Nokia 7.1 review: A modest and modern mid-tier option

Nokia Nokia 7.1
  • Nokia Nokia 7.1
  • Nokia Nokia 7.1
  • Nokia Nokia 7.1
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Gorgeous screen

Cons

  • Sometimes sluggish performance
  • Notch doesn't really justify itself

Bottom Line

The Nokia 7.1 isn’t a device without caveats but I think it’s one that’ll pay off for those looking to get a decent smartphone at a decent price.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch - What Is The Nokia 7.1?

With HMD’s ambitions to break back into the premium tier of the smartphone space foiled, the company has doubled down on the area where the rejuvenated Nokia brand is strongest: the value-driven, mid-tier of the smartphone market.

And if you fall into that niche, you’re spoiled for choices. There’s the Nokia 1, the Nokia 2.1, the Nokia 3.1, the Nokia 5.1, Nokia 5.1 Plus, the Nokia 6.1, the Nokia 7 Plus and the new Nokia 7.1. There are a lot of Nu-Nokia phones out there. And looking at that lineup is arguably the only real way to discern who exactly the new Nokia 7.1 is really for. The Nokia 7.1 is the natural option for those who want a better Nokia 7 Plus at a better price.

Tackled on those terms, the Nokia 7.1 might actually be one of the better sub-$500 smartphones you can buy.

Specs - Nokia 7.1

Display size: 5.84-inch

Display type: IPS LCD

Processor: Snapdragon 636

Operating System: Android Oreo (8.1)

Fingerprint Sensor: Yes

RAM:  3GB

Storage: 64GB

MicroSD slot: Yes

Durability: N/A

Ports: USB Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack

SIM: Single

Battery: 3060mAh

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac), GPS, NFC, CAT 6 LTE

Rear Camera:  12-megapixels (f/1.8) + 5-megapixels (f/2.4)

Front-Facing Camera:  8-megapixel (f/2.0)

Colors: Midnight Blue

Dimensions: 149.7 x 71.2 x 8 mm

Weight: 160g

Price:  $499

Design - Look, Feel and Features

Even as someone who likes and recommends the bulk of this year’s Nokia handsets, it’s hard not to call myself fatigued by the small army of devices I’ve reviewed this year. Thankfully, very few of the Nu-Nokias have been bad. But they’re so similar to one another that they’re frequently at-risk of blurring together in my head.

Like those other Nokia devices, the Nokia 7.1 looks and feels super slick. At a glance, it’d be easy to mistake it for a much more premium device. And, in the curves of your hand, the feel-factor has a charm that’s easy to grow attached to.

However, aside from the fingerprint sensor on the back and the diamond-cut edges, the Nokia 7.1 can’t help but come across as yet another otherwise-featureless, all-glass smartphone. It’s not a bad look - but it’s a look that’s easy to find elsewhere.

The one unique hook here is the screen. For Australians, it’s the first Nokia device to arrive with an iPhone X-style notch. However, unfortunately, the only benefit to the notch is a little bit of extra screen space. They’re no 3D facial recognition nestled here. Just the usual speaker and front-facing camera.

Look beyond that imposition, and you’ll find the Nokia 7.1’s other hook: PureDisplay. PureDisplay is an augmented smartphone display configuration, currently only found in the Nokia 7.1, that's capable of supporting HDR playback and automatically upscaling content from SDR to HDR.

As a result, video content on the Nokia 7.1 looks a bit better than it would on other, cheaper options. It’s not quite as flashy or slick as the OLED screens found in flagship fare but it does serve to set the Nokia 7.1 aside from a lot of the competition playing in the same price-range.

Camera - How Does The Nokia 7.1 Compare To The Competition?

Aside from the display, the dual-lens camera is the other key selling point for the Nokia 7.1. And, in fairness, the camera on the Nokia 7.1 does deliver surprisingly compelling results for its price-bracket.

Images are bright and crisply detailed and, as far as the software goes, the Nokia 7.1 is a surprisingly capable camera. It can take live bokeh images using both the front and rear-facing cameras. It also supports Google Lens and slow-motion video.

Unfortunately, the Nokia 7.1’s camera app does come with a few shortcomings. It’s generally pretty easy to swipe left and right between the different modes. However, the amount of icons on screen can be seem quite cluttered at times. The shutter speed also isn’t quite as snappy as I’d like or expect it to be.

The Nokia 7.1 supports the same Pro Mode found in other 2018 Nokia smartphones. This allows for more nuanced control over ISO, white balance and shutter speed.

It’s nice to have but, if you’re the kind of person who takes their photography that seriously, you’re probably better served investing in a smartphone with more dedicated hardware like the Huawei P20 Pro or Google’s Pixel handsets.

I don’t know I could say that the Nokia 7.1 has the best camera in a 2018 Nokia smartphone. On paper, the dual-lens setup here isn’t quite as robust as the Sirocco’s setup. However, the results sit within a very similar niche. They’re solid enough to share on Instagram - but rarely exceptional. Still, keeping the price in mind, it feels like you’re getting just enough bang for your buck here.

Performance - Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life

As with other HMD Global Nokia devices, part of the sell for the Nokia 7.1 is that even if it’s not “Android at its best” (see: Google’s own Pixel hardware), it still lives up to the tagline of “Android as it was intended”.

There’s basically no bloatware or custom apps here aside from one that links to HMD’s customer support. Unfortunately, the Nokia 7.1 runs Android Oreo and not the recently released Android Pie - which is already available on several of 2019’s other Nu-Nokia handsets.

More anecdotally: our time with the Nokia 7.1 also saw it occasionally get dragged down and become sluggish under heavy load. I wouldn’t say this was the norm for the device - but it was definitely something I noticed about it that I didn’t encounter with other Nu-Nokia handsets.

The Nokia 7.1 even touts an Android One certification. For the unfamiliar, Android One was an initiative by Google to take a bit more care and control over the experience offered by vendors producing mid-tier and bottom-end Android handsets.  As part of the program, hardware vendors would agree to guarantee regular security, regular Android OS updates, base the out-of-box experience around just the core Android interface and Google’s own apps and only use hardware approved by Google.

And that skimmed-down approach pays off in some ways. In terms of benchmarking, the Nokia 7.1 landed more-or-less where you’d expect it to, given the hardware. It doesn’t hit the heights of either the regular Nokia 7 Plus or the more-expensive Oppo R15 Pro - but it’s also cheaper.

Meanwhile, when it comes to battery life, the Nokia 7.1 didn’t hold up quite so well.

In terms of everyday battery-life, we’d make it through the usual 9-5 work day pretty consistently but did need to make the time for a top up if we planned on doing anything afterwards. We’re talking nine or ten hours of use here, though - as always - your mileage may vary (especially if you watch or film a lot of video content).

The Nokia 7.1 doesn’t support wireless charging but it does support fast charging via USB Type-C.

The Bottom Line - Should You Buy The Nokia 7.1?

Though my enthusiasm for it is a little muted by a broader fatigue with the Nu-Nokia formula, it’s hard not to give the Nokia 7.1 the props it arguably deserves. It’s a better Nokia 7 that’s also cheaper. Even if, yes, it doesn’t have the best camera and, yeah, the performance isn’t as good as it could be, that’s still a pretty good deal.

The Nokia 7.1 isn’t a device without caveats but I think it’s one that’ll pay off for those looking to get a decent smartphone at a decent price.

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