Nokia G21 review: Budget that shows

What's The Best reviews the Nokia G21 smartphone. It's budget, but can it deliver?

Nokia G21 review smartphone being held in hand

by William Lobley |

The Nokia G21 is an upcoming smartphone priced for UK consumers on a budget. At this price, users should be looking for a handset that’s going to deliver then a sturdy performance on basic applications, allowing them to access all of the essential and light recreational tasks demanded by modern life. Is the Nokia G21 the answer? What’s The Best’s William Lobley reviews it to find out.

Nokia G21

Nokia G21
Amazon

View offer

Available in Nordic Blue and Dusk

Specifications
Display: 6.5-inches, 720p
RAM: 4GB
Memory: 64gb, MicroSD up to 512GB
Camera: 50MP, 8MP, 2MP
Network Speed: 4G
Bluetooth: 5.0
Size (inches): 6.5 x 3 x 0.3
Weight: 190g
Battery: 5050mAh, up to three days
Other: USB-C, headphone jack
Pros Cons
• Big battery • Quirky camera colours
• Reliable basic performance • Limited future-proofing
• Very affordable

Verdict:

If you’re realistic about what to expect, then this phone won't let you down. It’s affordable and functional, but most of all, it boasts a strong battery life. True, its 720p screen, lack of 5G support and limited RAM might mean that it's hard to get excited over and limits its future use beyond two or three years (at best).

Nevertheless, if you find yourself in a pinch and have modest expectations requiring a phone that performs across its basic smartphone applications, you’re in safe enough hands with the Nokia G21.

Jump to:

Build

Nokia G21 review smartphone showing home screen
©William Lobley/What's The Best

• Lightweight

• Plastic build

• 64GB memory which can be expanded

The Nokia G21 smartphone feels much like its similarly priced competition: lightweight and slick. It has a plastic body with a slight texture which, if nothing else, adds a little flair to what is a pretty standard design. At 190g and with a 6.5-inch screen, the G21 is an accessible size.

Inside its shell, there is a 5050mAh battery. This power cell provides the G21 with one of its headline features - an advertised three-day battery life. This is charged via USB-C, and the cable and 10W charger come in the box.

There are four buttons on the sides of the phone. Two control media and call volume, one locks the phone, and the fourth activates Google Assistant, allowing you to make “Ok, Google” voice requests.

I was happy to see the G21 has a dedicated 3.5mm audio jack plug. You can use your wired earphones without needing a USB-C adaptor - which also means you can listen to music and podcasts while the handset charges. For fans of traditional radio, the Nokia G21 can access FM radio stations using the headset wiring as an antenna. Old school, but pretty neat for those who want to listen on the go but don’t have access to cheap or unlimited mobile internet.

The G21 comes with 64GB of internal storage and will accept MicroSD cards up to 512GB, vastly improving the amount of media you can save. Again, this is useful for saving on mobile data - you can download a lot of Spotify playlists and Netflix episodes for easy and cheap listening on the go. The Nokia G21 has 4GB of RAM, the performance of which we discuss further in this review.

While the Nokia G21 represents an appealing budget smartphone in many respects, the low price does come at some cost. More expensive handheld devices use toughened, scratch-resistant glass, often Corning Gorilla Glass. It’s a great defence against both drops and the wear of daily use, but it comes at a cost to manufacturers. Nokia appears to have avoided this screen type to keep costs low and pre-installed a screen protector.

This is a welcome addition, but the protector is plastic rather than glass and is thus prone to very, very easy scratching. We note this because the lower price of this unit tends to dictate the popularity of aftermarket accessories - in short, this means that in years to come, quality replacement screen protectors and cases may be hard to come by. If you want a scratch-free phone and a scratch-free protector, we would recommend getting a few aftermarket toughened glass screen protectors for Nokia G21 as soon as possible to avoid issues in future.

Software

• Android 11 (will need upgrading to Android 12)

• 4G support

• Frequent security updates

The Nokia G21 comes with Android 11 installed. This is a slightly outdated OS, with Google rolling Android 12 out in late-2021. The G21 will upgrade to this newer version, but it does mean a little bit of waiting around when you first set the phone up for the upgrade to install.

The maximum network speed is 4G, meaning users won’t be able to reap the benefits of the rapid 5G signals until they upgrade their handset to a different model. While this casts some future-proof concerns over the G21, 5G contracts are currently more expensive and out of reach for many.

4G still delivers acceptable and very useable speeds and is widely supported in all regions of the UK. It’s only the tech-heads who are going to be disappointed by the 5G absence.

Nokia promises twice the security updates of the competition, but it's quick to stipulate that this is competition within its price bracket. This translates to a commitment to 36 updates from the launch date, whereas most cheaper phones would receive only 16. According to Nokia’s marketing material, this works out to monthly updates for three years. This should be a welcome fact for all.

Performance

Nokia G21
©Nokia

• Excellent battery

• Steady performance on basic tasks

• 720p screen

For full disclosure, my day-to-day phone is an iPhone 12 mini. It’s perfectly formed and powerful enough for my needs, but boyo is the battery weak - it’s not unusual for it to die once a day. Therefore, I was very excited to see Nokia shouting about the three-day battery life of the G21. Much like the beloved halcyon days of the year 2000 and the original Nokia 3310, the G21 gives you plenty of juice.

Happily, it turns out that Nokia wasn’t just playing on nostalgia and blind hope - the G21 does go the distance. However, it only does the distance if you’re using it a moderate amount. A few hours of streaming, scrolling and messaging will keep the G21 powered for several days. If you put stress on the phone through extended, above-average use, you’ll see a noticeable drop in the battery life, though it still beats out most phones, so it gets a big thumbs-up from me on this front.

With 4GB of RAM, the Nokia G21 offers an acceptable level of performance across essential tasks. Internet browsing, messaging, scrolling social media, streaming video and playing light games are all well within reach, though you may have to keep an eye on how many apps you leave running in the background. The phone is responsive to touch and only gets lost if you’re spamming swipes and keystrokes to an unnecessary degree (or you've got too much going on in the background).

On paper and to modern eyes, reading that the Nokia G21 has a 1600 x 720px (720p) screen may seem like a flagrant insult. Yet, it needs to be put in the context of the phone and its pricing. At £150, the G21 was never going to challenge the super-crisp lines of Apple and Samsung. While 1080p (aka Full HD) would be preferable, the 720p works just fine.

Certainly, its mediocre resolution is bolstered by the 90Hz refresh rate that works to keep things moving pretty smoothly. A commuter watching some Netflix or a teen scrolling TikTok will see all they need to see and be content with the result. Anyone looking to play anything more graphically trying than Words with Friends will want to target higher-priced and more powerful phones with sharper screens.

Camera

Nokia G21 cameras on the back of the smartphone
©William Lobley/What's The Best

• Okay for social media

• Wide-angle selfie camera

• Poor white balance

It’s unwise to expect great things from a 50MP camera at the Nokia G21 price point, so I didn’t. As a result, my expectations were perfectly met. The camera will do - it’s good enough for snapping pics of memorable moments and sharing them on social media. No one will be winning anyway award for the images they snap and the low-light performance is towards the low-end of average. But it will point-and-shoot.

The AI will switch into HDR (High Dynamic Range) on the 50MP camera, and though it adds a little contrast to the image, it doesn't noticeably enhance the quality of a picture. Similarly disappointing is the colouring and clarity across all lenses. The G21 struggles to pick a decent white balance, meaning that photos have blue, yellow, magenta or green hues.

Video recording has a maximum of 1080p at 30fps, which is an interesting choice - you can’t see the full scope of the camera on its 720p screen.

The front-facing selfie camera is 8MP. It performs well and has a wide-angle lens which will do nicely for group shots. This camera will also record video at 1080p and 30fps. There's a macro lens, which lets you get some close-up details of whatever it might be. It works, but at only 2MP, don’t expect it to look acceptable anywhere other than on its 720p screen. There is also a third camera, a 2MP depth lens.

Here are some example images:

Standard camera:

Three shots showing the differnt performance of the main camera. The first you'll notice a pink hue - this is poor white balance. On the second, the image is fine enough but the bushes are a mess (both in terms of quality, and literally). The third image is certainly the best, but these photographs were taken only moments apart - they should all be of a similar look.

Shot on Nokia G12 with HDR
Shot on Nokia G12 with HDR: Notice the pink hue? ©William Lobley/What's The Best
Shot on Nokia G12 with HDR
Shot on Nokia G12 with HDR: No hue, but muddled dark area in bushes ©William Lobley/What's The Best
Shot on Nokia G12 with HDR: A smother shot
©William Lobley/What's The Best

Macro camera:

The macro lens is fine for the camera, but as you can see here the definition is the best. THe edges are a little too blurry.

Shot on Nokia G12
Macro shot on Nokia G12: Blurry around the edges, but fine ©William Lobley/What's The Best

Selfie camera:

Notice how the first picture has a good white balance, while the second has a poor white balance. The result of the poor balance is that I have a green complexrtion (I can assure this isn't the case).

Selfie on Nokia G12
Selfie on Nokia G12: Good white balance, a clean picture ©William Lobley/What's The Best
Selfie on Nokia G12
Selfie on Nokia G12: Bad white balance giving me a green complextion ©William Lobley/What's The Best

Price

The Nokia G21 has an RRP of £149.99. This places the handset within a bracket that includes the Motorola Moto G31 and Samsung A03s. Of these phones, the Nokia’s battery life provides it with an edge, though all three phones have compromises inevitable for such a budget price tag.

The UK market is receiving the 64GB version of the phone, with the larger 128GB version headed to other European countries. I would consider these handsets better value for money. This test was undertaken on a 128GB version of the G21, so it’s a shame UK consumers won’t get access to it. Still, with a cheap MicroSD card, the UK’s 64GB version can quickly become a device with vast storage potential.

Verdict

Nokia G21

Nokia G21
Amazon

View offer

Available in Nordic Blue and Dusk

If you’re realistic about what to expect, then this phone won't let you down. It’s affordable and functional, but most of all, it boasts a strong battery life. True, its 720p screen, lack of 5G support and limited RAM might mean that it's hard to get excited over and limits its future use beyond two or three years (at best).

Nevertheless, if you find yourself in a pinch and have modest expectations requiring a phone that performs across its basic smartphone applications, you’re in safe enough hands with the Nokia G21.

Score: 3/5

Pros Cons
• Big battery • Quirky camera colours
• Reliable basic performance • Limited future-proofing
• Very affordable

How we tested it

The Nokia G21 was tested for several weeks. For some of the test period the phone replaced my personal phone, at other times it was used for all tasks bar those which require a SIM card.

The smartphone was used to watch Netflix and listen to Spotify, and several shows and playlists were downloaded in order to test the playback, screen and battery.

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William Lobley is a Deputy Commerical Content Editor and reviewer for What's The Best, specialising in technology, gaming and outdoors. He also writes for Empire Online.

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