At the low-end of the budget segment, there’s not too many choices when it comes to smartphones with stock Android software. Offerings from Xiaomi may give you great value for money, but not everyone is a fan of MIUI, even though the custom skin has improved drastically with MIUI 12. And let’s not even get started about software updates. MIUI 12 is still stuck on Android 10, whether it’s the budget Redmi 9 Prime (Review) or the premium Mi 10T Pro (Review).
For those of us who prefer bloat-free (and ad-free) software, it’s basically down to two smartphones brands -- Nokia and Motorola. For years, Motorola was the king of the budget segment, but after brands like Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo showed up, it disappeared for a while. About a year ago, it reappeared. Motorola did its homework and gradually started introducing budget devices that stack up well against the competition.
With Nokia, that’s not really the case. Cursorily, Nokia’s smartphones offer you pure and unadulterated Android One software, with the backing of Nokia’s reliability. But delve deeper, and things are not upto the mark, whether that’s the mid-range 7.2 or the phone I have used for a week, the Nokia 2.4. While it gets you the budget smartphone experience, the under-powered chipset rears its ugly head from time to time. And when you stack it up against the competition, it does not make for a pretty picture.
Everyone’s jumping on to the Nordic design trend these days. Marketing mumbo jumbo aside, I instantly fell in love with the rather practical design of the 2.4. I received the Charcoal (grey) option that felt solid and reliable out of the box.
The design spells quality through and through, whether it’s the well-rounded glass screen of the display or the cutouts for the ports and the speaker. It’s made out of painted polycarbonate, but the dual-tone gradient grey/black finish does not feel cheap. Add to that a super-fine ridge-like texture at the back that adds plenty of grip, apart from feeling unique.
It’s definitely better than the shiny faux glass backs that the competition throws at you in this price range. And since it’s basically painted plastic, the finish captures no fingerprints whatsoever. The Nokia 2.4 is one of those smartphones that feels solid enough to convince you to not slap a case on to it. Still, Nokia does provide a clear TPU case in the box.
The dedicated Google Assistant button is a nice touch, and you will need it when the phone is locked with the screen turned off; as you cannot summon the assistant when the display is turned off.
It’s a decent display, but that’s not the problem
With an HD+ resolution, the 6.5-inch display is not really sharp, but it gets the job done for day-to-day app use. If you have clear vision like I do, it’s easy to see the display matrix when you view the display off-centre.
The colours feel a bit muted, and the panel does not get bright enough in direct sunlight. The brightness levels also drop quite a bit when you view the display off-centre. There’s also a thick chin at the bottom edge, but that’s fine when you keep in mind the 2.4’s budget price tag.
My problem with the LCD display was more to do with the lack of Widevine L1 support for video streaming. This meant that most video streaming services I used only supported SD quality. It compounded the problem that this is a display with an HD+ resolution, spread across a massive 6.5-inch footprint.
This is not new to me. Streaming quality complications are always a mess with most budget smartphones. While Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar and Amazon’s Prime Video only supported SD quality, YouTube allowed me to stream at 720p, and the quality was as expected.
Android One on a budget
Stock Android is the sole reason why most Nokia phones stand out from the crowd. And the 2.4 does Android quite nicely, being a part of the Android One program. It’s as simple and barebones as Android can get, and the only extra apps that I came across were the My Phone and FM Radio apps.
For the most part, the software feels smooth with hiccups from time to time. But there’s noticeable lag when you launch apps and switch between them. Fire up the camera app and switching camera modes takes a whole second, which can get annoying for some. And with just 3 GB RAM, most apps don’t stay open in the background for long. So, you end up waiting for apps to restart as when you try opening them from the recents menu.
Again, all of this is not running on Android 11 (as one would expect), but Android 10. Nokia does promise 2 years of software updates, so for those who want stock Android, this is as good as it gets. It’s just that I kind of expected Android 11, since it’s a part of Google’s official Android One program.
Performance is passable
If you are looking for a smartphone where you can fly through apps, multi-task and play some 3D games on, the Nokia 2.4 is not for you.
As mentioned in the software section of this review, performance in day-to-day use is just about passable and feels more entry-level (Rs 7,000) than budget (Rs 10,000).
Nokia’s hardware choice of 3 GB RAM and a MediaTek Helio P22 is not great. And these create bottlenecks for what one expects to be a smooth, no-nonsense Android experience.
Despite the paltry amount of RAM, I still gave 3D gaming a shot. While the phone is capable of running simpler games like Subway Surfers and most casual 2D/3D titles, it’s clearly not made for any graphic-intensive 3D games. Call of Duty: Mobile worked best at Low graphics and Low frame rate and was not enjoyable nor exactly playable. I also tried out Asphalt 9: Legends; the game surprisingly ran smoothly but at a really low resolution and texture setting. In short, the 2.4 is not meant for gaming.
The selection of ports on the phone is a mixed bag. Nokia gives you a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the top, but you have to settle for a micro USB port at the bottom. The audio quality through headphones was good enough given the phone’s budget pricing, but the bottom-firing speaker was a bit too soft. It just was not loud enough for day-to-day use, especially when placing a call.
A decent camera with a good Night mode
The 13 MP camera takes some sharp-looking photos in broad daylight, commensurate with its price tag. The dynamic range is pretty good, but the camera has a tendency to overexpose. Indoors under artificial lighting, things get a bit tricky. Your subject also needs to be really still, as any movement can lead to a blurry image and loss of detail. This applies more to the ‘Portrait’ mode than any other mode, as the camera takes a few seconds to shoot an image.
Once the sun sets, the detail and sharpness visible in the daylight photos take a complete u-turn. Street-lit scenes around sunset show a lot of noise that kills the detail in most images. Thankfully, there’s a ‘Night’ mode that pulls off an impressive job, given the camera’s otherwise average performance. Switching to ‘Night’ mode sees drastically improved low light performance (provided you can keep your hands steady), but I’d recommend using it only when the lighting gets too dim or post sunset. This is because you can get better photos in the standard shooting mode, provided there’s a natural source of light.
Click here to see camera samples:
Video quality is decent, given the phone’s price tag, which also means that videos are best shot in daylight. Stabilisation is absent, and you get a choice of 720p or 1080p recording options at 30fps.
The 5 MP selfie camera takes slightly overexposed selfies and things are good as long as you don’t go to the ‘Portrait’ mode. While edge detection in this mode is decent, the background usually goes for a toss, as the camera attempts to expose the subject right. Selfies in low light come out quite soft and colours get quite muted, so they aren’t exactly usable unless you use the screen flash, which again makes the subject look unusually pale because the screen flash isn’t bright enough.
Battery life you can bank on
With casual use (which is how most will end up using the Nokia 2.4), I got about a day and a half of battery life on a single charge. That’s pretty much the norm for smartphones in this segment. This included emails, constantly being on WhatsApp, flicking through Instagram feeds every two hours, and about an hour of video streaming. While proper gaming is clearly out of the picture, the phone’s biggest battery drainer turned out to be video streaming apps. This was a bit strange, as the most video streaming apps would not even stream in HD but rather SD. Still, the 4,500 mAh battery turned out to be reliable, and did not die out on me at any time during the review period.
And this is a good thing, as charging the smartphone takes over 3 hours! Yes. Nokia offers a 5 W in-box charger that takes around three and half hours to charge the phone from 0-100 percent. To be clear, such charging speeds are slow even for most entry-level smartphones in 2020.
Should you buy one?
Despite its shortcomings, the Nokia 2.4 is a decent smartphone for those looking out for a stock Android-powered device. The icing on the cake for such customers is that Nokia also promises two years of Android upgrades, which means Android 11 will make it to this phone (whenever it's available). And then there’s that subtle, unique Nokia design. But that's right about where the excitement ends for this budget offering from Nokia, as everything else is not up to the mark and feels more entry-level than budget.
Motorola’s E7 Plus offers much better specs and a similar stock Android-like interface. It even has a better-performing Snapdragon 460 chipset that should allow some decent gaming performance, a better 48 MP camera, 4 GB RAM for better multi-tasking and a bigger battery with a tolerable 10W charger.
If you are fine with skinned Android software, the Redmi 9 Prime is a better choice at Rs 9,999 (for the base 4 + 64 GB variant) and delivers some creature comforts such as a better FHD+ display, Type-C USB, 18W charging support (10W charger in the box) for that massive 5020 mAh battery and a flexible quad camera setup.
The Nokia 2.4 was not the company’s first attempt at a budget smartphone. Nokia had launched its 2.3 last year (at Rs 8199) that while looking cool, also suffered the same fate as its successor. The 2.2 before that was a proper entry-level device (at Rs 7999), so that was still passable around mid-2019.
With changing times, smartphone segments (what you get in a particular price bracket) have been evolving. This is more to do with the cut-throat competition between brands than anything else. What was once considered the premium segment (Rs 35,000 and Rs 50,000), is now the low end of the premium segment, thanks to the launch of smartphones like Apple’s iPhone X and more recently, the Samsung Galaxy Fold 3. Similarly, expectations have changed in the 10K segment, which is the low end of the budget smartphone segment. And with the 2.4, it seems like Nokia just didn’t get the memo.
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