Nokia 6.1: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The Nokia 6.1 is now official, with its name presumably being meant to indicate that this is both an Android One smartphone and an incremental upgrade over the original Nokia 6 (2017), but that isn't to say HMD Global's latest mobile offering isn't worth considering this year, even though it's not perfect. As always, we're here to take a look at the best and worst sides of the newest Android handset to hit the market as a sort of a prelude to an in-depth review of the Nokia 6.1 that you can expect in the coming days.

The Good

The Nokia 6 (2017) was a pretty solid mid-ranger but its Snapdragon 400-series chip weighted it down quite a bit, with the silicon effectively being one of the weakest such smartphone modules from Qualcomm. Instead of releasing another such device and pricing it at over $200, HMD upgraded the chip of the Nokia 6.1 to the Snapdragon 630, thus delivering a true Android mid-ranger that's not just quite capable of handling a large volume of contemporary apps but is also extremely energy-efficient.

While the $269 price tag would imply HMD cut some corners when it comes to designing and assembling the Nokia 6.1, this is actually one of the most premium-feeling mid-rangers that money can or will soon be able to buy, being yet another addition to the company's portfolio of devices made from 6000 Series aluminum alloys. As a result, the actual build quality of the Nokia 6.1 is impressive and could easily trick many into thinking the handset is much more expensive than it actually is. The bottom bezel of the device was also trimmed down compared to last year, whereas the fingerprint sensor is even faster than before, even though it now resides on the back.

Finally, while not everyone prefers stock Android over custom implementations of Google's operating system in terms of features, the fact that the Nokia 6.1 is launching as part of the Android One program is certainly a plus as it guarantees future owners a steady stream of both minor and major software upgrades, an extremely optimized experience free of any kind of bloatware, and free unlimited Google Photos storage for your images and video clips with minimal compression.

The Bad

While the Nokia 6.1 is largely an all-rounder meant to be an adequate mobile tool for doing anything, HMD Global did opt to place a slightly larger focus on the imaging experience, as evidenced by its insistence on including a Carl Zeiss lens behind the 16-megapixel rear sensor of the device, as well as the fact that it had its "Bothie" feature introduced with the Nokia 8 flagship last summer trickle down to its new mid-ranger. Unfortunately, neither of those things help when it comes to the actual shooting experience which is surprisingly laggy; the shutter button in the default Camera app often struggles to respond for unknown reasons, which can easily make you miss many shots.

Possibly the most suitable comparison would be the day-one experience offered by the Essential PH-1's Camera app. Granted, the Nokia 6.1 still hasn't been commercialized and the unit we received is likely running pre-production software but what we've seen so far can certainly be described as "bad." That's a huge shame seeing how the images produced by the Nokia 6.1 are pretty decent and actually impressive given the price tag of the smartphone, but none of that matters if you aren't able to take them consistently. For a device that ships with Carl Zeiss branding, the Nokia 6.1 should really do better on the imaging front. As for the "Bothie" feature that's now advertised as the Dual-Sight mode, it's still just as gimmicky as it previously was and primarily caters to broadcasters on Facebook Live and YouTube Live, most of whom will be streaming content with a flagship or a dedicated camera anyway, so it's kind of unclear who the target audience of this functionality is meant to be.

The Ugly

In the era of tall, 18:9 mobile displays and notches that push that image format even narrower in the name of maximizing screen real estate, you may not want to call 16:9 screens "ugly" but they're surely starting to stick out, especially on such massive devices such as the Nokia 6.1. While it would be unrealistic to expect the latest and greatest in terms of design from a sub-$300 phone, HMD's choice of a 5.5-inch 16:9 panel isn't just an aesthetical an issue but a functional one; the Nokia 6.1 is hence entirely unsuitable for one-handed use and is just massive, despite the small reduction in (bottom) bezel size compared to what was on offer with the Nokia 6 (2017) last year.

The fact that the device lacks a physical Home button that could double as a fingerprint reader is also curious seeing how its chin is still large enough to house such a key and having a rear-mounted scanner on a handset that can't be comfortably used in a single hand is kind of pointless as well. As a result, the Nokia 6.1 looks outdated and isn't as functional as its slimmer rivals such as the Honor 7X, Huawei P20 Lite, or the HTC Desire 12 Plus, despite the fact that all of them offer a comparable amount of screen real estate. For now, Nokia fans looking to embrace the 18:9 trend will have to pay extra for the Nokia 7 Plus, still the only Android handset from HMD that uses the elongated form factor.

Conclusion

While not even a perfect mid-ranger, let alone a perfect smartphone, the Nokia 6.1 still leaves little to be desired, especially given its modest price tag. The value-oriented philosophy HMD pursued while creating what's essentially the Nokia 6 (2018) for the U.S. market makes this handset an attractive proposition, especially for stock Android aficionados who are longing for a worthy successor to the Nexus lineup but find Google's new Pixel series to be way too expensive. Some of its current drawbacks, particularly the performance of the default Camera app, may be improved via software updates but even in its current form, the Nokia 6.1 is a device that's definitely worth considering for anyone in the market for a non-flagship handset this spring.

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