Nokia makes pretty damn good Android phones, but the brand has struggled to crack the U.S. market since HMD Global acquired and rebooted it back in 2016. That could change now that Nokia phones will be sold in Verizon and Cricket Wireless stores.
There’s a catch, though: You can only choose from prepaid, budget Nokia devices that are locked and exclusive to each carrier. The Nokia 2 V, a variant of the Nokia 2.1 that launched overseas, will be available in Verizon stores, and you can find the $160 Nokia 3.1 Plus at Cricket.
If you want to snag a pricier model, such as the beloved $349 Nokia 7.1 that launched late last year, you’ll need to buy one unlocked online and activate it on a GSM network in the U.S. (such as AT&T and T-Mobile).
So are Nokia’s new budget phones any good? Let’s take a look at the specs.
Nokia 2 V vs. 3.1 Plus
Verizon’s exclusive Nokia handset, the 2 V, goes on sale Jan. 31. The device sports a 5.5-inch HD display, stainless steel trim and a massive 4,000 mAh battery with quick-charging capability. However, the 2 V is pretty outdated: The Android Go device runs 8.1 Oreo on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 425 processor with 1GB of RAM, so it will likely turn in unimpressive performance for a 2019 smartphone, even relative to other budget devices.
The 2V offers an 8-MP rear-facing camera and 5-MP front-facing lens and just 8GB of storage (expandable up to 128GB with a microSD card). And the micro-USB charging port, oddly placed off to the side instead of in the center, also feels outdated. All in all, the 2 V looks to be pretty underwhelming.
The $160 3.1 Plus sounds better on paper, with a 5.99-inch HD+ LCD display, fingerprint sensor, NFC chip for mobile payments and a dual-lens camera (13-MP and 5-MP) that lets you see bokeh effect in real-time. The midnight blue 3.1 Plus also runs Android Pie out of the box. With 2GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 439 processor, the 3.1 Plus can’t compete with premium Android flagships, but the device has plenty to offer for the price. The 3.1 Plus goes on sale today (Jan. 25) in Cricket Wireless stores and online.
The decision to partner with Verizon and Cricket (and, in Canada, the wireless carrier Rogers) is a big deal for Nokia, because it finally puts the company’s smartphones in North American carrier stores. Most U.S. smartphone shoppers buy their phones through carriers, and Nokia needs to be part of their lineup to compete with Samsung, Motorola and the like.
HMD Global says its decision to make carrier-specific budget models doesn’t mean high-end flagships aren’t in the works. It’s possible we’ll see premium handsets from Nokia as soon as next month, when some of the the year’s biggest Android flagships will make headlines at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
This is HMD Global’s first step toward making Nokia phones easier to buy in the U.S. We just wish there were more options — or better ones. OnePlus also makes great, affordable Android phones, and when it finally inked a deal with a T-Mobile last year, it was for the excellent OnePlus 6T. We hope Nokia makes mid-range and high-end options available through all four big carriers soon.