Nokia 3.1 Plus hands-on review

HMD Global is making a major push into North America this year, and its first smartphone on a U.S. carrier is the Nokia 3.1 Plus on Cricket Wireless. It’s no flashy flagship — costing just $160 — but it has the makings of a stunning phone for the price from the brief time we’ve spent with it.

Great build quality, dim display

The Nokia 3.1 Plus looks and feels like it deserves a higher price tag. It shares a resemblance to many other Nokia phones we’ve seen from HMD, with a centrally-placed vertical camera setup as well as a fingerprint sensor on the back. The blue-and-matte look makes it stand out from the sea of black phones.

While it looks good, the Nokia 3.1 Plus feels great. Its heft makes it more substantial. The rear is polycarbonate along an aluminum frame, not glass, which means you can worry less about breaking the phone. This phone feels like a brick, and like Nokia phones of old, you could probably toss it across a room without much damage (we don’t recommend trying it, though).

The edges are rounded, allowing the phone to comfortably sit in your hand. The phone may be unwieldy for some though, as it is quite large. It can be tough to reach the top of the screen when holding it with one hand, since it has a tall 18:9 aspect ratio. Those in favor of smaller phones may find it too big.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The matte back does tend to pick up smudges, but they are easy to wipe away. The polycarbonate shell is removable. A small lip at the bottom, by the USB-C charging port, helps pry it off. It’s only for inserting a MicroSD card or SIM card, so no, you can’t replace the battery. You’ll also be happy to see a headphone jack along the top of the phone.

The Nokia 3.1 Plus looks and feels like it deserves a higher price tag.

Chunky bezels surround the 5.99-inch IPS LCD screen. The top bezel has the earpiece, a Nokia logo, and the selfie camera, while the bottom bezel, also known as the “chin,” doesn’t house anything. It doesn’t follow the bezel-less trend for phones, but the Nokia 3.1 Plus doesn’t look too dated. The screen has rounded corners, which helps.

The screen boasts 1,440 x 720 resolution. It’s colorful, but a bit dim, and viewing angles aren’t great. Still, it’s fine for streaming movies and video in most situations. We’ll need to do a bit more testing on the display, but we already expect it’ll be among the phone’s weak points.

Decent performance

The Nokia 3.1 Plus is available in international markets, but the one arriving in the U.S. is slightly different. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 439 processor with 2GB RAM instead of the MediaTek chipset in the global edition. The performance should be comparable, and from the brief time we’ve been using the phone, it’s adequate.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Apps sometimes take a few moments to load, and multi-tasking is slower than we’d like. You’ll notice a few stutters scrolling through apps like Instagram and Twitter, as well. However, it can handle day-to-day tasks without much issue. People who use a smartphone for hours on end will definitely want a quicker device, like the OnePlus 6T, but that inevitably inflates the price.

There’s only 32GB of internal storage available, but the MicroSD card slot means you can expand space up to 256GB.

No Android One software

Most Nokia phones from HMD Global run Google’s Android One software, which means it’s the pure, unaltered version of Android straight from Google. That allows the phones to receive fast version and security updates straight from Google, and there’s almost zero bloatware. Unfortunately, to sell its phones in U.S. carrier stores, HMD had to drop Android One — neither the Nokia 2V on Verizon or the Nokia 3.1 Plus are part of the program.

HMD said it plans to work with carrier partners to deliver fast updates, and we’ll have to hold the company to its words.

HMD said it plans to work with carrier partners to deliver fast updates to these phones. We can only hold the company to its word. Thankfully, it has a good track record so far. Yet you’ll have to deal with bloatware — the 3.1 Plus has apps from Cricket installed, as well as various games. You can uninstall almost all of these, at least.

On the bright side, Nokia’s 3.1 Plus runs the latest version — Android 9 Pie — and it just may be the cheapest phone around with it.

One feature we like about this phone is the inclusion of a near-field communication (NFC) sensor. This is often non-existent on budget phones, but the inclusion means you can use the Nokia 3.1 Plus for contactless payments via Google Pay, or share files and more through Android’s native Beam technology.

Camera

The Nokia 3.1 has a dual-camera setup on the back. It’s a 13-megapixel lens paired with a second 5-megapixel lens. This combination allows for Live Bokeh photos — known as Portrait Mode on other phones – but that’s the only bonus feature. Optical zoom is MIA. There’s a 8-megapixel selfie camera on the front.

Nokia 3.1 Plus Compared To

Sony Xperia XZ3

Moto Z3 Play

Moto E5 Plus

Nokia 7 Plus

Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS

Alcatel 3V

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

Porsche Design Huawei Mate 10

Google Pixel 2 XL

Maze Alpha 4G

ZTE Blade Z Max

Meizu M3 Max

Huawei Mate 8

ZTE Grand X Max+

LG G Flex

The camera will likely be the weakest part of the Nokia 3.1 Plus, especially in anything other than good lighting, as is often true of budget phones.

Battery

The Nokia 3.1 Plus has a 3,500mAh battery, and the company said the phone should last for two days on a single charge. We’re not entirely convinced it’ll last two days of use for most owners, but it likely can last for more than a day, as the phone’s modest hardware should sip power.

The best part of the phone is that it has a USB-C charging port. Most budget phones in this range — like the Moto E5 Supra, also on Cricket Wireless — use MicroUSB ports. USB-C is far more versatile, allows for faster charging, and various products use it now, which means they only need to carry one type of charging cable.

We’ll run the phone through our battery tests and benchmark real-life performance to see whether HMD’s claim holds up.

Price and availability

The Nokia 3.1 Plus is $160, and is exclusively available from Cricket Wireless.

There aren’t many good phones you can buy under $200, but the field is growing. Our current favorite is the Moto E5 Plus — sold as the Moto E5 Supra on Cricket — but it’s quite possible the Nokia 3.1 Plus can overthrow it. Stay tuned for our full review.