Nokia 7 Plus NFC security key

The tiny NFC area on the Nokia 7 Plus

The Near-field communication (NFC) area on the Nokia 7 Plus (TA-1046) isn’t located at the center back of the phone where you’d find it on most Android models. Instead, you’ll find it at the top right corner of the back — and its reach is tiny compared to other devices.

The Nokia 7 Plus’ manual only mention that the NFC contact area is at the back of the device, but doesn’t specify where. I’d decided to get a NFC security token to lock down my online accounts with a physical two-factor authentication device. I’ll write more about this later, but in effect I really needed to make my Feitian ePass security key. I had already set up the key and locked down my accounts and felt a little panic when my phone refused to communicate with the token and let me login to my Google Account.

The instructions on screen clearly told me to place the NFC security key on the center back of the phone or underneath the back facing camera on some models with centered cameras. This matched my experiences from the five previous NFC-capable phones and I had no reason to question the instructions. It took me a good half an hour to work out that the NFC on my new Nokia 7 Plus wasn’t somehow disabled in software or broken in hardware. It just had a really poor reach compared to other devices and the contact area were located in a tiny spot to the right of the camera lens (as indicated on the above photo).

I took a look at some of my older phones and expected to find that the NFC area was located at the center back. Because this is always where I’d used to place NFC tags and other phones to connect them. However, I discovered that my LG Nexus 5X (changing the launcher app did buy it a few more months of life but I ended up swapping it for the Nokia 7 Plus in April) had a much stronger signal in the opposite area of the Nokia 7 Plus on the left side of the camera. I found out that I could also make a connection with the Nexus 5X by holding my security key up against the camera, 2 cm off the surface of the phone, or even dead center of the phone. I’d never noticed that the connection was better to the side of the camera as NFC had always just worked when I placed NFC devices near the center back of the device.

From looking at device teardown reviews, I’ve been able to confirm that the Nokia 7 Plus has a small NFC antenna to the right of the left of the camera. The Nexus 5 X has a a larger NFC antenna that covers a wider area around the entire camera housing and a little way downwards towards the middle of the phone. The latter design seem to be quite common in many other smart phone models.

I don’t know whether the Nokia 7 Plus’ NFC problems are caused by the smaller antenna design, a weaker NFC controller or transmission power, or something else entirely. The required equipment to test this properly costs thousands of dollars. What I can say for sure is that its NFC area is significantly smaller and its much more difficult to get it to read an NFC tag or key than the HTC One (2013), Sony Xperia Z3 (2014), LG Nexus 5X (2015), and the Samsung Galaxy S7 (2016) and S8 (2017).

I’m not the only one experiencing these problems with the Nokia 7 Plus. Some customers on the Nokia phones community forum though that NFC wasn’t working at all as they had trouble locating the NFC area on the back of the device.

I find it interesting that none of the hundred or so reviews I’ve found of the Nokia 7 Plus mention NFC other than in passing. It would seem none of the reviewers considered it wroth actually testing whether NFC capabilities worked any differently than on comparable devices.

On a more positive note and NFC issues aside, I love my Nokia 7 Plus! It’s pretty great, runs Android One (got access to the Android “P” beta on day one), and has high-end features and performance at a mid-range price. It’s a pretty good purchase as long as you don’t intend to work a lot with NFC tags.