When Nokia announced its new line of Android One phones back during Mobile World Congress, I instantly wanted to play with the Nokia 4.2, even more than the $1000 flagships and foldables shown off in Barcelona. The Nokia 4.2 sits at an interesting intersection between functionality and the affordable practicalities of the sub-$200 Android market.
The 5.7-inch screen is run of the mill and the 3GB/32GB storage configuration — with microSD, of course — is all fairly standard for the segment, but the buttons on this phone are as breathtakingly simple as they are experience-elevating. To the right of the screen, the power button houses the notification LED, and to the left sits one of the new dedicated Google Assistant buttons.
And unlike the Bixby button, this is an AI button you'll actually want to use.
- Google Assistant button works well
- Solid, smooth feel in-hand
- Simple Android
- Micro-USB in 2019
- Phone speaker is quiet
- Adaptive brightness is wonky
Nokia 4.2 Clicky hardware
Our very own Harish Jonnalagadda previewed the Nokia 4.2 back in March, and he did a bang-up job covering how good this phone feels in the hand for $189. The glass back is smooth — and very much a smudge/grime magnet — the plastic frame is easy to grip, and the buttons are clicky.
The 5.7-inch screen feels almost small inside its black-ringed frame, with a teardrop of up to for the selfie camera, but it gets bright enough for easy reading in most environments.
Now, getting back to those buttons. I can count on both hands the number of times I've intentionally used the Bixby button on my Galaxy S10 and S9+ before it, but the Google Assistant button — and the PTT walkie-talkie style you can use it with — is just quick enough and seamless enough to feel natural. Knowing it's active and listening when you hold down that button goes a long way towards ending the awkwardness to trying to talk to an AI assistant, which could help ease users that aren't using Assistant much right now into becoming regular users.
You can single-click it for the traditional Assistant query, but I much prefer the push-to-talk style as it means that when you let go of the button, it executes your search/command. Especially for home automation controls like turning off lights or adjusting the AC, the Google Assistant button makes me wonder why I tolerate saying "OK Google" to my Google Home Mini every time I want to turn on the bathroom lights.
Moving across to the power button, we have something that seems like such an obvious solution that I don't know why all power buttons are the LED indicators. If you get a notification, a ring around the edge of the power button lights up, helping you pick up your phone out of the dark and hit the power button on the first try instead of hitting the volume button ten times because I'm a groggy idiot.
This makes the notification light much larger than it would be on other phones, but the only time that gets annoying is when you're charging overnight, as it essentially turns the Nokia 4.2 into a nightlight, especially if you're using a clear case it can refract through.
Nokia 4.2 Android One under the hood
Running Android One is a huge boon for lower-priced phones — which are otherwise notorious for seldom (if ever) receiving updates — and I'm excited more phones with Android One are finally making their way to the U.S. Android One means the software is light, consistent, and HMD has said this phone will receive two years of platform updates and security patches, taking it from Android Pie to Android R.
There are some small hiccups with the software during my time with it — for instance the Adaptive Brightness seemed to miss the happy medium most of the time, jumping between too dim and almost full brightness — and there was some lag even with only my most basic apps installed, so I'm not sure how well the Snapdragon 439 and 3 GB of RAM will hold up long term. You'll fill the 32GB of storage quickly, but microSD cards can give you up to 400GB of extra space. The 3000mAh battery holds up quite well, easily lasting through the day to lunch the next day.
Nokia 4.2 Odds and ends
- Like Harish, I too tended to slide my finger over the camera flash instead of the rear fingerprint sensor, but I corrected my grip quickly enough.
- The amount of grime that built up on the back glass over a single week was impressive, so unless you like that gritty feel, a case is most definitely required here.
- This phone still uses Micro-USB, and that makes me sad in 2019.
- The earpiece sounded quiet during multiple calls.
- Camera is okay for still shots in regular light, if a bit slow, but once things start moving, things get blurry fast. (I also may be spoiled after almost two months with the Pixel 3a.)
Nokia 4.2 Should you buy it?
A $189 phone has to make compromises, but on the Nokia 4.2, most of them are more than reasonable enough to live with. While I really do wish this phone could've afforded a USB-C connector, I'll live with Micro-USB if it gives me that sweet, new Google Assistant button.
3 out of 5
Android One makes this one of the more reliable buys you can make under $200 — especially here in the US, where Android One phones are still fairly rare — and Nokia's been consistent with its updates and support over the last two years. If you want an unlocked phone you can rely on without blowing $400 on a Pixel 3a, you could do a lot worse than the Nokia 4.2
Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.
So with most cases the led light on the power button will be hidden.... So I've got to settle for those cheap transparent cases that have little protection?
An excellent question, but it's not quite that cut-and-dry. For many cases, there are little slits in the case between the case cover and the button covers, so the LED light could shine through those, but it depends who the case manufacturer is and how they handled the LED light. That LED is also very bright, so if the plastic is thin enough around the button, the light will shine through it to a degree.
To be honest, that is a sweet looking device. I also give it another plus for the notification light. I would have gladly purchased the Nokia 4.2, but my current 7.1 is my pride and joy. I shall not part from it unless someone removes it from my almost arthritic fingers. Still I'm glad to see Nokia back. I'm particularly biased in their favour because it was the company that provided my first handsets many years ago. Besides they rescued me from BlackBerry...😜
Why no mention of the LG G7 that earlier (first?) had a goggle assistant button?
Probably because we are discussing the 4.2 here.
Problem for me is I hate opposing buttons, as I usually end up pressing both because you can't press one without holding the phone. I do appreciate good buttons though, and often keep clicking mine with the phone in my pocket for that satisfying "snap". That's the irony of the U12: the most passionately hated feature has become a pleasure to use. The LED in the power button is a good idea, as long as you can see it when the phone is to your right. I think my biggest issue would be lag, as with the addition of Filmic Pro, I have 157 apps installed, lol.
You go a whole week without cleaning your phone. Nasty.