Nokia 5 review

This low-cost Nokia demands patience

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Our Verdict

It's the best-looking phone at its price point, but isn't as sharp in use as its rivals. Battery life struggles when pushed, and load times can be lengthy.

For

  • Surprisingly premium metal design
  • The latest stock Android software
  • Fingerprint scanner provides security

Against

  • Photos can be a little dark
  • Storage fills up fast, microSD card a must
  • Load times can be sluggish

Update: Black Friday is now just around the corner, and a number of retailers are taking advantage of the deals season bonanza to give the Nokia 5 some significant discounts - if you're looking for something that brings a clean Android experience coupled with a decent metal design, this is a strong choice, although read our full review to see a couple of places where the Nokia 5 isn't as strong before you buy.

The Essential Review

This is TechRadar’s review summary that gives you all the key information you need if you’re looking for quick buying advice in 30 seconds - our usual full, in-depth review follows.

The Nokia 5 sits a little awkwardly, between the better-equipped Nokia 6 and eye-catchingly cheap Nokia 3.

It’s not that it’s a bad phone, but its bigger brother doesn't cost that much more, so it would be easy to chuck in a little extra cash for the 6 – or, if you’re really looking to save the pennies, you might be better off with the 3.

Don't discount it just yet though. The Nokia 5 is the best looking smartphone in its price bracket, with its all-metal body providing a premium finish that could easily be seen a more expensive device.

The 5.2-inch HD (720p) display is crisp and clear, although the colors don’t exactly jump out of the screen, while the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner on the front of the handset is a big plus adding an extra layer of security and an easy way to unlock the phone.

We’d have liked to have seen a stronger showing from the battery, with considered usage gaining you a day of use from a single charge, but gaming, video playback or music streaming will see you running out of juice by early evening.

The 13MP rear camera looks great on paper, but in practice images tend to look dull and lack clarity – while the camera app itself is sluggish. The slow performance extends to the whole device though, and you’ll need to be patient to be able to live with the Nokia 5’s load times.

Who’s it for and should I buy it?

The Nokia 5 is aimed at anyone looking for an affordable smartphone from a brand they trust – and few manufacturers can boast the history and appeal to nostalgia that the Nokia name carries.

It's especially attractive to those with a keen eye for style, but without pockets deep enough for a flagship, or even sub-flagship, device. Just because you’re paying less doesn’t always mean you have to compromise on design.

You won’t find a more premium finish on a smartphone that costs this little, and as long as you’re willing to be patient, and are less into gaming and movies and more into emails and social apps, then you’ll certainly enjoy the Nokia 5.

Nokia 5 price and availability

  • Launch price (Aug 2017): £179.99 (around $200, AU$275), R13,499
  • Available in UK from August 16, India from August 15 - 3GB variant in November

The Nokia 5 has been on sale since August, landing for £180 in the UK with 2GB of RAM. However, in November 2017 a 3GB variant has been launched in India, for the price of R13,499 to give it a little extra power and more choice for those that want more from their Nokia 5.

The best-looking phone in its price bracket

  • Premium all-metal body oozes style
  • HD display is clear, but lacks color pop
  • Fingerprint scanner is nice addition at the budget end of the market

The compact form factor of the Nokia 5 is something which may sway prospective buyers towards it, and away from the bigger Nokia 6.

It’s a more ergonomic design, with the curved edges nestling comfortably into the palm, and you can reach anywhere on screen with your thumb.

Nokia 5 specs

Screen size: 5.2inch
Resolution: 720x1280
Battery: 3000mAh
Front camera: 8MP
Rear camera: 13MP
Weight: 160g
Dimensions (mm): 149.7 x 72.5 x 8
OS: Android 7
CPU: Snapdragon 430
RAM: 2GB (3GB variant in India)
Storage: 16GB + microSD

Crafted from a single block of 6000-series aluminum, the Nokia 5 has a surprisingly premium construction for a phone with such a low price tag. It feels like a more expensive phone when you pick it up, and that’s great.

Another bonus of the Nokia 5 is the presence of a fingerprint scanner below the screen, which also doubles as the home navigation key. Digit readers tend to be reserved for pricier devices, so it’s good to see the tech filtering down the tiers, and especially to a device as cheap as the Nokia 5.

You can pick the Nokia 5 up in four different colors: copper, black, silver and blue.

The 720p HD display is bright and clear, giving a good level of detail to images and text alike. You can comfortably read emails, watch videos and enjoy gaming sessions on the 1280 x 720 screen.

It’s not overly vibrant when it comes to color reproduction, and if you put this LCD panel next to an AMOLED screen you’ll notice it’s duller to the eye. In isolation though, and considering the price you’re paying, it’s hard to knock the screen on the Nokia 5 too much.

Nokia 5 design gallery

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Battery life

  • A day of battery life from a single charge if you’re lucky
  • Video and gaming really take their toll
  • Charging is slow

The Nokia 5 comes with a 3,000mAh battery, which if you’re someone who doesn’t tend to game or watch video on their phone should last you a full day on a single charge.

You’re highly unlikely to get more than a day from the Nokia 5 though, with a nightly plug-in required to see you through the next day.

And if you like to use your phone for streaming music and gaming, the Nokia 5 will require a top-up come mid to late afternoon if you want it to last until bedtime.

With an average daily usage of a couple of hours of Spotify streaming, around an hour of gaming, social networking, emails, messaging and a few calls we usually found ourselves plugging in before we left work to ensure the Nokia 5 lasted the commute home and the evening.

We ran our 90-minute HD video battery test on the Nokia 5, with Wi-Fi connected and screen brightness on full, and the handset lost a huge 37% of its juice. 

While you’re unlikely to watch a movie at full brightness on this phone it’s a good indication of how quickly the Nokia 5 can drain when it’s pushed; by comparison the Moto G5 lost 22% in the same test.

The phone is charged via a micro USB port on the base of the handset, but there’s no fast charging here. It means the Nokia 5 takes a while to top up, so if you’re going out for the night you’ll want to put it on charge at least an hour before heading out the door to make sure you get a decent slug of juice.

Camera

  • Slow to load and focus
  • Images can be muddy and lacking in color
  • It suffices for the odd social post

The Nokia 5 has cameras, sure – two of them to be exact. But you’re unlikely to be winning any photography competitions thanks to them.

Round the back the main 13MP camera sounds promising on paper, but in practice it’s sluggish, and doesn’t always produce good pictures.

Even with HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode enabled we still found images could look a little dark, and a lack of detail and color was a common theme throughout our shooting experience.

If you’re patient, letting the app load up and the focus settle, you can get some decent shots if the lighting is good, and we found the Nokia 5 performed pretty well up close – but it’s far from a fluid shooting experience.

There’s no manual or pro mode to give you control over settings such as shutter speed and white balance, but at this end of the smartphone market that’s no surprise.

The app itself is simple to work out. There’s a large centralized shutter key, while quick settings at the top of the screen enable you to switch between the front and rear cameras and toggle the flash, timer and HDR settings.

You can also use the volume key to snap shots, which is sometimes much easier than hitting the on-screen button, especially when it comes to selfies.

The 8MP selfie camera on the front is good enough for the odd Snapchat and Instagram post, plus there’s a beauty mode built in if you’re not looking your best.

Camera samples gallery

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Even with HDR, areas in shadow can be darker than expected
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Again, the sign here is darker than we'd like, even though that's where the focus is
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Low light shooting is okay, but images can look muddy and lack detail
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There's a basic brightness control on the Nokia 5, tweaking it can produce nice shots
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Indoor shooting is also okay, but images tend to lack clarity
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Colors can look a little muted in images from the Nokia 5
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The Nokia 5 can struggle to pick out fine detail, such as the hair on this cat
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Take your time and frame your shot with good light, and the Nokia 5 can take good photos
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Up close the Nokia 5 performs well, with good detail on this figure

Anything else I should know?

  • Pure Android is clean and easy to use
  • Performance is slow, but it runs everything
  • Storage fills up fast, so a microSD card is a must

The Nokia 5 isn’t going to blow you away with slick performance, and that’s no surprise considering the price tag, but what it does offer is a pure Android experience.

It runs the latest version of Google’s software – Android 7.1.1 Nougat – which means it’s bang up to date, and with no heavy interface overlaid by HMD, owners of this phone shouldn’t have to wait too long for an update to Android Oreo when it launches later this year.

In fact, the latest version of Android is being offered as a beta test already, so it won't be long before you can get your hands on an updated version of the software for everyone.

The standard suite of Google applications are preinstalled, and that’s it. There’s no additional bloatware, so you have a clean canvas on which to install the apps and games you want, without ones you don’t want getting in the way.

Under the hood the Nokia 5 comes with a Snapdragon 430 chipset and 2GB of RAM, pretty much the expected setup at this price point. In terms of the performance this delivers… well, you’ll need to be patient.

Load times are noticeable, but during our review time with the Nokia 5 we didn’t find an app or game it couldn’t run. Sure, it’s not got the zip of a flagship device, but it’s a quarter of the price and it’s far from unusable.

We ran the Geekbench 4 app on the phone, and it turned in an average multicore score of 2,765. That puts it in the mix with the equally priced Moto G5 (2,377), Honor 6X (3,275) and Wileyfox Swift 2 Plus (2,073).

What this means day-to-day is that the Nokia 5 is perfectly capable when it comes to web browsing, messaging, social media and emails; and although you’ll need to be patient if you’re firing up more intensive apps or games, as this is a phone that goes at its own pace, it will still run them at a playable level.

The fingerprint sensor below the display is generally responsive, but there is a slight delay as it detects your digit and wakes the phone, and there were a few times when we had to present our finger more than once before it was recognized and the handset unlocked.

It’s good to see the biometric tech included in a low-cost handset though, and another nice addition on the Nokia 5 is Google Assistant, giving you a useful AI that can answer your questions, organize your day and update you on your commute. To launch it you press and hold on the fingerprint scanner/home key.

There is one big factor about the Nokia we need to address; the issue of storage on the handset. 

There’s 16GB of space inside the phone, but 7.5GB of that is taken up by the Android system straight out of the box – leaving you with effectively half the space to actually use for your apps, games, videos, music and photos.

We had filled up this storage within two days of getting the Nokia 5, with a few large applications including Micro Machines, Spotify, Facebook and Pokemon Go all taking up a fair whack of space.

Thankfully the Nokia 5 does come with a microSD slot, a second tray on the left of the handset below the one for your nanoSIM. The phone can also ‘adopt’ the card storage, meaning it sees it as part of the internal storage of the handset, rather than an external resource, which makes saving data to the card easier and quicker.

In short, if you buy the Nokia 5 make sure you invest in a microSD card of at least 8GB.

The single speaker on the base of the Nokia 5 doesn’t produce particularly great audio, with a lack of bass and tinny sound meaning you’ll only want to use it for gaming or watching the odd video.

Its placement also means it’s easily covered by your hand when you hold the phone in landscape orientation, giving you even more reason to grab a pair of headphones and plug them into the 3.5mm jack at the top of the Nokia 5.

Video playback is passable, and you can comfortably watch YouTube videos and TV shows on the Nokia 5. You won’t want to watch a movie on the phone, though, as the smaller screen size and slightly muted colors won’t do them justice, and those who like full HD or higher resolution will be out of luck here.

You can also game on the Nokia 5, but again patience is required. Demanding games such as Micro Machines and Pokemon Go are playable, but load times can be lengthy.

Even more simple games, such as New Star Soccer and New Star Cricket, take a little time to load, but once you’re up and running the performance of the Nokia 5 doesn’t hamper gameplay – we didn’t feel like the Nokia 5 was ever negatively impacting our performance in online races in Micro Machines, for example.

The phone does get rather warm during extended periods of gameplay, and if you’re playing consistently for over an hour games can crash on the Nokia 5.

Not convinced? Try these:

If the Nokia 5 isn’t for you, then we’ve picked three excellent choices for you to consider instead. 

Nokia 6

If your budget can stretch just a little, it's worth looking at the Nokia 6. It boasts a larger, full HD 5.5-inch display and more RAM under the hood for slicker performance.

It also comes with the same premium, all metal body as the Nokia 5, making it feel more expensive than it actually is.

Moto G5

Motorola's G series has been the gold standard for cheap smartphones for a few years now, and 2017's Moto G5 is no different packing a tidy selection of specs into a compact package.

The design isn't as premium as the Nokia 5, but overall performance and camera quality is superior here.

Honor 6X

The Honor 6X is another handset that offers a larger, higher resolution display than the Nokia 5 (5.5-inch full HD) - although you will have to pay a little more for the privilege.

With an impressive power, a solid build and simple to use software the 6X is a good choice if you don’t want to spend much money.

First reviewed: July 2017