A review of the Nokia 7.1 with Android One by @RobRait
I am an old git, in my mid-60s with aged eyes that are struggling to see the tiny screen on my iPhone 5C unless I dig out my reading glasses. I had half decided I wanted one of those new-fangled phones with a big screen but couldn’t justify spending much money on a new one as the old phone still worked.
My iPhone 5c just died. As the 5C has little value (Apple would give me a fiver for in in p/x against a 10R) its not worth repairing it. So, instead of maybe wanting a new phone, I now needed a new phone. I spent a couple of hours (actually many, many, many hours) scouring ebay, Gumtree, FB Marketplace and local phone shops looking for a lightly pre-loved iPhone 7+ (if you’re going big, you might as well go BIG).
The end result seemed to be that I was going to have to pay £300+ for a non-battered, iPhone 7+ with working TouchID (you wouldn’t believe the number of 7s on Ebay at £200+ with no TouchID). In my preferred colour (Product Red) you could add £50 to the price. A phone that was possibly 3+ years old, and according to a recent article on Gizmodo would probably harbour more germs than the seat in a public toilet.
So I re-analysed my requirements. I need a mobile phone as I have a medical condition that could flare up suddenly and unexpectedly (it hasn’t so far in the 10 years I’ve had it, but it could). I rarely use the phone apart from occasional phone calls and text messages. So I looked at the recent Nokia retro phones. I quite fancied the yellow slider banana phone, but I don’t think I could go back to press a key 1 – 3 times to get the letter you want in text messages. And it has a tiny screen. Added to this is the fact that most of my family and many of my friends have fully adopted WhatsApp and a means of communication, so if I wanted to stay in touch I needed a phone that could run WhatsApp.
The ‘problem’ can be defined as the need for a large-screen smartphone that didn’t cost a fortune, wasn’t a germ-infested second-hand unit and cost a whole lot less than a new 10R.
So what’s the solution?
I was browsing the Hot UK deals website where someone posted an Amazon link to a Nokia 5.1 phone that was about £130 new, with a 5.8” screen. I looked at the listing and there was a link to Nokia 7.1 which is a newer phone with the same size screen and Zeiss optics for the cameras.
The Nokia 7.1 was introduced in the autumn of 2018. In the UK it has 32Gb storage an 3 Gb RAM. I believe in other markets (USA I think) it has 64Gb storage and 4GB RAM, but grey imports of this model (available on Ebay) were £250+. Amazon wanted £169 for this lower-spec model.
So down the rabbit hole of product reviews I went. For several (read many, many) hours…
The big selling point for me on this phone is that it comes with Android One (I’ll call it A1 from now on to save typing) a Google-supplied version of Android that Google supply updates and patches for and Manufacturers and Carriers and not allowed to populate with their own cruft, so it’s as close to pure Android as you can get. Google also guarantee at least 2 years of upgrades and patches for Android One phones. Unheard-of behaviour in the Android world!
There were no serious black marks against this phone in both techie and owner reviews, apart from the fact that some techie sites said it was a little under-powered compared to the current flagship ‘droid phones. But then again it costs £170 not £700+. I never play the sort of games on my phone where this apparent lack of oomph would become noticeable anyway, so this pretty much became a no-brainer.
I pulled the trigger at about 19:30 on a Thursday night and it arrived courtesy of Amazon Prime by 12:30 next day.
There’s a couple of pics of the phone below, nicked from Amazon. Mine is the blue version with silver alloy highlights. It’s also available in a dark silver/grey colour with the alloy bits in an anodised copper colour. I didn’t like that combination.
So what’s it like? It looks and feels like a much more expensive phone. It has a glass front and back with a nicely machined alloy chassis visible at the sides. The screen is edge-to-edge at the sides, with a small chin at the bottom and a notch at the top housing the front (8 megapixel) camera.
At the back there are two cameras, one 12mp for the main camera and a 5mp one for depth gauging when using the A1 equivalent of Portrait Mode (called Bokeh mode in the camera app), together with a flash. Below the cameras is the fingerprint reader.
There’s an on/off button and volume control buttons on the right-hand side and a SIM tray on the left that can not only accommodate a micro SIM card, but also a micro SD card up to (I think) 128GB in size. I had a 64Gb card spare, so in it went, along with my 3 PAYG SIM card. Some A1 phones can ‘virtually’ format the external card as part of the system memory, but this one doesn’t. I have pointed the camera to use the card as its storage to save space on the 32Gb internal RAM.
At the bottom there’s an USB C charge/data port alongside microphone as speaker holes. At the top there’s a 3.5mm headphone socket (hooray!) and another microphone.
The phone is reassuringly heavy and quite slippery feeling, but I bought a wallet-type case for it at the same time which adds a little to the bulk but should protect it from the inevitable drops.
Now for the $64,000 question. What’s Android One like compared to IOS? I had a Samsung phone running a very early version of Android years ago, and I hated it. I had to root it to get rid of all the crap Samsung put on it and to tweak many of the config files in /root to get it to work better. I used to work with Unix systems in another life so config files hold no fears for me (famous last words).
Wow, Android as come along a lot over the years, especially this unsullied Android One version. First thing it did when I switched it on was to ask for my WiFi password and then it proceeded (after I clicked OK in a dialogue box) to download the latest version of Android (Pie), I assume it had Oreo installed out of the box, I don’t know as I never got far enough to look! Once that was installed and the phone restarted, it found a security update and asked me if I wanted to install that. Yes please.
Once all the updates were in place it then downloaded (I think) 38 Google apps, such as Photos, Mail and the like. All of these can be uninstalled if you don’t want them.
So getting started took an hour or so, but at least I’m starting with a fully patched version of the latest A1 operating system.
Obviously it’s going to take time to get used to a new operating system. Most of the settings are where you’d expect them (in the settings app) but some were a bit obscure.
The thing vibrated every time I typed anything. That setting was deep within the accessibility settings. There was a setting to show the battery %’age on the status bar, but I couldn’t see it consistently. Then it occurred to be that it was only visible when you pull down the ‘notification centre’ from the top of the screen. Sorted. It’s also displayed at the bottom the the lock screen. You can move icons around the screens with a long press, just like in IOS, and apps can also be uninstalled from the long press menu. If you swipe to the right on the home screen you get Google News. I think this is baked in, I can’t (yet) find any way to change that. I probably will leave that there and just never swipe right.
A lot of the apps I use were either already there e.g. Gmail and Google Photos, or easily accessible from the Play store. One thing I do like is that I can browse the Play store on my Mac and install apps on my phone from there. A bit like you used to be able to do in iTunes. It’s much easier to view the Play Store on my 27” iMac than on the 5.8” Nokia!
LastPass took a little fiddling to get it to work. Installing the app didn’t automagically configure it to work with the OS to offer me the LastPass option on login screens. I only got the option to use the Google password manager. Copy/Paste from Last Pass to a login screen was a bit hit and miss. However I found a setting (somewhere, don’t ask me where!) that adds LastPass to the password manager options, so that should be sorted. I haven’t had to log in to any apps since setting that one, so I can’t really confirm. Once Firefox had synced from my Mac, all my web passwords are accessible within Firefox, so that’s sorted.
As I said above, most of my family and many friends have enthusiastically adopted WhatsApp as their default communication tool. So I need WA installed. That worked perfectly, except I can now no longer see any conversations from the past. I assume that it’s something to do with the encryption algorithms used being based on the old phone, even though I’m using the SIM from the 5C. Not a big hassle, but a little annoying as there were loads of pics of my grandkids on there. I can get some of them back from my kids if I need them, but, as a proud Grandad I have plenty of my own anyway.
The screen is bright and clear and easy to read, but I still need my reading glasses for prolonged usage. The speaker at the bottom of the phone is surprisingly good. I won’t be listening to music using it, but at least it doesn’t sound horribly tinny when one of those infernal auto-play videos appears.
The fingerprint sensor is effective and faster to set up than Touch-id on IOS. No doubt it isn’t as secure as the IOS one – I haven’t had the time to make a copy of my finger to test this yet…
The camera is good, but not magnificent. It does the job and is better than the one in the 5C. I tend to judge camera quality against my Sony DSLR which isn’t really fair, but for the money it’s a good camera with an excellent phone strapped on to it. The Zeiss logo on the lenses is comforting.
This is a brief (!) overview of my first impressions. So far I’m quite impressed. I’m completely impressed by the quality look and feel of the phone, which, although dark blue looks pretty black to me. I have dropped a couple of publicity shots of the phone above, as these photos are much better than anything I could take!
Android One seems to be a pretty competent operating system, streets ahead of the old version of Android I had previously suffered (Gingerbread, I think). Obviously it won’t seamlessly integrate into my Apple-based environment at home, and I’ll still use my iPod Touch 6 as my main portable device for listening to Audiobooks and Podcasts. It’s a bit of a pain that it uses USB C to charge as I have loads of Lightning and Micro USB cables lying about, but I bought a couple of 2 metre long C cables for a fiver from Amazon so that I can have one cable plugged into my Mac for transferring photo and another in the car for charging on the go.
I’m happy with the purchase, and don’t feel quite as dirty as I thought I would having a ‘droid phone in my pocket. The dark side maybe isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.