Following its resurgence under HMD Global two years ago, Nokia has managed to carve out a niche for itself in the budget segment. While the brand launched a few flagships, it has primarily focused its attention on the budget segment in emerging markets like China and India. Nokia also introduced a few phones in the U.S. in the last two years to moderate success. The Nokia 7.1 continues to be the best $350 phone in the country, and the entry-level Nokia 3.1 is a decent option for those that want pure Android on a budget.
The Nokia 4.2 follows in a similar vein. The phone has decent internals and a modern design, and it runs Android One like all Nokia phones. Best of all, it's on sale unlocked in the U.S. for just $189, making it a stellar option in 2019.
The Nokia 4.2 shares the same design aesthetic as recent Nokia phones — there's glass at the front and back, sandwiched by a polycarbonate frame. The phone is available in Black and Pink Sand options, and both variants will be on sale globally.
There's a tiny waterdrop cutout at the top that houses the front camera module, and there's a slit above the housing for the earpiece. Going with the cutout has minimized the bezel at the top, but the bottom bar is one of the widest I've seen on a phone to date. The Nokia logo is emblazoned at the bottom, but there's a lot of wasted space.
The back is unassuming if you're using the black option, with the glass design featuring a Nokia logo prominently across the center and the new Android One branding at the bottom. There's a dual camera array at the back, with a 13MP primary camera joined by a 2MP depth sensor.
As there are two cameras at the back, the fingerprint sensor sits slightly lower than where your index finger is normally resting, and more often than not I ended up pressing down on the flash module when trying to unlock the phone.
The power button and volume rocker are on the left, and like the LG G8, the Nokia 4.2 has a dedicated Google Assistant button on the right. A single press invokes the digital assistant, a double press launches the Assistant pane, and you can use a long press for taking notes or longer queries.
There isn't a standard notification LED on the Nokia 4.2 — you instead get a light ring circling the power button that activates whenever you get a notification. The effect is pretty cool, and the ring also lights up when your phone is charging. If you find it distracting, there is an option in the settings to disable the feature entirely.
The phone itself is ideal for one-handed use thanks to the compact size. The Nokia 4.2 has dimensions of 148.95 x 71.30 x 8.39mm, and the polycarbonate design has allowed HMD to bring the weight down to 161g. The 5.71-inch display has 2.5D curves, and the 720p panel is decent enough at this price point.
On the hardware side of things, the Nokia 4.2 is running the Snapdragon 439. This is one of the first phones powered by the platform, and it has eight Cortex A53 cores — four clocked at 1.95GHz, and four at 1.45GHz. You get 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage as standard, and there's a MicroSD slot that can take in cards up to 400GB.
The Adreno 505 GPU is just an underclocked version of the same GPU found in the Snapdragon 632, and while the chipset does not have the newer A73 cores that are featured in the 632, it still delivers a smooth experience in day-to-day usage.
You're not going to find a lot of lag during everyday tasks like browsing or messaging, and I played Alto's Odyssey for half an hour and it was an enjoyable experience. The phone will struggle when it comes to more intensive games, but for the asking price you're getting a lot of value.
The Nokia 4.2 also has NFC in global markets (excluding India), and you get Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.2, FM radio, 3.5mm jack, a Category 4 LTE modem with 150Mbps download speeds, and VoLTE. The 3000mAh battery is more than enough to deliver a day's worth of use, but it charges over MicroUSB.
Nokia phones aren't exactly known for the hardware, with HMD instead focusing on software experience as a key differentiator. To that end, the Nokia 4.2 runs Android One out of the box, and you get two years of platform and security updates — with HMD delivering monthly security patches.
There isn't a single brand that delivers the same software experience as HMD in the budget segment, and if you're looking at a phone with pure Android that will receive timely updates, the Nokia 4.2 is the default choice right now.
Overall, there are a lot of things the Nokia 4.2 gets right. But the phone just does not work in India because there are much better alternatives available that cost a similar amount of money.
That said, things are different in the U.S. There's a shortage of affordable phones that offer great value for money, and the Nokia 4.2 is a fantastic choice if you want a phone that delivers an uncluttered software experience and timely software updates. The hardware is decent enough for everyday tasks, the compact design is ideal for one-handed use, and at just $189, you're getting a lot of value for your money.
The Moto G7 Play is the closest rival to the Nokia 4.2 in the U.S., and while that phone also offers great value, Motorola is just not consistent with software updates. You'll have a much better chance of getting the latest security and platform updates on the Nokia 4.2.
The Nokia 4.2 has a modern design with a tiny waterdrop cutout, and the Snapdragon 439 chipset with 3GB of RAM allows it to breeze through everyday tasks. But what sets the phone apart is the software: it comes with Android 9.0 Pie out of the box, and will get two years' worth of security and platform updates.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.