The Nokia 7.1 isn't a bad device. It actually occupies the Android Headlines "Top 10 Best Value Smartphones" list, as of this review. In fact, it has done so for some time now, based on secondary reviews, ratings, specs, and other criteria. That's not just because this mid-ranger is a relatively powerful device. Nokia's 7.1 has earned its place through solid quality, features, the Android One program, and more.
But this handset isn't without its flaws either, which was quickly revealed in our test of the gadget.
Most of what's "wrong" with the Nokia 7.1 can be summed up as small, mostly subjective caveats. The overwhelming majority of users won't find an issue with those. In short, there are a couple of apparent audio quirks and battery life that a power user probably won't love at all. A slew of smaller problems can be found in the camera software and those aren't even worth a subsection on the 'negative' side of things.
There is also at least one relatively big issue that will be immediately clear for those who don't want a protective case to mar one of this mid-ranger smartphone's most noticeable assets.
Without the smallest hint of doubt or uncertainty, the Nokia 7.1 deserves its spot on our top phones list — for now — but it isn't at all perfect for everybody.
Nokia's 7.1 has fairly serious battery drawbacks
Now, I knew in advance that the Nokia 7.1 doesn't ship with wireless charging compatibility and thanks to USB-C being used here, wasn't too concerned about that. It is still worth mentioning that it doesn't have it, to dissuade any users who might feel they genuinely need it.
It is also worth bringing up that there doesn't appear to be any kind of battery or LED indicator on this handset. Although that's not entirely uncommon across every bracket of the Android spectrum it is still a bigger problem. Whether or not a light is present is among the first things I tend to notice because the battery is among the first things I test.
That's because it's actually quite difficult to tell when a smartphone is fully charged at a glance without that light. So it's easy to set the device to charge on the appropriate, included cable. But without physically picking up the device and pressing the power button to check the level, there's no way to know if the Nokia 7.1 is charged. The on-screen indicator that's shown has exceptional small, thin text to show the percentage charged as well — making that difficult to see.
Setting aside what could certainly be designated 'design issues' there is a relatively big issue in the battery life itself too.
I noted throughout my use that the battery lasted right around 10-hours per charge and just over that. On the surface, that's not an issue since it felt about average. Screen-on time fell in at just over 6-hours. The problem with that is that my usage was actually quite light. Worse, the biggest battery killer aside from a few games seems to have been the relatively great camera.
To begin my testing period, I started out with a morning routine centered around checking emails, browsing, and mostly setting the device aside. Coupled with around a half-hour of gaming and a further half-hour of video as well as 20 minutes of music streaming, over the course of approximately 4.75-hours the battery drained around 4o-percent.
Using the phone outdoors constantly for between six and seven minutes, meanwhile, drained the battery around another 10-percent. Adding in photo-taking made matters worse even with the screen only at around 81-percent. It simply cannot be understated how rapidly the battery dies when the device is in use. Under that same screen-brightness and environmental circumstances, a half-hour of photo shooting drained the battery by 18-percent.
Even six hours of light usage for screen-on time is not impossible to cope with and the charging rate does, to an extent, make up for that. But it doesn't to the degree that might be hoped. At just over a half-hour of charging, 50-percent capacity can be reached. That's enough for a further 3-hours of screen-on time to get through the day for even heavier users.
It took an hour for the battery to reach 75-percent charged on the included charging brick and cable. Just ten minutes under two hours was required to hit a full charge. That's not terrible and it isn't going to be a big deal to everybody. Six hours is right around the average for a good smartphone.
At the same time, it didn't feel like a good charge to drain ratio for me since I'm typically a much heavier user. I would need to charge a minimum of one and a half times to get through my typical day. That would mean setting my phone aside for two-and-a-half hours at least if I wanted the best charging rate.
Most of my usage was inside too. So the screen brightness, often the biggest drain on a battery for any device, wasn't a big part of why the battery in my test Nokia 7.1 drained so quickly. For the very lightest users, this could feasibly be an all-day device. It's not going to be for others without some serious charging time in between.
Why is Nokia 7.1 so slippery?
Despite how gorgeous this smartphone is, as covered in the 'good' review, it's not without its design flaws either.
To begin with, there's an enormous notch at the front that's much more 2017 iPhone cutout than Essential waterdrop. I actually didn't find a lot about that to bug me since it stops just short of the edge of the notification bar, leaving just a few pixels and clear separation. That makes it feel much more like it's part of that UI than a hardware element but it's still just going to bother a wide swath of potential users.
Setting that aside, there's also the fact that Nokia doesn't list an IP rating of any sort. So this probably isn't waterproof or resistant beyond basic splash protection — if that, and I didn't test that. Aside from the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 front panel, there doesn't seem to be any ruggedization at all. A case is going to be required and one is not included in the package.
That brings us to the biggest issue I found here and it's one that was discovered almost immediately. This phone is unbelievably and almost unbearably slippery. The only part of the design that doesn't seem to be slippery is the metal edge.
While taking notes for this writeup, I wrote down a joke about how a case would be pointless because it would probably just find a way to wiggle its way free from even a well-built TPU protective cover. That's a slight exaggeration, of course, but Nokia's 7.1 is still exceptionally slippery.
Holding it to take the title shot for this review, I had to clench it between my fingers. I nearly dropped it anyway irrespective of how I held it. In just over a week's period, the phone dropped from my hand over a dozen times in total. I actually stopped counting after that but luckily it almost always fell onto soft, impact-absorbant surfaces.
That applies not just to hands, which is bad enough, but also to surfaces too, whether placed face-up or face-down. If left on any surface, turning notifications off — or at least vibrations — is a necessity. That's because even on apparently flat surfaces, it would just start visibly moving around all on its own.
Now, this is based solely on my experience with this device but really highlights why a case is needed. Unless it gets boxed in somehow at night or put in a case this is a smartphone that's going to have slid off whatever surface it's placed on at night. That's a real shame because this is a gorgeous device that a case will only detract from.
This just won't be the best phone for everybody
There are several other smaller caveats with the Nokia 7.1 too, including one or two issues with audio from the speakers and the fact that it does seem to get quite warm.
On the latter front, the heat comes on quickly when playing the most intensive games or when multitasking while plugged in. In all honesty, the temperature increase isn't going to bug most users. It certainly isn't enough to burn the skin or even to be uncomfortable in most cases. All phones heat up under the right circumstances. It just surprised me that it warmed up so quickly. Because of that, I periodically became concerned that it might be getting hotter.
On the audio front, the speakers here are tiny. That's both the earpiece and primary speakers at the bottom edge. Compared to other smartphones I've tested, they seem to be about half-sized at best.
While the music, speech, and sound effects issued forth from those are loud — much louder than I expected and loud enough to fill a decently-sized room with noise — the quality of that audio is inconsistent. At maximum volume through one or three clicks below that, a strange crackle appears on some audio frequencies. I wasn't ever able to pin down exactly which frequencies those are either. They seem to jump around.
That suggests that the audio setup here is just flawed and it may come down to the level of the volume being pumped through such small speakers. So Nokia could have solved this simply by limiting volume to just a few clicks down in the software. It would have been quieter, but it also wouldn't have that undesirable distortion at the loudest volumes. The issue only appears with the built-in speakers and not through Bluetooth or over headphones.
Taken with the design, performance, and quality of this device, all of these caveats seem out of place. This is, after all, among the best mid-range phones available and the caveats don't stop it from holding that status. But the Nokia 7.1 could have been a real contender to top that list if not for these small flaws. Despite those flaws, it is still extremely easy to recommend this device. It simply won't be perfect for everybody because of those.