Compared with the rest of the company’s 2018 smartphone lineup, the Nokia 3.1 stood out as the lone disappointment. The Nokia 3.1 Plus for Cricket ($159.99) doesn’t change things radically, but it’s definitely an improvement, with a peppy processor and fantastic call quality. But while the 3.1 Plus performs better, its build quality is a step down, and it doesn’t enjoy all the benefits of the Android One program. It’s a decent choice for Cricket customers on a budget, but there are better unlocked options out there.
Design and Display
Gorgeous design is one of the hallmarks of the Nokia brand, but unfortunately, the Nokia 3.1 Plus bucks the trend. On the front you’ll find a 5.99-inch LCD with chunky bezels all around. The back is a blue polycarbonate panel that can be removed to add a SIM and microSD card.
A dual camera stack and fingerprint sensor sit at the top of the back panel. The fingerprint sensor is easy to reach, even with small hands, though it can be finicky at times; unless your fingerprint is centered exactly on the sensor, there’s a 50/50 chance it will not authenticate. In addition to the cameras and fingerprint sensor, you’ll also find prominent Nokia and Cricket branding and a speaker. When streaming multimedia, peak volume on the speaker comes in at 92dB. The sound is decent, but lacks any bass whatsoever.
The bottom of the phone is home to a USB-C charging port, while a 3.5mm headphone jack sits on top. The left side is bare, while the right holds the power button and volume rocker. We found the power button a little small and would sometimes tap the volume rocker by accident instead.
The 5.99-inch LCD has an 18:9 aspect ratio and 1,440-by-720-pixel resolution. At 311 nits of brightness, it’s dim and hard to see in bright light. Viewing angles are also poor, but the most troubling issue is color accuracy. In our lab tests, we found the screen to have a very limited color gamut, with greens and reds coming in significantly undersaturated.
Hardware and Performance
The Nokia 3.1 Plus has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 439 processor and 2GB of RAM. Storage comes in at 32GB, with about 25GB available out of the box. You can add up to 256GB of external storage with a microSD card.
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Overall performance is solid for the price. Apps open quickly and you can easily multitask with more than six apps open before things begin to slow down. Gaming is acceptable, though we did encounter long load times and skipped frames while playing Asphalt 8. If mobile gaming is high on your priority list, it’s worth paying a little extra for the Motorola Moto G7 Play, which has a much more powerful Snapdragon 632 processor.
Compared with the G7 Play, the Nokia 3.1 Plus falls behind in benchmark testing. On PCMark 2.0, a suite of tests that emulates common smartphone tasks, the 3.1 Plus scored 4,432 while the G7 Play came in at 5,840. That said, Nokia does an excellent job of optimizing software on its phones, and we don’t feel benchmarks fully tell the story of real-world usage.
A 3,500mAh battery powers the 3.1 Plus. In our battery drain test, which streams video over Wi-Fi at full brightness, it eked out 6 hours and 21 minutes battery life. It doesn’t come close to the battery life on the Moto G7 Play (15 hours, 28 minutes), but it should be able to get you through the day with conservative use. Should you find yourself running low on juice, the phone supports fast charging for a quick boost. Be warned, however, that it gets very hot when charging (135 degrees Fahrenheit).
Like most budget phones, the Nokia 3.1’s camera is a major weakness. The aforementioned dual camera setup features 13MP and 5MP sensors. The primary sensor has an f/2.0 aperture while the 5MP sensor has a narrow f/2.4 aperture. On the front of the phone, you’ll find an 8MP lens with an f/2.2 aperture.
In our test photos, background details are blurred and there’s a slight bit of ghosting in the foreground. Low-light photos are poor, with significant noise and blurring.
The front-facing camera is much the same. In bright light, test selfies have some blurring in the foreground and colors are oversaturated. Low-light photos are worse, with blurring throughout the image and significant noise.
The 3.1 Plus ships with a near-stock version of Android 9.0 Pie. Apart from My Cricket, Cricket Wi-Fi Manager, and Cricket Visual Voicemail, there is no bloatware to be found. Overall, it’s very similar to what you get on the Moto G7 Play, though the G7 Play’s UI is slightly more customized and offers some useful gestures you don’t get on the 3.1 Plus.
And while the 3.1 Plus is one of a handful of budget phones that ship with Android Pie, it’s not part of the Android One program, unlike nearly every other new Nokia smartphone. That means there’s no guaranteed update to Android Q later this year, nor are you guaranteed to get monthly security updates.
Network and Call Quality
As a Cricket exclusive, the Nokia 3.1 Plus is carrier-locked and optimized to work on AT&T’s network. It supports LTE bands 2/4/5/12/14/29/30. Speeds were strong and consistent in testing, at 31Mbps down and 28Mbps up, despite network congestion in downtown Manhattan.
Call quality is solid as well. Our test calls were crystal clear, without any choppiness or distortion. There wasn’t a hint of any background noise, despite making test calls on a very busy street.
Peak volume for the earpiece clocked in at 90dB, making it loud enough to hear in just about any atmosphere. At 84dB, the speakerphone is also loud enough to fill a room. And even with the phone resting on a table, we still managed to consistently record peak volume at 82dB.
The Nokia 3.1 Plus has NFC for automatic payments, which isn’t available on the Moto G7 Play, nor almost any other similarly priced smartphone for that matter. It supports Wi-Fi only on the 2.4GHz band, however, while many other budget phones feature 5GHz support as well. Bluetooth 4.2 is also included in for wireless audio and wearable connectivity.
The Nokia 3.1 Plus doesn’t stand out, but it offers enough to justify its $160 price. Performance is good, call quality is excellent, and battery life is perfectly acceptable. That said, if you’re willing to spend a little more, the Moto G7 Play has a much better processor, additional, RAM, and spectacular battery life. If a good camera is your top priority, your least expensive option is the Nokia 7.1, and while it’s more than twice the cost of its budget-friendly sibling, it offers significantly better performance all around.