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Nokia 5.1 review

Fantastic design on a budget

Nokia 5.1 review
Image credit: TechRadar

Our Verdict

To look at, the Nokia 5.1 is a sleek, upper mid-range smartphone. It’s got a premium metal body, biometric security and an 18:9 screen that’s as sharp as many flagships. Dive inside, and the budget internals explain its aggressive pricing. But if you can live with little storage and want the best-looking phone for the price, the Nokia 5.1 fits the bill.

For

  • Best-in-class design
  • Great screen for the price
  • Fingerprint scanner

Against

  • Occasionally laggy UI
  • Mediocre camera performance
  • Bottom-firing mono speaker

The Nokia 5.1 is a pocketable, almost all-metal phone with classical styling and value for money that hits you straight between the eyes, and in the hands.

Its design outdoes pricier phones like the Moto G7 Play, delivering a rich, slender look and feel matched with an 18:9 screen.

Inside, it runs Android Oreo – or Android 8.0, as opposed to the latest release – version 9. Despite this, the interface is a clean take on Google’s operating system, and as part of the Android One program, the phone's OS is guaranteed for a couple of major software updates over the coming years, which is reassuring.

The Nokia 5.1’s front 8MP camera sits above the screen to take high-res selfies, while the rear camera crams in double the number of pixels, with a 16MP sensor. It can also record video up to Full HD as well.

Running on a MediaTek chipset which is paired with 2GB of RAM, entry-level specs suggest the Nokia 5.1 will deliver entry-level performance, and with 16GB of storage in the version we reviewed as well as microSD card support, storage options are exactly what we would expect for the price.

So while the Nokia 5.1 is limited in some ways there's a lot here to like, as we'll explain in this review.

Nokia 5.1 review

Image credit: TechRadar

Nokia 5.1 price and release date

  • Out now
  • £129 (around $165 / AU$240) SIM-free
  • Available in the UK and India

Unlike Huawei phones, Nokia handsets are seeing a major uplift in availability in the US, with the new Nokia 9 PureView launching in the land of the free at the same time as it launched in the UK and Europe.

Despite this, the Nokia 5.1 hasn’t had a US confirmation, with availability presently in the UK, Europe, India, and a few other regions. It can be picked up for £129, which converts to roughly $165 or AU$240.

Nokia 5.1 review

Image credit: TechRadar

Design

  • Metal body
  • Premium design
  • Bottom-firing speaker

HMD Global (the makers of recent Nokia phones) has struck a winning balance when it comes to the Nokia 5.1’s design – despite being affordable, it’s thin, well-weighted and looks great.

The phone looks and feels better than many pricier handsets, including the well-reviewed Moto G7 Play and Moto G7 Power. Its aluminum unibody is only interrupted by almost unnoticeable, seamless, plastic antenna bands at the phone’s top and bottom.

Nokia 5.1 review

Image credit: TechRadar

The metal core extends to wrap around the phone’s sides, creating a comfortable, curved frame at its edges. The fascia is shielded by a Gorilla Glass display, which delivers a rich tactility, all too often lost with plastic displays found in some budget devices.

The left side of the Nokia 5.1 houses two slots loaded up with pin-eject trays. One tray takes two SIM cards, and the other takes a microSD card.  When inserted, both trays are beautifully flush with the metal side.

Nokia 5.1 review

Image credit: TechRadar

At the base of the phone there's a micro USB port and a mono speaker, and the right side is where you can find all the buttons.

On the top edge you'll find the 3.5mm headphone port, and around the back of the phone there's a fingerprint scanner – which is in a natural to press, intuitive location. The back is also home to a slight camera bump which houses the single rear camera.

As for colors, the Nokia 5.1 is available in copper, tempered blue and black.

Screen

  • 5.5-inch IPS display
  • Super sharp, FHD+ screen
  • Gorilla Glass protection

5.5 inches is a comfortable size for a smartphone screen these days, and as a result, the Nokia 5.1, with its 5.5-inch LCD 18:9 display, is easy enough to navigate around one-handed, provided you don’t mind a little bit of thumb stretching when going for the corners.

Its screen delivers FHD+ (1080 x 2160) resolution – something almost unheard of in its price-category – with most phones under £150/$200/AU$250 capping out at 720p. As a result, you can expect a pin-sharp picture whether you’re watching HD content or thumbing through the UI or web pages.

So crisp is the Nokia 5.1’s screen, that with a sharpness of 439 pixels-per-inch (PPI), it’s not far behind that of the flagship iPhone XS, which has a screen sharpness of 458 PPI.

Image credit: TechRadar

Image credit: TechRadar

The screen’s color reproduction is impressive for the price too, though it isn’t perfect, with the white balance leaning towards the blue side of the spectrum. 

Viewing angles are fair, but not excellent, and so too are brightness levels. Outdoors on a spring day, you should be fine, but you’ll be struggling when outdoors at the height of summer.

The 18:9 aspect ratio is also worth noting. While most mid-rangers and high-end phones have joined the 18:9 club, the fact that the Nokia 5.1 delivers an elongated screen alongside an entry-level price is impressive.