Nokia 7.1 phone You can spend the thick end of NZ$2000 and get a premium Android phone. Or you can spend NZ$600 and get the Nokia 7.1.

Either way you’ll get a good phone. One option will save you a small fortune.

As far as hardware is concerned, the Nokia 7.1 is not far behind more expensive Androids. Nothing vital is missing.

While the Nokia 7.1 hardware comes close to matching Android phones costing three times as much, its Android One software is arguably better.

 

Design nods at iPhone X

Like many other 2018 phones, there’s a whiff of the Apple iPhone X about the Nokia 7.1 design. It has the same almost all screen front. When the display lights up there is a notch. The rear is made of glass.

Despite this, you wouldn’t mistake the Nokia 7.1 for an iPhone when it’s in your hand. Although there is more than a passing external resemblance, if there is one area where the 7.1 falls short of any 2018 premium phone it is in the feel. Mind you, it doesn’t fall far short.

According to HMD Global, the company that makes Nokia-branded phones, the 7.1 has a gloss steel finish. In other words metallic sliver with copper highlights. It is also shiny looking.

The colour of the case visible under the Apple-like glass back is almost identical to the colour of my iPhone XS Max.

There’s a pleasing solidity to the phone in your hand. But it is rougher around the edges. The machining and build is great, but not quite as smooth as more expensive phones. The edges don’t taper, they are squared off.

Mid-range power plant

One area where Nokia saved money is the processor. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 chipset powers the phone.

It’s a year old mid-range phone processor. It won’t win races against more expensive phones. Yet you could say a lot of today’s high-end handsets are overpowered.

Unless you are a serious phone gamer or use a demanding app that shouldn’t be on a mid-range phone anyway, you are unlikely to bump up against any speed limits.

The 3,060mAh battery is a little less than you’ll find on a top end phone. While this is the weakest link in the 7.1 chain, it isn’t that weak. I found the phone could go all day with plenty left in the tank so long as I didn’t hammer it. Few phones do better in this department.

Like many other late 2018 phones, the Nokia 7.1 will charge fast through its USB-C port. There’s no wireless charging here, what do you expect at the price?

Camera

It has a dual camera and can take bokeh portraits. This last feature now seems to be standard everywhere.

The 12 megapixel main back camera is not up to the standard of more expensive phones, but the gap is so small that causal phone photographers may never notice. Cameras seem to be more important to phone makers than most customers

My only gripe is that contrast can be poor in low light conditions.

My favourite aspect of the Nokia 7.1 is that it uses Android One. This means regular software updates and security patches, something most Android phones still can’t manage.

It also means an absence of clutter. Most Android phone makers load up their devices with apps that no-one really wants or needs. Their software overlays do not add value. Some detract from the phone experience.

You might not choose to put the Nokia 7.1 at the top of your list if you are a keen mobile gamer. The processor may not have the necessary grunt.

Nokia 7.1 verdict

Despite the handful of minor niggles mentioned here, the Nokia 7.1 is great value for money. Those niggles are when comparing the 7.1 with phones costing more than twice the price.

If you don’t want to pay for cutting edge features that you may never need, this would be a good choice.

The Nokia 7.1 is only available from Spark in New Zealand. It’s an ideal choice for someone looking to get more phone for less money. If you buy phones for employees or for younger family members this will stretch your money further, with few compromises.

Mid-October is as late as a phone launch can be for the new model to feature in the all important Christmas sales quarter. Today Huawei showed New Zealanders the Mate 20 Pro. It clearly aims to challenge Samsung for space under the Christmas tree. Huawei needs to get a move on. While customers can order the phone from Friday, it doesn’t official go on sale until the first week in November.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the first mainstream phone to sport a fingerprint reader embedded in its display.

Like most other premium phones this season, the Mate 20 Pro has a huge screen. Unlike most rival models, it has three cameras on the back.

Huawei has gone for a 6.4 inch QHD Oled display on the Mate 20 Pro. It’s big, so is the battery Huawei rates it it at 4,200 mAh. The non-Pro Huawei Mate 20 is a fraction larger again.

The battery charges fast, to 70 percent in 30 minutes. There’s also a slower wireless charging option. One nice twist is that you can wireless charge suitably equipped accessories such as ear buds from the phone.

 

7 nanometre processor

In contrast the technology in the Kirin 980 processor that powers both phones is tiny. It’s Huawei’s first 7 nanometre phone processor.

This puts Huawei in line with Apple which also uses 7 nm technology in the A12 chips found in the company’s 2018 iPhones.

That’s not the only on-paper similarity to the iPhone XS. The Mate 20 Pro has 3D face recognition software.

While you may not need both face recognition and a fingerprint scanner in the same device, having the two is an impressive show of techno prowess.

Glass slab

Doing away with a separate fingerprint reader makes the phone an even more featureless slab of glass.

There are obvious physical comparisons with the Apple iphone XS series, yet in the hand the Mate 20 Pro looks and feels more like a Samsung Galaxy S model than an iPhone. Indeed, from the front it’s hard to tell the Mate 20 Pro from the Galaxy S or the iPhone XS Max. Either phone designers all think alike, or they’re playing follow-the-leaders. 

As always with modern premium phones, marketing emphasises the camera or in this case cameras. There are three on the back include a 40 megapixel camera, a second 8 megapixel camera with a telephoto lens and 20 megapixel wide-angle camera.

This last camera replaces the monochrome camera that is in Huawei’s P20 Pro. I’ll let you know how this works in practice when I get some hands-on time with the phone.

Android 9

Huawei has upgraded EMUI, its Android overlay software. For me this has always been one of the weakest links in Huawei phones. It still looks a lot like iOS to the casual observer. I swear some of the app icons are direct copies of Apple’s icons. Huawei’s other weak link has been tardiness when it comes to upgrading phone software. There’s a promise this will improve. At the launch Huawei told journalists there is already an upgrade for the software in the review phones.

As the name suggests, EMUI 9 is a variation on Android 9. Huawei says it optimised the software to speed up regular tasks.

Given the processor has also had a speed bump, the phone should be a lot faster and smoother than earlier models. Having said that, speed and smoothness never felt like problems with recent Huawei phones.

First thoughts

Like Apple Huawei has ditched the headphone jack in favour of wireless connections. This is something that upsets some people. It’s time to accept that a physical jack is now an anachronism.

The Mate 20 Pro goes on sale at NZ$1599. That puts the Mate 20 Pro on a par with the Oppo Find X and makes it $200 cheaper than the $1700 Samsung Galaxy Note 9. My impression is that Huawei wants to stay competitive on price in New Zealand. On paper Huawei has the price edge,

It needs too. Samsung dominates the Android phone market. For many users it is a tried and tested brand with, one exploding model aside, a clear track record. Huawei is not well established yet. It sales are tiny compared Samsung’s phone numbers in New Zealand hence the aggressive price. I’ll write about whether it is worth the money when I give it a proper test.

A mechanical pop-up camera means the front of the Oppo Find X is almost entirely given over to the display. It has the thinnest bezels of any phone on the market today.

According to Oppo, the Android phone has a screen to body ratio of ‘93.8 percent’.

That number is way more precise than we needs. It says a lot about how Oppo can have interesting ideas, such as a pop-up camera, yet still miss the point about what makes a phone great.

If anyone cares about the screen to body ratio to the nearest 0.1 percent, no amount of technology is going to fix their problems.

While the notchless all-screen front is an achievement, Oppo should would do better to focus more on the user experience, less on meaningless mathematical precision.

There’s something else about that number. The 93.8 percent only applies when the camera is retracted. When it’s in the shooting position there’s a huge bezel across the top of the phone. Because the camera pops up when you use the phone, it’s there a lot of the time. In other words, you only get that small-bezel effect some of the time.

Value proposition?

Another thing Oppo needs to think more about is a product’s perceived value. The Find X sells in New Zealand for $1500. That’s a lot of money by any standard. It puts the phone is the ultra-premium category.

Aiming for this space is fair enough, after all, that’s where phone makers make profits. Yet for the last 18 months Oppo has pitched itself to New Zealand buyers as a low-cost alternative to Samsung or Apple. This scraps that strategy.

Find X’s price matches best-selling phones from the market leaders. That’s a brave move by Oppo.

Let’s put this price in context. The Oppo Find X costs NZ$100 more than the Apple iPhone XR or Samsung Galaxy S9. If you spend NZ$300 more than Oppo wants for the Find X and you can have an iPhone XS. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 costs NZ$200 more than the Find X.

Top tier?

So is the Find X in the same ultra-premium class as this year’s iPhone and Galaxy models?

The simple answer is no. While it is close, it doesn’t match the world’s best.

This is clear the moment you pick the phone up. The review model is in a purple-red colour Oppo calls Bordeaux Red. It looks good, but so does every other phone costing more than around $700. Oppo has achieved the minimalist goal of a smooth case fronted by a sheet of glass and with three buttons on the side.

The phone does not feel as well-engineered as the latest Apple or Samsung models. There’s a distinct ridge where the screen meets the case and another between the back of the phone and the case. OK, that’s not a huge deal, but Oppo’s rivals are better machined.

Likewise the phone doesn’t feel as good in the hand. Admittedly not everyone will agree.

What else is different?

Away from the pop-up camera, there are two other important features: fast charging and three-dimensional face scanning.

The face scanning is similar to the technology used on Apple’s iPhone X. Although it doesn’t work as seamlessly as Apple’s face scanning, the difference in performance is minimal. Let’s not quibble about this. Chalk one up for Oppo. When you unlock the phone the camera pops-up.

Oppo uses something called Super VOOC charging. It is fast, but not linear. Oppo says it is the fastest charging technology on the market at the moment. Super VOOC will charge a phone in 35 minutes. This is good as it means you don’t need to carefully plan charging before you leave your home or workplace for any length of time.

You will want to get it all the way to 100 percent. This gives about 18 hours use. More if you don’t spend all your time on the phone, less if you’re an intensive user.

Pop-up camera

The pop-up camera is clever. It’s not clear if it will capture people’s imaginations or if most consumer will be happy living with screen notches.

Anything mechanical that can wear and tear is less reliable and more trouble than solid state electronics. That’s not an opinion, it’s an immutable law of the universe.

Oppo says the camera can handle 300,000 pop-ups. If you look at your phone 40 times a day it should last 20 years. We’ll see.

Away from the pop-up camera and fast charging the Oppo Find X is good, but not outstanding compared with rival NZ$1500 phones.

It is fast. So is every other expensive phone. The screen is nice. That’s also standard fare. While Oppo’s cameras and photography software belongs in a lower division than Apple, Samsung or Huawei, it is still outstanding.

Earlier Oppo phones featured the company’s ColorOS, a software overlay that makes Android look and feel a lot more like Apple’s iOS. That’s not the case here.

Oppo Find X verdict

Android fans may feel otherwise, but the Find X has nothing like Apple’s ease of use. If I’m going to use Android I prefer the purer version you find in Android One phones like the Nokia range. These are less than half the price of the Find X.

Should you choose the Oppo Find X? It’s not a bad choice. You won’t be disappointed. None of the expensive phones on the market are sub-par.

I can’t help think that the pop-up camera is a novelty more than a helpful feature. It’s fun the first few times, but that wears off fast. Of course it might strike a chord with buyers, but I have doubts about that.

A fast processor, nice screen and outstanding photography are table stakes in ultra-premium phones. If the pop-up camera appeals and you like a notch-less all-screen phone front, then this is for you. Otherwise you’d do better looking elsewhere. That doesn’t have to mean another brand: Oppo’s NZ$800 R15 Pro offers far better value for money.

Story changed because the Find X uses a newer changing technology. 

Phone maker Oppo has struck an exclusive deal with 2degrees for a NZ$2400 Lamborghini-branded Android phone. It is this seasons’ most expensive Android phone; at least in New Zealand.

The Find X Automobili Lamborghini Edition is a version of the company’s already-expensive-by-Android-standards NZ$1500 Oppo Find X. The extra $900 buys you a fancy Lamborghini case and bumps the phone’s storage from 256 GB to 512 GB.

A similar storage upgrade with other phone brands costs around $300 to $400. This means, in effect, Oppo and 2degrees want $500 for a luxury case and a little brand cache.

While it may not be official, you can buy external phone case covers with prestige brands printed on them for as little as $5 at places like Glenfield Night Market.

Sure, they’re not made of carbon fibre like the Find X Automobili Lamborghini Edition but come on, $500.

lamborghini-oppo-find-x
That’ll be an extra $900 thank you

Lamborghini exclusive

It is an exclusive deal. Only 2degrees get this model. It will only be on sale for a limited time. I suspect that the other carriers didn’t get into a bidding war for the rights to the Lamborghini Edition.

Oppo isn’t the first phone brand to try attaching its products to a flash car brand. Huawei did something like this with a Porsche branded model. It sank without a trace.

Going by that experience 2degrees and Oppo might struggle to get sales into double figures.

What makes this extra curious is that until now Oppo’s entire sales pitch has been about offering value for money. The company manages to pack about 90 percent of the functionality and features of, say, a top-of-the-line Samsung model into a phone that sells for roughly half the price.

You could say that Oppo is the phone brand for phone owners who aren’t too fussy about brand. That statement may be hard, but it’s fair.

Pricey Oppo

While we’re on this point, Oppo is pushing it asking $1500 for the Find X. Look for a review of that phone on this site in the next few days.

The Find X may have a unique pop-up camera to avoid notches or a large bezel, but that price is on a par with the best phones from better known brands like Huawei and Samsung.

Phone makers have worked to increase prices, in part because profit margins are slender. It’s one thing for an established name to bump prices by $100 or so, but this is getting on for double the price of earlier Oppo models.

After all, this is a brand who’s New Zealand phone sales are measured in hundreds, not tens of thousands.

Which brings us to the point of the wacky Find X Automobili Lamborghini Edition. It isn’t about selling a $2400 phone. Its main aim is to get attention for the Oppo brand. I guess this post proved that strategy worked.

Galaxy Note 9 is now Samsung’s most important phone. It matters because lacklustre Galaxy S9 sales mean falling revenues. A successful Note launch could help reverse that.

Two days before the launch I wrote that the Galaxy Note 9 had better be good.

How did Samsung do?

The Galaxy Note 9 is impressive by any standard. It is, for now, the best Android phone money can buy.

That’s the first problem: You need a lot of money to buy it.

Samsung faces intense competition

Rival Android phone makers challenge Samsung. The best deliver almost all the functionality of a Samsung phone for a fraction of the price.

Sure the Note 9 takes buyers to places less expensive Androids won’t. Its stylus puts it into a different class to other phones. There is no direct equivalent at any price.

That difference means the Note has notorious loyal fans. Many potential Note 9 buyers will be existing owners looking to upgrade.

You only have to look at the Galaxy Note 9 to understand why that might be a hard sell.

The new phone looks like last year’s Galaxy Note 8. Never mind its new innards. Over the years phone makers have trained buyers to be wowed by showy, cosmetic changes more than a new processor.

Is the Galaxy Note 9 good enough?

On Friday’s showing, the Note 9 may be good enough for Samsung to keep the phone market pole position until tenth-anniversary models arrive next year.

If the S10 and Note 10 ranges can deliver signature phones in the same way Apple managed with the iPhone X, then all will be well.

From what was on show in Auckland it still looks like a great phone. If the two models were a few hundred dollars cheaper they would be world beaters. If Samsung decides to sharpen its pencil and drop prices later, it could have a winner this Christmas.

On the other hand, phone innovation has slowed to the point where customers are holding on to old models for longer. So all bets are off.

It’s not clear to me what those notoriously loyal Note users will do. They may upgrade or they may sit this one out and wait for the 10.

There’s little to tempt a Note 8 owner to upgrade. The Note 7 was the disastrous exploding phone so there will be few upgrades from that model. If there’s a large backlog of Note 6 owners waiting to move then Samsung could strike gold.

About the phone

Samsung uses glass for the front and back. There are smooth, comfortable feeling curved edges and pressing the bottom right of the phone still ejects the slide-out S Pen. This is all just like the Note 8.

It’s fractionally bigger and a tad heavier than the Note 8. That’s to accommodate a slightly larger than last year’s 6.4-inch Amoled screen and a hefty 4,000 mAh battery. Samsung says that’s enough to keep even heavy phone users going all day.

Galaxy Note 9 sets new bar for Android phone price

Bigger seems to be a theme throughout. There are two versions of the phone: a NZ$1700 model with 128 GB of built-in storage and a NZ$2000 version with 512 GB.

Octo-Core

Samsung uses different processors to power the Galaxy Note 9 in different markets. It didn’t say which chip New Zealanders get but it will be an eight core processor.

Phones with 512 GB of storage get 8 GB of Ram, the other phones get 6 GB. To my knowledge the Note 9 is the first phone to get water cooling to stop the processor from over heating.

It will also be the first phone to get the Fortnite game. I suspect the target market for Fortnite is not going to drop a couple of grand on a handset.

At the launch Samsung made a big deal of the improved S Pen stylus. After all it is what sets the Note aside from every other phone.

The stylus now connects via Bluetooth and can be used as a remote to click the camera shutter or do one or two other remote tasks. The model I saw was a bright yellow that contrasted with the navy blue phone. This looks much better than it sounds.

Samsung has gone for much the same camera arrangement as the Galaxy S9.  That’s two 12-megapixel cameras with a variable aperture lens and a 2x optical zoom camera on the back.

Like everyone else’s camera, the Note 9’s is sprinkled with AI fairy dust so the camera automatically detects what’s being shot and adjusts to compensate.

One nice touch is that the Note 9 can work as a desktop computer in much the same way as an S8 and Dex Pad. The difference is that the Note 9 can plug directly into a monitor without the docking station.

Verdict

Samsung says the phone will come with Android 8.1, not the more recent Android 9. It is due to go on sale later this month. In normal times this would give Samsung up to six weeks of sales before the next Apple iPhone appears.

The slightly bigger screen is a plus. For me, squeezing 4,000 mAh of battery capacity into a hand-sized device is more of an achievement. The update S-pen will entrance Galaxy Note fans.

More storage seems like a good thing. You can bump it up to a Terabyte if you use the microSD slot. Though why you would want to pay extra to do that in an era of low-cost cloud storage is beyond me unless you want to travel with a movie library.

While it doesn’t look like a sure-fire hit, it is possible the Galaxy Note 9 will strike a chord with Note loyalists and give Samsung a much-needed 2018 winner. It could just as easily have S9-like disappointing sales. Your guess is as good as mine. But, so long as no rival makes a breakthrough, it is good enough to keep Samsung out in front until next year’s releases.