Review: The Nokia 5.4 just might be the best cheap


Nokia 54 Lifestyle 011Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

Okay, I have to be honest with you.

I went into this Nokia 5.4 review without very high expectations. After all, how excited can you really get about an Android phone that is under $300 in this era where the best Android phones can cost well over $1,000, and even so-called “value” flagships are approaching $800? As it turns out, after using it for a little over a week so far, the Nokia 5.4 has excited me quite a bit.

I like to picture myself as a champion of affordable tech, so long as it’s good affordable tech. My personal daily carry is usually the $350 Google Pixel 4a rather than the more expensive $700 Google Pixel 5. I prefer to wear a minimalistic and affordable fitness tracker to a fancy expensive smartwatch, and I’d rather rock out with an Echo Dot or Nest Mini than a high-end Bose or Sonos system. What can I say? I’m basic; it’s just how I roll.

The Nokia 5.4 isn’t a perfect phone, and if you must have the absolute cutting-edge in smartphone tech, then, well, you probably didn’t click on this article in the first place. However, if you’re someone who is looking for a good bargain, you’ve come to the right spot. This is a phone that I am most definitely going to be recommending to those looking for a quality, long-lasting, affordable device. It’s also one that I can see myself using quite a bit for the foreseeable future.

Nokia 5.4 review:

Nokia 5 4 Official RenderNokia 5 4 Official Render

Nokia 5.4

Bottom line: Coming less than a year after its predecessor, the Nokia 5.4 is a decidedly iterative update to the 5.3. However, it boasts a much-improved camera to go along with a decent display, excellent battery life, and top-notch software and update schedule. If you can’t afford phones that cost $300 or more, you can’t really do much better than this.

The Good

  • Clean Android One software experience
  • Two years of software updates and three years of monthly security patches
  • NFC capable
  • Eye-catching design and colors
  • Dual-SIM and microSD card support
  • Quality primary and ultra-wide cameras

The Bad

  • Ships with Android 10
  • Slow fingerprint sensor
  • No official waterproof rating
  • No wireless charging

Nokia 5.4 Price and availability

Nokia 54 Lifestyle 6Nokia 54 Lifestyle 6Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

As the much-anticipated successor to the popular Nokia 5.3, the Nokia 5.4 was introduced in mid-December 2020. It went on sale in Europe and other select markets shortly thereafter. It became available in the U.S. on February 15, 2021, for $250 at various third-party retailers, and can also be found on Nokia’s U.S. website.

Nokia 5.4: Design

Nokia 54 Lifestyle FrontNokia 54 Lifestyle FrontSource: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

By this point, most smartphones look pretty much the same, at least when viewed head-on, and that’s certainly the case here with the Nokia 5.4. This phone’s face greats you with a 6.39-inch HD+ IPS LCD that is at 720p. It features a small, hole-punch 16MP selfie camera cutout in the top left corner and has noticeable, though minimal, bezels along the sides. The forehead is also minimal, though the chin is a bit larger, accomodating the Nokia name/logo.

Spec nerds will probably get upset with this display, but I think it looks just fine in practice. No, scratch that. It’s pretty great, actually. I know that most Android phones have long since moved on from 720p displays, but as someone who often uses an iPhone, I can tell you that they’re not that bad. I didn’t mind a 720p-ish display when I regularly used an iPhone XR, and I don’t mind it here either. Colors are bright and vibrant, text is crisp, and video watching is an enjoyable experience. Trust me, for most use cases, this display is going to be just fine.

The Polar Night and Dusk colors are really beautiful; pity they are fingerprint magnets too.

The 5.4 comes in two colors — Polar Night, the beautiful deep blue version that came on my review unit, and Dusk, an equally gorgeous purple hue. Both have a diagonal line pattern in them which makes it appear that the phone is textured, but alas, that’s just for show. This handset is as smooth they come.

There is the slightest bit of give if you squeeze the phone in the middle back portion, but other than that, it feels well put together with no gaps or creaking. It sports a capacitive fingerprint sensor on the back for security and authentication. The sensor works well, but it is a tick slower than most I’ve used, especially the capacitive variety.

The 5.4 is not a small phone by any stretch of the imagination, as it just barely fits in the footprint of something like the Galaxy Note 10+ or Note 20. It’s also a little on the slippery side; at least, it seemed that way to my butterfingers. Because of its size and slipperiness and the fact that it is a major fingerprint magnet, I might reluctantly suggest that you put one of the best Nokia 5.4 cases on your device to protect it if you’re prone to drops.

However, if you like to rock your phone au natural, then you can still feel somewhat safe without a case. The device is made of plastic (polycarbonate), and it comes with a pre-installed screen protector, so it should stand up to all but the most dramatic scratches, scuffs, and drops.

Nokia 5.4: Specs and Performance

Nokia 54 Lifestyle 010Nokia 54 Lifestyle 010Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

Category Nokia 5.4
Operating System Android 10
Display 6.39 inches, HD+ IPS LCD, 720 x 1560p, 269ppi
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 662, 8-core, 4×1.8GHz
Graphics Adreno 620
Memory 4GB/6GB
Storage 64GB/128GB DriveTech
Expandable Storage up to 512GB via microSD
Rear Camera 1 48MP primary ƒ/1.8 aperture
Rear Camera 2 2MP depth
Rear Camera 3 5MP ultra-wide
Rear Camera 4 2MP macro
Front Camera 16MP
Security rear fingerprint sensor, face unlock, pattern/PIN unlock
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, LTE Cat 4, Bluetooth 4.2
Ports USB-C, microSD, dualSIM, 3.5mm audio combo jack
Audio Ozo Audio speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack
Battery 4,000mAh
Water Resistance NA
Dimensions 6.34 x 2.99 x .34 inches
Weight 6.4 oz
Colors Polar Night (blue), Dusk (purple)

The Nokia 5.4 doesn’t look all that different than its predecessor, but there are a few updates and improvements to note, as well as a possible downgrade or two.

For starters, the phone is slightly shorter and narrower than the 5.3, though it is essentially identical in thickness and weight. The front sports a hole-punch selfie camera cutout rather than a teardrop notch, and there are now two stylish color options instead of the previous model’s lovely Cyan and bland Black options.

The biggest improvement here, at least on paper, is the cameras on the 5.4. Last year, the 5.3 shipped with a 13MP primary sensor on the back, whereas the 5.4 sports a 48MP primary shooter this year. The remaining three cameras — depth sensor, ultra-wide, and macro — are all relatively the same.

Saying that the CPU change a downgrade might be a bit of a stretch, but you drop from a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 in the 5.3 to a Snapdragon 662 in the 5.4. Aside from that, you get the same 4,000mAh battery, the same 512GB expandable storage option, the same dual SIM support, and the same 3.5mm headphone jack.

Speaking of that battery, Nokia boasts that it can “fast charge” at 10W, which I think is playing a little fast and loose with that phrase. I found charging to be pretty slow compared to my other devices. However, the battery performance does live up to Nokia’s claims. The standby time is fantastic, and since it’s not pushing around a ton of pixels and has a modest processor, it has no trouble lasting you two full days if you manage things right.

Nokia 54 BottomNokia 54 BottomNokia 54 TopNokia 54 TopSource: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

Calling the 662 a modest processor might be a little harsh too. I had no problem with day-to-day performance, scrolling, or app switching. Thankfully, the phone comes with NFC for contactless payments, though it doesn’t sport any official IP water or dust resistance. It is available with 64GB or 128GB of storage, and there are 4GB and 6GB RAM options. Finally, I just wanted to comment on the haptics: they’re actually really good, especially for a “value” priced phone.

Nokia 5.4: Software

Nokia 54 Front 1Nokia 54 Front 1Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

Aside from their low prices, one of Nokia phones’ best features in recent years has to be their software support and experience. For the most part, Nokia devices feature a near-stock Android user interface, with an excellent track record for updates.

Android 11 has been out for months now, yet this new phone doesn’t come with it out of the box, and that’s kind of a bummer. To be fair, Nokia’s webpage says that the 5.4 is “primed and ready for Android 11,” and reports are that it will receive the update sometime in the first quarter of 2021 (so, any day now).

You may not get Android 11 right away, but it’s coming soon. And Android One makes it feel Pixel-like.

This situation isn’t ideal, however, the company does still promise two years of platform updates, as well as three years of monthly security patches. Plus, it runs Android One, a platform that delivers a near-stock or Pixel-like experience to non-Google-produced phones. There is virtually zero bloatware; only an FM radio app and a Nokia My Phone app come pre-installed. The rest is all Google!

If you like the basic Pixel experience, but can’t, or don’t want to, pony up another $100 for the Pixel 4a, then you can get nearly there with this Nokia. That’s a pretty powerful value proposition if you ask me. If you’re looking for one reason to buy this phone over others in this price range, that’s it right there, folks.

Nokia 5.4: Cameras

Nokia 54 Lifestyle 3Nokia 54 Lifestyle 3Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

As mentioned in the specs section, the 5.4 came out a mere nine months after its predecessor, with very minimal changes. Why would Nokia do that? Well, one of the reasons appears to be a new camera setup. So what all does this new camera system entail, and is it any good?

First off, let’s talk about the camera placement and arrangement. All four cameras are grouped in a circular module centered at the top and rear of the phone. Personally, I really like this placement. It looked great on the OnePlus 7T, and it looks great here. Not only is it symmetrical, but it helps a somewhat ordinary-looking phone stand out a little more amidst a sea of sameness with left-justified, vertical camera modules.

The macro sensor is meh, but the ultra-wide and primary cameras are decent.

Three of the four rear sensors, the depth, ultra-wide, and macro, appear nearly identical to the previous model. There is also a 16MP front-facing camera, and you can record cinematic video up to 4K resolution at 30fps. The real upgrade here is in the primary sensor, which jumped up from a 13MP to a 48MP sensor.

As you can see from the samples from the primary sensor below, the image quality from the 48MP sensor is quite good in they daylight shots I took:

The ultra-wide-angle camera doesn’t produce images quite as detailed as the primary camera, but they are “good enough” and do a pretty good job at exposing more of the scene.

Finally, we come to the macro camera. It’s only 2MP, and it asks you to hold the sensor within 4cm of your subject, so results for me were hit or miss. This first shot of the snail on the rock is actually quite detailed (pay attention to the bark of the tree… the panting itself was a little blurry), though the darker painted rock and leaf are not as good. Admittedly, some of the blame falls on my shaky hands, but the quality isn’t great either.

Nokia 5.4: competition

Nokia 5.3Nokia 5.3Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central

If you’re considering your other options vs. the Nokia 5.4, you may just want to look at some of the other best Nokia phones like last years’ Nokia 5.3. Like we mentioned above, this phone technically has a faster processor, and now that the 5.4 is out, you can get it for well under $200. Plus, it has a couple of years during which it will still receive software and security updates.

Speaking of last year’s phones, you should definitely look at the Moto G Power (2020), which we currently list as the best cheap Android phone. It sits at a similar price point and has a better display and processor than the Nokia 5.4. In fact, we even liked the Moto G Power (2020) better than the Moto G Power (2021).

Finally, the TCL 10L is a great looking and great performing device for the price. It has an impressive display, customizable Smart Key, and really clean software.

Nokia 5.4: Should you buy

Nokia 5.4Nokia 5.4Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

You should buy this if …

You have a limited budget

Times are tough, and money doesn’t go far these days. At least with the Nokia 5.4, you don’t have to spend a lot to get a good value.

You need good battery life

With a 4,000mAh cell, 720p display, and mid-range Snapdragon 662 processor, your battery can reliably last two full days.

You care about software updates

Nokia promises two years of Android updates and three years of monthly security patches. Compare that to Motorola’s phones in this price range, which get one update, at best.

You should not buy this if …

You are a real pixel peeper

As I’ve stated, I think the 720p IPS LCD looks pretty good, but it won’t hold up against the Super AMOLED, Quad HD+ displays on premium flagships from Samsung and others.

You need IP-rated waterproofing

It’s an inexpensive phone, and some things have to be cut. Water-resistance is one of those things.

You want advanced biometrics

This phone doesn’t have secure facial recognition, nor does it have a fast in-display fingerprint sensor. It sports a capacitive sensor and a slow one at that.

4 out of 5

Android is a wonderful OS with a vibrant device ecosystem in large part because of its software flexibility and the virtually unlimited amount of hardware choices. You can find phones at almost any price point, with countless permutations of features, from the most basic burner to $2,000 foldables. Surprisingly, the number of options is largest the less you have to spend, which can make choosing a quality, affordable phone quite challenging.

After spending time with the Nokia 5.4, I think it just may be the best option for folks who are looking to spend no more than $250 on a quality device. It provides a big, bright screen, a smooth software experience, and pretty darn good cameras in a nice-looking package. You get two platform updates and three years of security patches in an OS experience that looks pretty much like that on a Pixel. There’s not much you could really ask for for the price.

Nokia 5 4 Official RenderNokia 5 4 Official Render

Nokia 5.4

Bottom line: Coming less than a year after its predecessor, the Nokia 5.4 is a decidedly iterative update to the 5.3. However, it boasts a much-improved camera to go along with a decent display, excellent battery life, and top-notch software and update schedule. If you can’t afford phones that cost $300 or more, you can’t really do much better than this.

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