“Strange as it is, the closest competitor to the Nokia 3.1 Plus will be the recently-launched Nokia 5.1 Plus”
As the year draws to a close, it seems like Nokia is still trying to see what sticks onto the wall. We have not yet seen a major threat from the company in the premium price range to Samsung’s Galaxy flagships and the new iPhone models this year, but the HMD Global-owned brand is definitely trying to establish a firm presence in the affordable and mid-price range by introducing multiple models in the category. The latest in line and the model under consideration is the Nokia 3.1 Plus (first impressions), which might or might not be the last handset that the company will be launching this year. Surprisingly priced above the Nokia 5.1 Plus (review), the 3.1 Plus comes with an interesting set of specifications, consisting of both upgrades and downgrades over its sibling. To understand how the phone fares in real-world usage and against the competition, we spent some time with the phone and are now ready to share the full review.
Design and display
We have pointed out several times by now that glass sandwich design, which can be seen on most mid-range phones that have been launched recently, provides handsets with a premium look. This is not to say that there are no other implementations that can achieve this same result. Nokia 3.1 Plus is ‘Exhibit A’ for this argument. The aluminium back on the phone comes with a soft finish that provides it with an elegant look and feel. The phone’s back does not get nearly as many fingerprints as a glass back but that’s not to say that it remains clean after regular use. After using the phone as a primary driver for a few days, we noticed that the back gets some noticeable smudges.
You still get the traditional dual camera module (vertically-oriented) in the middle at the back, along with an LED flash with a fingerprint sensor and Nokia branding right below the module. By all means, the Nokia 3.1 Plus carries the design elements that you would associate with all the other recent phones from the brand, including the Android One branding in the lower half at the back.
For the volume rocker and power button, you’ll have to reach out to the right spine of the phone and can find the SIM card slot on the left side. The company has provided a separate slot for the secondary SIM card and the microSD card. The volume and power buttons, as well as the fingerprint sensor, are present at conventional positions and you should not face any issues in terms of accessibility. Thankfully, we have not reached the stage where affordable phones have yet started ditching the 3.5mm audio jack, which is present on the top here.
At the bottom, you will find a micro-USB charging port placed in the middle, next to the speaker. You might occasionally find yourself blocking the loudspeaker grille with your palm when playing games or watching videos but that is the case with most handsets available in the market right now. The loudspeaker volume is decent and the quality is passable.
Nokia 3.1 Plus feels sturdy and should survive occasional fall or two from your hand. In terms of weight and size, the phone is neither among the most compact offerings, nor is it on the bulkier side of the spectrum. It falls somewhere in between.
The 6-inch HD+ panel on the phone features an 18:9 aspect ratio and comes with thin bezels on top and bottom. The quality of the display can be best described in one word – underwhelming. The panel does not appear very vibrant. The colours appear to be washed out and the multimedia content does not seem appealing on the display. Considering that the phone packs a large battery, packing a good display panel would have gone a long way to earn the Nokia 3.1 Plus a tag of a multimedia consumption device.
Optics can effectively make or break smartphones in 2018. Keeping this in mind, the brand has included a dual camera setup at the back with 13MP + 5MP camera sensors. The primary sensor comes with a f/2.0 aperture, while the secondary sensor comes with a f/2.4 aperture. If we talk about the default camera app, you get standard options like Panorama, Manual, and Time-lapse among others. However, there is also a Live Bokeh mode, which reminds one of and works similarly as Samsung’s Live Focus feature. You can adjust the level of blur according to depth when clicking an image and also adjust it after the image has been clicked with this mode. For those of you who like blurring backgrounds, this mode gets the work done.
We took plenty of pictures from the phone and under different kinds of lighting conditions to test out the sensors. Unfortunately, the lack of details was evident in many use case scenarios and the camera only seems to shine when provided with ample light in outdoor conditions. The dynamic range is nothing to write home about and the bokeh effect comes out a tad bit unflattering as well. The inaccuracy of the edge detection often results in some funny images too.
On the flip side, you get an 8MP front shooter with f/2.2 aperture. You can also click selfies with bokeh effects but the edge detection issues still persist here. Interestingly, the front camera manages to capture the details really well. If you like to shoot videos, you will be able to record videos in up to full HD resolution with both front and rear cameras on the Nokia 3.1 Plus. The video quality is acceptable but notably, the EIS doesn’t help to a great extent. You can take a look at the camera samples taken from the phone in the gallery embedded below to get a better idea about the quality offered by the phone.
Software and performance
Android is now more than a decade old and it is safe to conclude that the stock version of Google’s mobile platform is usually better than the heavily-customised versions that are devised by different brands. Here, you get a rather pure iteration of Android 8.1 Oreo. As we are talking about a Nokia phone with Android One branding, you will be getting guaranteed OS updates for two years and monthly security updates for three years. Before we even start talking about the actual performance of the UI, these factors can play a deciding role for you if you want a clutter-free handset that will receive guaranteed software backing for the next two years.
The performance on the phone is driven by Helio P22 system-on-ship, tagged along with 3 GB of LPPDDR3 RAM. This chipset provides the handset with some useful AI features like Face unlock and bokeh effect with both front and rear cameras. That being said, we were not particularly impressed by the overall experience delivered by the 3.1 Plus. The phone struggled to play games like PUBG (even on lowest graphics settings) and we could even sense the slight delay when opening apps on the phone.
This is where things get slightly awkward. Nokia 5.1 Plus, which is another handset from the brand in the same category but with a marginally lower price tag, is fuelled by a Hello P60 chipset, which manages to deliver a superior performance in comparison to the Helio P22 SoC on the Nokia 3.1 Plus. It is hard to understand why the brand would not offer the same chipset on both these phones or at least keep their price points farther apart.
In one of the most significant upgrades over the Nokia 5.1 Plus, the 3.1 Plus packs a large 3,500mAh battery, compared with a 3,010mAh cell on the former. In casual usage, you will find that the phone easily lasts beyond a day without breaking a sweat. However, we realised that the phone’s battery drains at a really fast rate when performing intensive tasks like gaming. This basically indicates that the phone doesn’t optimise the battery usage really well during such use cases. In our HD video loop test, the handset performed really well and lasted around 17 hours. As we mentioned earlier, due to an underwhelming display panel, we won’t recommend the Nokia 3.1 Plus for multimedia consumption but if you are the sort of person who just likes to use the phone for browsing and staying connected via social media apps, you will appreciate the battery life offered by this phone.
Nokia 3.1 Plus has quite a few things going for it. Impressive build quality, stock Android user interface, guaranteed software updates, and a large battery capacity add to the overall appeal of the phone. Further, the offline presence will definitely help the phone in terms of availability. On the downside, priced at Rs 11,499, the handset’s chipset cannot match the performance offered by rival handsets including ASUS Zenfone Max Pro M1 (review), Realme 1 (review), and most crucially, the Nokia 5.1 Plus. If you prefer an uncluttered experience on your phone along with a good battery backup, the Nokia 3.1 Plus might just be the phone for you.
Editor’s Rating: 3 / 5
- Design and build quality
- Stock Android UI
- Good battery life
- Needs a more powerful processor
- Camera performance is average
Photos by Raj Rout