Earlier this month, HMD Global announced that it had sold 70 million mobile phones over the last two years. That’s quite an achievement for the young Finnish company, which was founded back in December 2016 with the aim of bringing to its former glory, perhaps the most iconic and loved brand in the world of mobile technology – Nokia.
However, brand recognition can only get you so far in today’s fiercely-contested mobile space. In order to carve a name for yourself in the smartphone market, you need to consistently deliver excellent products, and slowly work your way to the top. HMD Global knows this, and it’s why the company has been constantly expanding (and enhancing) its smartphone line-up, which was established with the unveiling of the Nokia 6 in 2017.
One of the more-recent additions to HMD Global’s burgeoning product portfolio is the Nokia 7.1, which launched in India just last month. Even though the 7.1 is a mid-range smartphone, it comes with one distinguishing feature – an HDR10 display. The hardware specs are also decent, and of course, there’s stock Android as well. Put all that together, and you’re looking at a well-rounded smartphone. But, is it really worth the Rs 19,999 asking price? Read my comprehensive review of Nokia 7.1, and find out.
Design & Build Quality
If you think all mid-range smartphones look bland, the Nokia 7.1 is here to prove you wrong. Having a gorgeous ‘glass sandwich’ construction, this thing looks far more premium than its price tag would have you believe. The frame (color-matched with the rear panel) is made of 6000-series aluminum, and features chamfered edges that further accentuate the smartphone’s design. It features the power button and volume rocker (both of which have ample tactile feedback) on the right rail, and the hybrid dual-SIM/microSD card tray on the left. The 3.5mm audio port is at the top, while the bottom is home to a USB Type-C port and a mono speaker.
Up front, the Nokia 7.1 features a notched display (discussed in the next section) with minimal side bezels, and a sizable chin with a Nokia logo in the center. At the back, you’ll find a slightly-protruding pill-shaped camera module, complete with two vertically stacked lenses, a two-tone dual-LED flash, and ZEISS branding. Just below that is a circular fingerprint sensor and a horizontally stamped Nokia logo. An Android One logo and some regulatory information can be found on the lower half of the rear panel.
The build quality of the Nokia 7.1 is equally exceptional, and the phone feels great in the hand. However, an all glass design means that the 7.1 is also quite fragile. Also, unlike the front, the rear panel isn’t secured by Gorilla Glass 3 and is extremely prone to scratches and smudges, as I found out during my review run. If you get this one, a protective case is highly advised.
If there’s one feature that differentiates Nokia 7.1 from all the other mid-range smartphones in the market, it’s the display. Featuring Nokia’s ‘PureDisplay’ technology, the 5.84-inch full-HD+ screen is HDR10-compliant, which means that it allows you to enjoy HDR content (mostly videos and streaming movies) in all its glory. And having tested it out first-hand, I can firmly say that the 7.1’s display easily outclasses those of rival mid-range smartphones.
Watching HDR content on Nokia 7.1 is a joy, with the smartphone’s Full-HD+ panel showing vivid colors and rich contrast levels. There’s a marked difference when comparing the panel with a ‘regular’ display. The Nokia 7.1 can also ‘convert’ SDR content to HDR in real time, making for a relatively consistent visual experience. The display has good viewing angles, and sunlight legibility isn’t an issue either.
Performance and Software
The Nokia 7.1 is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 SoC, paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. While the chipset may seem a little under-powered, it’s more than capable of handling day to day tasks. Whether it’s split-screen multitasking, video streaming, or even extended sessions of PUBG Mobile, everything works sans issues.
Obviously, one of the primary reasons for the 7.1’s zippy performance is the software aboard. Like all of HMD Global’s other smartphones, this one also runs stock Android, which means that there are no unnecessary UI overlays or useless bloat to tax the hardware. The only ‘extra’ pre-installed app is Nokia’s own support app, and it’s actually quite useful. An Android One-certified smartphone, the Nokia 7.1 comes with the latest Android Pie out of the box, and will be the among the first devices to get future updates (both security and OS) from Google.
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Call quality and overall cellular reception on the Nokia 7.1 was great over the course of my review period, with the smartphone latching on to Jio’s VoLTE network without any problems. However, I found the fingerprint sensor to be a hit-or-miss affair. Hopefully, a future software update will fix it.
As you’d expect from a mid-range smartphone in 2018, Nokia 7.1 features a twin-lens rear camera system, comprised of a 12-megapixel (f/1.8) primary sensor and a 5-megapixel (f/2.4) secondary depth sensor. The imaging setup comes with ZEISS-enhanced optics, highlighting a partnership that’s more than a decade old and bringing back fond memories of class-leading mobile devices like Nokia N93i.
Coming back to the present, I found Nokia 7.1 to be more than adequate for the everyday photography needs of just about everyone. Images captured in broad daylight have sufficient amount of resolved detail, and HDR mode (whether automatic or manually-enabled) further enhances darker areas of the scenes, without overexposing lighter parts. In low-light conditions, image quality expectedly takes a hit, with photos generally lacking in sharpness and having quite a lot of compression artefacts.
Nonetheless, I’d say that Nokia 7.1 is one of the better performers in its price segment, as far as the camera experience is concerned. The 8-megapixel front-facing sensor works fine for selfies and video calls. The camera app is chock-full of features, having everything from ‘Live Bokeh’ functionality to a full-blown ‘Pro’ mode. You can even beautify your selfies and add animated masks to them in real time.
To ensure things keep working, Nokia 7.1 comes with a 3,060mAh battery, which is definitely on the smaller side. During my review run, I found the power pack to be just about enough for the day with average use. Heavy users will most likely end up plugging the 7.1 to the charger every night or a little before. The smartphone supports fast charging, and the included 18W wall adapter can juice up the battery in a little under two hours.
Even though it’s a pretty good device overall, Nokia 7.1 already has its work cut out. To make its way to the customers’ hearts (and wallets), HMD Global’s new offering must wade through a market overcrowded with value-for-money mid-rangers, majority of which offer similar specs at lower prices. Then there’s the fact that for the same price as the Nokia 7.1, you can get a Poco F1, a smartphone that has become the single yardstick by which all mid-rangers are judged.
But then, there’s a lot more to a smartphone than just raw hardware. It’s how the design, software, specifications and other elements come together to create a device that works just as good as it feels. And that is how the 7.1 excels. The cherry on top is the stunning HDR10-compliant display, which makes the price tag of Rs 19,999 almost seem justified.
So, if that’s exactly the kind of smartphone that tickles your fancy, I have no qualms recommending Nokia 7.1 to you. It’s compact, well-built, and almost guaranteed to be supported with relevant updates for quite a few years. Conversely, if you couldn’t care less about things like the HDR display, or dislike scratch-prone fragile mobile devices, skip this one and get the Poco F1, as it is (and will most likely continue to be, at least for a few months) an unbeatable value purchase.
Lastly, if you’d like to keep other options open as well, you can consider Nokia’s own 6.1 Plus (which is essentially a 7.1, without the HDR pizazz), the Android One-certified Xiaomi Mi A2 and Motorola One Power, or even the new (and much more affordable) Asus’ Zenfone Max Pro M2.