With the Nokia 5.4, HMD Global introduced just a few improvements compared to its predecessor, the Nokia 5.3 – mainly the design and the camera. Considering how the Nokia 5.4 fails to make any huge leaps in change, I would say that there is no reason for owners to go ahead with an upgrade. Of course, this advice will fall on deaf ears only if you are head over heels in love with the design of this handset! I would very much prefer you to pick up a far more powerful handset at the sub-€200 price point.
What are the changes made here?
Nokia 5.4 makes no qualms about it being a smartphone found in the lower mid-range, of which you can pick up a 2019 handset for €200 thereabouts. HMD Global, the owner of Nokia, has to go head-to-head against other established brand names such as Xiaomi, Realme, and Motorola in this department. These are no ordinary names, considering how they offer plenty of value-for-money in this particular segment. One advantage that Nokia has would be this: secured licenses for Android One, and hence they offer one of the purest Android experiences with guaranteed operating system updates for at least two years.
Comparisons with the Nokia 5.3
In order to provide a fair review, I also ordered the Nokia 5.3 for comparison’s sake. As we were unable to review the Nokia 5.4 when it was first released, I will update this article as time passes by based on any new impressions that I have experienced. However, the most important differences are as follows:
Differences: Nokia 5.4 vs. Nokia 5.3
|Feature||Nokia 5.4||Nokia 5.3|
|SoC||Snapdragon 662||Snapdragon 665|
|Display||6.39-inches with punch hole notch||6.55-inch with waterdrop notch|
|RAM||4 GB||3, 4 or 6 GB|
|Main camera||48 megapixel, f/1.8||13 megapixel f/1.8|
|Front camera||16 megapixel f/2.0||8 megapixel f/2.0|
|Current price (according to Geizhals)||around €205.90 with 128 GB||around €165|
As you can see, the differences between the two devices are not that clear cut. Due to the smaller display, the Nokia 5.4 is not all that smaller although it has shed some weight along the way. As the most notable differences are the respective processors underneath their hoods as well as the cameras, I’ll pay close attention to the Nokia 5.3 with these aspects in mind.
Here the Nokia 5.4 convinces
Android One as an operating system
Right off the bat, I must confess that I have always been rather partial to Android One. As a long-time Pixel user, stock Android is just simply too nice to look at, where there is a careful balance between animation and speed. While I have always turned the animation off in the developer settings on cheaper smartphones, the OS will still run smoothly in most cases with animation turned on.
On top of that, having Android One in the Nokia 5.4 guarantees you security and OS updates for at least two years. Don’t get me wrong – a mere two years is considered as a positive for Android smartphones, but in reality it is actually a pittance (while iOS users find this hilarious compared to at least 4 to 5 years of OS updates on their iPhones). However, there’s something else about the Nokia 5.4’s operating system that bothers me, as you’ll read later under the section of what I don’t like.
It looks great
As I mentioned earlier, I am a long-time Pixel user and also had the opportunity to review the Pixel 4a 5G in 2020. In terms of design, the Nokia 5.4 comes close to being a lite version of the budget Pixel smartphone. The index finger feels right at home thanks to the clever placement of the fingerprint sensor at the back, while the punch-hole notch in the upper left corner of the display also reminds me of the Google smartphone.
To that end, the Nokia 5.4 offers a similar kind of plastic feel that I found myself pleased with in the Pixel 4a 5G. Yes, while the smartphone has a polycarbonate back, it still does not feel cheap to the touch or poorly made. Pressure required to keep the buttons responsive enough happens to be just right, while the bezels surrounding the 6.55-inch IPS panel are slim enough to be pleasing to the naked eye. Props to Nokia for the upgraded vibration motor that delivers a more pleasant feedback than that of the Nokia 5.3.
In my opinion, the latter in particular makes for a valuable overall impression in the Nokia 5.4. The vibration motor doesn’t rattle as much as before, and seems to be more precise in nature. The matte look at the back of the Nokia 5.4 does offer additional grip, and this makes for a nice touch.
Surprisingly beautiful photos
Probably the most significant upgrade from the Nokia 5.3 to the 5.4 would be the main camera. This is because it no longer restricted to a maximum of 13 megapixels, but hits the 48 megapixel mark nicely. The upgrade allows the phone’s software to combine four pixels into one. The so-called pixel binning method is the latest craze in current camera smartphones and the results are pleasing enough to look at in the Nokia 5.4. This is how the pictures look like with an effective resolution of 12 megapixels:
For a smartphone camera, I found the colors and exposure surprisingly realistic. While other manufacturers quickly make HDR shots look unnatural or oversaturate the colors, HMD Global holds back and finds a good middle ground, at least for me.
However, Nokia should have upgraded the other cameras as well. Because as soon as you switch to the ultra-wide-angle camera, the picture quality goes down the drain. The differences in color and lower sharpness level are particularly noticeable in the ultra-wide-angle mode. The portrait mode is okay for selfies, it continues to be a work-in-progress for any other subjects.
The quad-camera is probably an afterthought in the Nokia 5.4 more for the marketing buzz as opposed to making it snap better photos. That’s a shame, really, but this happens to be the reality in mid-range smartphones. However, I would like to make one final comparison in terms of photography by providing samples of shots taken with the Nokia 5.3.
The Nokia 5.3’s pictures almost have a certain kind of Lomography charm, but barely make the cut to deliver iconic shots. Hence, an upgrade in the optics department is sorely needed and adequately filled with the Nokia 5.4, and hopefully, this is one trend that will continue in future Nokia 5.x models – with the inclusion of better macro, ultra-wide angle, and front camera performance to boot.
Mid-range smartphones have, for some strange reason, turned out to be a real goldmine for smartphones with long battery life. Consider the Realme 7i or the Motorola Moto G9 Power, which are capable of outlasting most flagships in terms of battery life thanks to their 6,000 mAh cells.
The battery in the Nokia 5.4 isn’t quite as impressive at 4,000 mAh, but it still provides a pleasant 2-day worry-free battery life experience. Throughout the entire review, 48 hours was a realistic figure to hit even if you aren’t exactly careful with power consumption and, for example, consciously disable Bluetooth connectivity when you don’t need it.
Of course, battery life continues to be strongly dependent on the usage pattern and context, but I can at least testify to a two-day lifespan with a clear conscience. However, this is also due to the display with a mediocre HD+ resolution and the biggest point of criticism, which I will now directly address.
This is where the Nokia 5.4 disappoints
Display with limited viewing angles
While displays in budget smartphones continue to steadily improve, I wonder which spare parts bin did Nokia raid for the Nokia 5.4. The 6.39-inch IPS panel carries a paltry 720 x 1,560 pixels in resolution and is far too dark for my liking. Even on cloudy days, it was difficult to compose an image while snapping photos, because that is when the display fails to deliver as a decent viewfinder.
In 2021, to include a display that is so dependent on the viewing angle is sheer suicide
. I almost had to give the phone screen a bit of a nostalgia bonus, reminding me strongly of my first Compaq notebook from almost 10 years ago. Because even if you turn the Nokia 5.4 a little bit from the left to the right, colors will change, forming a clearly visible haze over the display. If there wasn’t a notch that informs me that this is a modern-day smartphone, I would almost have claimed that the LCD panel was sourced from an abandoned warehouse somewhere.
The Nokia 5.4 uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 662 SoC and offers no upgrades in terms of performance from the 5.3, which has the Snapdragon 665. Both eight-core chips feature four “high-performance” processors running at up to 2 gigahertz and four power-saving cores running at 1.8 Ghz. The Adreno 610 graphics chipset is common to both SoCs. As a tiny advantage, Qualcomm distinguishes the Snapdragon 662 as WiFi 6 Ready, through which the Nokia 5.4 can connect to WiFi 6 networks, but even so it does not benefit from all the advantages of WiFi 6.
However, I would describe the overall performance when using the smartphone as “underpowered”. Apps take quite a long time to load, there were delays in the operating system despite having disabled animations, while the long loading times of mobile games are not really something anyone would look forward to, as the graphical performance isn’t up to par. There are smartphones in the same price range that shine with significantly more processing firepower.
Unfortunately, it is still too expensive
This brings me to my next point: the Nokia 5.4 is either too expensive for what it offers, or it’s not quite in the same league as other mid-range smartphones. It’s a bad sign whenever a new smartphone is introduced with its predecessor in mind as opposed to keeping up or even overtaking devices by other manufacturers.
However, the competition in the sub-€200 price range is really tough. Xiaomi continues to put up a decent fight for the throne of “value-for-money king” with the Redmi Note 9 Pro, while even unveiling a 5G-capable smartphone earlier this year with the Note 9T that cost just €199.90 at launch, with the RRP inching up to just below €220 after the early bird promotion.
Other alternatives include the Samsung A40 with an AMOLED display, the Realme 7 with a significant increase in performance, or the Huawei P40 Lite, which has a really good camera. The Nokia 5.4 does a bit of everything, but it doesn’t stand out in any way in the sub-€200 category. That effort is simply not good enough to make a mark in the current market sentiment.
Technical data at a glance
Since I concentrated on the important aspects of a smartphone in this review, here’s the spec sheet:
Nokia 5.4 Datasheet
|Display||60 Hertz 6.39 IPS LCD with HD+ resolution (720 x 1,560 pixels)|
|Size (HxWxD)||160.97mm x 57.99 mm x 8.7 mm|
|SoC & Memory||Snapdragon 662 / 4 GB / 64 or 128 GB / expandable by 512 GB|
|Cameras||48 MP main / 5 MP ultra wide / 2 MP depth / 2 MP macro / 16 MP selfies|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 4.2 LTE , 802.11 b / g / n / GPS / NFC / USB-C|
|Audio||2 microphones, OZO audio, 3.5mm jack, mono speaker|
|Battery capacity||4,000 mAh, charging at 10 watts, no wireless charging|
|Operating system||Android 10 pre-installed, “Android 11 ready”|
|Price & Colors||€219 / Polar Night / Dusk|
Conclusion: Looks great but skip it otherwise
Looking over my list of pros and cons, I’m a little annoyed. Not only does this Nokia carry so much potential in the 5.4 compared to its predecessor, it fails to live up to the opportunity given to drive a message to its competitors. Instead, it is content with doing just a wee bit better than its predecessor. In fact, I could basically tell the two smartphones apart only by the presence of a notch in the Nokia 5.4. HMD Global is also ruining the reputation of a sub-€200 smartphone.
This is because other manufacturers have been excelling at value-for-money propositions for years now, paving the way to show consumers that one can still enjoy decent performance without breaking the bank. But if you decide to buy the Nokia 5.4 because you finally found a cheap smartphone that suits you, you will end up with a lame duck that comes with a trio of pretty ordinary cameras and a display that seems to be a throwback to the past. Sorry Nokia, but you failed miserably this time around.