Nokia 6.1 Review

Posted by Hans Kuenzel on

With its newly available Nokia 6.1, HMD really nails the basics. Despite the $270 price tag, you never really feel like you're missing out due to the lower price.

The big highlight here is the rock-solid aluminum unibody, which would feel right at home on a flagship device. The back is a mostly flat slab of anodized aluminum that curves ever so slightly when it reaches the perimeter of the back. There's a slight camera bump on the back that houses the 16MP sensor and an LED flash that is oddly far away from the camera lens, but it gives the back design some character.

Speaking of character, while you might expect a cheap phone to look rather generic, Nokia has given every edge of the phone a chamfered edge with an eye-popping color. My black version has a shiny copper accent, while the white version has more of a rose gold color. This accent color surrounds the front glass, the back of the device, the camera bump, the fingerprint reader, and the power and volume buttons. I think my black version looks great, and it definitely stands out among the anonymous black rectangles on my desk.

Also on the back is the Nokia logo, which has been carved into the back and given a nice reflective coloring. Look closely at the back and you'll spot a few black antenna lines at the top and bottom of the phone, which occasionally wrap around the sides and interrupt the orange chamfer. If I'm going to find any faults with this phone, it's with the rear fingerprint reader, which feels a tad on the small size. I feel like a bigger sensor would require less precision and reduce reading errors, but you can always mitigate this by training the same finger twice for more data.

The front has a pretty basic design that goes with an old-school 16:9 LCD panel and medium-size bezels. The 1080p LCD won't hit the retina-searing color saturation of flagship OLED panels, but it's certainly good enough that it doesn't feel like a compromise. Everything is about where you would expect it to be. The top bezel has a normal earpiece speaker with an 8MP front-facing camera, while the bottom bezel is blank thanks to the on-screen navigation buttons.

The sides of the phone are all perfectly flat and vertical, which helps give off even more of an "industrial" vibe as if the whole phone was milled from a brick of aluminum. Around the sides you'll find a top-mounted headphone jack (woo), metal power and volume buttons on the side, and a bottom-mounted USB-C port, speaker, and microphone. The only real bit of plastic on this phone is the SIM tray, which also houses a MicroSD slot.

I really can't rave enough about how great the Nokia 6.1 body is. It's probably the most durable rigid phone on the market, and it even manages to pull off a distinctive, handsome look. This would be perfect for a flagship device—just add higher specs and a slim bezel design, and you'd have a winner.

The Nokia 6.1 packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630—an eight core Cortex A53-based chip build on a 14nm process. Thanks to the ubiquity of Qualcomm chips, there's not a huge speed delta between devices at this price range, but HMD was generous enough to give the Nokia 6.1 a better SoC than the Moto G6's Snapdragon 450.

The performance of these cheaper devices is always a concern, and it's one of the few areas of the Nokia 6.1 where you do feel the lower price tag. It's just never going to feel as smooth and fast as a flagship phone. Performance can be decent as long as nothing is happening in the background. If the phone is downloading something or installing an app or update, it will slow to a crawl. Multitasking is just not its strong suit.

In normal, one-thing-at-a-time usage, the Nokia 6.1 is fast enough. It's not a chore to use or anything, it's just not "flagship fast."

For the rear camera, HMD is shipping a basic, single 16MP setup with an LED flash. The camera in a cheaper phone is never going to be great, but the real question is, is it better than other phones in its price category? For that, we can put the Nokia 6.1 up against the Moto G6 and see which one comes out on top. We'll also throw the Pixel 2 XL into the mix to provide a reminder of what a flagship camera can do.

Doing side-by-side comparisons like this always results in nit-picking that may or may not matter to you. After all, if you're just going to run a picture through an Instagram filter or only view it at 25 percent on a 5-inch screen, it probably doesn't matter much. But in this side-by-side comparison, it's hard to place the Nokia 6.1 camera anywhere other than "last." The Moto G6 camera is better just about everywhere: it does a better job of picking up detail than the Nokia 6.1, and it turns in brighter images in low-light conditions.

The Good

  • An ultra-rigid metal body makes the Nokia 6.1 feel indestructible.
  • On-screen buttons and a rear fingerprint reader mean everything is where it would be on a flagship device.
  • HMD did everything right when it comes to the software: stock Android, no crapware, and a best-in-class two-year update policy with monthly security updates.
  • A decent screen, NFC, and USB-C mean you don't feel like you're missing out on flagship features.

The Bad

  • No always-on "OK Google" support.
  • No unlockable bootloader.

The Ugly

  • The camera is the one area where the Nokia 6.1 falls behind the competition. Do better.

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