The recent onslaught on the mid- to low-end smartphone segment is an obvious indicator that that market is key to the success of any mobile phone manufacturer. Since 2018 and for the better part of 2019, manufacturers such as Huawei, Infinix, OPPO, and TECNO have done a fantastic job churning out phones for the Kenyan market, and for the most part, these devices have been a success. The development has also been supplemented by HMD’s Nokia, which has also grown in the Kenyan scene after a brief departure upon its acquisition by Microsoft (that also saw spectacular failure of MS’s Windows Mobile plan).
I have been playing with the Nokia 3.1 Plus for the better part of April 2019, and that usage has been done interchangeably with another Nokia device, the 8.1 whose review I will publish at a later date. The 3.1 Plus costs KES 18,000 or less depending on your negotiation skills at retail stores. It is a fantastic device, although a tad bigger than I would have liked, but its heftiness is complemented by a bigger battery that lasts long enough to impress basically anyone.
Moreover, that price range is packed with lots of compelling competitors from the aforementioned manufacturers: Infinix has the recently announced S4 that goes for about KES 15,000; TECNO just launched the Spark 3 that we already reviewed at the same price bracket, and you cannot miss a similarly spec’d device from Huawei that has been doing an excellent job ensuring that people know their phones exist. I mean – how many times do you hear the name Huawei being mentioned in media platforms on a slow day? For me, it is about 5 times.
Back to the star of the day, the Nokia 3.1 Plus. This is a phone that is unapologetically not trying to woo anyone with very attractive looks and notched screens: it is built as pedestrian as they come. There is a 6-inch LCD display on the front, and its other parts are mostly metallic. My blue version is, however, a cute handheld, and does a good job staying appealing enough to those who do not want a unique phone to keep things low-key.
- The 6-inch screen is expansive for media consumption. It is not notched, which is a plus (ha) for some people.
- Battery life is terrific.
- It ships with Android 8.1 Oreo that can immediately be updated to Pie.
- The build quality is stellar for the price.
- Its OS is under the Android One Program, meaning you will get excellent software support for a long time – in Android metrics.
- Its MTK P22 chipset is not the fastest around, but it executes basic tasks just fine.
- The display is very dim. It is unusable in a brightly lit day.
- It is slightly too big (180g) and heavy for my taste.
Now, let’s talk about The Good
I am going to say this right now so that I don’t spend a lot of time and long boring sentences trying to sugarcoat my opinion: for KES 18,000 or less, this is the best software experience, that is also up to date that you can get on a phone. It ships with zero bloatware, and the apps you choose to install are tools you actually want to use, and not what other manufacturers think you need. The right to do this should never be taken from a user, but that is seldom the case unless you buy Android One devices such as a modern-day Nokia, a Pixel – or an iPhone.
However, it is worth noting that things tend to get a little boring with Android One or devices running vanilla Android: there aren’t lots of Settings to play with, nor is the OS packed with any extraordinary features. Every feature, every setting or software tool is just too basic. This is the primary reason manufacturers skin Android to add more features, most of which are actually very good. But if you are the kind of person who enjoys simplicity, then the 3.1 Plus is the way to go. You can say the same thing for any other Nokia device out there.
Those who are not accustomed to the new navigation system in Android 9 Pie should be happy to know that the three-button option is still in place. I reverted to it as soon as I updated the phone because I tend to fumble a lot with the pill-shaped button, which also happens to make me do twice the work when summoning recent apps.
That said, the build quality of the 3.1 Plus is good. The amount of heft to it, while a bit too much for me, complements day to day handling, and if a user takes care of it well, it can pull two years or more before it starts showing signs of hardware deterioration.
What‘s more, the big footprint is guaranteed as the handheld packs a healthy 3500 mAh juicer that can easily last for two days. Battery life is augmented by the fact that the HD+ screen is undemanding, the software is as simple as they come and the P22 processor is not power hungry. These are a combination of features that make me happy, and they should to you too because who does not love excellent battery performance?
People who use two SIM cards concurrently – and want a slot for their microSD card at the same time should be right at home because the 3.1 Plus has all that. External storage supplements 32 GB of internal memory and 3 GB RAM to ensure you multi-task easily.
Camera performance is okay for the price. The device has three cams in total: a dual system at the back with 13 MP and 5 MP sensors, as well as an 8 MP selfie snapper. To be honest, I have been spoilt by images captured by the likes of the Nokia 7.1 and 8.1, the latter of which has an optically stabilized 13 MP lens that performs admirably alongside a 12 MP sensor. Generally speaking, these cameras take okay, social-media friendly images. They are serviceable, and I can’t ask for more considering you are KES 18,000 for this baby. Of course, you can get a better camera experience with a phone that costs more.
Sample images are attached at the end of this post.
Again, did I tell you that a blue 3.1 Plus is a looker?
The missteps – and they aren’t too many
You and I understand that a perfect phone is a fallacy or lie – it does not exist. The Nokia 3.1 Plus, while nailing most aspects of a phone under KES 20,000 is not immune to a couple of setbacks or issues. My primary gripe with it is day-to-day performance. To put this into perspective, the Xiaomi Redmi 6A is powered by MTK P22, which is also found in the Nokia 3.1 Plus. The 6A costs half the price of the Nokia. So, what does this mean? Well, performance issues show their ugly side in some instances, especially when you push the pocket computer to the limits, which includes installing a ton of apps and using them almost at the same time. Some apps such as Facebook are, obviously, resource hungry and will punish the processor and RAM.
That aside, the likes of Twitter and Instagram tag along just fine. If you further limit app usage to basics that don’t take a toll on the CPU, then the 3.1 Plus is an okay performer. Light gaming runs just fine too (although games such as Candy Crush and Soda are massively hit by dropped frames and general sluggishness. The two King’s games, which I love owing to the amount of time I have dedicated playing with candies, are simple but graphically intensive).
It is worth noting that I’m being a little hard on the 3.1 Plus in terms of performance letdowns. Most people wouldn’t notice these issues, but they are there for those who care, and I have to be realistic about that.
You may have noticed that my camera praises are right there in the middle: the hardware is there owing to the existence of the dual cam sensors at the back and an 8MP shooter for those who love to admire their faces once in a while. However, the punchiness, the vibrancy or even the mostly artificial pop that people love to see in their images is not here. All is not lost though because the captured jpegs are good, and useable for the Gram and WhatsApp stories. I just wish Nokia had done a better job because competitors have much better optics, to be honest. Does that undercut your decision to buy it though? Seriously, no. The cameras are nice, very good sometimes, but not the best in the price range.
Is the Nokia 3.1 Plus worth your money?
This is not an easy question, but the short answer is yes, assuming you didn’t read the short review above.
The long answer is still a resounding yes with reasons: if dual-SIM capability and external storage is a big deal for you, then buy this phone. Secondly, the 3.1 Plus is an excellent buy if you have under KES 20,000 and want a phone that has the latest Android version with promised updates that will be sent over the air in a timely manner. Thirdly, if the build quality is important to you, and love your phone with a giant battery, then the 3.1 Plus is your phone.
Finally, it is worth noting that Nokia has a phone for almost every price segment, starting from as little as KES 8000 all the way to KES 45,000 – or more if HMD brings the Nokia 9 PureView to Kenya. A misstep in a given price segment can be compensated for with a slightly pricier replacement, which cumulatively packs more features in all aspects. For instance, the Nokia 3.1 Plus can be dropped for a Nokia 5.1, 5.1 Plus, 6.1, 6.1 Plus – all of which cost under KES 25,000. They have refined designs and better cameras, and are out here to serve you should the likes of the 3.1 Plus fail to deliver – which it doesn’t, at least for the most part.