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The smartphone market in Kenya is very competitive. For any budget, you will not walk home without a device to address your telephony and internet needs. Safaricom, for instance, has Neon smart handhelds that cost as low as KES 3,500. Other manufacturers such as Lava, Infinix, Tecno, the troubled Huawei, OPPO, Xiaomi Nokia, and Samsung have a fair share of local users who subscribe to their brand. Most of these manufacturers have a device for every price bracket, save for Samsung and Huawei that push the limit further to the high-end segment.

The wide range of devices and the dynamic nature of the smartphone market in the country is beneficial to consumers, and distributors who sell as many devices as they can. While we do not have the numbers, we, through educated guesses, can tell that some OEMs are growing their presence, which is good for them. Nokia, for instance, has an established brand in Kenya, and while its departure to Redmond failed spectacularly, it has been doing an okay job to reclaim its lost glory. OPPO, also, is aligned to the success rallied by Chinese smartphone makers; its presence in Kenya is growing thanks to attempts to popularize camera capabilities of its phones.

To this end, we have been playing with two devices from OPPO and Nokia: the F11 Pro, whose review is incoming, and the Nokia 8.1 that has been with us in the last couple of weeks.



For context, the F11 Pro costs KES 40,000 whereas the 8.1 costs KES 45,000. The 5K price difference is significant, but it still lies in the same upper midrange segment. Both are fantastic phones and have their fair share of downsides that quite frankly are not deal breakers for folks interested in either. Let’s dive in and examine their merits and issues in an attempt to guide buyers who may want to splash an additional KES 5,000 for the Nokia or save the same amount for the 40K OPPO F11 Pro.

Design and hardware

Both phones are built well with tight tolerances and hardware tricks and features that may or may not appeal to target customers. Both are large devices, although the F11 Pro is noticeably massive.

Whereas Nokia 8.1 is put together using glass on the back and front with an aluminium frame, the OPPO F11 Pro has a plastic rear, which is good as it helps in cutting the weight of its already large footprint. For this reason, the Nokia feels more premium because glass oozes more quality, although it is fragile in case of a fall on a hard surface.

The Nokia 8.1 is solidly crafted

Buttons are placed at the right positions for both phones. The F11 Pro has the upper hand here owing to its centrally-placed volume and power keys that do an excellent job in addressing ergonomics for folks who have small hands.

The F11 Pro is huge, but its weight distribution and button placement is terrific

Perhaps the F11 Pro’s limitation is its decision to use microUSB in a market where Nokia’s cheapest phones are rocking USB Type-C. This may not be an issue for some people, but it is always a good thing to future-proof a device. Nonetheless, OPPO’s port and its power brick and cable support fast charging called VOOC 3.0. The 8.1 has fast charging too, but it is slower at 18W versus 20W for the F11 Pro.

Nokia 8.1 Type C
Nokia 8.1: Look, USB Type C

Both have fast and accurate rear-mounted fingerprint scanners.

The F11 Pro has motorized selfie snapper that rolls out of its slot on the top of the device, eliminating the need for a notch or screen punch-hole. The 8.1, on the other hand, has the good ol’ notch that houses an array of sensors and front camera.

Overall, both phones have a robust construction with very little to complain about.

Verdict: This is a 50-50 showdown. Whereas the OPPO F11 Pro is large, has better button placement, lacks USB Type C but revives itself with a unique motorized camera system, the Nokia 8.1 prides itself with a more premium build, a not-so-fashionable notch and USB Type for data transfer and charging.

Display

Let’s begin with size: the OPPO F11 Pro has a large 6.53-inch panel that’s all-immersive. This means it has no notch, and it is all you can see on the front with no interruptions, save for a small chin. This was achieved by motorizing the pop-up camera, a new trend we have been seeing from Chinese smartphone manufacturers. The Nokia 8.1, on the other hand, has a 6.18” screen with a notch and an okay chin.

Nokia 8.1 Display
Nokia 8.1: Display has a very wide notch

OPPO has not revealed whether the display on the F11 Pro has some form of protection. The 8.1, on the other hand, is equipped with NEG Dinorex in place of Gorilla Glass.

F11 Pro Screen
Save for a small chin, the all-screen OPPO F11 Pro is very attractive

Both screens are bright outdoors, and pump out good colours for LCD displays, although the Nokia has punchier and more true-to-life colours. This does not make the F11 Pro screen a bad one, which trumps over Nokia’s by sheer design.

Nokia 8.1 Notch
Do you see the notch?

Verdict: Tie. While the 8.1’s screen is more colour accurate and brighter, it fails to offer a full-screen experience as is the case with the F11 Pro.

Software Experience

Without saying a lot, the Nokia 8.1 has a superior software experience because it runs stock Android 9 Pie under the Android One program. This means the software does not have a skin to complement its offerings, which means many things: there is no bloat or gimmicky features that you might never use, the experience is faster, and software updates are deployed in a timely fashion.

Conversely, the F11 Pro is served by ColorOS that has been updated to include an app drawer. The software features tens of settings that can be tweaked to your taste: want to open two WhatsApp accounts on the same device? How about locking your apps natively? How about theming your experience? These are value-added features that you will not find in the Nokia. They may not appeal to some but are a nice addition to have nonetheless. Even better is the fact that OPPO has optimized the experience, which is unquestionably buttery smooth.

Verdict: The 8.1 wins for me here for one reason: the software is simple enough for my pedestrian needs, clean and is served as Google intended. OPPO F11 Pro’s offerings are good too, but the Nokia’s package is more polished.

Camera

I have explored the camera experience for the OPPO F11 Pro extensively in a camera-focused article and full review, and to reiterate, here are my thoughts (based on a 48 MP and 5 MP rear cam combo with AI and a motorized 16 MP pop-up selfie snapper):

OPPO F11 Pro has a dual 48 MP and 5 MP dual camera

The 48 MP camera does a terrific job, and after the sensor and software do their thing, the resulting images are, as mentioned, in 12 MP resolution. Shots captured during the day or brightly-lit conditions are excellent, to say the least. They packed to the brim with detail, ooze high dynamic range with accurate colour reproduction and great processing.

Yes, the 48 MP sensor is capable of capturing 48 MP shots, but the end results are not drastically different from the 12 MP shots. Users can save 48 MP images, but the F11 Pro’s chipset is not powerful enough to handle the processing, so the saved images are just up-scaled 12 MP shots.

Oh, selfies are excellent too.

On the other hand, the 8.1 has dual primary cameras: an optically-stabilized 12 MP, f/1.8 and a 13 MP sensor, as well as pixel-packed 20 MP selfie shooter. The mere fact that the 12 MP camera has OIS is a clear indicator that the Nokia 8.1 camera system kicks ass, especially in low light setups as evidenced by captured images.

The 12 MP sensor of the dual camera array of the Nokia 8.1 has OIS

Nokia’s cameras are complemented Zeiss optics alongside scene-recognition technology as is the case with the F11 Pro. It shoots solid stills in daylight, which can further be enhanced by portrait mode. There is a pro-mode in place that allows users to adjust exposure, shutter speed, and white balance. Also, you can use all cameras (front and back) to snap images or stream to YouTube.

Verdict: The Nokia 8.1’s camera output is obviously superior, but the F11 Pro’s samples are close.

Specs and Performance

The Nokia 8.1 is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 710, a modern upper midrange chipset. It has only 64 GB of internal memory and 4 GB of RAM, whereas the OPPO F11 Pro has double the internal storage and 6 GB of RAM. The OPPO is powered by a MediaTek Helio P70 chip which has since proved its prowess.

Generally speaking, both devices are fast, and since we prefer day-to-day performance in place of benchmarks, you should trust us that these devices are swift. One may think that OPPO’s ColorOS bogs down performance, but that is not true because in some cases, the F11 Pro is actually faster.

Verdict: Tie

Battery

The 8.1 has a 3500 mAh cell against the F11 Pro’s 4000 mAh. Both support fast charging, but OPPO’s VOOC is slightly more rapid. Both juicers can easily do a day or two days for frugal users.

It is worth noting that the F11 Pro uses the same old microUSB cable and port. The 8.1 has transitioned to the future with USB Type-C support, which is a useful feature for future proofing.

Verdict: Tie.

Summary

The OPPO F11 Pro is a gigantic phone and can be a bother for people who love compact devices. The 8.1 is not small either, but it is more manageable. It is built better too with glass on both sides, whereas the F11 Pro has a lot of plastic.

The software experience is different, and both devices have their merits and demerits in terms of user interface and experience. Their batteries perform admirably and charge equally faster, although the F11 Pro still uses microUSB for top-ups.

The Nokia, unfortunately, has less RAM and internal storage and costs more.


Both shoot fantastic images, and while one of the 8.1’s rear shooter has OIS, the F11 Pro gains by packing more pixels in its primary camera, as well as a futuristic pop-up camera.

Depending on what you need, any purchase is a right choice. Just make sure you are certain of usage patterns and preferences because KES 40,000 – 45,000 is a lot of money for a phone.

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