Nokia 6.1 Offers Big Bang For Your Bucks

HMD Global have launched a new mid-range Nokia-branded Android smartphone, the Nokia 6.1. It’s a stylish piece of gear, but has it got the goods where it counts and just how much bang for your hard earned bucks is on offer?

The Nokia brand is big shoes to fill. The Nokia feature phones of old were legendary. They’d outlast thermonuclear war and come back for another game of Snake. Take my old Nokia 4410 – it might not have been the smartest, but it was near indestructible and its battery lasted for the best part of a week.

More recently HMD wowed Nokia fans with last year’s Nokia line up, and are hoping the new 2018 Nokia 6.1 will continue this trend.

Design-wise the Nokia 6.1 is more of an evolutionary step than a revolution. Nokia haven’t opted for the on-trend 18:9 display aspect ratio and there’s no slinky glass back with fancy paint jobs. Instead, Nokia have taken what worked well with last year’s Nokia 6 and refined it.

Hewn out of aluminium, its body feels like it could handle a drop and damage anything it lands on. In a nutshell, it is reassuringly solid. The anodised exterior is finished in black and comes with bronze/copper accents on its diamond cut edges. This sounds kitsch but looks like a zillion bucks.

If there is one design faux pas with the 6.1’s body, it’s in the sharp edges around its back. These are squared instead of gently curved. They’re not comfy for extended use, but do make the 6.1 a much less slippery customer than its more curvaceous competitors.

Considering its mid-range sticker price, the Nokia 6.1’s design looks and feels very high-end. Either way, it is definitely eye-catching.

Powered by a Snapdragon 630 CPU, the Nokia 6.1 sits squarely in the mid-range camp. Performance wise this also means that while there’s enough oomph for demanding tasks, including gaming, battery life is still very reasonable. Another nice inclusion is a microSD slot which provides room to grow from the paltry 32GB of internal storage provided.

HMD have also kitted the Nokia 6.1 out with a 3000mAh battery and fast-charging. For me, it delivered around a day and a bit of use with more demanding apps, and just over a day with lighter use. The other bonus is the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone socket.

The display is an HD 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 LCD display at 403ppi, laid out in a 16:9 aspect ratio. The use of a 16:9 display does translate into bigger bezels but the screen is vivid and functioned perfectly under direct sunlight. The auto brightness sometimes needed a kick in the pants, but the display is otherwise faultless.

In the camera department there’s a 16-megapixel 1µm f/2.0 Zeiss rear camera and on the front there’s an 8-megapixel 1.12µm f/2.0 shooter. While the 6.1 lacks dual rear shooters, its f/2.0 aperture means it is capable of shooting reasonable low light photos – provided you’ve got steady hands or a phone tripod.

While the 6.1 has an HDR mode, I found that really bright or dark areas confused it. That said, tapping specific photographic subject areas allowed me to actively adjust focus and metering for better pix.

If you can find it (you need to unintuitively swipe the shutter button), there’s also a solid manual mode which gave me control over ISO, focus and shutter speed, all of which can make a huge difference to photos. Manual mode is incredibly handy for hard core shutter bugs,  but it is well hidden and as such the camera app could be a little more intuitive. Perhaps Nokia should look to likes of Huawei?

As with earlier Nokia phones, There’s a ‘bothie’ mode. No, we’re not talking about a shooting mode aimed at former South African politicians, but the ability to do split screen captures from both the front and rear camera simultaneously. It also works with video which can be good for capturing reactions to events as they unfold.

Speaking of video, the Nokia 6.1 can also capture video in 4K video and stream live video to Facebook or YouTube. In short the camera is capable and well featured, it just needs some work on its intuitiveness. This is, of course, easily solved using a third party camera app.

The headline feature with Nokia’s 2018 smartphone line-up is Android One. While many may shrug and say “so what”, they’re missing out. There’s a lot to love with Android One, as we’ve detailed previously.

So, what’s the big deal? In short, the Nokia 6.1 comes with a stock version of Android. There’s no kludgy phone manufacturer skins to confuse and slow things down and there’s no bloatware or duplicated Android apps. Everything you need is there. Android One also means two years of OS upgrades, including those all-important security updates.

The Nokia 6.1 might be an affordable phone, but its alloy body looks like a million bucks and feels solidly built. That it also comes with a microSD slot and 3.5mm headphone socket is icing on the cake. In use as my daily driver the Nokia 6.1 was a pleasure to use.

There’s not much I’d change, except to say that it’d be nice if the display was in an 18:9 aspect ratio and the camera app was more intuitive. Neither of these minor grizzles are deal breakers, especially given the 6.1’s very reasonable $499 sticker price.

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