Hands On with HMD Global's New Nokia Android Smartphones
Updated: Fixed minor typo in intro.
HMD Global debuted no fewer than three brand new handsets, including the Nokia 1 with Android Go, at Mobile World Congress this year. The devices range from an $85 entry-level phone to an $800 exercise in design chops. None of these phones support the LTE bands to work in North America, but we took a quick look anyway. Here are our first impressions.
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These phones may bear the Nokia name, but it's worth remembering that they are designed and made by HMD Global, a company that has the sole right to license and use the Nokia brand. The company roared into the public consciousness at MWC 2017 and is back with a slew of new hardware to keep people interested.
The Nokia 1, which is the least expensive of the bunch, will probably be the most important phone in HMD Global's lineup. The Nokia 7 Plus and Nokia 8 Sirocco are both high-cost handsets that tempt people with an eye for design. (The Nokia 6, also announced, is a recycled version of last year's phones with updated specs.)
What makes the Nokia 1 the most important of the bunch is the operating system: it runs Google's Android Go. Android Go is of course Google's light-skinned version of Android that is supposed to run well on the low-end phones. Specifically, it was designed for handsets with 512MB - 1 GB of RAM. (Most of today's normal Android phones have 2 or 3 GB of RAM and flagships have 4 to 6 GB of RAM.) Phones running Android Go are often priced between $50 and $100, meaning they are highly affordable in markets where income is low.
The device itself reminds me of some of Nokia's Windows Phone hardware. It's got a firm, swappable plastic shell covering the rear that also wraps around and forms the side edges of the handset. It's the skin and chassis/frame all in one. The screen and guts of the phone sit within the shell, so there's a hard edge around the outer face.
HMD Global brought back Xpress-On covers, something Nokia sold for its feature phones back in the mid 2000s. The style shells come in a wide variety of materials, colors, and designs, allowing people to give their phone a bit of personality.
The volume toggle and screen lock button are on the right side of the phone and stand out by color and texture. For example, the blue model we looked at had white buttons, while the red model had black buttons. They are easy to find and use and travel and feedback felt pretty good. The camera and flash are coupled in an oval near the top of the rear surface.
HMD Global give the Nokia 1 a 5-inch FWVGA display (that's really low resolution) to keep the price down. This was the resolution of flagship Android smartphones back in 2011, so it pales in comparison to today's quad HD wonders. The colors looked flat to me, and the pixel are obvious to the eye. The display was plenty bright.
The Android Go platform looks and feels like Android. It has the same home screens, the same app drawer, and the same apps. Even the Android Go-optimized apps don't look or behave much different when compared to the originals.
I'm sure the Nokia 1 will serve as a great first phone for many people. It is priced at $85.
Nokia 7 Plus
The Nokia 7 Plus brings HMD Global's lineup into the modern age. It has a stainless steel frame that's clothed in copper and the phone adopts the 18:9 display that's popular on today's flagships. It reminds me a lot of the Pixel 2 XL, only it has a sharper, more obvious metal frame around the edges.
The Nokia 7 Plus has a 6-inch screen, so it is really big. It has the oblong look common to phones with the 18:9 screen. There are slim bezels above and below the screen and none at all along the sides. The entire rear panel is made from metal and coated in 10 layers of paint to give it a ceramic feel. The black plays well against the copper-colored frame.
The screen is gorgeous. it really shown in the demo room, pushing plenty if light through was looked like trillions of pixels. The full HD+ resolution (2,160 by 1,080) looks great. Colors were spot. The front is all glass and there are no buttons.
You'll find the screen lock button and volume toggle on the left, perched a bit high up if you ask me. Travel and feedback is decent. The SIM tray is within the left edge, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is on top with the USB-C port below. The fingerprint reader is in a fine spot on the Nokia 7's rear. HMD Global kept the fingerprint reader and camera far away from one another — something I appreciate.
HMD Global gave the phone mid-range specs. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 660 processor with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. The phone has dual cameras on the back, both with Zeiss optics. The selfie camera has a 16-megapixel sensor. The phone packs a massive 3,800mAh battery that HMD Global says delivers two days of battery life. The battery also supports rapid charging.
The phone runs Android One, which means HMD Global has committed to offering rapid updates and security patches. The Nokia 7 Plus goes on sale in April for $399. It's a decent piece of hardware for an Android device. Of that I have no doubt.
Nokia 8 Sirocco
This phone is ridiculous. It's clearly meant to show that HMD Global's design team can kick out an ultra-high-end handset to impress the best. It's nearly all glass. The this aluminum frame that separates the curved glass panels is hardly there at all. It looks and feels slick.
The Nokia 8 Sirocco reminds me a lot of the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. The sides of the phone are curved steeply to meet the metal frame. In fact, the screen curses with the glass. I'm rather disappointed the Sirocco sticks to the 16:9 screen, which means the basic shape is more stout compared to something like the Samsung Galaxy S9+. By the way, it's fairly large, about S9+ sized, but it's not the biggest-ever phone. It looks fantastic, and yet out of date at the same time. It would have impressed the hell out of me two years ago.
The materials and manufacture are quite good. The glass feels luscious and smooth under your skin.
The quad HD pOLED 5.5-inch screen is impressive. It is bright, colorful, and sharp. On-screen elements nearly popped off the display. The glass is completely unbroken, so there are no buttons or capacitive controls on front. HMD Global kept the bezels to a minimum, all things considered.
HMD Global laid out the controls as it did on the Nokia 7 Plus and Nokia 1. The screen lock key and volume toggle are on the right edge. They are incredibly slim, but have good profiles. Travel and feedback is excellent. The SIM tray is on top and the micro-USB port is on the bottom. There is no headphone jack.
The camera module stands out just as much as that of the iPhone X. It's a long, oval shape to hold the two lenses. The LED flash is off to the right.
The Nokia 8 Sirocco runs Android 8 One. This means it is a core version of Android that will receive updates for at least three years. The Sirocco will likely never be sold in the U.S. Good thing because, at $800, there's no reason not to get a Galaxy S9+ instead.
The Nokia 8 is the first flagship phone from the "new Nokia". What separates it from the rest of Nokia's current lineup is the dual-camera system with Zeiss lenses.
Feb 13, 2018
HMD Global has begun to distribute Android 8.1 Oreo to the Nokia 8 smartphone, according to executive Juho Sarvikas. HMD Global makes and markets Android handsets under the Nokia brand.
Oct 25, 2017
HMD Global unveiled the Nokia Phones Beta Lab, where it will make pre-release versions of software available to interested testers. The first release is a beta build of Android 8 Oreo, which is being offered to the Nokia 8 smartphone.
Aug 16, 2017
HMD Global, the sole licensee of the Nokia brand, today announced the Nokia 8 flagship Android smartphone. The handset is milled from 6000 series aluminum and polished to a high-gloss finish in black, blue, silver, and copper.