The Nokia 8.1 is the successor to the Nokia 7.
Tushar Kanwar
The Nokia 8.1 is the successor to the Nokia 7.
TECH
19/12/2018 2:33 PM IST

Nokia 8.1 Review: Clean Design, Uncluttered Software, Great Cameras

The new Nokia 8.1 goes on sale from Thursday. It's a great looking phone, but does it measure up in terms of performance, battery life, and cameras? We tested it to find out.

It’s the spiritual successor to the hugely popular Nokia 7 Plus, HMD Global’s solid no-nonsense device for the then-under-tapped 20-to-30-thousand segment. The Nokia 8.1—we don’t get Nokia’s confusing nomenclature either—builds on the strong Android One foundation that defined (and differentiated) the Nokia 7 Plus and makes strides with a newer chipset, boosted cameras and refinements all around.

The Nokia 8.1 lacks some newer features like an in-display fingerprint scanner that are all the rage with the competition, but still holds its own courtesy its clean design, uncluttered software, and the promise of fast updates. The Nokia 8.1 goes on sale from Thursday, and based on our time with the phone, it’s a good choice. Jump to the end to see the phone’s specs, or read on to know more about our experience.

 

What the Nokia 8.1 Gets Right

Excellent Performance: The Nokia 8.1 is one of the first devices to ship with the mid-range-focused Snapdragon 710 chipset. This is similar to the flagship Snapdragon 845, in terms of chip cores and the power-efficient 10-nanometer process. Despite this, it’s outclassed by the Snapdragon 845 in benchmark tests. However, you’re unlikely to find the 710 lacking for power in day-to-day usage. It’s only when you run a graphically intensive game for more than 15-20 minutes that the phone starts getting noticeably warm, and throttling performance to keep temperatures under control. The power efficient processor ekes out more battery life than you’d expect from the smaller than average 3,500mAh battery—well past the full-day-of-use mark.

Tushar Kanwar
The side profile of the Nokia 8.1

 

Raises the Bar on Imaging: Remember the time when Nokia cameras used to be legendary? The new generation of Nokia phones under HMD haven’t really scored high on the camera department, but the 8.1 is set to change that. The 12MP camera with its large 1.4um pixel size and Zeiss optics (with optical stabilization) takes great looking shots in all manners of lighting conditions, and if you’re the sort who likes playing around with the settings, the Pro Camera is there for you. Autofocus is fast (thanks to the phase detection auto focus), and daylight images captured retain natural colors and good levels of detail. Noise is kept to a minimum in low-light and indoors images, and selfies from the 20MP front camera are crisp and detailed. In general, the Nokia 8.1 edges ahead of the Poco F1 across shooting situations, and it’s safe to say the Nokia 8.1 sports one of the best cameras in its price segment.

Photo gallery Nokia 8.1 Photo Samples See Gallery

 

Impressive Display: With a 6.18-inch 2280x1080-pixel IPS LCD panel, the Nokia 8.1 packs in one of the best displays I’ve seen on a sub-30,000 phone. Colors are vibrant for an LCD display, brightness outdoors isn’t an issue and contrast levels are excellent, plus you get HDR10 content compatibility courtesy its PureDisplay tech. The always-on display, which allows you to see notifications and date/time without waking the screen works well.

 

Classy Design: Featuring a single milled-out chunk of Series 6000 aluminum, chamfered edges and all, sandwiched between two panes of glass, the 8.1 refines the design aesthetic seen first on the Nokia 7 Plus, with the dual-tone finish adding an element of pizzazz to the otherwise understated design. Unlike the flashy gradient finishes seen on the Honor devices, the 8.1 is classic Nokia – it’s not the sort that will grab attention each time you pull it out of your pocket but it is a looker nonetheless, particularly the Iron/Steel variant which looks every bit the premium flagship that the Nokia 8.1 isn’t! More importantly, it feels well balanced and great to hold in the hand. One downer to the design – the prominent chin and the wide notch detract to an extent.

Clean Software: HMD’s association with the Android One program has been nothing short of a masterstroke, and the brand’s been consistent with rolling out updates to their previous phones on a regular basis. The 8.1 ships with a bloat-free Android 9.0 Pie out of the box, which aside from the new Digital Wellbeing and intelligent battery optimization features it delivers, helps keep the 8.1 snappy to use and competitive against the theoretically mightier Poco F1 and the OnePlus 6T.

Tushar Kanwar
Nokia 8.1 rear camera setup

 

Where the Nokia 8.1 can improve

Mediocre Speakers: With the Nokia 8.1 pitched strongly as a multimedia consumption device, it’s odd to see a single, somewhat underwhelming speaker at the base, and a stereo speaker would have been ideal.

Pricing Concerns: Don’t read this wrong, the Nokia 8.1 is a perfectly capable phone for folks looking for a no-nonsense reliable device in the mid-segment, one that makes no major compromises. Yet, if you’re after hard-core performance and pure specs, the Poco F1 and the Asus ZenFone 5Z both pack in the Snapdragon 845 chip, which could sway your decision.

Quick Specs:
Size and Weight: 154.8 x 75.76 x 7.97 mm, 180g
Storage: 64GB e-MMC 5.1, support for up to 400 GB microSD
Display: 6.18’’ Full HD+ PureDisplay
Memory: 4GB LPPDDR4x
Chip: Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor
Camera – Rear: Dual Main: 12 MP 1/2.55’’, 1.4um pixels, OIS 2PD, Dual second: 13 MP FF
Camera – Front: Adaptive 20 MP FF/0.9um
Battery: 3500mAh with 18W fast charging
Colors: Blue/Silver, Iron/Steel
Price: Rs. 26,999 (4GB/64GB), available on sale from 21st December 2018