Nokia 7.1 review: Great mid-range value

Alex Kidman 23 November 2018 NEWS

Nokia has released a lot of phones this year, but at its price and for what you get, the Nokia 7.1 is a real standout.

Quick Verdict: You've got a lot of choice in the mid-range space, but the Nokia 7.1 makes a strong case with great industrial design, a surprisingly good camera and overall solid performance with the benefits of the Android One program as an added bonus.

The good

  • Camera works well
  • Very nicely built
  • HDR-compatible screen works well for streaming
  • USB-C charging

The bad

  • Glass back but no wireless charging
  • Bothies are still a gimmick
  • Can't opt to obscure notch


Ever since its relaunch, Nokia – or more technically, HMD Global, the folks with the rights to the Nokia name who farm out the actual building of phones to China's Foxconn – has worked at a frantic pace delivering what often feels like a new phone model every month.

Nokia has targeted the outright mid-range and budget markets. Its 2017 range was a little underwhelming, but in 2018 we've seen some great Nokia handsets at very affordable prices. It's tough to stand out when there are so many models to compare, but the Nokia 7.1 might just be my favourite.

Nokia 7.1 review

Nokia 7.1: Design

  • Classic Nokia design.
  • Notched display you can't obscure.
  • HDR-capable LCD.
  • Glass back, but no wireless charging.

A big part of the appeal of using the Nokia name was in using Nokia's design language, which is distinctly different to that of its competitors and evocative for a lot of consumers as a brand with a quality pedigree. Nokia's designs tend away from fussy or ostentatious design elements and instead tend to be more businesslike, with just a touch of elegance.

That's a good description of the Nokia 7.1, which rests inside a 149.7x71.2x8mm aluminium-ringed enclosure, weighing in at 160g. The model sold in Australia comes in what Nokia calls "Gloss Midnight Blue" and it's really pleasing to the eye for a mid-range phone.

We've seen a gradual uptick in phone design in 2018 for cheaper phones, but it has tended towards more showy designs that quickly reveal themselves to be cheap when you handle them. That's not a problem for the Nokia 7.1, which both looks good and feels good to hold. That's helped by the glass back, which gives it a premium feel, although sadly that's glass for style, not to enable wireless charging.

The front panel is a 5.84-inch, 1,080x2,280 19:9 panel with what Nokia's calling PureDisplay LCD. What this means in practical terms is that it's HDR10-ready for even better video playback.

To be honest you've got to throw the Nokia 7.1 next to a lesser LCD to markedly see big differences when having your Netflix streaming binge, but every little bit of quality helps and it's a big standout feature for what is still a mid-range phone.

You might love notches, but if you hate them you're going to find the Nokia 7.1 that bit more problematic.

Nokia has also adopted the 2018 style note for screens by including a prominent notch on the front of the Nokia 7.1. You might love notches, but if you hate them you're going to find the Nokia 7.1 that bit more problematic. That's because there's no evident way to "blank" out the notch on the Nokia 7.1.

Most Android manufacturers with notched screens give you a software toggle to turn the sides of the screen near the notch black, which all but hides away the notch at the cost of a little screen space. There's no such toggle for the Nokia 7.1, although that may be a limitation of the Android One platform it uses, because there's not much Nokia does in a software sense on this particular phone.

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Nokia 7.1 review

Nokia 7.1: Camera

  • Very capable for a mid-range phone.
  • Live bokeh is a great inclusion.
  • Bothies are still a gimmick.

If you just looked at the specifications for the Nokia 7.1's camera, you'd think it was just another mid-range phone. It has a front-facing 8MP f/2.0 selfie camera, alongside a primary 12MP f/1.8 rear and secondary 5MP f/2.4 lens. Like so many mid-range cameras, you can't directly shoot with that secondary lens, which is there to provide bokeh effects for portrait shots.

However, the specifications don't tell the entire story. The Nokia 7.1 sits high enough in the Nokia hierarchy to qualify for ZEISS lenses, and while it leaves the rest of its Android One package alone for the most part, the camera app is the one area where Nokia goes beyond a standard Android camera app. Its use of a sideways swipe mechanism to switch between modes isn't that unique. However, some of the modes that Nokia bundles with the Nokia 7.1 are.

It's fair to say that most owners of the Nokia 7.1 might stay in straight Photo mode much of the time, but easily accessible Pro controls are only a swipe away. Swipe once more from the Pro mode to the right and you'll enable "Live Bokeh" mode.

Like Bokeh works in a similar style to the live focus feature found on the Samsung Galaxy S9+ or Galaxy Note9 phones, with a slider to selectively choose your level of background focus. So at one extreme, you get this:

Nokia 7.1 review

And at the other:

The effect is nicely natural and you can apply it to anything that the Nokia 7.1 can put into focus, whereas some phones (yes, I'm looking at you, iPhone XR) will only offer this kind of photographic blurring for identifiable humans. However, you can't post-process for focal blur as you can on Samsung's phones.

The Nokia 7.1 also includes Nokia's "bothie" concept, where both front and rear cameras take a shot, slicing it to your preferred size between front and back cameras. Nokia clearly and desperately wants bothies to become a thing, but so far, there's little evidence that many people really care.

Ultimately, the Nokia 7.1 isn't the second coming of mid-range camera phones, but its overall camera quality is very pleasing for the price you're going to pay for the handset.

Nokia 7.1 sample photos

Nokia 7.1 review

Nokia 7.1 review

Nokia 7.1 review

Nokia 7.1 review

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Nokia 7.1 review

Nokia 7.1: Performance

  • Snapdragon 636 performs as expected.
  • 3GB of onboard storage means there's a faster 7.1.
  • Clean Android One interface.

The model of Nokia 7.1 officially sold in Australia ships with a Snapdragon 636 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage, which you can boost with microSD cards quite easily. It's worth knowing that Nokia also makes a 64GB storage model that comes with 4GB of onboard RAM, so we're getting the slightly cut-down version.

Still, even within those limitations, the Nokia 7.1 performs pretty well. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4 and 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited against its Nokia brethren:

It's not surprising that the Nokia 8 Sirocco tops that list, but then it's a phone that costs more than twice the asking price of the Nokia 7.1.

Here's the same comparison against a range of mid-range phones at varying price points:

Where the Nokia 7.1 also stands out is the fact that it's an Android One phone, which means the updates are handled by Google, with the promise of three years of security patches and two years of OS upgrades. The model tested was still an Android 8 ("Oreo") phone, but Android 9 ("Pie") is now available as an upgrade for Nokia 7.1 owners in Australia.

Android One phones are also by design quite clutter-free, which means you're able to customise them to your tastes, rather than being weighed down with vendor bloatware or more obscure launchers. Nokia has been at the forefront of pushing Android One and while the Nokia 7.1 isn't quite a low-cost Pixel 3, the intent is clearly there for it to provide the same mostly-pure-Google experience.

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Nokia 7.1 review

Nokia 7.1: Battery life

  • Middling battery life.
  • Fast USB-C charging.
  • Glass back, but no wireless charging.

The Nokia 7.1's one weak spot is its battery life, although even here it's just average rather than bad. It's powered by a 3,060mAh battery that should give it decent battery stamina, but instead it's just ordinary. Using Geekbench 4's battery test (which is terribly linear), here's how it compares to other Nokia handsets:

And here's how it compares against a range of mid-range competitor devices:

At least when the Nokia 7.1's battery does start to fade, you won't have to fuss with directional microUSB cables. It's fully USB-C compatible, something that's still a bit of a rarity in the mid-range space. Sadly, while the back of the Nokia 7.1 is aesthetically pleasing glass, there's no magnetic charging coil behind the glass, so wireless charging is off the menu.

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Nokia 7.1 review

Nokia 7.1: Should you buy it?

  • A great mix of parts makes for a great phone.
  • Plenty of competition in the mid-range space.

If you took just one element of the Nokia 7.1, whether it was the design, camera, processor or inclusion of Android One, it might not seem that extraordinary. Nokia's not exactly pushing the bounds out all that much in any one area.

However, it has hit upon a recipe for a combination that's quite compelling.

The mid-range space is very busy with lots of options from every Android phone maker and creating a compelling phone is a tough ask. If your budget sits under $500, the Nokia 7.1 is highly recommended.

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Nokia 7.1: Pricing and availability

The Nokia 7.1 sells in Australia with 32GB of RAM and 3GB ROM for $499 outright.

Nokia 7.1: Alternatives

Within the Nokia family, you could consider the slightly less expensive Nokia 5.1 Plus or Nokia 6.1 (AKA Nokia 6 2018) handsets. For around the same price, you could opt for the larger-screened Nokia 7 Plus within the Nokia family.

Nokia 6.1 (2018)

Second time's the charm

Stronger, faster and more attractive: the Nokia 6.1 (2018) is a big leap forward for the reborn Nokia brand.

Promoted

Nokia 7 Plus

A sturdy and reliable mid-range smartphone

The Nokia 7 Plus is built to last, with a firm metal body and the guarantee of two years of regular security updates making it a solid investment.

Promoted

If your brand aspirations go broader than Nokia, consider the Huawei Nova 3i, Sony Xperia XA2 or Motorola Moto G6 Plus.

Huawei Nova 3i

Great performance at a budget price

The Huawei Nova 3i combines Huawei's excellent Kirin processor with its camera smarts at a more affordable price point than its premium Mate series.

Promoted

Sony Xperia XA2

Premium power doesn't have to cost the world

Enjoy high-end power at an affordable price with the Sony Xperia XA2.

Promoted


Nokia 7.1 review

Specifications

Nokia 7.1 Specifications

OS Android 8
Display size (inches) 5.84
Display resolution (pixels) 1080 x 2280
Pixels per inch (PPI) 432
Processor Snapdragon 636
Height (mm) 149.7
Width (mm) 71.2
Depth (mm) 8
Weight (g) 160
Battery size (mAh) 3,060
Wireless charging No
Internal storage 32GB
MicroSD expansion 400GB
Fingerprint scanner Yes
RAM 3
Water resistance N/A
Rear camera (1) resolution 12
Rear camera (1) aperture f/1.8
Rear camera (2) resolution 5
Rear camera (2) aperture f/2.4
Rear camera (3) resolution
Rear camera (3) aperture
Front camera (1) resolution 8
Front camera (1) aperture f/2.0
Front camera (2) resolution
Front camera (2) aperture
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Network category speed Category 6
NFC support Yes
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