Nokia 8.1 Review: A Perfect Mid-Range Smartphone from HMD Global

Back in 2016, when HMD Global said that it’s going to launch Android-powered Nokia smartphones, everyone believed that the company would fail to make a mark in the industry. That’s what happened in 2017 as HMD’s Android smartphones- the Nokia 6, Nokia 5, Nokia 3 and Nokia 2 failed to make a mark in the industry. The flagship handset, Nokia 8, managed to grab some eyeballs with its industrial design and reliable performance, but it was overshadowed by OnePlus 5 and 5T. Just when everyone thought that HMD is going after tried and tested strategy, the brand came out with four smartphones earlier this year- the Nokia 1, Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 6 (2018) and the Nokia 8 Sirocco. Except for the Nokia 8 Sirocco, the other three smartphones got everyone’s attention. Later on, HMD went on to launch a slew of smartphones including some stellar offerings such as Nokia 6.1 Plus and the Nokia 5.1 Plus.

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HMD is upping the game as it has now launched the successor to Nokia 7 Plus– the Nokia 8.1 in India. Well, you might be wondering by now- doesn’t the Nokia 8.1 a successor to the Nokia 8? Well, actually not; HMD is converting the Nokia 8 series into an upper mid-range one starting with the Nokia 8.1. And the next year’s Nokia 9 will start a new lineup for HMD’s flagship devices.

The Nokia 8.1 was recently launched in Dubai and it sports stellar hardware for a mid-range handset. It’s the second smartphone with Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 SoC to launch in the sub-continent after the Oppo R17 Pro. Like the Nokia 7 Plus, the Nokia 8.1 also rocks Zeiss optics. And it’s the first Nokia device to ship with Android 9 Pie out of the box- something which is a rare feat in the industry right now.

I have been using the Nokia 8.1 as my primary device for more than ten days now and here’s the full review of the product.

Nokia 8.1 Review: Design and Display

Unlike the Nokia 7 Plus which was constructed out of metal, the Nokia 8.1 features a glass back like the Nokia 6.1 Plus and Nokia 8 Sirocco. HMD is not known for designing the best looking phones out there, but it’s known for providing the best in-hand feel with every phone it launches. The Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 6.1 Plus are clear examples for the same; Even the sub-Rs 10,000 phones such as the Nokia 3.1 and Nokia 2.1 feels like devices priced over Rs 20,000. The Nokia 8.1 is no exception; It doesn’t feature eye-catchy design, but once you pick the device, you’ll start love using it.

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The Nokia 8.1 features a metal frame and a glass back. The phone comes in two colour options- Blue Silver and Iron Steel. Like other smartphones with glass back, the Nokia 8.1 also attracts a lot of fingerprints. Sadly, HMD is not bundling a case inside the retail box, maybe because of cost-cutting. Even the display is a fingerprint magnet, which might annoy a lot of people out there.

Moving onto the placements, the power and volume rockers are on the right side, dual-SIM card tray on the left, USB Type-C port and loudspeaker on the bottom, and the 3.5mm headphone rest on the top. HMD has given so much attention to the basics and one of them is the SIM card which is constructed out of metal and not plastic.

Right after taking the device to your hands, you’ll feel the weight is evenly distributed. The phone weighs 180 grams and measures 7.97mm in thickness. The only drawback for the phone is it’s a bit slippery, but that’s the nature of all the phones with a glass back.

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The front of the phone is dominated by a 6.18-inch Full HD+ screen with PureDisplay tech, 18.7:9 aspect ratio, 500 nits brightness and 81% screen-to-body ratio. On top of the display, there’s a notch which houses the earpiece, front-facing camera and proximity sensor. There’s a small chin and it carries the Nokia branding. The display itself is HDR ready, meaning you can stream HDR titles. The graphics on the screen are sharp and offer a dynamic colour range and vibrant colours. Also, under the sunlight, the display is legible thanks to enough brightness.

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The Nokia 8.1 also lends support for always on display which will allow the users to see the date, time and notifications without needing to turn the screen on.

Nokia 8.1 Review: Hardware, Performance and Software

The predecessor of the Nokia 8.1, the Nokia 7 Plus was the first phone in India to carry the Snapdragon 660 SoC onboard. On the similar lines, the Nokia 8.1 is the second phone to come with the Snapdragon 710 SoC. The processor comes with a lot of upsides, including the power-efficient 10nm fabrication process. The octa-core SoC also comes with custom-built Kryo 360 architecture including two quad-core clusters clocking 2.2GHz and 1.7GHz, respectively. While for graphics, the SoC draws power from the Adreno 616 GPU. Also, the SoC has been paired with 4GB of RAM for smooth multitasking. On the software front, the Nokia 8.1 boots the clean stock Android experience of Android 9 Pie with Android One certification. On the memory front, the Nokia 8.1 offers 64GB of internal storage which can be expanded up by another 400GB by a microSD card thanks to a hybrid SIM storage.

On testing the phone with games and videos, we get to see smooth multitasking, however, on mounting the resources with heavy games like PUBG or while streaming videos on 4G the phone tends to grow hot within 15 minutes. Right after installing PUBG Mobile, the device suggests you that it can handle the game in ‘High’ graphics setting. In contrast, the Snapdragon 660 SoC found on the Nokia 7 Plus handles the game smoothly in ‘Medium’ graphics setting.

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Day-to-day tasks on the Nokia 8.1 is an absolute breeze and the software is optimised very well too. The fingerprint scanner placed on the rear side is quick in unlocking the device. Android 9 Pie brings some gestures to the table such as swipe down the fingerprint scanner to pull the notification panel and it worked great.

Nokia 8.1 Review: Camera

The Nokia 8.1 also does not disappoint in terms of imaging and camera capability. The brand has partnered up with ZEISS optics to offer high-quality lenses on its phones. On the rear side of the phone, we get to see a 12MP optically-stabilised shooter which comes with a 1.4um sensor size, paired with a 12MP depth sensor. The camera on this phone also offers live Bokeh mode, 4K videos, along with slow-mo and time-lapse features. On the front, the phone features a high-resolution 20MP snapper.

In the Nokia 8.1, HMD Global is offering many options and customisation settings in the camera application. Although, it might be hard for some users of the phone to get the hang of the camera app in one-go, some of the more advanced users might appreciate the presence of so many modes on the Nokia 8.1.

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As part of the new Nokia phone, we get to see modes like Pro, Live Bokeh, Panorama, Video, and Slow-mo. Other camera quirks of the phone include beauty mode, self-timer, toggling flash in addition to Google Lens support. The camera is also very quick to focus thanks to the dual-PDAF support, and the pictures produced by the camera shows very little noise and good dynamic range with natural colour reproduction. The photos clicked with HDR are even better concerning colour reproduction.

Videos shot on the Nokia 8.1 also turn out to be great thanks to OIS and EIS support. The selfie camera on the Nokia 8.1 also offers good imaging capability, sparing the exposure issue on the phone which seems to go glitch at times. However, comparing the phone to the Poco F1 which the flagship offering from Xiaomi’s new sub-brand, the phone seems to lag a bit behind in terms of colour reproduction, but yes, it can be improved via software updates.

Nokia 8.1 Review: Battery

The Nokia 7 Plus arrived with a 3800mAh massive battery which offered decent battery life. However, the new Nokia 8.1 comes with a slightly smaller 3500mAh battery, but thanks to the power-efficient processor, the Nokia 8.1 delivered battery life equal to the Nokia 7 Plus. On a full day of usage, the phone is left with 20-25% of charge even at the end of the day. The phone also ships with 18W fast charging support, and it goes from 0 to 100% in a matter of two and a half hours. Speaking about screen-on time, I got around four and a half hours to five hours consistently with 4G use. However, despite sporting a glass back, the Nokia 8.1 lacks wireless charging.

Nokia 8.1 Review: Verdict

The Nokia 8.1 carries a price tag of Rs 26,999 in India for the base 4GB+64GB model. The company stated that it would launch a 6GB+128GB model in the future. For the asking price, the Nokia 8.1 is an all-rounder- it has great build quality, latest software with the promise of future updates, capable cameras which will only get better with time and full-day battery life. It doesn’t have anything fancy like the in-display fingerprint scanner or triple rear cameras, but HMD is nailing the basics with its mid-range devices of late.

The Nokia 7 Plus used to be my favourite phone from the house of HMD Global, but that has changed with the Nokia 8.1. It’s a reliable smartphone and a perfect successor to the Nokia 7 Plus. Comparing it with the Poco F1, the Nokia 8.1 wins the design, display and software rounds hands down, while the Poco F1 performs marginally better and offers better battery life. So, if you’re in the market for a premium mid-range device, then the Nokia 8.1 should be your choice.

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Chakri is a go-to guy for your next smartphone recommendation. Back in his engineering days, he used to play with smartphones by installing custom ROMs and that passion got him into the tech industry. He still goes nuts about a smartphone knocking his door for review. Currently managing everything at Telecom Talk, Chakri is trying to master PUBG Mobile in his free time.

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R!TTERChakri KudikalaNikhil Mumbai-Pune Recent comment authors
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R!TTER
R!TTER

while the Poco F1 performs marginally better – Wait when did SD845 perform similar to SD710, I must’ve missed the memo? The QC flagship is in a different tier & regularly outperforms its own midrange by as much as 2x consistently.

Nikhil Mumbai-Pune
Nikhil Mumbai-Pune

Good battery life Good performance(comparable to snapdragon 835,certainly better than Snapdragon 821),good display. A decent camera, a below average headphone and loudspeaker experience.

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