Last month, HMD Global unveiled the Nokia 8.1, the company’s new value flagship smartphone.

The new Nokia 8.1 is not a successor to the Nokia 8 or Nokia 8 Sirocco in specifications, nor is it in the same market segment as those flagship smartphones. The name is confusing, but essentially, the Nokia 8.1 is the successor to the Nokia 7 Plus — a segment the company likes to call “affordable premium.” The new nomenclature paves way for the coming Nokia 9 PureView nas HMD Global’s true flagship series.

When it launched, the excellent Nokia 7 Plus was one of the best smartphones in the mid-range segment. However, the mid-range internals meant it fell off the comparison charts in the later part of 2018.

The Nokia 8.1 offers much-needed upgrades to the Nokia 7 Plus in key areas, while retaining its design ethos.

Does it manage to retain the charm while upping the ante on performance? Let’s find out in our Nokia 8.1 review.

Nokia 8.1 review: Design

Nokia 8.1

The Nokia 8.1 sports an elegant dual-tone design with a 6000-series aluminum frame and a sculpted glass body. The chrome trim, which we saw before on the Nokia 7 Plus, ups the aesthetics of the phone and the gently curved edges with ideal weight distribution make for a comfortable grip.

The Nokia 8.1 has a definite flair to it, without any outlandish design choices. The glass and metal are sandwiched tastefully.

The Nokia 8.1 has a definite flair to it, without any outlandish design choices. The glass and metal are sandwiched tastefully.

Even though the smartphone exudes a sense of durability, the glass back means the phone is quite slippery when placed on smooth wood or glass tables.

With the burgundy tone on steel, the Nokia 8.1 is downright gorgeous and looks every bit as premium as any flagship smartphone out there.

Nokia 8.1 review: Display

Nokia 8.1

The Nokia 8.1 sports a 6.18-inch Full HD+ edge-to-edge display with an 18.7:9 aspect ratio and 420ppi. With the notch and minimal bezels, the 8.1 manages to pack in a larger display than even the Nokia 7 Plus.

It’s an HDR10-compliant display — dubbed PureDisplay — with a contrast ratio of 1500:1. It’s a beautiful and bright display that offers vibrant colors and excellent contrast levels. The viewing angles are great as well. It’s a pretty damn good LCD panel but doesn’t match up to color saturation that an AMOLED display offers.

Going as bright as 500 nits, the Nokia 8.1 offers great legibility outdoors in the sun and the new adaptive brightness feature in Android 9 Pie automatically adjusts your settings learning from your screen brightness preferences.

Nokia 8.1 review: Performance

Nokia 8.1

The Nokia 8.1 is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 710, Qualcomm’s maiden SoC in its new 700 mobile platform series. Snapdragon 710 fits comfortably between the mid-range 600 and high-end 800 series and aims to make premium smartphone features more accessible to mid-range devices like the 8.1.

The Snapdragon 710 offers a similar set of cores and nearly the same level of performance as the flagship Snapdragon 845 but at a lower price point. It also packs in the Adreno 616 GPU, which promises a 35 percent increase in performance over the Adreno 512 found in Snapdragon 660.

The AI-powered Snapdragon 710 is a solid chipset and the Nokia 8.1 could give you the impression of flagship innards in your daily drill. With 4GB of RAM, the smartphone just blazes through anything thrown at it like any flagship smartphone. Of course, you’d observe slight difference when playing demanding games for an extended duration.

Nokia 8.1 Benchmarks

There’s 64GB of internal storage (with about 52GB storage available out of the box), and although it’s expandable by up to 400GB using microSD card, many multimedia hoarders would find it a tad underwhelming. The company has shared that a 6GB RAM plus 128GB storage variant will be available in some markets like India later.

Thanks to the battery optimizations, stock Android, and the new chipset, you’d easily be able to eke out over a day of battery life with heavy usage

The Nokia 8.1 packs a 3,500mAh battery with support for 18W fast charging, and thanks to the battery optimizations, stock Android, and the new chipset, you’d easily be able to eke out over a day of battery life with heavy usage. For moderate users, the phone could even last you for two days.

Nokia 8.1 review: Hardware

The Nokia 8.1 features a hybrid tray, so you could either use two 4G nano-SIM cards or a SIM card and a microSD card. However, since the phone comes with only 64GB storage, using two SIM cards might leave you without enough space.

The Nokia 8.1 supports 18W charging, and thankfully, comes with a big 18W charger in the box. HMD Global avoids using Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology certification.

There’s no IP-rating or any kind of water or dust resistance, but that’s at par with other phones in this segment.

Nokia 8.1 review: Camera

Nokia 8.1

The Nokia 8.1 sports a 12MP primary sensor with f/1.8 aperture and 1.4 micron pixel size combined with a 13MP depth sensor with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). The changes in the camera setup leads to much better photos in low-light scenarios.

Outdoors in daylight, the Nokia 8.1 takes some great shots with nice color saturation and good detail. In low light as well, most pictures come out to be well exposed with not much noise. The portrait shots come out great and the edge-detection is perfect in most cases.

On the front, there’s a 20MP adaptive selfie camera with pixel binning technology, which helps you take better shots in dimmer conditions.

The Zeiss optics are combined with some AI smarts like automatic scene detection and professional portrait shots, and Nokia’s Pro Camera goodness that allows you to adjust the white balance, shutter speed, exposure, and focus mode. There’s also the Dual-Sight mode that allows you to simultaneously shoot and stream from both the cameras.

The phone, interestingly, allows you to capture 4K video at 30fps. Apart from hardware stabilization, there’s also EIS which helps in those videos.

After just about on par camera performance across its portfolio so far, this is the first time HMD Global has offered something exceptional and the Nokia 8.1 sports one of the best cameras in its price segment.

Nokia 8.1 review: Software

Like other phones in HMD Global’s portfolio, the Nokia 8.1 is an Android One smartphone. It offers a clean, stock Android experience with no bloatware — there’s only Google Pay and the Support app preloaded. It is the first Nokia phone to run Android Pie out of the box.

Nokia 8.1 Screenshots

With phones on Android 8.1 Oreo still launching in the market, HMD Global deserves big props for an up-to-date Android experience on Nokia phones with consistent updates on timely basis.

Android One certification means the smartphone will receive two years of guaranteed Android “letter” upgrades and three years of monthly security updates. Nokia 8.1 is also a part of the Android Enterprise Recommended program.

Nokia 8.1 review: Specifications

Nokia 8.1
6.18-inch (15.70cm) PureDisplay
Full HD+ (2246 x 1080)
18.7:9 aspect ratio
Corning Gorilla Glass
Qualcomm Snapdragon 710
8 x Kryo 360 CPU
10nm manufacturing process
Adreno 616
64GB e-MMC 5.1
Expandable up to 400GB
Front camera: 20MP

Rear camera:
12MP f/1.8 aperture primary sensor
13MP depth sensor
Dual Hi-Cri flash
18W fast charging
3.5 mm headphone jack
Single speaker with smart amplifier
Nokia OZO surround sound capture
LTE Cat. 6, 2CA, L+L, VoLTE, VoWiFi
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 5.0
IP Rating
mbient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer (G-sensor), E-compass, Gyroscope, Fingerprint sensor (rear), NFC
Android 9 Pie
Android One
154.8 x 75.76 x 7.97 mm
180 g
Blue/Silver, Steel/Copper, Iron/Steel

Nokia 8.1 review: Gallery

Nokia 8.1 review: Pricing and final thoughts

Nokia 8.1

The Nokia 8.1 sits pretty between the mid-range smartphone segment and the “flagship killers.” It’s a well-rounded smartphone that tries to punch above the specifications sheet thanks to Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor that aces the performance bit.

The cohesive Android One experience and slick design of the Nokia 8.1 makes it the best Nokia phone since HMD Global brought the brand home. You’d have to look hard to find an issue with this one, really.

The Nokia 8.1 is for those discerning individuals who want a solid smartphone experience in a stylish chassis.

The Nokia 8.1 globally retails at 399 euros ($450) and costs 26,999 rupees ($372) in India. The smartphone delivers excellent value for your money and even though it misses out on some extra features and some gimmicks here and there, it nails the essentials.

At its price, the Nokia 8.1 faces competition from mid-range flagship smartphones like the Asus Zenfone 5Z or the Pocophone F1 with a Snapdragon 845 chipset and better RAM and storage combinations, but the performance delta isn’t much for most users to compromise on the Android One experience that only the former offers – all that packed in a stylish chassis. Most people want a great phone, not just a brilliant specifications sheet.

And that’s it for our Nokia 8.1 review! Will you buy this phone?