We touched base with one of the minds behind the successor to Nokia XR20
The Nokia XR-series is the smartphone equivalent of the Nokia 3310; tough and ready for adventure. Explorer Tom runs a channel called Treader Tube dedicated to mini adventures, discoveries and explorations. He put the Nokia XR21 through its paces – he has dropped it on rock, covered it in mud and washed it down afterwards. Impressive, but has Nokia XR21 lived up to what its designers expected? To determine that, the only place to go was straight to the source.
We sat down with Miika Mahonen, Principal Designer at HMD Global and designer of the Nokia XR21 to find out more about his thinking and the design process involved in creating a durable Nokia smartphone in 2023:
When you started the design process, what did you want to achieve with Nokia XR21?
In the process of designing the Nokia XR-series devices – first Nokia XR20 and now XR21 – my aim was to completely redefine the perception of the “rugged smartphone” look and feel. And especially to define what a Nokia rugged smartphone experience truly is.
Nokia brick phones gained fame for their incredible durability. The challenge we faced was how to seamlessly extend these qualities to smartphones. Conventional rugged smartphones often suffer from excess in their design, resulting in a thickness and visual aesthetic that sets them apart from "standard" smartphones.
I wanted to explore concepts where the rugged design could attain greater sophistication and beauty—becoming smaller, slimmer, and adopting a sleek design language, all while maintaining the same values as our other Nokia devices: simplicity and timelessness. The design of Nokia XR21 embodies only the essentials, with nothing unnecessary added on top, offering a pure and intuitive smartphone experience.
What is it about the phone’s design that achieves its high level of durability?
Durability is related to structural design, materials, and the way we approach physical design – even in the smallest details. The Nokia XR21 features an aluminum and composite structure that is intentionally crafted to be rigid and resistant to impacts, all while maintaining a lightweight profile. The frame houses recycled diecast aluminum on the inside and is encased in a polymer composite. This combination provides robust protection for all internal components. The incorporation of composite materials enhances the device's impact resistance as they absorb the shocks from impact. And, they’re lighter than metal.
We use advanced materials in all mechanical components. For instance, the rear cover features a specialized polycarbonate plastic that offers exceptional durability against impact, abrasion, heat, and cold.¹ This material shares similarities with what's used in bulletproof glass.
Certain details are designed to protect different areas of the phone. For example, the camera's aluminum frame, machined via CNC from recycled aluminum, serves to shield both the camera glass and the internal components. The frame has a thoughtfully designed edge which enhances protection for the display. What’s more, the frame's opposing ends feature thermoplastic bumpers, functioning like a car bumpers, effectively absorbing some of the impact if the phone is dropped.
What kind of activities and environments is Nokia XR21 suitable for?
Essentially, Nokia XR21 is ideally suited for everyday life, capable of withstanding whatever challenges that comes its way – whether it's an accidental drop on the ground,¹ exposure to rain or an unfortunate coffee spill.³
However, Nokia XR21 truly excels during outdoor activities. Bring it along on hikes; its large battery endures all day.² The exceptionally bright screen remains easily readable even in direct sunlight. No need to worry about accidental drops causing damage thanks to its robust build. And, its water resistance means that you won’t bat an eyelid if your Nokia XR21 gets soaked along with your gear.³ Nokia XR21 can also handle cold weather¹ with remarkable resilience, making it an ideal companion during winter activities. Whether you're skiing in the Alps or running in winter, it's well-equipped to endure the conditions.
What sets Nokia XR21 apart from other durable smartphones?
The sleek and simplified design language of Nokia XR21 distinguishes it from other devices, offering both a sleek profile and comfortable grip. The design and materials even incorporate a touch of luxury.
The finishes serve a functional purpose, such as the anti-slip coating on the rear cover, while also being visually striking and enduring over time. For instance, the rear cover's color is achieved through vacuum metallization, where nano particles adhere to an internal film. This approach ensures that even if the cover gets scratched, the color remains intact. Plus, exposure to sunlight and other elements will not lead to color fading. We’ve done this with the longevity of the device in mind – it will age beautifully.
Why is it important to have a durable smartphone today?
Smartphones have become our most frequently utilized devices. They’re basically with us wherever we go. We rely on them for navigation, arranging transportation, and using them in emergencies. And when we’re outdoors, durability is significant – you need to trust that the phone will function reliably in any situation.
What durability tests have you tried on your own Nokia XR21?
I've rigorously tested the Nokia XR21 in various demanding scenarios, like dropping it from various altitudes onto different surfaces such as floors, sand, asphalt, and more. The water resistance was evaluated by submerging it at different depths, and I even tested its functionality for underwater activities like filming videos. My Nokia XR21 accompanied me on downhill skiing trips, snowmobile rides, winter and rainy runs, cycling adventures, sandy beaches, and in a bunch of other environments.
Looking to the future, what might we see next in the durable smartphones space?
In the future, it's expected that rugged smartphones can evolve to be even smaller, lighter, and more simplified while retaining exceptional durability. These rugged smartphones could also introduce novel features and experiences that cater to active lifestyles and outdoor usage, enriching the user experience further. Watch this space.
¹ Based on MIL-STD 810H rating.
² Based on a real life usage test by HMD Global. See more info at https://www.hmd.com/nokia-xr-21.
³ IP69K rating. See more info at https://www.hmd.com/nokia-xr-21.