Nokia 8.1 redefines mid-market value #ExpectMore

Nokia 8.1
100% human

The Nokia 8.1 is the latest in a long line from a very new company with a great heritage to live up to.

Gadget Guy has reviewed so many Nokia’s we often joke about rabbits and Nokia designers having nothing to do on those long, cold Finnish nights. Well, the Nokia 8.1 proves that given enough time Nokia can make a truly great phone.

Fortunately, the Nokia 8.1 is not a follow up to the Nokia 8 Sirocco (review here) that while good, missed the mark. It is the logical step up from the Nokia 7.1 that blew us away with its $499 price tag and value for money.

I want to preface the Nokia 8.1 review by an observation about Nokia price and GadgetGuy ratings (in brackets)

  • 8.1 2019 $699 (This review and gets 4.8 stars)
  • 7.1 2018 $499 (Review here 4.9 for its fantastic feature/value)
  • 6.1 2018 $399 (Review here – 4.3)
  • 5.1 Plus 2018 $299 (Review here 3.8)
  • 3.1 2018 $249 (Shootout here)
  • 2.1 2018 $199 (Shootout here)
  • 1 2108 $149 (Review here 4.0)
  • 8110 4G Banana feature phone $129 (First look here)
  • 3310 3G feature phone $89 (Review here)

Nokia’s winning strategy is to have a phone in all segments. Do not be concerned by the 2018 or 2019 moniker – its more for me to help identify them from the previous versions.

How we rate smartphones

Apart from specifications, we need to slot them into a market segment. Over the past few months, those segments have seen Apple’s insanely eye-watering XS/Max, new entrants like the Galaxy S10-series and by the time you read this Huawei will have the P30 series.

We review against different paradigms for each category.

  • Foldable $2500+
  • Premium Flagship $1500-2499
  • Flagship $1000-1499 (this used to be our highest segment)
  • Premium mid-market $800-999
  • Mid-market $500-799
  • Mass-market $200-499
  • Value pre-paid <A$199

It is important that we compare Apples with Apples (because that iOS all we can do) and Android phones within various price bands.

For example, Nokia’s 7.1 redefined the ‘bang-for-buck’ equation for mass market phones by offering features only found in premium/mid-market phones like 5.84-inch, FHD, HDR10 screen, Qualcomm 6XX Snapdragon, Zeiss lens camera, Wi-Fi AC, Quick Charge and Android One Pie – amazing.

The Nokia 8.1 has a lot to live up to.

In the box: Nokia 8.1

Nokia 8.1

Australian Website here

  • Handset
  • Charger 5V/3A, 9V/2A, 12V/1.5A (18W) Qualcomm Fast Charge 3.0
  • USB-A to USB-C 2 cable
  • 3.5 mm earbuds and mic

The first impression

The review model is a very dark blue, almost black in colour. I quite like the Nokia simplicity – style with a metal band around the edge, the fingerprint reader on the rear (under the dual Zeiss lens camera). Overall it has a solid, quality feel yet at 180g it does not feel too heavy.

It has a 6.18-inch ‘notch’ edge-to-edge screen that is bright and colourful. Android One Pie is clean and uncluttered.

JB Hi-Fi also has the Steel/Copper version that looks very masculine indeed.

Buy here – or you will regret it

We issue the standard warning that you must buy the genuine Model with Australian firmware as it works on all Australian Carrier LTE bands and can make a 000-emergency call without a sim.

The Model number is TA-1128 SS 464 ANZ SKU: 11PNXL21A15. What this means is that it is 4/64GB and has a dual hybrid sim slot, unlocked and Australian firmware for Telstra, Optus and Vodafone (and their resellers).

Do not buy TA-1119, TA-1121, TA-1131 or other variants for different countries and carriers. Do not buy any models called X7 – these are for China only.

Please check that your supplier has a genuine Australian product – we checked several prominent online stores, and all were offering the TA-1119 for India – not good enough.

Optus Band 1
Band 3
Band 7
Band 28
Band 40
Telstra Band 1
Band 3
Band 7
Band 8
Band 28
Vodafone Band 3
Band 5
Band 1
(Adelaide & Brisbane


Size: 6.18-inch, 2280 x 1080 (FHD+), 403ppi, 18.7:9, PureDisplay, IPS
81.5% S-T-B-R
24-bit 16.7m colours
Brightness: 500 nits plus Android Pie adaptive brightness that is a bit too aggressive.
Contrast:  1000:1 typical and 1500:1 maximum
HDR10, 96% NTSC gamut
Notch: Yes – largish but hidden in a black screen bar
Screen protection: NEG (Nippon Electric Glass) Dinorex (grade unspecified)

Our tests reveal reasonably even brightness of 540 nits – over spec. Contrast and colour purity depend on your choice of dynamic, vivid, cinema or basic PureDisplay pre-sets.

As is the case with all IPS screens blacks are more charcoal leading to an average 1000:1 (typical) to 1500:1 (maximum) contrast. It is bright enough for outdoor use, but lower contrast and a glossy screen somewhat reduce that functionality. Very few IPS screens work well in sunlight.

Testing with CalMan 2D shows 100% sRGB which is in line with 96% NTSC. The most saturated colour is Vivid mode and the most natural is basic mode.

Screen summary: Excellent IPS screen


Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 710, 110nm
6  x Kryo 358 Silver@1.7GHz and 2 x Kryo 385 Gold@2.2Ghz
Spectra 250 Image Signal Processor
Multi-core AI engine with Hexagon 685 Vector processing
Supports QC 4.0
GPU Adreno 616
H.263/H264, HEVC, VP8/9, MPEG4
Reasonable games support to 60fps
64GB eMMC 5.1 (45GB free)
micro-SD card slot up to 400GB but uses exFAT, so maximum file size is 4GB

This is the new Qualcomm 7XX series that uses a 10nm die for enhanced battery life. Interestingly it is about 10% slower than the 2017 Qualcomm 835 flagship and half the speed of the 2018 Qualcomm 845 flagship. One of the reasons for great performance is that it does not throttle under load – you get the full GHz rating.

Maximum external heat was 40° with an internal 75° CPU at 100% load. It can get a little hot if you stress it with Bitcoin mining or 4K video otherwise in normal use it does not exceed 32°.

Performance tests Geek Bench 4 were 1833 for single core and 5919 for multi-core.

Summary: Great engine – same as used on the OPPO R17 Pro


Comms Wi-Fi AC, dual-band, 2 x 2 MU-MIMO
866MHz at 2 metres from D-Link AC5300 router, 390Mbps at 6m
(As with all Wi-Fi figures these are double the actual rate as Wi-Fi is half duplex)
Wi-Di, Hotspot
Bluetooth 5.0
USB-C, 2.0
NFC: yes

Summary: These specifications part of the Qualcomm 710 SoC. They are as good as you can get for the price.


Sound 3.5mm audio jack
Standard 3.5mm buds/mic
Earpiece speaker
Down-firing speaker reaches 80dB albeit treble heavy (shrill)
ANC dual mics (Nokia OZO surround sound)
Google Assistant
FM Radio
Codecs: SBC and if you enable developer mode AAC, aptX/HD, LDAC
Sample rate: 44.1-96kHz

No single speaker phone does well in music – this is no exception. There was no bass at all, mids from 400Hz to 2000Hz were good but not flat, and treble was very good from 2kHZ to 16kHz. This is a bright vocal signature – quite clear and crisp for voice but can be shrill for music and movies.

We tried the device with a pair of Sony WH-100XM2 headphones that support Hi-Res aptX HD and LDAC.

Handsfree was loud, and the callers felt the mics were particularly good. But we felt the voice quality was just average.


Other Goodix rear Fingerprint sensor
GPS and e-compass

The fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate. Face Unlock is apparently coming via a firmware update.


Battery 3630mAh battery (nominally 3500mAh
5V/3A, 9V/2A, 12V/1.5A (18W) Qualcomm Fast Charge 3.0
Approx 2 hours from 0-100% with charger

The battery is quite large for this class of device. It gave over 14 hours of FHD video loop. Under 100% load, maximum brightness and everything turned on it was empty in just over seven hours (Geekbench 4 battery test).

Given typical use we expect this to run for 24+ hours between charges.

The battery should be capable of Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0 so with the right charger you could expect recharge time to halve.


LTE Cat 6 300/50Mbps (does not use Qualcomm modem)
Bands  1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28, 38, 40
Sim Single or Dual (hybrid with microSD)
Can both be 4G
Other VoLTE and VoWiFi depends on the carrier

It does not use the Qualcomm X15 Cat15/13 (800/150Mbps) modem – likely to keep costs in check. But it does support all the Australian bands and has VoLTE. It does not support HD sound.

Operating system

OS Android 9 Pie
Android One

Android One is pure Android and should receive at least two OS upgrades and three years of patches and security updates.

Pie has loads of new features including AI to learn about your use and adapt the phone to it. In the test week, we started to see minor improvements, especially in the over aggressive adaptive brightness setting.

Build etc

Colours Steel/Copper
Midnight Blue/Siler
Build 6000-series Aluminium frame.
Slippery – get a bumper case
Dimensions 154.8 x 75.76 x 7.97 mm x 180g
IP Rating Not stated but not waterproof

It is well made and has lasting quality. I strongly recommend a clear bumper case and screen protector if you intend to keep it for a few years.

What’s missing

Missing Facial detection not supported
IP rating
Notification LED

None of these is a deal breaker for a $699 phone. It is as fully features as phones costing $100+ more.

Camera – class leader

Nokia 8.1
Rear Camera 1
12.2MP, Samsung S5K2L7, 1.4um pixels
f/1.8, OIS/EIS, Dual pixel auto focus (DPAF)
Support AI scene recognition – 18 different scenes such as portrait, food, night scene, blue sky, etc
Dual colour Hi-Cri flash
4K@30fps with clear Nokia OZO audio recording
Google Lens
Rear Camera 2 13MP, Samsung S5K3L65 ISOCELL, 1.12um, f/2.2, FF
Selfie 20 MP, Samsung S4K3T1, f/2.0, FF (pixel size is 1.8um but ends up .9um with binning)
Uses 4 pixel binning to produce 5MP shot
Dual-Sight mode (bothie) that allows you to simultaneously shoot and stream from both the cameras. No flash

The rear camera setup looks very much like the camera set up on the Nokia 7.1, but the results are even better due to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 SoC which comes with the new Spectra 250 engine.

This support noise reduction and image stabilisation for low-light photography. The chipset also supports real-time bokeh effects, even with a single camera setup.

The Pro Camera mode offers adjustments from ISO 100-1600. The Photo mode uses AI to help perfect the shot – it works.

You get free, unlimited storage with Google Photos as well as microSD storage.

All our tests are in Auto

Daylight, outdoors

Accurate, natural colours, great detail, no noise and slightly wider angle than many other cameras.

Nokia 8.1

1/4000sec, ISO 104, 8.2MB (larger than most)

Indoors Office Light

Good detail, good bokeh and accurate colours

Nokia 8.1

1.100 sec, ISO 131 and 6.7MB

Low light

Amazing shot – this is a dark room with ambient light less than 100 lumens.

Nokia 8.1

This is where the Qualcomm 710 shines picking up all detail on the right monitor and correctly focusing on the HP printer logo. Colours are accurate, and noise levels are low.

Bokeh and live bokeh

It uses the power of the Qualcomm processor, the 250 Spectra image processor and the second lens for depth information. Using live bokeh negates HDR.


Pixel binning means taking four 20MP images and selecting the best pixels to bin into an image. The result is a 5MP photo and a 1.8um equivalent ‘very big’ pixel for low light.

It takes exceptional selfies.


It has OIS at 1080@60fps and EIS at 4k@30fps. Colours are good, and the sweet spot is really 1080p recording.

AI software

Add a professional touch to your portraits with studio-style lighting or artfully blur the background with the popular ‘bokeh’ effect. The auto-scene detection is also smart enough to fine-tune settings for you based on subject and lighting. Then unleash your creativity further by using both cameras simultaneously with #Bothies and 3D masks/filters.

GadgetGuy’s take: A Nokia 8.1 for everyday use

Given it offers better specifications than more expensive mid-market (and some premium mid-market), it has GadgetGuy’s hearty recommendation. For $699 you cannot do better.


$699 places it in the middle of the $500-799 mid-market. It sits above the Nokia 7.1 at $499 which is perfect for the mass market and has very few compromises so I would be tossing up between the pair.

There is no other brand/model at this price. In fact, you would have to spend $799 to get the OPPO R17 Pro with the same Qualcomm 710 processor (review here)  or the run-out LG V30+ with the Qualcomm 835 (review here). The Nokia 8.1 is serious competition for these.

Or spend another hundred again to get the Google Pixel 3 (XL version review here) or the Huawei P20 Pro (review here).

My point is the Nokia 8.1 offers significant value that Joe and Jane Average would find hard to beat. And that Steel/Copper version at JB Hi-Fi  is very attractive (for me)

Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Nokia build quality is superb
Almost flagship performance with no throttling
All day battery life and then some
Very good daylight and lowlight camera for the price
Android One Pie 9.x means Android Q and Android R as well as fast updates
Can get a little warm with shooting video
No IP rating (yes it is rain resistant)