Anyone who used a Nokia phone in the early days will have fond stories of the robustness of their handsets. These days the HMD Global made Nokia handsets have embraced that reputation with tough handsets designed to last, with the Nokia XR21 described as ‘Our Toughest Smartphone yet’.

A follow up to the ready for anything XR20 launched in 2021, the XR21 includes Millitary Spec durability (MIL-STD-810H) and 

Launched in Australia in May for $799, the Nokia XR21 comes in two colour choices, a classic Midnight Black – the colour they sent over for review – or Pine Green for those wanting a little flair. 

I’ve been using the Nokia XR21 for two weeks and here’s how it went.

Hardware and Design

With the label of their toughest smartphone to date, the Nokia XR21 certainly feels rugged – but it’s not an in your face design, simply a solid polycarbonate body that is designed to protect it from just about anything. 

Anything? Well, HMD Global have included a number of durability features like MIL Spec (MIL-STD-810H) certification which covers the ability to survive a drop from 1.8m, last in 1.5m of water for an hour, withstand a 100-bar pressure water jet at 80°C, operate between -20°C and +55°C (relevant for cold Canberra mornings down to -9°C) and still be good for 2-days of battery life. It even has an IP69K ingress protection rating for high-pressure water.

HMD Global are also willing to back up just how durable the phone is with a 1-year screen replacement guarantee – that’s awesome.

With all that on-board the Nokia XR21 still looks pretty decent, and sits well against the competition in terms of looks. The phone is slightly thicker than your average handset at 10.45mm thick and it feels a little chunkier in the hand which suggests the ruggedised nature of the phone. 

It still feels good in the hand, with the textured polycarbonate rear perfect for avoiding fingerprints, as well as offering excellent grip if you have wet or dirty hands. There’s the fingerprint sensor enabled power button and volume rocker on the right, with programmable keys on the left and top of the phone. 

These buttons offer ways to access shortcuts, apps and more when you’re unable to interact with the phone. It’s a great idea given that customers who buy ruggedised devices are more likely to use the device with wet (though the XR21 display is designed for this) or dirty hands, making a physical button much easier to press.

The base of the phone has the SIM tray, USB-C port and a speaker which pairs with the earphone for some pretty decent quality stereo sound up to 96 dB – that’s quite loud and with the AI on-board it can boost it further in noisy environments. There’s also a headphone jack at the top of the phone if you’re still using wired headphones. 

Of course looks aren’t everything, but the Nokia XR21 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G processor, 6GB RAM and 256GB of on-board storage. The 4800mAh battery on-board promises up to 2-days of battery life and 64MP Main & 8MP Ultrawide camera sensors on the back with a 16MP selfie camera in a punch hole notch in the 6.49” display.

The performance of the Nokia XR21 is excellent, there’s little noticeable lag when navigating the OS, loading apps etc. and the speed tests on 4G/5G are excellent. There’s small stutters as you switch between large games and apps, but for the most part it’s a well performing phone. 


The 6.49” LCD display on the Nokia XR21  is quite good, with excellent brightness thanks to the 550 nits support on the panel. It’s bright enough to work well outdoors, even in fairly direct sunlight.  

The display is also super smooth with the Adaptive Refresh Rate able to support up to 120Hz – though you can opt to stick at 60Hz, saving yourself some battery life in the meantime. 

It’s covered in Gorilla Glass Victus which is another arrow in the quiver that is the ruggedised Nokia XR21, so scratches on the display are essentially non-existent. 

There is some bezel around the display but it’s not overly distracting and unlike some of the curved displays out there there was no issue with phantom touches. 

Overall the Nokia XR21 display is smooth, bright and produces some excellent colour reproduction – and best of all, it has that one year screen replacement guarantee if you do run into issues. 


The Nokia XR21 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 processor, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of on-board storage (No there’s no microSD card). 

For the previous model, I had some concerns over their Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 processor being underpowered, but with the move to a higher tier processor it’s made the world of difference. The phone is more fluid and apps load quickly, though for larger apps there can be a small delay, but nothing egregious.

Of course I ran them through Geekbench and 3DMark and here’s how it went.

Battery Life and Charging

The Nokia XR21 4,800mAh battery will last for up to two days says HMD Global, with the phone supporting 33W wired fast charging. Unfortunately you don’t get a charger in the box, but you do get a USB-C cable. If you want a charger, Nokia sell the compatible one for $39.95

In terms of battery life, the Nokia XR21 kills the 2-day battery life estimate, even with decently heavy usage. Lighter usage got me through to three days.

In terms of charging, the 33W wired charger charges fairly quickly though you’re still looking closer to an hour and a half to charge the phone to full.


The phone includes an AI camera system using a 64MP Main sensor & 8MP Ultrawide sensor on the rear and a 16MP selfie camera on the front. The rear sensor is covered in scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass with DX+, adding to the durability of the phone. 

In terms of quality, the 64MP main sensor offers a decent quality shot in good lighting conditions. The AI capabilities of the phone means that the software on-board will ‘bin’ the photos, stacking data from four pixels alongside each other to create an image around 16MP in size.  There is a digital zoom up to 8x, though I found 2x zoom was about the best option to ensure minimal loss in quality.

The low-light performance is a little hit and miss, with some photos really looking great with sharp details, while some can be a little blurry or not able to capture enough light for the AI to work its magic.

The ultra-wide sensor offers some utility but you do lose some quality when  you use it dropping from 64MP on the main sensor to 16MP. The pics are the same size, though the Ultra-Wide doesn’t stack the images. 


The Nokia XR21 comes with Android 13 installed with the July 5th Security update and January Play Store security patch which is updated via Over-The-Air update to July 1st when you check it. 

HMD Global have promised four years of monthly security updates with the Nokia XR21, as well as three years of OS updates. It’s excellent software back up to a phone that has three years of warranty.

 It’s a clean install of Android, with no skin to get in the way. There’s the usual Google apps installed as well as some utilities including an FM Radiop app and the My Device app which offers tips for using the phone, recommended apps and even a health check-up. There are a couple of apps which appeared in my clean install of Android, notably the Netflix app, LinkedIn, and ExpressVPN. These are all relatively easy to get rid of by simply uninstalling to save yourself some space. 

Overall it’s a clean Android experience with the usual Google apps pre-installed alongside some bloatware which can easily be removed and because it’s so lightweight, it helps the phone feel fast and fluid when using it. 

Should you buy it?

The Nokia XR21 is a great option for anyone looking for a ruggedised handset that’s going to be able to take the day-to-day punishment that you need it to.

This is a phone that’s ready to take essentially anything that you or the Aussie environment can throw at it without missing a beat. The updated processor means you’ll have very few issues with performance, the battery life is great and the camera is quite good for a higher end mid-range handset. 

There’s few ruggedised smartphone options on the market, thankfully the Nokia XR21 is an excellent option with plenty of great features and smooth performance. 

You can check the Nokia XR21 out online from Nokia, or in-store at JB Hifi.