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Nokia 6.1 2018 review: Delivering value in simplicity

Nokia 6.1
(Image: © Android Central)

Our Verdict

Price: $269, £229, ₹16,500Bottom 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.

For

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

Against

  • Average camera
  • 16:9 display

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.

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.

SpecNokia 6.1 2018
Screen5.5-inch 16:9 IPS LCD
SoCSnapdragon 630
RAM3GB/4GB
Storage32GB/64GB
Rear Camera16MP, ƒ/2.0
Front Camera8MP, ƒ/2.0
Battery3000mAh
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, BT 5.0, FM radio
SecurityRear fingerprint
ColorsBlack/Copper, Blue/Gold, White/Iron
Dimensions148.8 x 75.8 x 8.2mm
Weight182grams
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 (opens in new tab) 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.

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

62 Comments
  • Nokia 6.1 or Huawei Mate SE?
  • Do you want fast updates and stock android(Nokia), or a little better specs and a more modern design (mate se)?
  • Camera, speed and battery. It's for my sister. She honestly doesn't care *that* much about fast updates or it being stock android.
  • I don't think you can go wrong either way.
  • Agree. Both are solid devices. 
  • It's the Mate SE still a micro USB?
  • As someone who has the Huawei Mate SE it's an amazing phone for just $200. Camera and battery are great and the speed keeps up with the Nokia 6.1 as well albeit its slower. If I'm being 100% honest though I would've chosen the Nokia 6.1 in a heartbeat not because I dislike this phone, it's great, but I really enjoy having updates, great durability, and the copper look is very unique. Plus it has USB type C. Only thing that kept me back is that Nokia 6.1 comes in 32 GB storage and 3 GB of ram whereas Huawei Mate SE has 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB internal storage.
  • Nice review. One thing to change, “The main issue with last year's Nokia 6 was the underwhelming Snapdragon 450 chipset.” should be 430 not 450. Great looking phone for the price.
  • I was going to point that out, the 450 is just an underclocked 625 and is therefore a decent choice for a budget smartphone and could handle the full HD panel. I always enjoy the reviews Harish does, they are usually of some interesting devices. Nokia are nailing the updates and build of there phones - two things that are important to me. My Nokia 8 is always up to date and is built like a tank. Cameras have a long way to go though. There not bad by any means, but they are not what Nokia used to do.
  • I've been very impressed.
    I'm replacing my guys Moto G5's with this phone.
  • Nice! I would say this phone is a good update from that phone. I had the Moto G 5Plus and while it's a good phone the software updates were lacking and it just looks outdated next to the competition.
  • Hey every phone that has a 16/9 display sucks now, according to this guy!
  • Would prefer the 16:9 display to the newer narrow phones..
  • I came here to say I prefer 16:9
  • I also see 16:9 as an advantage. At least i can reach some screen elements with one hand (still waiting for a Mi Mix nearly borderless phone with a 5" screen)
  • Yup. Nothing wrong with 16:9 display. I prefer it and I'm hoping tall skinny phones go away.
  • Same here for sure.
  • I personally wouldn't consider the 16;9 aspect ratio as a 'con'. I'm not a fan of the current trend of 18:9 screens.
  • I could not agree more.
  • I feel neutral about it. I don't think it's a con or pro, it just is.
  • Not mentioned in the review is that this phone does have NFC.
  • 16:9 displays is a "con" now?! This guy is a clown.
  • Really, a 16:9 display ratio is a con, now? 🤦
  • Had to do a double check. Lmao!
  • Honestly, 16:9 isn't a deal breaker. I'm using the 2017 Nokia 6, and I feel much more attuned and comfortable with it, even if the 18:9 phones win on one hand use.
  • How the mighty have fallen. Nokia used to be about imaging. That camera is terrible. The photos look dull, lifeless, and just average.
  • Mine doesn't take dull lifeless images in daylight https://www.instagram.com/p/BizJq9cgm05/?taken-by=seanetta
  • How well does bluetooth work on this phone? My Nokia 6 is constantly having problems connecting/disconnecting to various devices, and at times bluetooth just turns off.
  • I haven't had any issues with Bluetooth connectivity.
  • My Mum has one, and also never complained about disconnecting from her BT-Speaker. However, she had some problem when walking through a busy Airport, but i noticed that issue too with Lumia 820.
  • Does have wireless charging?
  • Metal back does not allow wireless charging
  • You are doing a huge disservice recommending this phone to any US customers in the state it is in now. It is currently a mess for the US. I've had one for 4 weeks now (using T-Mobile) and the camera app constantly lags/freezes, call volume is extremely low from both the earpiece and bluetooth, it will randomly reboot (since the May update) and the Bluetooth 5.0 is unreliable. You can read about all these issues on both Reddit and Nokia's own support forum. Until updates come out that fixes those I would stay away. The quality of the hardware is great, the software has some issues. I also have a Honor 7X (which is same as the Mate SE but with 32gb) and it is a better phone. I would go with one of those.
  • Your phone is toast because I use mine with T-Mobile and I have none of the issues you describe. Also, I had an Honor 7x for less than a week before this phone and returned it to Amazon because it was straight rubbish.
  • Im in the US using the NA 1045 variant too am on Tm. I found some great tips on xpa. Installing the apk for the 7 plus or pixel improves the camera performance alot. Also go into settings and disable wifi and BT scanning. These helped me.
  • Interesting to hear! The only reason why I didn't get a Nokia 6.1 was only because they didnt have the 4 GB RAM and 64 GB internal storage variant. I really enjoy using my Huawei Mate SE and have no regrets but damn if the Nokia 6.1 isnt tempting. Sorry to hear about your experience.
  • Nokia phones are vastly improved. I like the 6.1, 7plus & the Nokia8. All are very reasonably priced & are very good performer's!
  • I just wish they bought more of their phones here in the States!
  • using this phone for 2 weeks and its just the best US phone under $300
  • If you don't mind using an older OS (6.1), the ZTE Blade V8 Pro is currently a better value at almost half the price. USB-C, 5.5" full HD, 625, 3Gb/32Gb, and dual rear cameras for only $140 with free case and shipping. It even has NFC.
  • Also will never receive any updates. Not to mention who knows if ZTE will even be around much longer. 
  • I am very impressed with Nokia. I know it's name only but it was my first cellphone back in the dinosaur days of 1995, yikes. Anyway the Nokia8, 7plus and the 6.1. These three are very reasonably priced & offer very good specs. I just wish they had a US release. They would sell many more. I think the 6.1 maybe the best in it's class. These are very good phones for the money!
  • Ditto on the first phone! I pre-ordered my 6.1 and have been very pleased... loving the flat sides and aspect ratio. Outside of the camera, it's as close as I could come to a successor to my Nexus 5 and 5X!
  • Another great phone not available on CDMA
  • Notch-less, flat display! I'm in. A slightly larger battery would have been nice though. Have a Snapdragon 625/4GB Ram in my present phone and it's perfectly capable so this should be just fine.
  • Why on earth would you make 16:9 a "con"? It's far superior to 18:9.
  • I think this is the phone I want to replace my ZTE Blade Spark. The only thing is, I can't find a decent case for it, I want a hard-shell case that has a VERTICAL kickstand (I DO NOT want a horizontal kickstand). I have been able to find such cases for past phones all the time, but can't seem to find one for this one.
  • I have a Nokia 6.1. It is my spare phone and I like it very much. The only disappointing thing is the brightness of the display. It is very dim. I have the same wallpaper on all three of my devices (N6.1, Essential, and Moto e4 Plus). All three are on 25% brightness. The Essential is by far the brightest, even on 25% it is very bright. The Moto is next and bringing up the rear, way back is the N6.1. Other than that, great device.
  • the nokia 6.1 totally reminds me of the first two moto x generation phones that ran bare bones android with only a minimum manufacturers skin. Even with 32g and 3g of RAM it s pretty fluid but ive found it takes some tinkering to get things to where i like um. So far the phones proven to be pretty stable and reliable. Hopefully future updates will help with phone call volume and sound quality. Sure hope nokia decides to release a US variant of the 7 plus sometime soon....
  • Finally I see a Nokia 6.1 in white/silver I have only seen the black ones
  • I love Nokia but I really feel it's time for a global release of a flagship device. We already know how well these devices sell in other countries! We need something to compete with some of the other phones. I feel they offer way too many phones and need to concentrate on a high spec device that knocks it out of the park for them . If something is not announced soon then I'm going to have to go with the pixel 3 in October
  • I love that it's aluminum, not glass. I also like the aspect ratio and price.
  • This is a very nice phone. But for 50.00 more you can pick up the 7plus with a 3800mamp battery. That would be my choice. I luv battery power!
  • Agreed, the 7 Plus seems to be the Godilocks of the bunch.
  • im just waiting for a US variant before buying one.
  • A good entry into sub $300 territory by Nokia. I'll consider it along with Moto g6.
  • I really like the nokia since it's came out at market..
  • I dislike the 18:9 aspect ratio and prefer the 16:9.
  • Do not buy the nokia 6.1! they are not able to fix a bug since over a month and we are not able to use 4G / LTE anymore:
    https://community.phones.nokia.com/support/discussions/topics/7000025306/
  • Mario, read thru that and the restart 4G Location issue on only two of the many variants of this device.
  • oww , fm radio! 😊😊
  • NOKIA, NOKIA, NOKIA!!!