Nokia 5 review: A solid mid-range pure-Android contender

Nokia's return to the handset scene is now well and truly underway. The comeback started with the retro Nokia 3310, and continued with the Nokia 3, 5 and 6. The most recent development is the announcement of the flagship Nokia 8.

All except the Nokia 3310 are Android handsets, rising in price and capability in accordance with their model number. The 5.2-inch Nokia 5's key competitor is the 5-inch Moto G5, although there are plenty of other affordable options, including (in the UK) the Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus.

Nokia's partner HMD Global is behind the new handset range, and has given a lot of attention to the build of the Nokia 5 and its stablemates.

nokia-5-main.jpgThe 5.2-inch Nokia 5 is based on a Snapdragon 430 chipset with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal (MicroSD-expandable) storage. It comes in Silver, Matte Black, Tempered Blue and Copper, and weighs 160g. Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The unibody aluminium back and sides ooze quality -- the metal is tough, and I couldn't bend this phone at all in my hands. My silver review unit was really great to look at; the black matte version is a little more humdrum, while the copper and tempered blue variants are both attractive.

The back is cool to the touch and isn't slippy in the hand. Its curve into the phone's edges, which then continue to curve into the front face, feel very comfortable to hold. The antenna band sits on the top edge of the handset, blending nicely into the overall design. It's mirrored on the bottom edge, making a nice design symmetry.

The raised lozenge on the back housing the camera lens and flash looks attractive in a minimalist way. The Nokia 5 measures 72.5mm wide by 149.7mm deep by 8.05mm thick, although that raised lozenge increases the thickness to 8.55mm at that point. The handset weighs a perfectly acceptable 160g.

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The screen isn't quite bezel-free on its long edges: there's a 2mm strip of Gorilla Glass between the screen and the handset's edges. The top and bottom bezels are 15mm and 17mm respectively: if Nokia is aiming for a truly stylish mid-range design these larger bezels need to slim down.

The lower bezel is home to a fingerprint sensor, which was easy to set up and responsive in use -- although the pad is a little small. This is something Motorola has also squeezed into the £180 Moto G5, and so to have omitted it would have been a serious error.

However, Nokia's implementation is less sophisticated than on the Moto G5, which allows the fingerprint sensor to execute a range of navigation functions via sweeps and taps.

Motorola's handset supports these additional gestures via software add-ons. However, Nokia has stuck with pure unadulterated Android 7.1.1, which means no fancy additions. It also means no bloatware, filling the internal storage with potentially superfluous offerings.

For those who like to stay bang up to date with Android, the pure installation has another advantage: Nokia states quite clearly at its website that it will provide regular updates.

Even without an Android UI overlay or any bloatware, the Nokia 5's moderate 16GB of internal storage is considerably reduced right out of the box, with 7.49GB already consumed. Fortunately there's a MicroSD card slot for external storage expansion.

nokia-5-box.jpgThe Nokia 5 only offers 720p resolution (282ppi), and has sizeable top and bottom screen bezels, the latter housing a fingerprint reader. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The 5.2-inch IPS LCD screen has a resolution of 1,280 by 720 pixels -- lower than the 5-inch Moto G5, which has a full-HD (1,920x1,080) screen. That translates to 441 pixels per inch (ppi) for the Moto G5 compared to 282ppi for the Nokia 5.

I wasn't able to compare the two handsets side by side, but didn't find the Moto G5 screen to be particularly special when I reviewed that phone. The same can be said here: the Nokia 5's display isn't fabulous, nor is it awful. It'll do.

The single speaker on the bottom edge of the handset is another matter. Audio quality is tinny, and distorts at higher volumes.

There's a 13-megapixel main camera and an 8-megapixel front camera, with a few bells and whistles such as a 'spirit level' and grid to help with framing pictures and the ability to add a text 'watermark' to photos. A double press of the power button acts as a camera quick launch.

Camera features and shooting modes are pretty sparse though -- you can't even adjust things like white balance or shutter speed. For the most part images were decent enough, but if you're looking for sophistication in your smartphone camera, you should probably look elsewhere.

The octa-core Snapdragon 430 chipset and 2GB of RAM do an adequate job, but the Nokia 5 is far from a speedy performer -- there's a definite wait between tapping an app's icon and it being fully loaded and ready to use, for example. That said, if you confine yourself to mainstream tasks and don't expect flagship-level performance, you shouldn't be disappointed.

Nokia doesn't give an estimate of how long the handset's 3,000mAh battery will last, but my experience during testing suggests that you might struggle to get through a full day without recharging -- although, as ever, battery life will depend on the screen brightness setting and the workloads you throw at the device. There's no fast-charge option, but Nokia has opted for a Micro-USB connector so a standard charge cable will work just fine with the Nokia 5.


nokia-5-verdict.jpg Image: Nokia

To help meet its price target, Nokia has prioritised hardware design and robustness over processor speed and storage space, and also opted for a simple camera setup and a moderate-resolution screen. The inclusion of a fingerprint scanner is welcome the face of such compromises.

Performance isn't anything special either, although you'll notice the lack of speed more if you're used to toting a flagship handset with the latest chipset. What's more noticeable is the absence of software bloat and a regularly-updated vanilla Android implementation. At £179.99 (inc. VAT) Nokia has delivered a reasonably competitive mid-range handset, although we do have a slight concern over battery life.

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