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Nokia 800 Tough review: The new indestructible Nokia
Nokia 800 Tough
What we like
What we don't like
The durability of Nokia feature phones is legendary. The classic Nokia 3310 is still responsible for some of the best indestructible phone memes around. That phone was re-released back at the start of 2017, although it wasn’t built like the tank its progenitor was. Enter the Nokia 800 Tough, a KaiOS feature phone that is built to survive. Encased in shock-absorbent rubber with MIL-STD-810G compliance and an IP68 rating, the Nokia 800 Tough is a brick. But it’s probably a much smarter brick than your last Nokia feature phone. This is the Nokia 800 Tough review.
What are the best things about the Nokia 800 Tough?
Battery life and durability. As you could probably guess, battery life on a feature phone with a tiny screen is epic. I’m not going to tell you how many hours of screen-on time I got, because, well, I still haven’t killed the 2,100mAh battery in the week and a half I’ve been using it. Standby time is reportedly a month and a half, and I don’t doubt it.
There’s even a battery-saving mode to extend the Nokia 800 Tough’s battery life further. You know, in case six weeks isn’t enough for you. GSM talk-time is around 12.5 hours. Given how little I speak on the phone these days, it wasn’t much of a concern for battery usage. 4G talk-time is nine and a half hours.
The other obvious benefit of a Nokia phone wrapped in durable rubber is that this thing is practically impossible to break. I dropped it out my second-story window onto concrete pavers a couple of times (for science) and, not surprisingly, it survived. Even the light scuffs on the rubber practically disappeared after a quick rub and it looked good as new. You can scratch the display glass if you’re unlucky or super-careless, but I suspect it would be near-impossible to drop this phone normally and actually break it.
The Nokia 800 Tough measures battery life in weeks, not hours.
The protection doesn’t stop at the rubber either. There are two water-resistant flaps over the micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone port on the top edge. They’re right next to a 198-Lumen flashlight you can activate by long-pressing up on the navigation button. The phone’s screen needs to be on for this to work, though, so you’re not likely to accidentally activate it in your pocket.
What is the worst thing about it?
Navigation and the amount of time it takes to do things. The lack of a touchscreen means you’re stuck using the menu system and navigation key to get where you want to be. In simple menus, that’s not so bad, but when you’re trying to scroll through YouTube results or navigate the web browser it’s a pretty tedious process.
The same is obviously true for typing. If you’ve never typed with a multi-press or T9 keypad before, you’re guaranteed to hate it here. And even if you’re familiar with the joys of multi-press, you’ll still wonder how you ever managed to use it on the daily in the past. The upshot? You’ll find yourself sending much shorter text messages and not faffing about on social media as much because it’s not a fun experience.
Fortunately, T9 predictive text is available in the input method settings with next-word suggestions. Depending on whether you’ve used T9 before and consider yourself a grandmaster of the craft, you’ll either find it faster or slower than QWERTY or touchscreen typing. Just remember that to switch between initial capitalization, all-caps, numbers and predictive text you just need to double press the pound key. The asterisk key brings up your symbols shortcuts.
Which brings me to the point of the Nokia 800 Tough, at least from my perspective: who it for?
Who is the Nokia 800 Tough for?
There are a few potential “types” that would be interested in the Nokia 800 Tough. The first would be someone not interested in the pitfalls of full-blown smartphones — large size, poor battery life, too complex, etc. Perhaps your parents or someone who simply doesn’t want a small computer in their pocket. The Nokia 800 Tough is pretty easy to get your head around, but it still does a decent amount of what true smartphones can.
The Nokia 800 Tough is great for anyone that needs a phone that can take a few knocks.
The Nokia 800 Tough is also great for anyone who needs a phone that can take a few knocks. Think anyone who uses a phone at work in conditions that aren’t ideal for a glass sandwich (e.g., a workshop or construction site). Clumsy people will also like the Nokia 800 Tough because it really doesn’t matter how often you drop it. I have to confess I did treat it pretty recklessly during the Nokia 800 Tough review period. But hey, I was supposed to, right?
The other person the Nokia 800 Tough is good for is someone like me. Someone who already has a smartphone but also wants a super-durable, long-lasting backup phone. When I go camping or riding I don’t actually want to take my smartphone with me, lest I drop it or lose it. Having an indestructible phone that lasts forever and can do all the basics is a far better option for me. The best part is that KaiOS means you don’t have to miss out on much.
What is KaiOS and is it any good?
The Nokia 800 Tough is a sort of almost-smartphone, featuring Google Assistant, WhatsApp, Google Maps, YouTube, and more. It runs KaiOS, a super-lean operating system that’s one part feature phone, one part smartphone. If you’re looking for a cheap feature phone with a physical keyboard and you don’t care about specs, chances are KaiOS is what you want.
KaiOS still provides access to services like Google Assistant, Twitter, YouTube, Google Maps, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
Take my example above. I can pair my Huawei FreeBuds 3 with the Nokia 800 Tough, install a bunch of music on it, and jump on my bike. Google Maps navigation provides turn-by-turn instructions at a glance while I’m listening to some good riding music. I’ve got no concerns about the battery running out or the phone falling out of my pocket. I can ask the Google Assistant questions to avoid typing queries into the browser. And if I need to, I can stay in touch with everyone via WhatsApp voice messages. The list of benefits goes on and on.
Even if I have my smartphone in my bag, the Nokia 800 Tough still tends to be a better commuting device for me. Because its battery is much better than my Pixel 4 XL‘s, it makes more sense to rely on the Nokia 800 Tough for GPS navigation and music playback than my smartphone. The only catch is that my particular use-case here doesn’t rely on the screen — everything I use the Nokia 800 Tough for tends to be delivered via headphones rather than visually. So the only thing missing for me is turn-by-turn voice navigation. That feature alone would mean I never leave home without this phone.
How good is the screen?
Not great. It’s tiny and has about 16 pixels in it. It’s a 2.4-inch TFT display with 320 x 240-pixel resolution (167ppi) in a 4:3 aspect ratio. It’s obviously not meant to compete with smartphone displays but it’s still a pretty dismal experience. It feels too much like the feature phone screens I was using a decade ago. A slight bump in clarity would be nice, especially given that it’s so small.
The Nokia 800 Tough's tiny low-res screen means it's not a media consumption device, but it is still fine for audio.
The tiny size of the screen is the main reason I didn’t use the Nokia 800 Tough very much for visual things. It was fine for phone calls, voice searches, navigation, music, taking photos, and so on, but it’s about as far away from being a media consumption device as you can get.
That said, it does run YouTube just fine and its rear-mounted speaker is very loud (the two front-facing speaker grilles are for calls) and not at all terrible. YouTube music videos are definitely a better listening experience than a watching experience. Speaking of, there’s an FM radio if you’re into terrestrial radio, though you’ll need to plug some headphones in order for it to work.
What’s it like to use?
The Nokia 800 Tough’s KaiOS interface is pretty straightforward and there are a lot of shortcuts to make navigation a bit quicker. There is a little bit of a learning curve if you’re coming from a touchscreen device, but it doesn’t take long to figure things out. The speed with which I did things between the start of the Nokia 800 Tough review period and the end was remarkable, as long-forgotten skills came back to me.
Below the screen, there are seven main buttons: a left-and-right key for contextual on-screen options, a messages key, a call log shortcut, a back button, a power button, and a navigation button with a lot of functions.
KaiOS is pretty straightforward and there are a lot of shortcuts to make navigating it a bit quicker.
Pressing the center of the navigation button opens the app menu where you can access all of the apps on KaiOS, including the app store. In other parts of the OS the center button is used for selecting a highlighted option. Long-pressing the center button anywhere in KaiOS will summon the Google Assistant.
On the home screen, pressing up on the navigation button accesses a quick settings area with shortcuts for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, airplane mode, volume, cellular data, screen brightness, and the flashlight. You can also long-press the up button to turn the flashlight on directly.
Pressing right takes you directly to your contacts and pressing left opens a quick app picker menu. Here, you’ll find shortcuts to WhatsApp, Facebook, Google Assistant, Google Maps and YouTube. Once you know where all the shortcuts are, you can actually get around the Nokia 800 Tough’s menus relatively quickly, even if typing remains relatively clunky once you’re there.
How fast can I type on this?
Which brings us to the classic multi-press keyboard. Even with T9 predictive text enabled, typing feels like a laborious chore compared to swipe typing or voice dictation. It’s tedious even after muscle memory kicks in and you get a little bit faster. The soft-touch rubber keys are nice and clicky with a good tactile feel for typing without looking (another bizarre ability I had forgotten I had acquired on keypads like this). The keypad is also back-lit so you can type in the dark.
Even with T9 predictive text enabled, typing feels like a laborious chore.
A smart cursor makes selecting on-screen elements with the navigation button a little easier. Say you’re in the browser looking at search results. Pressing directions on the navigation button will “jump” you to different options on-screen, ostensibly making it faster to get where you want rather than using it like a d-pad, but it’s still pretty bad. Scrolling through a vertical list (e.g., in YouTube) is a painfully slow process and was enough to make me not want to bother.
Google Assistant to the rescue
There’s a lot to like about the Nokia 800 Tough, but typing and navigation are not among them. Fortunately, you can almost always use voice search to get what you want quicker. If you open Google and want to search for a train timetable, it’s much easier to just long-press the center button and speak your search terms than it is to type. The same is true of Google Maps, YouTube, and sending WhatsApp messages.
The Nokia 800 Tough is a great backup phone, especially for someone who uses a lot of voice commands.
If you’re OK with using your voice to control your phone, you could absolutely use the Nokia 800 Tough as a daily driver without wanting to tear your hair out. Beyond those voice commands I’ve already mentioned, you can also use the Assistant to initiate calls, dictate text messages, turn on the flashlight, and a lot more. This is why the Nokia 800 Tough is a great backup phone for me, because I already know what I can do only using voice commands. Your grandma? Maybe less so.
One thing worth noting here is that just because familiar apps are present, it doesn’t mean they’re the same as the versions you’d find on Android phones. You obviously have to expect some limited functionality due to the file size and processing constraints on a device like this.
How’s the camera?
Umm, yeah. This is not the device you want for capturing precious memories. The 2MP camera is about as fantastic as you’d expect a 2MP camera to be. This is a little disappointing because even at this price point you can still get Android phones that have passable cameras, such as the Nokia 2.2. I don’t see any real reason why something equivalent wasn’t possible here.
Funnily enough, the photos the Nokia 800 Tough takes are actually better than they look on the low-resolution display. If you transfer your images to your laptop they’ll look a little better, but don’t get your hopes up too high. Colors were actually not bad, but dynamic range and low-light performance were poor. In perfect conditions, you can get a salvageable 2MP shot out of the Nokia 800 Tough. In trickier conditions, you’re better off just leaving it in your pocket.
What else do I need to know?
The Nokia 800 Tough is a dual-SIM device, but you can use one SIM slot for a microSD card. It only has 4GB of internal storage (1.7GB of which is taken up by the system) so I’d recommend you pop one in unless you really need a second SIM card. 512MB of RAM keeps things moving at 2005 speeds on a Qualcomm MSM8905 Snapdragon 205 chipset.
Here’s all the network connectivity info you might need:
- Network bands (excluding USA and Latin America) GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 | WCDMA: 1, 5, 8 | LTE 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38/41 (120MHz), 39, 40
- Network bands (Europe) GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 | WCDMA: 1, 5, 8 | LTE 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20
- Network speed LTE Cat 4: 150Mbps DL / 50Mbps UL | VoLTE3 | VoWiFi
The Nokia 800 Tough price is €119 and it’s available now in Europe. It comes in Black Steel and Desert Sand options, the latter of which is a camouflage pattern.
Nokia 800 Tough review: The verdict
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use but still quite advanced feature phone with epic battery life, the Nokia 800 Tough is a winner. It’s small, light, and practically indestructible, harking back to Nokia phones of old. The presence of Google Assistant voice control removes some of the biggest pain points a T9 keyboard presents, and there are still enough modern smartphone features to make it useful. The camera is pretty dire, but that’s about the only real weak point here.
The camera is the only real weak point in what is otherwise an excellent feature phone.
At €119, the Nokia 800 Tough is an excellent backup phone for the glove compartment, camping trip, or office drawer. It’s also a great option for anyone not enamored by the complexity of modern smartphones, or anyone who just wants something more durable. The Nokia 800 Tough is perfect for anyone willing to sacrifice a few fancy features in exchange for battery life measured in weeks, not hours.