Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

  • A premium-feel mid-ranger polarising looks but good battery, features
  • Great Android One feel, but camera struggles in low light

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

IT’S been about nine months since my last foray into the new Nokia, now run by a Finnish company called HMD Global Oy, which had in May 2016 negotiated a deal to buy the Nokia mobile brand from Microsoft Corp.

Then, I reviewed the Nokia 6, which was one of the first smartphones out of their product portfolio. I concluded that the device had the makings of a good mid-ranger but at RM999, it did struggle amongst the competition it was facing at the time.

This year, I tried my hand at the Nokia 7 Plus, which was introduced recently. And for the most part, I found the updated version an improvement from the previous mid-ranger.

Design and build

As usual, we start with the physical body of the phone. According to Nokia, the 7 Plus is constructed from a block of aluminium while adding a ceramic coating on the back to give it a matte finish. The sides of the smartphones are wrapped with a classy looking copper “strip,” which highlights the shape of the device. The fingerprint sensor is found on the back.

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

The Nokia 7 Plus comes equipped with a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chipset, paired with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, which is expandable via a microSD slot that allows you to ramp up storage to 256GB. Power comes courtesy of a 3,800mAH battery.

Camera duties are assumed by a 12-megapixel primary camera at the back that has an f/1.7 aperture. The secondary camera is a 13-megapixel shooter with an f/2.6 aperture, which Nokia says allows the 7 Plus to capture images at 2x.

Camera optics are made by Zeiss, and this is one of HMD’s selling points for its Nokia smartphones. The front-facing camera gets a 16-Megapixel shooter with Zeiss optics that is said to offer better low-light shooting (more on this later).

The screen is a 6-inch, IPS panel with full HD (2160x1080) resolution at 18:9 aspect ratio, which is a first for the Finnish firm. The panels are wrapped with Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The fingerprint reader is placed at the back, which is where I think all readers should be.

The 7 Plus comes in two colour flavours; copper and white; and black and copper. The full specs sheet can be found here.

The thing I find about the Nokia is that the looks can be quite polarising, IMHO. By that I mean that I found the design to be either something you like or don’t. Unlike many of its competitors such as Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo or Vivo, the 7 Plus is essentially a square block.

Now if you’re not into square shapes, you’ll find the Nokia 7 quiet staid-looking. From what I’ve seen of Nokia, it’s unlikely to offer you more curved or rounded edges, or a fancy glass back multi-colour set up, such as the recent Huawei Honor 10 that I reviewed recently did.

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

Still, I think it does appeal to some people out there, although I suspect that a younger crowd would like to have more variation in terms of the look they want out of their smartphones these days.

For me, I don’t quite mind the classic square lines but I’d prefer it to be a little more rounded edged, like the OnePlus 5T. That said, I’m not too big a fan of the multi-coloured fascia of the Honor 10 either.

Shape aside, there are a couple of features the 7 Plus has that are noteworthy. The first is that it comes equipped with USB-C charging, which is not standard for a lot of mid-range phones. This means that charging can be much faster.

The second feature is in the software department. The 7 Plus is part of a programme launched by Google Inc to give manufacturers of smartphones the option of using a pure Android operating system, thus giving it parity with Google’s own smartphones.

Dubbed Android One, Nokia isn’t the only one using this scheme as other players such as Xiaomi (A1), Motorola (G4) and HTC (U11) are also on that programme. This means that the 7 Plus comes already equipped with the latest Android iteration, which is Android Oreo 8.0, which boasts an experience that is devoid of unnecessary clutter and bloatware.

The main advantage the 7 Plus would have over its rivals being on Android One is that it will effectively get software updates much quicker. Right out of the box even before I started reviewing the device, I was prompted to update the 7 Plus to Oreo 8.1. Currently, it has the latest software update with security patches that are current up to June 2018, which is as new as it can get.

Overall, I found the Nokia 7 Plus well made and the copper lines do make the 7 Plus much classier looking than previous iterations from Nokia.

Next page: It’s all about the Android One experience

 

 

Battery and performance

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

Coming in at 3,800mAH, the battery for the 7 Plus is quite sizable and my tests showed no trouble getting through a 16-hour day. Screen on time of six hours was easily achievable too.

However, when used for streaming Netflix at full audio volume and full brightness, it did zap quite a bit of power for a two-hour full feature length film – about 30%, which I found higher than the usual 20% or so power usage.

Charging via USB-C was acceptable, going from 30% to about 80% in little over an hour, but still not as good as Huawei’s Supercharge or OnePlus’ Dash charge.

Performance-wise, the 7 Plus came in with scores from Geekbench 4.2 at 1,585 for single core mode, while multicore mode scored 5,781. As for AnTuTu, the 7 Plus came in at 139,245. These are pretty respectable scores, given that it has 4MB RAM on a Snapdragon 660.

In real life, there isn’t much lag using the smartphone and playing games such as Asphalt 8 wasn’t too much of a problem. This meant that everyday app functions weren’t too much of a challenge either.

Display for the 7 Plus was quite good and bright enough for daily use. The 18:9 ratio is also a welcome change from the standard 16:9, and I applaud Nokia for going that way, as this format will be pretty standard in times to come.

The screen was bright enough to be used outside, the colours quite neutral but a tad more saturated than usual, something I’ve come to expect of a good IPS panel. There are settings that you can adjust on the smartphone though.

Audio quality was acceptable for a mono-speaker, although I thought the sound quality felt ‘thin,’ as it lacked bass. The clarity was OK, but it didn’t give a rounded sound, which some 7 Plus rivals can manage.

But for me, the Plus point of the 7 Plus is the performance of its Android One OS. It’s silky smooth to use and everything clicks when it comes to getting to your apps and turning them on.

Camera and video

In the camera department, the Nokia 7 Plus has chosen to go for a wide-angle 12MP camera with an f/1.7 aperture and a 13MP telephoto lens with an f/2.6 aperture. This setup is used to give the ‘bokeh’ effect, commonly known as the ‘portrait mode.’

For the most part, the settings are pretty standard. On the left top section of the photo app, there is a menu from which you can select a few modes: Normal, panorama, pro-mode, live bokeh and the general settings.

Do note that the 7 Plus, at this price range, does not have optical image stabilisation, and you’ll have to have quite steady hands to take good pictures. On the flip side, the 7 Plus does offer 2x optical zoom, which is a nice touch at this price point.

Camera quality is as good as one would expect from a Zeiss lens in bright and medium bright conditions. Pictures captured were lively and colour balance was pretty good – vivid yet not too saturated that it becomes unreal.

Exposure of the sensors was also pretty balanced and I got some good shots just by positioning the camera properly. Shutter speed was also OK

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

However, low-light photography seems to be somewhat lacking compared to what the competition can do.

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

For the most part, it took low-light pictures generally well, but there was over exposure in some of the pictures I took. Colour was OK but details weren’t as crisp as other devices I’ve used.

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

I also found the portrait mode a bit of a bother. As I tried to focus in on the object in the foreground, the software sometimes held me back in trying to focus, claiming that it’s “too dark”. I don’t know why that is, but once I switched to better lighting, this quirk seemed to go away.

The biggest marketing point Nokia tries to make about its new range of products is its “Dual-Sight” mode, which the company claims lets you use both front and back cameras simultaneously for split-screen photos and video.

 

Review: Nokia 7 Plus rises to the challenge

 

While the idea seemed pretty novel – and I would acknowledge that some would find such a feature interesting, even useful – I for one didn’t think so much of it that I would recommend it as a must-buy feature.

The Nokia 7 Plus does video at [email protected] and [email protected] It also supports slow motion video, which was acceptable.

All in all, I would say that the 7 Plus camera functions were pretty good, save the low-light situation.

In conclusion

At RM1,600, the Nokia 7 Plus is obviously positioned as a mid-range challenger to the likes of Samsung Galaxy A8 or the Huawei Honor 10, and many more. 

The trouble with this segment – and I’ve said this before – is it’s tight with competition and if you’re gonna shell out a grand and a half on a smartphone, you better be liking specific features of the device enough to part with your hard-earned cash.

The selling point of the Nokia 7 Plus for me is the Android One experience, coupled with a good camera set up, strong battery life, and a good 18:9 display that is vivid, bright and as neutral as an IPS panel can go.

The Android One experience goes beyond the speedy UI feel; it also guarantees that you have quick updates on your phone, which addresses everything from your security to feature and bug concerns.

As for looks, well that’s an area of preference. Some will like it, others won’t, so this is purely subjective.

In the final analysis, I think the Nokia 7 Plus has come some way since its earlier smartphone designs and implementation, and to me, it is this marked improvement which I think should give consumers a moment of pause to consider this as a smartphone for them.

 

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