Nokia 1 Plus review

Matt Sayer 1 May 2019 NEWS

Quick Verdict
Android Go optimisations and a sleek design make the Nokia 1 Plus a compelling choice for folks on a tight budget.

The Good

  • Impressive value for money
  • Go-optimised apps run surprisingly well
  • Doesn't look cheap

The Bad

  • Struggles when playing videos
  • Takes a long time to charge
  • Camera is slow and mediocre

When HMD Global launched the Nokia 1 back in 2018, we were impressed by the value it brought to the budget phone space. As we noted in our Nokia 1 review, the inclusion of Android Oreo Go gave the phone a significant leg up on the competition, optimising performance beyond what the hardware alone was capable of.

This is the same approach HMD Global has taken for the Nokia 1's successor, the Nokia 1 Plus. It's also an ultra-budget smartphone that prioritises value above all else, and once again it's the inclusion of Android Go (this time the Pie version) that makes it worth considering.



Design

  • Doesn't look cheap
  • Sizeable screen, but low resolution leads to blurry text
  • Only 8GB of internal storage

Unlike its predecessor, the Nokia 1 Plus doesn't look like a cheap phone. At first glance, its sleek frame suggests a price more befitting a mid-range device, and that's a rare trait in an ultra-budget smartphone.

The illusion persists when you're holding the phone, too. At 145.04mm x 70.4mm x 8.55mm, it's pleasantly large without being cumbersome. It's a little on the light side at 185g but it still feels sturdy, and the textured surface on the back helps keep it firmly in your grip.

You get a fair bit of screen to play with on the Nokia 1 Plus. It measures in at 5.45 inches on the diagonal, with an 18:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 480 x 960 pixels. Those are decent numbers for an ultra-budget smartphone. The bevel around the screen is relatively thin, too, which helps keep the phone compact without sacrificing screen size.

The catch here is that 480 x 960 is quite low by smartphone resolution standards. This is all the more apparent on a 5.45-inch screen. Text is often fuzzy, especially when browsing websites that use smaller font sizes. Images, on the other hand, look perfectly fine, albeit less crisp than on a higher-resolution screen.

You can't expect a surplus of storage from an ultra-budget smartphone, but I was still surprised by how little space the Nokia 1 Plus comes with out of the box. Despite packing 8GB of internal storage, 44% of that (roughly 3.5GB) is taken up by system files, leaving just 4.5GB for personal use. After installing a couple of apps, available space dropped to less than 30% (roughly 2.4GB). Thankfully, this is easily remedied by installing a microSD card, as the Nokia 1 Plus supports cards up to 128GB in size.

One last noteworthy feature is the inclusion of a 3.5mm audio jack. It's one of the few advantages budget phones have over the latest flagship handsets, and it remains an attractive selling point for anyone who likes listening to music on the go.

Camera

  • Decent specs mask a slow, low-quality camera that struggles in both light and dark scenes
  • Action shots are pretty much out of the question
  • Video is grainy and especially susceptible to changes in light

On paper, the Nokia 1 Plus would seem to have a pretty decent camera. You've got an 8MP lens around the back for standard photography, while the front-facing selfie camera clocks in at a respectable 5MP.

Of course, specs rarely tell the whole story. That's very much the case with the Nokia 1 Plus. While image quality is solid, the camera struggles to focus even in optimal light, taking multiple seconds to bring the subject into clarity. Another lengthy delay stretches between the moment you hit the shutter button and the moment where the phone actually takes the photo. These delays grow even longer in low-light conditions, where the LED flash does a relatively mediocre job of illuminating the scene.

Action shots are similarly sub-par. Moving objects come out blurry, so you'll probably want to think twice before taking the Nokia 1 Plus to a football match or other sporting event.

The story is much the same when capturing video. You're limited to filming in 720p, which leads to grainy and indistinct footage. Moving between areas of differing illumination also causes problems, with the camera over- or under-exposing the scene for multiple seconds before adjusting accordingly.

To see for yourself how the camera on the Nokia 1 Plus performs, check out the sample photos below:

Nokia 1 Plus sample photo Image: Finder

Nokia 1 Plus sample camera photo Image: Finder

Nokia 1 Plus sample camera photo Image: Finder

Nokia 1 Plus sample camera photo Image: Getty

Performance

  • Android Go squeezes an impressive amount of performance out of meagre hardware
  • Doesn't handle video well at all
  • Fast-tracked security and system updates provide extra peace of mind

From a pure hardware perspective, the Nokia 1 Plus is pretty meek. Its quad-core MediaTek MT6739WW processor is designed for value-oriented devices that don't need a whole lot of power, and its 1GB of RAM is the bare minimum you'll find in a smartphone these days.

Unsurprisingly, this leads to some pretty mediocre results in Geekbench 4's CPU performance test compared to other similarly-priced phones, as you can see below:

3D gaming performance is even lower, with the Nokia 1 Plus incompatible with 3DMark's Vulcan benchmark and scoring very low on the OpenGL test:

Like the Nokia 1 before it, though, the Nokia 1 Plus has an ace up its sleeve. It runs on Android Pie Go, the spin-off version of the regular Android operating system optimised for better performance on low-powered hardware.

The difference this makes is night and day. Navigating the simplified Android Go interface is surprisingly snappy, with only minimal slowdown compared to what you'd see on other budget phones running the full-fat version of the Android operating system.

This responsiveness extends to a range of apps built specifically for Android Go. Gmail, Facebook, Google Chrome and other popular apps offer Go-specific versions that run far better than you might expect on phones like the Nokia 1 Plus. Browsing the web on Chrome, for instance, proved quite smooth. It did chug a little on image-heavy web pages, but not so much as to be intrusive.

While Go-optimised apps make it quick and easy to check your email, browse the news and follow social media on the Nokia 1 Plus, the vast majority of Android apps don't have Go-specific versions. You can still install these apps on the Nokia 1 Plus, but their performance can range anywhere from acceptable to completely unusable.

Take YouTube, for instance. Even with the Go-optimised version of the app, loading up a video quickly exposes the limitations of the Nokia 1 Plus hardware. Try to pause, rewind or perform any other action and the app is likely to seize up completely, freezing the entire phone for multiple seconds before it catches up with itself. As an example, I tried switching a video from portrait mode to full screen and had to wait a full 10 seconds for the action to complete, with choppy audio from the video continuing to play all the while.

Other non-Go apps are similarly slow to load up and interact with. Switching between apps using the Android multi-tasking feature is especially rough, with the Nokia 1 Plus locking up on me multiple times while swapping from one app to another.

Performance optimisations aside, there's another benefit to the Nokia 1 Plus running Android Go. Google handles the security and system updates for Android Go instead of delegating it to smartphone manufacturers. This typically means updates come faster and more consistently than they do for phones running regular Android.

The last point worth noting is that, unlike the original Nokia 1, the Nokia 1 Plus supports 5GHz Wi-Fi networks. This is good news for anyone running a 5GHz (or a dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz) wireless network in their home.

Battery

  • 2,500mAh battery delivers decent but unremarkable performance
  • Charging is painfully slow
  • Removable battery is handy for travellers and heavy users

Despite its large frame, the Nokia 1 Plus houses a relatively small 2,500mAh battery. That's not unusual for an ultra-budget phone, but it does limit the phone's capacity for all-day battery life under heavy use. The low-powered MediaTek processor does offset this slightly, but as you can see in the graph below, benchmark testing places the Nokia 1 Plus much lower than many other budget handsets:

Once again, though, Android Go comes to the rescue. When testing the phone under typical day-to-day use, I found it more than capable of lasting a full day on a single charge. This is largely thanks to Android Go's strict power management, which fastidiously closes apps and shuts down services while they're not in use. Having to wait for those apps and services to boot back up can be frustrating, but the extended longevity is a worthwhile trade-off.

Android Go can't make up for the painfully slow charging time of the Nokia 1 Plus, though. The charger operates over micro USB, and juicing back up to 100% from a completely dead battery can take as long as half a day.

You can get around this by taking advantage of one of the Nokia 1 Plus's neater features: its removable battery. If you're on your phone a lot or you're not going to have access to a power outlet for an extended period of time, you could purchase a spare battery or two and swap them in and out as needed. It's not an ideal solution, but it does give you a bit more flexibility than you get with the embedded batteries in most modern smartphones.

Verdict

  • The Nokia 1 Plus is a surprisingly capable device that has plenty to offer budget-conscious phone buyers

The Nokia 1 Plus is designed for a very specific audience – namely, folks looking for a cheap smartphone capable of handling calls, emails, social media and some light web browsing.

This is exactly what it delivers. The camera isn't great, and charge times are frustratingly long, but those are minor complaints in light of how much power Android Go squeezes out of the phone's humble hardware. Combine that with its sleek design and sizeable screen, and the Nokia 1 Plus represents excellent value for money.

Alternatives to the Nokia 1 Plus

The Nokia 1 Plus has quite a bit of competition in the ultra-budget space. Within the Nokia family, you can pick up the larger and more powerful Nokia 2.1 for a similar price and benefit from its massive 4,000mAh battery. You could also look to the Alcatel 1X, which packs a much higher-resolution screen while still benefitting from the optimisations of Android Go.

If none of those options do it for you, head over to our round-up of the best budget phones currently on the market for more recommendations.

Pricing and availability

Nokia 1 Plus

More than the sum of its parts

The Nokia 1 Plus punches above its weight thanks to smart optimisations and the inclusion of Android Go.

Promoted

  • The Nokia 1 Plus is available directly through Vodafone for $129 outright with a $30 Vodafone SIM card. You can also purchase it from partner stores for $169 outright.

Nokia 1 Plus specs

OS Android Go
Display size (inches) 5.45
Display resolution (pixels)
Pixels per inch (PPI) 197
Processor Mediatek MT6739
Height (mm) 145.04
Width (mm) 70.4
Depth (mm) 8.55
Weight (g) 185
Battery size (mAh) 2,500
Wireless charging No
Internal storage 8GB
MicroSD expansion 128GB
Fingerprint scanner No
RAM 1GB
Water resistance N/A
Rear camera (1) resolution 8
Rear camera (1) aperture
Rear camera (2) resolution
Rear camera (2) aperture
Rear camera (3) resolution
Rear camera (3) aperture
Front camera (1) resolution 5
Front camera (1) aperture
Front camera (2) resolution
Front camera (2) aperture
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
Network category speed Category 4
NFC support No

Compare SIM-only plans for the Nokia 1 Plus

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