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Nokia 7.1 review: The best sub-$500 phone on the market

In an age where it has become normal to spend upwards of $1,000 on smartphones, Nokia has released a standout phone for users on a budget.

HMD Global, the new home of Nokia phones, has brought the company a long way from brick phones and Snake.

Since the Finnish company rebooted Nokia, it has put an emphasis on handsets that offer value for money.

Nokia phones aim for great specs and aesthetics, while remaining affordable – a balance that is not easy to find.

Usually attempting premium features on a budget is a recipe for disaster, but Nokia’s 2018 range proves that it’s possible to make excellent phones at affordable prices.

The Nokia 7.1. is the perfect realisation of this goal. I have spent the past fortnight using the 7.1 over my Samsung Galaxy S9, and I have become enamoured with this impressive mid-range phone.

Design

  • Elegant body
  • HDR display
  • Glass back
  • Notch, large chin

Nokia’s engineering excellence is on display as soon as you open the box. The phone is reminiscent of jewellery or high-end watches, with anodised diamond-cut edges giving it a refined, business-like look.

The Nokia 7.1 has a glass back and a bright and responsive Full HD+ 5.8″ display with a 19:9 screen ratio. The display uses what Nokia calls a PureDisplay LCD, which means that it supports HDR content and even upscales SDR to HDR.

Nokia 7.1 elegant design

The sleek design, including a notch, is slightly let down by the phone’s chin. (Image: Nokia)

There is a large notch that I love the look of, but will be a problem if you’re not a notch fan; and unlike other smartphones, there is no option to obscure it with software.

A slight design flaw is the phone’s chin, which is as obvious as Richard Kiel’s in Moonraker. It’s a shame, because it identifies the Nokia 7.1 as a budget model and stops it from having that premium feel of flagships like Samsung Galaxy S9 or iPhone X.

Disregarding fancy marketing terms and buzzwords, in day-to-day life the Nokia 7.1 is a pleasure to use. It feels good in the hand, isn’t slippery, and in terms of design, looks like it is worth double the retail price.

Performance

  • Snapdragon 636 is excellent
  • Clean interface with Android One
  • Decent battery life

In Australia, the Nokia 7.1 has a Snapdragon 636 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage and can support MicroSD cards up to 400GB. The phone runs Android Oreo out of the box, but is upgradeable to Android 9 Pie and will continue to receive updates for the next two years.

These specs are more than enough to suit the needs of most smartphone users. You can scroll Instagram, listen to Spotify and take selfies at the same time with no hiccups. I did, however, find slight hiccups while playing graphically intensive games like PUBG Mobile, but nothing that disrupted my gameplay.

I am yet to have a problem running tasks on the phone and the user experience of the Nokia 7.1 has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, due to the paired-down Android One experience, the Nokia 7.1 completes some tasks smoother than my Samsung Galaxy S9.

Power users may have an issue with the Nokia 7.1’s battery life. It’s not bad per se, but its 3,060mAh is nothing to write home about. If you’re the kind of person who is on their phone all day then you may run into problems.

As someone who tends to leave my phone in my pocket more often than not, I was able to go two full days without connecting to a charger. Even when putting the phone to extensive use, throughout the fortnight I have been using it I have never dipped under 20% at the end of the day.

As an experiment, I watched three episodes of The Good Place on Netflix with full brightness and Wi-Fi. The battery dropped by about 25%, a rate that seems fairly reasonable to me.

The battery life will only improve with Android 9 Pie, which adds extra battery optimisation features. The Nokia 7.1 also uses fast charging via USB-C, which in my experience charges your phone by 50% in about 30 minutes.

Camera

Budget phones are usually identified by their less than stellar cameras, but that’s not the case with the Nokia 7.1. The 12MP (f/1.8) and 5MP (f2.4) lenses on the back of the phone are seriously impressive in all kinds of lighting scenarios.

Sure, it can’t compete with flagship phones from Samsung, Apple and Google, but it comes close enough where most average users couldn’t tell the difference. For a phone that costs under A$500, that’s pretty huge.

The Nokia 7.1 performs best when there’s sufficient lighting, and also looks great from close-up, especially with the Live Bokeh mode that allows you to blur the background of a photo.

I tested the Live Bokeh by taking pictures of my girlfriend and was impressed with the results. There’s no way she would let me upload the pictures of her, so here are some Instagram-worthy flowers instead.

Nokia 7.1 camera

The Live Bokeh mode can make simple images pop.

As with most smartphones now, the Nokia 7.1 also comes with an Auto HDR mode that combines multiple shots to get the most vivid colours in your photos. The camera comes with this setting turned on by default, and I never felt the need to turn it off.

I’m not a professional photographer or an Instagram user, but I was impressed by the overall performance of the Nokia 7.1’s back camera. The selfie camera is an 8MP (f2.0) that seemed to get the job done too, though I would suggest turning off the horrid beauty smoothing.

Once you compare the Nokia 7.1’s camera with that of a premium phone like the Samsung Galaxy S9, the difference in image quality is clear, but that’s always going to be the case at this price point.

Besides, if you’re mostly taking pictures to upload to Instagram, you – or your followers – won’t even notice the difference.

The Verdict

  • Nearly the perfect budget phone
  • All-round performance
  • Punches above its weight

In a world where companies like Samsung, Google and Apple seem to be increasing their prices with each iteration of their phones, Nokia has shown the industry that it’s possible to make an excellent smartphone at an affordable price.

The Nokia 7.1 may not excel in any one area, but its design, camera, processing power and operating system combine to make it the best budget smartphone on the market.

I highly recommend the Nokia 7.1 for high school or university students, adults who don’t care about phones with all the bells and whistles, and anyone else looking for a mid-range phone at a fantastic price.

You can purchase the Nokia 7.1 from JB Hi-Fi for $499.

About the author

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Contact me at jackndelaney@gmail.com.

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