Reviews

Nokia XR20 review: One extremely rugged phone for the outdoors

I dropped, submerged, heated, and froze Nokia’s XR20 tough phone. If you're tired of breaking your phone, the XR20 won’t let you down.

Long before the iPhone, Nokia phones like the 3310 were beloved for their virtually indestructible designs. Despite no longer being the company it once was, Nokia has returned to its rugged beginnings with the XR20.

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Nokia makes some bold claims on the XR20’s ruggedness such as 1.8-meter drop protection, 1.5-meter underwater protection, and the ability to survive extreme hot and cold temperatures (conditions regular phones usually can’t). You can just tell from the hard shell plastic that surrounds the screen and the texturized rubber backside that this phone is tough.

Alejandro Medellin / Input

10

How many times I dropped the XR20 on various surfaces (tile, asphalt, and stone).

To test the XR20 in real-world scenarios, I dropped it from waist and chest height. I also dropped it on my bathroom tile to recreate how I broke my Pixel 3 XL. The Nokia XR20 survived every drop, with only a few scratches to tell the tale. No damage to the screen either, which uses the latest Corning Gorilla Glass Victus that’s rated for protection for drops from 1.8 meters.

Alejandro Medellin / Input

Submerged

Nokia told me the XR20’s MIL-STD-810H standard waterproofs it for 30 minutes in up to 1.5 meters of water, though, in Nokia’s testing, the company says it can actually withstand 1 hour in the same depth. I submerged the XR20 in a little over a meter of water in a pool to test that claim.

Alejandro Medellin / Input

After 30 minutes of hanging out in the pool, the phone emerged from the depths perfectly fine. The face unlock immediately recognized me and unlocked itself while still dripping water.

Alejandro Medellin / Input

Icy hot

The XR20 can withstand heat up to 131° F. But here in Denver where I live, I wasn’t able to leave the phone cooking in 100° F+ weather. However, on a recent hike at the Garden of the Gods, it hit 90° F and I managed to take images and video using the XR20 without any issues. Several times, I left the XR20 sitting on a hot rock to bake, but it came out fine.

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Since winter is still a few months away, I did the next best thing to test the XR20’s cold temperature rating: I threw it in the freezer for a little over 30 minutes. When I went to remove it, I was a bit scared. It had the thinnest layer of frost, but the screen came to life as quickly as before. The phone read -13° C (8° F) on my temperature gun, which is only a little under Nokia’s -20° C (-4° F) rating.

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More than rugged

The Nokia XR20’s rugged design is really only useful if you’re active or spend a lot of time outdoors. Otherwise, the phone is pretty mid-range. Not terrible, but not the fastest. The Snapdragon 480 5G chip can handle web browsing, social media, and YouTube fine. Games — nobody buys a rugged phone to game. The only downside to the mid-range chip is that it’s gonna feel outdated faster than a more powerful chip like the Snapdragon 888 5G in premium phones.

Alejandro Medellin / Input

Specs:

  • 6.67-inch IPS LCD
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G chip
  • 6GB RAM + 128GB storage (with microSD slot)
  • Dual-camera array (48-megapixel main) and 8-megapixel selfie
  • 4,630mAh battery, 18W fast wired charging, 15W wireless charging
  • Android 11 with 3 years of OS upgrades and 4 years of security updates
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So-so camera

Coming from a Pixel 3 XL, which uses computational photography to produce great photos, the Nokia XR20’s camera feels nowhere near as good. It’s a serviceable camera, but it produces oversharpened photos that look artificial in my opinion. The main 48-megapixel camera can surprise in the right conditions, though, such this scenic shot.

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Panoramic, timelapse, and nights photography modes are present, which is standard fare on modern phones these days. The most unique feature is Cinema mode that has features like wind reduction, video stabilization, and can shoot in H-Log. Log is a type of flat color profile that makes your videos look dull, but captures richer color, shadows, and highlights through color correction and grading. Tap to see the difference in the next card.

Alejandro Medellin / Input

Hey Google?

My biggest problem with the XR20 is that no matter how much I tried, the Google Assistant wouldn’t pick up my voice. The dedicated Assistant button is handy, but pointless if the Assistant can’t hear me shouting “Hey Google.” I rely on the Assistant a lot so not being able to easily access it is a deal-breaker for me.

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$549

The phone is available now and and ships on September 1.

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Is this for you?

With phones like Google Pixel 5a, Nord 2, and iPhone SE all under $500, it’s hard to recommend the Nokia XR20 unless the ruggedness appeals to you, in which case, get it cause it’ll survive a serious beating. Or you can get any of these other phones with better specs, cameras, displays, etc. and get a rugged/waterproof case. Your money, your choice.

Alejandro Medellin/ Input