Sunday 8 July 2018

Nokia 6.1 (2018)

Also known as the Nokia 6.1, this update to the first Nokia 6 from last year seems very different in many ways and I wonder why they just didn’t call it something else. Maybe they’ve run out of numbers. Oh yes - they have! I guess they could use 4 if some superstitious buffoonery wasn’t rife. Anyway, my approach to this device started off being dominated by the urge to consider it ‘for the price’ but that changed as I meandered along Nokia Lane.

Choices The 2017 Nokia 6 had many things going for it, some things not. Springing to mind each way is the stereo speakers, Snapdragon 430 chipset and microUSB dependence. This £200’ish price-point is a busy place though and consumers have an increasingly ample choice of options, styles, capabilities and brands from which to choose. The Moto X4 springs to mind or Sony Xperia XA2, being two that I have reviewed myself and seem to fit. But there are various choices from HTC, Xiaomi, Motorola, Sony, Honor and others which stake a claim.

Smaller The first thing to note is that they’ve made the device physically smaller, but retained the 5.5” screen. This has (partly) been achieved by shaking off that Nokia 8/HTC capacitive ‘chin’ cluster of navigation controls and having taken the screen further out towards the edges left and right. The fingerprint scanner has been shuffled around to the back and under the AndroidOne banner, Vanilla as-Google-intended, on-screen controls at the foot.

Physically, the 6.1 looks gorgeous. It feels substantial in the hand at 172g, not light and lily-livered! The anodised 6000-series aluminium body in blue with gold accents and glass frontage looks very classy. The 'boxy' style of square edges and (only just) rounded corners gives it great grip in the hand with (my) finger and thumb just meeting around it. The shade of blue has been really well chosen by the team. Unlike the Nokia 8 series devices it's a matt finish, but remains a little slippery to the touch if not as much as the 8's. Case needed, me thinks, but at this price-point there ain't one in the box!

Long Island
On the back, there's a single camera and flash, the island for which sits slightly proud, but not to a huge degree like, for example, the Nokia 7 Plus. The island seems disproportionately long for a single camera and flash, which pushes the fingerprint scanner down too low on the back for its own good really. Don't know if that's physics or an attempt at style, but it would be better if it was was where the LED flash is located. The fingerprint scanner works really well, if maybe not as blazingly fast as those belonging to flagships. The setup is pure-Android simple and NFC/Android Pay works a treat at Tesco! There's also a gesture control which allows for Notification Shade swipe-down on the fingerprint scanner. All very functional.

Pure Gold
The gold accents continue around the scanner, island, edges, volume and power button - all of which take in a subtle chamfered shiny metallic look. On the top there's a 3.5mm audio-out socket, on the left a SIM/microSD Card tray (the tray itself, like the Nokia 7 Plus being plastic), volume and power on the right with single loudspeaker and USB-C charging/data port on the bottom. This has QC3 over the 6 and can fill 50% of the 3000mAh battery in half an hour. You get a super-power-charger in the box. In my tests this week, the battery is making the most of the SD630 and returning a very good all-day-and-beyond performance. I'd rather have more, like the 7 Plus, but it ain't half bad for the size of the device. The front glass has a slightly smaller chin/forehead than the 6 but at least there's still somewhere to put your fingers/thumbs. Hurrah, I say! The 2.5D glass very slightly curves into the edges and around the device are the microphones supporting OZO enhanced sound capture in 4K video.

I'm very impressed with the look and feel, as I have been with all these Android Nokia devices. It looks like it's worth more than it is and that attention to detail has been considered to make it a device the owner will be proud to be seen with and enjoy using. That's all very well, I hear you cry, but it's no good having a pretty phone if it's no good! And you'd be right. So we plough on into that very sphere.

First things first, much like the Nokia 7 Plus and 8 Sirocco the 6.1 runs AndroidOne and on delivery updated itself to Oreo 8.1.0 and May 2018 Google Security. No sign of June yet, but I'm sure it'll come along. Or even skip to July. We're sold on AndroidOne here and can see no reason now for devices to be released with anything else. Bang up to date and feature-rich as Google intended. Next to Pixel.

The Snapdragon 630, much like the aforementioned Moto X4 and Sony Xperia XA2, runs things along very smoothly. Yes, it's not as snappy-fast as a Snapdragon 800-series chipset, but then this device is £200, not £800! The very, very slight delay between some executions and actions are so minimal that to complain would place things squarely into test-bench geekery for no real reason but to tick boxes. Switching between running tasks is just fine and once inside apps, you'd never know it was a lesser component. The SD600-series equipped devices are getting more and more impressive before we even start to talk about battery-saving capacity. This unit has 32GB storage and 3GB RAM. There is allegedly a 64GB/4GB dual-SIM version out there somewhere, but I couldn't readily find one in the UK to buy. Maybe India. It'll come. I must admit, I personally would have paid an extra £50 for that. Beyond my paranoia, there's a MicroSD Card slot and if everything you do is utilising that, I guess it's OK to live with 32GB. I'd just rather not!

The 5.5" screen is, like the Nokia 8/8 Sirocco, 16:9. Which is fine with me. (And we can avoid the stupid Notch issue into the bargain!) There's something about 16:9 that just feels right in the hand and for the eyes, hands and fingers. 18:9 is all the rage, we know, but we're far from that format dominating media consumption yet - and I maintain that the 'tall' thing sometimes just makes a device too big in the hand. Nokia 7 Plus being a case in point. My only real complaint about it. The screen is a 1080p IPS LCD covered with the best-compromise Gorilla Glass 3.

The screen is not quite as bright as the Nokia 8, which seems to be the champion of bright LCD screens at the moment, but it really isn't far off. LCD screens seem to be betting better, sharper and brighter. Some reviewers have said that the colour reproduction is muted on the screen, but I've tested that against other devices to hand and I can't see that it's much different using a colourful, saturated shot. Maybe the OLED screen of the Nokia 8 Sirocco and Moto Z2 Play makes the colours pop a little more, but it really isn't by much. Again, it's test-bench stuff, not real-world use. Outside in bright sunshine, the screen is certainly still usable (unlike the BlackBerry KEY2 which I reviewed last week) but certainly it's not great. At the end of the day, it's a challenge for any phone screen. We need an e-ink display switch for that usage!

Fancy That
One of the things we've come to expect these days is fancy camera options, at least 2 lenses which do some fancy things, 2x zoom or wide-angle this and that, Bokeh Mode here and Portrait there. Well, something's gotta' give at this price-point and that is this! One could take the standpoint of considering that all the aforementioned are gimmicks and for goodness' sake, concentrate on capturing photos, not playing with settings! Half the time, the so-called Bokeh Mode doesn't seem to work anyway and I have proved often the dubious benefit over close-focus with most phones! Anyway, yes, the photography department won't thrill the Pro's here! Look at this sample, manual. How much bleedin' Bokeh do you want?! Yes, I know, the Bokeh Mode is for head/shoulders etc. and not always close-up. Blah, blah. 
Having said all that, there are some toys in the camera, HDR+, Panorama, Pro Mode for fiddlers, Dual front-back P-I-P Mode etc. There's plenty of capability in this camera without resorting to more expensive setups. I guess you could argue that at a similar price-point you certainly can get more if that's your thing and compromise on some of the other Nokia benefits.

One of the things which was added since the Nokia 6 is 4K video recording, incorporating OZO audio capture. This functions just as it does in the other Nokia models with that feature in the range and armed with a pair of headphones, what Nokia has done with the sound is quite eye-opening (or at least drum-vibrating!) the first time you hear it in action. Having said that, it's a real niche use case and I have to admit that I've never used it on any of these devices beyond testing! Maybe I should get out more! So, the main camera is a 16MP f2 unit, Zeiss branded, and the Selfie snapper, 8MP f2. The exact same specs. as the Nokia 6 before it. The Selfie snapper seems decent and has a wide-enough angle to be useful down the pub!

Speakers' Corner
You'd think that going from the Nokia 6's stereo speakers to the 6.1's single bottom-firing one would be a downward step, if you're like me. However, I've always said that stereo is not really as important with little-screened devices in your pocket as overall execution of sound output - and Nokia have, indeed, made this device with the single speaker sound better than the old one with the twinset and Dolby Atmos! It's loud and richer than many. Sounds very much like the 7 Plus so maybe it's the same speaker. As I said before in my review of the Nokia 7 Plus, it's not going to get close to market-leaders but with Nokia making phones at around this price-point sound as good as this, the rest had better knuckle down! Perfectly good for all uses and almost for that fictitious BBQ! Bluetooth 5 is now onboard over 4.1 from the 6.

Sound Investment
There's a 3.5mm audio-out socket, as I mentioned, and once again, testing with my headphones it sounds simply stunning. Yeah, yeah, I'm no audiophile as I always say, and am reviewing from real-world use for normal people - and that group will be blown away by the quality through headphones even if, technically it doesn't come close to a 32bit DAC enabled device. There's a non-recording FM radio included, which works very well given a good signal, and a switch once running to push audio out to the speaker. You have to leave in the 'aerial' of course! You do get a set of ear-plugs in the box, which I found a use for plugging a leak in a water-pipe.

Weather Talking of water pipes, there's no weatherproofing of any kind with this device, so user beware. Keep out of the rain. Wouldn't be difficult in the UK at time of writing as we suffer a heatwave approaching the lunacy of 1976!

Verdict I've got to utter the words, after all. Yes, for the price, it's a fabulous piece of kit. So capable in many ways, so advanced in many ways, but with trimmed specs. still making the absolute most of what it has. There are other devices out there which would appear to challenge the 6.1 in terms of specs. and capability, but very few of them boast a version of Android so close to Google, fast regular software updates and a device built in such a way that the user will be pleased to hold and use it, feeling a class above the others, certainly punching above its weight. You can get it in Black/Copper and White/Iron but I think this Blue/Gold version is the nicest. £229 just now seems, much like the Nokia range, a bit of a bargain for what you get.


  1. I bought the Nokia 6.1 just after it came out from the Carphone warehouse. My wife has the Nokia 6.0. I was very impressed with it to say the least. Had I not had a Huawei P10. I would have used it as daily driver. The main selling point for me was the inclusion of a built in FM radio. Something I was used to way back in the Symbian days. Now I know what most are thinking. No one uses a built in FM radio. Well I do. I like it as a back back up when there is no internet. It doesn't use any data and I believe you can use it in aeroplane mode. That was the first thing I tried when I got it up and running. It was rubbish! Compare to the Nokia 6.0 FM radio which was fine. This could barely receive anything. I can almost see the local radio transmitter but the reception was bad. I packed it back up and took it straight back and after some messing and a demonstration, they agreed with me and swapped it. The replacement unit was just as bad. I have presented it to me Wife who is more than happy with it. The FM radio problem will not bother her. She was unaware she had one on the 6.0! Forgetting the radio. The hardware and Android one is really nice together. I prefer the metal designs over the glass backed phones. It feels so robust in my hand. It was nice to have an almost vainilla Android again. I am now back to no updates on my Huawei. It is still on July 2017 security patch!

    1. That's interesting. When I was reviewing I was in one location and on testing it seemed to work. I've now gone a couple of miles down the road and there's virtually nothing. Just interference. I do live in Wales where there are lots of hills, but even so. I'm now on the coast testing and you're quite right.
      I don't get the impression that there's anything wrong with it - it's trying hard to lock onto stations and half finds them amongst the noise, but that it maybe is just a very poor component and needs a very strong signal - though that doesn't explain your situation sitting under the transmitter. Very odd. Will float on the Nokia Forum. Cheers.

    2. When I took it back to Carphone warehouse it was only a few 100 yards from BBC R Humberside and almost 1 mins walk fom Viking FM next door. It was still not very good. I tried different head ear phones with no luck. The 6.0 was great!


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