Nokia 5.4 Review: Keeping it simple might just be the point

As budget phones begin to adopt more attractive value propositions, Nokia are in a nice position to maintain its reliable reputation, but are they doing enough with the Nokia 5.4?

Though Apple is now playing heavily in the mid-range, and wallet-friendly Android options are solid from the likes of Samsung, Google, and Oppo, Nokia still holds quite well, and so it’s at least worth a look to see how their less expensive series is faring.

The Nokia 5.4 isn’t the best example of value, but it’s an important step for a brand looking for their own shoulder space in a market that’s more competitive than ever. Still, you can’t help but feel that Nokia held onto the 5.4 for a long time before releasing it into a market where they are almost immediately outclassed by similarly priced competitors. Could that have been the case? Is the 5.4 just a misfire that wasn’t released on time? Or are Nokia smartly putting out an average phone at a time when people are beginning to look for phones that they actually want to use less?

Design

For all it’s shortcomings, at least the Nokia 5.4 manages a sturdy build despite the use of cheap materials. Whether you’ve got the Polar Night or Dusk version, the rear of the all-plastic body is at least fascinating to look at it. The gradient catches the light from different angles, shimmering constantly to create a flowing look.

Aesthetics don’t make up for the fact that this a real fingerprint-magnet. Although I’ve played around with wildly more expensive phones that have even worse issues, so it’s not something that the Nokia 5.4 loses points on.

On the front you get a nice 6.39″ HD+ 720p display with a punch-hole selfie camera and a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. That’s standard for a budget in 2021, and falls more into the “it’ll do the job” pile without wow’ing with generosity. At a time when some competitors are offering 1080p displays at this price point, it’s a bitter compromise for anyone looking for smoother, brighter visuals.

There’s software to help boost the visuals and at least offer a nice, accurate spectrum of colour, but it only boosts saturation and brightness somewhat. Not near enough to say the display is anything but mildly satisfying.

I do like the circular rear set-up for the quad camera system. It’s a neat way to position the cameras on the centre of the phone without having the relegate them to a corner. The set-up is led by a 48MP primary that bins down to 12MP stills, a 2MP macro a 2MP depth, as well as a handy 5MP ultra-wide. While none are overly impressive, having a nice wide-angle at this price point is valuable.

Performance

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 is the engine here, and it’s good enough to keep the phone moving along smoothly with average use. Push it any higher and things will start to fall apart. Although it’s ability to play nice with the battery is an undeniably strong point here. With all its issues, at least the 5.4 delivers a strong performance for a battery life that’s much closer to two full days than a lot of competitors.

With 4GB RAM, expect the phone’s movement to wade thicker for more demanding apps. But if you’re only using this for the essentials – calls, e-mails, light browsing – then there is no reason to stay away from the 5.4. Especially for older users who may want to avoid the temptation of spending all day on their phone.

At least you have two years of OS upgrades with Nokia, who are one of the only Android-compatible phones to run stock Android for a cleaner and more “pure” experience. If you can’t afford a Google, and you like stock Android more than some of the more proprietary builds, Nokia is one of the best picks out there.

Camera

All the lenses have narrow fields of view, shoot average stills, and aren’t given much assistance from software. It’s fine if you don’t really need to snap memories onto the phone, but there are budgets out there with better shooters. There’s a real risk of Samsung and Oppo leaving Nokia for dead if they don’t improve the 5-series cameras.

Battery

As mentioned above, Nokia have at least done the 5.4 a solid with the battery life. With 4,000mAh, the phone packs a punch and can last a long time for those that aren’t pushing it with constant Netflix streaming or gaming – two things that wouldn’t perform well on the phone anyway. 10W fast-charging is nice, but still falls behind some of the competition. Expect a full battery after 3.5 to 4 hours of charging, but don’t make the mistake of expecting anything faster than that.

Which is a problem, really. With a battery that lasts for so long, it’s easy to get complacent about keeping the phone topped up. On work days, that can be a bit annoying. If you suddenly notice you’re on 10% and you’re running late for work, plugging this in while you take an hour to get ready won’t give you much juice for the commute.

Verdict & Value

The Nokia 5.4 is uninspiring, but it’s still a reliable phone. Increasingly, attention has been put onto budget phones not just because they are more affordable, but because they offer less. And there’s a market for that. We spend too much time on our devices because higher-end phones do a lot, and they do it efficiently.

There’s real utility in owning a phone that unashamedly pares back the experience of having an attention-sucking handheld device. Yes, I’m pretty much saying the Nokia 5.4 is valuable simply because you’d want to use it less, but there are tangible benefits to that.

I’m sure HMD Global don’t want the 5.4 to become known as “the phone so average that you don’t want to use it as much.” But hey, at least there’s value in that.

TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Less distractions; very clean stock Android experience; reliable battery life; decent display; 2 years of updates; sturdy build despite all-plastic frame and rear.
Lowlights: Very average cameras; loose idea of fast-charging; terrible audio (use with headphones)
Manufacturer: Nokia
Price: $329

Product supplied for review.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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