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.

Nokia 6.1, 7 PlusGoogle’s Android phone operating system is often a mess when compared with Apple’s iOS. Android One aims to fix that. You can’t get it on phones from Android market leaders like Samsung or Huawei. At least, not yet. Nokia, with nothing to lose, has gone in boots and all. The company hopes Android One can revive the brand’s fortunes.

Earlier this year Spark launched two Nokia Android One models into New Zealand. While they could put Nokia back on the map, many Android phone buyers won’t care enough to take notice. This could change if there is another big, well publicised Android security scare. The reality is a regular slew of small security worries gets little attention.

Android can be frustrating on many counts. First, most phone makers can’t leave it alone. They feel the need to overlay the raw Android operating system with their own software. In almost every case, these overlays detract value. None are great. They can make for a lesser user experience than you might get on a pure Android phone. It can also make for a fractured market.

Fractured software market

This fracturing is invisible to everyday Android phone users. If you pick, say, a Samsung phone with TouchWiz, you may not know which software is Android and which is TouchWiz. I see many phones every year. In that context switching between different Android overlays is jarring.

Yet, if, say, when you come to upgrade your Samsung phone and like the look of a rival model, changing can be troublesome. Controls are sometimes not where you’ve come to expect them. Some used features are missing. Things work in different ways. I can find switching between two Android brands is as much of a jump as moving from Android to iOS.

To be fair to phone makers, there are fewer deal-breaker differences between today’s overlays than in the past. It was once common for popular apps to run on one model, but not on another. I haven’t seen that in recent times with the big apps. But there are still many inconsistencies.

You need to take care reading through feature lists to know if a different Android phone has a feature you loved on your last one.

Geeks versus the rest

Some geeks see this through a different lens. Many phone enthusiasts love to customise their Android phones and play with options. What’s fun to them can be a nightmare for less technically minded phone users. Geeks often deride Apple iPhones for reducing user choice. Yet that lack of confusion is major plus point for those who don’t get off on tinkering with software.

Two other things stand between Android as we’ve known it until now and the best phone experience. Many Android phone makers are, to say the least, slack when it comes to keeping software up-to-date. This applies to both their own software and their versions of Android. Many Android phones have never seen a software update. Apart from anything else, this makes those Android phone insecure. It’s no accident that more malware targets Android than iOS.

Sure some Android phone makers are better than others. Yet how are mere mortals to know which is a wiser buy?

Android One attempts to fix all these niggles. It didn’t start out that way. Four years ago Google introduced Android One to help move people in emerging economies from dumb phones to smart phones. It was a barebones, lowest-common denominator version of Android. People elsewhere soon realised a lowest-common denominator Android might be popular with users in richer countries.

Android One quality mark

Today Android One acts like a quality mark. Google says all phones with the badge come with certain guarantees. You get:

  • An approved design. Google signs off on the phone hardware.
  • The core Android interface along with Google services.
  • Regular security updates for three years.
  • Android OS updates for two years. In practice this means the next two official versions of Android.

Android One phones also come without added, unwanted third-party software. In other words: no bloatware.

The other thing no-one mentions, at least not in the marketing material, is that the Android One phone you buy today should be good for three or more years. This is something Apple users take for granted. Phone makers in the Android world tend to take the attitude that you need to upgrade every year, or, at a pinch, every second year. Getting three years use from a phone is better for the planet and better for your pocket.

Nokia 6.1

Spark sells the Nokia 6.1 for NZ$500. In price terms that puts it at the low-end of mid-range phones. Yet it looks and feels more like something higher up the market, say the top-end of the mid-range. For the money you get a solid aluminium case. It is about the same size as an iPhone 7 or 8 Plus model, although 10mm shorter. The two weigh about the same.

The screen is a 5.5 inches with FHD resolution, that’s 1920 by 1080 pixels. Nokia has stuck with the older 16:9 screen ratio which is still standard on all but the most expensive phones. It’s not the best screen, but is more than you might expect given the phone’s price. In practice it is more than bright enough. You may need to adjust the brightness at times where it is automatic on other phones.

Nokia uses the, now standard, USB-C connector for charging. The phone still has an audio jack, in this case it is along the top edge of the case. On the left hand edge is a pull out drawer for the Sim card, it will also take a MicroSD card. If you want to carry a lot of music or photos you’re going to need that memory card slot. The phone only comes with 32GB of storage as standard, around 19.7GB that is available for you to use.

Nokia 6.1 drawback

This is the major drawback to the Nokia 6.1. Its standard 19.7GB is not enough for many people. It’s better to pay extra for more built-in storage than deal with SD cards. This may not bother you, if, say, you get all your music from Spotify and stream all your video. There is a Nokia 6.1 model with more storage, but it isn’t sold in New Zealand.

There is a fingerprint reader on the back of the phone.

Nokia 6.1 performance is a fraction ahead of what you’d expect from a $500 phone. If you want to push hard with the latest games you might run up against limits. Yet for most people the processor and 4GB Ram are more than enough for everyday use. It’s an octa-core Snapdragon 630 if you care about this kind of detail, most people buying the Nokia 6.1 will not.

You get a 3000mAh battery, that’s normal for mid-range phones. It should last a full day without too much trouble unless you spend a lot of time running games or watching video. If you do either of these, then you might be better off spending more on a phone anyway.

Nokia’s camera is capable enough, it can even shoot 4K video. Again, it’s behind what you’d find in $1000-plus phones, but more than you’d find in another $500 phone. In summary, the Nokia 6.1 manages to pack all the phone punch everyday users need at a reasonable price.

Nokia 7 Plus

At $700, the New Zealand asking price for the Nokia 7 Plus is $200 more than for the 6.1. The extra money buys better cameras, a bigger screen, extra storage and more battery. On the 7 Plus there are two rear cameras. One has a 12MP sensor with an f/1.4 lens, the other is a 13MP sensor with an f/2.6 lens. Both lenses are from Zeiss.

While you’ll get better shots than you might see on the Nokia 6.1 with its single 16MP sensor and f/2 Zeiss lens, neither is a patch on the cameras you’ll find on phones costing twice the price. That said, the 7 Plus camera is more than enough for everyday snaps. The only time it lets you down is in low light conditions. It can handle time-lapse, 4k and slow-motion video.

The 7 Plus’ 16MP front camera is a big step up from the 8MP front camera on the Nokia 6.1. Both phones can take photos using the front and rear camera at the same time. It’s a gimmick, but then gimmicks sell phones. This one is not going to set the market alight.

The 6-inch screen brings the Nokia 7 Plus up to the size of the Apple iPhone 8 Plus. There are few more pixels than on the Nokia 6.1, in this case 2160 by 1080. This brings it to the 18:9 aspect ratio that you’ll find on today’s more expensive phones. The 3800mAh battery is enough to power the extra screen size and then some. In practice you get an extra hour or two use compared to the Nokia 6.1.

Nokia 6.1, 7 Plus Verdict

Nokia won’t thank me for saying this, but the two Android One phones are excellent choices for buyers who don’t care to show off a prestige brand. They are all about bang for buck. They are affordable, capable handsets that can do all the important things you buy a phone for. If you want more camera, you need to spend more. Otherwise, there’s not that last bit of fairy dust sprinkled on phones to add $1000 to the price.

Android One is a better experience than anything from the more expensive Android phone brands. Even so you still may prefer to stay with what you know if you’re wedded to on Samsung, Huawei, Sony or whatever. If you are thinking of switching brand, Nokia is a good choice and you’ll save money into the bargain.

Nokia 3310 3GPhone nostalgia fans will love the new Nokia 3310 3G. The $100 phone looks like the old Nokia 3310 that was a hit in the first years of the 21st century.

It also sounds like an old school Nokia. The phone can play the famous Nokia theme at almost ear-splitting intensity. The phone maker has even included the famous Snake game.

While the phone has the Nokia brand, like other 2017 Nokia phones, it is made by a Finnish company called HMD Global which has a licence to use the name. HMD also makes the Nokia 8, an impressive mid-range Android phone.

Not the old Nokia 3310

While the new phone looks a lot like the original, it isn’t identical. The screen is bigger. There’s a camera. It’s not much of a camera, but enough to get by.

In place of the old proprietary pin style Nokia charger plug there’s a microUSB connection. You can charge this from a computer if you want.

The software is a reasonable emulation of the original Nokia 3310 phone software. I don’t remember there being as much colour last time around, but memory is hazy. It’s not hard to use, mainly because there are so few options.

If anything it’s the software that reminds us how far phones have come in the last 15 years.

Plastic

There is a distinct plastic feel. Although it seems flimsy in comparison with the original and with today’s premium phones, that’s not the case. The device seems robust. It’s probably better at taking knocks than a device costing the thick end of $2000.

The keys, especially the navigation key, can be tricky to use. But what do you expect? After all this is a $100 phone.

Which brings us to one of the glorious aspects of the revival: price. The 2017 version of the Nokia 3310 costs $100. That’s a fraction of the price of the original before taking inflation into account.

Another nice touch, the battery lasts far longer than ones on many expensive phones. HMD says the phone has 27 days standby time.

Would would buy this?

Not everyone wants a full featured smartphone. And there are many who would struggle to pay the asking price for a fancy top-of-the-line handset.

Some people only want a basic phone for simple tasks like calling and messaging. Then there are those who need a spare phone in a hurry because they lost or broke their main phone.

You might want something inexpensive to give a youngster on a night out or if someone works in a job where phones get destroyed. The long battery life makes it a great phone to take on a boat trip or a long bush walk.

The Nokia 3310 makes an ideal family back-up phone.

It took almost a year for the Nokia 3310 3G to reach New Zealand. An early version of the revived phone went on sale in the Northern Hemisphere in February. That model was so retro it couldn’t even use 3G networks.

The version that arrived in New Zealand in November has been updated to use the 3G network.

HMD says the phone is a Spark exclusive, but the red version shown in the photo above is only available from The Warehouse and Warehouse stationary.

nokia 8 showing Zeiss lensA decade ago Nokia accounted for almost half the mobile phones in use. Within a handful of years it was irrelevant.

Today Nokia is back. Sort of. A little-known Finnish company called HMD Global has the name rights. HMD sells four Nokia models; the Nokia 3, 5, 6 and 8. Not much imagination went into those names.

The 3, 5 and 6 models are low-end Android phones. The Nokia 8 is the flagship, although at NZ$1000 it is up against other phone makers’ mid-range handsets.

Cameras, bothies

Nokia’s marketing makes much of the 8’s camera. The phone has one differentiating hardware feature that makes it stand out from the pack.

It can take pictures with the front and rear cameras at the same time. Nokia calls this ability the ‘bothie’. Yuck, more awful try-hard-to-be-cute-but-fail jargon.

No doubt the bothies feature will entrance some users. Others will see it as a gimmick.

Camera’s were always a big deal with the Nokia Lumia phones that used Microsoft Windows. Nokia’s problem is that every other phone maker also thinks flagship handset cameras are a big deal.

Zeiss inside

HMD worked with Carl Zeiss to develop the Nokia 8 cameras. Nokia worked with the same company for the Lumia phones.

There are two 13 megapixel camera sensors on the back of the phone. One shoots colour, the other monochrome. We’ve seen this before on the Huawei P10. There’s a two-colour flash and the aperture is f/2.0.

If you’re feeling arty, you can take monochrome shots. There’s also a bokeh mode, which is run of the mill on today’s phones.

The same 13MP colour sensor is on the front of the phone. Unlike most front facing cameras this one includes auto-focus. If you think this sounds familiar, we’ve seen it before on the Samsung S8. The Nokia 8 version is a little more polished, but we’re talking nuances here, not a great leap forward.

This is what delivers the ‘bothie’. Nokia’s marketing says the both allows you to tell the whole story. That is you can take photos and videos of yourself while also shooting whatever is on front of you.

Side by side

When using bothie mode, the two images appear side-by-side on the phone’s screen. In practice it’s isn’t easy to use. Using bothies is more work than most people like.

That’s not to say you can’t use this feature. Most buyers will try it once or twice then park it for later, which could mean never. The camera software doesn’t help. There are few settings for more advanced users. That’s strange because advanced users are the ones who will want to get to grips with the hardware.

On the plus side, the Nokia 8 has good quality sound recording. The marketing material refers to Nokia Ozo spatial 360 audio. Whatever that is. There are three built-in microphones. In theory you can add external ones, although I never found out how this works.

In practice you can record reasonable video of yourself with the front camera and microphones. I can see how that might work for me as a journalist if I wanted to do an on-the-spot report direct to-camera. It would work for someone making a video journal.

Nokia difference?

If HMD thinks the ‘bothie’ and the camera are different enough from what you find on rival premium smartphones, then good luck with that. In practice you can’t do much that you couldn’t do almost as well, even easier on a Samsung S series phone. Or on an iPhone. No doubt some people will master the Nokia technology and do wondrous things. Nine out of ten buyers won’t get close.

Nokia 8HMD has a much sounder and practical point of difference with the Nokia 8 software. This may sound contradictory when I tell you that HMD has, more or less, left Android alone. Most of the time you get a pure Android experience. There are no annoying overlays.

That in itself is a positive. There is an even more important reason for liking HMD’s hands-off approach to Android. It means you’ll get regular software updates.

This is a nightmare with most Android phones. Usually important software updates are late or never come at all. Apart from anything else, it means phones can become insecure. Not updating bugs and other flaws is dreadful, disrespectful customer service.

For this reason alone, the Nokia 8 is a good idea for anyone who wants a phone that is a serious work tool.

Nokia 8 is pure Android

But, as they say in advertisements, there’s more. The pure Android experience is better than you might think. If you’ve spent the last few years with TouchWiz, Emui or another overlay, it is a treat. There is no bloatware.

I was going to say there’s no rubbish software. But that’s not true. During the review pop-up messages asked me to rate the phone out of so many stars. There’s enough of that passive-aggressive nonsense from second-rate apps.

This undermines, but doesn’t invalidate, the pure Android claims. It is enough to put me off the new Nokia. You may feel otherwise.

Look, feel, hardware

The Nokia 8 looks and feels nice enough. It’s faintly retro, we’re talking two or three years here, not a throwback to Nokia’s glory days. Although if you are nostalgic for that, you can use the famous Nokia ring tone.

HMD hasn’t gone for the curved screen used by Samsung. Nor will you find the near zero bezels popular elsewhere. The camera lens does have a bump, but it’s not asymmetric like on the iPhones.

Ring tone aside, you won’t turn heads with the Nokia 8. It looks like a generic phone. The phone feels fine. It is light and thin in the hand. The review model is in a polished dark blue case. It isn’t water proof. The fingerprint sensor sits below the screen, which suits most people.

Nokia 8 verdict

HMD position the Nokia 8 as a premium Android phone. Yet it is well behind the best from rivals like Samsung, Huawei and Sony. It’s not a patch on this year’s or last year’s iPhones either.

It looks and feels more like a premium phone than most mid-range models. That is until you start using it. It’s a good phone, not a great one.

Which means it is another mid-range phone although prettier than most. Even so, at NZ$1000, it is one of the most expensive mid-range phones around. At NZ$800 it would be a sure-fire winner, without a price cut it is going to stay an also-ran. Nokia’s comeback looks unlikely to set the market on fire.

Nokia 8There’s a Nokia 8 phone vibrating on the desk in front of me. Soon I’ll write a potted review of my experience with the phone. For now, let’s tease you with this: My first impressions are favourable.

Nokia’s new phones use Android. It makes sense. The phone operating system is popular. Android runs on about four out of five phones.

Android’s popularity brings two things to Nokia. First, it means familiarity, at least for most customers. There’s still a little learning to do, but not much. It’s not like, say, the jarring switch from iOS or Android to the Blackberry 10 operating system.

Or the less jarring but still non-trivial move from Android to iOS or vice versa.

It’s about the apps

More important, Android means Nokia phone buyers get access to a huge phone app library. Almost every important phone app is available on Android.

So from day one you can Facebook, Tweet or Instagram to your heart’s content. You can also do important or useful things.

Nokia last phone series used Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. The first rebooted Microsoft phone operating system was Windows Phone 7.

As phone operating systems go, Windows Phone 7 was brilliant. We can argue whether it was better or worse than Android and iOS. At the time it was at least on a par with the two more popular OSs for operating a handheld device.

Windows Phone 8 wasn’t quite as good. But then nor was desktop Windows 8 as good as Windows 7. By that time Microsoft lost the plot and added unnecessary complexity and flexibility. This may have appealed to geeks. For the rest of us it made an otherwise simple, elegant user interface harder to understand and use.

Momentum

The fatal flaw with Windows Phone wasn’t technical. It was that it never gathered enough momentum for take off. There were reasons for this. Not least Microsoft charging phone makers for the software. Google’s Android was free.

This lack of market momentum meant fewer app developers got behind Windows Phone. And when they did, they didn’t prioritise updating, refreshing or even fixing apps.

The lack of apps lead to a vicious cycle. It was a reason not to choose a Windows Phone, which made the pool of app customers smaller again. And so on.

Nokia’s parent company sold the phone business to Microsoft. That did little to change things.

Microsoft failed to capitalise on the excellent integration between Windows Phone and desktop Windows. This integration is something that continues to sustain the iPhone even though Macs are far less popular than Windows PCs.

Microsoft failed Windows Phone in many other ways. It failed to invest in development and seed third-party developers — something it did to great effect with desktop Windows.

The rest is history.

At the time Microsoft was still selling phones in reasonable numbers some argued a switch to Android could save the phone business.

That was never going to happen at Microsoft. For a variety of reasons, some good, some bad.

Putting aside politics and pride, there’s one overwhelming reason why Android was a bad idea.

Money

No-one at the time was making money from selling Android phones. Every Android maker other than Samsung was losing vast sums. Samsung was making a tiny margin and didn’t manage that every year.

That’s changed. Samsung now makes better margins on Android phones, although they are still small compared to Apple iPhone margins. Sony trimmed its Android business to the point where it is profitable again. At least two other Android phone makers, Huawei and Oppo appear to be making money selling phone hardware.

How about Nokia’s new owner, can it make a profit selling Android handsets?

It’s too soon to say for certain. As suggested at the top of this post, the phones are more than good enough. They cost somewhere between the middle and premium part of the Android phone market. They should sell.

Nokia passes the product quality test, but that’s not enough. Its Lumia phones were great quality yet didn’t sell in big enough numbers.

Whether they sell in profitable volumes is another question. The Android phone market is beyond saturated. They are still too many brands chasing customers. Samsung, Sony, Huawei, Oppo and a handful of Chinese brands and non-brands fight for every dollar.

Almost every 2017 midrange or premium phone is good. I can’t think of a single bad one. So Nokia’s prospects come down to things like its brand cachet, its distribution channels and its marketing. All these have to hum for the comeback to work.