Nokia 1 hands-on review

At $85, the Nokia 1 is the budget phone you’ve been waiting for

At $85, the Nokia 1 ticks nearly all the boxes for a perfect budget phone.
At $85, the Nokia 1 ticks nearly all the boxes for a perfect budget phone.
At $85, the Nokia 1 ticks nearly all the boxes for a perfect budget phone.

Highs

  • Attractive price point
  • Removable battery
  • Multiple color options with Xpress-on covers
  • Solid performance

Lows

  • Underwhelming cameras

If you ignore Samsung and Apple, the main focus for a lot of other smartphone manufacturers has been to capitalize on the flourishing budget handset market. We’ve continued to see a good range of budget smartphones especially in the $200 to $300 range, but get ready for some stellar Android phones under $100. It’s all thanks to Google’s Android Go initiative, and HMD Global’s Nokia 1 is our first taste with the new Android platform. Let’s take a closer look.

Optimizing Android

The Nokia 1, announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, is one of the first phones launching with Android Go. A lightweight version of Android made for phones with low-end specs, Android Go takes up much less memory and storage than the version of Android you’ll find on most smartphones. While you have full access to the Google Play Store on Android Go, Google has also made Go versions of its apps, which are under 10MB, for a smoother user experience.

The phone specifically runs stock Android 8.0 Oreo, which is simple and easy-to-use, with no bloatware.

With only a 1.1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, the Nokia 1 is a perfect match for Android Go. We were pleasantly surprised with how the phone performed. The stutter and lag you often find on most budget phones was hardly visible, and we were able to open multiple apps and switch between them almost instantaneously. With more apps downloaded, however, performance could indeed take a hit, so we’ll have to do further testing to see the limits of the processor.

Xpress to the past

There’s no hiding the Nokia 1 is a budget phone — it’s a little chunky, has thick bezels, and the rounded edges all help it look a little like a toy. But just because it’s a budget phone doesn’t mean it felt flimsy or cheap. The phone was lightweight, but it felt like it could survive a few accidental drops. It’s compact and easy to grip with your whole hand, which is a nice change of pace from 6-inch smartphones.

The Nokia 1’s dual-tone polycarbonate body is playful and colorful. It comes in blue or red, both with distinctive white accents around the 4.5-inch IPS display, camera lens, and on the rocker and power buttons.

But if blue or red isn’t your forte, try HMD’s Xpress-on covers. This is a long-running Nokia staple that lets you switch out the rear backplate for another pattern or color. Right now there are several different colors, but it looks like HMD will be adding more shades and patterns to the collection soon. The swappable back also hides another convenient feature on the Nokia 1: A removable battery. While the 2,150mAh battery will likely get you more than a day of use, the ability to quickly swap batteries is a definite plus.

HMD got a lot right with the Nokia 1, but the cameras are a clear miss. The camera app slowed down when taking pictures with the 5-megapixel rear camera. Our low-light photos at the demo area had significant noise with washed out color. We had similar results with the 2-megapixel front-facing camera. We weren’t expecting much with such a cheap phone, but it’s likely you’ll ignore the cameras on the Nokia 1.

Price and availability

The beauty of Android Go is that it’s meant to keep the cost of the phone small, while offering a soid user experience with access to speedy updates. So far, we think it succeeds, especially since the Nokia 1 just costs $85. It’s mind-boggling what such a low-cost phone can do these days.

The Nokia 1 will arrive in April, but It’s not clear if the phone will make it to the U.S.

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