/RAM struggles sometimes. It does not have the limitations of Android Go. At $199 on special at JB Hi-Fi (usually $249) it offers a better smartphone experience than the 2.1 at the same price.

The Nokia 5.1 is better, but it costs more. 5.5” screen, better processor and better camera post-processing. It is a phone I could live with. There are few compromises, but I would be sorely tempted to spend $70 more ($399) for the Nokia 6.1 with a Qualcomm 630 processor, 3/32GB, LTE band 28, 16MP camera, fast charging and VoLTE/VoWifi calls. GadgetGuy rated it 4.3 out of 5.

Alternatives

If you are on a budget, you should look at Nokia as well as some other comparable phones. Check out our articles for more:

Rating

Overall: 3.8 out of 5 Features: 3 out of 5 Value for Money: 4 out of 5. Performance: 3 out of 5 – Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 Design: 5 out of 5 Overall: 4 out of 5 Features: 4 out of 5 Value for Money: 4.5 out of 5. Performance: 3.5 out of 5 Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 Design: 4 out of 5 Overall: 4.1 out of 5 Features: 4 out of 5 Value for Money: 4.5 out of 5. Performance: 4 out of 5 Ease of Use: 4 out of 5 Design: 4 out of 5

Price/Website

$199
Australian Website here
$249 (on special at $199)
Australian Website here
$329
Australian Website here