Hands on: Nokia 7.1 review

A mid-range phone with a beautiful screen

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The highlight of the Nokia 7.1 is the updated display technology, and with minor but useful improvements to the design and camera this may be one of the best affordable phones of the year.

For

  • Impressive new screen tech
  • Premium feel design for price
  • Good specs for the price

Against

HMD Global has been making Nokia phones for over a year now – it licenses the name for the devices – and the latest addition to its burgeoning line of devices is the mid-range Nokia 7.1.

The new device has an affordable price point that doesn't reach the same levels as the Nokia 8, but it still sports some impressive tech inside and out.

We've had time to play around with the new Nokia 7.1 at the launch event in London, so read on to find out what we think of the new handset so far.

Watch our hands-on with the Nokia 7.1 below:

Nokia 7.1 release date and price

You'll be able to buy the Nokia 7.1 from October 18 in some markets, including countries around Europe, the UK and the Middle East. 

It will also arrive in the US, but an exact release date for there, and elsewhere in the world, is still unclear.

The Nokia 7.1 price is £299 in the UK, where it'll be available from EE, Vodafone and Carphone Warehouse. Pricing and availability for the rest of the world is currently unknown.

Nokia 7.1

Design and display

HMD Global has put a big focus on the design of this phone. It's clear that it wants to make a device that looks premium in the hand, but doesn't cost the same as its top-end phones like the Nokia 8 Sirocco.

The Nokia 7.1 feels more premium than the Nokia 6.1 (2018) and the Nokia 7 Plus, and that's down to its contrasting metallic finish and diamond-cut colored edges.  

There's an easy to reach fingerprint scanner on the rear too, while the power and volume keys on the right are well placed. There's also a headphone jack on the top edge, with the USB-C port on its base.

You can buy it in either Midnight Blue or Gloss Steel, and the design is lovely – but the big upgrade for this phone comes when you get a load of the display.

Nokia 7.1

It's a 5.84-inch 19:9 aspect ratio IPS display with a FHD+ resolution. That's 1080 x 2280, so a little above Full HD – the resolution has to be a bit higher as it's a longer display.

This looks similar to a lot of other modern smartphones at first glance, with a relatively average-sized notch at the top of the display and a thick lip along the bottom of the phone.

While the screen may not sound fantastic on paper, it has a few tricks up its sleeve that makes it seem – at least in our initial testing – to be one of the best displays on a mid-range phone at the moment.

It's the company's first display tech with HDR10 support, so any content being watched in HDR will look fantastic, and it's able to upscale your normal SDR video to HDR in real time too.

The display also comes with technology similar to that on Apple's iPhones, which automatically adjusts brightness and contrast to give you the best picture quality depending on the ambient lighting conditions.

We've yet to have the opportunity to test this out fully, but it's an interesting feature, and we're looking forward to seeing how it performs when we carry out our full Nokia 7.1 review.

Nokia 7.1

Specs and performance

The Nokia 7.1 is running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chipset, which performed acceptably inside the Asus Zenfone 5 when we tried it earlier this year.

You've got the choice of 3GB or 4GB of RAM onboard, and both should be capable of running your favorite apps, although you may find it's a little slower than what you're used to if you're switching from a more high-end phone.

For storage, you've got the choice of 32GB with 3GB of RAM or 64GB with the 4GB, and if you're planning to download a lot of apps, games, movies and music we'd recommend going for the larger version.

There is microSD support on most variants of the phone, but that's only in some markets, and it's currently unclear what size cards the phone will be able to take.

In our limited testing we've found the phone to be snappy under the finger. It's not going to blow your mind in terms of the power on tap, but if you're looking for a phone that's capable, but not stunning, this will suit you nicely.

Battery and OS

Powering the Nokia 7.1 is a 3060mAh battery, which doesn't sound great on paper – we'll be keeping a close eye on battery performance during our full review process.

There's a USB-C port on the bottom of the phone for recharging, and it'll be capable of fast charging, with HMD Global saying the phone will be able to charge from 0 to 50% in 30 minutes; there's no wireless charging however.

Software-wise, the Nokia 7.1 is signed up to the Android One standard, which essentially means it's running stock Android software, so you won't get anything on the device that Google hasn't intended to include.

At launch it's running Android 8.1 Oreo, which isn't the latest software from Google, but HMD Global says an update to the latest Android 9 Pie OS will arrive before the end of October this year.

Camera

Nokia 7.1

On the rear of the phone is a dual-camera setup. The primary shooter has an f/1.8 lens and a 12MP sensor, which sports larger pixels than those in a lot of other mid-range smartphones at 1.28um, which in turn improves the sensor's light-gathering capabilities – HMD Global claims this phone will be better at low-light photography than the devices that have gone before it.

That's paired with a 5MP sensor, but this is just used for depth sensing for bokeh (background blur) effects in portraits and a few other features. 

There's a 'Bothie' mode on this phone, which allows you to use the front and back cameras at the same time, and for the first time on a Nokia phone you can now record and stream video from both the front and back of the phone simultaneously.

We had a brief play with the camera in the dimly lit demo area at the Nokia 7.1 launch event, and we were impressed by its performance, with it managing to capture an impressive level of detail in the poorly lit environment.

Early verdict

The Nokia 7.1 is a well-built, premium-feeling, solid smartphone, with enough going on under the hood to make it a highly appealing option at this price point.

The camera seems to be strong based on our brief testing, and there's enough power inside the Nokia 7.1 to keep Android ticking over smoothly. This is certainly a phone to watch – it could be one of the best mid-range smartphones of the year.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.