The Nokia 3.1 upgrades the design of the earlier Nokia 3, but the end result is lacking in performance and battery power.
Nice physical design
Middling battery life
Modern, classic style
Old microUSB charging
Where the Nokia 3's design essentially just got on with being a phone without being particularly notable, the Nokia 3.1 has a more refined approach to its looks, although that's largely due to the fact that it has shifted from a 16:9 display through to an 18:9 one, in line with 2018's most prevailing smartphone trend. It's not even a unique feature for the budget space, with makes brands such as Alcatel already having staked a claim in the 18:9 space.
Still, the design of the Nokia 3.1 is a nice one, with its 146.3 x 68.7 x 8.7 mm size and 138.3g weight giving it a light feel in the hand.
The Nokia 3.1 has an unfussy look in the black as tested, which will suit the style of those who just want a phone to get on with providing information. Nokia does produce more "showy" phones, but this isn't the Nokia 3.1's strong suit. Again, we're seeing more budget phones with designs that go beyond the basic plastic of recent years, but Nokia's designers have done decent work here at the Nokia 3.1's price point.
One feature you won't find on the Nokia 3.1 that we are seeing in phones at this price point is any kind of fingerprint sensor for quick unlocking. If you want to secure your Nokia 3.1 – and you should – you'll have to make do with either a PIN or passcode instead.
Lack of fingerprint sensor aside, the Nokia 3.1's controls are all where you'd expect them to be. Annoyingly, it's still using the older microUSB charging standard rather than the easier USB C that's starting to creep down into the budget sector.
Average camera, even by budget standards
Loss of detail in low light
Nokia's premium and mid-range cameras trade on its tie-up with Zeiss, but it's yet to bring those premium lenses down into the budget sector. The Nokia 3.1 gets a specification bump over the regular Nokia 3, bringing the single rear sensor up to 13MP, while the front sensor is an 8MP shooter. However, megapixel counts aren't everything, and the Nokia 3.1's camera is ultimately a little disappointing, even for a budget camera phone.
In reasonable light with enough patience you can get decent shots out of the Nokia 3.1, but you're really going to have to work for it. It's a slow camera to start and a slow camera to focus as well.
As you might also expect, the difference when you start losing light is massive, with large levels of loss of detail. As an example, here's a fountain near me in daylight:
That's a passable but not great shot, and it took the Nokia 3.1 some time to decide how it was going to balance the shot. However, wait a few hours for the sun to start going down and it's a very different story:
Obviously with cameras being a key component of smartphone pricing, expecting a great camera is nonsense, but still, even within the budget space the Nokia 3.1 disappoints.
Processor upgraded to Mediatek MT6750
Android One an improvement
Overall poor performance in class
The Nokia 3 was a sluggish device last year, so my hopes were up when Nokia announced the Nokia 3.1, simply because it features a better class of processor. Specifically, it's jumped from the quad-core Mediatek MT6737 to the octa-core Mediatek MT6750. Sure, that's not a top-class processor, but an improvement was sorely needed over the Nokia 3.
The Nokia 3.1 also has the advantage of being an Android One phone, in line with most of the rest of Nokia's 2018 output. Android One devices offer clean Google interfaces with limited clutter and the promise of at least two year's worth of software upgrades, making them (in effect) mini-Pixel phones. Less bloatware should also equate to a nippier budget phone, right?
Technically, that is what you get, but Nokia's decision to build to a budget, and specifically to limit the model we're getting locally to the 16GB ROM/2GB RAM variant seriously affects the Nokia 3.1's overall performance.
In benchmark terms, it does manage to outclass last year's Nokia 3, but not in a way that compares all that well against its budget brethren. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4's CPU test:
It's a less compelling story for graphics, where the Nokia 3.1 rendered the second worst benchmark scores we've seen, only besting the much cheaper Nokia 1:
Benchmarks can give you a comparative impression, but they're not the whole story of a phone's performance. I had hoped that the Nokia 3.1 might punch above its benchmark weight in day-to-day performance, but it simply isn't the case. If you're only running a single app it's fine for its budget space. As soon as you've got any kind of multi-tasking running, even if it's as simple as having music playing in a background app while you browse the web, the RAM limit bites in hard, and you're left waiting, often for seconds at a time. Sure, budget phones are never going to be super-fast, but the Nokia 3.1 is just notably slow.
Poor battery performance
We've seen plenty of budget phones with exceptional battery life of late. Typically that's been because while they may feature slower processors, that also means that they're not pushing their batteries all that hard, which can be a nice bonus.
Sadly it's not a bonus you'll see with the Nokia 3.1. Its 2990mAh battery capacity should give it some real room to run, but instead, just as it does with app performance, it instead opts to crawl.
Using Geekbench 4's battery test, we recorded a low overall battery score for the Nokia 3.1, indicating it wasn't working that hard, but also a low battery exhaustion time. The lowest we've tested to date, in fact, and that does include the bargain basement Nokia 1. Here's how it compared:
As always, Geekbench 4's battery test is linear, and your usage isn't likely to reflect that. It's certainly feasible to get a single day's battery life out of the Nokia 3.1, but only if you're only using it in a moderate fashion.
Clear improvement over Nokia 3, but otherwise not worth it
In a strict family sense, the Nokia 3.1 is a clear improvement over last year's Nokia 3. The design is considerably more pleasant to use, the processor is better and the inclusion of Android One shifts Nokia's "promise" of upgrades for the Nokia 3 into much more feasible territory. There aren't too many Android One phones easily available to Australians right now, and on that basis it does have some value.
However, it's let down badly by its overall performance in the real world, as well as its camera and battery performance. Even within the budget space it's a lesser phone, and only really worth considering if you're a die-hard Nokia fan on a tight budget.
Alex Kidman is the tech and telco editor at Finder. He's been a technology writer with experience spanning more than 20 years, writing and editing at Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and many more. Alex has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of New England and a serious passion for retro gaming.
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