Nokia 7 Plus review

Nokia may not be the market leader it was in the pre-smartphone era, but the present-day iteration of the firm – which operates in the mobile space under licensee HMD Global, a company formed by many former Nokia executives – has been chipping away with its range of Android-based handsets.

The Nokia 7 Plus – released alongside the 2018 version of the Nokia 6 and the flagship Nokia 8 Sirocco – effectively serves as the brand's mid-range challenger for this year, offering decent specs, 'pure' Android and almost the same basic camera setup as the Nokia 8 Sirocco.

All of this is built around an impressive 6-inch full HD+ display with an 18:9 widescreen aspect ratio, making it a viable alternative to the likes of the OnePlus 5T.

The Nokia 7 Plus is available SIM-free for £349 / AU$649 (around $475 but it’s not available in the US).

Design and display

  • 6-inch IPS panel with 1080 x 2160 resolution
  • Ceramic coated back gives good grip
  • Series 6000 aluminium frame

If you're a fan of Nokia's recent efforts then you'll be pleased to learn that the 7 Plus conforms to the design language laid down by handsets like the standard Nokia 7 and Nokia 8; we're talking rounded edges, rear-mounted fingerprint scanners and the bare minimum of physical buttons.

The Nokia 7 Plus’ sturdy frame is machined from a single block of 6000 series aluminium, which gives it an incredibly robust feel. 

The copper-coloured frame contrasts neatly with the black bodywork elsewhere, although it looks just as good on the white model. The rear of the phone is coated in a ceramic covering which is nice and grippy but picks up greasy fingerprints quite easily.

There's a copper accent around the edges of the display, and copper can also be found on the camera bump and fingerprint scanner. There's also a Nokia logo on the back of the device, printed in – you guessed it – copper.

The volume and power buttons are located on the right-hand side of the phone, while the SIM card tray – which also has space for a microSD card of up to 256GB in capacity – is on the left-hand edge.

On the top you'll find a 3.5mm headphone socket, which will come as welcome news to those audiophiles who stubbornly refuse to ditch their wired cans for a pair of Bluetooth ones. On the bottom edge there's the single speaker, USB Type-C port and microphone.

As you might expect, the 18:9 aspect ratio display takes up the majority of the space on the front of the Nokia 7 Plus. It's not quite bezel-free – there are small bezels at the top and bottom of the screen – but it feels nice and roomy all the same and provides an ideal platform for mobile movie watching.

The resolution of 1080 x 2160 is relatively sharp by mid-range standards and colours look realistic and convincing, but the IPS LCD panel lacks the impact of an AMOLED one and is quite hard to use in direct sunlight – we ventured outdoors with the phone during one of the UK's rare moments of bright, scorching sunlight and found ourselves struggling to read text on the display.

The screen is coated with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which protects against scratches and marks. It's worth noting that some 2018 phones – such as the Samsung Galaxy S9 – have the swanky new Gorilla Glass 5, so the 7 Plus is a little behind the curve here.

Battery life

  • Massive 3,800mAh battery gives all-day stamina
  • Fast charging is supported but there's no wireless charging

One of the more impressive elements of the Nokia 7 Plus is the fact that it packs 3,800mAh battery – no mean feat when you consider it boasts roughly the same footprint as the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, and that can only muster a 3,500mAh power cell.

Whether it's the less hungry chipset, the 1080p screen or the comparative lack of bloatware apps sipping at the juice all day, the Nokia 7 Plus boasts impressive stamina for a mid-range device.

We comfortably got through an entire day of moderate usage without having to reach for the charging cable at any point, and during our battery test – where a HD video is played with full volume for 90 minutes – the 7 Plus lost 18% of its battery.

Another plus is that quick charging is supported, so you can top the phone up faster than normal. However, there's no wireless charging.

Camera

  • Dual cameras on the rear for bokeh effects
  • Struggles in low light

Impressively, the Nokia 7 Plus boasts similar Zeiss optics to the Nokia 8 Sirocco. The rear-facing setup consists of a wide angle 12MP camera with an f/1.75 aperture and a 13MP telephoto lens with an f/2.6 aperture.

Image quality from both is certainly a lot better than we were expecting given the price range of the phone. In good light, either camera is capable of swiftly snapping colourful and detailed shots; they're not quite up to the standard seen on some (more expensive) Android phones, but they're still more than acceptable.

There's even a 'bokeh' mode which uses the two cameras to judge distance between objects and thereby apply a blur effect on the background.

Because it's done in software – all the two-camera setup is used for is to work out what's in the foreground and what's further back – the results aren't always entirely satisfactory, but Nokia's system is, in our opinion, just as good as the one seen on the Galaxy S9 Plus or OnePlus 5T.

In fact, there were a few times during our review period when the 7 Plus deployed its bokeh effect much more convincingly than Samsung's phone – which is remarkable when you consider the gulf in price between the two.

Where the Nokia 7 Plus struggles is low light shooting, which is something that a lot of other handset makers – Samsung and Huawei in particular – have tried to improve on in their latest phones. The 7 Plus often takes a while to correctly focus in dimly-lit locations, and the resultant images feature a lot of noise.

The front-facing 16MP snapper takes incredibly detailed images and is complemented by a 'dual' photo mode, where you can capture yourself and your surroundings by including snaps from the front and rear cameras on the same image; you can even record using this split-screen system.

While we can't say it's something we'd use on a regular basis, it's an interesting approach. On the topic of video, the Nokia 7 Plus can record 4K footage as well as time-lapse and slow-motion clips.

Interface and software

  • Runs Android Oreo
  • A clean interface with no bloat

One of the most surprising things about the new wave of Nokia phones is that they come with pure Android; the company has embraced Google's Android One initiative to deliver handsets that boast a 'vanilla' UI that looks a lot like the one seen on the Pixel line of devices.

You won't find any bloatware here; the Nokia 7 Plus comes with Google's suite of apps – such as Gmail, Google Play Music and Google Drive – and that's about it. If you're sick of having to use two different app stores to keep your device up to date (we're looking at you, Samsung) then you may find Nokia's hands-off approach suitably refreshing.

Sitting on top of Android Oreo – the latest iteration of Google's world-leading mobile OS – the Android One UI is almost identical to 'stock' Android seen on Google's Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones.

Everything's nice and clean from a design perspective, and full support for Google Assistant is baked right in; this AI helper performs a wide range of roles and can be summoned by holding down the 'Home' button at the bottom of the display. You can also swipe right from your main home screen to reveal the main Google hub, where appointments, news articles and weather reports are relayed.

Because it's part of the Android One programme, the Nokia 7 Plus is assured software updates for the next two years from launch. Furthermore, because Nokia doesn't add its own UI skin to Google's core OS, updates should roll out much faster than on devices from companies like Samsung, Sony and HTC – all of which make changes to the interface to differentiate themselves from the competition.

This always takes time and often the latest Android updates don't reach the phones of these manufacturers until months after the original release.

Movies, music and gaming

  • 18:9 screen is great for media
  • Mono speaker lacks bass
  • Gaming performance is middling

The industry-wide shift to 18:9 aspect ratio displays is great news for those of us who digest a lot of media content on our handsets, as bigger, wider displays are generally better for viewing movies and playing games.

The display on the Nokia 7 Plus is no exception, and while an AMOLED panel would have delivered deeper blacks and more vibrant hues, the IPS LCD seen here is no slouch when it comes to image quality.

When it comes to audio, the fact that the Nokia 7 Plus has a 3.5mm headphone socket will (literally) be music to the ears of many.

Wireless headphones may be all the rage right now but wired connections continue to offer an advantage in terms of audio quality and convenience – sure, the cable does get in the way sometimes but on the upside, you never have to worry about charging them.

Sadly, the phone's mono speaker isn't really all that impressive, despite being quite loud. It lacks bass and is easily muffled by your hand when holding the device in landscape mode.

Gaming on the Nokia 7 Plus is something of a mixed bag; the lack of processing grunt does mean that certain titles are quite jerky at times. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds defaults to the 'mid' mode when booting up – which means you lose some graphical detail – but even then, there are moments when the stutter-prone frame rate gets in the way of your enjoyment.

However, Tekken – another very recent 3D title, albeit one which is slightly less demanding in term of mechanics – runs without any problems whatsoever.

Performance and benchmarks

  • Snapdragon 660 chipset and 4GB of RAM
  • Performance is generally smooth
  • Benchmark results are mid-range, as you'd expect

Its stablemate the Nokia 8 Sirocco may be packing the Snapdragon 835 chipset, but the Nokia 7 Plus costs less, so it stands to reason that it doesn't benefit from the same raw power. Instead, we have the Snapdragon 660 calling the shots, aided by 4GB of RAM.

While the 660 might not be a cutting-edge piece of silicon, it's still more than adequate for most users. In fact, thanks to the absence of bloatware and no custom skin, the Nokia 7 Plus felt faster and more responsive than the Galaxy S9 Plus – in some situations, at least.

Navigating the UI is definitely a quicker process on Nokia's handset, but there are moments when things start to stutter – usually when processor-intensive background tasks are taking place.

In terms of benchmarks, the Nokia 7 Plus scores 134,459 in AnTuTu Benchmark. For comparison's sake, the Huawei P9 scores 125,332 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 154,394. In the Geekbench test, it registered a multi-core score of 5,247.

These results underline that this isn't a front-runner when it comes to raw power; what we've got here is about on par with a flagship device from a few years ago, at least in pure stats.

Verdict

The Nokia 7 Plus looks to almost blur the lines between the mid-range and high-end, offering as it does a big battery, a decent dual-lens camera, an 18:9 screen and stock Android Oreo.

Look a little closer and some of the cracks start to show – notably when it comes to the chipset and the actual quality of the screen. But that's not enough to take the shine off the 7 Plus, especially when you consider its distinctly mid-range price.

This isn't quite a phone for everyone, but it should have broad appeal, especially to those who can't quite stretch to a flagship.

Who's this for?

When justifying a mid-range phone, it's easy to fall into the habit of claiming that these devices are for those people who want the best but simply don't have the budget.

That's true in the case of the Nokia 7 Plus, but here we have a phone which could easily pass for a top-of-the-line device based on looks and performance alone. If you also value a pure Android experience that isn't weighed down by carrier bloatware and pointless apps, then chances are you'll adore this phone.

Should you buy it?

If you're on a limited budget and can't afford a flagship handset then the answer is a resounding yes. The Nokia 7 Plus ticks all of the important boxes; it has a great design, brilliant camera setup, good battery life and an OS that runs smoothly and will be guaranteed updates for 24 months from launch.

The only negatives are the somewhat dull screen and the occasional moments where the phone needs to catch up with what you're doing, but even these shortcomings can't hide the fact that this is a very capable device for the money.

The Nokia 7 Plus isn't alone, as the following three phones are strong alternatives:

OnePlus 5T

Only a little more expensive than the Nokia 7 Plus is OnePlus' latest (and now discontinued) flagship. It has a faster chipset and a lovely AMOLED screen, but also comes with a largely clutter-free version of Android.

Read our full OnePlus 5T review

Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra

Sony's mid-range challenger has a great screen and dual front cameras, making it an interesting proposition in this price range. Sadly, it suffers from performance hiccups and the camera could be a lot better.

Read our full Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra review

Honor 9

If you can live with those old-school bezels then the Honor 9 is also worth a look. It looks great and delivers excellent performance for the price.

Read our full Honor 9 review

First reviewed: May 2018

Damien McFerran
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