Nokia 7.1 review: The best bang for your buck in

 

Nokia has been slowly clawing back market share and mind share in the Android space for the past couple of years, and they’ve done it under the radar of the bigger guys like Samsung. The Nokia 7.1 is another mid-range device from the most popular smartphone manufacturer of pre-smartphones, continuing a trend of great performance without a massive price tag.

But the Nokia 7.1 steps up a bit from its cheaper siblings, attempting to deliver a solid experience at $350. That extra wiggle room in pricing gives Nokia a chance to try and craft a better phone that stands to appeal to users that are potentially looking at OnePlus devices or older flagships, but can it really compete? Let’s find out.

The Nokia 7.1, either intentionally or unintentionally, feels like it’s trying to bring older style phone designs into a modern package. At a glance, it’s a pretty unassuming device with a display notch, like pretty much everything else from 2018. But when you actually hold the phone you’ll immediately notice the chamfered, squared off edges, making the phone feel like a bigger, better, newer iPhone 5S.

That’s not a detraction, either; every phone now tries to stick to rounded edges and corners, but they also tend to feel a little slippery. The Nokia 7.1 is extremely easy to hold in comparison, but without its flat edges feeling too much like they’d cut into your hand. For a budget-friendly device, I’ve been extremely pleased with how premium the phone feels.

With that being said, the Nokia 7.1 is made of glass like most other premium phones now. It feels nice, which is a major plus, but whatever type of glass Nokia is using here does a very poor job of resisting fingerprints. It took more work than I’d care to admit trying to clean the phone for photos, and if you’re using it without a case it immediately attracts a ton of smudges that mar an otherwise great looking phone. Curiously, it doesn’t support wireless charging, which has been the justification for many other phones to go back to glass designs.

You’ll find a headphone jack at the top of the device and a slightly off-center USB C port on the bottom. The port is flush with the microphone and speaker cutouts and just looks weird to me. I wish that could have been raised a little for a more symmetrical finish, but that’s a really small gripe.

The chin of the phone is probably the most laughable design decision here. Seriously, it’s huge, with enough space for a full Nokia logo and then some. Coupled with the off-center USB port and the bottom half of this phone is certainly goofier than your average device.

AnnouncedOctober 2018
SoftwareAndroid One (Android 9.0 Pie)
Display5.84-Inch IPS, FHD+ (2280 x 1080), 19:9, 432ppi, HDR10
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 636
Memory3GB/4GB
Storage32GB/64GB
Rear camera12MP f/1.8 dual pixel PDAF + 5MP f/2.4 depth sensor
Primary Front Camera8MP
ConnectivityFingerprint scanner, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz + 5GHz)
Audio JackYes
SensorsProximity sensor; ambient light sensor; G-sensor; gyro;
Battery3060
Dimensions149.7mm x 71.2mm x 8mm
160g
ColorsBlue, Steel

There’s a Snapdragon 636 CPU under the hood of the Nokia 7.1, and if you’ve noticed the pattern in my other reviews, I genuinely really like Qualcomm’s 600 series of processors. They’re not uber high-end chips, but they do offer most of the same performance with much better battery life, and the phones cost a fraction of what a Samsung flagship does. I’m usually a big fan, and that’s still true with the Nokia 7.1.

You’ll still notice that it’s not a flagship if you really start to throw a lot at the phone, but your typical web browsing, social media, and emailing will zip right along. 4GB of RAM also means that you won’t struggle with multitasking, unless you’re gaming, listening to music, and trying to stay up on social media all simultaneously.

The display on the Nokia 7.1 is another surprisingly good part of the overall package, with support for HDR and full 1080p resolution. It can handle all of those HDR videos on YouTube that you might be watching, and for a phone does a relatively good job of playing back videos with proper lighting and contrast. The speakers are another pretty decent aspect of this phone, and even if they won’t blow you away, I’m still pretty sure they’re better than everything OnePlus has done. And hey, there’s a headphone jack, so you can plug in your own thing and not even worry about that.

Snapdragon 600 CPUs with moderately spec’d screens usually means you’ll get great battery life out of a phone, and the Nokia 7.1 keeps that trend up. The battery has a 3,060mAh capacity, and while that’s not the most generous size we’ve seen for a phone, it does the job.

You’ll very easily get through an entire day with the Nokia 7.1, even with hours of screen-on time and social media and gaming. I was never sweating for a charger, but this phone won’t ever get you through multiple days without a charge, so buyer beware.

The Nokia 7.1 is an Android One device, which means you won’t find much extra software or fluff here. It’s pretty much stock Android Pie, which came in a software update shortly after the device launched. If yours is still running Android 8.1 Oreo, check for a software update and get caught up.

Stock Android is pretty easy to use with everything you’d expect. The navigation buttons are in the correct order, and the home button doubles as a Google Assistant shortcut. There’s a Google feed on the far left of the home screens, and your apps rest in a vertical app drawer that’s pulled up with a swipe up from your home screen dock. The newer Android multitasking window still kinda sucks, too.

The only real Nokia-specific things you’ll find on the phone are the toggles for the HDR10 display, an option to hide the notch, and some ambient display tweaks.

Pixel users and longtime Nexus fans will find a lot to like here, but if you’re a fan of heavy Android customization from hardware manufacturers, just know that you won’t find any of that here.

The camera on the Nokia 7.1 is fairly hit-or-miss, and your skill as a photographer is going to play a big role in that. There’s a professional mode for fine-tuning your shots to work around the weaknesses of the camera here, but in auto mode things can get away from you if you’re not careful.

Low light photos are surprisingly good for a phone of this price, even if they do come out a little soft.

But the phone does offer a live bokeh shooting mode, which normally turns out pretty terribly on cheap phones. Here, though, you’re getting another feature where Nokia’s somehow managed to punch above their weight class.

The soft blur effect is typically pretty accurate and adds a really nice effect to the photos, rarely ever coming out poorly. You can even adjust the depth of the effect on the fly with the camera app.

My biggest complaint with the camera is that the colors never really seem to pop like you see on nicer phones. There’s an argument to be made for the photos to be more accurate and not oversaturated, but on cheaper models I think it’s better to err on the side of brighter colors just for that extra social media appeal.

At $350, this is the phone to beat going into 2019. The design feels significantly above what you pay for it, and it delivers performance that can get pretty close to matching phones double its price. You’ve got a ton of storage (64GB, with a microSD card slot), it has a headphone jack, and the camera’s not bad. The phones that do these things better are going to cost quite a bit more, and in some cases, you’re losing either the headphone jack or microSD card, if not both.

If you’re thinking about pulling the trigger on something cheaper, like the Moto G6 Play or anything in that range, seriously consider the upgrade here. And if you’re eyeing a OnePlus 6T or older Galaxy S model, you may want to think hard about what you actually need out of a phone. This one might save you a bit of cash and get you 99% of the way there.

We fully recommend the Nokia 7.1, and it gets our editors choice award for the best mid-range phone you can buy right now.

 

Buy it now: Amazon

 

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