Nokia G21 review: Cheap and cheerful or a low-cost letdown?

The Nokia G21 is very cheap to buy – but is it value for money or too budget for its own good?

Nokia G21
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

For its price, the Nokia G21 is a phone that impresses, particularly in terms of its design, build quality and battery life. Everything else, however, is distinctly average – and for not much more cash you could buy a Moto G instead.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Very appealing price

  • +

    Solid build quality

  • +

    Excellent battery life

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Sluggish performance

  • -

    Lacks 5G connectivity

  • -

    Moto G series trounces it

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On paper, the Nokia G21 is a contender for our best cheap phones list: this is a very affordable handset indeed. Typically, Nokia is a brand that can be relied on for providing maximum value for money with its devices – but does the G21 also fall into that category?

Our in-depth Nokia G21 review will tell you everything you need to know about this budget Android smartphone, from the sort of battery life you can expect, to the quality of the images you can get from its camera, to the time you'll be waiting for apps to load up.

Of course it's by no means the only handset out there to consider when it's time to upgrade – you might also want to check out our expertly curated best Android phones if you've got a little more to spend, or our best small phones guide if you're after something extra pocketable.

Nokia G21: price and availability

We weren't kidding when we said the Nokia G21 was affordable. The handset can be yours in the UK for a mere £149.99, which you can also think of as less than a fifth of the starting price of the Samsung Galaxy S22 flagship.

The G21is available from all the usual places, including Amazon, Argos, and Nokia directly. At the time of writing, we've not heard anything about availability or pricing in the USA, which suggests this budget phone won't be available in that region.

Nokia G21: design and display

Nokia G21

(Image credit: Future)

You never want a budget phone to look like a budget phone, which is where the Nokia G21 does a respectable job of appearing to be less cheap and cheerful than it actually is. We like the textured plastic back of the casing, as well as the compact rear camera module, and the handset feels well built and solid when you pick it up.

The phone is available in Nordic Blue (dark blue), which is the version we had to review, as well as Dusk (a darkish brown colour). Both, to our eyes, look tasteful. As you would expect at this price, there's no waterproofing or dustproofing by IP rating, so you'll need to be careful when handling the Nokia G21 – maybe don't take it to the beach.

The phone's 6.5-inch, 720 x 1,600 pixel LCD display is reasonably bright and sharp, though it obviously doesn't have the premium levels of resolution you'll find in other low-end and mid-range devices. It's perfectly fine for watching movies, browsing the web, and viewing social media, while its 90Hz refresh rate is an unexpected smoothness bonus that helps to keep blurring and ghosting down to a minimum.

The bezels around the edges of the G21's display are nice and thin, except for a rather thick chin – something we often see on budget phones – and there's a small teardrop notch at the top where the front-facing camera hides.

Data transfer and charging is handled via a USB-C port at the bottom, while the fingerprint sensor comes built into the power button. As is often the case on Nokia phones, there's a dedicated button for launching Google Assistant, which can come in handy.

Nokia G21: performance and battery

Nokia G21

(Image credit: Future)

The Unisoc T606 processor and 4GB of RAM under the hood is just about enough to run the Android 11 software that comes on board the Nokia G21. Put it this way: we wouldn't want to try and run Android 11 on anything less. The operating system is thankfully free from bloatware and extra complications, keeping things nice and neat.

But that lower-end processor did mean we noticed some lag and occasional pauses when switching between apps and opening menus during our testing. You also might find occasional glitches with some of the most demanding games and apps on Android, but for everyday use the Nokia G21 will serve you well enough while clearly not breaking any speed records.

5G connectivity
is missing on this particular handset, which you may or may not be concerned about, and you also miss out on Wi-Fi 6 and wireless charging. As far as wired charging goes, you're looking at a rate of 18W – that's by no means slow, but it's a long way off what you can get at the top-end of the market.

Nokia reckons you'll be able to get up to three days between charges with the 5,050mAh battery, and that's not beyond the realms of possibility. We noticed a drop of 11 percent from an hour of video streaming with the screen on full brightness (so around 9-10 hours in total), and a drop of just 4 percent from half an hour of GPS navigation, with the screen on medium brightness. With some careful management of your phone usage, you should be able to get a couple of days of use or so from the G21.

Nokia G21: camera system

Nokia G21

(Image credit: Future)

Camera systems are usually where corners are cut on budget phones, and the Nokia G21 isn't really any different in this regard. The rear camera comprises a triple-lens 50-megapixel main, a 2MP macro for close-ups, and 2MP depth sensor, so there's no ultra-wide and no optical zoom here. 

On the front of the device there's a single 8MP camera, which does a basic job of capturing selfie photos and videos – and not much more than that.

Pictures snapped on the rear camera come out looking pretty good but you need decent light and a steady subject – unfortunately the time we spent testing the phone coincided with a period of overcast and rainy weather, which meant that our photos were never going to be stunning. 

Nevertheless, colours and details are captured reasonably well, and these pictures are more than decent enough to use for social media, for example, despite the not-so-versatile system generally lacking in other regard. 

Once you get to moving subjects and low-light conditions, the Nokia G21 is in trouble though. There's a lot of image noise and blurring, and the dedicated night mode doesn't help things out much. You can see from the photos that we snapped, featured above, which show you what we're talking about. 

However, HDR processing (high dynamic range) is capable enough, with darker and lighter areas of the frame well balanced – but you're going to get much better pictures if you can afford to shop in the mid-range section of the phone market and spend a few more quid. 

As with everything else in this review, you have to weigh the camera performance against the price, so it's hardly a surprise that results aren't a glimmering success. 

Nokia G21: verdict

Nokia G21

(Image credit: Nokia)

Delivering a verdict on a phone at this price isn't easy: of course, it's a long way behind the best smartphones on the market, but then it's also a fair margin behind other budget phones that for only a small sum more will deliver much greater results. 

In terms of its performance and camera quality we might give the Nokia G21 two stars out of five, but as far as value for money goes it's more like a four-star phone. Still, that sums it up as a low-cost letdown overall.

That said, if you're not going to ask much from a basic handset – and this Nokia will send messages, take calls, and browse the web happily enough – then the G21 may find a place with some buyers where it fits the bill. 

Nokia G21: also consider

Anything down at the budget end of the market is a competitor to the Nokia G21, and there are a few phone makers besides Nokia who specialise in value-for-money handsets. One is Motorola: the Moto G31 costs a whisker more, but it far better in operation.

Then there's the Xiaomi Poco M4 Pro – this is a little more expensive, so you'll need to find a touch of extra cash, but you do get improvements in just about every area and the bonus of 5G connectivity. 

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.