Nokia 7.1 hands-on review

Don't knock Nokia. The spectacular 7.1 could be the perfect phone for $350

It’s tough to find any faults with the spectacular Nokia 7.1
It’s tough to find any faults with the spectacular Nokia 7.1
It’s tough to find any faults with the spectacular Nokia 7.1

Highs

  • Solid performance
  • Promising camera
  • Simple, snappy Android One software
  • Nice design
  • Affordable

Lows

  • Fingerprint magnet

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.

Nokia 7.1 bottom chin
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.

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.

nokia 7 1 review nokia7 fullwide

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.

Product Review

LG's new V40 has 5 cameras, but ThinQ twice before you buy

The LG V40 ThinQ has five cameras -- three on the back and two on the front. This makes it one of the most versatile camera phones LG has released to date, and it’s creatively fun to use. Read on for more in-depth analysis.
Mobile

There are four versions of the Mate 20, but which one is the best?

Huawei revealed its full range of Mate 20 handsets, and it seems that there is a device that fits everyone's needs. We've compared all the options, including the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the Mate 20 X, the Mate 20, and the Mate 20 Lite.
Mobile

Huawei Mate 20 Pro vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Flagship fight

When it comes to stunning flagships, Samsung and Huawei are often the first names the come to mind. And the new Huawei Mate 20 Pro is no exception. So how does it compare to the Samsung Galaxy Note 9? We put the two to the test to find out.
Cars

Room to roam: The supersized X7 is unlike any BMW you’ve ever seen

The first-ever BMW X7 is the 7 Series of the SUV world in terms of size, price, and image. Its supersized body has enough room for seven adult passengers and enough tech to impress even the most cutting-edge buyers.
Mobile

Master your new Google phone with these handy Pixel 3 and 3 XL tips

If you’re hunting for some Pixel 3 tips to help you get more from your Google phone, then you’ll find them right here. We’ve got tips for shortcuts, camera controls, and more. All these tips will also work for the Pixel 3 XL.
Product Review

We can’t find a reason to buy the Porsche Design Mate 20 RS over the Mate 20 Pro

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro looks like an exceptional phone, so can a version with Porsche Design’s involvement be worth spending twice as much on? We’ve taken the phone for a test drive.
Product Review

Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2 is a Surface Pro alternative with one big advantage

The 2-in-1 form factor is clearly a big deciding factor for anyone looking to buy a new device, which is why Samsung is again getting in the action this year with the new Galaxy Book 2.
Mobile

The Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are now available for purchase

Google's latest flagships, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, are now official and we have all the details from the October 9 event in New York City and Paris. Here's everything we know about the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
Mobile

The world’s thinnest smartphone fits alongside your business cards

Kyocera has taken the wraps off of a new smartphone called the KY-O1L. The device is a tiny 5.3mm thick and is specifically billed as being a phone that can fit inside a business card holder.
Social Media

Grow your Twitter audience overnight with these simple tips and tricks

Using Twitter can be intimidating, but these tips will help you feel less inadequate when you look at your follower count. As long as you use a bit of moderation, you'll soon be one step closer to social media fame.
Mobile

Google Maps brings its real-time journey-tracking feature to iPhone

It's been available on Android for a while now, and now Google Maps has brought its real-time journey-tracking feature to iOS. It lets you choose who to share a journey with, and tracking ends automatically when you arrive.
Mobile

The five-camera LG V40 ThinQ is now available from the major carriers

LG has finally taken the wraps off the new LG V40 ThinQ, the company's latest and greatest flagship phone that packs a whopping five cameras. Here's how to buy the new LG V40 ThinQ.
Wearables

A strap for everyone: The best Apple Watch bands you can buy right now

If you have an Apple Watch, you know how easy it is to take off the strap it came with, so why not buy yourself another one? Here we've gathered the best Apple Watch bands we've seen so far and there's something for everyone.
Mobile

Need a quick battery boost? Try one of our favorite portable chargers

Battery life still tops the polls when it comes to smartphone concerns. If it’s bugging you, then maybe it’s time to snag yourself a portable charger. Here are our picks of the best portable chargers.