Review | Nokia 8.1 smartphone

While the Nokia 8 was a flagship product, the Nokia 8.1 is an interestingly positioned device, priced at the upper-midrange but continuing to carry its flagship-class styling. With solid specs and Zeiss optics, GSM Arena called it the best mid-range phone of 2018.  Though it only reached the Philippines several months later, let’s put it through its paces and see how it performs.  

Design and Ergonomics

The construction of the Nokia 8.1 is solid, and when held in the hand it feels premium and sophisticated. The design ethos among the Nokia family of phones is evident, with the aluminium frame sandwiched between two layers of glass. The color of the test unit is Iron Steel, which features a deep maroon/wine color for the rear glass and curved edges, flanking the central steel ridge.

The same steel accents are present on the rear, highlighting the dual camera module and the fingerprint sensor below it. From the moment I took it out of the box, I could tell that it was an impressively designed device.

Other reviewers have been pointing out the front camera, speaker, and sensor array design as old, and not in keeping with the new minimalistic notches, but it really is a non-factor unless you are particularly fond of more screen, especially on the sides of the notch. Does it really matter, or diminish the design or user experience in any way? Not really.

The button placement is on the right, power at the middle, with volume above it. For single-handed use, it’s a tad hard reaching the volume button unless you hold the phone higher. The placement of the fingerprint scanner on the rear though is perfect, at ideal reach from the index finger. The SIM tray is on the left, with the Type-C USB port, speaker, and mic at the bottom.

The screen is a 6.18-inch full HD 1080p display. The IPS screen features HDR 10, allowing for good colors with some noticeable pop. The device is wider than some others on the market, which adds nicely to the viewing experience.

Specs and Performance

The Qualcomm SDM710 octa-core, with its Kryo 360 cores and Adreno 616 GPU seems to be the current pick of most midrange smartphones including the Nokia 8.1, thanks to its efficiency and strong performance.

Coupled with 6GB of memory, this device makes for a snappy everyday user experience. Internal storage is 128GB, expandable via microSD card. Also available is a 4GB/64GB variant.

As with other phones using the same hardware, the device performs well, games flawlessly, and stays cool even under heavy load with much multi-tasking.

Battery and Charging

The included battery has a capacity of 3500 mAh and features 18W fast-charging with the included charger. With moderate use, getting through the day is a breeze. On very light use, getting past two days is possible. Fast-charge though featured isn’t the fastest, taking a little over 100 minutes to fully charge from empty.

Below is the charge matrix, starting from fully drained or 0%.

  • 10 minutes – 14%
  • 15 minutes – 22%
  • 30 minutes – 43%
  • 45 minutes – 62%
  • 60 minutes – 78%
  • 90 minutes – 96%
  • 100 minutes – 99%
  • 105 minutes – 100%

Software and User Experience

Nokia is known for its Android One experience, which means a clean stock Android 9 Pie install, free of any bloatware. In fact, the number of preinstalled apps are so minimal, that the app folder at first use doesn’t even fill one screen. That alone is quite impressive, not to mention the prompt updates in-line with Google Android patch releases.

On first use the device had only 16.44 GB of its 128 GB storage used, leaving a little over 111 GB of space for apps, photos, and other user content. Talk about a lean, minimalist, software setup!

Camera and Optics

Nokia is known for its use of Zeiss optics, and in keeping with that trend, has dual cameras at the rear, a 12-megapixel main sensor featuring Zeiss optics and a secondary 13-megapixel depth sensor. At the front is a 20-megapixel sensor for selfies, which allows for Bokeh effects (also referred to as Portrait mode).

Results are good with detail and accurate colors. In macro shots and food photography, the colors and detail really stand out, making for some very Instagram-able pictures. The Camera software is excellent, and if you use Pro mode, it’s really well laid out. AI scene detection is available and works as expected. Low light pictures are good, but not remarkable. The extended exposure for Night-mode pictures doesn’t have on-screen progress indicators, which is a little confusing for the user, who needs to hold the device still and wait.

Comparatively speaking, it’s on par with other mid-range offerings. Take pictures side-by-side with say last year’s flagship, the Huawei P20 Pro featuring Leica optics, and the results are noticeably a step-down.

Selfies are quite impressive, with good detail and color. Beauty mode is present and does apply some softening even at the lowest setting.

Taken on Front Camera
Taken on Front Camera

Value and Competition

Given its premium look design and feel, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it costs P19,990, which is P5,000 to P6,000 more than other phones with similar specs, including the recently reviewed Realme 3 Pro. What you need to keep in mind is that you’re not paying for the best specs you can get at a given price, rather the solid build, and flagship-level of sophistication that the Nokia 8.1 affords you.

Currently on promo, when purchased on Lazada also included is a PAL travel voucher for P1,000, a Nokia VIP Card that provides priority after-sales service, and the Nokia 8110 4G mobile phone. That’s quite the bundle of freebies!

Conclusion

If you’re either a Nokia loyalist and love their well-built phones of yesteryear, or if you’re looking to get a mid-range phone that looks and feels like a flagship part, the Nokia 8.1 is for you. It’s premium design alone making it well worth it. Add to that the appeal of clean stock Android, and you have a strong case to drop some money. Other features are decent, with day to day usability being strong, thanks to the competent Snapdragon 710 SoC. Unless you’re looking for absolute value, the Nokia 8.1 is hard to pass up.

  • Model: TA-1119
  • Price: P 19,990
  • Verdict: Blurring the lines between mid-range and flagship
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