Nokia 6 Review: Premium For A Bargain

Nokia is back, and they mean business.

There are few names in the tech industry that elicit such feelings of nostalgia like Nokia. The Finnish company that once held somewhere in upwards of 41% of the entire mobile handset market, a feat that’s nearly double what Samsung even holds today. While the fall of Nokia was lamented by many, the comeback in 2017 could very well be the biggest and most long awaited comeback in any tech company’s history. While Nokia is now almost non-existent in the mobile handset market, its venerable name lives on to mean something more than many companies could dream of. With the Nokia 3, Nokia 5 and Nokia 6, the company is making its reappearance on the market, manufactured by HMD Global and powered by Google’s Android 7.1 Nougat. These are entry-level smartphones by price and processing power, but feature some specs that may surprise. How does the highest end one fair? Let’s take a look.

Video Review

Specs

Sporting the highest price of the newly announced phones, the Nokia 6 is sold exclusively at Amazon and is priced at $229/€229/Rs. 14999. Folks looking for a discount will find that Amazon ships the device in a second configuration for significantly less ($179), just like its Kindle line of eReaders. Nokia ships the 6 in multiple different color variants including Matte Black, Tempered Blue, Silver, Copper and a more shiny Arte Black. Each Nokia 6 is outfitted with an anodized 6000 series aluminum metal unibody, and only the antenna lines have been replaced with plastic cutouts. The device measures in at 154mm high by 75.8mm wide by 8.4mm thin, while it weighs 169 grams.

A 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD panel sits up front, with an 8-megapixel camera above it. Below this sits a set of capacitive back and Overview multitasking buttons, as well as a capacitive fingerprint sensor/home button in-between. Around back is a 16-megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture lens, as well as a dual-tone LED flash module.  3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage is the standard configuration for the phone, although Nokia does offer a version with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage for a price jump. The SIM card slot supports either dual nano-SIM cards or a single nano-SIM and a microSD card.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 octa-core SoC (MSM8937) with Adreno 505 GPU power the processing side of the house, while a 3,000mAh battery keeps the experience going. Stereo speakers are included on the Nokia 6, with one being located in the earpiece on front, and one located on the bottom next to the microUSB port. The 3.5mm audio ajck is up top and sports Dolby Atmos enhancements for virtual surround sound, as well as a 7.5W maximum output. The Nokia 6 supports 10W quick charging via the included 5V/2A charger. An NFC chip is included for full Android Pay support, as well as an FM Radio tuner and Bluetooth 4.1 support. Android 7.1.1 Nougat powers the OS side of things out of the box.

In The Box

Contents of the box are rightfully scant, given the fact that this is a pretty well-specced phone for the price. Aside from the phone you’ll find a single USB Type-A to microUSB cable, with a separate 5V/2A (10W) wall charger. A SIM tray eject tool is also included alongside some manuals, and surprisingly Nokia threw a pair of earbuds in as well, just in case you needed some. The box itself is rather attractive on the front, showing Nokia’s trademark hand-holding iconography, and looking quite unique on a shelf next to many other bland phone boxes.

Display

For a $200 or so phone, the Nokia 6 features a rather good display. Sporting 1080p resolution at a 5.5-inch size, the 400 pixels-per-inch density looks sharp and clean even when holding the screen close, and keeps performance at an acceptable level too. This IPS LCD panel sports many of the same positives and negatives of other panels at this price range, including decent sunlight visibility and a fairly decent pixel persistence rate. Some displays at this price range will have lots of ghosting or blurring when moving objects are on screen, and while the display on the Nokia 6 features some visible blurring, it’s not the worst we’ve ever seen, even for flagship-tier displays.

Black levels are fairly typical of IPS LCD panels and look more gray than black, especially at higher brightness levels. Contrast ratios and color accuracy are all pretty decent, with colors that are good but not too vivid or dull. The screen gives off a more cool glow to it though, and whites will have a slightly blue hue to them when compared to more color correct displays. There’s no adjustment for color within the software either, so you’ll have to deal with the slightly inaccurate whites here. Auto brightness is a bit irritating, and often would pick brightness levels too low for enjoyment when not in direct light. I often found myself increasing the brightness, and after a while turned adaptive brightness off because I constantly had to fiddle with it anyway. There are no off-screen gestures like double tap to wake the screen here, or anything of that nature.

Hardware and Build

HMD Global has built the Nokia 6 to last, and that’s of course a nod to the classic Nokia handsets of yore, which featured what many would consider to be an unbreakable build quality. We’ve seen in leaked content a few months back that the phone was used to crack a walnut open, and not just the metal back of the phone, the screen as well. The body itself weighs a slightly above average 169g, which lends to the ultra high quality feeling the 6000 series aluminum unibody design already gives it. This weight makes it feel like an incredibly solid phone, and the front display is wrapped in Gorilla Glass 3 protection, which at least in our testing seems to hold up better to daily wear and tear than the later generation Gorilla Glass 4 and 5 do.

The sharp, straight corners and fully metal build of the Nokia 6 are downright gorgeous, despite the fact that they seem to go against everything that many flagship manufacturers have been moving toward (i.e. all glass, waterproof build). The sharp chamfered edges all around the frame bring the slightly curved back together with the completely flat sides, creating a beautiful look that feels premium all around. Flat metal buttons with the same anodized coating and shiny chamfered edges look perfect on the body, and the styling feels wholly Nokia all the way around. It’s simply an incredible build that doesn’t just look good, it feels good too. It’s also tough, and will likely withstand a fall in places those all-glass phones simply won’t. While it’s not rated as “shatterproof” like we’ve seen a handful of other devices, it’s certainly tougher than most you’ll buy out there.

One curious decision was to leave an old microUSB port on the bottom instead of moving to USB Type-C, something that’s likely the result of cost savings rather than anything else for HMD Global’s more budget-friendly handsets. A single speaker sits next to the right of microUSB port at the bottom, and a 3.5mm audio jack is placed at the top, located in the same right-hand position as the speaker. The volume rocker and power button are on the right, situated closer to the top than they maybe should be. This higher elevation makes it slightly uncomfortable to adjust the volume while on a call, but doesn’t pose a problem otherwise. On the left you’ll only find the SIM/microSD card tray that ejects with the included tool.

Performance and Memory

There’s a pretty large dichotomy between processors and other components at this price range. Nokia looks to have chosen a better build and display in favor of better performance, and unfortunately it becomes rather obvious when using the phone that Nokia cut back the processing power in favor of other things. It’s not terrible by any means, and given the relatively low power of this SoC, it’s rather impressive to see how well it can keep up with a screen running at 1080p resolution. Still there’s no masking the performance here; the phone can slow down quite a bit at times, and if you’re a fast moving user, it’s going to have a hard time keeping up. Regular things like typing, switching between tasks and going to the home screen would often take longer than other phones out there, especially ones even slightly more expensive than this one.

Simple games will run just fine on here, but anything with a 3D look to it, especially the more taxing 3D games, will have to be completely avoided. There’s just not enough performance out of this SoC to be able to run many of these games at playable speeds.  Often times you’ll find yourself waiting up to a couple of minutes for things to load, only to find the game runs in single digit framerates, meaning it’s simply not playable. This is definitely not a phone that we can recommend for gaming, it’s just running too high of a resolution for these types of tasks with this low power of a chipset inside. Thankfully Nokia has outfitted the device with lots of RAM though, and multi-tasking works incredibly well, especially when compared to overall performance of the phone. Split-screen functionality built into Android works very well, although like most other things on the device, it may take a couple of seconds to get the job done and pull up both apps at once. Generally though once the apps are running, things kick into full speed and it’s more difficult to notice that this is a more budget-friendly phone.

Benchmarks

As expected, the Snapdragon 430 ranks pretty low on the list of modern devices, and is unable to keep up with flagship phones from even two years ago or more. Qualcomm's low end chipsets don't quite hold a candle to the performance that MediaTek can give for the same price, and while they seem to offer more compatibility in some circumstances, the capability just isn't there.

Wireless Connectivity

HMD Global sells this phone unlocked through a number of different sources, but Amazon seems to have exclusivity rights in many parts of the world at this time. As such the phone is designed to work in a number of markets, and features 4G LTE connectivity in all supported parts of the world where it is sold. As a modern device the phone also supports WiFi Calling when it is supported by your carrier of choice, and worked perfectly on T-Mobile US in our testing. While there is an option for Enhanced 4G LTE connectivity (Voice over LTE), calls seemed to be handled solely via the 3G HSPA network for us.

This resulted in less than stellar call quality compared to other phones out there, although it’s not off the mark for phones in this price range. We also had some issues with signal strength for both WiFi and cell signal, and often had issues with data or calling inside buildings where we wouldn’t normally have problems when on WiFi or LTE data. Nokia fully supports Bluetooth 4.1 for great wireless audio connectivity, and an NFC chip is here for full mobile payment support via Android Pay out of the box.

Battery Life

Battery life as a whole is great, although not stellar, pulling pretty average battery life in general. At the end of a full day I regularly found that the phone would have around 30% battery life left, edging down toward 20% on heavier use days. While it’s expected that a device with a low power SoC like the Snapdragon 430 would have incredible battery life, the 1080p display keeps the processor running pretty high most of the time, taking away the battery life edge it might otherwise have if it had a 720p display. Still a full day’s use out of any phone is the best you could ask for without having a hulking brick of a device, and you’ll likely not have any issues when using this phone in any capacity.

Given the fact that this SoC isn’t strong enough to handle those processing-intensive games on the Play Store, finding applications that drain the battery quickly will likely be pretty difficult. Nokia doesn’t support the latest QuickCharge standards on this phone, which is disappointing considering the chipset supports QuickCharge 3.0. Instead it’s just got 10W charging, which is faster than the older 5W microUSB charging from years ago, but doesn’t hold a candle to the latest phone’s charging speeds. On average it took over 2 hours to fully charge the phone when it was empty, and a 30-minute top-up didn’t generally result in more than a 15-20% boost to battery life.

Sound

Sound is an area where Nokia absolutely did not skimp out, and it all starts with stereo speakers right on the unit itself. Utilizing a very modern HTC-like configuration, the phone uses the earpiece to act as the left speaker, and the bottom speaker to act as the right speaker when held in a landscape position. This sound immediately fills the space between the phone and ears, and sounds significantly better than phones with only a single speaker, regardless of the price. There are phones with better stereo speakers on the market, but they all cost significantly more money to say the least. Stereo speakers are important for listening to music, watching videos or doing anything involving sound on a phone, and it’s excellent to see Nokia prioritizing this even on such a budget-friendly phone, which often don’t get features like this.

Furthering this decision to make audio quality one of the utmost important aspects of the phone, Nokia isn’t just keeping the 3.5mm audio jack in play, it’s also packing in a great amp that outputs 7.5W sound. This results in audio output quality that matches many flagship phones out there, providing sound that’s clear, punchy and overall sounds great. Many phones at this price range offer less than great sound quality, but Nokia has provided a top-tier audio experience all around with the Nokia 6, and you’ll really only find better in phones that are hundreds of dollars more.

On top of this Nokia also supplies Dolby Atmos support for devices that feature this technology. Dolby Atmos is a new way of creating virtual surround sound that's been gaining significant popularity and often is considered the most cost effective solution for great surround sound without breaking the bank. The only average offering here is the Bluetooth 4.1 support, which doesn’t offer anything fancy like the high bitrate aptX codec, or fancy new features of the newer Bluetooth 5.0 like dual audio output. For this price though you really shouldn’t expect this kind of thing.

Software

Nokia is working toward being one of the finest minimalist experiences you can find on any non-Google made device, and it all starts with updates. Packing the latest Android 7.1.1 out of the box, the Nokia 6 runs a newer version of Android than almost any other phone out there. Even some newer phones are only shipping with Android 7.0 Nougat instead of the upgraded releases Google has put out since launching Nougat last Fall, and Nokia promises quicker updates of Android than other OEMs do too. Right off the bat nearly everything feels like it does on a Nexus or Pixel branded device, even things like swiping up on the launcher to bring up the app drawer, or pulling up Google Now on the leftmost home screen. Everything else is solidly stock Android looking too, from the icons to the menus, color scheme and overall theme in general, all looks like it would on the far more expensive Google Pixel.

The version of Nokia 6 we’re using is the Amazon Prime discounted model with lockscreen ads. Amazon sells many devices with this sort of built-in advertising model, and while it’s not terribly obtrusive by any means, it affects the usage of the device far more than it would on something like a Kindle eReader. As the ads are delivered on the lockscreen, Amazon doesn’t want users bypassing this important place by scanning in their fingerprints, as can be done on most modern smartphones now. Instead pressing on the home button/fingerprint reader simply turns the phone on, and a second press is required to actually unlock it. This behavior isn’t present in the ad-free version of the phone, and without it you’ll find the usual near-instant unlocking that you would expect from a modern Android device. Having this lockscreen ad makes the unlocking experience take longer than usual, but it isn’t obtrusive in any other way, and you won’t find ads appearing over apps or popping down in notifications; they are 100% restricted to the lockscreen. It’s annoying to have to scan the fingerprint twice for sure, but it may be worth the $50 savings for most users.

As this is an Amazon exclusive phone, Amazon has built its services into this phone, but not in the same way it has tried to in the past. Unlike the Fire line of tablets, the Nokia 6 runs stock Android, not FireOS. This means Google services are built straight into the system as you would expect on Android, but Amazon has also added in their services to the benefit of the consumer. Other Android phones can download Amazon’s Underground Appstore, but it’s a third party install that requires the removal of an important security trait within Android; the ability to install software from “unknown sources.” Removing this restriction opens up a world of possible problems, and with the ability for standard users to be able to install software from anywhere, malware is destined to become rampant (as we’ve seen on more than one occasion).

As such Amazon’s Appstore behaves exactly like the Google Play Store does, and can install and update apps automatically without needing any kind of user input, particularly the nasty “install from unknown sources” security bypass. This creates an ecosystem that’s both safe and allows for the ability to get competitive pricing and deals from both Google and Amazon, something that can't always be said about a phone. This design is essentially what Amazon intended way back when it first started working the app store game, and it's nice to see this come full circle. All of Amazon's other services are here, including the ones that take full advantage of that Prime membership. Included is Amazon Music, with a 30-day trial and special Prime member pricing, as well as Amazon Cloud Drive and Photos with 5GB of free cloud storage.

Camera Software

In many respects the camera interface on the Nokia 6 will feel familiar to anyone who’s ever used a smartphone before, although iconography is thankfully different from most phones nowadays. All the basics are here, like a dedicated camera photo shutter button and video recording button on one side of the screen, and a few quick options on the opposite side. Among the options present at the top are swapping between front and rear cameras, toggling the shutter timer, HDR functionality and toggling flash. By default Flash and HDR are both set to auto, although these can either be turned to always on or always off, depending on preference. Modes are selected by the small camera button located right next to the shutter button, again another design decision that’s confusing and doesn’t present obvious functionality from the get-go.

Available modes are pretty light: Panorama, Beautify and Photos/Videos. There’s no other fancy modes here, just a basic camera shooting experience. By default the camera is set to automatic everything, including a “light boost” mode that’s supposed to make lower light shots better. Manual camera mode can be enabled from in here, but requires an additional sub-menu to work through, meaning most users will probably never venture in and find it. Manual mode gives the ability to adjust exposure weighting, exposure bias, white balance and even an interesting focus toggle. This focus toggle has three options: auto focus, infinity focus and macro focus. Infinity focus seems to be broken though, as it doesn’t ever provide a clear picture no matter what scenario we put it in. Macro is a nice way to force the focus super close for those times when auto focus simply can’t figure out that it’s supposed to see what’s happening up close and not far away.

On the interface you’ll find that the left-hand menu button doesn’t actually slide out a menu at all, rather it opens the settings menu, which is a bit of an odd visual design decision. This is where you’ll toggle between automatic and manual modes, or toggling the compass, level or grid. An option for burst mode is here, labeled as shutter control, and either allows burst shots to be taken when holding down the shutter button, or disabling will allow the shutter button to be used to prime the focus and wait for the right moment. This is actually a rather nice feature as it helps get the focus fixed and wait for the right moment, rather than having to toy with the focus and miss the shot. There are also options for adding in your own watermark to each picture, toggling geotagging, toggling the zoom slider to be always on, always off or automatically appear when needed, and options for resolution and what the volume key does.

Camera Performance and Results

Camera performance isn’t often the focus of a phone that retails brand new for under $200, and so long as you have that expectation going in, you won’t be disappointed. Launching the camera usually takes around 4 seconds or so, no matter if the screen is off or you’re already doing something on the phone. The usual double-tap on the power button gives a quick way to launch the camera without having to fiddle with icons or scroll through the app drawer. Taking the actual shot usually lingers for a second or two while the camera focuses, followed by the shot. This long length of time between pressing the camera shutter button and the phone actually taking the picture will likely be a point of frustration for many users, as it caused me to miss the shot a couple of times. Turning the burst mode off helps with this a lot though, as it gives a way to prime the focus and take the shot as soon as you’re ready for it.

Daytime shots are generally quite good, and offer shots that look good when compared to anything else in this price range, and sometimes even beyond. The 16-megapixel sensor takes in lots of detail when light is good, and Nokia’s HDR technology does a great job of making up for the lower dynamic range on the sensor, although it tends to take a second or two to actually process the shot after taking it. This means the frame will freeze when taken, but in general it doesn’t seem to be super sensitive to movement during this time period. Still it’s best to try not to move during the capture process, otherwise you may end up with a photo that’s blurry in parts.

Lower light capture doesn’t fare as well as daytime, but every now and then a decent shot can be grabbed from the camera in lower light. Indoor conditions in general are decent to good so long as there are no strong light sources from windows or abnormally bright directional lights, but indoor scenes with lots of contrasting light sources cause problems with this camera. You’ll see in our gallery below that a lot of indoor and low light shots either look super soft, thanks to a sensor that produces a lot of noise in these situations, or end up blurry due to a longer shutter speed. Either way it will probably get the job done in some circumstances, but low light is certainly not this camera’s forte.

The front-facing camera is rather good, especially for this price point. 8-megapixels is a higher resolution than even some flagships offer, and the camera sensor itself does a good job of capturing selfies in any light. Photos are clean looking and generally do a good job of focusing, although the auto focus module inside can get tricked into focusing on the background at times. Video is pretty average as well, with a restriction to 1080p resolution instead of 4K. While this likely won’t bother too many folks, especially at this price range, it’s worth noting since 4K recording has become a standard on many phones out there. Dynamic range and color accuracy are all pretty good, but there’s no optical image stabilization, so any movement will result in more shaky video than phones with some kind of stabilization. Again the processor isn’t powerful enough to be able to even substitute hardware stabilization for software, so you just won’t be getting that here.

The Good

Gorgeous style

Super premium build

Great price

Excellent audio via Dolby Atmos

Stereo speakers

Good display for the price

Latest version of Android

Stock looking skin with lots of features

Split-screen multi-tasking and great RAM management

Lots of great built-in Amazon features and services

VoLTE and WiFi calling support

The Bad

microUSB instead of USB Type-C

Slow performance

Can’t play many 3D games

Camera can be very slow

Conclusion

2017 marks the clear comeback year with Nokia, and they’re kicking it all off by offering an incredibly solid phone for a cheap price. Quite literally one of the best, if not the best built phones in this price range, the Nokia 6 is a true testament to the historical build quality of Nokia phones, and takes those qualities with it no matter the price. Stereo speakers, Dolby Atmos support and a generally good display for the price make this a contender for excellent music listening and video watching on the go, but the performance of the SoC leaves quite a bit to be desired at times. The camera is also pretty average at best, and can also be slow, especially when launching and focusing. Still there’s plenty of other positive points here too, like a battery that easily lasts all day, and a style that’s all its own, the Nokia 6 is a heavy hitter that’s coming in at a cheap price, and even cheaper if you opt for the Amazon lockscreen ads. Built-in Amazon services and products keep it winning, and overall this phone shows that Nokia means business on its first Android-powered phones.

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About the Author
2018/10/Nick-Sutrich-2018.jpg

Nick Sutrich

Event / Reviews Editor
Nick has written for Androidheadlines since 2013, is Review Editor for the site, and has traveled to many tech events across the world. His background is as Systems Administrator and overall technology enthusiast. Nick loves to review all kind of different devices but specializes in Android smartphones, smartphone camera reviews, and all things VR, both here on the site and on our YouTube channel. He is very passionate about smartphones and the continued improvement they can bring into people’s lives and is an expert on many different types of technologies, including mobile devices, VR, and cameras. Contact him at [email protected]
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