The mid-range smartphone segment has been gradually dying out with most buyers either going in for a budget smartphone (like a Redmi Note 5 Pro) priced between Rs 10,000 to 15,000 to a low-cost flagship like a OnePlus 5T that offers premium hardware at a starting price of around Rs 33,000.
With that said, brands like Honor and Samsung are holding the fort with mid-range offerings, but they somehow never got it right.
The problems are basically to do with underpowered hardware, often borrowed from budget smartphones. Ones that disappoint buyers when they try out a smartphone that's priced well into the Rs 20,000 segment but performs like a Rs 14,000 smartphone.
In fact, you can thank Chinese smartphone manufacturers for bringing mid-range chipsets to budget smartphones spoiling the consumer when it comes to performance.
With that in mind, most smartphone brands have seen little success with the mid-range segment as they either try to copy notched displays from the premium segment devices or try and offer under-powered hardware, which rarely makes up for their mid-range pricing (example Vivo V9).
While Nokia too has stayed away from this segment for a while, HMD’s efforts to diversify into various segment saw something new come out of the Nokia stable this year, a perfect mid-ranger that not just looks good, but is practical and comes with power-packed performance figures that for once make a mid-range device worthy of its asking price. Say hello! To the Nokia 7 Plus, the first smartphone, worthy of the mid-range title in years.
Build and Design: 9/10
With most Chinese brands busy aping the Apple iPhone X and following its notch philosophy (you can now include OnePlus in that list as well), it was surprising to see Nokia go notch-less in 2018 with the Nokia 7 Plus back at the Mobile World Congress.
Simply, put, the design is practical, looks gorgeous enough to distract an iPhone X owner and is built like a tank.
In other words, Nokia has managed to make a smartphone in the mid-segment that will grab the attention of both mid-range and premium segment buyers. OnePlus, you really need to have something special on the OnePlus 6 this year!
The matte black treatment with copper coloured accents (especially the idea of one placed around the screen) somehow reminded me of those crazy Nokia designs of the past, that were inspired more by trends in fashion than being practical (they came in weird shapes and sizes, but they sure looked cool). I loved how Nokia managed to mount the 2.5 D curved-edge screen without a visible lipping (that usually makes it scratchy when you swipe at the edges) and exposed the metal bezel with a copper finish before the ceramic coating takes over, sliding into the sides.
The design feels luxurious and certainly does not pass off as something that will be priced in sub Rs 30,000 range, both in terms of its looks and the construction quality.
The breath-taking design makes you want to hold the smartphone, just because it looks so good lying on the table.
The ceramic feel coating covers the antenna bands and makes for a grippier surface as opposed to the metal or glass. This also gives the smartphone a solid feel, because its made from a single block of 6000 series aluminium and there’s no glass or an edge-to-edge display to worry about when you drop it. In short, it feels like a tank.
The best part is when you turn over the smartphone and read the fine print at the bottom. It’s “Made in India”! which is surprising, keeping in mind the level of quality they have achieved with the 7 Plus.
This is another area of the smartphone that Nokia seems to have taken care of. There’s a tall 6-inch LCD display sporting an FHD+ resolution. A top-notch Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC (a first for India) paired with 4 GB RAM and 64 GB of internal storage. The internal storage is expandable using microSD cards of up to 256 GB.
Moving to the cameras, there’s a dual camera setup on the rear which includes a 12 MP sensor with a f/1.7 aperture along with a second 13 MP camera that features a f/2.0 aperture with a telephoto lens. The front-facing camera features a 16 MP sensor.
Connectivity options include, LTE Cat 6, 2CA, 300 Mbps DL/50 Mbps UL for the radios, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS/AGPS+GLONASS+BDS, NFC. Unlike its elder sibling the Nokia 8 Sirocco, the 7 Plus features a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the smartphone and a USB Type-C port at the bottom.
The handset runs Android 8.1 Oreo with latest April security patch and is powered by a sizeable 3,800 mAh battery.
Firstly, there’s no notch. So, for those of you who have been waiting for a notch-less mid-range smartphone, this is the one to go for.
The display may not be as vibrant as the unit on the Oppo F7, but tips more towards the cooler tones, without being noticeably blue. While I prefer more natural-looking colours as opposed to saturated colours, the display does a decent job and appeals more to a mass audience with saturated colours. With that said, the brightness levels are good enough for viewing in direct sunlight, being able to read text and view images with no problems.
The 6-inch Full HD plus display features a pixel density of 402 PPI, which is good enough for a mid-range device and comes in the taller 18:9 aspect ratio.
While the display seemed well calibrated overall, the stock software means that there is no tweaking with the hues and contrast levels, something that’s available on entry-level Xiaomi smartphones as well. But that would depend on whether you want to tweak this display as I did not find the need to do the same.
Being an LCD unit, viewing angles were pretty good and better than the stuff we have seen on the Oppo F7 and Vivo V9 this year. What’s even better is that display does come with an oleophobic coating meaning that fingerprints are rare and even if you do manage to smudge your display, they are easy to wipe off, which is a common problem with the Oppo and Vivo smartphones.
With the latest Android 8.1 Oreo software onboard, along with the latest April security patch, there is not much even I as a reviewer can rant or complain about here.
Nokia recently enrolled all its smartphones under the Android One program and this is a good move that comes at a time when most manufacturers are struggling to deliver software updates or even security patches.
The software experience is smooth and lag-free. The only area where I did notice some dropped frames was when zooming into photographs (clicked by the smartphone) in the default Google Photos app. Nokia should investigate this as the issue is present on the Nokia 8 Sirocco as well. Everything else including transitions and animations were smooth with the rest of the apps.
Talking about apps, it's nice to see a smartphone that does not have duplicate apps by the manufacturer in them for once. The only custom third-party apps are the Nokia Camera app and the Nokia Support app both of which are useful. Once skinned almost all manufacturers will provide their own version of the Gallery app and the Google Photos app, which apart from adding to the clutter also hogs up space on the internal storage. So, the switch to stock has helped here.
As with most stock Android 8.1 interfaces like on the Pixel, there is now a Pixel-like power menu that pops up from the right-hand-side when you press down the power/unlock button. The theme again like the Google Pixel 2 will change from a standard white to stealthy black when you change to a darker wallpaper. There are notification dots and previews as well as one would expect on a stock Android One-powered phone.
Nokia has added a few customisable features to the almost stock software. This would include the ability to swipe down on the fingerprint reader to drop down the notifications tray. The fingerprint reader can also be used for navigation, but you cannot hide the navigation bar so it’s not all that useful. Apps that have not been optimised for the taller 18:9 display can be expanded with a single tap.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 is what keeps the show running on the Nokia 7 Plus. The recently launched SoC from Qualcomm is the first of the mid-range chipset to feature a manufacturing process (10 nm) that is identical to the SoCs found in premium flagship devices.
The chipset features the new Kryo 260 CPU (clocked at 2.2 GHz), which according to Qualcomm sees a 20 percent bump in performance as compared to previous CPUs in the 600 series SoCs. Handling the graphics is the Adreno 512 GPU that’s a bump up from the 509 GPU found in the Redmi Note 5 Pro that performed well despite being a budget smartphone.
With that said, the Nokia 7 Plus also becomes the first smartphone in India to feature the new mid-range SoC and as expected, it packs in quite a punch.
Be it playing 3D intensive games or simply browsing through your Facebook News Feed, I experienced no hint of lag or stutter. Games ran smoothly without dropping any frames and becoming hot. Real Racing 3 ran buttery smooth at a high resolution, showcasing good detail accompanied by a rocksteady framerate. The same goes for Asphalt 8: Xtreme that did not even see the device warming up running at ‘HPDI’ and ‘Better Quality’.
The only game that saw the temperature of the device rise was PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG mobile). However, I managed to heat up the smartphone with the settings maxed out, but I did expect that to happen, since it is a graphically demanding title.
Another instance where I saw the device getting warm was during charging.
Audio performance is good for a smartphone priced in this range, but do not listen to music with those in box earphones, as they are terrible and lack any bass even though they provide decent noise isolation.
Call quality was clear and loud, both through the receiver and the speaker. The smartphone’s speaker could have been a bit louder (both for calls and music) as I always felt the need to plug in my headphones while streaming videos.
The switch from Android 8.0 to Android 8.1 Oreo update changed things drastically for the Nokia 7 Plus in terms of the camera. Lucky for future owners it came on time, way before this smartphone even goes on sale in India.
The new update changes the camera interface from the complex and clunky interface of last year’s Nokia devices to a simple and easy to use UI.
The Pro camera mode is a charm and works wonders if you can rest your arm against a wall, car while shooting to get amazing photography. I managed to use the Pro mode even without support or a tripod.
The images look pretty impressive for a smartphone priced at Rs 25,000. They are vibrant showcase slightly saturated colours, with the Auto HDR mode allowing for great daylight images. However, the camera does tend to overexpose in extremely bright lighting conditions.
Portrait mode in the main camera is not impressive, Nokia really needs to work on it. The images are just not sharp enough to stand out from the blurred background. Also despite the instructions relayed to the user in the Portrait mode, (too far, too near, depth success), a slight amount of shake is enough to ruin an image in good lighting conditions.
Portrait mode using the selfies camera is really good and showcases sharp details with accurately blurred backgrounds.
Also for some reason, the rear camera’s white balance often went awry under artificial lighting (like our office). The front-facing camera was more accurate when it came to white balance. Outdoors, both front and rear cameras performed well and were accurate when using the auto mode. The Pro Camera mode also allowed for tweaking the white balance, ISO, exposure, focus, and shutter speed. Some of these tweaks were also available in the video mode.
Low light is impressive as well. But if the dimly lit scenarios do see some noise, but that’s the case with most smartphones in this range. The luminance noise did not ruin any images. Save for the Portrait mode from the rear camera, the Nokia 7 Plus beats the Vivo V9 and the Oppo F7.
The video recording needs plenty of work though. The output is smooth and well stabilised (airplane footage in the gallery) provided you don’t pan across the scene because the frame rate drops and the video looks jittery. This is in the 1080p recording. With 4K recording, the effects are not too good.
The Bothie (or dual camera capture) was really fun to use especially when it comes to videos, but the stabilisation problems and panning issues with the rear camera seemed to ruin the experience. Bothie photos worked well in all lighting conditions.
What’s unique about Nokia 7 Plus apart from the Bothies is the OZO audio capture when shooting video.
We compared it to an iPhone 8 Plus, and while the video recording on the 7 Plus did not keep up (the iPhone can shoot buttery smooth 4K 60 fps video), the audio sounded fantastic. Plugging in our headphones, into both handsets, the OZO audio simply makes you feel like you are standing in the midst of the conversation rather than being a spectator which is what it feels when you listen to the audio output from the iPhone.
What’s even cooler, is that tapping on the audio button in video capture mode, lets you choose between audio coming from the people in front of you, behind you or simply all around (by using all the directional mics). How I wish Nokia would have done a better job with video stabilisation and capture.
Battery Life: 8.5/10
With a sizeable 3,800 mAh battery onboard the Nokia 7 Plus I expected the goodies when it came to battery life. Thankfully, the smartphone met those expectations during the review period.
The smartphone easily got me through a day of use nearing the almost two days of usage as advertised by Nokia. This was possible if I didn’t end up gaming excessively.
My regular usage would include shooting about 10-15 photographs, three email accounts on sync with about 200+ emails hitting my inbox every day, continuous chatter on Telegram, WhatsApp, casual gaming and streaming Netflix for about 2-3 hours before I call it a day. Add some extended gaming sessions and you will end up with about 20-10 percent left by the end of the day.
So yes, the Nokia 7 Plus can pull off some good battery figures. My only problem with it was the phone heating up while charging.
In short, Nokia’s recipe of using stock Android 8.1 with a Snapdragon 660 (10 nm) SoC, a large 3,800 mAh battery paired with a FHD+ display has resulted in some good battery figure even though our standard PC Mark 2.0 Battery Life test gave us figures of 11 hours 19 minutes (not bad for a 6-inch devices).
Verdict and Price in India
The Nokia 7 Plus is the best mid-range smartphone I have seen in years. And it’s shocking that after so many years, it’s HMD’s Nokia that suddenly stands tall in a segment that has been dominated by the selfie-happy class of Chinese smartphones from Vivo, Oppo and Huawei.
All of a sudden, there’s now a smartphone that looks really good, is built like a tank, comes with a class-leading SoC, packs in the latest Android software with the latest updates and it all comes at a reasonable Rs 25,999. It does not feature a stupid notch. More importantly, it takes down the iPhone X lookalikes like they did not even exist!
The 7 Plus is the new Nokia poster boy and the smartphone to buy in the Rs 20,000 - Rs 27,000 bracket.
It looks good, performs even better. And it is the first promising Nokia smartphone in years.