- The Nokia 5.4 offers near-stock Android experience.
- HMD Global has included H-Log video recording option in the camera app as a differentiator.
- The smartphone features a quad-camera setup at the back.
Towards the end of December 2020, HMD Global announced the Nokia 5.4 smartphone for European markets. In February 2021, it expanded the smartphone’s availability to countries like India. Nokia smartphones from HMD Global have always had a near-stock Android experience as their key differentiation, and the same continues with the Nokia 5.4 as well. The company is also differentiating its camera with H-Log recording in cinema format, among other features. But with some tough competition from Chinese rivals, has Nokia 5.4 enough to be a valuable contender in its segment? Let us find out.
Pricing and Strategy: Aiming to Grow Share in Budget-conscious Markets
The sub-$200 segment is the hotly contested one in emerging markets. This segment sees some fierce competition with respect to price versus specifications. The Nokia 5.4 price starts at around $180 for the base model (4GB RAM), whereas the 6GB RAM model will set you back by roughly $200. With competitors offering features like big battery, fast charging and 90Hz screen refresh rate to name a few, Nokia’s marketing strategy will hold the key to 5.4’s success.
Commenting on HMD Global’s strategy for Nokia phones, Counterpoint Research Analyst Aman Choudhary said, “HMD Global, the manufacturer behind the Nokia phones, has been optimizing its product strategy for its budget-conscious markets such as India, Middle East and Africa (MEA) and South-East Asia. It recently launched the G- series and C-series phones in the low- to mid-price range ($80-120). These phones offer long battery life, superior durability, upgrade promise, and an extensive network of after-sales service. With prices starting at €89 ($106), they will shore up Nokia’s position in this price range in the budget-conscious markets. While Chinese OEMs such as vivo, OPPO, realme and Xiaomi saw success in India and South-East Asian markets in the mid-price range ($150-200), the launch of Nokia 5.4 in this segment holds promise for HMD. At the same time, HMD has tried to bolster its high-price range (> $400) portfolio by launching the 5G-enabled X-series globally.”
Sturdy Build and Ergonomic Looks, But a Fingerprint Magnet
According to Counterpoint Research’s study conducted in 2020, Nokia phones led the trust rankings based on software, security updates and build quality. HMD Global has gone with a neat design for the Nokia 5.4. The frame is made from thick polycarbonate which gives it a strong and sturdy feel.
The back has a glossy plastic and feather line pattern (Nordic design) under it, offering it an elegant look. However, the glossy surface also attracts fingerprints, and you need to clean it from time to time to maintain its shiny look.
The Nordic design language offers an eye-catching look and feel to the smartphone.
Otherwise, there is no big design change compared to some previous Nokia smartphones. It still features a circular camera module at the back and a fingerprint sensor below it. And although there is a slight camera bump, the phone does not wobble when kept on the desk.
Good Display but Misses Out on High Refresh Rate and Sharper Resolution
The Nokia 5.4 comes with a 6.39-inch HD+ IPS LCD panel that runs at a resolution of 1520×720 pixels, having an aspect ratio of 19.5:9. The panel is adequately bright, offering good color reproduction. Viewing angles are good too. Streaming full HD videos on YouTube or Netflix offers a good viewing experience but you can feel the lack of high-resolution graphics when playing games like COD Mobile or Asphalt 9: Legends.
Some competitor smartphones from realme and Samsung feature screens with a 90Hz refresh rate, whereas the Nokia 5.4 comes with a typical 60Hz screen. The Redmi Note 10 from Xiaomi offers an FHD+ AMOLED screen while also being slightly affordable than the Nokia smartphone. So, rivals have a bit of a competitive edge with their aggressive pricing and specifications.
The Nokia 5.4 is equipped with a decent display, but competitors have an edge with either high refresh rates or FHD+ resolution.
The Promise of Timely Software Updates, But Lagging
Ever since Nokia made a comeback with HMD Global, clean, near-stock Android with timely software updates and upgrades has been a key highlight. As per the findings in Counterpoint Research’s whitepaper in 2020, Nokia was at the forefront when it came to security updates and Android upgrades for its portfolio. But a lot seems to have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Surprisingly, the Nokia 5.4 does not run Android 11 out of the box.
The Nokia 5.4 runs on a dated Android 10 OS when Android 11 has been around for close to six months now. We are into mid-May 2021 now, but the smartphone still runs on a March 2021 security patch. So, the update rollout seems to have slowed down.
Otherwise, you get a clean UI with stock Android apps such as Google Chrome, Gmail, Photos and Maps along with a handful of others. The smartphone does come with Netflix (after finishing installation process), My Phone (for warranty) and a customized camera app, which do not make it completely bloatware-free. But the customized camera app is needed as the stock Android camera app does not support depth sensors and macro lenses.
Decent Overall Performance, But Battery Struggles to Keep Up
The overall performance of the Nokia 5.4 is decent, but it could have been better. The near-stock Android OS, for instance, does offer a clean experience, but it is not too smooth. The combination of 11nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 SoC and 4GB RAM offers a decent user experience for day-to-day tasks like surfing the internet, scrolling through social media timelines, or chatting on instant messaging platforms. But the smartphone struggles when eight or nine apps are running in the background. As a result, the multitasking experience is not smooth.
The sluggish experience extends to the fingerprint sensor as well where it takes about two seconds to unlock the device. The face unlock takes even longer, up to four seconds. Competitor devices in the same price range are a bit faster with this, and the reason for the same could be a well-optimized custom UI. What’s more, a custom UI has other advantages like scrolling screenshot support, one-handed mode and second space.
HMD Global needs to refine the software to offer a smoother experience.
The software and optimization issues extend to the battery department as well. With normal usage, the 4,000mAh battery lasts the whole working day, with some to spare at night. But the idle drain is too much. Just to test out, I removed the SIM card and was just logged in to my Google account with real-time sync for apps like Gmail. With the phone connected to Wi-Fi 24 hours, the idle battery drain was over 45%. I noticed a similar pattern with overnight drain, which used to be 10% or more. For sure, HMD Global needs to address the battery drain issue with the coming software updates.
Nokia 5.4: Hit and Miss Camera Performance
Moving to photography, the smartphone comes with a quad camera at the back which features a 48MP f/1.8 aperture primary camera. The other three include a 13mm equivalent 5MP sensor with ultra-wide lens and two 2MP sensors featuring depth and macro cameras. On the front is a 16MP selfie shooter.
Talking about still camera performance first, daylight shots are decent. But that is about it. Photos lack dynamic range, sky is blown out, and there is purple fringing noticeable. While sharpness is decent, the contrast goes for a toss, details are average. Ultra-wide photos take a big hit due to a drop in resolution, and they are barely passable.
The portrait shots, though, look good. You get the ability to adjust the depth, and the edge detection works well. Even the skin tones look natural here.
But the macro camera needs a lot of patience to capture a good-looking shot. To begin with, the 2MP resolution does not result in sharp photos. Secondly, there is no autofocus. So, a lot of judgment is needed to keep the phone at a 4 cm distance from the subject. And even after a few tries, I could barely capture one, that too a blurry shot.
Low-light photography is again passable. Sometimes it does a decent job, other times it does not, and a lot of graininess is visible. Front camera performance is also decent for video calls or occasional selfies.
Camera performance could have been better with proper camera app optimizations.
As mentioned above, Nokia has tried to differentiate the camera offering by including H-Log video capabilities in the camera app. It lets you record videos in a cinematic aspect ratio of 21:9 (1920×880 pixel resolution) at 24fps. It captures RAW footage and lets you color grade it later using post-production software. Nokia has also included a video editor that lets you add color grading options such as Nordic, Retro and Monochrome. Sadly, the final footage does not look that appealing.
Finally, talking about video recording, the camera supports FHD recording at 60fps. While the footage looks sharp, it is very unstable due to the lack of optical image stabilization (OIS) or electronic image stabilization (EIS), especially when you are walking and recording. However, the FHD 30fps footage was smoother, like that from a gimbal. Nokia has also included OZO audio to capture spatial audio, and it works decently.
Full HD 30fps footage offers the best video recording experience on the Nokia 5.4.
Conclusion: Good Attempt From HMD Global, But Competition is Ahead
With the Nokia 5.4, HMD Global is promising an all-rounder budget smartphone, but it falters in some key areas where the competition takes a lead. To begin with, the Android OS running out of the box is not the latest one. The interface has its set of issues. The battery drains in an idle state, and charging is standard at 10W.
A few things are going in its favor though, such as the Nordic design pattern, sturdy build quality, and a good display. But with fierce competition from Chinese smartphone rivals, HMD Global needs to up its game to come up with an all-rounder smartphone that has an edge over the competition. The channel strategy and marketing campaigns will also play a crucial role in its success.
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