Nokia 6.1 Plus review: HMD's best budget phone yet
The Nokia 6 series holds special value for HMD Global. The Nokia 6 was the first Android device to feature Nokia branding, and it was one of the manufacturer's best-selling devices last year. The phone wasn't without its faults, however, as the Snapdragon 430 was underwhelming in day-to-day usage.
Nokia did a magnificent job optimizing the software to run on underpowered hardware during its Windows Phone days, which is why budget Lumia phones weren't laggy. That system doesn't work on Android though, and to its credit, HMD fixed a lot of the performance issues with the 2018 refresh of the Nokia 6, the Nokia 6.1 2018. The Nokia 6.1 2018 retained a similar design aesthetic but offered much more powerful hardware in the form of a Snapdragon 630.
HMD is now rolling out a third model in the Nokia 6 series, the Nokia 6.1 Plus. The phone made its debut a few months ago in China as the Nokia X6, and is the first from HMD to sport a notched display. It isn't just a larger verison of the Nokia 6.1 with a notch; the Nokia 6.1 Plus comes with an all-new glass design that makes it stand out in this segment, and the internal hardware has also received a boost. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 636, and comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage as standard.
In short, the Nokia 6.1 Plus is HMD's most ambitious effort yet in the budget category.
- Android One
- Excellent display
- Premium design
- Great for one-handed use
- Robust hardware
- Average low-light camera
Nokia 6.1 Plus What I like
The Plus moniker in the Nokia 6.1 Plus' name is in reference to the larger 5.8-inch display. HMD went with a notched panel to maximize the screen real estate, and the 19:9 FHD+ screen is one of the best in this category. Colors are vibrant, viewing angles are excellent, and the phone doesn't have any issues with sunlight legibility. There's also a layer of Gorilla Glass 3 at the front and back to protect from tumbles, and the 2.5D curved front makes it easier to use the phone.
Even though the Nokia 6.1 Plus has a screen that's 0.3 inches larger than the Nokia 6.1, it is more compact than the standard model. Coming in at 147.2 x 71 x 8mm, the Nokia 6.1 Plus is shorter, narrower, and thinner than the Nokia 6.1 (148.8 x 75.8 x 8.2mm), a fact that's immediately noticeable once you start using the device. It is almost as compact as the Pixel 2, making it the perfect device for one-handed usage.
The glass back doesn't have a reflective pattern like the Honor 10 or the Huawei P20 Lite, and what the device is missing in design flourish it makes up in durability. There's an aluminum frame sandwiching the glass front and back, and although the Nokia 6.1 Plus isn't as durable as the standard model, it can still weather a few tumbles.
It's a good thing too, because the Nokia 6.1 Plus is one of the most slippery phones available today, and it managed to slide off flat surfaces no less than five times in just under a week. There wasn't any damage aside from a minor dent on the frame, but if there's ever a device that needs to be used with a case, it's this one.
Rounding out the design, there's a dual camera system arrayed vertically at the back, and a fingerprint sensor located underneath. The sensor isn't located quite where your finger rests at the back, but the minor indent makes it easy to locate the module and unlock the phone. The Nokia 6.1 Plus has a single speaker located next to the USB-C port at the bottom, and a 3.5mm jack up top. The volume and power buttons are located on the right.
Like most phones in this segment, the Nokia 6.1 Plus comes with a hybrid SIM card tray that sees the secondary SIM slot doubling up as a MicroSD slot. The Nokia 6.1 Plus has Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, and FM radio, but it is missing out on NFC.
|Specs||Nokia 6.1 Plus|
|Screen||5.8-inch 19:9 FHD+ (2280x1080) IPS LCD|
|Software||Android 8.1 Oreo|
|Rear Camera 1||16MP, ƒ/2.0|
|Rear Camera 2||5MP, ƒ/2.4|
|Front Camera||16MP, ƒ/2.0|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, BT5.0, FM radio|
|Colors||Gloss Midnight Blue, Gloss Black, Gloss White|
|Dimensions||147.2 x 71 x 8mm|
Powered by a Snapdragon 636, the Nokia 6.1 Plus is the most powerful budget phone HMD has launched to date. I didn't notice any lag in the three weeks I used the phone, and the robust chipset coupled with 4GB of RAM is the sweet spot in this category.
The 3060mAh battery also managed to deliver a day's worth of use consistently. The phone offers Quick Charge 3.0, but the charger included in the case goes up to just 5V/2A. I averaged over five hours of screen-on-time over the course of a day, and while the phone doesn't hold up to the likes of the Redmi Note 5 Pro in this area, it is more than enough to last an entire day.
It's business as usual on the software side of things. Like the rest of HMD's portfolio, the Nokia 6.1 Plus runs Android One out of the box and comes with two years of platform updates and three years' worth of security updates. The phone is currently on Android 8.1 Oreo, and HMD says it will deliver the Android 9.0 Pie update before the end of the year.
The Finnish brand has done a magnificent job in terms of rolling out timely updates across its entire portfolio, and there isn't a brand that comes close to HMD in this regard. If you care about updates, picking up a HMD phone is a no-brainer.
The 12MP + 5MP rear cameras on the Nokia 6.1 Plus do a great job in daylight conditions, with images offering plenty of detail and decent dynamic range. HMD is also rolling out its Bothie feature — which lets you take a photo with both the front and back cameras simultaneously — to the device.
Nokia 6.1 Plus What needs work
Honestly, there's very little wrong with the Nokia 6.1 Plus. The main issue with the device is that it has a notch, which feel unnecessary as there's a substantial chin. But as we've seen in recent weeks, it looks like HMD is standardizing the notch across all of its devices, so it looks like it is a feature that's here to stay, at least for a generation or two.
The other drawback with the Nokia 6.1 Plus is the fact that it isn't particularly great at taking photos in low-light conditions. The sensors struggling to capture any meaningful amount of detail, and there's a lot of noise in the resultant shots. This isn't an issue that is exclusive to the Nokia 6.1 Plus; most budget phones struggle with low-light images.
Should you buy it? Absolutely
It took HMD three attempts, but it has finally delivered a budget phone that can take on the likes of Xiaomi and Honor. The Nokia 6.1 Plus is one of the best phones at this price point, and the design coupled with HMD's track record at rolling out updates makes this a great option if you're in the market for a new device.
The hardware on offer is identical to what you get with the Redmi Note 5 Pro or the ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1, and while the Nokia 6.1 Plus costs slightly more than ASUS' offering, the promise of quick updates and the design flair more than justify the price.
4.5 out of 5
Nokia phones aren't necessarily known for aggressive pricing, but HMD is changing its strategy with the Nokia 6.1 Plus, particularly in India. The phone is available in the country for just ₹15,999 ($215), making it an enticing alternative to the Xiaomi Mi A2. The Mi A2 has beefier hardware in the form of a Snapdragon 660 — and better cameras — but the Nokia 6.1 Plus is ideal if you're looking for a compact phone with a gorgeous design.
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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.