Review: Nokia X20 an okay phone, but left trying to make a mark in a crowded market

The X20 smartphone is hoped to be Nokia's ticket back into the market.
The X20 smartphone is hoped to be Nokia's ticket back into the market. Photo credit: Newshub

The Nokia brand is an iconic one for those of a certain generation. 

I still take delight in remembering using the near indestructible Nokia 3310 back in the day, as I'm sure many others do, while some might feel similarly about the old Alcatel phones.

I wasted so many hours playing Snake when I should have been using my time to save the world - or at least not being so invested in a pixelated reptile sliding around on a green-lit screen.

But the last few years haven't been particularly kind to the Finnish giant. After flirtation, outright purchase and then dumping by Microsoft, the iconic brand has ended up with HMD Global.

Is the Nokia X20 'trusted, secure and built to last' as claimed and can it find its place in the modern smartphone world, or is it further proof Nokia is destined to always be remembered in sepia tones with fond nostalgia?

I've been using the Nokia X20 for a couple of weeks and here are my thoughts.

The good

My first impressions of the X20 were definitely favourable, thanks to the lovely Nordic Blue finish and its overall size. 

It doesn't match Apple's iPhone 12 Pro Max in terms of specification, but it's a near perfect comparison in terms of overall footprint. And I'm happy with that - the bigger the better, as far as I'm concerned.

Nokia X20
Photo credit: Newshub

Also, in the box was a pair of wired black earphones, the kind you used to get back in the days before comfort was invented. I looked at their bare black tips, considered it some sort of trick and put them away to never look at again.

It seemed a weird addition, like a $2.99 set that you get free with a purchase over $10 on AliExpress. It just didn't quite fit with how I think Nokia would like to see itself these days, but it's still something, as opposed to the nothing you get in other smartphone boxes.

The battery life on the X20 was excellent. Nokia promises two days and, when using it lightly, I was able to get that and more.

It undoubtedly helped I didn't get around a whole lot so it wasn't constantly polling cell phone towers for signals but still, the 4470 mAh battery stood up well.

For the most part, so did the cameras with Zeiss optics. The quad-camera offering - a 64MP wide, 5MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro and 2MP depth - let me take some very nice landscape photographs on a weekend away in Bluff that compared pretty well to that on my iPhone 12 Pro.

Same photo taken with the iPhone 12 Pro (l) and the Nokia X20 (r).
Same photo taken with the iPhone 12 Pro (l) and the Nokia X20 (r). Photo credit: Mike Kilpatrick
Same photo taken with the iPhone 12 Pro (l) and the Nokia X20 (r).
Same photo taken with the iPhone 12 Pro (l) and the Nokia X20 (r). Photo credit: Mike Kilpatrick

It was only the front-facing camera that proved to not be quite up to scratch. Using the portrait mode on both cameras there was a massive difference in quality, colour and contrast between the two.

The screen, offering 2400x1800 resolution on a 60Hz IPS display, proved to be pretty nice, especially with the brightness turned up a bit.

The overall quality of the screen wasn't quite as clear as I'd hoped but I was still able to enjoy streaming television and movies on it.

I did very much appreciate the stock Android 11 software too - the bloatware installed on so many devices is enough to send me off on an apocalyptic rant, so my loved ones and colleagues were saved by Nokia's decision to avoid such annoyances.

I even liked the 100 percent compostable retro-speckled protective case provided. Maybe I could save the world after all?

The bad

Aside from the front facing camera and some personal preferences around button placement on the right hand side of the handset, there was one massive failing with the Nokia X20 in my experience.

The speed.

Same front-facing photo taken with the iPhone 12 Pro (l) and the Nokia X20 (r).
Same front-pacing portrait photo taken with the iPhone 12 Pro (l) and the Nokia X20 (r). Photo credit: Mike Kilpatrick

It's powered by the Qualcomm SM4350 Snapdragon 480 chipset, with an Octa-core CPU of 2x2.0 GHz Kryo 460 & 6x1.8 GHz Kryo 460.

That leaves this device underpowered compared to others in the same ballpark - and it felt like it.

To be fair, it wasn't every time I used the phone that I saw delays but I did become used to stutters and mini-freezes when launching and switching apps and accessing menus.  Multi-tasking became a chore rather than something that should have been easy.

The most egregious example of slowdown was while organising my photo library. Bringing up photos and deleting them was just an infuriatingly long process.

It took upwards of four seconds for the next photograph to come up and for the delete button to function. If you press delete too early or too many times, as soon as the image appears properly the screen flicked to something else.

Had the image been deleted as I wanted? Had I deleted too many? Who knew? Given I use my phones a lot for photography, this particular issue was a real problem.

The phone isn't going to give you a great experience with newer, high-end games, either. Thankfully I tend to stick to older games but if that's important to you, you'll want to cough up for a more expensive phone, probably.

Nokia X20
Photo credit: Newshub

Finally, I really could have done without the dedicated Google Assistant button on the left hand side of the phone.

I have enough personal assistants in my life and don't need another one, and certainly not one that necessitates a dedicated button in a place where I'm just going to keep accidentally pressing it. LEAVE ME ALONE!

The verdict

There's so much about the Nokia X20 that I love about technology, and mobile phones in particular.

It's big, it's brash, it wears its heart on its sleeve and, of course, it brings back memories of dial-up internet, pixelated games and ringtones that cost a fortune to download.

Nokia X20
Photo credit: Newshub

Unfortunately that built-in nostalgia isn't quite enough for me. The X20 isn't a bad phone by any means, it's just not as impressive as it could, or perhaps should, be for the price point - around $580 in Aotearoa.

That leaves it among other mid-prices smartphones like the Oppo A94 and the Samsung Galaxy A52, in a pretty crowded market.

Is Nokia hoping the name alone is enough to encourage people to buy one? I'm not sure - but if they are, I think it's a forlorn hope. Even the three years of Android updates promised isn't quite enough to convince me to fork out my hard-earned cash for one.

As one maverick once opined, "I have a need, a need for speed"... not inexplicable delays and frustrations.

If I imagine some kind of weird Royal Rumble smartphone wrestling match between it and its peers, unfortunately the X20 seems more like a welcome novelty act than the winner.

Newshub was supplied a Nokia X20 for this review.