Over the past year or two, HMD Global has ushered a revival of the Nokia brand with stock Android software under the hood. But perhaps none of the smartphones it has released has been more reminiscent of the Nokia of yore than this Nokia 1 — a device that looks like it took a time machine from Espoo in 2011 to 2018, with a quick detour in Mountain View for a fresh coat of Android 8.1 paint.

The Nokia 1 was announced at MWC 2018 with Android Oreo (Go edition), a small low-resolution display, a slow processor, and 1GB of RAM. It exists in a world of contradictions where dated hardware meets new software, and where what feels like an unrestricted experience at times crashes against some unexpected obstacles. It's a good starter smartphone though, if all you need to do is call, message, and browse. It could also be an excellent secondary phone if you need something durable on all fronts. But after using it for a few days, I feel like HMD made one compromise too many to reach that sweet $85 MSRP.

Specs

OS Android Oreo 8.1 (Go edition)
Display 4.5” FWVGA IPS (854x480)
Processor MediaTek MT6737M (Quad Core 1.1GHz)
Memory 1GB (LPDDR3 RAM)
Storage 8GB (MicroSD expandable up to 128GB)
Rear Camera 5MP with LED Flash
Front Camera 2MP
Battery 2150mAh
Connectivity 802.11 b/g/n, GPS/AGPS, Bluetooth 4.2, Micro USB 2.0. Different LTE versions for the EMEA/APAC, LATAM, and India markets.
Sensors Proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, g-sensor
Dimensions 133.6 x 67.8 x 9.5mm
Headphone Jack Yes

The Good

Price At less than $100 (depending on your currency), the Nokia 1 can do a lot more than I thought would be possible.
Build quality The plastic housing can easily get scratched, but the rest of this phone is built like a tank. I wouldn't be worried if it flew a few meters off my hand, tumbled across a flight of stairs, and landed on gravel.
Dual SIM version (and MicroSD) There are dual-SIM versions of the Nokia 1 where you can conveniently slip two SIM cards plus a MicroSD at the same time. The extra storage is essential because only ~5 of the onboard 8GB are available to you.
Headphone jack and FM Radio When much more expensive phones are skipping the headphone jack, it's nice to see cheap devices like this one keep it. The Nokia 1 also has an FM Radio app if you want to listen to local stations and avoid streaming.
Battery life It goes on and on and on, possibly because I didn't use this phone a lot, but also thanks to the low-resolution display and low-power processor.
Software Even though this is the Go Edition, a lot of Android 8.1 features are present. Many stock Android apps are also included, such as Gboard, Google Photos, Chrome, Calendar, Duo, Messages, Phone, and Wallpapers.
Performance It only gets slow when switching between apps, but otherwise it was responsive and faster than I expected.
Reception As with the Nokia 7+ that I recently reviewed, the Nokia 1 gets decent 4G and WiFi reception in areas where my Pixel and previous Samsung and LG phones had no signal.
Removable back and battery You can replace the battery if the one included starts wearing out. Nokia also sells Xpress covers separately so you can personalize the look with new colors.

The Not So Good

Specs Compared to another Android Go device, the Alcatel 1X, the Nokia 1 seems overpriced for what you get. There's no fingerprint scanner, the storage is 8GB instead of 16GB, the display isn't 18:9, and the cameras are 5MP/2MP instead of 8MP/5MP. HMD should have added at least one of these to the Nokia 1 — the fingerprint scanner if you ask me.
MicroUSB It's a stretch to ask for USB-C on sub-$100 hardware, but I would prefer to see it on all phones from now on.
Small letdowns There's no LED notification light, which you may be accustomed to having as a visual reminder of missed calls or messages. Also, the included earphones are painful to wear for more than a few minutes, a disappointment if you enjoy listening to music or radio and can't afford to buy a decent set separately.
Speaker It's tinny and gets moderately loud but distorts a lot.
Go apps Maps Go kept refreshing each time I scrolled or tapped something; plus, it doesn't support turn-by-turn navigation. YouTube Go doesn't have channel subscriptions. Gmail Go is slow and clunky.

Where to buy, what's in the box, accessories, and more

The Nokia 1 isn't available in the US, but it's being sold unlocked in various European, Latin American, and Asian countries. Regardless of where you live, you can expect to pay the equivalent of $75-$95 for it, taking into consideration the country's currency and its purchasing power. Here are some examples of pricing around the world:

Most retailers are offering two colors: the Dark Blue one you see here and a Warm Red one. The back cover (and battery) is removable, so HMD is banking on the return of Nokia's famous Xpress covers to entice users wanting a personalized look. For the Nokia 1, there will be two dual-packs available: Azure/Grey and Pink/Yellow. They should cost around $10/€10 according to third-party sellers on Amazon.de. Besides the official Xpress covers, there's already a small third-party accessory scene for the Nokia 1 with some glass screen protectors and many good-looking TPU cases.

The Nokia 1 comes with three accessories in the box: a 5V/1A USB charger, a MicroUSB cable, and a pair of earphones. The latter are the kind of $1 earphones you may get off eBay and they're painful to wear more than a few minutes. In-ear sets are almost as cheap nowadays, so HMD should have splurged the extra cents to get something you can at least tolerate in your ears for five minutes.

Camera

The Nokia 1's camera software positively surprised me a little. It took me several minutes to figure out that swiping the entire screen switches between photos and videos, but the interface is very easy to use otherwise. It even has HDR, panorama, burst, a beautify feature, and a manual mode for setting white balance and exposure.

 

For 5MP photos, the result was as serviceable as you would expect. The macro level is OK if you want to take close-ups, HDR makes some difference when shooting dark and light areas in the same photo (check the last two photos below), and the panorama mode is handy when you want a better photo of a landscape. However, there's noise, a washed out look if you zoom in, some issues with exposure, and a flagrant lack of detail. Plus, HDR slows down each shot by about a second.

In darker environments, things are worse. The camera is slow, especially with HDR on, and the resulting images are grainy with a very poor quality.

Left to right: Good lighting. Dark with flash. Dark with HDR, no flash. Dark, no HDR, no flash.

The front camera is only a 2MP module, so expectations need to be lowered when using it. The resulting images have a watercolor effect and very little detail, but again, they're serviceable.

Should you buy one?

Possibly, maybe. If you're reading Android Police looking for advice on the Nokia 1, then you likely belong to one of two groups: you want a decent second phone to put a SIM card in and use a couple of apps on, or you're looking for a basic starter smartphone for a friend or relative. In both cases, the Nokia 1 isn't a bad choice.

Regardless of the reason you're looking for a device like the Nokia 1, I can't help but think that you may be better served with an older but more capable second-hand or refurbished smartphone.

True to form, HMD is using a stock version of Android Go with nary an alteration and no extraneous applications beside FM Radio and Nokia Support. This does help performance a lot, which is critical when you only have 1GB of RAM and don't want unnecessary processes clogging up the memory.

Using Android Go wasn't as frustrating as I had thought it would be (especially after seeing Ryne's struggles with his Alcatel 1X), but it's not even close to the convenience of the full iteration of Android. The 1GB of RAM certainly hampers the experience here; I often found apps reloading when I switched away from them for a few minutes and came back. I also frequently saw pixelation when switching between apps and waiting for one to open again. Still, most apps work as expected, save for Google Wallpapers and Duo. The former was usable when I first got the phone, but after installing a couple of apps, it always closed by itself when I opened it and scrolled through a few images. The latter was practically unusable and my contacts kept complaining that my video and voice were cutting off super frequently.

I tried using the Nokia 1 without prejudice about what a modern smartphone should and shouldn't do. Calls were clear and WiFi/LTE reception was excellent, messaging was flawless through SMS or Telegram, and searching or browsing were a little slower but still usable with Google Go or Chrome. I also downloaded some "lite" versions of social media apps, I used Google Calendar and Keep, and I played music and videos over Play Music and Youtube Go. In that basic context, Android Go is decent. Ryne and I are planning a longer and more detailed review of the platform based on our experience with the Alcatel 1X and Nokia 1, so keep your eyes peeled for that if you want a more thorough exploration of Go.

However, two things frustrated me the most with the Nokia 1. First, the display is small and my thumbs kept hitting each other as I typed, but thanks to Gboard (with themes, 8.1 emojis, and integrated Google search), I was able to swipe very quickly and avoid typos. Second, there's no fingerprint sensor and I hated typing my PIN code to unlock, but that was also mitigated by Smart Lock for trusted devices, places, and on-body detection.

Left: Display visibility indoors. Right: Outdoors with glare. It's better than the photo shows. 

These two situations are great examples of how the Nokia 1 creates an unsettling world of contradictions where outdated hardware and modern software mix. You'll find the Autofill API and apps, notification channels, Do not disturb, customizable Quick Settings, smart lock for passwords, double tapping on Overview to switch between apps, and many more conveniences we got used to with the latest versions of Android. But there are also Go versions of several apps, including a slower Gmail Go, YouTube Go without channel subscriptions, and a downright terrible Maps Go without turn-by-turn navigation.

Go apps: Assistant, Files, Google, Maps, and YouTube.

Regardless of the reason you're looking for a device like the Nokia 1, I can't help but think that you may be better served with an older but more capable second-hand or refurbished smartphone. Those should have a larger and better display, more RAM and storage, and possibly a fingerprint scanner. But you'll likely have to give up on frequent security updates and the latest Android 8.1 iteration. It's a compromise, but one I'd probably make if I only had $100 in my pocket.

Why Buy?

  • LTE, apps, and many modern Android conveniences.
  • One of the least expensive out-of-pocket smartphones on the market (depending on where you live).
  • Sturdy build quality, good battery life, decent performance.
  • HMD's track record with updates and support.

Why Not?

  • Modest specs compared to other Android Go devices or similarly-priced older refurbished smartphones.
  • Average rear camera, terrible front camera.
  • A confusing experience with outdated hardware but modern software.