You won’t find a better way to spend $350 on a smartphone this year.
The $200 to $400 price range is one of the most competitive in the United States, and while it’s long been dominated by brands such as Motorola, LG, and Samsung, Nokia’s steadily been making its voice heard and letting everyone know that it too can deliver excellent smartphones at even better prices.
Handsets like the Nokia 5 and Nokia 6.1 have proven to be really great options for folks looking to spend $200 or less on their next phone, but for buyers with a little more cash lining their pockets, Nokia thinks it’s crafted something special with the Nokia 7.1.
The Nokia 7.1 is the most flagship-like Nokia Android phone to hit the U.S., and while its $350 price tag may lead you into believing its a throwaway mid-ranger, I’m pleased to say that it’s anything but.
A new contender for the mid-range king.
Nokia knocked it out of the park with the Nokia 7.1. It looks and feels great, has a gorgeous display, excellent battery life, and much more. Performance can be a little sluggish at times, but for just $350, you’re getting far more than your money’s worth.
- Fantastic build quality
- Sharp, colorful HDR display
- Great battery life
- Android One
- NFC for Google Pay
- Choppy performance
- Ships with Oreo, not Pie
Nokia 7.1 What I like
|Operating System||Android 8.1 Oreo
2220 x 1080
Gorilla Glass 3
19:9 aspect ratio
Expandable up to 400GB
|Rear Camera 1||12MP
Phase detection autofocus
|Rear Camera 2||5MP
|Sound||Mono rear speaker
3.5mm headphone jack
|Security||Rear fingerprint sensor|
|Dimensions||149.7 x 71.18 x 9.14mm|
|Network||300Mbps (Cat. 6 LTE)|
As soon as I pulled the Nokia 7.1 out of its box, the thing that immediately caught my attention is just how well-built the phone is. One of the things that have always been synonymous with the Nokia brand is great build quality, and the Nokia 7.1 keeps that idea going beautifully.
There’s an aluminum frame all around the phone with flat edges and gracefully curved sides. The back is made entirely out of glass, and while it doesn’t support wireless charging, I really wasn’t expecting that for a phone of this price. The power and volume buttons feel good to press, nothing rattles when you shake the phone, and the 160g weight adds a nice bit of heft and keeps the Nokia 7.1 from feeling overly lightweight.
That may sound like a lot of praise to give to give to a $350 smartphone, but it’s absolutely deserving of it. This is a phone that easily looks and feels like something far more expensive, and that all contribute to a much more enjoyable experience in day-to-day use compared to something with a lesser design.
Speaking of design, the front of the Nokia 7.1 is home to a 5.84-inch 2220 x 1080 notched display. Yes, there’s also a chin at the bottom despite the cutout at the top, but I’m inclined to give that a pass due to the phone’s price.
Once you look past the notch and chin and get to the screen itself, you’re in for a real treat.
When you’re just interacting with the UI and apps, the LCD panel is sharp, colorful, and gets plenty bright. You won’t find the same deep blacks and rich saturation of more expensive AMOLED displays, but this is still a screen I genuinely enjoy looking at and don’t feel like I’m really missing out on anything with it.
The screen on the Nokia 7.1 would be perfectly fine if it stopped right there, but when you switch over to a video or game, it supports HDR10 compliant content and even converts SDR videos to HDR in real-time. This results in better detail and improved colors, and it actually works really, really well.
Running on top of the Nokia 7.1’s screen is Android 8.1. I’d certainly have preferred it ship with Pie out of the box, but considering Nokia’s track record with software updates and the fact that this is an Android One phone, I’ve got no doubt Pie will be here before we know it.
For those that aren’t familiar, Android One means that the Nokia 7.1 is running a stock build of Android with a UI not unlike what you’ll find on Google’s Pixel phones. It’s clean, snappy, and a downright joy to use. Perhaps even more important, that Android One branding on the back of the Nokia 7.1 also means that it’s guaranteed to receive two years of software updates and three years of monthly security patches.
That level of software support is something you just won’t find with the Moto G6s of the world, and it’s a big reason to put the Nokia 7.1 at the top of your shopping list.
Lastly, let’s quickly talk about battery life. The Nokia 7.1 ships with a 3,060 mAh unit, and when you combine that with the battery-sipping nature of the Snapdragon 636 that powers it, you end up with fantastic stamina. On a day with nearly 2 hours of streaming video, almost an hour of playing games, and frequently using Twitter, Instagram, and checking my email, I got 5 hours of screen-on-time and over 16 hours of total use.
Nokia 7.1 What’s not so great
The Nokia 7.1 is a damn good phone and one of the best in its class, but that’s not to say it’s without its faults.
Simple things like scrolling through Twitter, checking emails, etc. all feel perfectly snappy, but there are definitely times where the lower-power nature of the Snapdragon 636 shines through. Opening apps often takes a hot minute and left me waiting a bit longer than I’d like. When you have multiple apps open at once, this becomes even more prevalent (along with some stutters throughout the UI from time to time).
None of this is game-breaking in the slightest, and while the Nokia 7.1 certainly doesn’t feel bad or slow, these little hiccups are noticeable and a bit irritating at times.
Another area that could use some work is the camera package. The dual rear cameras are more than adequate for sharing photos online, but there are a couple of characteristics that remind you you’re using a mid-range handset. Really bright areas tend to get blown out quite easily, and depending on the light around you, colors aren’t always very accurate compared to the real world. The biggest example of this is the photo of the reindeer decoration that looks silver when it was actually gold and much more colorful in person.
Finally, while I don’t doubt that a Pie update will be available soon for the Nokia 7.1, it’s still disappointing that the phone ships with Oreo seeing as how Pie’s been publically available since early August.
Should you buy the Nokia 7.1? Absolutely!
All of those are excellent phones that deliver tremendous value, but none of them are available in the United States. Sure, you can import them or buy global versions, but then you’re left without a warranty and likely won’t be able to take full advantage of your wireless carrier’s network.
The Nokia 7.1 delivers some of the best bang-for-your-buck we’ve seen in 2018, and it does so while being officially sold and supported in the U.S. That’s a big deal for people that have been missing out on some of the above gems from earlier this year, and it makes the Nokia 7.1 one of the best mid-rangers you can buy in the country.
Unless you need the absolute best camera and blazing fast processing speeds, give the Nokia 7.1 a shot. Even if you can spend more than $350, you probably don’t need to.
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