Nokia 6.1 2018 review

Nokia's comeback tale is one that's filled with nostalgia, lofty goals, and a few missteps. The brand managed to carve out a niche for itself thanks to its focus on timely updates and no-nonsense design. Those principles worked for Nokia in the past, and are now allowing HMD to become a player to contend with in the Android space.

The Nokia 6 was the first device that kicked off Nokia's resurgence, with the device making its debut in China last February. There was considerable excitement around the device, but it failed to live up to those high expectations, mostly because of an underwhelming Snapdragon 430 that wasn't able to keep up with the Full HD display.

For the 2018 refresh, HMD is making a few key changes, chief among them an upgraded chipset. The Nokia 6.1 2018 is powered by the beefier Snapdragon 630, and offers Bluetooth 5.0 as well as a USB-C port. There's no dearth of budget phones in markets like China and India, but HMD's focus on an uncluttered software and fast updates has allowed the brand to stand out from the likes of Xiaomi, Honor, and even Motorola.

In short, the Nokia 6.1 2018 is one of the best phones you can buy today for under $300.

Nokia 6.1 2018

Price: $269, £229, ₹16,500

Bottom line: The Nokia 6.1 retains the same build quality as its predecessor, while offering an upgraded chipset with much better performance, fast charging, and USB-C connectivity.

Pros:

  • Durable chassis with outstanding build quality
  • Clean software and timely updates
  • All-day battery life with USB-C charging

Cons:

  • Average camera
  • 16:9 display

About this review

I (Harish Jonnalagadda) am writing this review after using the Nokia 6.1 for over a month in Hyderabad, India. The device was connected to Jio's 4G network, and received a few security updates during the course of the review. The phone was provided to Android Central by HMD India.

Nokia 6.1 2018 review

Nokia 6.1 2018 Full review

Nokia phones of old were legendary for their durability, and the brand is trying to infuse the Nokia 6.1 with the same characteristics. Of course, given that there's a large glass screen up front means the phone isn't going to be as rugged as the 1100 or the 3310, but HMD has designed a chassis that can take a beating.

The Nokia 6.1 is milled out of series 6000 aluminum, and you can feel that the phone is built to last from the moment you pick it up. HMD even made a point of playing air hockey with Nokia 6.1 units at the device's launch event in India, just to show off its durability.

This is the most durable budget phone available today.

The design is largely unchanged from last year, although the Nokia 6.1 has slightly reduced bezels. That's because the fingerprint sensor is now located at the back of the device. The camera housing is also more oblong, with the flash module moving further below the back. It's great that HMD switched to USB-C with the Nokia 6.1. Far too many budget phones still feature a MicroUSB port, so in this area, HMD is ahead of other brands.

The fingerprint sensor is located just where your finger rests at the back, and it's just as fast as other budget devices. And talking about the basics, the Nokia 6.1 has a 3.5mm jack located up top.

The Full HD display on the Nokia 6.1 is still a 16:9 panel and not 18:9 like most phones in this category. The panel has decent colors, although the color balance is more toward the cooler side of things. Sunlight readability, on the other hand, is excellent, and I faced zero issues using the Nokia 6.1 under harsh sunlight.

The phone comes with a two-tone finish, with the chamfers on the sides and the camera sensor picking up accent colors that break up the design well. The copper version is similar to what we've seen on the Nokia 7 Plus: the black color scheme is interlaced with copper accents, and that gives the phone added flair. There's also a blue version of the device with blue accents, but that particular option is available in limited quantities.

The white variant I'm reviewing comes with iron accents, and while it isn't as distinctive as the other models, it is a great alternative if you're looking for a version with an understated design.

Spec Nokia 6.1 2018
Screen 5.5-inch 16:9 IPS LCD
SoC Snapdragon 630
RAM 3GB/4GB
Storage 32GB/64GB
Rear Camera 16MP, ƒ/2.0
Front Camera 8MP, ƒ/2.0
Battery 3000mAh
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, BT 5.0, FM radio
Security Rear fingerprint
Colors Black/Copper, Blue/Gold, White/Iron
Dimensions 148.8 x 75.8 x 8.2mm
Weight 182grams
Price $269, £229, ₹16,500

The main issue with last year's Nokia 6 was the underwhelming Snapdragon 430 chipset. It wasn't able to handle the Full HD panel, and as a result, the phone felt laggy during everyday tasks. Thankfully, that isn't the case on the Nokia 6.1. The Snapdragon 630 ensures the phone blazes through most day-to-day tasks, and it even handled demanding workloads with aplomb.

I've used the version with 3GB of RAM, and while I didn't face any issues in day-to-day usage, the 4GB model with 64GB of storage is a better bet if you're looking for a future-proof device. Either model has a microSD slot that lets you extend storage.

In a segment where manufacturers are trying to cut costs by getting rid of basic accessories like earphones, HMD includes an 18W wall charger in the box, along with a pair of decent-sounding earbuds. That's a common theme with the Nokia 6.1: HMD has learned from last year's mistakes, and the device is one of the more feature-rich phones you'll find in this category. It even has an FM radio, and the two SIM card slots can both connect to 4G networks. And yes, you can use dual VoLTE.

Coming to the battery side of things, the 3000mAh battery was more than adequate to deliver a day's worth of usage, and the phone now has fast charging. You'll be able to use the bundled 18W charger to quickly top up when you're in a hurry — up to 40% in under an hour. That's significantly better than last year's model, which took an agonizing three hours to fully charge.

For all of its hardware strengths, the loudspeaker on the Nokia 6.1 is sub-par. There's a single speaker located at the bottom, and it's neither loud nor detailed (it's a good thing HMD bundles earbuds in the box). The only other downside on the hardware front is that you won't be able to use the Nokia 6.1 on the likes of Verizon or Sprint as it is a GSM-only device.

Nokia 6.1 2018 review

HMD focused on two pillars when reviving the Nokia brand: industrial design and quick updates. Over the course of the last year, HMD has shown once and again that it can roll out consistent updates to its portfolio of devices, and earlier this year the brand committed to the Android One platform for all of its future devices.

The software experience on the Nokia 6.1 is just as fluid as other Android One phones, and the clean user interface is a delight to use. The phone has consistently picked up monthly security updates, and is now on the June 5, 2018 patch. While it isn't a part of the Android beta program like the Nokia 7 Plus, it should be in the first wave to devices to pick up the Android P update once the stable build is available later this year.

The one potential downside with the Nokia 6.1 — particularly if you're one to install custom ROMs — is the fact that there's no easy way to unlock the bootloader. This is admittedly an issue that will affect a small minority of users, and with HMD consistently rolling out updates, there really isn't a reason to flash another build onto the Nokia 6.1. But if you're one to tinker with ROMs, know that it's particularly hard to do so on the Nokia 6.1.

Nokia 6.1 2018 review

Continuing the theme of simplicity, HMD has stuck with a single imaging module at the back of the Nokia 6.1. The 16MP f/2.0 lens takes decent photos in daylight scenarios, but it struggles to focus in low-light conditions. There's also a fair bit of noise from resultant low-light shots.

Switching on HDR helps with improving the dynamic range of images, and you also get a manual mode that lets you adjust the white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and exposure levels. The camera interface itself is easy to navigate, with toggles clearly laid out. There's even a Bothie mode that lets you take photos from the rear and front cameras simultaneously.

The 8MP front shooter takes great selfies, and Nokia 6.1 shoots 4K video as well — with the ability to upload directly to Facebook or YouTube. There's plenty of detail in videos, but as there's no optical image stabilization they tend to be shaky if there's a lot of motion involved.

Nokia 6.1 2018 review

Should you buy it? Yes

The Nokia 6 sold in excess of 10 million units globally, making it one of the best phones in this category last year. The Nokia 6.1 builds on that foundation with a much more capable chipset, improved battery life, fast charging, and USB-C connectivity.

Sure, the Nokia 6.1 is missing out in a few areas — it's still using a 16:9 display, and the camera could be better at low-light conditions. But it excels at the basics, and the durable design should make it withstand the occasional tumble without any issues.

The Nokia 6.1 delivers in the areas that matter, making it a great budget option for 2018.

The Nokia 6.1 isn't the only Android One device in this category, as the Mi A1 also costs around the same. The A1 doesn't have the same hardware prowess as the Nokia 6.1, but it has an edge when it comes to the camera side of things.

Earlier this year, I said that the Redmi Note 5 Pro has the potential to be the best budget phone in India. However, Xiaomi bungled the launch, and three months after its release, you still can't get the phone without going through a lot of hoops.

Thankfully, the Nokia 6.1 doesn't have any such issues. The phone is up for sale on Amazon India, as well as thousands of retail stores across the country.

Best of all, the Nokia 6.1 is also up for sale in the U.S. for $269. The phone is available unlocked from Amazon.com, and you'll be able to use it on GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile. For under $300, the only other device that comes close to the Nokia 6.1 is the Moto X4, which is available for around the $280 figure right now.

The downside with the Moto X4 is that Motorola isn't as quick as it used to be at rolling out software updates, and the phone is unlikely to receive platform updates beyond Android P. The Nokia 6.1, meanwhile, will get two platform updates and three years' worth of security updates, making it future-proof.

4.5 out of 5

A good budget phone needs to do three things: offer a lag-free experience in day-to-day usage, a sturdy chassis, and timely updates. The Nokia 6.1 delivers in all three categories.

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