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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Nokia 8.1 review: HMD Global’s new phone offers premium design, impressive performance

Priced at Rs 26,999, Nokia 8.1 offers stock Android Pie and powerful Snapdragon 710 processor. Check out our full review of Nokia 8.1.

tech Updated: Dec 25, 2018 17:28 IST
Kul Bhushan
Kul Bhushan
Hindustan Times
Is Nokia 8.1 the flagship killer, killer? Read our review.
Is Nokia 8.1 the flagship killer, killer? Read our review.(HT Photo)

Brand name: HMD Global
Product: Nokia 8.1
Key specs: Full HD+ 6.18-inch PureDisplay, Snapdragon 710, 4GB of RAM, 12-megapixel and 13-megapixel cameras with ZEISS optics,20-megapixel selfie camera, 3,500mAh battery, Android Pie (Android One)
Price: Rs 26,999
Rating: 3.5/5 


With the budget and premium segments grabbing all the limelight, smartphone companies are no longer focusing on the Rs 20,000-Rs 30,000 segment. A quick Google search for this category will show a disappointing result with lists featuring several old-generation phones and very few new ones.

Fortunately, the likes of Xiaomi (Poco F1) and Motorola (Moto X4) have kept the segment alive. HMD Global is also trying to tap this forgotten segment with its new Nokia 8.1. Unlike power users-focused Poco F1, Nokia 8.1 bets big on design and near stock Android experience.

Priced at Rs 26,999, Nokia 8.1 is the spiritual successor to Nokia 7 Plus, the popular mid-range smartphone in India. HMD Global also offers a premium Nokia 8 Sirocco but the phone and its specifications feels slightly dated right now.

Nokia 8.1: Design
Since its debut, HMD Global has given a high importance to the design, be it entry-level phones or the premium ones. Nokia 8.1 is another beautifully designed phone from HMD Global. Featuring a glass-metal-glass combination, Nokia 8.1 is noticeably different from the rest of the metal body phones which have flooded the market. The shiny metal frame on the sides adds to the premium look and design.

The back features a vertically aligned dual-camera setup with a metallic rim around it. The camera module is followed by a fingerprint sensor which sits flat on the panel. While the Nokia 8.1 looks quite good and feels premium, design isn’t perfect. As is case with several glass back phones, Nokia 8.1 glass is vulnerable to smudges and dents – making it a high maintenance phone. Perhaps this is a big trade off most of the glass phones have to make in order to deliver a better or contemporary design.

Despite a large 6.18-inch display (edge-to-edge) on the front, Nokia 8.1 feels almost same size as OnePlus 6T or Xiaomi Mi A2. If you’ve used big-screen phones or have larger palms, you won’t find it difficult to get accustomed to Nokia 8.1’s form factor. Volume and power buttons on the right edge are well within the reach. Fingerprint sensor on the back is also easily accessible. Nokia 8.1 feels compact and light enough. 

Nokia 8.1: Camera
Nokia 8.1 comes with a dual-rear camera setup which consists of 12-megapixel and 13-megapixel sensors with ZEISS optics and Optical Image Stablisation (OIS). The smartphone delivers near-excellent performance in daylight condition. Colour levels and contrast ratio are quite impressive, even in the default mode. There’s a Pro mode as well if you want to further customise the performance.

Notice the brighter colours and well optimised brightness levels (image resized for web)
Notice the brighter colours and well optimised brightness levels (image resized for web) ( HT Photo )

Two major takeaways from Nokia 8.1’s camera are super-fast image processing and excellent depth mode. If you love taking portrait shots, Nokia 8.1 is going to be a delightful experience. Even macro shots from Nokia 8.1 are quite impressive.

Depth mode on Nokia 8.1 is impressive  (image resized for web)
Depth mode on Nokia 8.1 is impressive (image resized for web) ( HT Photo/Kul Bhushan )

Nokia 8.1’s camera, however, needs to do much better in lowlight conditions. While it does a fine job in lowlight but it’s little inconsistent. There’s a bit of extra smudging of lowlight photos. HDR mode in such challenging light conditions also needs improvement.

HDR mode for lowlight photography could have been much better (image resized for web)
HDR mode for lowlight photography could have been much better (image resized for web) ( HT Photo )

Nokia 8.1: Software, performance
Just like several other Nokia phones, HMD Global’s latest phone is based on Google’s Android One programme. Google’s platform ensures Nokia 8.1 users are guaranteed to receive regular security updates and two years of software upgrades. Software wise, Nokia 8.1 offers a buttery interface. With near vanilla Android experience, there’s not much of customisation, which keeps the software featherweight.

While we had no qualms with the software, Nokia 8.1 does not disappoint you in terms of performance as well. Powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 chipset with 4GB of RAM, Nokia 8.1 can graphic-intensive applications and games such as PUBG Mobile and Real Racing. However, we will recommend readers not to expect Poco F1-level optimisation for gaming and power-draining applications. Nokia 8.1 does heat up after long sessions of gaming, though.

Adding to the overall performance is 3,500mAh battery which easily lasts more than a day. This covers 4-5 hours of browsing, lots of multimedia streaming, and small sessions of camera and gaming. If you’re a power user, Nokia 8.1 should see you a day. It also features Android Pie’s Adaptive Battery which is quite effective for battery management. We’ve seen battery life significantly get better on Motorola One Power after the Pie update. The Motorola phone, however, already has a large 5,000mAh battery.

At Rs 26,999, Nokia 8.1 does not have a lot of competition. There’s Poco F1 with superior Snapdragon 845 processor but the Xiaomi phone has cut too many corners to keep the prices low. Nokia 8.1 looks good and delivers near excellent performance. If you don’t have a budget for OnePlus 6T and don’t want to settle with a budget phone, Nokia 8.1 is worth investing.