The cost of the latest and greatest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy Note may keep inching upward, but for consumers who don’t want to pay upwards of $1,000, the midrange phone market has always been fairly competitive.
The new Nokia 7.1 adds to the robust lineup of affordable phones with a stylish design, a solid set of specs, and a reasonable $349.99 price point (4GB RAM and 64GB storage). We went hands on with the Nokia 7.1 before its launch and have some initial impressions.
Another Notch in the Belt
If you asked me to pick a modern midrange phone out of a lineup, I’d identify it by several features: glass on the front and back, metal on the sides, dual rear cameras, and an 18:9 or 19:9 screen with a notch. The Nokia 7.1 ticks all those boxes.
The front and back of the phone are clad in matching panes of glass. The back is slightly curved along the sides for easier grip and meets the machined aluminum frame. There are two color options, a glossy steel with copper accents on the sides and a glossy midnight blue (more of a black) with silver accents. Both look stylish and feel sturdy. The body is sleek without feeling slick, though it does seem to attract some fingerprints.
Dimensions measure 5.9 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and the phone weighs in at 5.6 ounces. This puts it at approximately the same size and heft as the Moto G6 (6.1 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches, 5.9 ounces) and the metal-clad Huawei Honor 7X (6.2 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches, 5.8 ounces).
As far as one-handed usage goes, I found it pretty easy to reach across the 7.1 with my thumb, but there is a sizable bottom bezel that makes it difficult to reach up from the bottom to the top to pull down the notification shade. This is common on more affordable phones since it costs quite a lot to bend the screen’s digitizer down the way you find on the iPhone XS and XS Max.
Ports and buttons are largely standard. You have a USB-C charging port that supports fast charging with the included 9V/2A adapter up to 15W. That lets you top up the 3,060mAh battery to 50 percent in 30 minutes of charging time.
For audio, you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top and a bottom-firing speaker. Naturally, there’s Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless listening. A fingerprint sensor is on the back.
Interestingly, the 7.1 can take dual nano SIMs in its SIM card slot or a nano SIM paired with a microSD card up to 400GB. It supports dual-band Wi-Fi and Cat 6 LTE for GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile.
For Your Eyes Only
On the front, the Nokia 7.1 has a sharp 5.8-inch 2,880 by 1,080 display in a 19:9 aspect ratio. The resolution matches the Moto G6 and other similarly priced devices and marks a move to a more modern look compared with the Nokia 6.1.
That does mean it has a notch, but the narrower bezel on the side and top somewhat makes up for it. The screen as a whole is sharp. Colors are crisp and accurate, and both brightness and viewing angles looked good in the brightly lit demo area.
But the real selling point of the 7.1 is HDR 10. The screen not only supports HDR 10 content, allowing for improved contrast and colors, it can also upscale standard content to HDR regardless of the source. This is a feature we’ve only seen on top-tier phones like the Sony Xperia XZ3 and ZTE Axon 9 Pro. Looking at a pair of Nokia 7.1s running standard definition and HDR content side-by-side (pictured below), the difference was modest, but noticeable.
The one with HDR (bottom phone) seemed a little bit brighter when it came to differentiating between light and dark areas and the green of treetops seemed just a bit richer. Obviously, it’s not a make or break feature, but it’s a nice extra to get on a midrange phone.
Also for the visually oriented, the 7.1 has dual rear cameras with a 12MP primary sensor and a 5MP secondary sensor for bokeh shots. In a setting with good natural light, the camera was responsive, focusing quickly and snapping a rapid series of photos without the slight lag that we’ve normally experienced on other phones in the same price range. The real test will be how it fares in lower light, an area that tripped up the Nokia 6.1 during our testing. The front sensor is 8MP for your selfies and seemed to take crisp shots in the demo area.
Other specs are more or less what you’d expect. There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor under the hood and two models, one with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage and another with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Performance seemed fast and responsive. Apps opened quickly with little to no lag and I was able to multitask easily. Nokia said the Snapdragon 636 should be 40 percent faster than the 630 on the 6.1, though we’ll have to reserve judgment until we can run our own benchmarks.
Like the 6.1, the 7.1 is an Android One device, meaning it comes running a pure stock version of Android 8.1 Oreo with a guarantee of two years of software updates and three years of security updates. That mercifully spares you from the bloatware and extraneous features that bog down many other devices. An update to Android 9.0 Pie is in the cards for later this year.
Comparisons and Availability
The Nokia 7.1 seems like a worthy addition to the competitive market for unlocked midrange phones. In the US only, the 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage model will be available. Pre-orders begin Oct. 5 at Amazon, Best Buy, and B&H with the phone expected to ship started Oct. 28. It’ll also be available in-store at certain Best Buy locations.
The $350 Nokia 7.1 could offer a nice balance between price and performance, similar to what we’ve seen with the Moto G6 and Honor 7X. We’ll be putting it to our comprehensive lab tests once we get a review unit.