Nokia 8.1 hands-on: The best yet from HMD Global?

Nokia 8.1

Last week, HMD Global unveiled the Nokia 8.1 in Dubai and today the company launched its latest smartphone in India.

The new Nokia 8.1 is not a successor to the Nokia 8 or Nokia 8 Sirocco in terms of specifications and also isn’t in the same segment as those flagship smartphones. The nomenclature can confuse you, but essentially, the Nokia 8.1 is the successor to the Nokia 7 plus – a segment that the company likes to call as ‘affordable premium’.

I spent some time with the Nokia 8.1 ahead of its launch, and here are my first impressions of the same.

Design

Nokia 8.1

The Nokia 8.1 sports an elegant dual-tone design with 6000-series aluminum frame that packs in a sculpted glass body. The chrome trims, that we’ve seen on Nokia 7 plus before, up the aesthetics of the phone.

The Nokia 8.1 has a definite flair to it without any outlandish design choices, and the glass and metal are sandwiched tastefully.

On the front, there’s a 6.18-inch Full HD+ edge-to-edge display with an 18.7:9 aspect ratio and 420ppi. It’s an HDR10-compliant display and has a contrast ratio of 1500:1. With the notch and minimum bezels, the 8.1 manages to pack in a larger display than even the Nokia 7 plus.

It’s a beautiful and bright display – with great legibility outdoors in sun – and the new Adaptive Brightness feature in Android 9 Pie automatically adjusts your settings learning from your screen brightness preferences.

Hardware

The Nokia 8.1 is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 710, Qualcomm’s maiden SoC in its new 700 mobile platform series. Snapdragon 710 fits comfortably between the mid-range 600 and high-end 800 series and aims to make premium smartphone features more accessible via mid-range devices, like the 8.1.

And it succeeds in that very well. The AI-powered Snapdragon 710 is a solid chipset and the Nokia 8.1 could give you the impression of flagship innards in your daily drill. With 4GB of RAM, the smartphone just blazes through anything thrown at it.

There’s 64GB of internal storage, and although it’s expandable by up to 400GB using microSD card, many multimedia hoarders would find it a tad underwhelming.

The Nokia 8.1 packs a 3500mAh battery with support for 18W fast charging.

  Nokia 8.1
Display 6.18-inch (15.70cm) PureDisplay
Full HD+ (2246 x 1080)
18.7:9 aspect ratio
420ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 710
8 x Kryo 360 CPU
10nm manufacturing process
GPU Adreno 616
RAM 4GB LPPDDR4x
Storage 64GB e-MMC 5.1
Expandable up to 400GB
Cameras Front camera: 20MP

Rear camera:
12MP f/1.8 aperture primary sensor
13MP depth sensor
OIS + EIS
Dual Hi-Cri flash

Battery 3500mAh
18W fast charging
Audio 3.5 mm headphone jack
Single speaker with smart amplifier
Nokia OZO surround sound capture
Connectivity LTE Cat. 6, 2CA, L+L, VoLTE, VoWiFi
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 5.0
GPS/AGPS+GLONASS+Beidou
IP Rating None
Sensors mbient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer (G-sensor), E-compass, Gyroscope, Fingerprint sensor (rear), NFC
Software Android 9 Pie
Android One
Dimensions 154.8 x 75.76 x 7.97 mm
180 g
Colors Blue/Silver, Steel/Copper, Iron/Steel

Camera

Nokia 8.1

The Nokia 8.1 sports a 12MP primary sensor with f/1.8 aperture and 1.4 micron pixel size combined with a 13MP depth sensor with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). The Zeiss optics are combined with some AI smarts like automatic scene detection and professional portrait shots, and Nokia’s Pro Camera goodness as well as Dual-Sight mode that allows you to simultaneously shoot and stream from both the cameras.

The phone, interestingly, allows you to capture 4K video at 30fps. Apart from hardware stabilization, there’s also EIS that would help in those videos.

On the front, there’s a 20MP adaptive selfie camera with pixel binning technology that helps you take better shots in dimmer conditions.

Android One

Nokia 8.1

Like other phones in HMD Global’s portfolio, the Nokia 8.1 is an Android One smartphone. It ships with Android 9 Oreo out of the box, and offers a clean, stock Android experience. With phones on Android 8.1 Oreo still launching in December 2018, HMD Global deserves big props for offering one of the most up-to-date Android experience on Nokia phones.

Android One certification means the smartphone will receive two years of guaranteed Android “letter” upgrades and three years of monthly security updates. Nokia 8.1 is also a part of the Android Enterprise Recommended program.

Gallery

Summary

The Nokia 8.1 sits pretty between the mid-range smartphone segment and the ‘flagship killers’. It’s a well-rounded smartphone that tries to punch above the specifications sheet thanks to Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor that aces the performance bit.

The cohesive experience and stylish design of the Nokia 8.1 makes me wonder if this is the best Nokia phone since HMD Global brought the brand home. You’d have to look hard to find an issue with this one, really.

The Nokia 8.1 comes in three color variants – Blue/Silver, Steel/Copper, and a new Iron/Steel combination – and will globally retail at 399 Euros ($450).

While the device is going on sale in the Middle East for 1499 UAE Dirhams this week, it is priced at ₹26,999 ($372) in India and will go on sale on Amazon.in and top offline retailers.

4 reasons why HMD Global is a spiritual successor to Nokia, not just a brand licensee

Nokia 7.1 back of both colors

This week marks the second anniversary of the Nokia name’s return to smartphones under HMD Global. We’ve seen a slew of smartphones from HMD since then, ranging from entry-level devices to high-powered flagships.

It’s easy to dismiss HMD Global as a mere pretender and brand licensee. After all, it’s not the real Nokia, right? Here’s why the company should be seen as a proper spiritual successor to Nokia.

A ton of former Nokia employees

HMD Global CEO Florian Seiche.

HMD Global CEO Florian Seiche

One thing you might not know about HMD Global is many of its executives were actually former Nokia employees. Whether it’s current CEO Florian Seiche (a former Nokia Europe executive) or the company’s design directors, there are loads of HMD people with “Nokia” on their resumes.

Heck, it even surprised me when the regional PR people were employees I had previously known when they were at Nokia. Of course, the presence of a large number of former Nokia employees doesn’t guarantee anything. However, there are people at the company who get why consumers bought Nokia phones in the first place.

Nokia design DNA

The back of the Nokia 8 Sirocco.

One of Nokia’s trademarks was its durable and premium designs, and HMD has certainly delivered here. You need only take a look at the Nokia 8 Sirocco to see some Nokia DNA, but even the firm’s low-end devices maintain that philosophy. It’s hardly a surprise, given how some senior Nokia designers work at HMD, but it’s welcome to see anyway.

The company also issued two retro reboots in the Nokia 3310 and Nokia 8110, and it’s tough to argue that they don’t look like something the “real” Nokia would’ve done today. (Now, about those ridiculous prices.)

The Nokia camera experience

If there was one unique selling point for Nokia Lumia phones, it was the camera experience. Back then, Nokia had been teaming up with Carl Zeiss in order to deliver better camera lenses. The firm also offered features like refocusing and cinemagraphs before most other OEMs picked up these features.

Editor’s Pick

Arguably the most influential addition has to be the inclusion of a Pro Camera mode in Lumia phones. This delivered manual adjustments (ISO, shutter speed) before Android supported it. It was all packaged in a very intuitive wheel-based menu.

We’ve seen LG adopt a similar UI for its manual mode in the years that followed, but HMD Global went the whole hog and acquired the patents for the UI last year. Now all Zeiss-equipped HMD Nokia phones have the same Pro Camera UI seen on older Nokia devices.

A focus on audio recording

The front of the Nokia 8.

The Finnish company’s phones, like the Lumia 1520 and Nokia 808, were audio recording beasts. This was due to the multiple high-quality microphones in each phone that delivered solid, distortion-free sound at a time when rival phones struggled with loud audio.

The Nokia 8 shows HMD Global hasn’t forgotten about audio capabilities, featuring three microphones and Nokia’s OZO recording tech for 360-degree surround sound recording. This audio setup has also landed on devices like the Nokia 7 Plus and Nokia 8 Sirocco, giving you better audio recording in theory than many rival devices.

What more could HMD do?

Nokia 7.1 holding and showing front of phone

HMD Global has focused on the design and camera performance of its devices, showing it understands what made Nokia a popular choice in the first place. The company’s job isn’t done yet, though.

For starters, we know the Finnish company obtained the Pureview name from Microsoft and Nokia earlier this year, suggesting more camera improvements are afoot (although Pureview was a brand name used for Nokia phones rather than a specific technology).

We also have to wonder when we’ll see a device truly manage to combine the best of Nokia and HMD. The Nokia 8 Sirocco demonstrated the firm’s design chops, but we thought the camera experience should’ve been better for the price. HMD has a ways to go to truly succeed Nokia and challenge the likes of Google, Samsung, Huawei, and Apple’s cameras.

Hopefully that oft-rumored penta-lens smartphone isn’t just a gimmick.

NEXT: The best Nokia you can buy

Nokia 7.1 now receiving Android Pie says HMD Global

Nokia 7.1 back glass on window

  • HMD Global is rolling out Android Pie to the Nokia 7.1.
  • The rollout won’t land in all regions simultaneously and may take some weeks to complete.

HMD Global Chief Product Officer Juho Sarvikas has announced the Android Pie rollout to the Nokia 7.1. Sarvikas mentioned the rollout in a tweet from his personal Twitter account earlier today.

The tweet was accompanied by a short video, though it only gave us a single image of the new software to look at. Sarvikas followed up on this to note that, as always, the rollout would occur in stages; some markets may take longer to receive it than others.

Android Pie introduces gesture controls (you can see the new pill-shaped icon at the bottom of the handset in the video), Adaptive Brightness and Adaptive Battery modes, and more. You can read more about it in our full Android 9.0 review.

Sarvikas didn’t deliver any other details about the specific Nokia 7.1 update, but did respond to one comment regarding HMD’s 2017 lineup to say the update would be rolled out “as fast as possible.”

Check your Nokia 7.1’s update page from today to see if it’s ready to receive the upgrade.