Nokia’s budget-conscious C21 Plus offers a sizeable display and solid everyday performance despite performing unspectacularly in benchmarking tests. With features like face unlock and a fingerprint scanner, it’s a cheap phone with plenty of forward-thinking features – including two more years of Android support guaranteed.
Cheaper phones are all the rage in modern times, and that’s making the market much more competitive. Nokia, once the king of the mobile, is now making a play for the budget-conscious consumer that doesn’t want their device to cut too many corners.
The Nokia C21 Plus is almost that. It offers a big screen, solid everyday performance, and features like a fingerprint scanner and face unlocking for around £100. While there are compromises made to get there, it really is tough to argue with the £109/€129 price tag given what’s on offer here.
Design & Build
Large display with bezels and chin
Fingerprint scanner on back
Larger phones are starting to homogenise a little bit, and Nokia’s latest doesn’t do a great deal to step away from the crowd here. The C21 Plus offers the almost all-screen front that you’d expect elsewhere, save for a small chin at the base of the display.
There are still bezels, though, and unlike something like the Motorola Moto G22, you won’t find a hole punch camera – the front-facing snapper is buried in the top bezel via a tear drop notch.
Lloyd Coombes / Foundry
The top edge has a 3.5mm headphone jack, while the left side is bare save for a SIM tray on the top side. On the right, there’s a volume rocker and a sleep/wake/power button. There’s a small, circular fingerprint scanner on the back panel, too, but for someone with big hands it may be tricky to spot – but there’s facial recognition unlocking, too.
The biggest disappointment, though, is the micro-USB port at the bottom. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one, in truth, and its non-reversible nature makes plugging the C21 Plus into the included charger a minor hassle that I thought USB-C had alleviated.
My review unit is the Dark Cyan variant, but the other option is Warm Gray. The matt finish does a good job of mitigating fingerprints, but you’re still bound to pick up some smudges.
Screen & Speakers
6.2in 60Hz LCD
Only one speaker
I’ve been critical of LCD displays in the past, particularly at this resolution, but the low price point here makes a 720p display feel at least a little easier to swallow than on some phones that cost more.
Watching videos on it, either through downloaded Netflix shows or streaming through YouTube, was a passable experience. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but I’ve tested some phones where the resolution causes content to appear devoid of colour and detail. Sadly, viewing angles aren’t great, though.
Lloyd Coombes / Foundry
Another issue, and something that’s very common with phones of this price bracket, is the lack of dual speakers. There’s only one here, based in the bottom of the phone, meaning treble, mid, and bass is all coming through the same point.
While things get a little tinny as the volume goes up, though, we have to give Nokia credit – while bass and treble get pushed into the mids, that mid-range “EQ” effect doesn’t grate too much. Again, it’s a backhanded compliment perhaps, but often you’ll find that audio on phones of this price will push so much into mid frequencies that even your favorite song can be ruined.
Specs & Performance
Low benchmarks don’t tell the whole story
32GB or 64GB of storage, with microSD support
Definitely not a phone for gamers.
If you looked at the C21 Plus’ specs, you’d no doubt worry a little; 32GB of internal storage isn’t a lot, and 2GB of RAM is very low in today’s world where phones offer just as much power as some computers.
The bad news is that the benchmarks aren’t much better. A Geekbench multi-core score of 475 is unlikely to give you a lot of confidence, and GFX Bench’s array of benchmarks gave only around 5.7 frames-per-second on the Aztec Ruins Vulkan normal test (3.3fps on the high version).
That all but rules out many popular games (and a lot of the ones we’ve used for testing in the past), but the numbers only tell half the story. That’s because Android 11 Go, a lightweight version of Google’s mobile OS, is much more optimised on a device such as this.
This means that despite the low numbers, flicking between apps, particularly Google mainstays like Drive, Docs, YouTube and more, is much more fluid than you’d expect. Even the keyboard, which can sometimes lag a little on phones with such modest specs, feels snappy and responsive.
Things can always be faster, sure, but if you’re buying a phone to text, make calls, and fire off some emails, the C21 Plus will serve you very well indeed.
It’s clear that compromises were made with the C21 Plus’ 13Mp camera to hit that price point, and any budding shutterbugs should definitely avoid both the front and rear snappers here.
It’s not bad, per se, but indoor images are devoid of colour and low-light situations will yield bland photos (see the two images of the dinosaur for examples of this).
Sapping the colour through overexposure also tends to lower the detail, as noticeable in the photo of flowers outside. Outdoor images do fare better for the most part, although low-light scenarios can cause a lengthy delay while the image processes. Moving the camera in this window can cause some really blurred images, too.
The front-facing camera is also a no-frills affair. The 5Mp sensor takes in plenty of light, but also tends to make things a bit too bright, throwing off the contrast and leading to much softer images.
Portrait mode does work well, however. As you can see in the example, it does well to distinguish around the hair and ears, although in testing (prior to a haircut!) it did struggle with longer, fluffier hair.
In terms of video recording, you can capture 1080p video at 30fps but you’ll want to play it back elsewhere for the best viewing experience thanks to the device’s 720p resolution. You’ll also need a steady arm as there’s no optical stabilisation on offer.
Battery Life & Charging
Requires charging daily
Slow charging via micro-USB
The 4000mAh battery is non-removable, and while our benchmarking app crashed a couple of times, in general use the Nokia C21 Plus was gasping for a charge by the end of the day.
That’s a shame, because of how impressive some budget phone batteries can be, but that micro-USB port also contributes to some very slow charging. We were able to get just 17% when charging from the included 10W charger for 15 minutes, and 32% after 30 minutes..
Lloyd Coombes / Foundry
Software & Apps
Android 11 Go is lightweight
Some apps won’t run
Takes some time to get used to swiping on the chin
While I know the benchmarks I logged aren’t pulling up any trees, the key thing is that Nokia has also realised this. As a result, it has skipped putting the full-fat version of Android on the C21 Plus and opted for the much more lightweight (and less bloated) Android 11 Go.
That does have some drawbacks, of course. Aside from some apps simply not being able to run, there are also more incremental updates. On the plus side, though, the installation is smaller, and you still get access to many of your Google favourites like Docs, Drive, and Chrome. Nokia is promising two years of updates to 2024.
There’s something that felt a little offduring testing; while the C21 Plus never felt particularly sluggish in any normal tasks, the small chin at the bottom of the screen occasionally interfered with my swiping upward to return home. After a few tries I grew to work around it, but it did make those early hours feel less responsive than they could’ve been.
Price & Availability
Between the 720p screen, the functional-at-best camera, and the Micro-USB port, it’d be fair to say there are plenty of minor drawbacks to the C21 Plus.
And yet, with a price this low, I’m willing to forgive many of them. The C21 Plus is just £109 in the UK – available direct as well as Amazon, Argos and Very. It’s not on the official Nokia US site but you can buy a 3/32GB model from Amazon for $124.
It costs €129 in Europe, where you can get it direct from Nokia.
A phone with a display this large would once have cost an awful lot more, and unless you’re desperate for better battery life, it comes in at a good £50 cheaper than the Motorola Moto G22 but offers considerably better performance.
Sure, you can opt for a larger internal storage option, but for my money, I’d advise just popping a microSD card in to expand.
Niggles like the micro-USB port and lack of a bigger battery shouldn’t deter a budget-conscious user from considering the Nokia C21 Plus. Its benchmark results may seem on the unflattering side, but real-world performance is solid in everyday use.
With two years of Android updates expected, and face and fingerprint unlocking too, the C21 could feasibly be your daily driver for the next couple of years. It’s not an all-singing, all-dancing kind of device, but it does more than enough to justify the modest outlay.
Android 11 Go Edition
6.52in screen with 20:9 aspect ratio and 720×1600 resolution