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Nokia 7.1 Review: Nokia, Through and through

Nokia has a storied history, And not just in the Mobile realm, did you know n=Nokia makes networking equipment? Probably, but did you know at one point, Nokia made Tyres? Yeah, weird. In the Mobile Space, Nokia was a king, and throughout a series of bad decisions ultimately died a slow and painful death, but thankfully, through a new company (HMD Global Oy) formed of ex-Nokia employees and manufacturing partners, as well as a licensing agreement from the networking side of Nokia, we have Nokia Phones again, and boy, the 7.1 is just Nokia though and through.

Nokia 7.1
+ FOR
  • Stunningly well built
  • Really nice screen
  • Stellar Battery
  • Android One
- AGAINST
  • Performance inconsistent
  • Camera Inconsistent
  • A tad pricey for the specs

Buy on Amazon

Disclaimer: Nokia has provided us with this 7.1 unit for review. This is actually my second unit as the first was defective. I’ve been using the 7.1 for a little over 3 weeks as my primary device in the South East of the UK on the Three UK Network. The only update my 7.1 received in this time was the update to the October Security Patch. Nokia/HMD have no control over the outcome of this review, and no money has passed hands between either party.

Nokia 7.1 Review

Specifications

  • 5.84” IPS LCD (With Notch)
    • 2280×1080 resolution
    • 19:9 aspect ratio
    • HDR10 Compliant Display
      • With separate Pixelworks Chip for HDR processing
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 636
    • 1.8Ghz Kryo 260 Gold (Semi-custom Cortex A73)
    • 1.6Ghz Kryo 260 Silver (Semi-custom Cortex A53)
    • Adreno 509 GPU
    • Hexagon 680 ISP
    • 14nm manufacturing process.
  • 3GB/32GB version and 4GB/64GB Version
  • Dual Zeiss Rear Camera
    • 12MP main camera
      • F1.8
      • 1.28µP Pixels
      • Dual Pixel AF
      • Phase detection AF (PDAF)
    • 5MP Secondary sensor
      • F2.4
      • 1.12µP Pixels
      • Depth sensing only.
  • 8MP front camera
    • F2.0
    • 24mm effective focal range
  • 3060mAh Internal battery with 18W Fast charging (in box)

For a more complete look at the Nokia 7.1’s specs, head on over to the GSMArena page here

Hardware

As I eluded to in the title, this just feels like a Nokia phone, and that’s awesome. When we started to hear that this Company called HMD Global Oy was going to be licensing the Nokia Name from Nokia comms and using Foxconn to make phones, we all assumed the worst, that it was going to be a Polaroid or Kodak situation, where the name was just slapped on anything and everything, but thankfully, we were so, so, so wrong.

Nokia 7.1 Review

Everything about the 7.1 and the current crop of Nokia devices just feels like Nokia devices, and I’m not even just talking about the hardware itself, all the way down to the packaging and the peripherals. My mum, who didn’t know about the Nokia Saga, when this came in, said that it was nice Nokia is still making phones after a while. She didn’t say Nokia Branded phone, she said Nokia phone. When I told her that this wasn’t the old Nokia, she was shocked, and in disbelief, as it was like a blast from the past for her, to her this is Nokia, not a Chinese made phone from a finish company licensing the Nokia name.

Nokia 7.1 Review

Looking at the hardware of the 7.1, HMD nailed it, a solid Aluminium block, with perfectly chamfered corners and a glass front and rear make this an elegant yet industrial phone. There are no creaks, no cracks, no flex and no bends. If it wasn’t for the glass, I’d feel comfortable dropping this on the floor and being worried about how the Floor would take it.

Nokia 7.1 Review

Front and centre on the 7.1 is the gorgeous display is an IPS and I do prefer OLED, but Nokia has chosen a good one here. I don’t really care about the notch, but on the scale of them, it’s relatively small. It’s not a waterdrop notch like on the OnePlus 6T, but it’s far front the unibrow that Apple and Huawei ship on their current flagships, It houses the 8MP front-facing camera, the earpiece and the gamut of sensors you’d expect on a smartphone in 2018. The Bezels for the most part also are fine with me, until we get to the chin, this, on the other hand, is unacceptable. I know I’m not the first to say it, and I won’t be the last to, but the point of the notch is to get a bigger screen in a smaller footprint, you can get a smaller footprint with the notch by removing the damn chin. I know there are some technical reasons for the Chin, but as Honor showed us with the 8X, even LCDs can have smaller bezels due to Chip on Film tech, allowing you to place the display drivers on a flexible PCB and fold them behind the screen, instead of at the bottom of it.

Nokia 7.1 Review

Taking a look at the perimeter, on the left-hand side we have the SIM tray and nothing else. The right-hand side has the power and volume buttons. These are gorgeous metal buttons with the same blue anodisation and chaffering to reveal the shiny base aluminium beneath, my problem with these is that they are so damn high up on the frame, I constantly hit the lower half of the power button, not knowing whether I have or not actuated it, as it has just enough play in the mechanism to silently wobble. The top houses the 3.5mm audio jack and the secondary noise-cancelling microphone, sneakily embedded into one of the antenna bands. The bottom has the USB-C port (yay!) main microphone and the speaker slits, as well as the other 2 Antenna bands, a nice clean and simple design.

Nokia 7.1 Review

The Rear of the phone is just as lovely as the rest, my unit is the Midnight Blue, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the Gloss Steel is my favourite. The deep blue is replaced with white, the chamfered Aluminium is replaced with Copper, and the Blue aluminium is replaced with Chrome, makes much more of a statement In my opinion. The Rear of the 7.1 has the Dual Zeiss camera setup in its own island, though sadly there is a camera hump. The top camera is the 5MP depth sensor whereas the bottom is the main 12MP. Below that is the Dual Tone LED flash still on the island. Beneath that is the rear fingerprint scanner, in the correct place, and beneath that is the Nokia Logo. Nice, clean and Simple.

Nokia 7.1 Review

I want to emphasise just how Nokia this device feels. This feels like the Company that made the N8 and has sent years refining their manufacturing, not a completely different company, and that is a feat worthy of praise in my opinion.

Software

Nokia made waves earlier this year by being one of the only manufacturers to say that the entire lineup will be either Android One or Android Go, with the majority being Android One. Whether it be the near £99 Nokia 2.1 or the £699 Nokia 8 Sirocco. This means that in theory Nokia provides a device with a super clean version of Android and is able to provide timely updates, which is awesome!

Nokia 7.1 Review

The Nokia 7.1 arrives with Android 8.1 Oreo, but on stage, multiple Nokia staff had 7.1s running Android 9 Pie, as evidenced by the fact they were showing off Digital Wellbeing and had the navigation gestures that are not present on Oreo. I haven’t been able to get an exact date for when Nokia should be rolling out Pie, but I have heard rumblings of the end of November, which is great. My Unit has received 2 patches for Security and stability in the time I have been playing with it, and I hope that these continue to come for the lifetime of the device. I am sad I wasn’t able to review the 7.1 with Pie though, for what it is worth.

Nokia 7.1 Review

This being such a thing build, there isn’t really much Nokia has Added except for the stuff to do with the HDR display, which for the most part is great. And pretty much everything Nokia has added is updateable through the store, even better! One of the things I was expecting to like over the stock counterpart is the Nokia Camera app, and honestly, I’m a little meh on it. It might be because I’m spoiled by the plethora of options from Huawei phones, but the design, performance and feature set all leaves something to be desired for me, luckily, they can be updated through the store, huzzah!

Nokia 7.1 Review
All that comes on the 7.1 out of the box!

Camera

Nokia was hyping up the Camera big time at the launch, and I could understand why, they’re bringing back the Zeiss collaboration, but after a bit longer, I feel like that should be saved for another device.

The 7.1 doesn’t produce bad photos, they’re actually rather good, but it’s inconsistent for the most part, and the biggest issue for me, noticeable on my initial (defective) unit and my replacement, sometimes the camera just decides not to take the photos, or just won’t switch modes. This definitely feels like a software bug and something that can be easily fixed in an update down the line (hopefully a Play store update, if not, Pie!) but It should be here, but when devices like the Pixel 3XL are having similar issues, I guess I can’t be too mad at Nokia.

The rear camera on the 7.1 is really rather impressive when it decides it wants to work, great dynamic range, nice depth of field, and surprisingly a not hot garbage portrait mode. Focus speed is relatively impressive for a device of this calibre, and exposure, whilst not perfect, it is once again, better than I was expecting.

I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of having a secondary camera for depth sensing, I feel like it is a waste of time, money, resources, space etc. spend the money on one better camera, or if you are dead set on having a second camera, make it do something different, be it Monochrome, Telephoto, wide angle etc. anything other than a fixed depth-sensing camera. My opinions haven’t changed for the 7.1 either. Aside from the portraits I took specifically for this review, I don’t use it. But there have been multiple times when I wish I could have gotten a bit closer or a bit of a wider view in my normal use of the phone.

Anyway, here is a Gallery of some of the shots I’ve taken on the 7.1 in my time with it.

Those that know me and have followed my reviews for some time know that I don’t take many selfies, and on the 7.1, that is even more so. The 7.1 seems to add a strangely high amount of sharpening to photos, almost looking like they’ve been in photoshop and a teenager has cranked it to 100 to look edgy. It also just craps the bed in low light. I wish I could believe this is a software update fix away, but an 8mp camera, with f2.0, likely 1.12-micron pixels can only go so far. They don’t to pixel binning, as they’d have ended up with a 2MP image, I’m just a bit meh on this front-facing camera, sadly. Either way, here is a little gallery of selfies.

Overall the Camera on the 7.1 isn’t bad, but in its current form, is just a little too hit or miss for me, and I think the Zeiss branding should have been saved for something else.

Performance

Performance is another”mostly there” part of the 7.1 for me. Despite being on a chipset that, only a few years ago would have been high-end, the Nokia 7.1 doesn’t always feel up to the task of, well being up to the task.

For 90% of the time, the Nokia 7.1 is plenty snappy, good enough for whatever I want to throw at it, but then occasionally, the device acts like a moody teenager and decides that it doesn’t want to do things on your timeframe, but on its own. For example, scrolling around the OS is perfectly nice and smooth, scrolling through Instagram is smooth, but double tap to like a picture, sometimes it’ll do it there and then, sometimes though, it will wait for a second or so, making you think you’ve not actuated the gesture, very frustrating. The most annoying time this happened to me was when I was sending a tweet, hit send and then close the app. Usually, the background process stays open and then lets you know when the tweet was posted, but I’ve had a couple of times where I’ve hit the button and closed out, but because it was thinking about whether or not it wanted to hit the button, the tweet just doesn’t send.

This isn’t a bug that is a device killer, but man is it annoying, and it’s almost certainly a software bug, one that will hopefully be fixed soon.

The Snapdragon 636 is a mostly competent SoC. the Kryo 260 Gold and Silver cores are semi-custom Cortex A73 (Gold) and A53 (silver), not anything to scoff at, but I don’t think the Adreno 509 GPU is properly up to the task. As with the Snapdragon 615 a few years ago, some of these issues are apparently on every SD636 device I’ve tested. Meaning I think It might be a chipset level thing, but I just do not know enough yet to make that call.

Either way, I know about 3 of you still care, so here are some performance benchmarks of the Snapdragon 636 inside of the Nokia 7.1.

Battery

Here is something you were probably all expecting, the Nokia 7.1 is a battery beast. Simple as. The 3060mAh battery is generously sized, and the power-sipping SD636 paired with the 1080p screen means the 7.1 never really has to overextend itself, meaning that t just happily just plods along, dropping a few ℅ here and there, but always managing to get me through a full day.

I’m struggling to what to add to this section apart from that it is great. Even with Bluetooth always on, connected to my Ticwatch 2, my Xiaomi Mi Band 3, usually some Bluetooth Earbuds (either my Optoma Be Free8 or my Anker Soundcore Liberty Lites) Location always on, Wifi usually on etc. It just doesn’t care, and that’s awesome.

Nokia also includes a nice 18W fast charger in the box, and yeah, it feels like a Nokia charger, nice and curved, I know I keep going on about how this feels like a Nokia, but it’s so impressive that down to the minute details that HMD still got it right. The charger does 5v3a for USB-PD devices, 9v2a for QC3.0 and 12v1.5a, A nice beefy charger that’s worked on everything I’ve plugged it into.

Radios and Networks

Another area where the 7.1 excels. The Nokia 7.1’s radio performance is one I can commend over and over. Not just the Mobile connection with seemed to latch onto the LTE-A service my carrier is testing around here, but also on WiFi and Bluetooth. GPS could be a bit better, as Google Maps struggled when I got into London once or twice, but for the most part, this worked stunningly well. Speeds weren’t anything out of the ordinary, but they were consistent at least, and I’d personally take a 25% performance hit if it was twice as consistent, every day of the week.

Nokia 7.1 Review

An interesting thing to note if the NFC antenna here, I’m not sure where it is, or what nuclear reactor it is powered by, but this is one of the few devices where I can use Android Pay from a fairly large distance, most of the time it’s already processed before I get close enough to the reader that I think it’ll activate, it is nuts, but awesome at the same time.

Conclusion

The Nokia 7.1 is a marvel to me. It’s not the best phone in the world, it doesn’t have the best screen, the best battery, the best performance, but after nearly 3 weeks, I don’t care, because I love using the phone. I love taking a phone out of my pocket that feels like it was crafted with care. I like looking at a screen that isn’t a surfboard. I like not worrying about the battery.

The Nokia 7.1 isn’t perfect, and most of the issues I brought up in this review are annoying, but they all appear to be ones fixable through software, and since this is Android One, I can see this happening very soon. I am going to be super sad to send the Nokia 7.1 back to Nokia because I miss having a Nokia phone around.

Not a Nokia branded phone, a Nokia phone.

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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