The Nokia XR21 can take a kicking (and a bit of drowning, too)

Nokia XR21
Now, to be clear, you shouldn’t kick or drown a smartphone deliberately. But if you’re after a rugged smartphone for whatever reason, the Nokia XR21 might be just what you’re looking for.

HMD Global, the company with the rights to the Nokia brand name for mobile phones has just announced its latest phone, the Nokia XR21.

While Nokia-branded phones have tended to play more in the low-to-mid-range price category, the Nokia XR21 sits at the higher end of the mid-range bracket, as it’ll sell in Australia for $799 outright from mid-May.

So what does $799 get you? A rather tough phone, it seems.

At a straight technical level it’s rocking a Snapdragon 695 chipset, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage — which appears to be fixed storage. That’s not a lot for $799, really.

On the camera front, it’s packing a 64MP primary wide and 8MP ultra-wide rear cameras, as well as a 16MP front-facing camera. Again, not that fancy at that $799 price point.

Display-wise it should be decent, with a 6.49 inch FHD+ display (1080×2400) with support for 120Hz refresh rates. Again, though, you can get a fast refresh rate screen in, say a phone like the Motorola Moto G53 5G for quite a bit less.

Nokia XR21: I bet this was a fun day's promotional photo shoot. Or maybe strange men just emerge from Finnish lakes with phones all the time. Is that a thing? (Image: HMD Global)
I bet this was a fun day’s promotional photo shoot. Or maybe strange men just emerge from Finnish lakes with phones all the time. Is that a thing? (Image: HMD Global)

So where’s the appeal? Well, that’s in the phone’s rugged build.

It says something when the release that dropped into my inbox leads with these lines:

  • Survive being dropped from 1.8m high
  • Last in 1.5m of water for up to an hour
  • Withstand a 100-bar pressure water jet at 80°C
  • Operate in temperatures between -20°C and +55°C

I’m not saying that you should do all those things to a phone.

For a start, if you have a 100-bar pressure jet at 80°C, please keep it away from me — I don’t particularly want to get cooked any time soon!

But in theory you might be able to get away with them if you were using the Nokia XR21. The really interesting specification here to me is the phone’s IP rating. Most premium smartphones — including your usual candidates from the likes of Apple or Samsung in the $1,500+ range — offer up IP68 at a maximum.

The Nokia XR21 is IP69K rated, a new high water mark (hey, free pun!) for phone durability in the consumer space. That K suffix indicates a device that’s designed to survive being pressure washed, and it’s typically used for things like road vehicles or heavy duty kitchen gear that needs pressure washing at high temperatures for sanitation purposes. Really hard working in other words.

HMD Global’s also obviously pretty confident in the Nokia XR21’s durability, because in Australia it’ll come with a one year screen replacement guarantee. So if you did manage to crack it in that first 12 month period, the replacement screen is on them.

That’s a nice touch, and one that I wish more phone makers adopted, whether or not their phones were quite this rugged.

Alex’s Take

I liked the approach of the Nokia XR20, this phone’s immediate predecessor when I reviewed it a few years ago.

In many ways, this is more of the same, but faster and tougher, and that’s no bad thing.

I will have to reserve full judgement until I can get one in for testing, however — but if you want to tide over your Nokia urges in the meantime, here’s my full review of the Nokia G22.

However, it is launching at a price that puts it into an interesting competitive space, against phones like the Samsung Galaxy A54, a lot of Oppo’s phones and the Pixel 6a — and most likely the Pixel 7a if that does come down under after Google I/O next week.

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