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Nokia 7.1 review

Since being rebooted under the watchful eye of HMD Global, the Nokia brand has been attached to some very solid, value-for-money handsets – think decent specs at a decent price, and a clean, stock version of Android to boot.

With the Nokia 7.1, this rather appealing mid-range excellence is being pushed even further. But just how good can a phone at a mid-range price be? Actually rather good, the Nokia 7.1 whispers, with its attractive design, competent specs, and impressive camera.

Not everyone wants to shell out four figures (or close to it) for a smartphone, of course, and these days you can get some rather capable phones for some rather appealing prices, with the Nokia 7.1 being one such handset.

As for where this slots in to Nokia’s increasingly complicated range, it’s newer but cheaper than the Nokia 7 Plus. This is effectively Nokia’s new champion mid-ranger, with only the Nokia 7 Plus and the Nokia 8 models (such as the Nokia 8 Sirocco) above it in terms of power and prestige.

 

Nokia 7.1 price and release date

  • Yours for a mere £299 in the UK and $349 in the US
  • On sale from November 2018

You can buy the Nokia 7.1 unlocked for £299 in the UK, $349 in the US, and AU$499 in Australia, with shipping getting underway in early November.

Even for a phone that’s unashamedly mid-range, that’s a low price – it’s veering not far from budget territory. When you think that Apple’s newest iPhone XS phones start the bidding at £999/$999, you’re talking about a big price gap between the very top-end flagships of 2018 and what we have here with the Nokia 7.1.

Your choice of colors depends on your market – midnight blue (like our review model) is available everywhere, with some regions (including the US and Australia) stocking a gray silver option as well.

 

Mid-range quality

  • You get a lot for your money
  • Middling specs but superb package

What you really need to know about this phone is that it punches above its weight – it’s weight being that price tag, the so-so Snapdragon 636 chipset inside, and the just-enough 3GB or 4GB of RAM. You get 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, though you can expand that with a memory card. These options vary by region.

Where it goes beyond what you would expect from a mid-range phone is in the quality of its build, the quality of the display, and the quality of the camera. We’re going to discuss all of these features in more detail in the review that follows, but they’re the areas that the Nokia 7.1 stands out in.

The HDR10 support on the display is worth noting, as it means superior contrast and a broader range of colors on the apps that support it (which include Netflix and Amazon Prime Video).

On the camera side, a dual-lens rear camera is matched with a single-lens front-facing one, and the brand continues its #bothie push – that is, taking snaps that include shots from both the front and rear camera simultaneously. It’s yet to turn into a craze, but if it does become popular, the Nokia 7.1 has you covered.

 

Speaking of reasons why you’ll maybe want to pick this phone up, it’s also important to note that this is an Android One phone – that means stock Android, free from pointless tweaks and unwanted bloatware, and with a guarantee of speedy updates in the future.

You get two years of Android updates and three years of security patches guaranteed with an Android One phone.

While our review unit was running Android 8 Oreo, we’re told the Android 9 Pie update is imminent, as indeed it should be on an Android One handset.

The Nokia 7.1 probably won’t win any design awards or any benchmark tests, but maybe your next smartphone doesn’t have to. What we do get here is a winning combination of price, power, specs and features – this is what a mid-range phone should be.

Not everything is perfect about the Nokia 7.1 though. The battery life disappoints, and the specs that we mentioned earlier mean the handset doesn’t exactly race through tasks like switching between apps or running the latest games. There’s no waterproofing here, and no wireless charging, to help keep costs down.

Most phones are made up of some compromises though, and the Nokia 7.1 gets most of them right.

 

Design and display

  • Tall, bright, responsive display
  • Quality if unimaginative design

The Nokia 7.1 doesn’t ooze the premium quality of something like the iPhone XS, but we’re a fan of the design nonetheless. It takes the now-standard glass sandwich approach, with aluminum edges around the sides, and a 5.84-inch, 19:9 aspect ratio display – the 1,080 x 2,280 resolution gives you a very respectable 432 pixels-per-inch.

There’s a notch here, which is relatively chunky, and a bottom chin that’s rather thick and makes this very obviously a mid-range handset.

It didn’t offend our eyes too much though – overall it’s a good-looking phone front and back, though we wish phone makers would prioritize rear cameras without a bump again. It scores points for its nicely chamfered edges, without an angled corner in sight.

 

Take a look at the slightly more expensive Nokia 7 Plus and the Nokia 7.1 obviously loses, without the extra metal accents and the soft matte backing, but every part of this phone is about the balance between price and quality – and it’s a balance that the Nokia 7.1 gets right much more often than not.

We found the LCD display bright, sharp and perfectly good for watching movies or checking through emails (that 19:9 aspect ratio really gives you a lot of scrolling room). Colors are vibrant and clean, and you could be fooled into thinking this is a display from a much more expensive phone.

In use the screen is punchy and appealing, though this being an LCD display, it can be difficult to view in bright sunlight (that’s an issue other LCD screens struggle with too, of course). Overall, from web pages to photos, it really impresses, even more than the appearance of the phone as a whole.

 

As far as the rest of the design goes, we’re less sure about the volume buttons above the power button (a Nokia staple), or about them being so high on the right-hand side – it makes it hard to adjust the volume in portrait mode.

We did find ourselves getting more used to the layout as the week went on, so no doubt it’s something it’s possible to get adjusted to eventually.

You don’t get anything fancy like an in-screen fingerprint scanner – the fingerprint scanner is around the back, as usual. With a thickness of 8mm it’s also slightly chunkier than some of the best phones around, though you’re not really going to notice the difference.

Battery life

  • Battery life just about satisfactory
  • Demanding apps are a problem

We spent a week using the Nokia 7.1 as our main phone and can report always having a buffer of juice left at the end of each day – as high as 20% on some days.

That said, we weren’t making extensive calls or using GPS all that much, so we’re talking pretty light usage here. Plus, the usual caveat applies – this is a new battery in a new phone, so some degradation is likely over time.

If you’re on your phone all day you might be scrabbling for a charger come evening time; if you easily forget you’ve got a phone during the day, you might even squeeze a day and a half out of this.

That’s broadly comparable with most phones on the market today though, so the Nokia 7.1 neither stands out nor falls down on its battery life – as indeed the 3,060mAh battery size would suggest.

In the official TechRadar battery test, running a video on screen for 90 minutes, the battery level dropped from 100% to 70%, which is poor – the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, with its huge 4,000mAh battery, only dropped to 88%. The Nokia 7 Plus dipped to 82%, meanwhile, and the Moto G6 Plus to 80%.

Battery management in Android 8 Oreo

That backs up our day-to-day findings – a bit of charge at the end of the day with light use, but relatively rapid depletion if you’re gaming, watching video, or something similar. If you’re on a long flight you run the risk of going from a full charge to zero if you’re binge-watching your favorite show.

We tried an hour of BBC iPlayer and the battery took a 20% knock – admittedly on full brightness with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on, but if you’re on your phone all day, you might need to manage battery life carefully.

As with every version of Android, Android 9 Pie brings some extra battery optimizations, so that could lead to some small improvements in this area when it arrives.

USB-C fast charging is here, a feature which is now available on a pleasing number of mid-range handsets as well as the high-end models.

HMD Global says you can get a 50% top-up in the space of half an hour and our experiments got almost exactly that. There’s no wireless charging though, another nod to the handset’s affordable price.

Camera

 
  • Handles most scenarios impressively
  • Can lose detail and colors

Let’s talk about the camera on the back of the phone, a dual-lens 12MP (f/1.8) and 5MP (f/2.4) affair which we were mostly impressed by. Shutter response time is fast, and the phone copes admirably in all kinds of lighting situations.

It’s not a rival to the very best phone cameras offered by Google, Samsung and Apple, but we think it gets close enough for most people not to care about the gap – and for a handset at this price that’s a notable achievement.

While we can nitpick about slight color blurs and muddy contrast, especially in low-light situations, you really need to zoom in and look hard to find areas where the Nokia 7.1 camera falls down. And if most of your photos are destined for Instagram, you’re not really going to be doing that anyway.

Both daylight and nighttime shots came out well with the Nokia 7.1, and it handled close-up objects very impressively too. We do like the Pro mode that gives you more control over ISO and white balance – most people won’t use it but it’s a nice extra to have.

 

Not only has Carl Zeiss helped with the camera optics, as normal for many Nokia phones, but it’s also lent a hand with the image processing algorithms working behind the scenes.

One of the modes where this image processing comes in useful is in the Live Bokeh mode, letting you choose the degree of blur you get behind the main subject of a photo.

We only tested it a handful of times but it seemed to work pretty well: perhaps not the professional, pixel-perfect results you would get in Photoshop, but enough for some smart experiments on your social media feed.

As with the majority of phones on the market now, there’s an Auto HDR mode designed to bring out the best colors and contrast from your images by fusing several shots together.

We preferred the results on the whole, though occasionally you lose a slight bit of detail – we left Auto HDR on (as is the default) for all our sample shots.

You can see the samples below, where we’ll talk a bit more about some of the results we got. As you scroll through though, you’ll notice the Nokia 7.1 does a commendable job even in darkly lit rooms and on drab English autumn days.

Camera samples

We went out shooting with the Nokia 7.1 on a dull, overcast autumn day in England, so it’s the general weather conditions rather than the phone’s camera that make some of these shots seem a little drab.

But you can tell how the Auto HDR keeps plenty of detail in both the dark and light areas of the pictures: land and sky are smartly evened out. Look at the fourth picture above, which keeps clouds and dark spots (like under the bridge) visible.

Colors are natural and bold, and sharpness levels are good. Take a close zoom into these pictures and the Nokia 7.1 does start to lose a little detail and clarity, but you’re still getting some fine photos from a phone at this price point – especially if they’re destined for Facebook or Instagram rather than a high-resolution A3 print.

 

This close-up macro shot gives you a bit of a better idea of how the Nokia 7.1 handles brighter colors. Again, details are clear and sharp, and if you load the original up on a computer you can zoom in quite a way before everything starts to get too fuzzy.

The Nokia 7.1 does well at identifying the main subject of the photo and focusing effectively, and the detail on the leaves and stone steps is very good. In all of these shots, taken in auto mode, the shutter speed is as speedy as you would like.

Here you can see an assortment of night shots taken in and around Manchester, and the Nokia 7.1 clearly does a commendable job at illuminating everything in the scene – and these were all taken with the flash off. You can see both lighter and darker areas clearly, even when illumination sources are at a premium.

Admittedly, a flagship phone that really excels at low-light photography – the Google Pixel 3, say – is going to pick out more details in a darker shot like the final party scene. But we’ll go back to what we said before: for most uses, the Nokia 7.1 is going to give you perfectly usable photos even in challenging lighting conditions.

 

Above you can see the Live Bokeh and Pro modes in action, as well as some of the other camera settings. There are better mobile cameras out there, for sure, but this is much better than you might expect from a phone at this price level.

Interface and reliability

  • Enjoy the pure Android experience
  • Years of software updates guaranteed

As we mentioned earlier in this review, the Nokia 7.1 is an Android One phone, like several of its Nokia siblings.

That means pure, undiluted Android just as Google intended it, and it’s refreshing to switch on an Android phone that doesn’t have a dozen pre-installed apps that we don’t really want.

Actually there is one app provided by Nokia – Nokia Mobile Care, which gives you tech support options and device diagnostics. It’s not particularly offensive, but note that you can’t uninstall it.

The clean and fresh look of stock Android 8 Oreo

At least you know where you are with stock Android, and the features you can expect to see, from Google’s latest Digital Wellness tools (coming in Android 9 Pie) to raise-to-wake functionality (already in Android 8 Oreo).

Once the Android 9 Pie update hits, you’ll be able to take advantage of Android’s new gesture controls, but for our review the old familiar back and overview buttons were still in place.

Most apps make good use of the phone’s extended display, and one of the other features rolling out in Android 9 Pie is official notch support. That should include the option to disable the notch look if you really don’t like it, though the option wasn’t available on our review unit running Android 8 Oreo.

Movies, music and gaming

  • HDR10 and SD video upscaling
  • Not for keen gamers

As noted earlier, the Nokia 7.1 supports HDR10, which means better blacks and contrast in your videos and photos, though you can toggle it off if you want – we tried this out with Netflix and found it did improve the viewing experience most of the time, making for richer, clearer scenes.

That said, it can vary scene by scene, and film by film, and even by the kind of lighting conditions you’re watching in. It’s not necessarily a huge deal that would make you pick this phone over another, though it’s handy to have – as is the phone’s built-in ability to upscale SD videos to HD for you.

As for audio, you have just one integrated speaker, but it just about does the job as far as spoken audio and music goes – just don’t expect too much. It does mean you have to be careful not to cover up the solitary speaker with your hand when you’re watching movies or shows in landscape mode, however.

You can rely on the Nokia 7.1 for music, movies, and undemanding games

If you’re still rocking your favorite pair of wired headphones, you’ll be pleased to know the Nokia 7.1 keeps the traditional 3.5mm audio jack, so that’s still an option here if you don’t want to go down the Bluetooth or USB-C route.

All of Google’s default apps are here for your music and video playing needs, plus of course everything you can grab from the Play Store. Play Movies & TV, Play Music and YouTube come pre-installed on the phone.

We tried Subway Surfers and Asphalt 8 on the phone – both reasonably demanding games – and got decent results. There was occasional stuttering, but by and large the frame rates held up without any noticeable phone heating. That said, serious gamers are one group that might find the Nokia 7.1 not enough for their needs.

Performance and benchmarks

  • Mid-range specs show through
  • Fine for day-to-day tasks

In our time with the Nokia 7.1 we found Android reasonably smooth and responsive, though we didn’t seriously load up the handset with apps and games. There are a few milliseconds extra delay in app loading and switching compared with the fastest handsets of the moment, but not enough to significantly spoil the user experience.

With a Snapdragon 636 and in some cases as little as 3GB of RAM, the phone really is getting close to scraping the barrel in terms of what’s acceptable to run full-fat Android properly. Perhaps with that in mind, Files Go is installed – Google’s file manager app that was originally designed for entry-level devices.

The Nokia 7.1 will cope easily with most of the tasks you give it

With apps covering social media, file viewing and so on, the Nokia 7.1 proves its mid-range specs are enough to cope with everyday tasks capably, bar one or two stutters – we didn’t notice any crashes or hangs, just the occasional blip. Be advised that not everything will happen instantly though.

How well the performance will hold up over time, we can’t say, but stock Android (and regular updates) should help with that.

As you would expect, the GeekBench 4 multi-core score of 4,751 is hardly record-breaking but by no means a disaster – for comparison, the Google Pixel 3 scores 8,336.

Closer to this price point, the Moto G6 Plus manages 4,167 and the gaming-focused Honor Play hits 6,602, so the Nokia 7.1 just about holds its own in its own particular niche of the market.

Verdict

While we’ve raised one or two concerns through the course of this review, the bottom line is we like the Nokia 7.1 a lot. As long as you’re not going to get too ambitious with what you’re trying to do with your phone and can accept adequate battery life, it’s a handset that will serve you well.

That tall, bright, sharp screen really stands out for us, and it makes gaming or video watching a pleasure. You won’t feel you’re holding a device that costs significantly less than the flagships of today while you’re looking at it.

And despite some minor missteps, the camera is a really good one too. It works quickly, applies HDR, and can get very usable results in the bright sunshine or in a darkened room.

HMD Global hasn’t exactly worked miracles with the Nokia 7.1, because there are some compromises you have to make with this handset, but as with every phone it all comes back to the price point. Do you walk away from the deal feeling that it’s been money well spent? With the Nokia 7.1 the answer is a resounding yes.

 

Who’s this for?

You can get more bang for buck in terms of power, but taken as a whole – performance, design, display, camera – the Nokia 7.1 is hard to beat for value for money.

When it comes to phones, some people want the best specs and design possible and will pay whatever it takes to get it. Others want to save a bit of money but get near the top end – think the OnePlus range or the new iPhone XR. There’s a third group that want to pay as little as possible.

Then there are the mid-range buyers – the people the Nokia 7.1 is targeting. Those who don’t want to spend a load of cash but do want specs and features that border on the respectable. And overall, this phone hits that mark, at least in the display and the camera, if not the raw performance or battery life.

If you need fast performance or lengthy battery life from your phone, or you’re a serious gamer, look elsewhere. For a day-to-day decent phone, the Nokia 7.1 is worth a look.

 

Should you buy it?

Absolutely, if you want a reliable Android phone with an eye-catching screen at a price that won’t need you to sell off any of your children or family jewelry. Of course there are compromises – a bit of lag at times, a mediocre battery – but we reckon a lot of people are going to find those trade-offs perfectly acceptable.

Just to repeat the point: the flagship Google Pixel 3 XL is almost three times the cost of the Nokia 7.1. Is it three times as good? Well, no, not really. Google’s premium handset is better in some areas, and faster to use, but at the end of the day the Nokia 7.1 can do just about everything the Pixel 3 XL can.

The battery life is perhaps our biggest worry, with those so-so specs second. We’d recommend this mostly for people who occasionally pick up their phone in the day to use a handful of popular apps – and who want a camera they can count on when needed.

First reviewed: November 2018

After an alternative? Check out the following phones:

Honor Play

 

One of the areas where chipset speed really does make a difference is in gaming, and the Honor Play is potentially a better buy than the Nokia 7.1 if you do want to run a lot of games on your mobile phone.

There’s a generous 6.3-inch screen, a powerful Kirin 970 chipset under the hood, and up to 6GB of RAM to make use of, even if the rest of the phone is less exciting – and the price is comparable to the Nokia 7.1, if it’s on sale in your region.

  • Read our full Honor Play review

Nokia 7 Plus

 

The Nokia 7 Plus is a little older but a little more expensive than the Nokia 7.1, and gives you a minor bump in specs and aesthetic appeal in return for that higher price.

If you like the look of the Nokia 7 Plus, it’s worth considering – it should stay responsive for longer, and the battery gives you more life between charges, even if the camera quality isn’t quite up to the Nokia 7.1 standard. This is another of Nokia’s Android One devices, as well.

  • Read our full Nokia 7 Plus review

Moto G6 Plus

 

If the Nokia range has a serious rival in the sweet mid-range spot for Android phones, it’s probably Motorola.

The Lenovo-owned company has been churning out decently-priced handsets for years now, and the Moto G6 Plus hits an appealing balance between price and performance – you get more RAM than the Nokia 7.1 offers, a design that’s rather fetching, a decent camera, and a screen that impresses too.

It’s also slightly cheaper than the Nokia 7.1, though you can’t buy this phone directly in the US at the time of writing.

  • Read our full Moto G6 Plus review
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