Not bad looking but sluggish to run, the Nokia C32 is a cheap phone and performs like one. It’s a reasonable choice if you’re strapped for cash and only have basic needs.
Nokia’s new budget phone definitely lives up to the title, though the Scandinavian handset pioneer with the instantly recognisable ringtone does have cheaper models out there. The C32 is a 6.5in handset with an IPS display, an octa-core chipset, and a 50Mp main camera that looks like it could be a bit more expensive than it really is.
Things change when you switch it on, however. Startup times can be long, and the phone itself feels sluggish. It’s generally fine, and I’m prepared to forgive a lot for something at this bargain price, but this is a phone for those who don’t want to do much more than make calls and check emails.
Design & Build
Good fingerprint reader
Lots of plastic
Nokia hasn’t deviated from the basic Android phone plan, a black rectangle with rounded corners and some switches on one side. And why should it? There’s very little to say about the design of the C32 because it’s so generic, though I appreciate the way the fingerprint reader is built into the power button – this always seems like a better solution than putting it under the screen – and it activated every time I touched it.
Ian Evenden / Foundry
My review model has a green back (pink and grey are also available) with a compact grey camera bulge, and Nokia has chosen to retain the much-missed headphone socket at the top of the phone.
The back is toughened glass (as is the front, no Gorilla glass here) and the sides are plastic, which at least means it’s a little less slippery than some models, and as a result of its construction is light in the hand and easy to hold.
Screen & Speakers
720p IPS display
Mono speaker and headphone jack
We’ve been used to phones with 1080p resolutions or greater for a long time now, so the 720×1600 resolution of the C32’s screen feels like a step back. The similarly named Realme C35 isn’t much more expensive and gets you Ful HD.
It’s in line with the budget nature of the device, although you can find higher resolutions if you want. You’re not going to be complaining about low-resolution icons on the home screen like it was a first-generation iPhone, but neither are you going to get the absolute best out of any 1080p video you stream.
Ian Evenden / Foundry
The IPS tech behind the display is old-fashioned too. Though it’s still common enough in desktop computer monitors, IPS has been overtaken by OLED or AMOLED in the best phones, which can provide a brighter, more colourful picture.
Again, the C32’s screen is generally fine – it’s only in the brightest sunshine that you’re going to have any difficulty making out what’s on the screen, though I also found that it was its reflectivity rather than lack of brightness that gave the greatest trouble.
There’s a single speaker grille at the bottom of the phone, and it continues the fine tradition of phone speakers by being passable for phone calls but really not sounding great for anything else. A pair of the best wireless headphones (or even a wired pair, thanks to the headphone port) are a must if you intend to use this as a music player.
Specs & Performance
Unisoc octa-core processor
4/64GB memory and storage
microSD card slot
No 5G or NFC
The octa-core chipset at the heart of the C32 is the Unisoc SC9863A1 with 4GB of RAM, and a virtual RAM feature that lets it squeeze three more GB bt stealing a bit of the phone’s 65GB storage.
The CPU consists of eight Arm Cortex A55 cores, four of them clocked at 1.6GHz, and four at 1.2GHz. The A55 is the kind of core used as an ‘efficiency’ core in flagship phones, allowing faster, more powerful cores to take on the heavy lifting. As such, while it’s perfectly capable of running the Android 13 operating system the phone ships with in basic terms, performance is not exactly up there with the best.
Ian Evenden / Foundry
If you’re used to a modern top-end phone such as a Samsung Galaxy S23 or Google Pixel 7 released in the last couple of years, you’ll appreciate the way they spring into action and don’t leave you waiting about. Apps on the C32 are noticeably slow to open. The keyboard doesn’t appear when you select a text input or search box such as the one in the Play Store until your thumb has been hovering over where you expect it to be for a moment.
It also took ages to set up the Google Photos library, and even made me wait while the phone started up. Pressing the Edit button on an image in Photos saw the C32 do nothing for a moment before the swirling ‘busy’ circle appeared and the edit interface loaded. Actually editing the image seemed responsive, however, with changes to brightness and white point being reflected straight away in the preview.
Performance in GFXbench is worse than the Samsung Galaxy S7 from 2016, and it’s impossible to recommend the phone for gaming on, unless you want to play the most basic of 2D games.
Elsewhere, there’s a microSD card slot to complement the internal storage, which is nice to see and something I miss from phones of the past, though it only supports cards of up to 256GB. The FM radio is also a nice surprise, though streaming services have taken over from such features, which used to be common, it gives the phone an extra layer of functionality that I appreciate. A station scan with the phone sitting on a desk by a window found only two available programmes, however.
The lack of a 5G wireless data connection is going to be a problem for some potential buyers too. One thing the phone is good at is streaming, and having the extra speed of 5G to iron out blips and buffering, even with a 720p stream, would have been nice.
The Wi-Fi is stuck at the older 802.11n, or Wi-Fi 4, meaning that while your connectivity will probably be ok, you won’t be hitting the highest transfer speeds or connecting to 5GHz networks. There’s also no NFC onboard, so you won’t be using it for payments either.
It’s safe to say the Nokia C32 is limited.
50Mp main camera
8Mp front camera
2Mp macro camera
What the Nokia C32 lacks in connectivity, it makes up somewhat in the camera department.
The main 50Mp camera on the back is joined by a 2Mp macro camera instead of something useful like an ultrawide lens, but the 12.5Mp files produced by the wide-angle snapper are actually pretty good.
Ian Evenden / Foundry
There’s a nice level of detail in its shots, capturing the hairs on the stems of the poppy plants I tested it on, though there’s some clipping in the white petals of daisies caused by the bright sunlight. Even shooting directly into the sun gave a decent image. This shows the camera at its best, but there’s worse to come.
Nokia is proud of its low-light capabilities, but I found the night mode to be so slow it produced blurred images from either camera or subject movement, and shots in normal mode were washed out in low light. It also calls it an ‘AI camera’, going so far as to write this on the phone’s rear bulge, but I saw no evidence of intelligence beyond face recognition and auto HDR mode.
There’s a 2x digital zoom on the rear camera, and the ability to switch between 720p and 1080p video recording. That’s the extent of the video options, there are no alternate framerates.
Around the front you’ll find an 8Mp selfie camera, and the app has the neat trick of switching the otherwise dark camera interface to white in this mode if it detects a dark subject, so it can inject a little bit more light into the image.
Images from the front camera are fine for a video call, but the full-res stills it produces, despite being well detailed in good light, are never going to match the vibrancy of those from the main unit on the back. Video from the front camera is 720p only, and it’s equally poor when the light begins to fade.
Battery Life & Charging
All-day battery and more
Only 10W charging
No wireless charging
The Nokia C32 packs a 5000mAh battery, and the company claims a battery life of three whole days. That might be possible if you just leave it on standby, but actually using the phone is going to bring it down.
It doesn’t drop too fast, however. The CPU and GPU benchmarking tests I ran on the phone only caused the battery level to drop by about 25%, and you can get a day and a half of life out of it if you’re using it for streaming, social media, photos and texting. Our battery test keeps the screen on and simulates constant usage, and the phone managed ten hours, meaning it will last much longer when used intermittently.
Filling it up isn’t as fast as on other phones, as the C32 only supports 10W wired charging which gets you a paltry 16% in half an hour. There’s no wireless charging capability either, so you’ll be wedded to connecting the USB-C port to a wall socket.
Software & Apps
Not much bloatware
Performance is sluggish
Happily, as the phone only has 64GB of internal storage, Nokia has chosen not to overload it with bloatware apps you’ll never use. There’s Netflix, LinkedIn and a couple of others that are easily removed, but otherwise the OS is left largely alone.
This was probably a good idea, as a heavyweight skin over the top of Android would have slowed the phone even further. As it is, the interface is just responsive enough, with a few noticeable waits when you open apps, but leaving things like opening the app drawer or bringing up the switcher running at a decent speed.
Price & Availability
The Nokia C32 is really cheap and I’ve already seen it going for as little as £109 on some sites. That’s a nice chunk lower than the £129 RRP.
You get a surprising amount for your money, though with only two years of security updates on offer, its longevity is in doubt.
At the time of writing the phone is broadly available, with big retailers such as Amazon, Argos and Very stocking it alongside the official store – the power of the Nokia name showing itself. It’s not available in the US at the time of writing.
Take a look at our chart of the best budget phones to see more options.
Ian Evenden / Foundry
I can forgive a lot of the Nokia C32’s shortcomings because of its price.
When you think of who this phone is aimed at – a first phone, perhaps, or one for people who aren’t glued to their handset all day (they are out there) and want one that’s going to be available for calls, photos and messaging – it begins to make a lot of sense. No point buying an iPhone 14 Pro Max or Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra if that’s all it’s going to be used for.
So while the C32 might be slow, underpowered, have no NFC, 5G or the latest Wi-Fi capability, and has a low screen resolution, these things probably don’t matter to the people who are going to buy it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, at £129, it shifts a few units. After all, it’s nicely made, and fulfills most of the functions of a modern smartphone.
OS: Android 13
Screen: 6.52in IPS, 720×1600 pixels
Chipset: Unisoc SC9863A1
Storage: 64GB (plus microSD)
Connectivity: 4G, USB-C (USB 2.0), Wi-Fi 4, Bluetooth 5.2, GPS, FM radio