Android 9 Go Edition makes this a solid sub-$200 phone

The main camera has been upgraded to a 8MP shooter that can now take video in up to 720p. The quality of the shots is perfectly fine given the phone’s price, though the slow shutter speed and lack of HDR makes lighting very important if you want to get the best out of it. Selfies from the 5MP front camera are soft, but also totally acceptable. Google Photos is the default gallery app, which makes it easy to back an unlimited number of photos up and save precious space (there’s only a tiny 8GB of storage here, making an SD card essential).

Of course with a device as inexpensive as this you are going to miss out on some luxuries you take for granted even on mid-range phones. The Nokia 1 Plus does not have a fingerprint scanner, for example, and uses the older Micro USB connector for charging. It doesn’t have a water resistance rating either. But what it does have is excellent software.

This is one of the first phones to ship with Android 9 Pie Go Edition — a version of the latest phone software from Google that’s been specially designed to minimise data costs and work on underpowered devices — and in a surprising number of ways it works just like Android 9 Pie on a Pixel 3 or Nokia 8.1.

A lot of the settings are the same, for example you can set a schedule for the blue-light filtering Night Light mode, or even activate the always-on display. (Not recommended on a LCD screen for battery reasons, but there’s an option to have it activate whenever you get a new notification.)

Most core Android functions are also either identical (like widgets) or similar (like the app switcher) compared to full fat Android 9. All the little quality of life tweaks (like the new Android 9 volume menu, or the ability to search for a specific setting) are here as well.

And while you can of course access the Play Store and install any apps you want, one of the main advantages of Go Edition are Google’s lightweight Go apps. For example Google Go replaces the standard Google app, and will handle all your web-searching needs. It also provides links to most major social network, shopping and entertainment sites, which could prevent you needing to install a lot of separate apps. In a way it’s sort of like a secondary app drawer for web-based services.

A Pixel 3a XL next to the Nokia 1 Plus. Of course features like the camera and display are far superior on the Pixel, but the core experience is surprisingly similar.

A Pixel 3a XL next to the Nokia 1 Plus. Of course features like the camera and display are far superior on the Pixel, but the core experience is surprisingly similar.

There’s also Gmail Go, Maps Go and Assistant Go, which all do a great job delivering an analogue to the full app without taxing the 1 Plus’ less-complicated processor.

If you plan on installing a lot of extra apps, your mileage will vary based on how intensive they are. I found most video streaming apps worked great (and given the low resolution screen you’ll only need to stream at 480p, which is good for your data cap), while many games struggled. The vast majority of apps I tested worked as expected, just with some extra lag when moving between menus.

Available outright for $169, the Nokia 1 Plus has the general look and a lot of the functionality of a new mid-range phone at a much lower price. You miss out on a layer of polish, some premium features and the horsepower to run high-end apps, but the core of a 2019 Android smartphone is still here and works like a charm. Plus Nokia guarantees two years of software and security upgrades on the 1 Plus, which makes it an attractive alternative to buying an older second hand phone for the same price.

Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.

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