With the Nokia 7 Plus, manufacturer HMD Global set up an excellent and popular mid-range, and the Nokia 8.1tries to repeat this success. Whether that will work, you can read in this Nokia 8.1 review.
Check the Nokia 8.1 review
2018 was a busy year for HMD Global, the Finnish company responsible for the Nokia Android smartphones. A lot of different models were released, mainly involving budget gears. The most successful (and in our opinion the best) smartphone was the Nokia 7 Plus, a midrange with good specs, fine software and good value for money.
Although the name suggests otherwise, the new Nokia 8.1 is according to HMD Global the spiritual successor of the 7 Plus. It is not a replacement for the Nokia 8 from 2017, which was more a high-end device. The 8.1 is a middle class that tackles some of the 7 Plus pain points, trying to equal the same success. That has largely succeeded, as you read in this Nokia 8.1 review.
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Solid housing of metal and glass
If you place the Nokia 7 Plus and 8.1 next to each other, there are considerable external differences. The 7 Plus has a full metal casing and a fine coating on the back, making the phone feel incredibly firm. The device can take a beating, and that feeling you have something less with the 8.1. This is because the back is now completely made of glass, which is, of course, a more vulnerable material. The frame around the housing is still made of metal.
HMD Global has clearly focused more on design because the Nokia 8.1 looks nicer and more modern than its predecessor. The dimensions have remained the same with 154.8 by 75.8 by 8 millimeters, but the 8.1 feels less clumsy. That is mainly because the screen edges are thinner and you simply have more screen in the same format.
A small downside is that Nokia 8.1 does not look very exciting. The design is similar to that of the Nokia 7.1, which in turn resembles the Nokia 5.1 Plus. The design of Nokia on all phones about the same and that makes it a little interchangeable by now. The 7 Plus had a more own identity.
Great screen and hardware
That screen is 6.18 inches tall and has a resolution of 2280 by 1080 pixels. That is more than sufficient and makes for sharp images, while also with the color reproduction and maximum brightness. Especially the latter is useful because the Nokia 7 Plus was rather difficult to read in bright sunlight. With the 8.1 you have no problems with this and that is a nice improvement.
Just like almost every Android smartphone that has been released in the last few months, a notch is located at the top of the screen. That notch is rather wide with the Nokia 8.1 and is ‘off’ by default. In the spaces next to the notch, the time, notifications and system info (wifi, battery percentage) are shown, but you have no option to switch on the notch. This function may still be added with an update. Unlocking your phone with face recognition is also missing and that is a shame. Xiaomis Pocophone F1 has this for example and on that device, it works very well.
Under the hood is the new Snapdragon 710, an octa-core processor that we will probably see in many more midrange Android phones in 2019. The chip is assisted by 4GB RAM and 64GB. The performance of the hardware is excellent: apps load quickly, multitasking is no problem and the Nokia 8.1 flies through the software. Only if you’re used to high-end smartphones, you’ll notice the differences between a faster processor and this Snapdragon 710. However, we dare to say that the 8.1 is fast enough for every user.
The fingerprint scanner is on the back and works accurately and quickly. There is also a headphone connection, space for a micro-sd card, Bluetooth 5.0 and a single speaker at the bottom.
Android One is a guarantee for updates
As we have come to expect from Nokia, there is little to be said about the software. The Nokia 8.1 is an Android One device, meaning you are guaranteed long-term software support and three-year monthly security updates. The 8.1 is also one of the first cheaper smartphones that run out of the box on Android 9.0 (Pie).
This gives you immediate access to the new gesture control and useful extras such as Adaptive Brightness and Adaptive Battery. What features are even more new in Pie and how they work, you can read in our extensive Android Pie review.
On Nokia’s own camera app and a support app, the 8.1 runs on stock-Android. This is Android as Google intended and by far the finest version of the mobile operating system. Thanks to the powerful hardware, Android Pie really comes into its own on the 8.1, which is a big plus. Add to that the years of updates, and you have a very future-proof smartphone.
Also nice: the camera of the Nokia 8.1 is better than that of the 7 Plus. On the back, there is again a double camera of 12 and 13 megapixels, although the design is slightly different. The telephoto lens of the Nokia 7 Plus, with which you can zoom up to 2x optically, has disappeared. The secondary lens is now mainly used for collecting depth information for portrait photographs, and that works well. The bokeh effect is applied neatly and works significantly better on the Nokia 8.1.
During the day, the 8.1 makes excellent photos, where a lot of detail is visible, colors look beautiful and the autofocus works fast. Very occasionally the smartphone has trouble with the optimal adjustment of the lighting, but that is not a huge problem. It is more annoying that the camera app is sometimes a bit slow, although it is a lot clearer than the camera software of the Nokia 7.1.
There is also a Pro mode, where you can adjust all kinds of settings. For example, you set the aperture yourself. Only for the real connoisseurs, but it delivers very nice pictures.
The primary camera of the Nokia 8.1 has optical image stabilization and that also helps in low light situations. Images remain reasonably sharp but do not expect excellent photos. High-end smartphones logically do a lot better, but in this price range, the 8.1 belongs to the better. The 20-megapixel selfie camera also performs well, even with less light.
The Nokia 8.1 has a 3500 mAh battery and that is slightly more than average in 2018. The actual battery life can also be described: good, but not very impressive. That is certainly not a disaster, because on a full load you come through the day without any problems and I often managed to squeeze a day and a half out of the 8.1.
Very good, although there are devices in this price range – think of the Xiaomi Pocophone F1 with its 4000 mAh battery – that last longer. Customizable battery management, a feature of Pie that ensures that apps that you use less often also use less energy, helps a bit.
Due to the slightly smaller battery, the Nokia 8.1 has the advantage that charging goes fast. With a half hour of recharging, you have another 40 to 50 percent battery and that is enough to get through a large part of the day. From 0 to 100 percent of charging takes about two hours with the included USB-c fast charger.
With a suggested retail price of 399 euros, the Nokia 8.1 floats between budget smartphones (which have improved in 2018) and flagships that have since dropped in price. Devices such as the Motorola Moto G6 Plus and Xiaomi Mi A2, both considerably cheaper, for example, do not amount to much for the Nokia 8.1. Are you prepared to pay more than 100 euros more, then you end up with the Samsung Galaxy S9? And that is a competitor that the Nokia can not really handle.
Also, the Pocophone F1 from Xiaomi is a good alternative to the Nokia 8.1, and also a bit cheaper. The Pocophone F1 has more powerful hardware, better battery life, and fine face recognition, but is less well supported and has a cheap, plastic housing.
Conclusion Nokia 8.1 review
With the Nokia 8.1, the Finnish manufacturer is once again demonstrating excellent midranges. The device has a solid design, fast hardware, fine cameras and is guaranteed by the Android One program. Less is that the smartphone looks somewhat generic and the battery life is less than with the Nokia 7 Plus.
All in all, you get a great smartphone for 399 euros that you can use for years. Yet we would wait a little longer for the Nokia 8.1 to drop slightly in price. The device is pretty complete but does not have such a very competitive price-quality ratio as some competitors. For a lot less money you can get in this area of what this Nokia knows to offer.
Nokia 8.1 release and price
The Nokia 8.1 comes out in the Netherlands at the beginning of January for 399 euros and can already be pre-ordered. You will soon have the choice of three colors: gray, purple and blue.