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Nokia 7.1 hands-on review

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Nokia 7.1

HMD Global, the company that licenses the Nokia brand name, is slowly growing its presence in the U.S. with yet another unlocked phone: The Nokia 7.1. It’s a $349 mid-range smartphone, which currently makes it HMD’s most powerful phone available stateside, following the $269 Nokia 6.1 and the $159 Nokia 3.1.

There are a few flagship features that have trickled down into this mid-range phone, which will make you look twice at the price tag. In the brief time we spent with it we saw good performance, a great screen, and fluid Android One software. The Nokia 7.1 is shaping up to be one of the best phones you can get for under $400.

HDR screen, all glass design

The Nokia 7.1 brings an updated design that’s a little more in line with the rest of the industry, but it still manages to maintain the iconic Nokia look. There’s now a notch at the top of the screen for an edge-to-edge screen, and while the bottom bezel has slimmed down, it’s chunky enough to squeeze in the Nokia logo.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The 5.84-inch screen size is large — about the size of the iPhone XS — but it’s still compact enough that you can reach the top without much difficulty. The 19:9 aspect ratio means it’s also narrow, which makes it easier to hold and use the phone with one hand. It’s an LCD screen with a resolution of 2,280 x 1,080, and it looks colorful and sharp, though black levels don’t look very deep. We didn’t use the phone outside so we can’t say much about brightness at the moment.

You can enjoy wider color support and stronger contrast when watching HDR-supported content through apps like Netflix

What we can talk about is how the screen supports HDR10. That’s a feature you usually only see on flagship smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S9. This means you can enjoy wider color support and stronger contrast when watching HDR-supported content through apps like Netflix and YouTube. What’s more is the screen will automatically convert any standard definition (SD) content into HDR — it’s not a dramatic difference, but it’s noticeable and it definitely looks better than SD. This is an excellent device to watch movies and shows on. We haven’t had a chance to test the speakers on the phone yet, but there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack you can use to plug in your headphones.

The screen on the front is protected by Gorilla Glass 3, but move over to the back and you’ll notice HMD has also opted to use glass — HMD calls it “toughened” glass. It looks and feels slick, though choosing glass over a metal back is sure to disappoint some, as durability takes a hit, regardless of whether the glass is toughened or not. The back is now also constantly covered with fingerprint smudges. This phone does not support wireless charging, so there’s no real benefit for using glass other than design and feel. A fingerprint sensor sits below the camera module.

The Nokia 7.1 feels incredibly compact in the hand, and the build quality is superb. The frame (not including the glass) is an aluminum unibody, and the edges slope in toward the screen and the rear. We love the accent colors used for the edges and the frame around the camera module on the back — it helps make the phone stand out more. Our favorite are the copper accents on the Gloss Steel color. There’s a Midnight Blue model, too, and it comes with silver accents. The curved glass on the front and back also ensures you feel no rough edges when handling the phone.

Nokia 7.1 Compared To

Sony Xperia XZ3

Pocophone F1 by Xiaomi

Vivo Nex S

Moto Z3 Play

LG G7 ThinQ

Alcatel 1X

LG Fortune 2

Cat S61

HTC U12 Plus

Moto E5 Plus

Motorola Moto G6

Honor 10

Nuu G3

Blu Pure XL

Google Nexus 5

Solid performance, Android One

The Nokia 7.1 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 636 processor — a relatively new variant — with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. Globally, a 3GB RAM and 32GB storage option will also be available — just not in the U.S. There’s also a MicroSD card slot in case you need more space.

We recently saw the Snapdragon 636 inside the Moto Z3 Play, and we were mostly happy with its performance. That phone cost around $450 though, so you’re getting even more value here with the 7.1. In our short time with the phone, apps opened quickly, and moving throughout the operating system was fast. We’ll need to do more testing to see how well it can handle intensive games and multitasking.

The Nokia 7.1 launches with Android Oreo, but HMD has promised an update to Android Pie by the end of November.

What likely helps with performance is the fact that the Nokia 7.1 runs Android One. This is a “pure” version of Google’s Android, also known as stock Android, where you get zero bloatware, and almost no flourishes are added by the manufacturer. It’s simple to use and fluid, and the highlight is fast updates. Android One brings a promise of monthly security updates for three years, and timely version updates for two years.

The Nokia 7.1 launches with Android 8.1 Oreo, but HMD has promised an update to Android 9.0 Pie by the end of November, which is much faster than most Android manufacturers.

Software wise, there’s not much else HMD has added. There’s Adaptive Display, which detects the environment you’re in and what you’re doing to adjust the screen’s color tones, brightness, and luminosity. This feature was introduced in Android Pie, but it has already been ported to the 7.1 despite it running Oreo.

There’s a sizable 3,060mAh battery inside the Nokia 7.1, which should get you through a full day, according to HMD. There’s a USB Type-C charging port at the bottom of the phone with support for fast charging, and HMD claims you can get up to 50 percent in just 30 minutes of charging. We’ll do more testing here to see how this phone lasts.

Promising camera

There are two cameras on the back of the Nokia 7.1, and they both use Zeiss optics. The primary one is a 12-megapixel lens with an f/1.8 aperture, and it’s paired with a 5-megapixel lens for depth sensing. The camera snapped pictures fast, but we haven’t spent enough time with it to properly judge what the photo quality is like.

What’s new here is a few adjustments to HMD’s “Bothie” mode, which lets you take photos or video (including livestreaming) with both the front and rear camera at the same time — placing both scenes in one photo or video. This isn’t a new feature in smartphones, but what is novel is that you can now adjust how much of a scene each camera captures; if you want to show more of the rear camera versus the front camera, just move a slider to adjust.

HMD’s Live Bokeh mode, which is the equivalent to Portrait Mode in other phones, does a solid job of accurately identifying the edges around a subject to add a strong blur. You can also change the intensity of the blur before you take a photo. This is also available for the 8-megapixel front-facing camera, but it uses software instead of a secondary lens.

HMD said the wide aperture for the standard lens on the rear allows the Nokia 7.1 to take better photos in low light, which is often the weakest point on budget and mid-range phones. We’ll be doing more testing and comparisons to find out if this rings true.

Price and availability

The Nokia 7.1 costs $349, and pre-orders start on October 5. It will be available through Amazon, Best Buy, and B&H, and it will start shipping on October 28. If you want to see it before you buy it, starting November 4 it will be available at numerous Best Buy stores around the country.

It’s tough to find any faults with the Nokia 7.1, and considering how the Nokia 6.1 is our top budget pick for a phone under $300, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the 7.1 taking over our current pick to be the best phone under $400. Stay tuned for the full review to find out.


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