Since Nokia’s reboot after the company licensed its mobile branding out to HMD Global, we’ve seen a number of great smartphones hit the market. From the likes of the flagship Nokia 8 Sirocco, to a rather unique re-imagination of the Nokia 3310, the company is slowly becoming a household name again. HMD Global has been hard at work capturing the attention of all kinds of consumers, enthusiasts, and “regular” users alike. The Nokia 7.1 is a part of the Android One program and sits right in the middle of the pack.
What can’t go unnoticed is the HMD Global’s commitment to the Android One program, as the Nokia 7.1 is far from being their first entry. In fact, the majority of the company’s smartphones are a part of it. Being part of the Android One program not only means that you’ll have a close-to-stock Android experience, but you should (in theory, anyway) have faster updates. To HMD Global’s merit, they have achieved this with an impressive amount of their devices already receiving the Android Pie update and more to come as well.
Having said that, the Nokia 7.1 runs Android Oreo out of the box, though an update to Android Pie is promised to be launched soon. As such, our review unit is actually running Android Oreo. I found a number of mild software-related performance issues (or what I believe to be, anyway) that may not be present once the Android Pie update drops. The Nokia 7.1 is a unique phone in that the devices it compares to are not readily available in the US. Within Europe and Asia, the Nokia 7.1 is easily outclassed by offerings from the likes of Xiaomi, but in the US it’s a different story entirely.
Nokia 7.1 Specs
|Size||149.7 x 71.18 x 7.99mm, 160g|
|Software||Stock Android 8.1 Oreo (Android One) (upgradeable to Android Pie by the end of November)|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 Octa-core SoC @ 1.8GHz|
|RAM and storage||3GB/4GB of RAM with 32GB/64GB of storage; microSD card slot|
|Color options||Gloss Midnight Blue and Gloss Steel|
|Battery||3,060mAh with QuickCharge|
|Display||5.84-inch Pure Display Full HD+ (2246×1080) IPS LCD with 19:9 aspect ratio and HDR10 support|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC|
|Ports||USB Type-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Front-facing camera||8 MP FF/f2.0|
|Pricing and availability||BestBuy, Amazon, B&H starting at $349 for the base model.|
Presentation of the Nokia 7.1
While an often-overlooked part of the process of picking up a smartphone, the presentation is very important for the first impression of a device. The Nokia 7.1 comes in a surprisingly small, flat box with very little to show other than the phone. You get a (pretty large) charging brick, a USB-C cable, a SIM eject tool, and a set of Nokia-branded earphones. It’s simple and it’s elegant, with the box following a design language similar to the Nokia of old. This isn’t just another Android smartphone, this is a Nokia smartphone.
Nokia 7.1 Design & Hardware
The Nokia 7.1 features a design reminiscent of the majority of 2018 flagships released today. A notch and a flat glass back complete with a metal trim on the edges trying to convince you that this isn’t just any mid-range device. While many dread the notch, it has quickly become a sign of someone having a new phone. When you see a notch on someone’s smartphone, you know that they bought it within the last year. It’s, in a sense, a sign of luxury. Love it or hate it, for the foreseeable future the notch appears to be here to stay.
As for the glass back, that again is often a point of contention. While it allows for wireless charging, many argue that there is no point of its existence if you don’t actually have wireless charging. A plastic or aluminum back can’t smash when you drop it, but glass certainly can. The Nokia 7.1 does not support wireless charging, and the glass back is simply for looks. Glass can also be more slippery than other materials, again adding to its fragility.
However, I personally find the Nokia 7.1’s design classy, if a bit simplistic. There’s nothing special about it, but it’s a solid design that’s (mostly, more on that later) nice to look at. Coming in at 5.84-inches, it’s a rather small device given its screen-to-body ratio. With the 19:9 aspect ratio it’s a tall device, and the notch is pretty wide. Even still, I have absolutely no problems using this device with one hand. People looking for a smartphone to operate one-handed may well find that this particular handset fits the bill nicely.
The chamfered edges with the metal trim and flat glass back are, in my opinion, appealing to look at. I don’t share the dislike for glass backs that others do – I find that they give a premium feel to any smartphone, especially when done correctly. The glass back features the Nokia logo, the Android One logo, and some regulatory information in small print at the bottom.
There are a few things that I don’t like, however, and the chin is one of those things. The existence of the notch is so that manufacturers can provide the largest screen-to-body ratio possible – so why is the chin so big? It houses the Nokia logo which is also present on the back, making its inclusion rather redundant. I don’t mind devices having a traditional top and bottom bezel, but it feels like the Nokia 7.1 tried to both have a bezel and not have one, mismatching the top and bottom and failing at basic symmetry.
And then there are the side buttons, which have already begun to annoy me. It feels really awkward to take a screenshot as the volume rocker is directly above the power button. It takes some getting used to, though it’s nowhere near the end of the world.
Finally, the headphone jack has a weird placement at the top of the phone on the right. It feels unnatural to use, though that could be because every phone I’ve had in the last few years has had it on the bottom. It’s taking a bit of getting used to, and I dislike having my cable droop down over my screen.
The fingerprint sensor is in a perfectly natural position on the back, sitting exactly where my index finger naturally gravitates towards. The vibration motor is also decent as well, with no complaints from me. You can hear it, yes, but you can feel it as well, which is the most important thing about it. Haptic feedback is excellent. Build quality is something that the Nokia 7.1 clearly has over competitors in this price range, and it’ll be hard to find a device that beats it. There is no IP rating here, but that’s hard to come by on mid-range smartphones anyway.
Nokia 7.1 Display
The display of the Nokia 7.1 is one that greatly impressed me. The Nokia 7.1 sports a 5.84-inch 2246×1080 IPS LCD display with a 19:9 aspect ratio and HDR10 support. Not only does that make this display a cut above many in this price range, but HDR10 support is unheard of even in flagships released only last year. Content that isn’t natively HDR10 can be upscaled as well, and with the likes of Netflix releasing more HDR10 supported content you’ll get to make use of that display very soon. It’s worth pointing out that HDR10 upscaling isn’t enabled by default, but you can enable it under the Display settings on your device.
Colour reproduction on the Nokia 7.1 is very good, and colors are saturated. I don’t know what color space it operates in, but I doubt its complete accuracy. Even still, I’m not one to actually care about the accuracy of my display. I prefer my content to look nicer rather than accurate, which is why I personally have no issue with a saturated display. The display itself is sharp and gets bright enough for outdoor usage, so that’s certainly not an issue either. I can’t measure the nits output, but it does the job for sure.
Viewing angles are fine, with a little bit of a brightness drop off when tilted away from the user. That’s to be expected with most LCD displays and isn’t really cause for alarm. The colors do shift slightly as well while tilting it away, but again that’s really not an issue either.
Android One on the Nokia 7.1
When I found out I was going to be reviewing the Nokia 7.1, I was most excited about giving Android One a go. It’s close to stock Android and embodies (more or less) Google’s vision of what Android should be. To me, the software of an Android One phone is exactly what I would image a mid-range or budget Google Pixel smartphone to run. I was impressed by Android One, and I was even more impressed by the little features that Nokia throws in as well. It’s basically AOSP, which in a sense is what makes the Nokia 7.1 so unique. In a world where every device manufacturer needs to make their mark in the software department, it’s a breath of fresh air to have an unbloated software experience. There are no preloaded applications aside from Google’s own. Such simplistic software also allows for quick software updates, and in the process of writing this article, I have already received the November 2018 security patch – merely two days after Google released their security bulletin.
I very much consider myself an Android purist, so close-to-AOSP skins like OxygenOS are definitely my favorite way to use my phone. Android One is that in a nutshell, and it’s wonderful to use. There’s no bloat, no myriad of settings to trawl through, and everything just works. Having said that, I had a dive through the settings and found a number of cool features. My favorite is one that I originally discovered on the Honor 9 Lite, and I was very disappointed to learn that not every device with a back-facing fingerprint sensor has it. On the Nokia 7.1, you can pull down the notification shade simply by swiping your finger down the fingerprint sensor. Swiping back up closes it again. It’s not just a useful feature, but it’s a cool little thing to play with idly as well.
There is a lack of usability features though, primarily I found that there is no way to clear all of the notifications from the status bar. It’s not a huge problem, but it’s something worthy of note. The “Enhanced HDR 10” can also be enabled under the Display settings, though I don’t know why it’s switched off by default given that it is one of the selling points of this particular handset. The software also handles the notch well, with videos not being cut off or anything of that sort.
Another benefit of being a part of the Android One program is that given that the software is lightweight, it should, in theory, have less of an impact on performance. Sadly, I have found that for some reason it feels like the Nokia 7.1 actually performs worse than other Snapdragon 636 devices such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5. I’m not sure how much of this I can chalk up to being the included RAM – my unit has 3GB – given that the Xiaomi device I’ve used had 4GB. Even still, I figured that MIUI would require more RAM than the likes of the Android One software.
But there is one major caveat to this particular device’s software, and that’s HMD Global’s aversion to bootloader unlocking. After complete community outcry, the Nokia 8 finally received an official bootloader unlock a few months back. That was the only device the company actually unlocked, and there are no signs of any more getting unlocked any time soon. If stock Android isn’t your thing or you want to modify your phone in any way requiring root, you simply can’t.
Performance of the Nokia 7.1
I touched on this in the last section, but the specifications of the Nokia 7.1 leaves the performance I’ve been faced with to appear a tad worrisome. It’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near as good as other devices I’ve used with the same Qualcomm chipset. Sadly, I no longer have access to a Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 for direct comparisons, but in my day-to-day usage, I found that the Xiaomi ran a lot better for the likes of Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. I’ve found that the performance of Snapchat, in particular, is extremely poor, with the app taking a long time to process any input whatsoever. I can’t tell how much of that is on the side of Snapchat and how much of it is on HMD Global, however. It could well be down to the poor amount of RAM fielded by the Nokia.
The camera application’s performance on the Nokia 7.1 is about average. There’s a little bit of shutter-lag most of the time, and launching the app can take a second or two. It’s certainly not a bad experience though, and the photos it produces are rather spectacular. I’m willing to put up with its performance thanks to the excellent photo quality, which we’ll get to later.
There are system-wide lag spikes, but nothing major at all. I had the LinkedIn application crash when I switched to Google Chrome and back, but that (again) may be down to the amount of memory in my unit. Because it’s the 3GB of RAM variant, I can’t tell you how things will be if you pick up the 4GB of RAM variant for slightly more. 3GB of RAM is the bare minimum these days, with even the Pixel 3 having only 4GB of RAM. Obviously, the Nokia 7.1 isn’t quite a flagship like a Pixel, but it still could definitely benefit from more memory.
The Nokia 7.1 runs pretty warmly most of the time as well. With my usual mix of browsing Reddit, messaging through Facebook Messenger and switching over to Google Chrome my phone was easily hitting 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). It runs extremely hot (for a phone) most of the time.
Nokia 7.1 Speed Test
Our app opening test confirms the huge amount of heat generated by the Nokia 7.1. With only 30 iterations of opening the Play Store, YouTube, and Gmail, we found that the phone went from 35 degrees to 40. The glass back of the phone doesn’t do much for heat dissipation either.
Having said that, apps do launch rather quickly and there isn’t a huge amount of thermal throttling. I found that even when the phone is hot, usage remains pretty much unchanged. The only problem I have found is that it can become quite uncomfortable in the hand when it’s warm, but that’s to be expected. It makes a great hand warmer during the winter, though.
Scrolling performance is also much in line with what we’re seeing here, in that it’s basically average. There are no crazy results here, and it’s about in-line with any mid-range device that you’d expect to see – which is a good thing. Before looking at the graph below, we do need to know how to interpret the data. We took these graphs by using the GPU profiling data dumped to adb, which we then graphed. You can understand how to view these graphs by the following image. The green line in the graphs below represents 60 FPS.
This phone is not a flagship yet performs just fine for basically any basic use case. You’re not going to be flying in between different applications, multi-tasking to your heart’s content or anything, but it’s not a bad phone either. It can play games, you can consume social media, and you can make calls or texts. It’s a pretty perfect mid-range phone in that it can do everything you would expect it to, and it has a number of extras on top that make it betterthan other phones in the same bracket.
Gaming and GPU performance
I chose PUBG to demonstrate the Nokia 7.1’s game performance as I felt that it is probably one of the most intensive games on Android currently available. Not only did the Nokia 7.1 handle it perfectly, but it didn’t even heat up that much! It hit 45 degrees Celsius after 15 minutes of playing, which is perfectly reasonable, especially when, given the nature of the testing, the device was plugged in and charging at the time. Holding an FPS of 26 consistently means that gaming is a breeze on this particular handset, as there’s not a whole lot more you can ask from a game that’s locked to 30 FPS. Admittedly, the game did reduce itself to the lowest graphics settings available, but that is because of the Adreno 509. It’s definitely no world beater, that’s for sure, but it’s a pretty good performance for a mid-range handset.
We would like to give special thanks to the team at GameBench for the assistance they provided us. Their tool makes it possible for any person, whether it be a regular user, journalist, or engineer, to test a mobile game’s performance on an Android device. They have an Android app you can install to start benchmarking your games as well.
As for other games, you’ll have no issues running popular favorites such as Need for Speed, Minecraft, or Pokemon Go. All of them work fine, and the only thing you really have to worry about when it comes to the Nokia 7.1 is its battery life. The battery life is remarkably poor when gaming, but we’ll touch on its overall battery performance later on.
While a benchmark isn’t the best indicator of a device’s overall performance, it is a quantifiable figure that we can use to compare it to other smartphones. As such, I tested the Nokia 7.1’s storage speed along with giving it a computational benchmark in Geekbench 4 Pro and, finally, an Antutu benchmark as well. The results are impressive (if a little misleading), and you can check them out below.
The best results here come from the storage speed tests, which shows that HMD Global has not cheapened out on-device storage – even if it is eMMC. eMMC storage suffers when doing, well, basically anything generally. For example, downloading music or installing applications from the Google Play Store will slow your device to a crawl. It’s not as if this is an issue unique to the Nokia 7.1 or anything, but it’s worth noting. Most devices in this price range (including the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 that we mentioned earlier) will have eMMC storage, so it’s not as if this is something that HMD Global is doing worse than other manufacturers. Also something incredibly frustrating – because of the eMMC storage, trying to take a screenshot of something means that you’ll have to wait a few seconds for it to save.
The benchmark results are good though when pitted against other devices. My OnePlus 3 actually scores a little bit over 100,000 in the Antutu benchmark and only the single core performance of the OnePlus 3 beats out the Nokia 7.1 on Geekbench. That puts a mid-range device released this year comfortably over a flagship from nearly three years ago, but there is a caveat. Storage speed is almost as important as raw computational power, and if your storage is slow, then the whole device will suffer. The Nokia 7.1 is capable of more things computationally than the OnePlus 3 but is hampered by its low amount of RAM that causes the system to have to repeatedly request resources from the slow onboard storage.
That’s how benchmark results can be misleading, as they don’t take into account other features of a smartphone. The benchmark results do match up with what I’ve seen though, in that when things are running, they are generally running well. We saw this in the game benchmarks above. The Nokia 7.1 is, overall, a pleasant experience when it comes to performance. If you are in Europe, there are a number of smartphones that are within an affordable range that will offer much, much better performance than the Nokia 7.1. If you are in the US, where this phone will be sold in stores off-contract, then there are very few, easily affordable devices that will even come close in performance.
Nokia 7.1 Battery Life
The battery life is where the Nokia 7.1 really falls down, and that’s thanks to its rather small 3,060 mAh battery. It struggles to get me through the day, hitting from anywhere from 2 to 3 hours of screen-on-time. That’s with my daily usage of Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and web browsing. In contrast, my OnePlus 6 gets between 4 and 5 hours of screen-on-time. Its quick charging standard means that you can top it off if you need to with relative ease throughout the day, but it’s not quite a dash charge contender. I found that I can get it to around 50% within half an hour, with it taking closer to an hour and a half to fill up entirely. It’s certainly better than regular charging, but it’s definitely not the fastest around either.
A typical day of usage with the Nokia 7.1
I understand that screen-on-time isn’t the end all be all of battery usage, which is why I have also included my extended battery statistics like application usage. It should hopefully paint a picture of the kind of user that I am. If you find yourself using the same apps as me, then you’re likely going to have a similar experience. I would deem myself a power user, meaning I do put my phone through quite a lot. It might be that the battery life on this particular device is fine for you, in which case there’s nothing wrong with it. You won’t be gaming on it though, that’s for sure.
As for standby time, it’s just fine. It’s not good, but it’s not bad either. That also describes my whole experience with battery life on this device. There’s nothing special at all about it, but at the same time, it’s not detrimental to the phone either. If you find yourself in a position where getting to a charger during your day is difficult and you use your phone pretty frequently, then this phone isn’t for you. In college, I have no trouble charging my device in lecture halls, so it wasn’t as big of an issue to me. I also have a 20,000 mAh powerbank which I throw into my bag, so if I’m in desperate need of a top-up then I can use that as well.
The Nokia 7.1 is just average when it comes to battery life, nothing more and nothing less.
Nokia 7.1 Camera & Video
The Nokia 7.1’s camera is what surprised me about this device the most. Despite featuring cheaper devices, Android One smartphones have somewhat of a history when it comes to surprisingly good camera quality. The Nokia 7.1 is no different, and the 12MP f/1.8 aperture shooter powered by ZEISS wowed me to no end. The device itself is rather average with a couple of high points, and the majority of those high points lie in its camera. HMD Global clearly put a lot of work into the device here, and I’m very impressed. From the beautiful photos its capable of taking to the well-crafted camera application, this device is yet another camera winner in the Android One category. Take a look at some of the photos I’ve taken in the gallery below.
The Nokia 7.1, as you can see, has excellent photo quality in daylight. The colors are well-defined with photos having an appropriate level of sharpness. The light parts of the photo are a little bit overblown, and one could argue that the photos are a little bit too saturated. Even still, this is nowhere near a flagship level phone and as such it behaves more than appropriately. The camera quality is rather excellent. Things begin to fall off when it gets to low light, however, which you can check out in the gallery below.
As you can see, low light absolutely tells a different story. The photos aren’t bad, but they’re of noticeably worse quality than their brighter counterparts. That’s okay, however, as obviously, a $349 smartphone is not going to perform in low light scenarios on the same level as, say, the Huawei P20 Pro. Even still, it’s just worth noting that while this device has a great camera, you’re going to have difficulties in some scenarios taking great photos.
As I’ve mentioned, the camera application itself is stellar with a huge amount of features to offer. You get the Nokia Pro mode which was forever popular on the Nokia Lumia series, along with a few other cool features as well. Live Bokeh mode, for example, lets you tune the blur effect to your liking before taking the photo. There’s also a square photo option for Instagram photos, and finally, there’s also Google Lens support so that you can leverage Google’s machine learning to identify objects around you. It’s all very cool. You can take a look at a few screenshots of the bundled camera application below.
Video 1 – Quick EIS test
I included the above video as I felt that the Nokia 7.1’s EIS was especially apparent on the horizontal axis, as the device stabilizes the video relatively well thanks to its gyro-based EIS algorithm. The audio quality is pretty good too, definitely serviceable for the job.
Video 2 – Outdoors
The microphone handles wind well, and you can hear the announcement made over the speakers in this train station.
The video quality is apt for both indoor and outdoor usage, and the audio quality from the microphone is perfectly acceptable.
This is the part where I always worry about a smartphone, as I feel that connectivity is not paid attention to in most reviews. Am I going to have a consistent connection on my commute every day? Will I have Wi-Fi access throughout my whole house? These are the things I worry about when it comes to my smartphone’s connectivity, and thankfully the Nokia 7.1 passed this test without a hitch. I was able to get a data connection instantly after inserting my SIM card, being met with 3 bars of 4G LTE in my home in rural Ireland. Definitely not bad whatsoever, and a connection of sorts remained consistent on my journey to and from university. It wasn’t always LTE (or even HSDPA+) but it was there, which is more than I can say for some devices.
Wi-Fi coverage through my home is also fine, and there are no issues with me losing signal at the opposite end of my house (I live in a bungalow). I never felt that the phone lied about its signal status either, which is also a major plus. Overall, this device is a winner when it comes to signal strength. No issues from me whatsoever. I even gave Google Pay a go, and it worked fine and didn’t require me to tap again or anything. I’ve had that happen even on the flagship OnePlus 6, so I was somewhat worried that it may perform poorly.
In a world where the headphone jack is dying out, I’m quickly learning to be thankful for the mere existence of the headphone jack here rather than the good quality it provides. The Nokia 7.1’s headphone jack works, and it works fine. There are no weird crackling issues when you turn your headphone cable, it gets plenty loud and overall, it’s just a pretty good experience. The single bottom-firing speaker is rather poor, but there’s not much else you can really expect from a $349 smartphone. It does the job, and that’s about as much as you can ask from it. It plays sound and does it moderately loud, but don’t expect a great amount of clarity from it.
The Nokia 7.1 – Worth your money?
To preface this section, I would like to say that the majority of the positive feedback I am about to give applies mainly to US readers. The Nokia 7.1’s price tag is a lot harder to justify outside of the US, given the abundance of options from the likes of Xiaomi and even Honor. The Nokia 7.1 costs €299 starting in Europe, and a Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 with the same chipset, more RAM, and a bigger screen costs around €100 less. It’s just not a contest.
However, in the US, things are a little different. Xiaomi devices aren’t as easy to import, and their band support in the US is rather poor as well. You can pick up a OnePlus 6T for cheap from T-Mobile with their trade-in deal, or even a flagship of last year for around the same price second-hand, but that’s about it. If you want a brand new smartphone with a decent camera, good chipset, and a lasting build quality for a relatively low price in the region, then look no further than the Nokia 7.1. It has it all, from software support to power, there are a lot of reasons to love the Nokia 7.1. It’s overpriced in a lot of ways, there is absolutely no denying that, but in a market known for its contracts and its high off-contract prices, the Nokia 7.1 is not a bad choice whatsoever.