Nokia 3.1 review: Refined design but still lacking in power

Alex Kidman 2 August 2018 NEWS

The Nokia 3.1 upgrades the design of the earlier Nokia 3, but the end result is lacking in performance and battery power.

Quick Verdict
The Nokia 3.1 refines the design of the Nokia 3 into a more visually pleasing phone, but it's one that's notably lacking in battery stamina and processing power, even for its low price.

The good

  • Android One
  • Nice physical design

The bad

  • Poor camera
  • Mediocre performance
  • Middling battery life


When Nokia was relaunched as an Android mobile brand in 2017, the Nokia 3 was its flagship "budget" line, a position it kept until the Nokia 1 came along in 2018 at Mobile World Congress. The Nokia 3.1 is, as its name suggests, an upgrade on the Nokia 3 promising a refined design with more power than the original phone. It's still undeniably a budget offering, but even with Nokia's impressive industrial designers on the case, it's still a tough phone to recommend.


Nokia 3.1: Design

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.

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Nokia 3.1: Camera

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.

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Nokia 3.1: Performance

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.

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Nokia 3.1: Battery life

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.

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Nokia 3.1: Should you buy 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.

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Nokia 3.1: Pricing and availability

The Nokia 3.1 retails in Australia for $249 outright.

Buy the Nokia 3.1

Buy the Nokia 3.1 from Amazon AU

Nokia's simple but affordable Nokia 3.1 features a refined design and the guarantee of two years' worth of software upgrades via Android One.

View details

Nokia 3.1: Alternatives

The good news is that there's plenty of competition in the budget space, including phones such as the Motorola Moto G6 Play or Motorola Moto E5, Huawei's Nova 3e or Alcatel's range of lower-cost phones.

Buy the Huawei Nova 3e

Buy the Huawei Nova 3e from Amazon AU

Huawei puts the impressive design of its flagship phones into a more affordable device with the Nova 3e.

View details

Nokia 3.1: What the other reviewers say

Site Comment Score
Expert Reviews "The Nokia 3 has had an upgrade with the Nokia 3.1, but it's still lacking in certain features." 3/5
Android Central "Nokia nails the core hardware and features, but comes up short in specs and performance." 3.5/5
GSM Arena "The Nokia 3.1 surprises with a solid build and compact design, something the old-school Nokia fans would appreciate." 2.4/5
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Specifications

Nokia 3.1 Specifications

Product Name
Nokia 3.1
Display Size
5.2 inches
Resolution
720 x 1440
PPI
310
Processor
Mediatek MT6750
RAM
2GB
Storage
16GB
Operating System
Android 8.0
Front camera
8MP
Rear camera
13MP
Battery
2990mAh
Dimensions
146.3 x 68.7 x 8.7 mm
Weight
138.3g
Price
$249
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