Not quite the mid-range hero we wanted, but a contender for sure
THANKS TO HMD, Nokia has made somewhat of a comeback in the smartphone world, at least in the budget and mid-level market. And thanks to the inexorable march of phone tech, a lot of affordable handsets are getting some of the features that were previously consigned to the upper echelons of the smartphone arena.
Case in point, the Nokia 7.1. Unsurprisingly, the phone is an evolution of the Nokia 7, though it offers quite the refresh in both design and electronic guts. But there's now a lot of competition in the low to mid-range market, so you'll need to read on to see if the Nokia 7.1 can hold its own.
From the get-go, we reckon the Nokia 7.1 is a nice looking phone. Crafted from a single block of aluminium encircled with silver-coloured chamfered edges, the Nokia 7.1's 150x71x8mm dimensions means the handset sits somewhere between a Pixel 3 and a OnePlus 6T, and it fits our hands very nicely.
You can have any colour you like as long as it's Midnight Blue, which is alright by us as it looks pretty damn good. And it feels solidly built if not as high-end as flagship Samsung or Apple handsets.
The phone squeezes in a 5.8in display - more on that later - which comes with a notch, because of course it does. The notch isn't too intrusive, but we're a tad confused as to why HMD has then left a decent-sized chin on the phone front.
There's no speaker or visible microphone array here, only a less-than-subtle Nokia logo. As such, it feels like having a notch is a waste of time given the display could have simply extended more into the phone lower edge. Then again, there's probably some engineering reason behind this, but a good few other phone makers don't seem to struggle with this.
On the bottom of the phone, you'll find a mono speaker, which isn't ideal for aural bliss but it does the job, alongside a USB-C port.
Surprisingly, USB-C doesn't replace a 3.5mm headphone jack, which you'll find on top of the phone. There's even a microSD card reader for expanding storage, which isn't as common in Android phones as it once was.
On the phone's rear, there's a dual camera array which protrudes slightly, and a circular fingerprint scanner which is nice and responsive but can't offer the nippiness or same level of satisfying haptic feedback one can find on the Google Pixel phones.
Overall, the Nokia 7.1 is very nice aesthetically speaking and offers enough screen real-estate without requiring too much finger stretching or shuffling to use it one-handed.
With a Full HD+ resolution of 2280x1080, the Nokia 7.1's 5.8in display isn't the sharpest around. But thanks to a 432ppi (pixel per inch) pixel density, you'd have to peer at it pretty intensely and look at photos closely to notice much difference between it and a QHD+ phone display. The notch isn't too intrusive, either, but we've grown used to notches by now.
Everything is nice and sharp with a good dollop of brightness and contrast, despite the Nokia 7.1 using an IPS LCD display rather than an OLED panel. Colour coverage and accuracy is pretty decent, though to our eyes the screen occasionally had a slightly cooler tone compared to some handsets, which some people might prefer as it can help some colours pop.
There also support for HDR10 and the phone has an "Enhanced HDR Display" feature, which allows it to enhance the contrast and sharpness in photos, videos and games.
It's a neat feature than can make some pictures pop a bit more, but it can also oversaturate some hues, say in a photo of a sunset emblazoned sky, which can look a bit unnatural. But it works pretty nicely in videos, giving them an extra dose of contrast, most noticeable in scenes with plenty of colour.
While we're not going to say the Nokia 7.1 has the most impressive display around but its pretty good for its price, which started out at £300 but shop around and you could find the phone is a little cheaper now.
Speaking of visuals, the camera setup on the Nokia 7.1 is pretty good. On the rear, the camera module holds two lenses: a 12MP wide-angle sensor and a 5MP depth-sensing lens.
Working together they can take 'bokeh' snaps, with a subject framed against a nicely blurred background. Lots of phones now do this, but the Nokia 7.1 has a rather neat 'Live Bokeh' feature that allows the depth of blurring to be adjusted on the fly.
Photography on the Nokia 7.1 is pretty impressive overall, with plenty of detail and colour. And the HDR mode, which is on an auto function by default, does a decent job at enhancing photos without over-blowing colours.
Low light performance is decent and even zoom in a little and you won't lose too much detail; really zoom in and you will, but that's hardly surprising.
Clearly using Zeiss lenses are more than just a fancy branding technique, as the lenses really do pull off some impressive shots. They won't bother the camera capabilities of flagship phones like the Galaxy Note 9 or Pixel 3, and the OnePlus 6T has the Nokia 7.1 snappers licked in our opinion. But then the latter is around a couple of hundred quid more expensive and the other two are more than double the price.
The 8MP front snapper is decent as well and it still offers the 'bothie' feature to stitch pics from the front and rear snappers together. We're not really into that but if you are, then knock yourself out with the Nokia 7.1.
So for the money, the Nokia 7.1 offers some decent photography chops, especially as it comes with Google Lens for added image recognitions smarts, as well as a host of photography modes and the ability to fine-tune settings in the 'Pro' mode.
Performance, storage and battery life
Things are looking good for the Nokia 7.1 so far, but when it comes to performance some may be let down.
Under the chassis sits a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chip, one of the chipmaker's mid-range SoCs rather than the more powerful chips from the 8-something series. The octa-core processor has four cores running at 1.8GHz, and four running at 1.61Ghz in a classic ARM big.LITTLE formation.
The processor sits with 3GB of RAM - 4GB models are available in other regions, for some reason - which isn't a massive amount these days, though it's passable.
As such, running Geekbench 4 results in a single core score of 1,307 and a multi-core score of 4,795. It's not a bad score per say, but the cheaper Honor Play with its Kirin 980 chip has the Nokia 7.1 beaten.
In real-world use, the Nokia 7.1 doesn't offer the buttery smooth performance of say a OnePlus 6T or Pixel 3 with their Snapdragon 845 chips. It can occasionally feel a little sluggish if you're used to the performance of high-end phones, but in everyday use, it's not too much of a chore.
And it's part of the Android One initiative, which ensures the Nokia 7.1 has a pure Android 8.1 running out of the box, though an update for Android 9 has been rolled out and thanks to the initiative it means the mobile operating system upgrade comes straight from Google, for two years, rather than requiring HMD to push it out.
We tested the Nokia 7.1 with it running Android 9 Pie with no bloatware, which is probably what helped the phone feel pretty decent to use despite not having masses of power on tap.
If you're expecting to game hard and fast on the Nokia 7.1 then it's probably not the phone for you, but for everyday phone use it's perfectly decent; we've just been spoilt by the current glut of high-end phones with very slick performance.
Battery life is where things get disappointing. With a 3,060mAh battery pack, the Nokia 7.1 doesn't have the biggest electrical juice box on the block. But we found it'll certainly need a charge at the end of the day even if it's for a top up to get through a commute, and that's with medium use. Push it hard and you'll want to make sure you have the charger with you while on your travels.
The battery life isn't a deal breaker but it's a bit of a let down when we'd have expected that using a lesser mobile chip would see the Nokia 7.1 be a bit more frugal with its power guzzling.
As for storage, the Nokia 7.1 offers a just about acceptable 32GB of onboard space - some models in other markets have 64GB - but the ability to add in a microSD card to boost capacity to 400GB kinda negates the shortcomings of the rather meagre onboard storage.
Compared with other mid-range phones, the Nokia 7.1 is pretty much on par with its rivals when it comes to the blend of performance, cameras, and specs. It stands out from the crowd with its rather lovely display and decent cameras.
But the likes of the Honor Play, Honor 8X, Asus ZenFone 5, and Moto G6, which now undercuts the Nokia 7.1 massively by price, all offer stiff competition.
That being said, we do feel there's something particularly pleasing about the Nokia 7.1's design and how it feels in our hands, plus it's just nice to see Nokia brand back on good form.
If you want a mid-range phone then the Nokia 7.1 won't disappoint, just don't go expecting the world. It's best to have a good look around at what else is in the same price range especially with all the offers various retailers and operators tend to tout.
Attractive design, lovely display, impressive cameras.
Performance isn't great, onboard storage is measly, HDR up mixing isn't always on point
The battery life won't really keep the phone going for much beyond the working day