HMD Global Nokia X20 Hands-on: Getting Value Right

HMD Global has revamped the Nokia smartphone line-up for 2021 and introduced six models in the brand new C, G, and X series. Digital Trends was given the opportunity to take a look at one of the first Nokia X20 phones, the new top-of-the-line phone, just before the announcement.

The X series, along with the other new phones, have been made to embody HMD Global’s new mission of making devices you trust, love, and want to keep. Sounds pretty standard when looked at simply, but the company is going about reaching its goal in an unusual way — it’s using good value and longevity through software and support, rather than just a spec sheet filled with big numbers. Our first look examines whether it’s likely to succeed.

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It’s important to know that although the phone we’ve tried here is almost final, the software at the minimum will be tweaked before it launches, so it’s not suitable for a full review or very in-depth examination. Instead, this is a comprehensive first look at the X20.

What makes this special?

Let’s talk about value. It’s definitely a better place to start with the new Nokia phones because the specs and design aren’t breaking any new ground. The X20 is the range-topping phone at the moment, and even in its top spec with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, it’s just 320 British pounds, which converts to $440. Buy the version with 6GB of RAM and it’s 299 pounds, or about $410. For context, the Google Pixel 4a 5G cost 499 pounds at launch in the U.K., and $499 in the U.S.

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The Pixel comparison can continue, as the Nokia X20 has 5G and Android One software, which looks and operates in almost exactly the same way as Android on the Pixel, plus it has guaranteed OS and security updates for the next three years, so it’ll eventually get Android 14. Plus if you’re buying the phone in Europe, HMD Global will add another year to the standard two-year warranty, for a total of three years.

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Three years of Android updates and three years of manufacturer warranty, all for 300 pounds. That’s strong value. HMD Global says its tagline for the new range is, “Love it, trust it, keep it,” and based on the customer-centric approach to software and warranty, it’s definitely a phone you’ll be prepared to keep, but what about the rest?

Will you love it?

The Nokia X20 doesn’t deviate far from the established Nokia style, despite the new name. It still has a top-center circular camera module, a flat rear panel, curvy sides, and a noticeable chin bezel under the screen. It’s a lot like the Nokia 8.3, right down to the side-mounted fingerprint sensor in the power button. It feels just about as substantial as phones get though. Not brick-like, just solid and hefty. A proper Nokia, in other words.

The phone you see here is in the Midnight Sun color, and while the rear panel looks like shiny metal, it’s definitely polycarbonate or some type of other plastic. I found it got quite greasy, but this may be because it’s not a retail version. The chassis is smooth and thick, and also appears to be made from plastic. It’s also quite wide, making one-handed use quite challenging. I like the convenience of the side-mounted fingerprint sensor, but the software needs to be tweaked to change the way it unlocks the phone as, at the moment, it required the power button to be pressed first and wasn’t always very accurate.

It’s not a style icon, but it is recognizably a Nokia phone, a consequence of the brand keeping a very similar design over the past couple of years. It’s also not a slim, dainty phone, however the large body allows it to have a 3.5mm headphone jack, and for the SIM tray to have space for a microSD card too. The curves make it comfortable to hold, but those with smaller hands may want to try it out for size first.

Will you love it as HMD Global wants? Love is too strong a word. It doesn’t feel especially modern, and as it doesn’t have a glass body, swooping lines, or standout design feature it struggles to feel special. You won’t love it, but you’ll like it as a dependable friend.

A keeper?

There’s scope to keep the Nokia X20 for three years, based on the support provided after purchasing it, but to do this it needs to have a decent specification and a high enough level of ability to still feel fresh, or fresh-ish after 36 months. The X20 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 processor with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, a 6.67-inch  screen with a 2400 x 1080 pixel resolution, and a 4,470mAh battery.

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The Snapdragon 480 processor comes with the Qualcomm X51 5G modem and is the first 4-series 5G platform from Qualcomm, expressly designed for low-cost phones like the X20. In my short time with the phone, and with the caveat the software is not final, it has been a decent performer. It’s happy enough playing Asphalt 9: Legends, provided you don’t mind a little slowdown when it’s very busy on screen. Generally, I’ve found it to be snappier and more responsive than the older Qualcomm 662 chip, for example.

However, while the performance is adequate for the price, the screen isn’t so good. It’s big, but it’s not very bright, and the viewing angles are quite tight. Again, although the software may change things ahead of release, I’ve found it’s a little eager to recognize a tap when I was really trying to swipe. The screen’s middling brightness makes the camera a pain to use in sunlight, as you can’t really see the viewfinder very well.

The question then becomes, would you want to use the camera? It has a 64-megapixel main camera with a 5MP ultra-wide (with fixed focus) and a pair of 2MP cameras for macro and depth duties. I expect further software tuning to improve the cameras, as there’s obviously still work to be done from the few test shots I took. The HDR tends to be very aggressive, and the Portrait mode’s edge recognition isn’t very effective either.  You can see them here, but they shouldn’t be considered absolutely representative of how the retail version of the phone will perform, however it does bode well for the main camera at least.

Whether this is enough for the X20 to be a keeper will depend on how your own use changes over the next few years. If your demands edge towards more gaming, media watching, and potentially photography too, then it may feel its age after a year or so. However, the Android One software, general speediness of the processor, and 5G connectivity will mean that if your demands are modest it should be a reliable companion for longer.

Long-term appeal

HMD Global’s emphasis on value, driven by things other than high specs for once, is quite unusual at this end of the smartphone scale, and the Nokia X20’s sensible dependability makes it appealing. Motorola doesn’t support its cheap phones like this, and neither does OnePlus. There’s still some serious competition on the horizon though, in the shape of Samsung’s new A52 and A52 5G phones, which are a little more expensive but have greater technical appeal.

First impressions of the Nokia X20 are good, and HMD Global’s focus on benefits related to long-term ownership is refreshing. We will be reviewing the final version of the Nokia X20 when it’s available. The phone will be released in the U.K. during May, with U.S. availability still to be announced.

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