Nokia 7.2 hands-on review: Gunning for Google

Nokia 7.2 hands-on review: Gunning for Google

“It’s difficult to find flaws with the $350 Nokia 7.2.”

  • Fun bokeh features, strong camera
  • Android One promises fast updates
  • Elegant design
  • Large and modern-looking screen
  • Affordable
  • No Verizon or Sprint support

Google’s Pixel 3a flipped the table on budget smartphones. It brought a fantastic camera experience down to an affordable $400 price point. It also receives version and security updates straight from Google, a feature that’s lacking even on flagship phones. These are the features HMD Global wants to emulate with its latest Nokia 7.2.

It has a 48-megapixel camera equipped with Zeiss optics, an additional wide-angle lens for versatility, and stellar portrait mode effects that takes swipes at the Pixel 3a’s camera king status. It also holds its own with software support, because it’s an Android One phone. That means three years of security updates and two version upgrades. All this and more for $350, which is less than the Pixel 3a; it’s an impressive showing. I spent some time with the Nokia 7.2, and here’s a closer look.

Sophisticated design, an HDR display

Put the Nokia 7.2 next to the Nokia 7.1, and you’d think they come from two different manufacturers. HMD has changed up the design for the better.

The corners are rounded, and the circular camera module in the center looks nicer than the vertical camera system, though it owes inspiration to Motorola phones. There’s a beautiful effect that plays upon the rear glass when it catches the light. Especially on the Cyan Green color, the Nokia 7.2 looks sophisticated. It also comes in Ice and Charcoal, but Cyan Green is the one I’d pick.

It’s protected by Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and the back, and interestingly, HMD said it’s using a polymer composite around the frame that’s double the strength of polycarbonate, but lighter. That means the Nokia 7.2 should be a little more durable than the average mid-range phone, but the most important parts of the phone are still made of glass, so you’ll still want to use a case. It’s a shame there’s no IP68 water resistance to cover all the bases, but it’s splash-proof, so it should be fine in the rain.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There’s a dedicated Google Assistant button on the left side if you want to call it up quickly, and the power button on the right edge doubles as an LED notification light for those who want a visual cue when alerts come in — it’s a feature we’ve seen on before on the Nokia 4.2 earlier this year. There’s also a headphone jack.

Despite the 6.3-inch screen, the phone feels quite usable with one hand. It is noticeably thick though, coming in at 8.25mm. The iPhone XS is 7.7mm and the Pixel 3 7.9mm; while that doesn’t sound like a big difference, I could feel the chunkier size. It’s still comfortable to hold as the edges have been smoothed out to show off some beautiful curves.

The Nokia 7.2 is a beautiful package, from smooth curves and a matte glass texture that prevents fingerprints.

The screen looks modern, thanks to the slimmed-down bezels, and the teardrop notch where the selfie camera rests is a whole lot more elegant. It’s LCD, but it uses HMD’s PureDisplay technology, which upscales SDR content into HDR. It offers up richer colors and higher contrast, and videos certainly do pop. HMD said movies on Amazon Prime Video support the HDR10 standard, but I haven’t had a chance to test this.

The screen is a highlight indeed. The Full HD+ resolution ensures everything looks sharp, and it can also go up to 500 nits, which should mean it’s easier to read in broad daylight. I’ll be putting it to the test to see how well it fares.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Nokia 7.2 is a beautiful package, from smooth curves and a matte glass texture that prevents fingerprints to a sharp and modern screen. But while these make for a better phone overall, it’s the camera that really has the potential to stand out from the crowd.

A 48-megapixel camera

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

48-megapixel cameras are becoming more and more commonplace with phones like the Motorola One Vision and the OnePlus 7 Pro utilizing them. Whether they’re needed on smartphones is debatable, as more megapixels don’t necessarily translate to a better camera. But there is a chance to get more detailed, higher-resolution images, and the early results from the Nokia 7.2 are promising.

In this daytime comparison between the Pixel 3a, the Nokia 7.2 produces a much more natural color for the sky, though the buildings are quite warm. There’s a little more contrast in the Pixel photo, with slightly more refined details, which goes to show how more megapixels don’t always mean a better photo. Still, it’s strong photo for a $350 phone, and it shows it can compete with the Pixel 3a.


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Nokia 7.2, 48 megapixelsNokia 7.2, 48 megapixels Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Pixel 3aPixel 3a Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Nokia 7.2, 12 megapixelsNokia 7.2, 12 megapixels Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You should know, by default the camera takes 12-megapixel photos as it uses a process called pixel binning to merge pixels together, so they can take in more light. It should mean the camera can take nice low-light photos, but I’ll need to test it first before I can say for sure. You can force it to take 48-megapixel photos as well.

There’s also an 8-megapixel (f/2.2) wide-angle lens, but the few photos I took with it didn’t look too impressive. It’s also a fixed focus, so you can’t get unique macro shots as you can get with phones like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Still, it allows for some versatility on the camera system, and more testing is required to see whether it can take good shots.

A 5-megapixel depth sensor is employed on the rear for a new feature in the camera’s Portrait mode called Zeiss Bokeh Styles. It borrows from the rich history of Zeiss lenses to mimic bokeh — or blur — styles and applies them behind a subject. You can choose from Zeiss Swirl, Zeiss Smooth, and Zeiss Modern.

Zeiss Bokeh Style, Nokia 7.2 Joel Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Playing around with this feature is immensely fun, and the results it produces are impressive. There’s a ton of detail, good contrast, accurate colors, and the camera does a fine job of outlining the subject from the background. These effects also work on the 20-megapixel front camera, which is also shaping up to be strong for selfies.

Finally, there’s also a dedicated Night mode, which stacks multiple images of varying exposures together for shareable night-time photos. I haven’t been able to test this mode yet, as I haven’t had a chance to use the camera at night, but I will for the full review.

I’ll be comparing photos from the Nokia 7.2 with the Pixel 3a to see how it fares, but even if it falls a little short, this is still looking to be an excellent camera for its price.

Performance and battery life

Where I’m a little concerned is performance. There’s a Snapdragon 660 processor inside with 4GB of RAM, a step up from the Snapdragon 636 inside last year’s Nokia 7.1 (now relegated to the new Nokia 6.2). It felt snappy in the brief time I had with it, but there were hardly any apps installed and nothing was set up, so it’s hardly a good judgment for performance.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It should be more than adequate to handle most everyday tasks, but I expect the phone may struggle a little with intensive games. The Google Pixel 3a is powered by the Snapdragon 670 and it had no trouble handling my usual suite of apps, so expect a similar story.

The Nokia 7.2 does step up its storage game over the Pixel, though, offering 128GB base internal storage and support for a MicroSD card if you need more.

Keeping on the lights is a 3,500mAh battery capacity, which is 440mAh bigger than the Nokia 7.1. Hopefully, it means a full day of comfortable use, because the battery was not a highlight on the predecessor. It’s charged up via the USB-C port, which supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 technology, so it should give you around 50% of juice in around 30 minutes. There’s sadly no wireless charging, but most phones in this price range don’t have it.

Android One and Ambient Mode

As is the case with most HMD Nokia phones, the Nokia 7.2 is a part of the Android One program. That means you get a promise of three years of security updates and two operating system upgrades. While it’s running Android 9 Pie at the moment, it will get Android 10 soon after its release (if not the same day).

This is a big deal because there’s a dearth of budget and mid-range smartphones that offer this level of software support. Fast updates mean new features — like Android 10’s new dark theme — and it also keeps your phone secure thanks to bug patches. Motorola, one of HMD’s main competitors in the U.S., is only offering one year of version upgrades for its mid-range phones with “industry-related security updates,” which means whenever there’s a big security issue. Phones like the Moto E6 aren’t even getting a single OS upgrade. It’s quite remarkable what HMD is doing.

It’s quite remarkable what HMD is doing.

The interface is utilizing stock Android, so it’s clean, slick, simple to use, and there’s no bloatware (unless you count Google apps as bloat). The main changes are in the camera app, where HMD has added its own features, but there is a new feature called Ambient Mode, and it kicks in when you plug the Nokia 7.2 in to charge it up.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Ambient Mode turns the Nokia 7.2 into a smart speaker of sorts, placing Google Assistant suggestions on the always-on display, so you can see upcoming calendar events, commute times, and more without having to ask Google or even turn on the screen. It can even show photos from Google Photos as a digital frame. It’s more or less a feature we’ve seen enabled on the Pixel 3 when it’s placed on the Pixel Stand wireless charger, but here it works with wired charging.

Price and availability

The Nokia 7.2 is $350, and will be available starting September 24 from Amazon and Best Buy. If you want to check it out in stores, you’ll have to wait until September 29, when it will be in Best Buy retail locations around the country. Do note that the phone only works on GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile.

Wrap up

The Nokia 7.2 helps fill the dearth of mid-range Android phones with good software support in the U.S., and it’s also looking like it excels in various other departments too, from the camera to design and durability. I’ll be paying attention closely to performance to see if there are any issues, but I’m happy there’s are a growing number of strong smartphones to choose from under $400.