Only have couple of thousand bucks but still want a smartphone that'll look good, offer decent Android, and... okay, two out of three isn't bad. This isn't the most high-performance phone you'll ever come across but you're supposed to sacrifice something when a smart device is as cheap as this. Tune in for a decent camera and all-glass construction (with just a hint of plastic).
You’d think that working for Stuff would lead to us becoming awfully snobby about the tech hardware that we use. It’s certainly a risk. When everything is always awesome, it’s easy to look down on more affordable tech. But stick around long enough and you start to appreciate what’s possible when you don’t spend the maximum amount of money. The Nokia C32, which properly fits into the ‘budget’ category, is an almost perfect example of this.
The Nokia C32 costs a relatively tiny R2,500 while managing to a) look like it’s more expensive and b) offer features you really wouldn’t expect at this price point. Don’t get too excited, however. Unicorns don’t exist and if they did, they wouldn’t cost just two-and-a-half grand. But you’re definitely getting your money’s worth here.
The C32 puts on a good face when you extract it from the box but it’s immediately obvious that looks aren’t everything. Its appearance is excellent. From even a slight distance, observers will think you’ve spent more than double what you actually have on this smartphone – at least. The eagle-eyed will notice a bit more thickness through the middle than you’d expect but it’s only once you pick the phone up that you become aware of its construction foibles.
The edges are entirely, and noticeably, plastic. Normally we’d expect metal edges and a plastic back and be happy about it at this price. Instead, Nokia has opted for plastic edges and, strangely, a glass back. It’s a more high-end feature than you’d expect to find here and while it feels great, we’ve got some worries about the phone’s longevity if you’re the fumble-fingered type. The obvious solution is to tuck that lovely (and slippery) rear panel behind a case but that seems like such a shame. Ah, well.
The other features are all standard Android. There’s USB-C for charging, volume, and power keys, with the power button also hosting a speedy fingerprint sensor. The top edge includes a 3.5mm headphone jack for those living in the past. Overall, you’ll be more than happy with what you’ve got, even if some aspects of the Nokia C32 seem wasted.
Need for speed
It’s just as well that the Nokia C32 is a looker because under the hood there are… we hesitate to say ‘problems’ because they’re not at this price point, but this handset’s definitely slower than we’d like. And that’s with Nokia’s Android One version of Android 13, which is as stripped back as you can get it. If you start lobbing other apps into the mix, you’ll bring the Unisoc SC9863A1 processor to a grinding halt.
It’s not quite that bad. The Nokia C32 is usable, but if your requirements involve anything more than scrolling through web feeds or apps, you’re better off spending more money. The 6.5in 720 x 1,600 LCD screen does its best but it’s easily outclassed. If, let’s be clear, you’re planning on spending more money. Performance isn’t far from what we’d expect from any other R2,500 smartphone. The only version available in South Africa features 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (you can expand that), which means we missed out on the 3GB/64GB version Nokia also released for some reason. That’s a good thing, in case it wasn’t obvious.
The C32 could have been better, in terms of hardware. A speedier processor or a step up to a full HD screen would probably have negated the glass back, swapping it out for something plastic, but N0kia also invested some cash in the camera sensors.
We say ‘sensors’…
It’s actually not multiple sensors you should be excited about. The front-facing cam is an 8MP that tries its best but isn’t up to much more than basic snaps. It’s the back-end you should be paying attention to and even then, just one of the pair is worth taking a second look at.
The 2MP macro lens isn’t totally crap but it also only does what it’s supposed to. The last time we were excited about a 2MP sensor was when phones upgraded from the 0.3-megapixel lenses that were circulating sometime around 2006/2007. No, the smart money is on the 50MP sensor that Nokia has crammed into its C32. It’s supposed to facilitate decent low-light performance. It’ll kind of do that if you’ve got a steady hand. Or a tripod. It’s that sluggish processor again. Low-light shots are possible but the camera takes its time snapping them. Unless you’re taking images of stationary objects — and even then, you’d have to be resting your wrists on something — expect some blur to creep in.
Daylight shots are a better affair, if only because the Nokia C32 has enough light to get the job done faster. More expensive phones will take more detailed photos but these aren’t bad. The oversized megapixel count gives it some room to play with in decent light.
There are only two aspects we haven’t covered yet. The battery (5,000mAh, Lithium-polymer) and the charge speed (10W) and that’s only because they’re… unremarkable. A faster charge speed would have been nice but underpowered hardware stretches the battery further than you’d expect.
There’s a waterproof rating (kinda) but since it’s IP52 (decent dust, very minor water), you’d best keep the Nokia C32 out of the toilet.
Finally, don’t expect 5G or NFC, two features that are becoming increasingly more important. Your R2.5k won’t buy you access to those technologies on this occasion. Still, it’s got a glass back. How fancy is that?
Nokia C32 verdict
The Nokia C32 isn’t the best phone you’re going to encounter but you’ll also run into very few properly budget devices that look as good as this one. We could have done without the plastic edge and would have traded that glass back for a speedier chipset but sometimes looking good is more important than being intelligent. Hey, it’s the basis for an entire internet economy in this modern age (we’ll let you work out which one). And if it works for them, it’ll probably work for other products like smartphones too. Seriously, though, the C32 gives you more than you’d expect for your R2,500 entry fee.