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(Pocket-lint) - Nokia has given its X20 phone a twist, putting an R for rugged in the title and giving it a tough makeover.

Nokia say that this is the toughest phone its ever made, yes, tougher than the Nokia 3310, the phone that launched a thousand memes. Our first impressions of this phone were divided, but as we've come to use the phone for longer, it's actually a pretty good device.

Design and build

  • 171.64 x 81.5 x 10.64mm, 248g
  • MIL-STD 810H, IP68
  • Grippy finish

The Nokia XR20 looks at first glance like the Nokia X10 and X20 phones, but in a case. Rather than the smooth finishes of those phones, Nokia has instead built in a lot of protection to make this a phone that will last longer and survive drops.

It looks as though it's got a case on it, using a combination of a rubberised finish with exposed metal sides. The result is a thicker device, but we're talking millimetres, so it's not really bulkier as a result of the tough treatment.

Pocket-lintNokia XR20 review photo 10

It's pretty heavy though at 248g, but the finish of the phone means its easier to grip than a lot of devices with a smooth finish - you're much less likely to drop it - and we've found this to be really effective. Sweaty hands, or in the rain, this phone feels a lot more secure than most premium devices do, while it also avoid fingerprints and scratches, something that main glossy devices are prone to.

The bodywork extends forwards a little so there's protection around the edges of the display, and is raised around the camera on the back. These little details are great, because if you place your phone screen-side down, it doens't actually touch the surface. The same applies to the camera housing - and it all adds up to fewer scratches on the device itself.

There's IP68 water and dust protection, as well as MIL-STD 810H drop protection, with an eyelet on one corner incase you wanted to attach a lanyard to it.

Pocket-lintNokia XR20 review photo 16

The sides and buttons are also higher quality than the X10 or X20 - they look better and feel better, with an addition button on the top - called the emergency key - which can be programmed to a range of functions, from launching an application, to turning on/off the torch, Wi-Fi, screenshot - pretty much anything you can think of.

It can also be programmed for a long press - which can include dialling an emergency number - so it's a useful addition.

Pocket-lintNokia XR20 review photo 15

There's a Google Assistant key, with a lovely textured finish, while the fingerprint scanner it built into the power button. This allows for simple unlocking and we've found it really responsive, but it is prone to phantom touches, so occasionally you'll try to unlock the phone and it will tell you there have been too many failed attempts, most likely because it's detected your palm while handling the phone and counted that as a failed attempt.

There's a chunky speaker grille across the top of the phone for the ear speaker and unfortunately this isn't a load speaker - so there's only a mono speaker on the bass of the phone. This offers plenty of volume but the quality isn't great - so for videos or playing games, you'll found the sound a little lacking. There is a 3.5mm headphone socket, however.

Overall, it's a big phone, but most of that comes from the screen size - the in-built protection is welcomed meaning you don't have to buy a separate case. Nokia's aim here is really to provide a phone that lasts longer - and thereby reduce the number of devices discarded after a year or two. The bodywork certainly feels up to the task, while there's also a 1-year free screen replacement service, so if you do break the display with the first year (the most common thing that breaks on phones), the Nokia will replace it for you.

Display

  • 6.67-inch, 2400 x 1080 pixels, 60Hz LCD
  • Gorilla Glass Victus
  • 550 nits brightness

The display on the XR20 is essentially the same as the X10 and X20 models - the same size, the same resolution, the same refresh rate, the same everything - except the top layer.

Using Gorilla Glass Victus means that this phone should be better able to withstand scratches - and after a few weeks of use, it still looks as good as new. Victus is the strongest glass that Corning is currently offering to smartphone manufacturers and while it's been used on some flagship devices, it's rare elsewhere. It's used on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example.

Pocket-lintNokia XR20 review photo 3

There's a punch hole camera in the display, although it's a little brutal, perhaps a little larger than it needs to be and you can seen some discolouration around it, but that's not a huge problem.

The display size is certainly an advantage, although this isn't the highest quality display you'll find. The colours are a little muted compared to some of the similarly-priced rivals using AMOLED, the Samsung Galaxy A52 for example. It's only 60Hz which some might see as a downside, but if you're not used to a faster refresh rate, you probably won't notice the difference. 

But there's plenty of detail and it has the power to cut through bright conditions when outdoors. Speaking of being outdoors, the polarising layer runs along the landscape plane, so if you have polarising sunglasses, this phone blacks out completely in landscape - not great for taking photos.

Pocket-lintNokia XR20 review photo 4

So, not technically the most proficient display you'll find at this price point, but it equally doesn't have huge cricital failings - it's just not hugely exciting, apart from the size. If you spend your time watching Netflix movies in bed, you'll likely find it perfectly good.

Hardware and performance

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G
  • 4/64GB or 6/128GB + microSD or dual SIM
  • 4630mAh, 18W wired, 15W Qi wireless

So far, everything has been pretty reasonable. Big display, lots of protection in that rugged design - and then we get to the core hardware and the thing that might cause some to question the positioning of the Nokia XR20.

At its heart is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G, the same hardware as the X10 and X20. For those who don't know, this hardware is the first step on the Snapdragon ladder, with 600, 700 and 800 series hardware above it. It's usually present in the affordable end of the market, and the price of the Nokia XR20 stands out - it just looks expensive given this hardware - especially when you can get non-rugged devices with more power, for less.

Pocket-lintNokia XR20 review photo 2

But this is a new generation of Snapdragon 400 series hardware and the performance takes this beyond what we've seen at this level before. Indeed, it will better some of the older Snapdragon 600 series hardware you'll find in some device - so it's not as bad as it might seem. 

In daily use, the Nokia XR20 is fast enough. It will cut through your apps and keep you connected - it has integrated 5G - and everything runs smoothly. It also offers a pretty good experience on more demanding apps like games. We've first up Call of Duty Mobile, and while the experience isn't as good as it is on more power phones, it's still perfectly playable.

That's important, because the question is really what you want your phone to do. The pitch here is for a device that's going to keep you connected, do everything you want it to and last a long time - and in that regard, it's a pretty good experience.

Pocket-lintNokia XR20 review photo 1

The 4630mAh battery is pretty big and it gives this phone great stamina in lighter use. Nokia says you'll get 2 days from a single charge and for some that might be possible - but the downside of lower power hardware is how hard it has to work when you ask it to do something demanding - like play a game. This will see the phone draining faster than some, but as with all things, the life will depend on the usage. 

There's going to be no prizes for the 18W charging speed (there's also no charger in the box), but the inclusion of 15W wireless charging will tick a box for some people, adding the convenince of just being able to drop it onto a Qi pad. 

Overall, it's not the performance of the Nokia XR20 that will raise questions, it's the performance for the price - especially if you're looking at the more expensive 6/128GB model. You do get microSD card support, although this is in a shared tray, so it's either dual SIM or single SIM with microSD. 

We've found calls to be perfectly good from the Nokia XR20 and we've had no problems with connectivity. 

Camera

  • Dual camera system:
    • Main: 48MP, 0.8µm, f/1.79, AF
    • Ultrawide: 13MP, 1.12µm, f/2.4, FF
  • Selfie: 8MP, 1.12µm, f/2.0, FF
  • Dual LED flash

Nokia has mixed up the cameras on the XR20 compared to the other X phones, which boast a quad camera. This could actually be a good thing, however, as Nokia had dropped the depth sensor and macro sensor that the X10 and X20 offer - and those are usually just junk anyway.

Pocket-lintNokia XR20 review photo 13

Instead you have a 48-megapixel main camera - the same as the X10 - and a 13-megapixel ultrawide sensor, which seems to be unique to this phone. 

Nokia's app will let you skip from 0.6x (ultrawide) through 1x (the main camera) with a shortcut for 2x zoom, which is digital. There's further digital zoom out to 8x if you want to go further. You might not want to, however, as the quality drops off pretty quickly even in perfect conditions when you start using this digital zoom. 

The main camera is good enough for most daily shooting. It's simple, but it gets the job done and given good light it will return some pretty good shots - but it's easily flummoxed with the HDR system sometimes throwing out some pictures that look a little gloomy, or underexposed. 

In low light the quality drops off quickly, but there's a night node that will allow for a longer exposure. This is better for still low light shots, but if it's too dark, you really don't get might - it's more of a dusk mode than a night mode.

The ultrawide camera isn't very sharp but will give you some nice shots in the right circumstances - but blurring towards the edges is pretty common. 

The front camera does the job and isn't too exciting, with a portrait mode that's not hugely precise with edges and can be a little brutal. 

Nokia pushes its cinematic video modes as a point of differentiation offering 21:9 shooting, if that's what you want, while the regular video capture offers 1080p at either 30 or 60fps.

Software

  • Android 11
  • Some additional apps
  • 3 years of Android updates

The whole point of the Nokia XR20 is to give you a phone that will last, so you don't have to just throw it away. Tackling that on the hardware front is all that protection built into the bodywork, and on the software front you get 3 years of Android updates.

That will mean this phone will get updated until 2024, which is pretty good - along with 4 years of security updates too.

Pocket-lintNokia XR20 review photo 5

Nokia used to talk about Android One all the time, saying that phones were "pure, secure and always up to date". That messaging has changed slightly, but the Android One branding still appears on the phone when you start it up.

What's strange is that despite this notionally being "pure" Android, there's some preinstalled apps - Spotify, Amazon and ExpressVPN. The point of Android One is that you didn't get preinstalled bloat that you might not want - although you can remove these apps, so it's not the end of the world.

From a software perspective, however, we like the Nokia XR20. Like many of Nokia's phones, it's just a clean Android experience and we've found it to run smoothly without any problems.

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Verdict

The Nokia XR20 is an interesting phone and once in the hand, there's something about the rugged finish we really like. It has been designed to take a little abuse and that's likely to appeal to certain users who want protection but don't want a case on their phone.

The daily experience of the Nokia XR20 is great - it runs well, the battery lasts long enough and the display is capable enough to give you a decent experience. But we do question the pricing at this hardware level as it still feels a little expensive, but find yourself a discount and you're looking at a pretty good rugged phone that fits into daily life.

There are other rugged phones on the market, but the Nokia XR20 doesn't feel like it's been built for the building site. It feels like it has been built for everyday use, for people who just want a phone that's not going to smash on the first drop.

Writing by Chris Hall. Originally published on 27 July 2021.