The Nokia XR21 was awarded Alex Roddie’s best buy – but this excellent model comes with one compromise.
Nokia has a reputation for making reliable mid-range all-rounders rather than flagship phones packed with the very best technology, and the new XR21 fits this description. Specs and price are both mid-range, but depending on your priorities you actually get a lot for your money here (it’s the most affordable device tested). The main compromise is the 128GB of built-in storage with no upgrade options. This will be enough for most people, but if you need to store a lot of offline music, video, or even mapping data then you could exceed this. I found performance to be excellent in general use, with no slowdowns or lags.
- Stars: 4.5
- Price: £499
- Weight: 230g
- Pros: Highly durable; good camera quality; large, bright screen that can be used with gloves; excellent value; longevity
- Cons: No telephoto camera; storage limited to 128GB; no Android 13
Size: 168 x 78.58 x 10.45mm | Screen: 6.49” IPS LCD, 406ppi pixel density, 120Hz refresh rate | Materials: Gorilla Glass Victus screen, impact-protected polycarbonate frame with TPU bumpers, 100% recycled aluminium inner chassis | Operating system: Android 12 | Storage: 128GB (non-expandable), 6GB RAM | Battery: 4,800mAh | Cameras: 64MP f/1.8 (wide), 8MP f/2.2 (ultrawide), 16MP f/2.4 (selfie) | Features: USB-C port, face/fingerprint unlock, 2x customisable buttons, IP68/IP69K dust/water resistant, 1.8m drop resistant, MIL-STD-810H compliant, 33W fast charging
This is a rugged device, highly waterproof and shockproof – you don’t need a case. However, it’s sleeker, slimmer and lighter than most ruggedised phones. Despite the large screen I can easily use it with one hand. Partly that’s thanks to the intelligent button locations, including the power button with fingerprint scanner and the programmable action button on the left-hand side (which I configured to launch the camera). The second programmable button on the top edge is less easy to reach. The frame is textured and grippy too.
You get a big, sharp and clear screen with bezels that are a bit wide by modern standards but still very acceptable. It’s bright enough to use outside but can look a bit washed out in direct sunlight. Colour accuracy is good although not as good as the iPhone. It’s also 120Hz. The screen is sensitive enough to be used with gloves on or when wet – a major plus point for mountain use.
Like the iPhone, the XR21 has two main cameras: a wide and ultrawide. Both create sharp, detailed images with good dynamic range and a slightly muted colour palette. Although less vibrant than the iPhone, results are truer to life. The superwide lens is lower resolution but images still look good. Lens flare can be a problem, though, and there’s no telephoto lens.
I found battery life to be excellent overall, matching Nokia’s claim of two days. There’s no wireless charging, but wired charging is faster than the other devices tested (great for backpackers looking to top up power in cafes or pubs).
Nokia emphasise the longevity of the XR21: a 1-year screen replacement guarantee, 3-year warranty, 4 years of monthly security updates, and a battery that retains 80% of original capacity after 800 charging cycles. Bear in mind this unit currently ships with Android 12, and not the latest (13).
Overall, for Android users who go into the mountains the XR21 is a fantastic choice. If you don’t need the highest specs available, this is one of the better rugged phones you can buy and is likely to keep performing for several years. It’s excellent value.
Compare more devices in our Buyer’s Guide to smartphones for the outdoors.
Our tech expert, Alex Roddie tested these phones on a variety of day hikes and short backpacking routes in the Scottish Highlands throughout spring and summer 2023. Weights stated are as measured on Alex’s digital scale. He is an iPhone user but has extensive experience with Android devices over more than a decade.
These reviews first featured in the September 2023 issue of The Great Outdoors.