Nokia 5.4 review - Newer, cheaper but not better

Updated: January 4, 2022

You have to admit, for a person who doesn't really like or care that much about smartphones (that person would be me, if you're wondering), I tend to do a fair deal of mobile device reviews. But hey, I must. When someone calls me a grumpy dinosaur, I need to have evidence that proves I'm still hip and leet and can dance the meanest of discos. Ergo, technology.

In the past few months, there have been some interesting developments in my touch adventures. My Moto G6 phone had died, and I replaced it with a Nokia X10. Then, I thought, what about the even older G4? Could it also meet the same fate? Well, as a precaution, I decided to buy a replacement device, so that I wouldn't end up in the same situation as with the G6. The chosen successor is a Nokia 5.4 budget phone. My reasoning for going this way was primarily experimentation, but I was also familiar and fairly pleased with the Nokia 5.3, which led me to this purchase. On paper, the new model isn't as good as the old one, but hey, let's be optimistic and see what gives. Thus beginneth the review.

Specifications

Let's see what the phone offers, without any great philosophy and comparison to Nokia 5.3 just yet. The color, to begin with. The cover comes in two shades - polar night and dusk purple. Weird choices, methinks. I went for the former. Now, I was somewhat wary, wondering how garish that blue would be, but it turns out, no, it's only a fairly mild color accent on the backcover. Nothing too offensive. A cautious start, then, from the physical perspective.

Back side, blue cover tint

The blue color accent is very subtle, and works well under different lighting conditions.

The phone is relatively light and easy to hold. The front camera lens sits on the left side. Now, you get the following: The screen comes with a 720x1560px resolution and relatively low 269ppi density. Under the hood, you get the Snapdragon 662 chipset, with an octa-core processor (two Gold and two Silver Kryo 260 cores), plus the Adreno 610 GPU. The rear quad camera offers 48MP resolution, and it has separate sensors for ultrawide, macro and depth modes. Like most new above-strictly-basic phones, it can record 4K@30fps videos. Let's not forget the 3.5mm audio jack, dual SIM tray, and a non-removable 4000mAh battery.

Now briefly, let's compare to the 5.3. In many regards, the two phones are almost identical. The two notable differences in the new model are: a less capable Wireless antenna and a more powerful camera. And of course, the price tag. About 10% less than what the 5.3 cost me. Interesting. But then, the actual bits and pieces used remain almost unchanged (ergo less modern now), so it makes sense for this new model to cost less several months later. Well, that's about it. Let's power it on.

User account import

Here's another big test. If you recall, with my X10, I didn't have any choice but to use the account recovery, because the G6 phone had died. With the Nokia 5.3 and the older Moto G4, I did have the option of using the phone-to-phone transfer. So, naturally, I tried this.

And it didn't work. At all. To wit, the details. I followed the instructions on the 5.4, which told me to launch the Google app on the old device and start the backup procedure. There was no dedicated option for this, so I had to "google" the necessary search string, which then helped launch the account transfer wizard. At this point, my old G4 was supposed to search the network and find the 5.4, and then the data copy would start. But it couldn't find the new device, no matter what. Wireless, Bluetooth, nothing.

Transfer 1 Transfer 2

Transfer 3 Transfer 4

The phone transfer process didn't go quite as planned, unfortunately.

This meant I had to rely on the via-the-cloud backup once again. But this didn't work well, either! While the G4 had the backup configured and all, the only thing that was copied over to the new phone was the Contacts. Nothing else. No customization, no settings, not a single application. Could this be due to the difference in Android versions between the two phones? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I decided to try one more thing - to see whether anything can be salvaged in this transfer, I manually copied the entire WhatsApp folder from the old phone to the new phone. At the very least, this worked. Once I installed the application on the Nokia 5.4, it correctly detected a local "backup" and restored the chats and whatnot. So one tiny success after all. This whole cloud thing is overrated. And now that I've tried all the various methods of Android phone backup & restore, I can definitely say that the experience with the iPhone was far superior. I'm not a fan of iPhones, but hey, you get everything in one quick go.

WhatsApp 1 WhatsApp 2

Privacy tweaks

I spent some two hours going through EVERY single privacy-related options. As you can imagine, my own guide, written a couple of years back, is a decent baseline, but then, so much has changed since. The settings get moved around all the time, and you need to keep searching and digging so you don't end up with useless stuff running and wasting your battery. I removed permissions for most of the apps, disabled the Google app, disabled the Assistant, added a clock widget, and such. Very similar to my endeavor with the 5.3 and more recently the X10 phone.

I was also annoyed by the distinct blurring of the Android One + vanilla experience. Now, in comparison to most vendors, Nokia's "extras" are relatively few and tame, but still. Why give me apps that I don't need? Why go beyond the pure basics, and just let me install whatever I want? I don't mind Netflix or Amazon, say, but I do mind having them installed without my explicit approval.

Apps included Privacy

Using the phone (and in comparison to Nokia 5.3)

There were some problems. First, the badly aligned screen protector. Whoever put the protector in place needs to be ashamed. It sits offset to the right by about 1 mm. In other words, there's a noticeable, visible bump on the left edge of the phone. Not pretty. Cheapens the device horribly.

Screen protector, left edge

Screen protector, right edge

You can clearly see the difference between the two edges. There's already micro-lint collecting there.

The single Wi-Fi band is also annoying. I mean, if my 2011 Nokia E6 can have a dual-band card, and if my 2009 LG laptop can have the same, why can't a brand new phone offer similar functionality? But then, the 5.3 has the same problem. But then, it has a more powerful Wi-Fi card, as it supports the 802.11ac standard, and works in the 5GHz range. The 5.4 only supports a/b/n standards, and works in the 2.4GHz range. Small but important things.

The display is meh. It feels washed out, even on maximum brightness. The colors aren't just cool, they also feel faded. I did try to change the display white balance, but this did not help at all. There's also a tiny difference in resolution between the two. Forty pixels in the vertical dimension. Small but important things.

Home screen App updates

Why is the clock indicator placed there? Camera lens, that's why, yup. Also, 64GB storage = 50-ish GB usable.

Also on the ergonomic front, the 5.4 is easier to hold than the 5.3, because it has less rounded edges, so it's not as slippery in your grip. But then, ruining the impression, the left-positioned front camera is not as stylish as the one on the older model, and it doesn't blend as well into the phone's frame/screen.

Beyond that, the basic usage is decent. Firefox + UBlock Origin for sane browsing, VLC for music, Here WeGo for offline maps for those who fancy that kind of thing. Video and music playback are okay. The sound quality is quite reasonable. This ain't no killer phone in any regard, but for its price, it delivers a fairly smooth experience, if not quite as vibrant and slick as its predecessor.

HD playback

1080p playback is smooth, no worries. Firefox, ftw. The rotation frame is weird and ugly, though.

Now, in my Nokia X10 review, I mentioned screenshots being annoying, and no so on the 5.3 or this device. Well, I seem to have spoken too soon, and jinxed it. Now, both these 5.X device suffer from the same problem, a non-removable post-screenshot edit hover nonsense. Why oh why.

Camera, finally some progress!

Some rather interesting results here. First, completely different results from the X10. Second, the camera is about the same as the old device, perhaps a little better. Truer color than either the X10 or the 5.3. Below, you can see a simple, non-professional comparison with a Motorola One Zoom (on the right). The Moto device has better depth, and off-center detail is also more precise. This is in line with what we saw with the 5.3 phone. But then, the 5.4 seems to have a truer color spectrum (if a tad too warm, which is unusual for Nokias). I am truly amazed by the subtle differences among devices. Now, of course, this ain't no scientific test, but it does show that you can't take the raw figures for granted.

Camera 1

And here's another shot. The colors are almost identical. The detail is a bit more sharp with the Moto, and there's more depth to the photo, but then, considering the price range, this is quite respectable. Very nice, I must say.

Camera 2

Finally, let's have a comparison between the two Nokias, after all. On the left, the 5.4. Better, more realistic color spectrum, more depth, more precise detail. You can see it best in the crinkle on the curtain, toward the bottom of the photo. It's visible in the image taken with the 5.4, but not the one with the predecessor device. The light shadows are also more pronounced. These aren't cardinal differences, but they are still important. Again, you can go back to the 5.3 review, and compare the photos I did there with One Zoom under the same conditions.

Camera 3

Battery life

Pretty solid, and almost identical to the 5.3. Well, that ain't surprising. But if your usage be gentle, and you have tweaked your phone to minimize battery drain, i.e., no overload of nonsense, not too many sensors constantly running, no ads in your browser, then you can expect 7+ days easy. The battery app has the same conservative estimate curve (take a look at the 5.3 review). In practice, you can stretch the time in between the charges to 10 days or more, even two weeks if you're super-gentle. Cool.

Battery life

Other things

I already mentioned in the X10 review. Here we have another Nokia phone and another USB cable. The difference from the other (more expensive phone) is that here, at least you get a wall charger, too. But, that said, the cable barely works. If you try to copy files, it takes forever to start, and then it does at a ridiculous speed of something like 300 B/s. Stupid and horrible. There's no problem with the phone or the laptop used for the transfer, because if I try other (non-Nokia) cables in my arsenal, it all works fine! Fast speed, instant data copy.

We're talking two phones, two cables, bad quality. This is how you lose customers, gents. My next phone purchases, as a consequence, will not be Nokia, because I refuse to be treated like dirt. It costs nothing to add a decent cable into the pack. But hey, you want budget? I'll give my budget to someone else. I know that one of my Moto phones had died, but all in all, the experience has been quite decent. So.

Conclusion

The end of the review. What can I say? Nokia 5.4 is a nifty budget phone. It's fast, robust, and the spec ain't too shabby. But the screen resolution is only okay, the colors are a bit washed out, the network speed is only reasonable, and there are no "wow" factors. The camera is the highlight point of this device. Budget, any which way you look at it.

Interestingly, compared to Nokia 5.3, this "new" model isn't as shiny and tight as I expected. But then, it is also cheaper. So corners have been cut, it would seem. Still, you get 10-15% less tech for about 10% less actual cost. I mean, it works, but there are these skimp-a-dime issues everywhere. Like the screen protector that sits 1.5mm to the right, and this shoddy offset says everything you need to know about the model. Things are just a bit off. The USB charging cable that does not work. I mean what's the end goal here? Pissed off buyers?

I think there is a sweet spot to how far down the budget trouser leg can one go before the you notice the feet stink, excuse my awful analogy. Nokia 5.3 seems fit right there in that spot - capability vs cost. Do anything less, and you start degrading the user experience in a visible, perceptible manner. Thus, while Nokia 5.4 is supposedly the new model, it's not as good as its predecessor, pretty much across the board. In almost all aspects, the old phone does things a bit better, always. The one advantage the 5.4 has is the camera, but that's about it. Now, the 5.4 is still okay, mind, but then, it's hard to ignore the rough edges. If you do want a Nokia device that isn't expensive and works well, this new phone is a passable choice. But if you have a chance, try the older one, it's ever so slightly more refined. 6.0/10, overall. And we're done.

Cheers.

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