Review: Nokia 7.1

Nokia 7.1 is an interesting mid-range device that HMD announced in October 2018 at the London event, organized just for this device. After the great success of Nokia 7 in China, the rest of the world was asking for a similar device, something that would be a bit better than Nokia 6, but still affordable. Nokia 7.1 came as an answer to all the wishful thinking of Nokia fans around the world.  Actually, Nokia 7.1 is improved Nokia 6.1 Plus. That could be troubling for many but bear in mind that this model has many features that are better, and come as a nice surprise. I spent a lot of time with the device, to check if it is good as HMD said, and to see if I’ll get used to a notorious notch. Without further ado, let’s start with a review.

Pro

  • Nice design
  • Great build quality
  • Crisp and sharp display
  • Great loudspeaker
  • Notch

 

Con

  • Slippery and fingerprint magnet
  • Snapdragon 636 bad choice for price class
  • Camera not performing well
  • Average battery life
  • Quick charging not so quick
  • Notch

 

Hardware specifications

  • Dimensions: 149.7 x 71.18 x 7.99 mm (9.14 mm with camera)
  • Mass: 160 g
  • Body: Aluminum frame, glass back, and front
  • Display: PureDisplay Full HD+ 5.84’’, 19:9 ratio, Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3
  • Processor: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 636
  • Memory: 32/64 + 3/4 GB LPPDDR4x
  • Camera: Primary – 12 MP 2PD/AF/f1.8/1.28um, second – 5 MP, BW/FF/f2.4/1.12um, Front – 8 MP FF/f2.0
  • Connectivity: 3.5 mm headphone jack, LTE Cat. 6, 300Mbps DL/50Mbps UL, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth® 5.0, GPS/AGPS+GLONASS, NFC, USB Type-C (USB 2.0)
  • Sensors: Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer (G-sensor), E-compass, Gyroscope, Fingerprint Sensor (on the back)
  • Battery: 3060 mAh, 18W charger
  • OS: Android 9 Pie
  • Colors: Gloss Midnight Blue, Gloss Steel
  • Price: €299

 

In the box

Nokia 7.1 comes in a classic white box with the picture of hands framed by the device. Interestingly, the box of Nokia 5.1 Plus looks quite the same (also does the device?), except the notch of 7.1 is clearly shown on the front and back photo on the box. Inside you’ll find Nokia 7.1 covered with a plastic foil, and next to the device a box that contains 18W charger, 1m long USB-C/USB cable, and plain and simple Nokia WH-108 earphones. The SIM door key is below the device, and it has a longer pin since the ejecting mechanism is a bit different. You won’t be able to use an old key provided with some previous Nokia phones to open it. Manuals are translated on many languages (depending on the region) and are placed below the cradle where 7.1 sits.

Design

I must say, I like the design of Nokia 7.1. HMD changed the design of its phones in 2018 and started using glass a lot on its midrange lineup. This is a bit risky move since glass can be easily shattered and is a fingerprint magnet. Unfortunately, I did a few drop tests from meter height and luckily glass didn’t shatter, what was a relief.

The design is both classic Scandinavian with a touch of Fabula story that Nokia started with its Lumia series. You won’t find many things interrupting the lines of a device, just a few cuts in the glass for the earpiece, fingerprint reader and one protrusion where the dual camera is placed. The front and the back are pretty much the same with aluminum body sticking out in between. The front of the device is hiding 5.8-inch screen which is blended nicely, since the polarization filter makes it almost as black as relatively thin bezels. On the top of the screen, there is a notch where the 8 MP wide-angle front-facing camera, earpiece, and proximity and ambient light sensors are placed. The notch is not wide, which is good since that part of the screen can be turned into a virtual bezel where most of your notifications will be shown. There wasn’t any place for the Nokia logo, so it is now placed centrally at the bottom part of the front surface, or at the chin. The Gorilla glass 3, which is protecting the front of the phone, is just mildly curved into the precisely cut aluminum frame. On the right side, there are volume control buttons and a power/lock button which are firm and with a nicely defined click. By double pressing the power button, you start the camera app by default, and by clicking on volume down you take photos which is a nice replacement for dedicated camera button Nokia phones used to have. The left side of the aluminum frame only holds the SIM/MicroSD card doors that open with a provided key that has a bit elongated pin. You won’t be able to open the SIM drawer with an old key since the mechanism is positioned differently, but you’ll be able to use the new key to open SIM doors of older (or other) Nokia smartphones.

On top, you’ll find two antenna stripes. The left one is perforated with one of three microphones and the left one is perforated with 3.5 mm headphone jack. On the bottom, there is the same arrangement of antennas with a microphone hole at the left and two opening of the single speaker on the right of centrally placed USB Type C jack. At the back, you’ll find an elevated camera module that holds 5 MP depth-sensing camera, Zeiss logo, 12 MP main camera, and dual LED flash. One thing I didn’t like about the camera module is that both cameras were not centered, but were a little bit off to the right. The camera module is accented with a metal ring that surrounds the Gorilla Glass 3 which is going to protect the cameras from scratches. The glass at the back is not Gorilla 3, and after two weeks the edges will be full of micro scratches which are not that easily seen. Below the camera module is the fingerprint reader which is working nicely, but it could be faster. Silverish Nokia logo is placed in the middle of the device, and it looks nice under the glass. Android One logo at the bottom is of the same color as Nokia logo, while the text below is a bit lighter and tells you the origin of the device, HMD’s HQ address, and FCC number. Nokia 7.1 is the first model that came with a new address of HMD’s headquarters.

Ergonomics, build quality

Nokia 7.1 has a quite nice feeling in hand. It is solid as a Nokia 6.1 but then again gentle and warm as Nokia 5.1 Plus. It’s mildly curved edges add softness when you are holding it, and aluminum frame gives the firmness of cold metal. Even though the phone is covered with glass, it is quite resilient to the falls on hard surfaces. Unfortunately, I did a few drop tests when I would leave the phone on any kind of fabric and the phone would slip quickly on the floor. That being mentioned, maybe the biggest flaw of its design is the phone is slippery as hell. It is quite hard to maneuver with it, but you’ll get used to it after a week. I would like to see silicon protective case in the retail box since I guarantee you that you’ll drop the phone at least two times before getting used to handling it, and because the back glass gets scratches easily.

I did damage the aluminum frame in two places, but there are no dents and scratches are minor. Most importantly, the screen didn’t break because of a smartly placed plastic ring that is surrounding the front and back glass and acts as a buffer zone between glass and aluminum frame. I would prefer if HMD could find some other material to cover the back since this device is a super magnet for fingerprints, and you’ll be cleaning it every time you get it in your hand. I was able to control the device by just using my thumb. That also means that you will have to stretch it from time to time, but the scrolling through notifications over fingerprint scanned does come in handy.

Display

The display of Nokia 7.1 is one of its selling points. HMD used something similar to an old display technology previously seen on Nokia Lumia smartphones, actually on Lumia 1520, which was called Assertive Display. HMD branded it now as PureDisplay. This technology enables the 7.1’s screen to dynamically adapt to ambient light condition, and to display HDR photos and videos by doing the real-time SDR to HDR conversion to make your photos and videos crisper and with vivid colors. The LCD screen has FullHD+ resolution or 1080×2280 pixels that gives the density of approximately 432 PPI. It is 5.84” large in diagonal, and it takes almost 80% of the front surface. The screen is polarized by a special filter which is responsible for the great visibility under the bright light. I had no trouble reading the display under bright sunlight, and it can be dim enough when surfing before you go to sleep. The good thing is that you can use nightlight feature to lower the blue light that LCD emits and help yourself fall asleep sooner. Also, the screen was supersensitive since I could control it with wool (fabric) gloves on my hands.

Display has a thin, centrally positioned notch in the upper end which is a good solution since all the notifications and status symbols are placed in the virtual bezel. That way the usable surface of the screen is bigger, especially if you choose to hide the notch. This option is not easily found. It is hidden in the developer options which you’ll probably know how to enable. I really got used to a notch, and I wasn’t bothered by it when it was hidden. The one thing I found troubling with the notch is the dark shadow that can be seen on its edges when the background is white and back lighting at maximum setting. If you are using a full bezel setup, then you won’t be seeing that issue.

HDR10 feature does make all the screen content crisper and more vivid, but the transition from SDR to HDR can be often seen as hue, and HMD programmers should perfect the technology more.

Connectivity

Nokia’s philosophy was always about connecting people, and HMD luckily continued that. Nokia 7.1 is a great device to get you connected, not only to internet or BT device, but with real people over GSM standard. Yes, 7.1 can do calls, and its quality is great. The earpiece creates good sound, and the loudspeaker is also superb, not only for conversation but for listening to music too. It is one of the best speakers in the recent Nokia lineup, and if you fine tune it, you can get nice bass tones also, not just mid and high ones. BT worked fine, connected the device with various other devices, car radios without any problems. I only had trouble connecting over NFC to BT speaker, but maybe there was a hardware issue with a device I got for the test. Hard reset didn’t help.

I rely on WiFi networks a lot, and the WiFi radio performed well, with no hiccups in connection. When speaking of radios, GPS also worked well and 7.1 was rather quick in getting position lock, even offline (just the GPS radio was active). The device is equipped with a bunch of sensors like light and proximity sensors or accelerometer, and magnetometer that you can use also as a true digital compass.

Even though Nokia devices, which are a part of Android One club, have unlimited high-quality photos storage, to preserve the full resolution of your photos, you’ll have to connect the device with your computer or some other kind of external storage device over USB OTG connection. You can easily connect Nokia 7.1 with your Windows PC without any driver installation, and the transfer rate is quick. One thing that bothered me was the need to confirm the connection once you plug in your device to PC. That means you will have to unlock your device, click the message and just then start transferring your photos or videos.

OS

Nokia tried to stay on the smartphone market by using Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS and that didn’t work quite well. HMD used Nokia’s plan B and went with Android, but not any kind of Android. HMD used Google’s pure Android OS and added just two extra apps, Camera and Support app. Nokia 7.1 is a part of Android One club what means that this device will be getting two large Android updates, and three years of security patches. This is quite interesting for all the people that don’t want to complicate their life with additional OEM options, and just rely on what Google has prepared for them. If you decide to buy Nokia 7.1, you’ll be getting Android Pie, most likely right out of the box. The OS comes with all necessary apps, and everything else you might need is on Google Play store or APK mirror.

This device doesn’t have Glance screen, but it does have Ambient display which wakes up the screen when new notifications are available. Also, you can check the time when you lift your phone up or have the clock constantly on while you are charging the phone.

Another thing I like with this OS and Nokia 7.1 is that you can unlock it in three different ways, buy double tapping the screen, pressing the unlock button or scanning your fingerprint at the back of the device. Another nice touch is the ability to scroll among notifications by using the fingerprint reader. That way you can really be using the device with just one hand.

Performance

Nokia 7 (2018) was a great device since it was basically improved Nokia 6 (2017) with Zeiss lenses. When HMD announced 7.1 for the global market, I expected to see a smaller Nokia 7 Plus. Maybe HMD planned to do that, but Nokia 7.1 came with weaker Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 which is not as quick as Snapdragon 660 seen in Nokia 7 Plus. Snapdragon 636 has 8 cores, four of them are clocked on 1.80 GHz, and another 4 which are clocked on 1.61 GHz. Choice of the processor is my second big complaint about the device that now costs more than Nokia 7 Plus. Anyway, it is not that slow, and is certainly faster than your old Nokia 6 (2017) and inline with Nokia 7. This Nokia 7.1 has 3GB of DDR4 RAM which is enough for good quality multitasking, and there won’t be any problems with that. I found it a bit slowish when opening games like Subway Surfers or my favorite Angry Birds 😊. After 15 minutes of playing games, the device would get a bit hot, but nothing compared to the Nokia 6 (2017) that would get hot as freshly baked pie. Anyways, Adreno 509 is performing well and there won’t be any problem with  playing more difficult games, except your battery will be drained faster, and devices temperature will rise above 38°C. When compared to Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 7.1 is generally slower in opening apps, but you’ll be able to use that device normally without lag or some major hiccups.

 

Camera

The camera is another selling point of Nokia 7.1. HMD used Samsung’s s5k4h8 sensor (once again), but this one is an improved version from the old 7. The sensor has 12.2 MP, and has a quite wide aperture of f/1.8. This aperture combined with 1.28 µm large pixels should provide decent low light/night shots. To make them even better, HMD developed aggressive algorithms that make the night shots even better than its previous model. The camera of Nokia 7.1 is ZEISS branded which means that its lenses are of good quality. The hardware completes the latest camera app that offers Pro mode for more experienced phonographers, Live Bokeh option which works quite nicely (I dare to say even better than iPhone XS), Panorama option, and Square option which helps Instagramers capture object in their beloved 1:1 photography ratio.  You can also shoot regular video (no pro controls here though), slow-motion video and play with Time-Lapse photography. Nokia 7.1 also comes with Nokia’s OZO audio sound software which guarantees clear and omni directional sound recording. The latest camera app on 7.1 comes with an improved Bothie mode which you can use both in photo and video mode to reframe both cameras, so you get better-centered bothies.

Photo

The camera creates nice shots during daylight, but overprocessing is a huge problem here. While the dynamic range is great, the colors are oversaturated, and more contrast is added in post-processing. Most of the people will like that, but when you transfer the photos to a computer, you’ll quite often notice digital noise in the photos. All the photos look great, sharp and vivid on 7.1’s HDR screen, but on PC monitor you can see all the disadvantages of all the work that algorithms are doing in the back. A second 5MP camera that is used for focusing is doing its job nicely, but I noticed that sometimes photos aren’t focused when in automatic mode. To prevent that you should focus manually the desired object if you want your shots to be crystal clear every time you use the camera. Anyway, these are issues that can be fixed with further fine-tuning of the camera software, and since HMD invested a lot into the imaging department, I believe that camera experience will be better in time.

Images in closed areas lit with artificial light turn out pretty well even though there is some noise in the areas which don’t get a lot of light.

Low light or night shots have been improved a lot compared to Nokia 6.1 or some older models, especially without using the dual LED flash. You can create well-lit shots, but the processing is huge, details are not sharp and look rather washed out. When compared to Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 7.1 will make low light shots look brighter, but with a lot of noise.

The front-facing camera has an 8MP sensor and wide-angle lenses. Selfies under the bright light are sharp and object edges well defined, but in low light conditions selfies don’t turn out so sharp and you’ll have to use the LCD screen as a source of light.

You can check the comparison of Nokia 7 Plus and 7.1 cameras here. The size of images has been reduced to save the server space. Check the full resolution images on our Flickr profile.

Video

You can film a 4K video with Nokia 7.1 and the length of the video is not limited. The default resolution is 1080p and that will give you nice videos. When you start filming, camera app enables the OZO Audio recording which is not directional here. So, microphones record the sounds around you equally. When you are using 1080p resolution you can use EIS or the electronic image stabilization which performs well. You are even able to shoot steady videos while walking which is nice. The recorded sound is of good quality even though mid tones dominate. I had some trouble with the EIS when filming low light shots and that is why those videos look lagish.

Check the videos below and see for yourself. use headphones to judge the sound quality.

 

Battery

Nokia 7.1 has integrated battery with a 3060 mAh capacity, which is a standard for the midrange devices. This battery will give you a one whole day of moderate to high usage of the device. You will end the day with 18% to 22% of the battery. If you take a lot of photos, play a game for about 20 minutes, browse a lot and listen to music, then you’ll need to recharge the device around 8 in the evening. During long weekend nights, you’ll have to recharge it to be able to shoot nice low light photos with the device. The 18W charger comes in the retail box, but it won’t charge your device that quickly, around 40% in about 30 minutes, which is 1.33% every minute of charging, and the battery does get hot. The overall charging time isn’t shortened, or linear. It will take the device to fully charge up to 2 hours. It might be slow, but in a relatively short time, you’ll get enough juice for the rest of your smartphone adventures.

 

Final thoughts

Nokia 7.1 is a nicely designed phone with great build quality, and some tweaks that make it a most wanted midrange smartphone at selected markets. But, after spending two weeks with it, I got an impression that Nokia 7.1 is just bumped up version of Nokia 6.1 Plus, and that Nokia 5.1 Plus share its attractiveness. When you see it like that, then its global price is not justified. If you add a little bit more money you might rather buy brand new Nokia 8.1, or you could go for outstanding Nokia 7 Plus for the same or lesser amount of money. All in all, you would be getting a better performing device in all aspects.

There are some features of Nokia 7.1 that could need some improvements which can be easily achieved by software updates. For example, real-time HDR conversion can be smoothed out and camera performance improved to get crisper and naturally looking photos. Additionally, HMD could make Snapdragon 636 perform better which would make 7.1 more competitive on the market.

Don’t get me wrong, Nokia 7.1 is a quite attractive device and definitely a head turner. But with Nokia 7 Plus still available globally, it just won’t be the first choice for many folks.

This phone could be ideal for people that like nicely designed and sturdy gadget with a smaller display diagonal that will be using its camera for some occasional inspirational photography moments in good light conditions, not as a substitute for their camera.

 

Very big thanks to HMD Global for giving us a chance for reviewing this device!

Nokia 7.1