Following in the footsteps of the Nokia 7.1, HMD Global has released a successor to shake up the mid-range market. The Nokia 8.1 is just that. This is not, however, a true successor to last year’s flagship, the Nokia 8. Are you still with me?
- Much-improved performance
- Great selfie camera
- 3,500 mAH battery
- Ships with Android 9 Pie
- No wireless charging
- Still no IP rating
- No LED notification
Nokia 8.1 release date and price
The Nokia 8.1 is as the name suggest, an incremental upgrade on 2017’s Nokia 8 and not a full successor. The Nokia 8 was a true flagship, whilst this is more of a luxury mid-ranger. Still, naming confusions aside, let’s get into it.
The Nokia 8.1 was announced late in 2018 and is available now. UK customers will have to pay £379.99 (around $485) for the base model, which comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. There is no word on a US release yet, but HMD Global has announced a partnership with Verizon to bring its phones to America.
A premium feel for the price
Those who are familiar with the Nokia 7.1, launched in October 2018, will notice the similarities here. The 8.1 is a little larger than last year’s mid-ranger, yet it is not large enough to make it unmanageable .
I am usually partial to smaller smartphones. In fact, when I was finished reviewing the Honor 8X last year, which features a 6.5-inch display, I couldn’t wait to switch back to something smaller. The Nokia 8.1, however, wears its 6.18-inch display with more style. You’re stuck with that branded bottom bezel, though.
Picking up the phone, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was more expensive. As is typical with these HMD Nokias, the finish is premium. An aluminum frame is sandwiched by glass on the front and back. Curved edges and a reassuring weightiness (180 g) give this phone a well-made feel. There’s no IP certification against damage from water or dust, though, and there is still no LED notification feature.
The fingerprint scanner is on the back, in the middle. On the bottom is your USB-C port for charging, the speaker and microphone. There is a power button and volume rocker on the right-hand side and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. There is a slot for a nanoSIM and microSD card. Nothing to either get excited nor complain about.
The PureDisplay is still no AMOLED
The 8.1 sports a 6.18 inch 18.7:9 (420ppi) FHD+ display that Nokia is calling its PureDisplay. It’s still LCD, but it sure is pretty. It’s not quite as bright and saturated as an AMOLED panel, but it’s not far off.
The PureDisplay can be customized to one of four pre-set configurations: Dynamic - which automatically adjusts color, contrast, and brightness according to your usage, Vivid, Cinema and Basic. Cinema looks similar to a night mode, which filters out the blue light, whilst Vivid does the opposite and accentuates blue light. Basic is, well, basic. Dynamic worked best for me.
The notch was turned off by default, which you can change via Android Pie’s Developer Settings. Have it on or off, whatever you prefer. It’s a great display either way, especially for this price point.
Pie, straight out of the box
The Nokia 8.1 is part of the Android One series, meaning you get stock Android 9.0 Pie software straight out of the box. It’s the first Nokia to launch with Pie. There’s no bloatware and you’ll get that new gesture navigation system as default, as well as other Pie features such as Digital Wellbeing and App Actions.
I have to say, after using Huawei EMUI phones for the past six months or so, Android One is a refreshing change of pace. It’s lightning fast on the (admittedly brand new) Nokia 8.1 despite the fact that this phone is packing a Snapdragon 710 rather than one of Qualcomm’s more powerful chipsets. Having Android Pie out of the box is a win for Nokia, especially when you consider that there are still phones, some more expensive than this, coming out with Android 8.1 Oreo.
Much improved performance
I am not exactly what you would call a 'power user’. The only social media app I have is WhatsApp, and I don’t take a huge amount of photos with my smartphone. Yet, I have Spotify or PocketCasts running constantly when I am not at home or in the office. On weekends I also have an unhealthy obsession for refreshing my football scores app constantly. The Nokia 8.1 can service a user like me without breaking a sweat.
The performance was a major issue on the Nokia 7.1, which housed a Snapdragon 636 processor. The upgrade in this department is a welcome one. You can see the difference in the benchmarks, which are dramatically improved .
Nokia 8.1 benchmarks
|3DMark Sling Shot Extreme||3DMark Sling Shot ES 3.0||3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited ES 2.0||Geekbench 4 (Single/Multi)||PassMark Memory||PassMark Disk|
|OnePlus 6T||4702||6388||64 753||2.396/8981||12364||75065|
In terms of sound quality, there’s nothing to blow you away. Typical mid-range phone sound. I never use in-built speakers these days, however, unless I have too.
Mid-range mediocrity, except for selfies
Like the Nokia 8 flagship from early 2018, and the Nokia 7.1 from later in the year, the Nokia 8.1 uses a dual rear camera bearing the Zeiss logo - the German manufacturer of high-end photo lenses. This one is a dual 12MP /13 MP, which now features OIS.
There is also Advanced AI imaging which can detect different scenes and apply optical parameters based on what you are shooting. On paper, a nice dual rear camera, then. In reality, the AI feature is a little disappointing. It’s often too frantic, too flustered to really make a difference.
The selfie camera is more impressive. The 20MP sensor is more in line with what you’d expect to find on a flagship smartphone these days. There's also some added pixel binning technology, which aids with low light situations.
Nokia has included a Dual-Sight feature to make the most of this lens as well. It allows you to take a picture with both the rear and selfie camera at the same time , with live pictures from each before you hit the shutter button. The ratio between rear and front-facing shots can also be adjusted by dragging the slider. Can’t decide between that awesome view or the selfie? Now you don't have too.
Video recording in 720p, Full HD and UHD 4K is supported.
A bigger battery
Battery life is certainly one of the highlights of this mid-range performer. With a 3,500mAh battery, even the most addicted smartphone users will get a full day out of it. Me, on the other hand, was getting an average of more than two days of use out of a full charge.
The built-in automatic brightness will save you valuable juice, but to be honest, with my typical usage and the size of the battery, I found it more convenient to just leave the brightness on about 40%, which was more than enough to see outdoors in the middle of the day. Note: February in Berlin is quite dark and grey… this may be less practical depending on where you live.
The phone also supports 18W quick charging and HMD has been kind enough to include the relevant charger in the box. There’s no wireless charging, however.
Nokia 8.1 technical specifications
The Nokia 8.1 is a classy mid-range smartphone that feels more premium in the hand than almost every phone at this price point. The Android One software is a big bonus for this device, and for fans of stock Android looking for the Pie experience, it will be a hit. The rear camera is a bit meh, but the selfie lens is superb.
Despite its large 6.18-inch display, the Nokia 8.1 manages to remain compact enough for small phone enthusiasts like myself, and that Snapdragon 710 processor is more than capable of matching phones with more horsepower in daily usage. Job done, in my opinion.