Nokia XR20 Review | PCMag
Rugged phones are usually pretty ugly. While the Nokia XR20 will never win a beauty contest, it’s as durable as the Kyocera Duraforce Ultra 5G UW and other super-tough competitors without looking like it belongs in a hardware store. Unfortunately, it falls flat just about everywhere else. At $549.99, it’s powered by low-end hardware more often found in phones that cost half the price. Ultimately, the XR20’s durable build and one-year screen replacement policy make it somewhat attractive to contractors, first responders, and others in need of a rugged phone, but you can easily get a better (albeit not as durable) handset for less money.
Rugged, But Doesn’t Quite Look Like It
At first glance, the Nokia XR20 looks like your run-of-the-mill smartphone with a bulky rubber case. At 6.8 by 3.2 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 8.8 ounces, it’s a handful, though nothing about it screams rugged the way that many other phones in this category do. Available in black or blue, the XR20 looks simple and minimal.
A 6.67-inch LCD dominates the front of the phone. The 2,400-by-1,080-pixel display is bright and crisp, but color accuracy skews cool and we noticed ghosting around the cutout in the top for the selfie camera.
The Nokia XR20’s textured back handles drops with ease.
(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
The back of the phone is made of textured polycarbonate that extend past the display slightly. A square camera module sits in the top center, and the Nokia logo is aligned vertically beneath it. The textured back panel adds extra grip and resists fingerprints and other smudges.
Aluminum rails peek through the rubberized frame on each side of the phone. A textured Google Assistant button is on the left, across from a power button with an integrated fingerprint sensor and a volume rocker on the right. While the Google Assistant button is easy to reach and provides satisfying tactile feedback when tapped, the fingerprint sensor is both difficult to reach and inconsistent. The volume rocker is also hard to reach and feels mushy when pressed.
Aluminum rails peek out from the Nokia XR20’s rubberized body.
(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
A programmable button and dual SIM slot sit on the top edge of the XR20, while a 3.5mm headphone jack, accessory loop, speaker grille, and a USB-C charging port are on the bottom. Audio is a weak spot. The XR20’s stereo speakers peak at 96dB but sound unbalanced. Timbre is harsh, with mids taking the lead. Lower frequencies don’t come through, and there’s some distortion in the highs.
The phone has IP68 and MIL-STD-810 H ratings, meaning it can handle jolts, drops, extreme temperature variations, and even dips of up to three feet in fresh water. There’s also a rubber lip that protects the phone’s (already strong) Gorilla Glass Victus display. If you do manage to crack the display within a year of purchase, Nokia will replace it.
A five-minute dunk was no match for the XR20 in testing. In fact, we were able to use it as soon as we pulled it out of the water since the display works with wet hands or gloves. We also dropped the phone from four feet onto a wood floor half a dozen times without it sustaining any damage.
Strong Connectivity (Except for Verizon)
The XR20 has extensive LTE and sub-6GHz 5G support globally, and works on AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. There’s band 66 connectivity for urbanites and band 71 for rural T-Mobile customers. FirstNet users will be happy to know band 14 is included as well. Unfortunately, the phone doesn’t work on Verizon.
Although the XR20 doesn’t have an eSIM, it supports dual SIM dual standby (DSDS), as well as private LTE. Dual SIM support is pretty rare for an unlocked phone in the US, and offers much more flexibility than the more common SIM/eSIM combination. There’s also VoLTE and VoWiFi on supported carriers.
We recorded solid data speeds on T-Mobile’s 5G network in Chicago, averaging 148.2Mbps down and 51.9Mbps up, in line with what we normally see there. Compared with the Kyocera Duraforce Ultra 5G UW, the Nokia XR20 shines, with more consistent connectivity and C-band support.
With a maximum volume of 82dB, the earpiece is loud enough to hear on a busy street. Calls are crisp and clear. Noise cancellation manages to block out all but the most violent winds.
Wi-Fi 6 is available for fast internet speeds, as is Bluetooth 5.1 with aptX Adaptive and aptX Voice for wearable connectivity. NFC, good for mobile payments and boarding passes, is present as well.
Light on Power
A Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G chipset and 6G of RAM power the Nokia XR20. There’s 128GB of storage, with about 112GB available out of the box. You can add additional storage with a microSD card, but you’ll lose the second SIM slot.
Overall, performance is decent. Apps take a beat to open and screen transitions are a little sluggish. You’ll also notice caching when more than a dozen browser windows are open simultaneously. If you use your phone for basic tasks like web browsing and social media scrolling, you should be fine.
The phone has a rubberized casing with a thin lip that extends past the display.
(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
Gaming on the XR20 is a different story. After waiting a long time for Alto’s Odyssey to load, we were able to play for nearly an hour without any major problems. Sure, there were a few skipped frames, but they weren’t frequent enough to become a real issue. Genshin Impact, however, was a total loss. The game crashed the first three times we attempted to load it. When we did manage to get it up and running, it was plagued with skipped frames and lag.
Since there are relatively few rugged phones on the market and the markup is high, it’s hard to make a meaningful comparison. In terms of overall hardware, the $239.99 OnePlus Nord N200 5G is the XR20’s closest competitor, although the Nord has less RAM and storage. Despite this, the Nord actually performed better than the XR20 with normal use.
See How We Test Phones
And while the aforementioned Duraforce Ultra is the XR20’s closest durable competition with 5G, it’s also $350 more expensive. It offers better performance, but we had issues with consistent network connectivity.
On Geekbench 5, a benchmarking test that quantifies RAW computing power, the XR20 scored 509 single-core (SC) and 1,571 multi-core (MC). That’s about the same as the Nord N200’s 508 (SC) and 1,588 (MC) scores, and slightly behind the Duraforce Ultra.
The XR20’s 4,620mAh battery lasted 11 hours on our rundown test, which streams HD video over Wi-Fi at full brightness. That’s more than three hours longer than the Duraforce Ultra (7 hours, 40 mins), and should be enough to get you through the day without topping off. If you do find yourself in the red zone, the phone supports 18W wired charging and 15W wireless charging, though it doesn’t ship with a charging adapter.
Despite its midrange price tag, the XR20 sports a pretty basic camera setup. On the back of the phone you’ll find a 48MP primary lens and a 13MP ultrawide lens. The front-facing camera clocks in at 8MP.
Daylight performance with the primary lens is acceptable. Our test shots were crisp, with natural depth of field. Many of our photos, however, were overexposed and showed low contrast.
The rear camera module has a 48MP primary sensor and 13MP ultrawide sensor.
(Photo: Steven Winkelman)
Low-light test photos were flat and soft. We noticed significant blooming in many of our shots, and over-aggressive noise cancellation blurred subjects in the foreground.
Performance with the ultrawide lens was underwhelming across the board. With good light, we noticed many of the same issues we encountered with the primary lens, as well as a shallower depth of field and complex distortion.
In low light, things really fall apart. Our test shots were flat and muddy, noise crept in around the edges, and distortion was even more pronounced.
The front-facing lens is the best of the bunch. Our daylight test shots were crisp and showed even exposure. And while we noticed some noise in our low-light photos, they were still good enough for sharing on social media. Results with portrait mode portrait mode were spotty, however, with unnatural-looking bokeh and poor object segmentation.
Regular Software Updates
The Nokia XR20 ships with Android 11. Nokia uses stock Android, so there are no annoying skins or extraneous productivity apps to deal with.
There are, however, a few preloaded apps on the phone, inclduing Amazon, ExpressVPN, and Spotify. You can easily uninstall these apps if you don’t want them, and you get a free one-month trial of ExpressVPN.
Like most of Nokia’s lineup, the XR20 is part of the Android One Program. That means you’ll get three years of OS upgrades and four years of security patches. And since the XR20 has a stock version of Android and ships unlocked, it will likely get upgrades fast.
A Better-Looking Rugged Phone, But Not the Best Value
If you’re a contractor, a first responder, or someone who needs a rugged phone and/or FirstNet connectivity, the Nokia XR20 is worth a look. It can take a tumble, has a dual SIM slot and solid connectivity, and good battery life. While you may not be able to play some games or take flagship-quality photos, it’s good enough for basic tasks and phone calls. For everyone else, our Editors’ Choice winner, the $449 Google Pixel 5a With 5G, is a better choice. It performs like a champ, has excellent cameras, and will get software updates even faster than the Nokia XR20. Add a year of Google’s Preferred Care plan and a sturdy case, and you’ll be paying the same price as the XR20 for a much better phone.
The Bottom Line
The Nokia XR20 is a rugged phone in an attractive package, but it falls short on performance in relation to its price.
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