Nokia 5.1 Review: Hit and miss

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HMD Global has been on a bit of a hot streak of late when it comes to releasing solid value for money Nokia Mobile-branded devices. One of their latest iterations is the Nokia 5.1, but does this new offering keep the streak alive?

On paper the Nokia 5.1 seems to follow the same HMD Global formula. Namely a sleek design, pure Android operating system and an array of specs that provide a decent experience. Lastly is a recommended price tag of R3 599, which means it’s less of a burden on one’s wallet.

So this new smartphone should be like most of the past HMD Global-made Nokia devices right?

Aluminium stylings 

The Nokia 5.1 looks great. HMD Global has chosen to keep aluminium as the go to material for its design, as was the case with the Nokia 5, but this .1 iteration in particular is rather handsome.

As such by mid-range standards this smartphone is a bit of a standout and is akin to what may to expect from a flagship phone.

This specific aluminium body has a matte finish which also has a degree of tactileness to it. It also nestles neatly in hand with its 70.7mm wide body not unwieldy. Unlike some of the glass-heavy Nokia phones of late, like the Nokia 7.1, the aluminium stylings of the Nokia 5.1 means it’s less of a magnet for smudges.

That said a cover is always advised to ensure that no nicks or scratches ruin the look of the device.

As for the rest of the phone, a 5.5″ display is up front with a Full HD resolution (2 160 X 1 080) providing clear and rich visuals. The bezels on the phone are rather large though, especially at the top and bottom, but this is to be expected for such a mid-range phone.

Something missing

While the Nokia 5.1 certainly looks the part of a modern mid-range device, there are a coupe of oddities.

The port for charging and file transfers for example is a microUSB one, which is something we were not expecting when we took the Nokia 5.1 out of the box. MicroUSB ports may have been a fixture a few years ago, but most manufacturers have evolved to the USB-C standard, so it’s strange to see it on a new Nokia Mobile device that isn’t an entry-level offering.

Shifting to some of the internal components, the Nokia 5.1 is running an octa-core MediaTek Helio P18 chipset. This is slightly different from the Qualcomm Snapdragon ones that HMD Global usually favours. Added to this is 2GB RAM and 16GB of onboard storage, with HMD Global noting that this mix is 40 percent more powerful than the previous generation.

While that may indeed be the case, the 2GB RAM model feels a little underpowered, especially for anyone aiming to do a bit of multitasking. It isn’t slow by any means, but lacks the capacity to handle a few processor-intensive tasks or apps at a time.

There is a 3GB RAM model, but sadly that option has not landed in South Africa.

Snapping away

So we know the processor performance on the Nokia 5.1 is mixed, but one element that is solid throughout is the 16MP primary shooter on the device.

It does not bare the Zeiss branding as other Nokia phones do, but it is still quite a good all-round camera. The pictures it produces in well lit and outdoor conditions in particular are on par with most premium mid-range phones, so you’ll be keen to happily snap away on the Nokia 5.1.

That said, the low light performance leaves a little to be desired, and the result are images that look a bit too grainy to be memorable.

There’s also a handy 8MP front facing cameras for selfies if you’re into that sort of thing, but again the low light shots come out a bit grainy so be warned.

Final verdict

There’s a lot to like about the Nokia 5.1. The design is great and belies the fact that it’s a mid-range device priced towards the lower end of the scale. It has also a solid display and camera performance, as have become hallmarks of recent value for money Nokia phones.

The issue we encountered though are some of the odd choices that HMD Global opted for. The microUSB port is one, with it illustrating the fact that the Nokia 5.1 is still a little behind the times despite its aluminium body and pure Android operating system.

The processor on offer is also a little underpowered, with the 2GB of RAM for our review model not helping either. As such we’d much rather go for one of Nokia’s 3GB RAM sporting mid-range phones instead.

It really then comes down to what you’re willing to sacrifice for the R3 599 price tag. If the aforementioned oddities are not deal breakers for you, then the Nokia 5.1 is yet another solid device made by HMD Global.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.