It feels a little bit surreal to see the Nokia name become relevant again in the smartphone market. Two years ago, I had thought the beloved mobile brand that I grew up with was hopelessly lost, and yet here we are today, devouring every piece of news to come out of HMD Global. The Finnish company has been doing an excellent job of reviving the brand by sticking to a few core guidelines: good hardware, competitive prices, pure Android software, and fast updates. That bet has paid off so far and, with one full generation of devices under its belt, HMD kicked things up a notch with the announcements it made at MWC this year. Alongside the news that all of its devices will be Android One (or Go), it introduced several new smartphones including the Nokia 7 Plus that I've been using for the last three weeks.

A midranger on paper, the 7 Plus feels greater than the sum of its parts. With an eye-catching design, a modern 18:9 display, snappy performance, and a battery that keeps on giving, it scores a lot of good points. Add in a MicroSD slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and HMD's track record of providing fast security and version updates, and you have a nearly unbeatable proposition in the ~$400 range. But the 7 Plus isn't without its drawbacks: camera performance continues to be problematic for HMD, despite its use of Zeiss optics and Nokia's well-known smartphone photography expertise. Still, when all is factored in, it's impossible not to like the 7 Plus.

Specs

OS Android 8.1 Oreo
Display 6” IPS LCD full HD+ (2160 x 1080, 18:9)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 660
Memory 4GB (LPDDR 4 RAM)
Storage 64GB (MicroSD expandable up to 256GB)
Rear Cameras Primary - 12MP (f/1.75, 2PD, ZEISS with dual-tone flash) Secondary - 13MP (f/2.6, ZEISS)
Front Camera 16MP (f/2.0,  ZEISS)
Battery 3800mAh with fast charging
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, BT 5.0, GPS/AGPS+GLONASS+BDS, NFC, USB type-C (USB 2.0), OTG
Sensors Ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, accelerometer, e-compass, gyroscope, hall sensor, fingerprint sensor
Other Fast charging
Dimensions 158.38 x 75.64 x 7.99 mm
Headphone Jack Yes

The Good

Design Thanks to the matte ceramic paint and copper accents, the 7 Plus looks and feels very premium.
Reception I have had better luck staying connected to spotty WiFi and 4G networks with the 7 Plus than I have with other devices.
Software It's Android One: you don't get any bloat or extra apps pre-installed, but you do get timely software and security updates.
Performance Partly due to the Snapdragon 660 and 4GB of RAM, partly due to the clean software, the 7 Plus doesn't experience any slowdowns and handles everything I throw at it.
Battery It lasts, and lasts, and then lasts some more. I never managed to kill the battery in one day with my regular use.

The Not So Good

Camera Despite the Zeiss optics and the Pro mode, camera performance is just average. It tends to overexpose images in Auto mode, macro focus is a little overzealous, and HDR is still unpredictable.
No water resistance Most smartphones nowadays have some sort of IP rating, but the 7 Plus doesn't. Even in its price range, it's a miss compared to some of its competitors.
Bluetooth bug My 7 Plus unit experienced lots of Bluetooth cuts when connected to different headsets, especially when the screen was on. There aren't many reports of this happening, but it's annoying when it occurs.

Design and materials

Right from the moment you glimpse the Nokia 7 Plus, you notice that there's something special about this device. It's far from your typical black slab thanks to that eye-catching copper rim surrounding it. Another wire-thin copper rim wraps around the glass on the front, catching light and accenting the rest of the black look. The overall result could have easily gone into cheap and shiny territory, but instead, it's elegant and I've received quite a few compliments about it. Compared to the drab look of the Nokia 8 that I reviewed a few months ago, the 7 Plus has more character and feels a lot more premium. It's also much less slippery.

Still built from aluminum, the 7 Plus has layers of matte ceramic paint applied on the back. That remedies the cold feeling of metal, improves grip, and looks great without attracting dust or fingerprints. I enjoy the way the 7 Plus feels in my hand. It's solid, shows no give or weaknesses (check JerryRig's durability test to get an idea of how sturdy it is), and the glass front fits seamlessly with the rest of the aluminum chassis. The hard chamfered edges contrast well with the curved back and glass for a classy look.

The front has relatively average bezels and is mostly taken by the tall 18:9 (2:1, if you prefer your ratios neat) display and its rounded corners. On top of it are the loudspeaker, front camera, and a barely-noticeable window for the proximity sensor and ambient light sensor. Perhaps the most controversial design choice there is the Nokia logo, but I personally don't mind it. It's not gaudy and it barely shows under many light situations.

The back of the device has a bump for the dual cameras, a little indent for the fingerprint sensor, a dual-tone flash, and a microphone above the camera. A copper-colored Nokia logo stretches vertically and there are several regulatory inscriptions on the bottom as well as the Android One logo.

On the top, you'll find the ever-elusive 3.5mm headphone jack. When many other manufacturers are skipping it, it's nice to see Nokia keep it in its devices. The power and volume buttons are on the right and they have a very satisfactory click to them. The dual-SIM/MicroSD tray is on the left. As for the bottom, it has the USB-C charging port, a speaker (average), and another microphone. A few antenna lines cut through the copper edges, but they're colored well enough that you don't see them from several angles. That's a big improvement from the ugly bands on the Nokia 8.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a clear TPU case in the 7 Plus's retail box. Given my clumsiness level, TPU cases are my favorites and I always avoid carrying a smartphone without them. I usually have to wait a few months after a device's release to find decent TPU cases and get them shipped over to me, but in this case (pun intended), I instantly installed it. It's thin, hugs the 7 Plus well, doesn't hamper button functionality or charging, and hasn't gone yellow (yet).

Display

HMD is sticking to IPS LCDs on its devices, but it's using some of the best, if not the best, displays out there. Colors are vibrant without being overly so, visibility in direct sunlight is excellent, and the resolution is more than enough despite being "only" full HD on a 6" tall screen. Maybe my eyesight is worsening, maybe it's the superb quality, but try as I might, I can't spot individual pixels on it.

Whites veer a little toward blue-white, not yellow-white, and it's annoying to look at the Pixel 2 XL next to the Nokia 7 Plus and compare. In everyday use, I don't complain about the former, but seeing it right next to the latter emphasizes the weaknesses of its OLED display.

Blacks wouldn't compare to an OLED panel, but they get pretty darn close to it. In many situations, it's tough to tell where the black navigation bar ends and the bezels begin.

Camera

The camera is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this device. HMD can slap on its phones any megapixel number, as many lenses as it wants, plus the Zeiss brand, but it's still failing to deliver on the software level. I don't doubt that performance will catch up to the promise at some point, given Nokia's photography history and expertise, but for the time being, this remains a little thorn in HMD's side.

In many situations, the 7 Plus captured nice photos.

Now don't get me wrong, the Nokia 7 Plus takes good pictures. Compared to the Nokia 8, there is remarkable improvement. Focus is near instantaneous and snapping a photo happens a lot faster. Despite my steady hands, I struggled to take good pictures with the 8. Thankfully, that's not the case with the 7 Plus. The larger aperture here (f/1.75 vs. f/2.0 on the Nokia 8) certainly plays a role, but I also feel the software was improved to make everything smoother.

 

In Auto mode with HDR on, exposure was often too high if I didn't manually set it.

With HDR on Auto, you get decent enough shots, but the 7 Plus does tend to over-expose most of the time. Thankfully, the Camera application now has an exposure slider next to the focus window so you can easily adjust it manually before you snap the picture.

Nokia 7 Plus (left) vs Pixel 2 XL (right), both in auto mode, HDR on, no manual adjustments.

Close-up shots presented the greatest challenge for me — I felt that the camera was creating a very narrow focus and blurring the background a little more than necessary. In dark environments, focus is a little slower, but still noticeably faster than the Nokia 8. There's more noise than in well-lit conditions, which is par for the course in the price range.

Close-up with narrow focus and some over-exposure (left) vs good close-up (right).

The second telephoto lens comes into play when you zoom in 2x. It's handy to have and I prefer it to the rather useless secondary monochrome lens that was there on the Nokia 8. The Camera app lets you quickly switch between 1x and 2x zoom, thus effectively jumping from one lens to the other. There's also a live bokeh mode that uses both at the same time. It doesn't fire off until you are a little far away from your subject though, so it didn't come in handy when I needed it for some closer shots.

Main lens (left) vs. telephoto lens (right).

The front-facing camera continues to be great with a 16MP resolution, quick focus, and good shots. If you're a selfie aficionado, this one won't disappoint.

The front-facing camera delivers some excellent detail.

The most impressive feature of the new camera software is the Pro Camera mode that Nokia was so well-known for back in its Lumia days. Many manufacturers have implemented manual controls in their camera software, but the interface always feels clunky and requires several taps to change a few values. With Pro mode, Nokia hit a jackpot of usability many years ago, and this is still the case now.

Pro mode tutorial.

A simple swipe up on the shutter button reveals the rounded manual sliders for white balance, focus, ISO, shutter speed, and exposure. You simply move those around or directly tap on a value if you know what you want. The live view updates to show you exactly what to expect from the photo you're snapping. Another swipe up on the shutter and you're back in the regular mode.

The rest of the software is reminiscent of what I saw on the Nokia 8: bothie mode is there to combine a photo of the front and rear cameras together (I still think that's ridiculous), beautification gets a main slot on the top toolbar, a livestreaming option is available for videos, and you can choose to record sound from the front or rear mics or use both simultaneously. The major interface improvement in my opinion is that exposure slider, especially given how I often I needed it.

Overall, the camera performance is a mixed bag. It's a few steps ahead of the Nokia 8 in terms of speed, secondary lens usefulness, and interface. However, it's still not rivaling the level of the Pixel 2 XL or flagships from Samsung or Huawei. For the price, it's one of the good cameras you can get, but it's impossible to judge it only based on the price. The specs and the Zeiss name hold a bigger promise, which is yet to be fulfilled.

Performance and battery

The Nokia 7 Plus marks my first time trying a Snapdragon 600-series chip. I've been lucky enough to only have flagships before, so I didn't know what to expect when I got the 7 Plus. However, frankly, if you hadn't told me it was a 660, I wouldn't have known. The 7 Plus flies. I haven't had a single hiccup with it in the three weeks that I've used it as my main phone. Swiping, switching between apps, scrolling, unlocking with the fingerprint sensor, it's all quite smooth. I wouldn't put it at Pixel-level smooth, but it gets close enough to only be perceptible when I look for it and then isn't noticeable in everyday use.

Reception has also been quite stellar with the Nokia 7 Plus, particularly for data networks and WiFi. My pharmacy is in a dead spot: with most of my previous devices (S7 Edge, Pixel 2 XL, Nokia 8 even), I had to walk out and get to the middle of the street to catch a signal. With the 7 Plus, I was able to take a few calls with almost no cutouts from inside the pharmacy. My previous devices also frequently struggled with connection to the WiFi network when I walked to the back of the stock room, often disconnecting completely, but the 7 Plus keeps chugging along fine there.

However, Bluetooth is a different story. There are days when I have no issues at all and then other days when something clicks wrong and Bluetooth audio keeps cutting off repeatedly, especially when the screen is on. Try as I might, I can't pinpoint this to any specific situation. It happens with my Bose SoundSport Wireless and Anker Zolo Liberty+. It happens with the phone in my pocket or in my hand. It happens after rebooting both phone and headset, after forgetting and re-pairing, and after closing everything but the media app. The only constant is that it becomes a lot more frequent when the screen turns on. If I'm not actively using the phone, it's either not there or happens very rarely. Then there are days when this issue is nowhere to be found and I am conned into believing it's gone until it resurfaces again. I've searched for online reports and asked a friend who has a Nokia 7 Plus, but it doesn't seem like this is happening with anyone else. So for the moment, I'll put this in the peculiar bug category and hope it gets addressed soon. You probably shouldn't worry about it too much.

Not just Fitbit, I saw Bluetooth issues with audio and other apps.

And finally, we come to the pièce de résistance of the Nokia 7 Plus: battery life. With a Snapdragon 660 and a 3,800mAh battery, HMD promises two days of battery life and I wouldn't be surprised if many users can get to that number and more. The Nokia 8 had absolutely terrible battery life and barely lasted me until I got home every evening. The 7 Plus, on the other hand, consistently gets home with more than 40 or 50% of battery left. I don't think it can last two days with my usage, but it's definitely leaps ahead of many other devices I've tried. The only thing that gets close is the Pixel 2 XL on Android P with the Adaptive Battery mode on.

11:37pm and 44% battery left with a full day of use.

My patterns will obviously be very different from yours, but just for info, here's what I use my 7 Plus for every day. Location and Bluetooth are always on, and I spend 12 hours a day in the pharmacy where, as I've mentioned before, I have a super spotty signal, which usually kills any smartphone's battery. The phone is constantly connected to a Fitbit and a Wear OS watch, I play an average of 100 minutes of podcasts and music over Bluetooth, I have two main Gmail accounts syncing (one of which gets over 300 email threads), I use Chrome, browse Twitter, check Slack, use WhatsApp an hour or so, take a few photos, watch YouTube, and test features and apps. Given that, getting four hours of screen-on-time is an accomplishment, getting close to five was unheard of until I tested Android P on my Pixel 2 XL. So I'm more than impressed with the longevity of the battery on the 7 Plus.

10pm on a day with heavier usage.

Software

Even before it officially adopted Android One, HMD's software approach on its Nokia devices was as pure as it gets. Getting the "Android One" moniker was just a formality, but it gave us faith that things won't radically change with a software update, for example. To be clear, I appreciate OEM skins on top of Android for their additions and innovations (I have long used LG and Samsung devices, and I currently have a OnePlus 5T beside my Pixel 2 XL), but I also see value in stock Android for the fast updates and the clean slate you get. There's merit to both approaches. For the longest time, stock Android devices were solely in the hands of Google, so I'm happy to have more choice now. Plus, HMD is providing a lot of options in different price ranges.

Out of the box, the experience on the Nokia 7 Plus is quite similar to the Nexus from a couple of years ago or a Pixel device nowadays. You get Launcher 3, which offers nearly the same features as the Pixel launcher (swipe for Google Feed, app suggestions in drawer, adaptive icons, automatic switch to dark theme with a dark wallpaper), save for the bottom search widget. You also get Google's Calculator, Calendar, Clock, Contacts, Phone, Messages, and Wallpapers apps. Plus Chrome, Drive, Duo, Gmail, Gboard, Google Assistant, Google Photos, Maps, the different Play apps, and YouTube. And finally, the Downloads app you see on Pixels is named Files, for a more accurate depiction of its file browsing capabilities.

The only changes compared to stock Android are the Camera and an additional Support application. Even the former opens pics in Google Photos, so you don't have to worry about maintaining two separate galleries. And if you're wondering how Android One handles dual-SIMs and MicroSD cards, the software takes them into consideration offering different ringtones and preferred SIM settings for data/calls/SMS, plus letting you access the MicroSD card for storage when it's inserted.

Besides that, the rest of the experience is unabashedly stock Android. You get Developer options, System UI Tuner, Quick Settings, Night Light, double tap to wake, double tap the power button for the camera, swipe the fingerprint sensor for notifications, and all of the features you'd usually find in a stock Android device. The one useful addition I saw was a pop-up when connecting over USB-C to a computer asking if I'd like to use the file transfer mode or not. On my Pixel, I usually have to drop the notification and tap it to get the option, so it's more straightforward here.

HMD has also been very fast with updates. The Nokia 7 Plus is running Android 8.1 and has the June security patch level. You can even test Android P on it if you wish — I haven't, as I preferred to use the stable software for this review.

Value

In Lebanon where I live, the Nokia 7 Plus retails for about $370 - 400, depending on the source. In other countries where it's available, the price tag is somewhat similar taking into account the currency's buying power (ie. it's also about 400 but in Euros in Europe). Make no mistake about it, this is excellent value for what you're getting. Premium design and materials, high-quality display, good enough camera, great performance, stellar battery life, fast software and security updates, microSD slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, and USB-C. Boxes, you are ticked.

I struggle to recall any device in its price range and with this set of capabilities. OnePlus has long ago abandoned this price bracket, Samsung's A series is built well but a little overpriced for the features, Motorola isn't delivering on the update promise anymore and its Mods strategy is a cash-grab, and LG and HTC laughably overprice their devices in this range. The only companies with a card to play in this bracket are Huawei (with its Honor sub-brand) and Xiaomi, but they give you a highly-modded software with some useful features, sure, and also lots of preloaded junk, and they take away the fast updates.

HMD has a very powerful card to play. Right now, it's the company that is the closest to offering the Nexus promise of yore (bootloader-aside, but who besides the 0.01% of fanatics care?): Great hardware, great software, great price.

Conclusion

Life has gone full circle for me. I can finally recommend Nokia phones again in good conscience, and that is saying a lot considering the brand was all but dead a couple of years ago. HMD has revived it in the most efficient and graceful of ways and the Nokia 7 Plus is another testament to it. Many of the mistakes of the Nokia 8 have been fixed and with one year and more experience under its belt, HMD is starting to show true workmanship. You only have to look at those beautiful copper accents to realize this is a company that wants to stand out, but elegantly.

Could HMD have done any better with the 7 Plus? Yes, maybe the camera performance could meet the high bar of the Zeiss and Nokia names, and the device could have some sort of IP rating, but those are really the only faults I can find here.

I sincerely had trouble finding issues with the 7 Plus while using it. In my three weeks with it as my daily driver, the only things I missed about my Pixel 2 XL were the better camera in auto mode and (rarely) the front speakers. Given that one of these devices is less than half the price of the other, and offers a MicroSD slot and headphone jack, the value for money ratio is largely skewed toward the Nokia 7 Plus. Heck, if this phone was priced around $500, I'd still find its performance and value acceptable. At $400, it's nearly a steal.