HMD Global, Nokia’s parent brand, has witnessed impressive growth within the highly competitive Android smartphone market since it was founded couple of years back, which is all thanks to its amazing mid-tier and budget offerings. Expanding, HMD Global recently added Nokia 8.1 to its diverse lineup. We got some hands-on time with the new phone at its global launch event in Dubai last month but after thoroughly testing it and using it as a daily driver, here is our in-depth review.
Nokia 8.1 is HMD Global’s newest high-end Android One smartphone which is now available for purchase in markets across the globe. Unlike what the name suggests, it isn’t a follow-up to the older Nokia 8 flagship. Rather, new Nokia 8.1 places itself as the successor to Nokia 7.1 Plus. This versioning structure is part of HMD Global’s new strategy to simplify device naming schemes. Headlining, Nokia 8.1 is powered by Snapdragon 710, has 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and dual Camera system on the back with ZEISS optics as well as a new Camera app with Pro-Mode. The design is quite industrial and Nokia 8.1 carries a PureView minimal bezel display with a notch.
Let’s first overview all the technical specifications of Nokia 8.1.
- Network: (GSM / FDD / TDD / WCDMA)
- Display: 6.18’’ Full HD+ PureDisplay (2340 x 1080)
- Processor: Snapdragon 710
- OS: Android 9.0 (Pie), Android One
- Camera Rear: Main: 12 MP 1/2.55’’, 1.4um pixels, OIS 2PD, Second: 13 MP FF
- Camera Front: 12 MP FF/0.9um
- Connectivity: USB Type-C, Bluetooth 5.0 and 3.5mm Headphone Jack
- Sensors: Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer (G-sensor), E-compass, Gyroscope, Fingerprint Sensor (on the back), NFC
- Memory: 4GB RAM + 64GB Storage
- Dimension: 154.8 x 75.76 x 7.97 mm
- Battery: 3,500mAh
Nokia 8.1: Design and Hardware
The new Nokia 8.1 feels right at home with its similar design philosophy that we have seen across other recent smartphones from the brand. The phone is crafted with glass on the front along with glass on the rear and there is a metal alloy adjoining chassis. To complete the look, there is also a chrome accent present across the border which adds a lot of class. Depending on the color option, this border is painted in different colors. There are in total three finishes to choose from: Blue/Silver, Steel/Copper and also Iron/Steel. Our device is this gorgeous Iron/Steel finish. Its quite interesting to see Nokia come up with this unique dual tone finish which stands out in its own league and is just as beautiful, if not more, when compared with recent gradient finishes found on competing devices.
Discussing about the physical hardware first, the front houses a large 6.18 inch FHD+ PureView display. The PureView title is to signify minimal bezels on this phone rather than the technology which is IPS LCD. Due to minimal bezels, there is a significant notch present as well, a bit larger than what we usually see on Android smartphones. However, it gels in with the whole shape much better and we think this is why Nokia extended the size a bit. Within the notch, there is an earpiece, front camera and other standard sensors — no notification light.Further, in tradition, there is a Nokia monogram present on the bottom chin. Before we move on, the display panel has great quality in terms of color reproduction and also sharpness. The blacks and saturation are not as deep as OLED but for IPS, this panel works well.
Looking at the rear, there is a silver etched vertical Nokia logo, dual ZEISS camera sensors and a fingerprint scanner. Unique to Nokia 8.1, flash module is no longer integrated within the elongated camera bump, it is now present besides it. As for the bump, however, it is quite significant. Rest, Android One logo is also present to signify that this phone runs stock Android. Seeing how the industry has been fitting fingerprint scanners on smartphones for a couple of years now, the scanner on the Nokia 8.1 unit is just as reliable and just as fast. Plus, we appreciate this rear placement as it is one of the most ergonomic ones. Exploring the chrome border, starting from the bottom, there is a USB Type-C port along with cut-outs for the single speaker. Speaker gets adequately loud but dual speakers are a missed opportunity and this bottom placement makes it easy to block when playing games. On the right side, there is an long volume rocker coupled with a power button. While the distance is adequate to differentiate, there is no texture difference which makes for accidental button presses for the first few days of usage. For the left, there is a hybrid SIM tray which supports microSD but at the sacrifice of a SIM slot. Surprisingly, on top, there is a headphone jack which is good to see. Also, important to mention are the various microphones fitted throughout the phone which enable OZO surround sound capture hence allowing Nokia 8.1 to record phenomenal audio with true surround sound.
Design and exterior has been truly great with the 8.1 but its now time that we discuss its internals. Rocking a Snapdragon 710, this smartphone isn’t competing with high-end flagships rather it holds itself pretty well in the mid-range just beneath them. For RAM, it has 4GB and 64GB of internal storage. While the RAM is adequate as we have seen done with Pixel 3 thanks to Android One and Android Pie, the storage is a bit concerning. Nokia should have gone with at-least 128GB base storage which is now pretty much a standard. Fortunately enough, there is microSD storage so there is still an option to expand. In terms of performance, the Snapdragon works pretty well. Coupled with stock software, Nokia 8.1 blazes through navigation and daily tasks. Noticing the difference between the high-end 845 and the 710 in day to day use is pretty difficult plus, the 710 is more optimized to sip less battery — another plus. To gauge for yourself, here are few benchmark results.
Nokia 8.1: Camera
One key thing HMD Global has focused on with its new Nokia 8.1 is the camera. Starting with hardware, there is a 12MP main sensor that has Optical Image Stabilization coupled with a 13MP Fixed Focus sensor for better portrait shots. Further, software side has been vastly improved as well. There is now AI powered imaging along with an advanced pro-mode built within the camera app inspired from older Lumia series phones.
We took out the Nokia 8.1 camera to test it in different situations and lights. From the photos we were able to take, the best summary is, Nokia 8.1’s camera has a lot of potential. Software still needs to be tweaked as focus and white-balance were easily thrown off. Plus, pro-mode doesn’t replicate couple of settings on its preview which makes it difficult for beginners. Nonetheless, the photos do come out impressive. Check out our gallery for complete full resolution samples.
As for the selfie camera, there is a new 20MP sensor which has better pixel size for dim conditions. Sharpness and post processing is good as well so photos look quite clean once they are captured.
Nokia 8.1: Connectivity and Battery
Nokia has been a name synonymous with reliability and strong cellular performance. We are glad to report, new Nokia 8.1, carries on that tradition. There is up-to LTE Cat. 6 support along with Dual SIM functionality. However, as we previously detailed, if you want to expand storage, dual SIM functionality is sacrificed. More for connections, there are strong WiFi antennas and also most recent Bluetooth 5.0 standard that allows for long range. In terms of physical ports, Nokia 8.1 has fast charging thanks to its USB Type-C port at the bottom and also comes with a 3.5mm dedicated audio jack.
Moving towards endurance, Nokia 8.1 has a large 3,500 mAh battery. Again, as has been the case throughout other areas of the phone, it leverages great software to maximize performance. Thanks to Android One, there is no overlying skin which the processor has to compute each time. Further, as it rungs Android 9.0 Pie, there is adaptive battery which automatically assesses users needs and using that data sets the processor speeds and other settings. All of this results in Nokia 8.1 being an easy one-day phone with battery to save at the end depending on how heavy your usage. Plus, when you are at low battery, the phone supports fast charging and comes with a fast charger within the box.
Nokia 8.1: Software
While hardware is easily replicable, for Android smartphones, the software is what makes it or breaks it these days. In exchange for a proprietary skin that overlays on pure UI, Nokia has stuck with its stock Android commitment. Not only does the new 8.1 come under Android One program — a Google initiative to provide vanilla Android on third-party hardware — but it also has its own little value-added tweaks such as an advanced camera app with Pro Mode. Out of the box, Nokia 8.1 runs most recent Android 9.0 Pie. Again, thanks to Android One, any further Android versions would arrive considerably faster when compared with competing smartphones from other brands which is yet another major advantage.
Owing to running Android 9.0 Pie, Nokia 8.1 has support for navigation gestures built-in. There is also Well Being integrated that monitors your daily usage of each app and lets you set time-out settings to stay in control. Also, within Camera app, there is Google Lens which can be used to point at things in the real world to get instant information about them. These few key features really do complete the whole experience.
Default bundled Nokia 8.1 Apps:
- Wallpapers: Nokia has added a Wallpapers app which you can use to get perfect resolution wallpapers for your device. These get updated regularly giving you a wide variety of choices.
- Google Duo: Duo is Google’s video call solution. It is bundled stock with Nokia smartphones. You can configure it directly with your Google account. It will automatically sync your contacts and allow you to contact them through video call.
- Camera app with Pro Mode: The camera app is a modified version suited for the Nokia . It includes different modes along with Pro Mode capability to give granular control to the user for setting up the perfect shot.
- Google Keep: Google Keep is also pre-installed on the device. Keep is a note taking app which supports sync directly with your Google account. This works best when you have multiple devices or you want to view your notes directly on your computer.