Nokia 1 Review: Retro Design… and Performance too
Going (or gone?) with the Android Go wind
After making a comeback last year at MWC, Nokia has managed to spread its smartphone wings evenly across all price bands. From feature phones that start from a couple of thousand rupees to flagship level smartphones like the Nokia 8 Sirocco, Nokia has pretty much covered all price bases. The company has now launched an entry-level smartphone, Nokia 1. Priced at Rs. 5,499, the Nokia 1 aims to set the stepping stone for first time smartphone users, moving up from feature phones.
Plastic and fantastic (well, in a retro way)
As opposed to the typical 21st-century smartphones that are getting bigger by the minute, the Nokia 1’s petite plastic-y looks are going to hit you like a ray of sunshine and will make you feel a little nostalgic. The smartphone comes with a 4.5-inch IPS display with a screen resolution of 480 x 854 pixels. That said, the display of the device is not really impressive and at times, seems washed out. And while the tech world may be headed in the bezel-less direction, the Nokia 1 has clearly taken the opposite road. The device has pretty big bezels around the screen. The one above the display carries the front-facing camera, the company’s logo, and the earpiece while all the other three are plain – yes, in spite of those big bezels, the phone sports on-screen buttons for navigation. The front of the device also has a white outline around the edges that separate the front from the removable back.
Flipping the phone over, you will find the primary camera with LED flash in a capsule-shaped unit accented with white color (we got the black unit). In the middle of the back, the company has placed its logo, and on the extreme right, near the base, there is a small speaker. The top of the device carries the 3.5 mm audio jack and the base sports the micro USB port. The right side of the Nokia 1 holds the volume rocker and the power/ lock button while the left side remains plain.
Because Nokia decided to go old school with the Nokia 1 by giving it a removable back cover, along with it comes a removable battery, and SIM plus MicroSD card slots under the hood. Just like old times, eh?
The smartphone measures 133.6 x 67.8 x 9.5 mm and weighs 131 grams including battery. It may be a problem for most smartphones to fit perfectly in pockets and palms these days, but that is something you will not face with the Nokia 1, which is extremely compact and is solid enough. No, it does not look premium – it is a budget smartphone, and Nokia has not done anything in terms of design to make it look any different. But though the smartphone may not be “crafted out of a single block of aluminum” but it does not feel like a delicate darling and can take a few hits and bumps.
Modest specs to go with Android Go
In this day and age, where numbers are an essential part of any smartphone’s being, the Nokia 1’s case is a curiously different one. The device has a very modest spec sheet. It is powered by MT6737M Quad Core 1.1 GHz processor coupled with 1 GB RAM. The smartphone comes with 8 GB internal storage which can be expanded up to 128 GB via MicroSD card. But before you get too critical, take a look at its software.
But while the Nokia 1 may have taken the old school road in most departments, the one place where it has been on top of the game is the software. The smartphone runs on Android 8.1 (Go edition) out of the box – a special version of Android designed to run smoothly even on relatively modestly specced smartphones (anything with 1 GB RAM is the line being used). The interface of the smartphone is pretty clean, and the only preinstalled apps on the device are either first party apps or the Android Go apps like YouTube Go, Google Go among others. The smartphone also comes with Google Assistant Go which is a big plus for a phone like Nokia 1. Actually, even getting Android 8.1 on a phone at this price point is a huge achievement.
Not a speed demon at all
We had been told that Android Go would be optimized to run smoothly even on a phone with relatively low-end hardware. But unfortunately, the numbers in the Nokia 1 add up to a slow, very slow phone. No, it will not make you pull your hair out in frustration, but it will definitely test your patience. The smartphone is not unusable and generally walks smoothly through the basics. The interface is uncomplicated and easy to use (clean Android). But the struggle to work at a decent speed becomes real once you open 4-5 apps in the background – the lags become more notable. Something as basic as scrolling on the smartphone at times became a pain, and even using the keyboard was a struggle on some occasions.
The experience was saved by the Android Go apps that came pre-installed on the device. Although these apps are not as feature-rich as their full-fledged counterparts, they at least gave us some stutter-free experience. It was not completely smooth, but given our experience with most other apps, we were happy that things were at least running. Though if you have used the full-fledged Google apps before, there is a high chance that you might get feel irritated with the Go versions of the apps. For instance, the YouTube Go lacks the Autoplay feature and keeps asking you the resolution at which you want to play the video, which can get annoying after a while. That said, apps like Google Maps Go and Google Go work smoothly, and Google Assistant’s Go avatar works well too.
The story is not all that different in the gaming zone, as well. The smartphone is not made for heavy gaming, but even casual games like Subway Surfer and Temple Run 2 had a few laggy hiccups every now and then. If you need to do anything beyond very basic Web browsing and e-mail on this phone, you are going to have to learn to live with lags and stutters.
Oh so ordinary cameras
In the camera department, the Nokia 1 comes with a 5-megapixel primary camera with LED flash and 2-megapixel front-facing camera. We did not expect the earth to be honest, but the cameras are honestly ordinary. The primary camera struggles in the detail zone. While most pictures seem passable on the phone’s display, they generally were hazy when transferred to computer screens. The smartphone also struggled to take pictures in low light, and the noise levels shot up as the lights dimmed, and handling glare was an issue too. That said, in good light conditions, the smartphone reproduced colors that were very close to real ones, something which many high-end phones fail to do these days. The smartphone also comes with fixed focus which means trying macros on the device was a huge struggle – you just cannot shift focus on it. The secondary camera on the Nokia 1 also did not give us much to write about – the selfies on the phone turned out to be grainy, and subjects had hazy edges, and the quality only went down with the light. A few years ago, we would not have analyzed the camera on a device with this price tag so closely, but thanks to Xiaomi’s Redmi 4A and 5A, the expectations have changed – the Nokia 1 just seems so out of sync with the times here.
Not so Nokia like battery
The Nokia 1 is powered by a 2,150mAh removable battery. While the figure does not seem impressive, we were expecting some power management magic here, given Nokia’s reputation. However, just like the number, the battery performance of the phone is not really impressive either. The phone can just see 7-8 hours of work on a single charge when used heavily and can barely even make through 12 hours straight under mediocre usage. A point to note, however, is that though the battery on the Nokia 1 is removable, we did not really find ourselves in a situation where we would need to take it out (except for when we had to put SIM card in the device) – for all the lags and lack of speed, the Nokia 1 never froze. The call connectivity on the device was good as we did not face any call drop issues with the device. The connectivity options on the device include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM, 4G VoLTE, GPS.
One love? Not so much
The Nokia 1 is priced at Rs. 5,499, which might seem affordable, but does not go well with what it offers. Yes, this potentially would have been a good smartphone for people who want to move from feature phones to smartphone and do not want to get overwhelmed by features, but it is let down by its performance. Oddly enough, the benefits of Android Go are not too visible. Be it a feature phone or a smartphone; no user likes lags. And then there is the fact that you can get a full-fledged version of Android (albeit a slightly older one) and much better hardware and way smoother performance on the Xiaomi Redmi 5A at a marginally higher price (Rs 5,999). The Xiaomi device also scores heavily in terms of camera performance and display quality. It is devices like this that have changed consumer expectations even at lower price points, and the Nokia 1 does not quite live up to them. Three years ago, we might have shrugged off lags at this price point, today they seem out of place.
Its intentions may be noble, its design might be delightfully retro, and the brand behind it might be formidable, but the Nokia 1 has definitely got its work cut out if it wants to be your first smartphone.