HMD Global has been firing on all cylinders this year, and the revived Nokia brand seems to be picking up momentum. The company made a big splash at the MWC exhibition in early 2018 with a fresh top-to-bottom lineup, and since then it has released even more new models. While today's Nokia phones might not have the most impressive specifications on paper compared to what Chinese companies currently offer at the same prices, we've been quite satisfied with what we've seen. Instead of fighting with multiple cameras or powerful processors, HMD Global seems to be leveraging the Nokia name and focusing on construction quality, aesthetics, and ease of use.
The company's naming scheme is a little confusing — while the new Nokia 3.1 Plus does boast of a large screen, it isn't just a bigger counterpart to the Nokia 3.1 which was announced earlier this year. It has updated hardware and plenty of improved design touches, which should help it feel fresh in a very saturated market. We're reviewing the variant with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage which is priced at Rs. 11,499 in India — there will also be a lower-priced variant with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, but HMD Global is yet confirmed its price and availability, so all comparisons to other phones will be based on the unit we have. Without further ado, let's get started.
Nokia 3.1 Plus design
A lot of people buy phones online without ever touching or feeling them, but you have to get your hands on a Nokia 3.1 Plus unit to understand how solid and immediately reassuring it feels. The body is all aluminium except for the glass front and plastic caps at the top and bottom of the rear. The sides of the body are rounded, and the corners are curved so that this phone is always comfortable in the hand. It's a look we've seen on dozens of different phones over the years, but it still comes across as attractive.
The aluminium rear shell has a non-slippery soft-touch texture which makes handling this phone really easy. It resists fingerprints but we did see smudges and scuffs after a few days of casual use. This phone is available in three colours — blue, white, and a bluish-grey shade called Baltic. Our review unit was the latter, and we liked it a lot. It's neutral and subtle, but still distinct. Unlike the Nokia 3.1 which has bold contrasting metal accents, the Nokia 3.1 Plus only has silver trims around the camera bump and fingerprint sensor on the back.
The 18:9 screen measures 6 inches diagonally but this phone isn't much larger than standard 5.5-inch phones. At 180g and 8.2mm thick, this phone is definitely on the bulkier side, but most people will find it manageable. The only negatives we found were that that the seams between the metal and plastic don't meet perfectly, and the SIM trays on the left don't fit into the body very cleanly. The trays in particular have rough, unfinished-looking edges where specks of dust seemed to collect almost immediately.
HMD Global has managed to reduce the thickness of borders around the screen, but there's a silver Nokia logo that interrupts the otherwise minimalist look. The screen's corners are rounded to match those of the body, and the front glass is very slightly curved at the edges. The company says that this is toughened glass but does not specify a brand. Overall, the look is very simple and straightforward, but not boring.
The power and volume buttons are on the left, within easy reach. If you have to stretch a thumb, you can do so confidently without this phone slipping out of your palm. There's a 3.5mm audio socket on the top, and a Micro-USB port on the bottom. There are symmetrical grilles, but only the one on the right has a speaker behind it. One of the trays on the left can seat SIM 1 plus a microSD card, and the second tray is for SIM 2. In the box, you'll find a 5V/2A charger, Micro-USB cable, and headset.
Nokia 3.1 Plus specifications and software
Priced at Rs. 11,499, the Nokia 3.1 Plus variant with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage goes up against the Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro (Review) and the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 (Review). However, HMD Global has gone with a relatively pokey processor, the MediaTek Helio P22, which we last saw in the entry-level Xiaomi Redmi 6 (Review). This SoC has eight ARM Cortex-A53 cores running at up to 2GHz and is manufactured using a power-efficient 12nm process. Four are used for basic tasks, and the rest kick in only when needed.
The main attraction here is the 6-inch screen. The HD+ 720x1440-pixel resolution might not seem like a lot at this size, but we found it to be comfortable. Thanks to the large body, there's also a 3500mAh battery, and HMD Global promises two-day battery life. The 13-megapixel f/2.0 main rear camera on the rear is joined by a 5-megapixel f/2.4 depth sensor. There's also an 8-megapixel f/2.2 front camera.
The sensors include a gyroscope and compass in addition to the usual proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, and accelerometer. There's also Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11n, and GPS/ A-GPS. 4G and VoLTE are supported on both SIMs at the same time.
The blanket adoption of Android One for all Nokia phones in 2018 (entry-level aside) has helped HMD Global differentiate its offerings from the typically bloated UIs that most Chinese phones at this price level are saddled with. Our review unit was running Android 8.1 with (surprisingly) the August 2018 security patch, and we can confidently expect an upgrade to Android 9 Pie in the near future.
When we first turned this phone on and got online, we were relieved to not have to deal with a flood of spammy notifications and apps trying to update themselves. The home screens and app drawer on the Nokia 3.1 Plus are blissfully devoid of extraneous icons and clutter. The only non-standard apps were Google's own Files Go and Google Pay, and a necessary FM radio app.
The UI felt snappy and responsive despite the low-end processor in use. However, with all that said, there are some disadvantages to barebones stock Android. You don't get popular features like the ability to run two instances of some apps, or handy little tools for things like screenshot annotations. If you want face recognition, you'll have to dig through the security settings to find the native Android ‘Trusted Face' feature. There isn't even a RAM counter in the app switcher. If you like having these tweaks and customisations, it's up to you to find third-party alternatives wherever possible.
Nokia 3.1 Plus performance, battery life and cameras
As stated above, we didn't have much trouble with the stock Android UI, and basic usage didn't feel sluggish. There were some stutters when browsing through the Play store and switching between heavy apps and games, and load times at times felt a bit longer than usual.
The screen is nice and bright, and we didn't have trouble outdoors. Colours aren't the most vibrant, but we enjoyed watching videos streamed from YouTube and other services. The large screen makes content look good, and the relatively low resolution isn't a problem because you don't need to hold this phone up close to your face. The single speaker is pretty loud and the sound is quite rich and deep, but it does distort at high volumes.
To call the Nokia 3.1 Plus's benchmark scores weak would be an understatement. With just 77,999 points in AnTuTu, this phone is outperformed by several models that sell for well under Rs. 10,000. Geekbench refused to run on our review unit, but PCMark's Work 2.0 test gave us 4,752 points and the browser-based Basemark 3.0 returned a score of 76.89. At least low-impact graphics test scores were decent, with this phone scoring 26fps in GFXBench's T-rex test and 8,015 points in 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme.
We were pleasantly surprised to see Dead Trigger 2 run smoothly, though levels took a while to load. On the other hand, the new Asphalt 9: Legends was too choppy and simply froze after a point.
While raw performance is a bit underwhelming, battery life is this phone's strongest suit. With casual usage including some gaming and an hour or so of video streaming over the course of a working day, we saw the battery level dip by only around 60 percent, leaving plenty for the night and next day. In our HD video loop test, the Nokia 3.1 Plus lasted for a staggering 17 hours, 13 minutes. With experiences like this, we have no doubt that a lot of users will be able to stretch to two full days of usage per charge, without being too careful. There's also a Battery Saver mode that can be set to kick in automatically when your battery level goes down to 15 percent. We only wish that quick charging was supported.
The cameras on the Nokia 3.1 Plus are just about okay. The app has a Live Bokeh mode and lets you adjust the intensity of the depth effect. The manual mode only gives you options for focus, white balance, and exposure compensation, and the controls aren't fine-grained either. For video, there are separate time-lapse and slow motion modes.
We noticed severe shutter lag even in bright daylight, possibly due to HDR being set to automatic by default. This made taking photos a little frustrating. In most cases, quality was decent but not exciting. Detail suffers if you aren't focusing on a subject at close range, for example when taking shots of a landscape. Even with macros, fine details didn't come out very well and natural textures were lost. We had a little trouble with overexposure in bright parts of the frame. The Bokeh effect was pretty good, but sometimes we noticed issues with edge detection. At night, photos came out with a lot of grain and even objects directly under a streetlamp came out looking poorly defined.
Video is recorded at 1080p with both the front and rear cameras by default. It's definitely shakey and there's a lot of focus hunting when anything in the frame moves. The quality is just about okay for casual use but if you care about preserving memories, this isn't the phone for you. Selfies are also just okay. One very neat touch is that the screen flash at night has an amber tint and increases in brightness gradually, so you aren't blinded and skin tones aren't blown out.
The Nokia 3.1 Plus is not the most competitive phone at its price level; not by a long shot. No matter how good it looks on the outside, it's hard to ignore just how much smoother the usage experience is with other models. If you're spending this much money, you should expect nothing less, and physical durability isn't worth much if your needs are going to outgrow its capabilities within a year or two.
What you do get is a large screen and incredible battery life, which means that this phone could be a good choice for those who love watching movies or TV shows and don't care about gaming.
If you think that sums up your needs and you really like the style of this phone — both hardware and software — then you can go for it. On the other hand, if you can live with a less impressive battery, the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M1 (Review) is a far better all-rounder that looks somewhat similar, has a screen that's just as large with a higher resolution, and costs less.