Nokia 3.1: Full, in-depth review

Nokia 3.1
  • Nokia 3.1
  • Nokia 3.1
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Super cheap
  • Diamond-cut feel factor

Cons

  • Performance hitches
  • Lack of features

Bottom Line

The Nokia 3.1 is a smartphone that picks its wars wisely. If you’re looking to fight those same battles on a budget, it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

It still feels strange and uncanny to describe Nokia as a challenger in the mobile space - but I really struggle to find another way to describe the brand’s M.O. in 2018.

When it comes to the value-driven segments of the smartphone market, they’re driving a hard bargain that leaves even staples like Moto’s G-series looking worse-for-wear. These new devices aren’t perfect by any means - but they do come across with a pizazz and confidence that helps them usurp the competition.

Sliding in above the $149 Nokia 1 and below the $399 Nokia 6.1, the Nokia 3.1 doesn’t break away from this formula but there’s still plenty to like about it.

Specs

Display size:  5.2-inch

Display type: IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, HD+

Processor:  Mediatek MT6750

Weight:  138.3g

Dimensions: 146.3 mm x 68.7 mm x 8.7 mm

Operating System: Android 8.0

Fingerprint Sensor: No

Face Unlock: No

RAM:  2GB

Storage: 8GB + MicroSD

Durability: Gorilla Glass

Ports: MicroUSB, 3.5mm headphone

SIM:  Dual SIM

Battery: 2990mAh

Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11ac), Bluetooth 4, Cat 4 LTE,

Rear Camera: 13 MP, f/2.0, AF

Front-Facing Camera:  8 MP, f/2.0

Colors: Blue/Copper, Black/Chrome, White/Iron

Price:  $249

Design - Look, Feel and Features

For better or worse, every new Nokia device has a really similar look and feel. On one hand, these shared aesthetics give the portfolio a really consistent feel. On the other, they do drain a bit of the excitement from the 2018 HMD lineup.

Once you’ve seen one 2018 Nokia smartphone, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

Credit: Nokia

Still, the Nokia 3.1 does try and put its own spin on the template via diamond cut aluminum sides. This serve to make it it feel just that little bit premium in the palm of your hand. The hard plastic back-side of the device gives up the jig quick-fast but so long as you’re gripping the sides of the Nokia 3.1, it feels significantly more expensive than it ought to.

The other big difference worth noting on here is the slimmer profile. In line with it’s 18:9 aspect ratio display, the Nokia 3.1 carries a taller and more rectangular form-factor. The HD+ display here isn’t quite as bright, colorful or detailed as some of the other options out there but, for the most part, it gets the job done.

Looking at the bigger picture, however, the Nokia 3.1 does come across as a little more modest in terms of features than its counterparts.

The Nokia 3.1 runs on a super-skim version of Android but lacks both a fingerprint sensor or face unlock functionality. It also doesn’t feature any sort of formal IP rating or waterproofing. The single grill speaker the bottom end of the device isn’t much to hear from either.

Credit: Nokia

The low-amount of on-board storage here is another constraint. I’m pretty active about deleting apps I don’t use from my devices nowadays but it didn’t take me long to brush against the limits of the Nokia 3.1’s 8GB of on-board storage.

Still, the Nokia 3.1 oozes European style from the moment you pick it up. Even if the feature-list isn’t quite as rich as I’d like, there’s nothing that feels quite as nice within the sub-$249 smartphone niche the device lays claim to.

Camera - How does it compare to the competition?

In terms of photographic prowess, the Nokia 3.1 falls in the same bucket as previous Nokia devices. Sometimes, it’s capable of producing powerful and impressive results. However, most of time, it skates by with a passing grade. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

Daylight shots can see the color balance becomes quite striking but oft-times, images aren’t entirely in focus.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

As usual, darker scenes are a bit more of a mixed-bag. The Nokia 3.1 delivers decent low-light performance relative to most of the other devices playing in the same price-range as it. However, clear as day, it remains a weakness for the brand.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

In terms of extra functionality around the camera, the Nokia 3.1 falls short of even the brand’s own standards. There’s no Pro-mode like that found in the more expensive Nokia devices and lacks any sort of portrait photography setting.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

Performance - Software, Performance and Battery Life

In terms of performance, the Nokia 3.1 comes tantalizingly close to living up to the bar set by its more-expensive brethren. Like them, it runs on a super-slimmed down Android One version of Android 8.0 Oreo.

There are no proprietary Nokia apps to speak of, sans the camera. Out of the box, everything is set to the Google-branded equivalent from the music player to the photos app. This will thrill some more than others. Your mileage may vary. Personally though, I’m still a big fan of Nokia’s whole approach on Android.

Credit: Nokia

And the approach itself does also yielded some significant gains when it comes to benchmarks. Though slightly more expensive, the Nokia 3.1 tended to dominate in the chart below. Across most fronts, it cleanly outranked and out-rated the rest of the budget crowd.

More anecdotally, we encountered a little bit of hitching during our time with the Nokia 3.1 but thankfully no crashes.

Apps generally loaded fast but it didn’t take long for things to drag if we attempted to eke anything out of Android’s native multitasking capabilities. The Nokia 3.1 holds together under pressure nicely - but if you’re more of a power-user, it's probably gonna be worth investing in something with a beefier spec-sheet.

In terms of everyday battery-life, we’d make it through the usual 9-5 work day pretty consistently but did need to make the time for a top up if we planned on doing anything afterwards. We’re talking nine or ten hours of use here, though - as always - your mileage may vary (especially if you watch or film a lot of video content).

Unfortunately, the Nokia 3.1 supports neither fast nor wireless charging.

The Bottom Line

At first blush, the Nokia 3.1 holds its own as a contender for the best smartphone you can buy for $249. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t fall short on a few key fronts.

If you’re after a smartphone that looks really nice and can handle the basics with grace - then this is a great option. But if you’re after longer battery life, a fingerprint sensor, face unlock or fast-charging, there are plenty of other options that’ll fit that bill. Even in the budget space.

The Nokia 3.1 is a smartphone that picks its wars wisely and if you’re looking to fight those same battles on a budget, it’s a weapon that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Credit: Nokia

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