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)
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.
Premium Flagship $1500-2499
Flagship $1000-1499 (this used to be our highest
Premium mid-market $800-999
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.
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
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
(Adelaide & Brisbane
Size: 6.18-inch, 2280 x 1080 (FHD+), 403ppi, 18.7:9,
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
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
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
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
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
Summary: These specifications part of the Qualcomm 710 SoC.
They are as good as you can get for the price.
3.5mm audio jack
Standard 3.5mm buds/mic
Down-firing speaker reaches 80dB albeit treble heavy (shrill)
ANC dual mics (Nokia OZO surround sound)
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.
Goodix rear Fingerprint
GPS and e-compass
The fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate. Face Unlock is apparently coming via a firmware update.
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
The battery should be capable of Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0 so
with the right charger you could expect recharge time to halve.
Cat 6 300/50Mbps (does not use Qualcomm modem)
Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28, 38, 40
Single or Dual (hybrid with microSD)
Can both be 4G
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.
Android 9 Pie
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
6000-series Aluminium frame.
Slippery – get a bumper case
154.8 x 75.76 x 7.97 mm x 180g
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
Facial detection not supported
None of these is a deal breaker for a $699 phone. It is as
fully features as phones costing $100+ more.
Camera – class leader
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 RAW or JPEG 4K@30fps with clear Nokia OZO audio recording Google Lens
Rear Camera 2
13MP, Samsung S5K3L65 ISOCELL, 1.12um, f/2.2, FF
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.
Camera mode offers adjustments from ISO 100-1600. The Photo mode uses AI to
help perfect the shot – it works.
free, unlimited storage with Google Photos as well as microSD storage.
tests are in Auto
Accurate, natural colours, great detail, no noise and slightly
wider angle than many other cameras.
1/4000sec, ISO 104, 8.2MB (larger
Indoors Office Light
Good detail, good
bokeh and accurate colours
1.100 sec, ISO 131 and 6.7MB
Amazing shot – this is
a dark room with ambient light less than 100 lumens.
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.
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