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Nokia 8.1
Tests

Published:
By: Jolanta Szczepaniak

If it had a lower price it would have been a hit

Nokia 8.1 is a smartphone worthy of our attention under many aspects. It has a great display, a high quality of construction, new Android in the pure version and it offers great lifespans. If it only had been more reasonably priced…

Nokia 8.1
Nokia 8.1
photo: Jolanta Szczepaniak/GSMchoice.com

Nokia 8.1 is the last middle-shelf proposition from the HMD Global company. This is not one of the versions of Nokia 8 or Nokia 8 Sirocco, but it is rather a successor to the Nokia 7.1 or 7 Plus models. This is an attractive smartphone with a camera signed by Zeiss, with a modern looks, glass backs and efficient enough for everyday activities. And I would not have any major concerns towards it if it was not for the price. Nokia 8.1 is offered for 399 euro. And for this price we can find more efficient models or ones with better capabilities.


Contents



Packaging and accessories

The set, with which I received the smartphone, covers a colourful box in which we can find a 5V/3A; 9V/2A; 12V/1,5A charger, USB-USB-C cable and earphones with a remote for answering calls with replaceable plugs. There is a paper manual and a needle for opening the tray for SIM/microSD cards as well.


Housing and display

The smartphone is composed out of two glass panels connected with a metal framed arced on edges and milled. This design distinguishes Nokia 8.1 from other smartphones with Android on the market. The housing has a deep, blue colour (Navy). It looks elegant and is perfected in the slightest details – but the glass panels attract all kinds of dirt and make the smartphone slide on every not entirely flat surface. The housing has 155 x 76 millimetres, the thickness of the housing on edges is 8 mm and the whole weighs 178 grams. The ergonomics of the phone is great as well. It lies in hands comfortably, lock and volume control buttons on the right edge are easily accessible, while the index finger hits exactly the fingerprint scanner at the back of the device. 8.1 does not boast with an IP certificate, so the smartphone is neither dust- nor waterproof.


The display is big (6.18 inches diagonal), bright and it has a high contrast. Its ratio is 18.7:9, and the whole display takes around 82% of the front panel. It does not give way to more expensive smartphones from the competition when it comes to the quality, it supports HDR10 and it has an appropriate resolution – 2280 x 1080 pixels (pixels density on the level of 402 ppi). What is more, we can change the colours mode in settings in order to adjust the image to our own preferences. There is the night time mode as well. The contrast and the black level deserve a commendation as well – thanks to this the darkened area around the notch cannot be distinguished from the housing.

Yes, even though you cannot see it, Nokia 8.1 has a notch. In default it is hidden - and the software does not allow us to uncover it. Usually the notch configuration can be found in Settings in the Display tab, or sometimes it can be hidden a bit deeper, in programming options (Full bezel setting). In Nokia 8.1 we cannot find it in any of these places, and in order to uncover the darkened area we need to use an external software. From Internet sources this is only in the European Nokia 8.1 model distribution and it is because of patents issues – in models designed for other markets (let us remind that in China Nokia 8.1 is the X7 model) the notch options are available. It is good that the symmetry of the display is not disturbed by the notch, but I will complain about something else – arced corners of the display. They are much rounder near the lower edge than in the upper one.

Above the display there is the notch, in which we can find the front camera, speaker for calls and sensors. On the lower frame there is the manufacturer’s logo. The front panel is supposedly protected by NEG (Nippon Electric Glass), that is the Japanese competition of the Corning company (source). This is an important information for those wearing glasses with polarizing filters – in the vertical orientation the image is strongly dimmed, while in the horizontal we can use it without any problems.


Backs of the phone are made out of glass, which comes with a typical set of advantages and disadvantages. Its advantages are mainly attractive looks and a feeling that we are holding a higher-shelf device. Its disadvantages are mostly a low resistance to physical damage (glass does not deal that well with falls), it instantly catches dirt and fingerprints and it slides on not entirely flat surfaces. Unfortunately, the manufacturer does not add a cover, which would not only eliminate the problem with the camera that stands out, but it would help to keep the phone clean as well.

On the back of the device we can find the centrally placed dual camera, located on a module that stands a lot above the housing, there is a dual-tone LED flash as well. Slightly lower we can see the round fingerprint scanner and the manufacturer’s logo. In the lower part there are markings, the Android One logo and certificates.

The fingerprint scanner’s work is fast and precise – I had no problems with unlocking the device this way. This solution supports the second biometric security – facial recognition.


On the upper edge there is the 3.5mm minijack and the speaker’s hole, while on the lower one there is the external speaker, microphone’s hole and the USB-C socket. On the left side we will find a tray for SIM and microSD cards – this is a hybrid solution, in which we can either mount two nanoSIM cards or a one SIM card and a memory drive. On the left edge the manufacturer has placed the lock and volume control buttons. They are placed only a bit higher than the housing, which sometimes makes it difficult to find them without looking.


And to sum up a few words about its durability. I have carried the phone loose in my pocket or in my purse and glass panels were not damaged at all, but I have noticed some scratches on the metal, milled surface part of the frame.

System and applications

Nokia 8.1 belongs to the Android One program. In other words, the manufacturer promises up to date software for at least three years, including security updates every month and the next and another version of Android. In the review model we have Android 9 Pie and security updates from the February 1st 2019. The whole works fast, smooth, without lags, distortions or errors. The hidden notch does not influence the usage device at all – those, who do not like it will be pleased. It is worth noting that the wide notch prevents from showing all notifications. Next to the hour we can see only one icon, and if there or more notifications, we can see a small dot. On the right side of the notch there are icons of mobile and wireless networks and the sound profile settings.


The review device has the pure Android and the set of apps from Google (including Google Pay), though some soft was added by Nokia, for example gesture support or the camera app. I do especially like controlling the interface with gestures – by swiping our finger from the bottom we can see the last used app screen and shortcuts to apps, swiping it for a longer time will review the apps menu. The smartphone does not have a notifications LED, instead of that there is a function called “Ambient display”. It means that when we will receive a notification, the display will lit up for a moment. There are functions connected with the fact that the smartphone works under Pie – a digital balance or the possibility to change the theme to a dark one.

According to information from the DRM Info app, Nokia 8.1 offers support to Widevine L1, which means that we can watch HD videos in services like Netflix. On the shortcuts bar we can find options like Wind down, Nigh light mode or an option that moves to the internal memory view in the Google Files app, but there is no NFC switch. And basically we cannot say anything else about the work of the soft, because every smartphone with pure Android offers basically the same.


Sound

The single speaker placed at the lower edge is responsible for playing sounds, and it is incredibly easy to cover it by holding the phone in a horizontal position. It offers a rather good sound when it comes to the quality and loudness, though in its price segment it does not distinguish itself with anything in particular. It will be enough for watching movies and series, for gaming and occasional listening to music. And we can always use our favourite earphones thanks to the presence of the 3.5mm minijack. The presence of an FM radio is an advantage as well – for playing music we use the Play Music app.


It is worth adding a few words about Nokia Ozo sound recording system. It uses two microphones in the smartphone and it ensures not only great results of recording, but it efficiently deals with reducing noises from the surrounding, like while making calls.

Photos and video

Nokia 8.1 has a dual camera. The basic camera has Sony MX363 sensor and a 12-megapixel f/1.8 lens and an optical zoom and the electronic image stabilization. It is supported by a 13-megapixel secondary camera responsible for measuring depth. The optics of two lenses at the back of the housing is signed by the Zeiss company. The disadvantage is the fact that the camera stand above the housing a bit.

The work of the duet mentioned above translates into a decent quality of photos in the daylight and with good lighting – we can only see some flaws like smudged edges when we will zoom in some parts of the photo, while viewing them on a large monitor. Effects of its work can be seen below. There are some disadvantages as well. The camera works poorly when photographing moving objects, like animals – they are often blurred. In weak lighting photos are even less convincing, they are blurred with visible noises. And with the quality of night time photos we can clearly see how far away the phone is from the highest shelf’s smartphones. To sum up – the camera takes good photos in its price range, but it lacks something extra, that would distinguish it from its competition, like a night time mode, wide-angle camera or a mode that would enable taking macro shots.

Here are photography results:


It is worth mentioning about the camera app, which basically offers everything that is needed – there is HDR in the auto mode (though in order to reach it, we must tap our way through settings), there are a few work modes – but there is no sense in looking for a night time mode, we can change the photos and videos resolution for the main and the front camera, there is a scene recognition function as well. The camera works with Google Lens in order to recognize objects.


The front camera has a high resolution (20 megapixels) and it offers photos that are good, but not impressive – sometimes their level of details can be debatable, and often we can see artificial focusing. There is a beautifying mode as well.


When it comes to video recording Nokia does its job. We can record in 720p, FullHD and UHD 4K. Let us add that there is bothie, that is a tool in which we can record both from the front and the main camera at the same time. The video can be streamed to YouTube and Facebook straight from the camera app. And here you can see video recordings:

Nokia 8.1 - sample videos (1080p)
video: GSMchoice.com, via YouTube

Communication

There is the X15 modem placed in the smartphone (within the Snapdragon 710 unit), which is why the smartphone supports LTE cat. 6, VoLTE, VoWiFi, Wi-Fi in the 802.11ac standard in 2.4 and 5GHz channels and Bluetooth 5.0. Besides, the smartphone offers NFC, dual SIM usage, ably working navigation that supports GPS, GLONASS and Beidou systems, while from physical sockets we have USB type C and the minijack.

Voice calls

Voice calls and the loudness of the speaker are decent, I had no problems with the quality of calls. Interlocutors heard me loud and clear, even when the call was taken in a loud surrounding. The dual SIM support and choosing the default card for particular activity – a call, text or data transfer – are chosen in an appropriate tab in Settings. Unfortunately, there is no built-in function for recording calls.


Memory and efficiency

With 64GB of internal memory, in practice the user is left with slightly more than 50GB. It is worth remembering that in one of the slots for SIM cards we can place a microSD card – drives of up to 400GB capacity are supported.

The device is powered by octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 with a 2.2GHz clock, supported by Adreno 616 GPU. This model has 4GB of RAM. And this is a good, middle-shelf configuration, which is basically enough for all appliances. Apps open without lags or delays, the smartphone deals with many apps working in the background, it deals with games and more demanding programs. Snapdragon 710 in this model was a good choice.


Battery

Nokia 8.1 is equipped with a 3500 mAh battery. According to the manufacturer it is supposed to translate into 24 days in the standby mode, 22 hours of calls, 15 hours of playing MP3 or 11 of playing videos. By checking the lifespan with the display on, the smartphone achieved over 13 hours, which looks good for all other lifespans. 1.5 or 2 days of work are totally achievable with an intensive usage. There is an “Adaptive Battery” function, which is supposed to “learn” the users behaviour and is supposed to provide better lifespans with time.

Charging the battery fully takes around 100 minutes. By starting the charging from 0% after 15 minutes the charge level shows 24%, after 30 minutes – almost 50%. After an hour there is 80%. We need another 30-40 minutes so that the cell can achieve 100%. The smartphone does not support a wireless charging.

  • lifespan with the display on (YouTube, 1 SIM card, active Wi-Fi module, 50% screen brightness, muted sound) – 13 hours and 23 minutes,
  • an hour of video streaming (Chrome, 1 SIM card, active Wi-Fi module, 50% of screen brightness) - 7% of battery lost,
  • an hour of streaming videos from the phone’s memory (airplane mode, 50% screen brightness) - 5%,
  • half an hour of using online navigation - 6%,
  • half an hour of playing Real Racing 3 - 7%,
  • PC Mark battery test results – 11 hours and 58 minutes,
  • 8 hours in the standby mode - 3%.


Summary

Nokia 8.1 distinguishes itself mainly with aesthetics of the housing and the quality of construction. This is a solidly made smartphone, its glass panels and milled metal frame add to its elegance. Great display and good lifespans on a single charge along with quick charging the battery deserve a commendation. But in this price range it has a strong competition – and there is no problem with finding models that have better efficiency, better cameras and a better capabilities to price ratio, like PocoPhone F1, LG G7 ThinQ, Honor 10, and even the strongest Xiaomi flagship, Mi 9.

Advantages and disadvantages

Advantages:

  • dual SIM support
  • display’s parameters and HDR10 support
  • pure Android in the 9 Pie version
  • Android One
  • camera with Zeiss optics
  • elegant looks and the quality of construction
  • fast and accurate fingerprint scanner
  • minijack
  • Nokia OZO sound recording technology
  • good lifespans
  • quick charger in the set
  • current updates with a promise of 3-year updates
  • NFC and Google Pay

Disadvantages

  • notch that cannot be shown (though it can be an advantage as well)
  • slick housing which gets dirty easily
  • lack of notifications LED
  • camera module stands above the housing
  • housing is neither dust- nor waterproof
  • photos in weaker lighting
  • lack of wireless charging
  • high price

Source: GSMchoice.com; viewed: 283 times.


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By: Jolanta Szczepaniak

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