HMD Global Nokia XR20 Hands-on Review: Built to Last


Tough doesn’t have to mean ugly anymore, now that HMD Global has introduced the Nokia XR20 smartphone, which it says, “can withstand anything life throws at it and look great doing it.” That’s quite a bold claim when by necessity, rugged phones usually look like they’re hidden inside a chunky, rarely very attractive case.

I’ve taken a look at the Nokia XR20 to see if it can live up to this lofty expectation.

Specs

The Nokia XR20’s toughness comes from several key features, starting out with the “military specification” MIL-STD-810H certification and an IP68 rating. This means it has survived drops from 1.8 meters and being in water down to a depth of 1.5 meters for up to an hour, along with exposure to dust and plenty more. The chassis is made from aluminum, the back panel from textured polymer, and it has Gorilla Glass Victus over the screen.

The Nokia XR20 in Ultra Blue color, seen from the back.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Under the Gorilla Glass is a 6.67-inch LCD screen with a 2400 x 1080 pixel resolution, and the ability to be used with wet hands or when wearing gloves. The phone has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 processor with either 4GB or 6GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB storage space, plus a MicroSD card slot. The camera module contains a 48-megapixel main camera and an ultra-wide-angle camera with 13 megapixels, each using Zeiss Optics lenses. An 8MP selfie camera is inside a central hole punch in the screen.

It’s a chunky beast at 10.64mm thick and 248 grams, but the battery has a surprisingly small 4630mAh capacity considering these dimensions and its status as a long-lasting rugged phone. Other features include 5G connectivity, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, a dedicated Google Assistant key, and a programmable button on the top of the phone too.

Nokia XR20 screen.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Android One based on Android 11 is installed, and HMD Global promises three years of version updates with the phone, and four years of security updates. It’s also covered by a three-year warranty if purchased in the U.K. or Europe, complete with a free screen replacement guarantee for a year. Warranty details for the U.S. differ, and HMD Global indicates it will come with a two-year extended warranty.

Design and feel

Make no mistake, the Nokia XR20 is a huge phone. It’s taller and wider than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and as thick as an iPhone 12 Pro inside a rugged case. You feel every bit of the 248-gram weight — this is even heavier than the Asus ROG Phone 5, known for its bulk — because of its overall size, but what’s interesting is it doesn’t feel like the classic rugged phone in your hand.

Nokia XR20 camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Instead, it feels more like a normal-sized phone placed inside a stylish, ergonomic rugged case. It’s very wide, and one-handed use is practically impossible if you have small hands, but it’s comfortable and natural to hold as it does not have any protrusions or guard sections on the body. The flat sides expose the metal chassis for a sleeker look, and the textured polymer back panel is grippy without looking industrial. There’s a subtle raised lip around the screen to protect it when placed face down, but it’s not so extreme that you feel it each time you swipe through menus. There’s a lanyard attachment in the bottom corner too.

There are a lot of buttons on the Nokia XR20. The Google Assistant button is large and easy to locate, which also means you will definitely press it by accident. There’s a programmable button on the top of the phone which can be set to perform a single action like turning on the flashlight or to dial an emergency contact after a long press. It’s almost flush with the body, so it’s unlikely you’ll do this by accident.

The fingerprint sensor is inside the power key and is centered on the right-hand side of the body. I found my finger naturally located the volume down key above it when picking up the phone, suggesting it’s a little too low down on the body for the size of my hands, and because it’s quite small and doesn’t have a texture it’s not immediately obvious where it is. It has been fast and reliable during my short time with the XR20 though, and the face unlock system is similarly responsive.

Using the XR20

I was a little concerned that the screen wouldn’t be very bright after my recent experience with the Nokia 5.4 and a quoted 550nits brightness on the XR20. It’s not bad at all here, and visibility in normal outdoor sunlight is fine with the brightness at maximum. Viewing angles are also better than the Nokia 5.4, and reflections on the screen are kept to a minimum, likely due to the Gorilla Glass Victus. The bezels are very large and the screen does appear to sit “under” them when examined closely, making the phone look a little old and cheap.

Android One is neatly designed and laid out in the same way as on a Google Pixel phone, so it’s very easy to use. I’ve tried this phone ahead of its announcement and did notice the screen is extremely responsive, and not really in a good way. It is currently very quick to react to touches and to autorotate when I didn’t want it to, so a software update may arrive before release to improve it.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 didn’t perform as well as the MediaTek Dimensity 700 when I tested them back-to-back recently, and I haven’t used it long enough to assess its performance on the Nokia XR20 completely, but it’s looking good. A browse of Twitter, YouTube, and Chrome showed it’s happy to switch between apps quickly without any annoying pauses, and picture-in-picture didn’t slow things down either. The stereo speakers also get very loud.

A couple of test photos showed decent consistency between the main and wide-angle cameras, but slightly muted colors when shooting with the 48MP camera. Indoors, it handled normal lighting conditions without a problem. Selfies are taken with the minimum of processing by default, for more natural tones. It’s a good start for the Nokia XR20’s camera.

Long-term ownership’s the draw here

The rugged body, Gorilla Glass Victus, IP68 water resistance, software and security updates for years, and an extended warranty mean HMD Global is giving you all the tools and security you need to keep the Nokia XR20 around for several years. At least until the software updates stop coming through in 2024.

The selfie camera and screen bezel on the Nokia XR20.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The fact that the XR20 doesn’t look hideous means keeping it is actually far more likely than with another, less well-designed rugged phone. Nokia’s claim mentioned at the beginning seems to hold true, then. However, there’s no getting away from the XR20’s overall size. It’s not a phone that will slip into a bag or pocket unnoticed, and I probably wouldn’t want to use it as my primary phone in everyday situations because of it.

It’s looking like a great secondary “lifestyle” smartphone for people who value style but perhaps engage in active sports or activities, where an all-glass phone may not survive.

Price and availability

The HMD Global Nokia XR20 will cost $550 when it is launched in the U.S. on August 24, and will only be available through Nokia’s online store in the 6GB/128GB configuration, and in the Ultra Blue color seen in our photos. It’s available for pre-order in the U.K. from July 27, with the 4GB/64GB version costing 399 British pounds/$552, or 449 British pounds/$621 for the 6GB/128GB model. It will also be sold in a Granite color.

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