Nokia 7.1 phone

This giveaway is over. Natasha Quick from Auckland and Paul Cumming from Geraldine each won a Nokia 7.1 mobile phone. Congratulations. I found a slightly older Nokia 7 Plus in my review cupboard and held a bonus draw. Julia Norton won that phone. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who took part. 

I used an online random number generator to pick the winners and first announced the results this morning on Twitter. The process could do with a little refinement, I plan to offer more giveaways between now and Christmas, so stay tuned. 

Original Post:

Spark has given me two Nokia 7.1 phones worth $600 to giveaway to readers. To find out more about this phone, check out my recent Nokia 7.1 phone review. The phone is remarkable value for money and has a non-nonsense version of Android. I like it a lot.

To win one of the phones you must use the panel on the right of the screen to subscribe to my site via email. You’ll need to have a valid email address and be a New Zealand resident to win the prize.

I have no intention of spamming anyone who signs up, although at some point in the future you might get an invitation to get an email newsletter. Nor will I sell or otherwise give your email to anyone else.

The other thing you have to do is leave a comment below this post saying you wants to be included in the draw. Only one entry per person. I trust you not to abuse this.

That’s it.

Entries close at midnight on Sunday November 25. I’ll announce the winners in the comments at the bottom of this post On Monday November 26.

This is my first giveaway, so it’s a test run of the procedure. If this works well, there’ll be a number of other giveaways between now and Christmas.

A couple of words about the phones. The first one is in an unopened box. The second one is the model I used to review the phone. That means I used it for a few days, it’s not scratched or damagaged. I’ll remember to reset it before I send it to you by NZ Post when the competitor closes.

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.

Many recent phone launch presentations have been all about the camera. Most of the rest spend more time talking about their phone cameras than anything else. I can’t think of a single phone presentation I’ve seen in the last three years where the camera was relegated to a footnote.

Apple, Samsung and Huawei all want you to know their phone cameras are better than before. It is always true.

They’d also like you to think their cameras are better than their rivals. That’s a losing game. They are all excellent. But each excels in different ways.

You wouldn’t be disappointed with the camera in any premium phone. You might find one phone misses a camera feature you’d like, or is a touch weaker in some department. You might find one suits your style, works the same way you do or has a user interface that’s easier to understand. Either way, they are all good.

Apple iPhone XS camera

Phone cameras good, getting better

Indeed, phone cameras are now exceptionally good. So good that the stand alone camera market looks doomed for everyone except professionals and serious amateurs willing to part with lots of money.

Forget whinging about a NZ$2800 phone, the starting price for a full frame mirrorless camera from Sony, Nikon or Canon is about twice that. And then you buy extra lenses.

The low-end camera market is already dead. The mid-range is struggling. There is almost no casual stand-alone camera market these days.

It’s still worth buying a standalone camera if you want consistent great pictures

There are good reasons to buy a high-quality standalone camera if you want to take great pictures.

The physics of camera optics means that, in general, you get better images with a bigger and better lens along with a big sensor array. You also need some distance between the lens and the focal plane where light hits photosensors.

None of this is possible in a phone which is often less than 10mm thick. Phone cameras have small lenses. There is almost no distance between the lens and the sensor array. Sensor arrays are also small, usually smaller than a fingernail while a more traditional digital camera might have an array the size of a matchbox.

Phones have plastic lenses, which, on the whole, are not as good as the glass lenses in cameras. Plastic can distort images. Phone makers spend millions developing better materials and techniques to reduce this, but glass still beats plastic.

Phone cameras get around physical shortcoming with heavy duty computer processing. Upmarket phones have two or even three lenses. They combine their images to create better pictures. Most of the time this gets around the distortion.

Software does the heavy lifting

They do a hell of a lot of this in software. Which brings up an interesting philosophical point: Are they capturing reality or are they making it up?

You may wonder why phone makers keep putting faster and faster processors in their phones. After all, none of the last three or four generations of flagship phones have been slouches when it comes to handling most computing tasks.

The main reason for the extra grunt is to handle image processing. It’s a data-intensive task and phones have to do it in microseconds.

Phone makers love to tell you their models use artificial intelligence. Most of the time phones use the results of earlier AI work to inform their brute-force image processing. They don’t do on-the-fly artificial intelligence to process your pictures.

The results are impressive. When Apple gave me a demonstration of the iPhone XS Max, I was struck by how much like a digital SLR the results can be, in the right hands.

As much as I try, my iPhone or Huawei shots are never as good. I still get far better results from my ageing but trusty digital SLR. The pictures are often good enough to use in print.

Mirrorless

If I was to buy a new camera, I’d go for a modern mirrorless design. Until recently this would have meant a Sony Alpha, but Nikon and Canon now have tempting alternatives. I can’t put my finger on it, but to my eyes Canon images look better, so the Canon EOS R would be my probable choice.

Mirrorless means the camera doesn’t have a traditional optical viewfinder like an SLR or digital SLR. Instead you see the same image that the sensors see. This makes the cameras simpler, smaller and lighter.

For consumers stand alone cameras are on a path to becoming a retro-tech thing like vinyl records or analogue music synthesisers. Professionals will go on using standalone cameras. But the market is slowing.

I still take a camera along when I travel overseas or cover a conference as a journalist. The more traditional controls easier to use, even if I spend most of the time on automatic setttings. When I need to fiddle, it’s easy to tweak dials and press buttons than hunt for controls on a phone screen.

Having said that, often I find myself on a reporting job where the only camera to hand is my phone. If I take a little time, I can get good pictures with that too. I’ve already noticed I’m less likely to pack the standalone camera when heading out to cover a story. I no longer keep it handy, charged and ready to go. That’s not the case with my phone.

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.