Reviews

Nokia 5.4 review – Balance on a budget

HMD Global launched their latest mid-range smartphone, the Nokia 5.4 in Australia earlier this year offering a big 6.39-inch screen, Quad-camera array with zero shutter lag and 2-Day battery life. 

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That’s a lot of phone for $329, and it has the bonus of carrying the Nokia brand, a brand dripping in nostalgia for older customers, while younger customers are simply attracted to the great pricing and specs. 

I’ve been enjoying using more low and mid-range devices like the Nokia 5.4 lately. This end of the market has gotten quite exciting as higher end specs move down to the lower tier models.  

At $329 it’s a hard phone to go past and I’ve been using the Nokia 5.4 for a bit over a week and here’s what I found. 

Hardware

The Nokia 5.4 runs a pretty decent spec list with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor with 4GB RAM and 128GB of on-board storage with a microSD card as well. 

This setup works fairly well for the most part, though it tends to struggle with multi-tasking and you may just have to wait for a beat or two while the phone catches up every now and then. It’s not constant though and you’ll be able to make calls, play games, surf the web and stream videos or music with ease. 

There’s a big 6.39-inch display on the phone, though it’s only HD+ – 720×1560 – resolution. As a screen it does the job, though it could be a little sharper and this resolution is par for the course in this market. Nokia does need to watch the competition however with higher resolution/refresh rate displays appearing on models priced just a little higher.

HMD Global lists a 2-day battery life with the Nokia 5.4 thanks to the 4,000mAh battery and with the right kind of use it can certainly offer that. In my testing I found battery life varied from a full-day use up to almost 2 days of use with a decent amount of screen on time.

The battery supports ‘10 W fast-charging’ which does the job, but is stretching the concept of ‘fast charging’. Given the competition is offering 18W, and even up to 30W fast charging it would be nice to see some improvement here. 

The design of the phone is pretty standard – but it looks great in the two colours available – Polar Night (Blue) and Dusk (Purple). I have a soft spot for this purple colour that was sent for review, though the rear of the phone is a little slippery and tends to attract fingerprints. 

The easy way to avoid fingerprints is to use the TPU case included in the box, always a great bonus to find that included with a phone.

There is a fingerprint sensor on the rear which is conveniently placed, though can be a bit slow unlocking the phone. The phone also comes with a fingerprint sensor gesture to drag down the notification bar which I disabled as I found myself accidentally activating it on a regular basis.

If you don’t want to use the fingerprint unlock you can use other options including PIN, Password, or the on-board face unlock however this option is extremely slow. 

The Nokia 5.4 includes a Google Assistant button on the left hand side – Volume rocker and Power on the right – and while it’s useful for some people I’ve simply disabled it after accidentally hitting it a number of times. There’s a multitude of ways to activate the assistant on your phone so you probably won’t miss it, but if you like it, it definitely activates quickly.

Camera

The camera setup on the phone includes a quad camera setup which has almost-zero shutter lag. This rear array includes a 48 MP main camera with 5MP Ultra-wide and 2MP Macro sensor with a 2MP depth sensor as well. In the punch-hole notch on the phone display there’s also a 16MP selfie camera. 

The photos on the Nokia 5.4 are quite good with the 48MP main sensor offering a decent 12MP final shot. As with most cameras in the budget range the lighting counts, and outdoors the photos look great, though inside there are a few issues with the different lighting conditions.

The phone has a decent night mode but it does need a little patience to get the focus correct – and there’s definitely a pause while the AI takes in as much light as possible, so ensure there’s no motion in frame.

The phone includes a Macro camera, which is a divisive inclusion. The theory goes that you can zoom quite well to Macro level with Telephoto, but for now, there’s a Macro camera on board and well, it works.

Similarly you can use an Ultra-Wide option, though the ultra-wide sensor is only 5MP, so you’ll find differences in quality between the standard and ultra-wide shots.

Portrait mode is also pretty decent, giving you a clear line between the in-focus foreground subject and the background. 

Software

The Nokia 5.4 – and indeed most of the Nokia range – comes with Android One based on Android 10. 

Android One is a version of Android for manufacturers that is bloat free, and includes at least two guaranteed OS updates, and three years of security patches.

The phone includes Android 10, though it’s labelled as ‘Android 11 ready’ on their website. To date there’s no sign of the Android 11 update, however the Nokia phones have been steadily updated so I expect it fairly soon. 

The phone does include the February 2021 security update, though the March update should be here shortly.

Nokia’s Android One build is as close to stock Android as you can get, though Nokia does include a few system apps on-board – well, two My Phone and FM Radio. As bloat goes, this is exceptionally good. Google doesn’t yet make an FM Radio app, so you’ll need that, and My Phone gives you some tools for managing your phones memory, storage and performance – but also includes some HMD Global community stuff which is a bit off-putting, but not a deal breaker. 

Overall, software on the Nokia 5.4 is great. As a close to stock Android experience as possible means there’s no overhead for loading custom skins into memory and hence the performance – for the most part – is smooth and fast. 

Should You Buy This Phone?

There is a LOT of competition in the sub-$400 phone market, and as component prices start coming down, the quality of handsets in this price range is rising fast. Nokia phones have kept up with the changing landscape and the Nokia 

For $329 you get a decent spec list in the Nokia 5.4, and backed up by Android One with regular updates, it’s hard to beat. 

That said, the competition is hotting up. You can nab a RealMe 6 with a higher resolution display and faster refresh rate for $369 – however this phone lacks the regular updates that Nokia phones receive, so it’s something to think about if your budget extends to that.

Overall, the Nokia 5.4 is a solid option for the price. There’s compromises on performance, but they’re not show-stoppers. The Nokia 5.4 is reliable, looks fantastic and has a perfectly good camera, specs & great battery life and makes a great choice for anyone looking for a reliable new phone to get them through a few years.

Nokia 5.4 review – Balance on a budget
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