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- Running the latest Android 9 Pie software right out of the box
- Part of the Android One program, that guarantees future updates
- Software is easy to use and lacks any bloatware
HMD Global is a part of the Android One program, which means if you get the software from Nokia it will be in the closest state to what Google intended, other than if you were to buy a Google Pixel phone.
We liked the software on the Nokia 8.1, and it’s running Android 9 Pie straight out of the box. That means you’ve got all the latest features – including Digital Wellbeing monitoring tech – right away.
You’re also guaranteed to get timely software updates from the company for the next two years and security upgrades for at least three years. HMD Global may decide to support software for the handset for even longer, but that’s up to the company.
The software is easy to use, and even if you haven’t used an Android phone before you should find this relatively intuitive compared to some other companies, many of which use heavy overlays..
There aren’t any extra Nokia-added features here, but Digital Wellbeing is a useful addition you don’t get on many other phones at the moment. It allows you to see how much you’re using your phone as well as providing a breakdown of the data, such as what apps you’ve been using and for how long.
You can then set limits for yourself so you stop using Facebook so much or keep checking your phone at various times of the day. It’s an interesting idea, and if you want to keep an eye on how much you’ve been using your device throughout a day this is the best way to do that.
Music, movies and gaming
- Bluetooth headphones and wired headsets are supported here
- Only one storage variant, but it's enough at 64GB
- Gaming performance isn't going to blow you away
The only version of the Nokia 8.1 you’ll likely be able to buy features 64GB of storage. There is a 128GB version of the phone out there in the world, but it seems to mostly be reserved for those in China.
That may mean you struggle for space, especially given 13GB of that is taken up with the system software. But considering the handset comes with support for 400GB microSD cards you’ll likely be okay in the long run.
We didn’t manage to fill that 64GB with apps and media, so you should be okay too at least for starting out, but you may want to look at a microSD card if you’re planning to store a lot on your phone.
If you’re after a powerhouse media player though that can store lots of films and music you probably won’t go for this handset.
Listening to music is an enjoyable experience, with Bluetooth headphones supported – with a solid connection throughout our testing – as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the handset that allows you to use wired headsets.
That’s almost a rarity now and certainly isn’t something you’ll get on every phone, so you should appreciate the 3.5mm headphone jack if you buy this device. There isn’t much that makes the Nokia 8.1 stand out in the music department apart from that though.
As for watching video, we liked the display enough but it isn’t incredible. If you’re not using headphones, you’ll find it a struggle to hold the Nokia 8.1 and still be able to hear the speaker. It’s a singular speaker at the bottom of the phone, and annoyingly it’s right where our hands were placed when watching video on the phone.
It’s something you’ll get used to after a while, but it’s not the most intuitive placement we’ve seen.
Games on the Nokia 8.1 perform okay, but the performance here isn’t going to blow you away. Everything we tried to play on the phone was good enough, but it didn’t offer fantastic performance like you may expect on top-end handsets.
If you’re happy to wait for some slightly slower load times you shouldn’t run away scared from the Nokia 8.1.
- Features a tried and tested Snapdragon 710 chipset with 4GB of RAM
- Apps load quickly and speedily
- Won't offer flagship performance, but it's good enough for most
This doesn’t feature a top-end chipset, but it does feature one of the next best things. It’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 chipset which we’ve seen in a variety of other mid-range phones, and it works well considering the price of this phone.
You’ll likely only be able to buy a 4GB variant of this phone, but there is a 6GB version that’s available in some markets including China. We used the 4GB one, and in day to day usage we found the phone to be powerful enough to do everything we needed.
Gaming was good enough on the handset, and apps opened speedily without any lag or delay. That’s a big bonus of the Nokia 8.1, and while it may not offer top-end speed like the Samsung Galaxy S9 or Huawei Mate 20 Pro you’ll be impressed by what it can do.
In terms of benchmarking, we found the phone to have an average score of 5,864 on Geekbench 4. That’s not the best score we’ve ever seen, but neither is it the worst. Basically, if you’re happy to wait a few extra seconds throughout your day for things to work on your device you’re not going to get annoyed with the Nokia 8.1.
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James is Managing Editor for Android Police. Previously, he was Senior Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones and the mobile space for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones and other portable gadgets. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He once fell over.