Nokia’s comeback to the smartphone market involved a lot more of nostalgia than crazy expectations around the performance. Underpowered hardware for a premium price, and build quality being the only USP summarizes the first batch of Nokia devices in 2017. However, they’re back at it again, this time around with much-needed upgrades, and in partnership with Google for their Android One program. With a decent enough package coupled with Nokia’s trustworthy brand value, let’s see if the Nokia 6.1 has what it takes to compete against fierce competition from Xiaomi or other well-settled brands.
Starting off with what stands out when the device is held in hand for the first time, that amazing build quality. Nokia is known to build their phones like a tank and the 6.1 is no exception. The body is carved out of a single block of 6000 series Aluminum with chamfered edges giving it a premium look. Even though the smartphone looks and feels great, the back has a very smooth matte finish which makes the device extremely slippery in the hand, and the sharp edges just add to misery. The device simply does not feel too comfortable while using for extended periods of time. Another slight issue, if I have to nitpick, is the placement of the fingerprint scanner, which could have been slightly above the current placement. Instead of the elongated camera module, the scanner could have been pushed up a bit, which would be the natural position where the finger rests. While we’re at it, the scanner itself is pretty fast and accurate but needs to have your finger resting entirely on the sensor, failing which it throws an error that only partial fingerprint was detected.
Coming to the front of the device, the Nokia 6.1 sports a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD display with Corning’s 2.5D curved Gorilla Glass 3 on top. Nokia has gone with the good ol’ 16:9 aspect ratio as opposed to the trend of 18:9 which gives the device sort of a dated look. The quality of the display panel though is right on the money. Colors look vibrant, and the blacks are pretty deep, viewing angles are great with little to no color shift, and the brightness levels are good enough for decent outdoor visibility.
The earpiece on top had no issues during calls, but Nokia has made a slight compromise here when compared to the previous gen Nokia 6 which doubled up the earpiece as a front firing speaker to form a stereo setup. The 6.1 though, has a single bottom firing speaker which is ample loud for media consumption. There’s no distortion even at loud volumes, and the audio output seems to be clear. The output from the headphone jack is decent, nothing to write home about.
A rear facing single 16MP camera with Zeiss optics and a front facing 8MP shooter, both having an aperture of f/2.0 handle the optics. There’s also support for Phase Detection Auto Focus on the rear camera along with a dual tone dual LED flash. The pictures taken from the camera turn out to be a mixed bag. In outdoor as well as good lighting conditions, images turn out to be sharp and the colors look vibrant and pleasing to the eye though slightly saturated compared to real life. But, this is just one side of the story. At times, images look washed out, thanks to the overblown exposure, and a few areas of the image turn out to be completely dark even with auto HDR turned on. Inconsistent to say the least. The situation worsens when we move to low light scenarios. The sensor simply doesn’t capture enough light, hence resulting in dark images with little to no detail. There’s also a lot of noise captured in the background, partly due to a smaller pixel size and what seems like poor optimization.
The situation isn’t any different when it comes to the front-facing 8MP shooter. Pictures taken under good lighting scenarios have a decent amount of detail but still tend to have a little bit of noise. The software seems to soften the details hence resulting in washed out images, which is evident in pictures taken in indoor lighting as well. Thanks to a software update, there’s now support for a bokeh mode, but weirdly only on the front-facing camera. The bokeh itself is pretty strong and looks rather unnatural, but it’s there when you need it. Also, the edge detection doesn’t seem too professional as well.
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An aspect though, which the Nokia 6.1 has going for it, is its performance. Under the hood, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 chip running the show with 8 Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 2.2GHz coupled with the Adreno 508 GPU. There are two RAM/storage configurations available with the base variant having 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage and the variant which we reviewed, having 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, which is expandable through a hybrid SIM slot.
Specs aside, the performance on the Nokia 6.1 has been pretty solid, thanks in large to the Stock Android experience provided by the Android One program. Day-to-day tasks run without a hitch and the UI feels smooth. Speaking about UI, there’s absolutely no bloatware that comes preinstalled other than a few Google apps. There are a couple of nifty features integrated including double tap the screen to wake the device or swipe a finger on the fingerprint scanner to bring down the notification shade, etc. Intensive tasks like gaming are handled smoothly as well with little to no major lag or frame drops. After gaming for about 10-15 minutes, playing common titles like Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5, the back of the device became slightly warm which is expected given the metallic body. There’s also support for NFC for contactless payments as well as file transfer.
There’s a 3000mAh battery for power, and while the number might be misleading, the Nokia 6.1 offers good battery life to last you an entire day’s usage, thanks to the efficient Snapdragon 630 chip which is manufactured using the 14nm FinFET process. On each day of my usage, I ended up with about 15% juice and 5+ hours of screen on time with moderate to heavy usage. Scrolling through my Twitter feed, a little bit of browsing, texting on Hangouts and Whatsapp, navigation for about 15-20 minutes, and of course, streaming the IPL qualifier on Hotstar through 4G. All of this, with 5 hrs and 40 minutes of screen on time and 15% battery remaining at 11:35 PM having plugged the phone off the charger at 7:30 in the morning. And to top it up, the Nokia 6.1 also supports 9V 2A fast charging, similar to Quick Charge 3.0 which charges the device from 10-100% in about 100 minutes which is pretty quick.
The Nokia 6.1 is a worthy upgrade to its predecessor, the Nokia 6, which was just plain bad. While it’s built like a tank with a solid battery and general performance, the cameras are where the Nokia 6.1 lags behind the competition. Also with the asking price of Rs. 18,999 for the 4+64GB variant, it’s very hard to recommend over other devices like the Redmi Note 5 Pro or the Asus Zenfone Max Pro M1, both of which have superior chipsets and a better camera setup, and are priced substantially lower than the Nokia 6.1. But then, you don’t need to fight it out in the flash sales or worry about after-sales service if you indeed decide to go with the Nokia 6.1.
Let us know your views on the Nokia 6.1 and if you are indeed interested in picking one up yourself, given the longevity of the device, thanks to the Android One program which assures two years of Android updates. Better specs, or better software support? What would you choose?