Nokia 2V and 3.1 Plus preview: A (good) sign of things to come

Nokia is coming to the North American market, with three devices exclusive to three carriers launching in the coming months. Two of them, the Nokia 2V for Verizon and the Nokia 3.1 Plus for Cricket Wireless are now available, but don't let the price fool you — there's much more to these partnerships than just these budget entries.

Nokia's storied past has always had one check mark — the company never successfully established itself in the U.S. The new Nokia — two years into its existence under the HMD Global banner — is looking to change this and also capture a market where millions of phones are sold each year. You may remember that ZTE once successfully penetrated this market with a range of Blade phones for Cricket, but the company's troubles with the government looked to have opened the door for the renewed Nokia.

Nokia has opted to allow carrier software and pre-loaded apps, in exchange for access to the U.S. market.

The two phones are both versions of devices we've already seen, albeit customized for each carrier network. The big difference versus their unlocked counterparts is the software: Since early 2018, Nokia has exclusively offered phones with Google's Android One experience, but the company has opted for a more traditional Android loadout in order to access the lucrative U.S. market.

Looking at the Nokia 3.1 Plus — the hero in the stable and exclusive to Cricket Wireless —it's clear Nokia has lightly modified the software to accommodate its carrier partner's wishes. That said, it is the first smartphone running Android Pie on Cricket's network, which makes it stand out amongst the competition. The modifications are a small price to pay, especially as it offers a solid experience for its $159.99 price tag.

It features a 5.99-inch HD+ display with 18:9 aspect ratio, which looks pretty good given the price. The display won't wow you, but it's on par with, if not better than, other devices around this price point. One of the stand-out features is the 3,500 mAh battery, which Nokia claims offers two days between charges, and given the overall specs list, this is probably an accurate estimate. It's powered by a Snapdragon 439 processor with 2GB RAM, and 32GB of internal storage, which can be upgraded by 256GB using a microSD card.

The rear features a polycarbonate shell that's a fingerprint magnet but looks stylish in blue, and the metal frame makes the Nokia 3.1 Plus feel quite sturdy. The rear features a 13MP primary camera with phase detection autofocus, and a secondary 5MP camera which captures the depth of the subject. This then allows you to adjust the amount of bokeh both, before and after capture, and while the results aren't spectacular, it's a great feature to have on an entry-level device.

See the Nokia 3.1 Plus at Cricket Wireless

The Nokia 2V runs on the Oreo version of Android Go and features a 5.5-inch HD display. It's powered by a Snapdragon 425 processor with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, which can be expanded by a microSD card. The rear features an unremarkable 8MP single camera, while the front has a 5MP fixed focus selfie shooter. The Nokia 2V will come in Blue and Silver variants, and pricing hasn't been confirmed. Given the unlocked version of the Nokia 2 is available for under $99, it's likely the Nokia 2V will be similarly priced.

See the Nokia 2V at Verizon

While both of these devices are quite unremarkable, they do represent a wider opportunity for Nokia; establish brand recognition in a retail fleet which is crucial to success in the U.S. Maurizio Angelone, the head of HMD Global for the Americas, told me in a briefing that "90% of mobile phones go through the carrier channel."

These two devices represent an opportunity for Nokia to establish itself in the US, likely ahead of other devices later this year.

Success in carrier retail ultimately equals success in the U.S. for Nokia, and it's a huge step forward for the company. Pekka Rantala, HMD Global's Chief Marketing Officer, told me that the company has seen incredible engagement for its fans in the U.S, and that this buoyed them to pursue existing gaps in the value segment. Rantala also confirmed that with 30% of smartphone sales in the U.S. priced under $200, its new devices are positioned perfectly to fill the need that Cricket Wireless and Verizon both highlighted.

Does this mean that Nokia is going to bring more devices to retail in the U.S.? The company was tight-lipped when pressed on this question, but success in the entry-level market can only be a boon for HMD Global's expansion plans. We're expecting HMD Global to launch a new smartphone during MWC next month, but it's unknown whether this will be available through any partnerships.

Interested in checking out the Nokia 2V and Nokia 3.1 Plus? They're only available from their respective carriers, but to see them in person head down to your local store. The Nokia 2V will be available from Verizon stores nationwide, while the Nokia 3.1 Plus will be available from any one of 4,000 Cricket Wireless stores.

What do you think of Nokia's first devices sold through carriers in the U.S.? Are you excited by the potential of more Nokia phones becoming widely available stateside? Should Nokia release another version of Snake? Let us know your views in the comments.

Nirave Gondhia

Nirave Gondhia has been writing about the mobile industry for over a decade and began his career selling and fixing phones in the UK. He's used every flagship smartphone over the past five years and carries at least two phones at all times - currently, he's using the iPhone 11 Pro, [Samsung Galaxy Fold and Motorola RAZR. Say hi to him on Twitter at @nirave.