HMD Global has just taken the wraps off of its newest smartphone, the Nokia 7.1. This marks the highest-end Nokia smartphone to make its way to the US, so far. But is it worth the $349 price tag? Is it enough to compete with the other competitive, mid-range smartphones like the Moto G6, Honor 8X, and even some that are a bit more expensive like the OnePlus 6. Well, there is a lot to like about the Nokia 7.1, and as always, this is not a perfect smartphone so there are some things to dislike here. So let's go over the good, the bad and the ugly of the new Nokia 7.1.
The Nokia 7.1 comes in at a very competitive price point of $349 and does come unlocked. It is GSM-unlocked, so that it will work on AT&T and T-Mobile here in the US. That's a pretty impressive price for what you are getting with the Nokia 7.1. Not just in terms of hardware and specs, but also in terms of the software experience. For $349, there are plenty of other smartphones out there that will likely leave a bad taste in many people's mouth, but with Nokia sticking with stock Android, that won't be an issue. On top of the impressive price point, HMD Global is also starting pre-orders tomorrow (the day after Nokia 7.1 was announced). That is a good thing for sure, especially with all of these smartphones being announced in October, HMD Global – and other OEMs – can't afford to wait weeks for pre-orders to open up. The Nokia 7.1 will start shipping on October 28.
Speaking of software, the Nokia 7.1 is still an Android One device. This should come as no surprise, given the fact that HMD Global announced at MWC back in February that all of its smartphones would be either Android One or Android Go devices. Essentially, these are pure Google smartphones. This means lightweight software, which will perform really well on that Snapdragon 636 chipset, as well as fast updates – something that HMD Global has already excelled pretty well at – and it also means that enthusiasts are going to love the software experience. The only real change that HMD Global makes in terms of software, to its smartphones, is in the camera.
Typically, when a phone is priced at around $349, you don't expect the hardware to be top notch – no pun intended here. But with the Nokia 7.1, you are getting a beautifully designed smartphone made of glass and metal. HMD Global is using different metal finishes here that come together seamlessly, the company was looking to make the Nokia 7.1 feel like a piece of jewelry or a high-end timepiece in your hand, and it does honestly feel like one. The phone comes in two colors – gloss steel and gloss midnight blue – the gloss steel is definitely the more interesting of the two, with colors we don't typically see on smartphones. HMD Global has also used 2.5D glass on the back of the Nokia 7.1, which allows the phone to feel better in the hand, and it is less likely to slip out of your hand – since this is still a glass smartphone.
The Nokia 7.1 is launching with Android 8.1 Oreo. For an Android One device, this is going to cause a lot of uproar from potential customers. But HMD Global has stated that it will be rolling out Android 9 Pie before the end of November. So within a month of this being available, Android Pie will be available for it, which is impressive. It still would have been better for this to launch with Android 9 Pie, but that might have been out of HMD Global's hands. Seeing as OEMs need binaries from Qualcomm to support their processors, and HMD Global is using a Snapdragon 600-series chipset here instead of the high-end Snapdragon 800-series, it is further down on the list of support for Qualcomm.
Yes, there is a notch on the Nokia 7.1. That is going to turn some people off, but it's not going to keep HMD Global or other manufacturers from utilizing the notch. Manufacturers continue to tell AndroidHeadlines that the reason for using a notch is to give users more screen without increasing the size of the device. While that "extra screen" is not all that helpful, and it does make the phone look somewhat ugly, at least the Nokia 7.1's notch is smaller than the Pixel 3 XL's notch – according to leaks at least.
While the Nokia 7.1 is going to be available unlocked, it is only supporting AT&T and T-Mobile in the States. That is pretty common, however, since HMD Global is using the Snapdragon 636 chipset, it could actually support bands for all four carriers. But the likely reason for Nokia not using CDMA bands here is certification. The Nokia 7.1 would need to be certified by Sprint and Verizon, and those certification tests aren't cheap at all. So while unfortunate, it's not a surprise that HMD Global is sticking with supporting GSM carriers only with the Nokia 7.1.
The Snapdragon 636 chipset is being used on the Nokia 7.1, while it's actually a really good chipset, many would prefer something higher-end, like the Snapdragon 710. Obviously HMD Global was looking for two things in using the Snapdragon 636 over other Qualcomm chipsets, and that was component price and battery life. The Snapdragon 636 is much cheaper for HMD Global to buy from Qualcomm than a Snapdragon 710 or 845, which allows them to keep the price of Nokia 7.1 lower. Battery life is also a hallmark feature of the Snapdragon 600-series chipsets, without affecting performance. Which is why we are seeing the 600-series used a whole lot more these days. The Snapdragon 636 itself has been used quite a bit recently, with HTC U12 Life and Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro both sporting that chipset.
There's no water or dust resistance on the Nokia 7.1. Now yes, it can handle splashes of water, which just about every smartphone can do, it's not IP68 certified like most smartphones these days. This omission is likely another corner that HMD Global cut so that it could keep the price low on the Nokia 7.1. But in 2018, it's something that people come to expect on smartphones even inexpensive smartphones like the Nokia 7.1.
The Nokia 7.1 is actually pretty impressive for its price point. If you haven't read our hands-on of the device just yet, it's definitely worth a read. There's a whole lot to like about the Nokia 7.1, and not that much to dislike – when you factor in the $349 price here. Sure it would be nice to have a Quad HD+ display, more RAM, more storage, a bigger battery, but at $349, these specs are more than acceptable, especially with this build.