When Nokia returned to the mobile phone business, many expected it to be instantly triumphant. However, the company has faced the same challenges that others in the smartphone industry are compelled to tackle. It would, hence, suffice to say that the new Nokia isn’t the one we used to love.
That said, 2018 was the year when HMD Global (the company that holds the rights to the Nokia brand for phones) stepped up its game.
The Nokia 8.1, on this light, is a mid-range smartphone that continues HMD’s understated philosophy — premium design, reasonable prices and the pure Android experience. However, in doing so, the company will still face the question that it has always faced — are the current crop of Nokia phones providing you ‘just enough’ for what you pay, against the likes of Xiaomi’s, which routinely punch above their weight?
Where it fails
The Nokia 8.1 has an excellent design — a glass body, chamfered metallic frame and a notch at the top. But, that’s about it. The design is indeed pleasant, but so are many other smartphones that have a glass-and-metal body. Simply put, it may not be the most unique design, but Nokia’s main game is not at being very unique. There’s a caveat here, though, which we will get to in a moment.
Unlike many companies, HMD doesn’t want to play the specifications game. It doesn’t want you to ask why the company hasn’t used the most powerful chipset out there, the best camera sensor, maximum storage space and so on. That, however, shouldn’t work in the smartphone market anymore — phones like the Poco F1 easily outperform the Nokia 8.1 in terms of speed and even camera performance (in some respects) at a significantly lower price. If you can live with this factor, you would be hard pressed to name a single phone in this price range that looks as good as the Nokia 8.1.
Design aside, the Nokia 8.1 doesn’t bring great value proposition in many ways. The Snapdragon 710 processor powering this is certainly fast out of the box, but like most Android phones, you will see distinct slowdown in the phone after using it for about six months. You will see signs of that as you fill up the Nokia 8.1 to the brim. This is something a company should be able to overcome if it is delivering light but functional software, as has often been proved by OnePlus and its flagship-class phones that cost significantly lesser than ‘real’ flagships.
The Nokia 8.1 also has a camera that doesn’t really take good photos. If you’re shooting in daylight or in brightly-lit conditions, you will get photographs that are well-suited for sharing on social media. That, like many other factors about this phone, is something any almost any smartphone can do today.
In trickier conditions (such as low light or fluorescent lighting), the phone often blows out the whites, and photographs are quite noisy. Filters are likely to help, but this is not a camera that you can really depend upon. This is further amplified by the noticeable shutter lag in the camera app.
Apart from the design, the Nokia 8.1 truly excels at the display quality. The 6.09-inch, 19:9 screen has an IPS panel, but can go toe-to-toe against many, lower-end AMOLEDs in terms of colour reproduction. The 1080p display is great for watching videos, photographs and typing, screen contrast ratio is high and everything looks quite sharp. It may not match other displays spec-for-spec, but will certainly catch your attention if you see the Nokia 8.1 in a store.
Furthermore, the Nokia 8.1 is quite dependable in terms of battery life. You can easily get by a full work day on a single charge. If you are a light user, you may even pass the 14-hour mark per charge cycle.
Should you buy it?
The Nokia 8.1 should certainly be considered if your budget is between the Rs. 20,000-30,000 range. Comparatively, the Samsung Galaxy A7 has a better camera, while the Asus Zenfone 5Z is significantly faster than this device. There’s also the Vivo V11 Pro, which many would consider a better-looking phone than the Nokia 8.1.
At the end of the day, Nokia’s brand value ensures that this smartphone should remain in your consideration. However, while it does have good things about it, the Nokia 8.1 is not the best at anything.