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Nokia 5.4 Review: Is Stock Android Enough To Save The Day?
Good smartphones comprise powerful hardware and an effortless software user experience. OEMs try all sorts of maneuvers to meet such requirements and also succeed in this feat, but mostly in the mid-range and premium segment. The budget price-point (Under 15K) is a different game altogether. It is tough for smartphone manufacturers to offer the best of both worlds in the sub-15k price bracket, mostly due to price constraints. Even the leading brands only manage to ace one of the two requirements.
- Stock Android Software
- Premium Looks
- H-Log And Cinema Mode Support
- Dedicated microSD Card Slot
- No Bloatware And Spams
- Dated 720p LCD
- Not The Latest Android Flavor
- Battery Life Could Have Been Better
- Sluggish Performance
- Average Camera Performance
The Nokia 5.4 is one such example of the aforementioned observation. It focuses on delivering a clutter-free software experience at the cost of cutting-edge hardware. I have been using the smartphone for over a week to analyze if the clean software experience compensates for the mediocre hardware. Before we jump into the details, below is the price and availability of the Nokia 5.4 in India.
Design- Premium Looks And Decent Build Quality
The Nokia 5.4 looks good and feels durable; two things Nokia smartphones stand for; however, I must mention that the Nokia 5.3 has a sturdier overall build than its successor The Nokia 5.4 comes in two color variants- Polar Night and Dusk. We are testing the former and it has a gradient shade of deep blue and black. I wish HMD had offered a matte finish at the back panel as the glossy layer over the polycarbonate body makes the device a fingerprint magnet. The ring-shaped camera setup in the centre and the circular fingerprint scanner below it along with Nokia branding look aesthetically clean.
The front of the device has a 6.39-inch display with a punch-hole camera at the top-left corner. The side bezels are fairly thin; however, the chin is quite broad and has Nokia branding embossed which looks rather irrelevant and forced. The left side of the phone has a dedicated physical button to invoke Google Assistant. Sadly, you cannot remap it to perform any other operation. It can only be disabled if you find it annoying.
Good Ergonomics And Focus On Basic Features
The Nokia 5.4 feels very light (181 g) and is comfortable to use with one hand, thanks to the curved back panel and rounded edges. The power buttons and volume rockers are placed on the right edge. The physical buttons' placement is just about right but they fail to offer good tactile feedback. The Type-C charging port sits at the bottom along with a microphone and a speaker unit. The traditional fingerprint scanner at the back panel is very snappy and unlocks the phone in a jiffy. Nokia decided to remove the LED light from the power button, which was there on the Nokia 5.3 and made for an additional useful feature.
Moving on, I am glad to see a triple-slot SIM card tray and a 3.5mm headphone jack, two very basic design features that add a lot of value in this price segment for consumers. With the Nokia 5.4, you can simultaneously use two active 4G SIM cards and a microSD card to expand the phone's built-in 64GB memory to up to 512GB.
Display- 2019’s Screen On A 2021 Smartphone
HMD seems unaware of the stiff competition in the sub-15K price segment in India. Some brands offer 1080p 90Hz refresh rate panels in the respective price-point and HMD has still used a dated 720p LCD with a standard 60Hz refresh rate. Had it been a good 720p AMOLED panel, I would have made the trade-off but the screen is just not able to match 2021 standards, on papers. As far as real-life usage is concerned, the 720p LCD works well with basic tasks such as texting, WhatsApp usage, web-browsing, phone dialer, etc.
The underwhelming pixel count, poor reflective angles, and somewhat muted colors spoil everything that involves heavy multimedia content. Also, the display feels lifeless under direct sunlight. The 400 nits peak brightness levels are only good for indoor use.
Not An Ideal Display For Binge-Watching
Additionally, there's no WideVine L1 certification which means you cannot stream full HD content on the handset while tuning to your movies and series on the OTT apps. Overall, I find it hard to recommend the Nokia 5.4 to anyone who likes to spend most of his/her time binge-watching and enjoying graphics-intensive games on their phones.
HMD hasn't offered any major camera upgrade over the Nokia 5.4's predecessor. The 13MP primary camera is now replaced by a 48MP sensor. The remaining three camera sensors have not been changed; these include- a 5MP ultra-wide-angle (118°) camera, a 2MP macro sensor, and a 2MP depth-senor. The camera can shoot 1080p 60fps videos and HDR can also be enabled while recording videos.
The 48MP high-resolution pictures are crisp and show natural color tones; however, the contrast level and the dynamic range fail to match the likes of Realme, Poco, and Xiaomi devices. If you like your pictures and videos to look natural, you will like the picture/video output on the Nokia 5.4. The camera likes to keep things real and it's a good thing, but not everyone might like it, especially consumers in the sub-15K price-segment.
The 1080p 60fps videos look crisp but the lack of stabilization can be annoying. You should shoot with a tripod otherwise you have to compromise on quality as the software-backed stabilization only works with 1080p 30fps videos.
Good Portraits But Subpar Wide-Angle Shots
Moving on, I am once again very impressed by the Nokia phone's depth-sensing capabilities. Similar to the Nokia 5.3, the Nokia 5.4 also captures stunning portraits with natural bokeh and pleasing colors. The edge detection and pleasing bokeh created by a 2MP depth-sensor is impressive and beats the rival devices from Chinese brands. Sadly, the 5MP wide-angle camera captures subpar images. The pictures lack detailing and the narrow dynamic range spoils the overall results. The same can be said for the low-light and night camera results. The phone has a dedicated night mode but the picture quality is poor and camera samples are barely usable.
Useful Professional Tools For Content Creation
The Nokia 5.4 offers a native H-Log video recording mode and a Cinema mode and that can come in handy for content creation, if you take post-processing seriously, especially the color grading. The H-Log videos offer better control for fine-tuning recorded video footage in the editing process. The H-log video files have better contrast and dynamic range, something I noticed while shooting videos with the Nokia 5.4. You can only shoot H-log videos in 21:9 aspect ratio in 24fps, which is a limitation that Nokia should work upon.
To shoot H-Log videos On the Nokia 5.4
- Open the camera app and select Cinema.
- Click on the 3 lines on the left-hand side menu to go into settings.
- Turn H-Log to "on" position to start recording H-Log videos.
To shoot a video in Cinema mode (21:9), open the camera app and select Cinema. Select a color filter from presets and start recording. The camera app also allows you to tweak basic shooting elements such as exposure, white balance, focus, and ISO which gives you better control over the results in real-time. Further, the built-in Cinema editor offers 10 presets to help you color grade H-log videos on the device itself. Last but not the least, the OZO spatial audio lets you record directional audio that adds another professional touch to the video footage. The recorded audio sounds immersive on the Nokia 5.4.
Overall, having a log profile natively added in the camera is no less than a feat for a smartphone that starts at just Rs. 13,999, but does it matter at this price-point? Yes and No as it entirely depends upon you and your use cases. If you are into content creation and looking for a budget device that can record log videos, the Nokia 5.4 is the only phone that offers such a feature.
Snapdragon 662 SoC With 4GB/6GB RAM- Feels Underpowered
The Nokia 5.4 is a smooth performer as long as you are treating it as a budget device. Our 4GB variant feels snappy for most day-to-day tasks. You can browse multiple web pages on Chrome, record 1080p 60fps videos, capture pictures without any shutter lags and seamlessly switch from one app to another. However, start editing the H-Log videos in Cinema editor and the phone starts to lag and becomes extremely slugglish.
The phone is powered by Qualcomm's 2020 entry-level offering- Snapdragon 662 SoC, which is also seen on the Poco M3. The 11nm chipset has Kryo 260 CPU with four Cortex A73 cores clocked at up to 2GHz and four Cortex A53 cores clocked at up to 1.8GHz. The graphics are handled by the Adreno 610 GPU which performs a good job; however, the low-resolution display spoils all the fun. You can play some popular game titles on the Nokia 5.4 that do not involve heavy graphics. The phone has a single speaker unit at the bottom that produces average sound. It's better if you use earphones with the Nokia 5.4 to experience better audio delivery.
Stock Android 10 Software Experience
One solid reason to consider the Nokia 5.4 is the stock Android software. The phone runs on Android 10, which is disappointing, but it still has a lot going in its favour. The UI is clean, just like Google Pixel devices, and there are no unwanted ads or notifications that haunt Xiaomi and other budget devices from Chinese brands. Even Samsung phones are marred by ads and spam. My review came running on Android 10 with January 2021 security patch, and it worked seamlessly. The clean UI and no unwanted bloatware is a plus point here. The gestures work just fine and Google's app ecosystem is pure bliss.
However, I am disappointed to see the phone running Android 10 out-of-the-box. Going by HMD's claims, the Nokia 5.4 will get only 2-Years Android Upgrades that include the Android 11 update. Yes, you heard it right; there will be no Android 13 update for the Nokia 5.4 and the Nokia 3.4. What you will get is three years of monthly security updates with the new Nokia devices.
Battery Life And Connectivity
With a 4000 mAh battery running the show, the Nokia 5.4 is good to last a day and not more than that. I think HMD should have upgraded the battery cell for the Nokia 5.3's successor. A slightly bigger battery unit with clean software and a low-resolution display would have worked wonders for the handset. The 4000 mAh battery feels slightly underpowered. If the battery is your priority, you should check out the recently launched Poco M3. It is priced lower, offers a full HD display, runs on the same chipset, and is powered by a 6000 mAh battery cell.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the Nokia 5.4 supports NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi, A-GPS and comes equipped with a Type-C charging port and a 3.5mmaudio jack. The phone has a dedicated microSD card slot that lets you expand the internal memory to 512GB.
The Nokia 5.4 is strictly for users who are looking for a clean software user-experience on a budget. The phone fails to offer the best of hardware; however, it surely delivers a seamless software experience. The good build quality, decent camera setup with professional features (H-Log and Cinema mode) are icing on the cake. If you can compromise on the display and battery performance, the Nokia 5.4 is not a bad deal. But you must know that there are handsets in the sub-15K price-point with better overall hardware, if not the stock Android software experience. The list includes Poco M3, Realme 7, Realme 7i, Poco M2 Pro, Redmi Note 9, etc.