It’s been a couple of years now since HMD Global, the custodians of the Nokia mobile brand, launched here and there have been some very interesting and surprising devices since the brand came to our shores. Nokia has become a very favourite brand within the Ausdroid office.
The company has continued its push throughout late 2018 and into this new year with newer devices which have brought with them some new and high end features to the mid range and budget ends, and whilst some of these have had some varying results, it’s nonetheless piqued interest in a number of devices.
Now the company is following up with its previous Nokia 8, with the Nokia 8.1 and we wanted to see what could be different with the Nokia 8.1 and how it can handle everyday usage in a busy life.
Let’s have a look shall we…
What is the Hardware like?
Opening the box of the Nokia 8.1, first thing I noticed and felt was how premium feeling the device looked and once in the hand, this was also the same feeling and it has become a signature of the majority of Nokia branded devices and I liked it.
The Nokia 8.1 is made from a Steel frame with and all glass housing at the front and rear of the device and the attention to detail and design has always amazed me with Nokia and it again is a very signature of current Nokia branded devices.
The front of the Nokia 8.1 houses the 6.18-inch FHD display which is very bright, clear and beautiful. The display does offer 2280 x 1080 along with no polarised tech available. This makes viewing the display a bit difficult in direct sunlight when outside. In the shade the screen is quite beautiful and stunning.
There is a front facing 20MP camera, located on the left hand side of the notch which has a few settings, again will elaborate about this further in the review. There is no front facing LED, instead the camera will utilise an onscreen flash that in all honesty, wasn’t any better than a front LED flashlight.
The right hand side of the Nokia 8.1, you will find the volume rocker, with the standby/power button just below that. It would seem that these buttons are made of some form of metal (most likely aluminium and not plastic what we have seen on other Nokia devices) giving the overall premium feel and look to device we have come to expect from the company.
The left hand side of the Nokia 8.1 houses the dual SIM/MicroSD card tray.
The bottom of the device houses the USB-C 2.0 port which has been enabled for fast charge. There is also the speakers which are okay but nothing to sing praises about. The one annoyance I had is the speaker location, which is easy to cover and block sound from coming through if your watching a video or listening to music or even putting a phone call on to speaker mode.
The back of the Nokia 8.1 houses the dual cameras, along with single LED flashlight located just to the left outside the lens housing which is slightly raised at the rear which is okay, but I was worried I would smash the cameras by simply laying the phone down onto any hard surface.
There is also a rear fingerprint scanner which is located almost dead in the centre rear of the device, with the usual Nokia branding just below the scanner and further down the Android One logo.
Interestingly, the Nokia 8.1 doesn’t come with an IP water rating/protection and again I feel this is a missed opportunity, given most if not some other devices in the same price bracket do come with an IP water rating.
Whats under the hood?
The Nokia 8.1 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 CPU which is an improvement over the last year’s Nokia 8 which had an older Snapdragon 635. The Nokia 8.1 also comes with 4G RAM and 64GB onboard storage which can be extended to 500GB via microSD card.
Wi-Fi wise, the Nokia 8.1 comes with the usual Wi-Fi band, 802.11 b/g/n/ac which ensured a stable connection when connected to my home Wi-Fi set up, including the 5GHz band. Bonus is that the Nokia 8.1 comes with VoLTE activated (subject to your carrier/telco provider offering it).
The Nokia 8.1 comes with Bluetooth 5.0 which was also stable when connected to any of my Bluetooth devices both in and out of the car and around home.
Notch or to not notch – that is the question
So I this is the one area I feel HMD Global/Nokia need to possibly rethink their current strategy when it comes to the Notch design and settings.
HMD Global have disabled the notch settings within the Nokia 8.1 and this is the same of a previous Nokia device I reviewed last last year – the Nokia 5.1 Plus, where the notch settings had been disabled and HMD Global advised Ausdroid that:
“In our first two years, we have strived to put our fans first. In Australia, the Nokia 5.1 Plus comes without a notched screen because that was important to our customers.
We actively listen to feedback and our design choices will continue to be inspired by what we see and hear from the people who love our products.”
Why it has been disabled for the 8.1 whilst still clearly there is mind boggling, given this is a selling point for fans who may want or need a notch.
Whilst personally I am on the fence about the notch, it has it uses but I feel is very limited in what it can actually do or offer. I do feel the settings should be made available regardless, giving the user the decision to either have it active or not. I would implore HMD Global to rethink this strategy going forward for the Australian market so the users has that decision.
Software and pre-installed apps
The Nokia 8.1 Plus runs Android One version 9.0, with a couple of security updates coming through during the review period.
The Android One experience is buttery smooth and transitioning between apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Twitter.
Talking about pre-installed apps, like most other Nokia devices I have reviewed, there are the usual Google apps such as Gmail, Calculator, and various Play apps. In terms of Nokia/HMD Global specific apps, the Nokia 8.1 comes with Nokia support, which is a great app to use should you have any faults with your device.
Lights, Camera, Action
I mentioned that the Nokia 8.1 comes with a rear dual camera, providing both 12MP (f/1.8) and 13MP with OIS and Zeiss lens technology being used to ensure you get the snaps possible.
Rear camera pictures turned out quite good, clear with not much noise or reduction in quality but the one thing I did find frustrating was the shutter which was laggy at times. Through low light and night scenes, the camera did struggle.
The camera apps comes with Slow Motion, Hyperlapse, Time Lapse, Beautify, Bokeh features which came be used either for those instant glamorous selfies to normal everyday photos
The front facing camera offers a 20MP resolution which when using to take a few snaps for the review I did find the focus a bit tedious to deal with and on a couple of occasions frustrating depending on lighting.
There is also a bothy feature, which is known as dual picture mode. There are also some preloaded Snapchat/Facebook Messenger filter-like emoji filters which are great but are very limited to either a Bull’s face, Panda face eating bamboo, a sunflower face or what was cool, a tiger AI character face which I wish could have been used for emoji text character replies but sadly it’s not an option. Though it wasn’t able to exactly trace my mouth movements smoothly, it was still a little cool and cute – to me that is.
All up, the front facing camera is ok for those who might want to take the occasional selfies using Snapchat, Facebook Messenger or other apps like Instagram.
When I was recording or trying to take a normal picture, if the device got say a notification or text message, the vibration would generally interfere and shake the lens and the phone. I am not sure why this could be the case. I would suggest that if this does occur to you, to turn vibration off before taking pics or videos would probably be for the best.
Battery – can it last the day?
The Nokia 8.1 comes with a 3500 mAh non removable battery, which to be honest, managed a full day of usage but it wouldn’t extend much further.
Concern for battery life meant I would be scrambling to find a power bank or charge the phone up if it was taken off charge at say 7am but by 9-10pm, would have about 20-15% charge. Obviously with much less usage you could possibly get more charge to last you a bit longer.
I did try using the battery and power saving features but again even with heavy usage, there wasn’t much of an improvement battery power saving wise.
Sadly, the Nokia 8.1 seems to have missed out the ability to charge wirelessly and given this is now finally becoming a feature people are somewhat looking for in a device, I think HMD Global may have missed an extra opportunity to really help sell this device to use consumers.
However despite the lack of wireless charging, the Nokia 8.1 does utilise fast charging technology which is a positive when you’re not able to charge for long periods throughout the day or when travelling. You can fast charge the Nokia 8.1 from 0% to 100% in a either an hour and a half to 2 hours – just not in minutes.
Should I Buy One?
Honestly, I have thought long and hard about this, because I do love the Nokia 8.1.
I do feel that the Nokia 8.1 is very bland, very mid range. If this was released say a year or more ago, it may have been high end in its design and execution.
That being said, I can also see some good in the device when compared with say the Nokia 5.1 Plus or the Nokia 5 even. Certainly in material choices there are clear differences, camera is about on par if not a bit better.
If you’re after a mid range device that look like a high end phone without the price tag or after a BYO device, then the Nokia 8.1 could be a potential choice. Otherwise it might be worth looking at other Nokia devices such as the 7.1 or possibly even the Nokia 5.1 Plus for a slightly cheaper model.